Writing

May 1, 2013

This blog was a year old on April 1, 2013. It has no advertisements. I’m not selling anything. No contests. I’m still a novice. My goals at present are to write, to explore, and to share. I’m learning everyday.

I don’t think I’ve found my true online voice, yet. I’m experimenting. But, with blogging, I write on a regular basis. I’ve developed a daily morning writing routine which includes either nonfiction or fiction writing or both. My blog postings are twice a month – a main post and then several pages.

I’m kind of spreading my wings. As primarily a fiction writer, I’ve entered the nonfiction world through blogging.

One thing I like about blogging – it helps hone ideas. Joan Didion stated, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Blogging keeps me alert to potential topics that can be worked into thoughts on inspiration, creativity, writing, books, life. Topics can be anywhere, pop up at any time. The blog also keeps me on my toes with sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation.

I’m glad I started this blog. It’s exciting to connect with others, to have someone “like” a post, to have a “conversation” with readers from all over the world.

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March 1, 2013

I recently heard author Madeline Miller speak about her debut novel, The Song of Achilles. A scholar and a high school teacher, she captivated the room as she told the story of Achilles and The Iliad. I would love to be a student in her class.

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She approaches the story from the point of view of Patroclus, not Achilles. Patroclus is a young prince who is exiled from his kingdom to be raised by King Peleus whose son happens to be Achilles. Patroclus and Achilles become friends.

This approach reminds me of the importance of point of view in story-telling, whether using a myth or a current newspaper clip. Taking the point of view of a less obvious character changes the dynamic, the discovery potential, and gives the reader a new perspective.

 Also, I’m reminded of how mythology, the classics, and the ancients can be  springboards to new stories.

I’m looking forward to reading The Song of Achilles.

Novelist Madeline Miller

Novelist Madeline Miller

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February 1, 2013

Recently, I heard Amor Towles, the author of Rules of Civility, speak at a luncheon. He read two passages from his novel and proved an excellent reader. We all wanted to hurry home and start reading about Katey Kontent. I know his talk will enhance my enjoyment of Rules of Civility, his first novel.

I found his interpretation of New York City interesting. To help us understand the city of his novel, he showed several pictures of paintings  by Edward Hopper. Automat and Hotel Lobby among themHe pointed out the empty seats next to the women and the muted, basic color pallet.

Automat

Hotel Lobby

His point? In NYC, with its never ending activity and crowds, people may seek their quiet in public places. Someone probably will sit down in the empty seat nearby and start a conversation that takes them outside of their world. In the NYC of the 1930’s, city blocks were distinctly different. Walking down a street took a person through many different microcosms. I’m looking forward to discovering Katey Kontent and who sits down in the empty chair beside her. How she learns of a different world.

Towles overtime has studied this period of history – the music, films, fashion, art, social scene, economic scene. When he was asked a question about research, he replied he doesn’t do research per se. But because of his long term study, he can immerse the reader into a scene which is timely to the period by its tone and descriptions. He then can focus on the emotions and characters.

Naming brands, for example, is not necessarily the way to orient the reader in time and might even get in the way. He illustrated this with reference to Birdseye Frozen Peas invented in the 1940’s and a story set in that time frame. We don’t have to know the peas are Birdseye just gotten out of the Frigidaire refrigerator. But we can know it’s a block of frozen peas that the character bangs on the sink edge repeatedly, scattering loose peas in the sink, across the floor … that she’s just discovered her husband is having an affair.

His talk had a density of content about writing. He’s an excellent storyteller, both orally and on the page.

Novelist Amor Towles

Novelist Amor Towles

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January 15, 2013

I’m currently reworking a short story I wrote a number of years ago. I like the name of my main character and I like him, but I’m not sure if the current name will be his final name. I ‘d like something with more punch, something more memorable.

But there’s a bigger issue than the character’s name. The story isn’t working. Where to begin?

