Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hooked on Reading

Not long after TVs were in nearly every home in America, the word was that reading would soon be obsolete. Later when computers took over the world, it was said books and newspapers would eventually disappear.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I will say people are still reading and writing. Bookstores are full of people buying books and talking about books. Book clubs abound. Kindles and Nooks are constant companions. Everywhere you look fingers are flying over keypads, texting. Somebody reads all those texts.

These days some parents are so eager for their little darlings to read they begin reading to them in utero. After thousands of hours reading to those babies and perhaps drilling them on phonics and sight words, mothers proudly present a reading kindergartener.

Not so with my mother. She had the weird notion that reading was best taught at school by teachers who knew what they were doing. When I entered first grade, no kindergarten in those ancient days, I didn’t even know my ABCs as my friend Kay did.

But Mama had prepared me well for school, not with reading and writing, but with talking. She had talked to me about the world I lived in. I could count money, tell time, and knew about everything I saw including the whys and hows.

My introduction to reading and writing was my long name the first grade teacher, Miss Perry, taped on my desk. It stretched all the way across the desk and was the first thing I learned to read.

Then Miss Perry placed a book, MAC AND MUFF, in front of me.  On the first page was a picture of a little, black Scottie, and under it was the word Mac, the Scottie’s name. Then I met Muff the cat and began to read, “Mac and Muff. See Mac run. See Muff run.”

I was hooked on reading. I wasn’t bothered with the sounds of letters, just the words and their meanings. The sight of Mac brought to mind a little, black Scottie.

Recognizing words at a glance was an easy way for me to learn reading. Before long I was reading everything or at least picking out words in the newspaper, on cereal boxes, and in the books I read to Mama. She didn’t read to me, but she was a good listener.

 I could hardly wait till Friday evenings when I could dig into Grandpa’s bag for the four books he brought me from the library every week. I was hooked on reading.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Persistence of a Squirrel

                                                                                                                                                                             This morning I went out and discovered once again the persistence of a squirrel. Since early spring, squirrels have been digging all over my yard, in the beds, in the sod, in pots full of plants. In spite of my efforts to stymie the little rascals, they keep digging, maybe for nuts buried last fall or maybe just for the fun of it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  After years of no squirrels at all, squirrel nests now abound in pecan trees next to my yard and behind it, and in a neighbor’s maple tree on the other side. Even two of my Foster hollies were marred with squirrel nests until Frank rigged a long pole and poked them out, raining leaves and nasty bits of debris on everything below.

Throughout the summer, squirrels kept digging holes, tossing aside plants, and leaving piles of displaced soil. We squirted them with blasts of water, chased them with a broom, and welcomed dogs and cats into the yard to run them out. All to no avail. A few weeks ago, anticipating their bright colors all winter, I planted pansies. The next morning half the pansies, with their bare roots shriveling in the sun, were lying beside squirrel holes. Every time I replanted them, squirrels unplanted them.

I don’t have a happy ending for this sad story. I’m still battling squirrels, even placed my baby succulents in a cage to thwart the rodents. But I have learned the meaning of persistence.

I’ve been told again and again a writer has to be persistent to find an agent. My new novel HAIRT BEFORE DAWN has undergone serious surgery and been reduced from a hefty 107,000 words to a lean, power-packed 90,000. After a number of rewrites and interest from several agents, it is now time for me to persist until I find the right one for me. I’m making my list and checking it more than twice. I will find an agent for I have developed the persistence of a squirrel.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Encouraging Words

For the first time in years, I missed the SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference. I missed making new friends and catching up with old ones, talking on and on about everything. I missed the entertaining and inspiring keynote speakers, the sessions full of up to date information and trends in writing and publishing, the editors, agents, and authors I’ve been wanting to meet. But maybe most of all I missed the encouraging words from friends, strangers, presenters, everybody there.

 An SCBWI Conference is like a magic elixir, good for whatever ails a writer.
Writer’s block?  Gone. Ideas come pouring in.
Discouraged?  No more. You know where to start and how to go.
Down in the dumps?  No more. You’re on top of the world.
Lack of confidence?  Gone. You’re the best writer since Moses.
Dried up and weary?  Rejuvenated. You can’t wait to get back to your desk.

