Good Question

Last week I read an interesting post, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, from fellow writer S of JSMawdsley. My initial reaction was one of surprise quickly followed by familiarity and finally relief. What S had written struck a chord with me because so many times I’ve wondered why I’m doing what I’m doing with my writing.

My surprise came from the fact that so many writers play it close to the vest never revealing that the writing life isn’t going exactly as they had hoped. S put all her cards on the table by admitting that she wasn’t having fun and planned to rectify the situation by only writing what she wanted to write.

I am familiar with her desire to maintain a quality blog as well as working myself into a tizzy over what to write. When S said she’d give half an hour every two weeks to writing posts, I thought either she’s committing blogging suicide or I’m insane for overworking it. For me, the fear on this subject stems from being told I must have an author platform to market myself prior to publishing my book. This is such a distraction and takes away from my writing time.

By the end of S’s post, I felt encouragement knowing that I am not alone in my concerns. If she can refocus herself by only writing what she loves, so can I. I’d rather be ruled by my passion for writing than by my fear of falling social media stats.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you are a writer, you’re not alone. In fact, musicians, photographers, painters, dancers, and all those who create art, it’s time to wrest your craft back from the hands of those who are more concerned with profits than they are with the creation process. Take inspiration from each other and step back to reassess when things go askew. Rediscover your passion, and then go forth and create.

The Music of Life

the-music-of-lifeSeveral years ago while shelving AV material at the library where I used to work, I came across a CD titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions. What caught my eye, besides the unusual title, was Yo-Yo Ma on the cover. I was familiar with Yo-Yo Ma as a classically trained musician, but here he was featured on a CD devoted to music of a completely different genre. Without hesitation, I checked out the CD and couldn’t wait to listen to it on the drive home. What I heard started a love affair with a type of music I’d previously tiptoed around.

Probably what kept me from exploring this genre earlier was the fact that much of it was labeled Bluegrass. My opinion of Bluegrass included all things twangy and hick-i-fied. Yes, that is a word. What I discovered that day was something called Classical Crossover. Classical Crossover is a genre that hovers between classical and popular music, and is usually targeted at fans of both types of music. In the most common type of crossover, classically trained performers sing or play popular songs, folk music, show tunes, or holiday songs.

Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan also contributed to the CD’s eleven tracks of music based on English and Irish fiddle music that gave birth to what we know as Appalachian fiddle music. The closest I’d ever come to anything like it was the little bits of fiddle I’d heard in songs by Clannad and The Chieftains.

After listening to The Goat Rodeo Sessions, I went in search of other CDs by the same artists or those featuring similar music. I discovered Appalachian Waltz, Short Trip Home, Appalachian Journey, and Heartland: An Appalachian Anthology all of which are now in a playlist that became the soundtrack of my mind as I wrote my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. One song in particular, “Sliding Down” featuring Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and Mike Marshall, epitomized John Welles’s experience in the later years of his life.

By the time John lived in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, his life had taken so many downward turns that he believed he’d never dig himself out from under them. Yet through it all, he retained a shred of hope buried deep in his heart. “Sliding Down” is the musical representation of what John felt during those years:  melancholy with a touch of optimism on the horizon that he was too afraid to reach for.

Other tracks from the above-listed CDs also played perfectly to the scenarios I wrote whether it was John as a boy on the family farm, as a student at the University of Maryland, during his relationship with the beautiful, enigmatic Garland, or the months following the D-Day Invasion. I don’t doubt that the music shaped what I wrote as if the songs were indeed a custom-made soundtrack. However, I finished writing over a year ago, so I haven’t accessed my Appalachian playlist in some time.

Last week, I had the opportunity to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. It had been over thirty years since I had done so as an Honors English student in high school, but thanks to one of my book clubs, we revisited the classic. During one scene, Scout mentioned that Atticus liked listening to fiddle music on the radio. Suddenly my forgotten playlist rushed back to my memory. A quick check on Google confirmed that the Appalachian Mountains extend as far south as northern Alabama. As I read, all my favorite pieces became the background music for Scout, Jem, Dill, and Atticus’s adventures, and I listened to my playlist for two days straight.