I decided to apply the story elements per Jerry Cleaver in his book Immediate Fiction. I remember the elements with the acronym CARES. C- conflict. A- action. R – resolution. E- emotion. S- showing.

I looked at the total story. What’s does my character want and what stands in his way? I need to clarify here. What action does he take? Action works but there can be more obstacles. How does the story resolve? I’m not sure the resolution is believable. Does the reader know the character’s worries, fears, hopes at all times? Sometimes. Do I show more than tell? I think so.

Then I looked at the scenes. There were six of them. Did each forward the story? Did each  have the story elements of conflict, action, resolution, emotion, and showing – the same story elements as for the total story? I cut one scene out. In each scene, things should be worse at the end of the scene than at the beginning.

I also looked at whether I was saying what had to be said in the best way – eliminating adverbs, using active voice, eliminating wordiness. That each sentence moved the story forward.

At this point, what my protagonist wants has to be clearer to him and … me, and I need to up the ante. Some of what he does to achieve his goal is too easy. I have to get into the character’s head for him to reveal himself more to the reader.

So I’ll keep working.

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January 1, 2013

12543Looking through old journals is something I do periodically. On 10/10/01, I made an entry about a book I was reading. The book was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Lots of good stuff on writing.

She tells the story about her older brother who, at the age of ten, had to write a report about birds. Of course, he waited until the night before it was due. He was ready to cry. His father said to him, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” (Page 19.) A good way to approach writing.

I noted two ideas in my journal, paraphrased.
1. Write what you can see in a one inch frame. Brief writings, a brief view. Let the story unfold “Bird by Bird.”
2. The first draft will be crumby – just go for it.

For me, this translates into keeping the focus small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. The short story or novel will unfold word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, scene by scene, chapter by chapter. Just keep pecking away.

She says to try to write at approximately the same time each day so that your brain knows it’s time “to kick in for you creatively.”

And just write. Keep the critic off your shoulder. You’ll discover the kernels. The chaff will fall away.

I love the bird analogy and this book.

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott

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December 15, 2012

Do you ever sit down to write, an idea niggling at the back of your brain? It’s there but at the same time it isn’t? You sit with it and then slowly the thoughts start to blossom?

The Muse

Always invited,
sometimes sending regrets,
she tiptoes in,
unannounced,
words shimmering.

She glides into my head.

It’s messy with living,
burdened and cluttered.
She notes shelves of worry,
unfinished sentences,
a world of ideas
closed against the night.

Beneath a shaded light
I keep my pen in hand.
Her sentences
slowly enfold me.
I open my journal
to welcome her gifts
of ideas
and words.

The story begins …

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December 1, 2012

A night sky in the desert is darker than any I’ve ever seen. As the moon and stars appear, they stand out with a singular brightness. Beautiful.

Desert Sky

Darkness folds the Mojave in its arms.
Trickster coyotes, bold, nocturnal
roam the cooling sand.

Above, brushed onto the endless canvas,
stars appear, Polaris as guide,
so near, yet light-years distant.

Under a brightening moon,
Joshua trees, arms raised skyward,
cast long disjointed shadows.

Gauzy clouds, mere wisps,
thread about the stars and moon,
play, embrace, wander on.

While sun waits …
then rises, unstoppable,
to fling its gold across the sky.

by C.S.M.

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November 15, 2012

Have you ever tried to write a villanelle? It’s an exercise in discipline and structure. There are 19 lines that make up five three line stanzas and one four line stanza. Two refrains appear in the first stanza and then alternate. There are  only two repeating rhymes. I found the process both challenging and fun.