 How can one little old SCBWI Conference do all that? With encouraging words, smiles, things to learn and things to try, and the greatest people in the world—ones involved in writing and publishing books for young people.

 Since I didn’t get to the Midsouth Fall Conference this year, I’ve been wondering how I could receive and share the kind of lift the conference gives.

 Then it hit me. Encouraging words. That could be the answer. I’d give everybody I meet a smile and a few encouraging words. The grocery checker, the trash collector, friends, strangers. Smiles have power and they’re contagious. So are encouraging words.

 Here’s how it went. I was walking in the park, as usual thinking about how to solve a problem in my novel when an attractive young woman smiled at me. I smiled back and slowed my pace a little as I went by.

 “Wait!” she called. So I stopped and she said, “You look great! How old are you?”

 Whoa! What a question to ask a person as old as Methuselah! But since she asked, I answered.

 “Wow!” she said, and her whole face beamed. “You got it. You go, girl!”

 What a boost! I really had it! With the biggest smiley face you’ve ever seen, I went, bouncing down the trail like a ten year old.

 That’s what a few encouraging words from a stranger can do.

              Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.
                                                                                                Proverbs 12:25

Monday, July 16, 2012

At Last!

I am so excited. I’ve finally decided on a major cut to my newest manuscript. Though this blog is supposed to be a writer’s journal, I haven’t mentioned very much lately about the writing process, or anything else for that matter. That’s because I’ve been so busy writing, totally involved with my novel, Hairt Before Dawn, writing and revising again and again.

The first draft was entirely too long, more than 107,000 words, and it is a YA. I learned from my book club that few adults, much less young adults want to read a book that long. So I’ve been slicing and dicing away at my precious words, precious to me anyway. Writers are told to take a good look at their “darlings”, those favorite passages, and kill them. I’ve been doing that and have reduced the length of Hairt to about 96,000 words by leaving out what I thought were gripping scenes important to the development of the protagonist. Still not enough.

I have been carefully studying my main plot and the subplots that support it, pondering over what and where to cut next. I’m well aware that anything that doesn’t advance the major plot needs to get the ax, but I couldn’t see anything not vital to the story. It finally hit me. Last night, in my twilight zone, not awake and not asleep, it came to me. A minor character had insinuated herself into too much of the novel, taking way more print that she deserved at the cost of detouring from the main plot.

Now I cannot wait to get back to the story, and put that aggressive character in her place, the background. It will take a lot of cutting and rewriting, but if it leads to a better novel, I’m ready. I’ll just save the cuts in a file ready to use in a future story, if needed.
Wish me luck!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vampire Musings

The other night I finally watched the movie, Twilight. I never planned to watch it at all because I didn’t like the book, had to make myself finish it. I know that’s un-American, judgmental, prejudiced, and all the other tags you can think of to describe a person who admits a dislike for an extremely popular phenomenon. I tried hard to suspend disbelief and get into the story, but the basic premise of it, finding vampires irresistible, got in the way, though irresistibility is part of a vampire’s character.

Through the years, I’ve read vampire books, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and others, but the whole vampire concept is repulsive to me. I only read the books to see why they are so attractive to so many readers, and that’s why I watched the Twilight movie. Stoker’s and Rice’s books made me a horrified spectator with never a touch of sympathy for the vampires and their sordid, nasty worlds. I had to admire the writing especially that of Anne Rice who made the vampire’s life so real.

Stephanie Meyer in Twilight attempted to make the Cullen vampires more acceptable by having them satisfy their blood lusts with animal blood, but they remained vampires, cold and unfeeling except for their beloveds. In most vampire stories the prey of a vampire is an innocent, unwilling victim. Not so in Twilight. Bella was attracted to Edward from first glance and desired him while Edward, though obsessed with her, controlled his lust for her blood to protect her humanness. Not typical vampire behavior.