By the way, the term goat rodeo refers to a chaotic event where many things must go right for the situation to work, a reference to the unusual and challenging aspects of blending classical and bluegrass music. Yo-Yo Ma described a goat rodeo saying, “If there were forks in the road and each time there was a fork the right decision was made then you get to a goat rodeo.” In the case of The Secrets of Dr. John Welles and To Kill a Mockingbird, the right choices weren’t always made, but somehow life worked out for the majority of those involved. This fact further reinforces my belief that the music of Appalachia is truly the music of real life.

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

the-count-of-monte-cristoYou’ve probably heard it said many times that a movie is never as good as the book on which it was based. I’d have to agree 99.9% of the time, because I have two movies in mind that actually were better than the book. Still, as my aunt once pointed out to me, the reason I enjoyed movies based on my favorite books, and that is a rare occurrence, is because I read the book first and was familiar with all the details and nuances of story and character that never made it on screen.

With all that being said, The Count of Monte Cristo is one book that will never be captured in its entirety in a movie, and yes, I know it’s been made into a movie, and no, I haven’t watched any version; I don’t have to, I’ve read the book. All 1276 glorious pages. But perhaps a mini-series would do a good job of catching a few extra, interesting tidbits, you say. I’m sorry, my friend, that will never be sufficient.

As I read Alexandre Dumas, admittedly for the first time, his writing constantly reminded me of Anne Baxter’s portrayal of Nefertiti in The Ten Commandments. Both Dumas and Baxter displayed the same intensity of passion for his and her craft. I’m talking over-the-top passion that sweeps one away with what they are reading, or in the case of Baxter, watching.

The cast of characters is as interesting and varied as the type of people one might view walking through a crowded bazaar in a foreign country. Rich and poor, saint and sinner, they all have wonderful personalities, even when it’s as an antagonist, and backstory galore. The interesting thing is I didn’t once mind reading their histories because without it the overall novel would have lost its magic and momentum. Dumas wove together what would have been for writers of today probably two or three novels. Yet he made the enormous quantity of words and pages work. He made it flow. He made me sigh when I finished the novel the same way I would upon leaving great friends.

The Count of Monte Cristo is not for the timid or impatient reader nor is it for someone who wants a quick hit story that translates well onto the big screen. Everything that makes the novel a classic is, unfortunately, being stripped out of writing today. There’s a reason it’s a classic, and I believe one would do well to follow in the footsteps of the masters.

One such technique, which Dumas employed brilliantly, was to engage his reader directly with gentle reminders of previously mentioned details, scenes, and actions. The writers of today would probably label this poor writing because they’ve been taught not to do anything that would jar the reader out of the story. How absurd. I wasn’t jarred out of the story, my mind so feeble or easily distracted that I took offense with the author. On the contrary, I found it tantalizing for this passionate man to say, “Now stay with me because I have something even more incredible to show you, and I didn’t want you to forget a single detail in my extensive, worthy novel.”

My classical literature book group read the Robin Buss translation published by Penguin. I researched Buss as a translator, and the general opinion about his translation of The Three Musketeers was that he did the best and most accurate job. Therefore, I trusted him for The Count of Monte Cristo. The point on which all agreed regarding the Buss translation is that it kept certain sexual overtones in place which had previously been removed or glossed over by other translators and/or editors so as not to offend delicate, Victorian sensibilities. Don’t allow this tiny fact to scare you off from reading Dumas. Compared to novels produced today for tweens and teens, the sexual scenes Dumas wrote would be considered implied at best.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for an easy yet engaging read, an exciting romp through history full of adventure, dashing, mysterious men, maidens who blanch and faint, and above all a great story of well-deserved revenge, then I highly recommend The Count of Monte Cristo.