The structure looks like this:

refrain 1
line 2
refrain 2

line 4
line 5
refrain 1

line 7
line 8
refrain 2

line 10
line 11
refrain 1

line 13
line 14
refrain 2

line 16
line 17
refrain 1
refrain 2

Night Writer

“what if …” scribbles the writer alone in the night
plot twists unfold, a scrawl on bound paper sheaf
caffeine-rich nerves twitch and tangle, grow tight

characters caper, quirky, their demons to fight
neurotic clairvoyant collides with a comical thief
“what if …” scribbles the writer alone in the night

in words that show, not tell, with paragraphs bright
Pushcart contender rises midst angst and grief
caffeine-rich nerves twitch and tangle, grow tight

fingers press on, tap-tapping a breathless plight
denouement nears, stumbles, snags on a reef
“what if …” scribbles the writer alone in the night

author rewrites, then polishes, not a delight
short story shines to THE END with doubt-free belief
caffeine-rich nerves twitch and tangle, grow tight

secundum artem, a fable fantastic with bite
mailed – received – rejection letter so brief
“what if …” scribbles the writer again in the night
caffeine-rich nerves twitch and tangle, grow tight

by C.S.M.

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November 1, 2012

I enjoy the discovery process as I’m working on a story …

“the meeting”

at my laptop I sit, listening
deep inside a voice whispers
it pushes itself into my thoughts

the voice grows louder
my fingers tap the keys
a character comes to life

jerky starts, uneven sentences
he won’t let me stop
I give him a name, a face, a body

he allows me to know him slowly

together we enter his world
discover what he wants
the obstacles that will stop him

by C. M.

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October 15, 2012

Curiosity’s a good thing and I was curious about what these iconic authors – Hemingway, Faulkner, McCullers, Fitzgerald, Chandler, London, Maugham, and Williams – had to say about their craft. I cruised through websites containing author quotes. I was in need of inspiration, encouragement, instruction.

Here’s what I found:

Ernest Hemingway: There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.

William Faulkner: Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.

Carson McCullers: The dimensions of a work of art are seldom realized by the author until the work is accomplished. It is like a flowering dream. Ideas grow, budding silently, and there are a thousand illuminations coming day by day as the work progresses. (from “The Flowering Dream” published in Esquire 1959)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Action is character. (from notes for The Last Tycoon)

Raymond Chandler:  The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the single most valuable investment a writer can make with his time.

Jack London: You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

W. Somerset Maugham: There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. (I just finished reading his book Theatre.)

Tennessee Williams: When I stop working, the rest of the day is posthumous. I’m only really alive when I’m writing. (I know I feel better when I’m able to write a little – or a lot – every day.)

I also was curious about what these authors liked to drink. Here’s what I found in Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide by author Mark Bailey and illustrator Edward Hemingway – grandson of the writer.

Ernest Hemingway – the Mojito – invented at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba
William Faulkner – a Mint Julep – Musso & Frank Grill in Los Angeles let him mix his own
Carson McCullers – the “Sonnie Boy” – her own mixture of hot tea and sherry
F. Scott Fitzgerald – a Gin Rickey
Raymond Chandler – a Gimlet

From WBC – World’s Biggest Cookbook.com
http://www.worldsbiggestcookbook.com/drinks/rich-famous/

Jack London – a gin martini
W. Somerset Maugham – a gin martini
Tennessee Williams – a Ramos Fizz

Finally, I’d often wondered if the way they faced life and used alcohol added to their genius … or if the literary world and readers were cheated from even richer works. I don’t know, but I’m grateful for the bounty they left us.

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October 1, 2012

Proofreading

My September 15th main post about music and inspiration had been up for two days when I decided to scan through it quickly. Yikes! Right in the first sentence was a glaring error which I had not seen during the entire process of writing and proofreading prior to posting. Here was the sentence: In my journey as a writer, I sometimes have been lead into a poem or a short story through a work of art or sculpture or a piece of photography. The word “lead” jumped at me. Why hadn’t it jumped at me before? The past tense of lead is led.

I corrected the mistake. Because lead was spelled correctly, no red line had appeared under it to alert me to a problem.

Then when I was writing the “Books Page” for the current posting, I wrote this sentence: Joanna Carl takes the reader on a merry rump. A merry rump? Are you kidding me? Obviously, it was supposed to be a merry romp. Of course, no red line appeared, but I caught the error before I hit “Update.”