In all the vampire stories I’ve read, vampires are magnets, sensual, attractive beyond resistance to their mesmerized victims. In one scene Meyer’s writing far surpassed the movie in showing this. That was the scene in the sunlight when Edward revealed himself in all his vampire glory. That was the only time in the book that I could understand why Bella was so attracted to Edward’s pale, cold vampire self. I was disappointed in the same movie scene and thought I should have experienced a feast for the senses in music, color, movement that made me feel a little of Bella’s fascination with the vampire.

The movie captured Bella’s fear of, Edward’s rival, the vampire villain with all the lust, instinct, and ruthlessness of the typical vampire we love to hate. The appropriately scary sights and sounds of the movie kept me glued to my seat at times, but other scenes like the ones of Edward zipping about with Bella clinging to his back made me want to laugh.

I will say about Twilight, both movie and book, I’m glad I saw and read them but won’t do it again. That’s what I said about the acclaimed book and movie, Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence. So what do I know?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back in the Here and Now

I have been lost in my novel for many, many months, neglecting family, friends, life in general, and especially this blog to spend my time with fantasy people in their world. Real time and place were almost dreams to me, and the people I know and care for were characters in those dreams. My life was in the words that poured out creating the story of love, struggle, perseverance, and hope that filled the pages of my manuscript while I secluded myself, allowing no distractions to entice me from my work.

Now, after the story is done, mundane words replaced with vivid words full of emotion, plot refined and honed to epitomize the theme, characters and setting grown familiar yet unknown, I step out of that world back into the real one that competes with my imagination. I left my desk this afternoon to drive through golden ginkgoes, maples of red, orange and yellow, multicolored trees wearing their autumn dresses. Glad to be alive here and now, I entered the recording booth of the radio station at the library to read a Christmas short story by Charles Dickens.

Everyone knows the Dickens story of A Christmas Carol with Scrooge and the ghosts, but his other Christmas stories were a revelation to me. Today I read What Christmas Is As We Grow Older, a very short one that took only fourteen minutes to read. I had read the story before and didn’t think much of it when I read it silently. It seemed to be merely a collection of the author’s memories. But when I read it aloud into the microphone, it came to life. I had never thought I’d like to read aloud the convoluted, multi-clause sentences of Charles Dickens, but I did. The music of the language and the richness of the words made those memories of Dickens come alive for me.

I can only hope my writing may some day enthrall a reader as much as I was captivated by the world and the writing of Charles Dickens. That would be more than full payment for the months and years I’ve spent closeted with my research, my creative muse, and my computer. Not that I regret any minute of the process. Nothing is more satisfying to me than creating another world peopled with characters who are part of me and everybody I know, people who meet the challenges of their world with hope.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yann Martel

Yesterday I met Yann Martel. In a dimly lit studio at Radio WYPL 89.3, Stephen Usery interviewed Yann Martel as I sat there avidly taking in every word. I’ve been a fan of Martel since I read his Life of Pi a few years ago. The topic of the interview was his new novel, Beatrice and Virgil which somehow combines the story of Beatrice the donkey and Virgil the howler monkey in Okapi Taxidermy with the Holocaust.

I have not read the book but now have it and cannot wait to delve into it. As a writer, I was fascinated with what Yann Martel had to say. For one thing, he said he was a slow reader, reading a word at a time to get all the author put into a book. According to him, every book a person reads should give the reader a new or more complete understanding of life and the world and leave him or her thinking about it. Martel writes to give his readers the kind of experience he wants from any book he reads.

Before writing Beatrice and Virgil, he read about eighty new books and spent a tremendous amount of time in learning experiences and research as he planned, plotted, and lived the story. That’s why some people may have thought he suffered from writers' block; he said that was not the case. He had no problem writing when the book was ready to be written.

As a fan, I was glad to know Martel is a warm, friendly person. He appreciates all of his readers, especially women and their book clubs. Though he classified himself as a middle-aged man, he admitted that most middle-aged men do not read.

A silent listener to the interview, I think I learned more than I have in several day-long writers’ workshops I've attended. So many writers seem to whip out the books one after another that I had wondered why I was so slow. Now I’m glad to know that all my time spent in research and planning, several years of it for my current novel, would not be at all unusual for Yann Martel.