How I Cheated at NaNoWriMo and Won

how-i-cheated-at-nanowrimoA couple years ago, my friend and fellow writer, S of JSMawdsley, talked me into trying NaNoWriMo. She mentioned it at the writer’s group she facilitates at the library where we worked. At the time, I was mainly a short story writer and dabbled in the occasional picture book. As luck would have it, I had an idea for a novel in mind, and NaNoWriMo seemed like the perfect way to get it out of my head and on my laptop.

Being new to the world of NaNoWriMo, I didn’t prepare at all. I just started writing on November first and quit on November thirtieth. I had 50,000 words, which satisfied the requirements of NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t have a complete novel. What I did have was a lot of work ahead of me and the conviction that maybe I really hadn’t won.

At this point, S would probably have told me I needed to outline my novel, but the first thing I discovered from writing such a lengthy piece is that I’m a pantser. I plot a little when approaching my writing, but I love to explore the rabbit trails because that is where I discover my best writing. My opinion on pantsing can be read here: Are You A Pantser?

So, did I win NaNoWriMo or did I cheat? I started at about the last one-third of the novel because I had the most information for writing that portion. In short, I learned the valuable lesson of researching before you write especially if it’s for a contest such as NaNoWriMo. You don’t want the added stress of trying to conduct research while keeping up a word goal.

I pressed on throughout the year editing what I had written and creating the rest of the novel as I wanted it to be. I researched more thoroughly and ended up chucking quite a bit of what I wrote for NaNoWriMo. Again, part of that was my fault, but I also wondered if one 50,000-word novel every year is what I wanted. Is that what the creators of NaNoWriMo want?

I suspect and sincerely hope the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to keep people writing because that’s what I did. Before I knew it, November had rolled around again, and with it NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t finished with my first novel, so why on earth would I abandon it for the added pressure of creating a new novel. Admittedly, I had no new ideas at the time, and I didn’t want the burden of coming up with one. Also, there was no time to research even the slim ideas that passed through my head.

Instead, I cheated, and I cheated grandly! I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and without a single ounce of shame, I re-entered my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Dr. Welles’s story was almost complete, but I needed a little motivation to finish the missing chapters and tie it all together. NaNoWriMo provided this inspiration by keeping me on track with a daily word goal, but it also became a beneficial editing tool. If I edited my daily word goal, I counted it along with any new writing.

What I achieved wasn’t another half-baked novel, but rather a well-written, well-edited novel with which I was extremely pleased. A titch more editing after the fact, and Dr. Welles was ready for the hands of beta readers.

I took a couple years off from NaNoWriMo, but the point of the contest was always close to my heart. I knew I couldn’t devote time to a new novel and make The Secrets of Dr. John Welles all I wanted it to be.   Then there is the fact that when story inspiration comes to me, I have to begin which sometimes means starting before NaNoWriMo starts. Yes, there is Camp NaNo, but my heart belongs to the original taking place in November.

When NaNoWriMo rolled around this year, I was already a little over halfway through my current novel. During the month of October, I had to set my writing aside to prepare for my son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. When I was ready to restart, good ole NaNoWriMo once again came to the rescue as a means up jumpstarting my writing. Although I didn’t sign up with the official website, I created a spreadsheet to track and tally my daily writing goal. I’m using it to finish the current novel, for which I am prepared research wise, as well as for any writing I do that can be published including my blog posts.

Yes, that’s cheating because it’s not a single new novel of at least 50,000 words. But again, I have to believe the heart and soul purpose of NaNoWriMo is to keep writers writing. That is what I am doing.

Who is in Your Details?

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

Today’s post counts as two entries in The Weight of Words and one for Research Road. It also stresses the importance of thoroughly editing and researching your work as well as finding a good editor. We’ve all made mistakes. I have received tactful comments from followers pointing out errors I’ve made. It’s easy to correct a blog post even after the fact, but what about my novel? I don’t live in fear of discovering an error post publication…oh, wait—I do.

I can’t tell you how many times my mother has said, “What difference does it make if you’re not 100% accurate? The common reader won’t know if you’re right or wrong.” To which I explained that I would know. Then there is the historian or well-read person who may read my novel and nail me for incorrectly portrayed facts. I’m not talking about the creative license we employ when placing our fictional characters in real periods of history or an entire reimagining of historical events such as the Germans winning World War II. I’m talking about modern words and phrases ending up in the mouths of characters from an earlier century and inaccurately portrayed artifacts, architecture, places, etc. due to lazy research.

A book I finished recently had two such errors. The first was the spelling of the word carcase/carcass. About thirty years ago, I read Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel Have His Carcase. It was part of a trio of Sayers’s books gifted to people who made a donation to the local PBS station. The announcer kept mispronouncing carcase the way one would say car case. How embarrassing. Years went by before I stumbled across the spelling carcass, which, by the way, is the only spelling Word recognizes as correct. I assumed it was another instance of American English vs. British English. What I discovered after reading several definitions for both spelling variations, is that carcase is the older, often consider archaic, of the two spellings although both are acceptable. Why is this important? The author of the aforementioned book used the word in the diary of a Carthusian monk from 1535, but she spelled it carcass. As soon as my eyes fell across the word, I was jolted out of the story to ponder whether the mistake was mine or hers. True, most people would have let it go, but for historical accuracy, well, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Small sidebar: When I checked writing forums for the correct spelling of carcase/carcass, Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel, Have His Carcase, was referenced at least once on every site as the example for the spelling carcase.

I was much less forgiving toward the second mistake. Another character, also from 1535, mentioned seeing a nine-branched menorah used in the second temple of Israel. Did you catch that? Talk about being shocked right out of the story. All my research on the subject verified what I already knew to be true: menorahs used in the temple of Israel have seven branches. The most reliable source of this information is the Bible. I don’t doubt that the candelabra people see the most and the one with which they are familiar is the nine-branched version known as a chanukkiah used in celebration of Chanukkah. The terms are used interchangeably and incorrectly. However, the two items are absolutely not the same thing.

My thoughts on the subject ranged from disappointment toward the author to wondering if the editor was too young to care about such facts or not interested in verifying them. Several years ago a self-published author gave the advice that you should research your history to the nth degree because your readers will trust that what you have written is true. That advice is what prompted me to research my own novel in minute detail. At one point, I had a fellow author/history buff tracing World War II troop movements to ensure I had placed my protagonist with a unit that had actually ended up in a battle I needed to feature.

Perhaps I sound like a fanatic. Even Andy Weir, author of The Martian, admitted to minor mistakes pointed out by other brilliant scientists, the type of knowledge the common reader wouldn’t possess. There may even be mistakes in my own novel. I sincerely hope someone catches them before it goes to printing. Still, I cannot stress enough that the writing and research of your work in progress begins with you. Beta readers and editors are essential to the process, but there is no excuse for a lazy author.

In closing, I’ll point to the title of this post as my final comment on the importance of using the correct words/phrases and conducting research. You’ve probably heard the devil is in the details and the older, slightly more common phrase, God is in the details. The first means that mistakes are usually made in the small details of a project. Usually it is a caution to pay attention to avoid failure. The second means that attention paid to small things has big rewards, or that details are important. Who is guiding your writing efforts?

Welcome to my Author Blog

Welcome to my author blog, Friend. I am so pleased you found me.

I’ve been hanging out here for two years with an amazing group of followers. It is because of them that my blog is going strong, and I want to take this opportunity to say, “Thank You!”

The overall purpose of my blog is to familiarize you with my writing, most specifically my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I am currently seeking representation for my manuscript. In the meantime, I’m working on my second novel as well as a collection of short stories.

Following me is quite easy. Just click the +Follow button hovering in the bottom right hand corner of the screen or take advantage of the sign-up directly on the Home page. In addition to my blog, there are various ways for us to become better acquainted. I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

I sincerely hope you’ll join us. I look forward to getting to know you better.

HL Gibson, Author

A Snapshot of Writing

A Snapshot of WritingThe creation of art can be a wonderful and dreadful process at the same time. Some of the struggles I’ve encountered with my chosen art form of writing include writer’s block, doubts and fears regarding my abilities, the evil query and rejection letters, comparison, envy, impatience, and the list goes on and on. But every now and then, there are lamps along the tunnel as I travel toward the light at the end. That’s when it’s wonderful.

As an outlet for my frustration, I began to tag along with my sister-in-law when she took photographs. She’s really quite good and a patient teacher as well when I asked her questions on how she approached her shot. One of the ways she explained the process was to hand the camera to me. I declined the opportunity to even hold her camera, which looked far too technical and expensive, but in addition to being a great teacher, my sister-in-law is mildly insistent. There was no way I was getting off the hook.

So, I snapped a few pictures as she taught me what the various dials and buttons on the camera do. She talked me through the procedure, and by allowing me to make mistakes, I learned quite a bit and became addicted to photography.

Here’s where the wonderful part happened. After setting up an account on ViewBug for my photos, joining challenges, and voting on other peoples’ pictures, I earned a free tutorial on landscape photography. Even though I don’t own a camera, I watched the video with the hopes of gaining more knowledge and possibly impressing my sister-in-law.

The lesson on photography will help me hone my skill, but what truly impressed me was how much of what the instructor said could be applied to writing. For starters, new experiences are good for you. Even if you’ve been writing for a while, keep in mind that every time you start a new piece, you’re taking yourself someplace you’ve never been with a different location, characters, style, descriptions, etc. And even if you’re working on a series, you have the power to make something new happen each time. Then there is your unique perspective. You are going to see things differently than anyone else in the world, so write them from the perspective that you alone possess.

As for equipment, writers have the luxury of keeping it simple, and I strongly suggest you do. A well-sharpened pencil and single-subject, college ruled notebook is all you need to create literary brilliance. Know the basics and fundamentals of your technique. Scouting a good location is important for a writer because distractions, even in the home, will keep you from your goal. Timing is important for the same reason: determine when in your day you are the most productive and stick to the schedule. And when it comes to composition, that’s where your personal style will shine through.

So now it’s time to address your process. The instructor on the tutorial called it a mind process and used words every writer knows. He started with subject. Identify what deserves to be written. Don’t forget POV. Take a small bit of advice from a photographer, and don’t be afraid to explore multiple POVs at the same time. What it does for photography will not be lost on writing. The formula for determining exposure translates into plotting, pantsing, or a combination thereof for a writer. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment. Next, decide what you’d like to focus on. Once all of this is determined, work that composition.

When you show your photographs to other people, they don’t know what else is going on around the scene you’ve captured or how you felt when you took it. Writers can combat this issue by providing essential backstory at the appropriate time. But just like a photographer, you don’t have to show it all. Leave a little mystery, a little something to the imagination, and your reader won’t feel led around by the nose. Write about the most interesting parts because that’s where the story is, and you’ll capture a good picture. A mental picture in this case. Remember that the objective is not to capture one big picture of everything all at once, but rather a frame that tells a clear story. You are the director, you choose the content.

Don’t fall in love with the first thing you write. Investigate your characters’ surroundings and discover what else you can do with it or them. Walk through their world. Return many times with breaks in between. Take another look at your subject, and decide what else you can do with it. Then apply your creative style in a way no one else has thought of.

Add vibrant but well-written details and structure, and a sense of order will emerge. You can do this on different levels of your writing whether writing on a grand scale, intimate stories, or the minute particulars. Keep in mind that your ideal and the reality won’t always match, but don’t let this discourage you. Work with what you’re given, seek inspiration, and the great story will come.

As for filters, they apply to the writer during the editing stage. You’ll be able to filter out the bad in your own writing after you’ve set it aside for a couple months and return to it fresh. Beta readers provide some of the best filtering toward your writing goal, seeing things you didn’t, and offering advice from their own perspective.

With a few modifications, the guidelines for taking a great photograph apply to writing with stunning clarity. I mentioned this at my writer’s group and was told by a poet that this is known as the rules of the creatives. They are a set of standards that transcend one artistic form to positively influence another. Hanging with the poets a couple of times a year has already lent valuable insight to my writing. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that my newfound hobby would as well.

There are so many artistic pursuits that crossover to supply inspiration and encouragement. Already I’m viewing the story ingredients in my mind and trying to figure a way to bake them all together so as to produce a perfect word painting. I suggest you do the same.

Farm Implements Useful to Writing

Sometimes, writing a blog post to share with all the world is like tap dancing on the stage alone when you took piano lessons: your mistakes will be obvious and glaring. Thankfully, Word catches the majority of them, but there are days when almighty Word isn’t enough. That’s when we turn to our Google search bar, right?

I’m going to extend myself some grace here and admit that I’ve gone back to correct mistakes I spotted after major editing, proofreading, and posting. With all that being said, what tripped me up most recently was another dual spelling. Word didn’t issue the customary red squiggles when I typed it, but I kept staring at my laptop because something didn’t look quite right. You have to love the contrary English language.

Farm Implements Useful for WritingToday’s The Weight of Words focuses on plow vs. plough. Locale factors in to this one with American and Canadian speakers of English preferring plow as the spelling for the farm implement and the related verbs. Our British and Australian neighbors prefer plough. In either case, the word is pronounced the same. Although I do think it would be hilarious if plough was pronounced the same as rough.

How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words

How Reading Taught Me To Misspell WordsI’ve read so many books during my life that I’ve started to misspell words. I’ll give you a minute to think about that.

I didn’t pay attention to which books were written by English authors and which by American authors. There must have been a time when my selections were top heavy with Brits because I started dropping a U into words that Microsoft Word kept underling, claiming that a U didn’t belong in said word. When it happened with the word color, well, that one seemed rather obvious.

Then came a day when Word underlined realise. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I kept re-reading the sentence for grammar and content to make sure it wasn’t a fragment, etc., etc. But wait, the underline was red, squiggly, and mocking. What in the world was wrong with this word?

I deleted it, retyped it, and again the ugly red squiggles popped up. It was time to resort to the good ole Google search bar. When the first article to pop up was titled Realise vs. Realize, I had a sneaky suspicion of the mistake I’d made. I was having my own private British Invasion.

According to Grammarist.com:

Realise and realize are different spellings of the same word, and both are used to varying degrees throughout the English-speaking world. Realize is the preferred spelling in American and Canadian English, and realise is preferred outside North America. The spelling distinction extends to all derivatives of the verb, including realised/realized, realising/realizing, and realisation/realization.

None of this may seem relevant to a writer, but on the off chance your writing includes a letter composed by someone born and raised outside of North America, think how smart you’ll look to your editor when you spell realize with an S.

Three’s a Crowd

Three's a CrowdTwo words that are similar are enough to drive this writer crazy, but when there are three that actually give me pause concerning spelling, definition, and usage, well, that’s when the ole Google search bar gets quite a workout on my laptop. Today’s The Weight of Words focuses on eminent vs. imminent vs. immanent.

And by the way, I don’t really use my Google search bar to look up words. That’s what Grammarist is for. Per the website:

Someone or something that is eminent is of high rank, noteworthy, distinguished, or prominent. An accomplished world leader and a respected intellectual, for instance, are eminent.

Something that is imminent is (1) very near or (2) impending. For example, when the weather forecast calls for a 100% chance of thunderstorms, we might say that storms are imminent.

Something that is immanent exists within or is inherent to something else. The word is often used in reference to spiritual or otherwise nonmaterial things. For example, a spiritual person might say that God’s power is immanent to the natural world.

Though the three adjectives are not exact homophones, they are similar enough to engender occasional confusion. Immanent in particular is very often used in place of imminent in popular usage, and imminent and eminent are also frequently mixed up.

Clear as mud? Now go forth and use them!

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