When proofreading, I’ve tried reading the sentences word by word, not allowing my eyes to group phrases or skim read. I’ve also tried reading the sentence backward, word by word. Obviously, neither technique is foolproof.

Moral to this tale? Watch out for homonyms and crank up the concentration when proofreading.

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September 15, 2012

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was half-way through Immediate Fiction  by Jerry Cleaver. Well, I finished it. What a read. It’s a book you devour in bites, savor, and think about.

In his discussion about plot, Cleaver cites several ideas about how many actual plot ideas exist. Cleaver states there’s just one universal plot. It’s “someone against someone or something – always.” In graduate school studying theater, I learned Aristotle’s claims about plot. Cleaver also mentions them. 1. Man against man. 2. Man against society. 3. Man against the gods. 4. Man against himself. 5. Man against nature. 6. Man against machine. I narrowed it down to man against man, man against himself, and man against nature. However, no matter how you slice and dice, it seems plot theories do come down to the one idea: someone against someone or something.

If finding time to write is an issue, Cleaver presents his 5 minute a day approach and his list to get you writing, which also makes into a nice mnemonic: SCARE.
S = Situation
C = Character who has a want and an obstacle
A = Action (confrontation/struggle)
R = Resolution
E = End in character’s mind

I especially liked his discussion of the writer (me, you) in Chapter 15 called Hitting the Wall – Blocking and Unblocking. Sometimes we paralyze ourselves like the golfer who has so many ideas floating around in his head about stance, grip, swing, balance, etc., that he ends up duffing the ball. Cleaver states worrying about writing and actual writing are two different acts. Sit down and write. Be easy about it. He states, “Storytelling is an acquired skill, not an inborn talent. It’s work plus craft.”

The creative process seems to exist in two parts. The first is the flow process which is messy, emotional, fluid, and nonjudgmental. The second step is the editing process which is deliberate, intellectual, and judgmental. Cleaver caps these ideas with a definition of writer’s block I like: Being blocked is editing run amuck. To get unblocked you must take action and get writing.

What I liked best about this book were the many pages devoted to the writer and showing us how to manage ourselves.

Writing in the Dawn by Thomas Anshutz

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September 1, 2012

When I begin a short story, my main goal is to get it down, work it through to a conclusion. After I ‘m done, it’s a pretty miserable mess. We’ve all heard the expression “shitty first draft.”

Going back into the work to rewrite is a journey of discovery. Sadly, it may also be like arriving in town without a GPS or map and looking for cousin Joe’s house. How do you get there? Asking for pieces of direction here and there? Correcting this turn and that? How do you rewrite to get to a stronger story? I’ve used the no map, no GPS approach in the past until I’ve felt pretty lost.

I know writing is an art, not a science, and stories have certain elements, but I was looking for a better way to revise. I’m halfway through Immediate Fiction  by Jerry Cleaver. And I like what I’m reading. Cleaver suggests a specific approach when going into your revision work.

His mantra during rewrite is to look for the story elements. He says it often and in different ways, with plenty of good examples. His advice makes into an easy mnemonic – CARES.

C = Conflict (want + obstacle)
A = Action
R = Resolution
E = Emotion (worries, fears, hopes)
S = Showing

He says many story problems will solve if you have a strong enough “want” and “obstacle” in place. Mark where they occur on the page and on what page. Are they buried three or four pages in? Your reader probably won’t stay with you. If what your character wants is something he can survive without, the want is not strong enough. You may need to work on the want or the obstacle or both. Then check your character’s actions that lead toward resolution.

Establish the character’s emotions – worries, fears, and hopes. The reader needs to be involved in the character’s emotional life so the reader can identify and care. All of this is best done with showing – showing within scenes how things are getting much worse before they will get better. Cleaver says that with each draft, you want to get more into the character’s mind. This is the most difficult part.

Last element I want to touch on is this. We’ve all heard the adage: Write what you know. Cleaver says “Write what you can imagine. Write what you can figure out.”

I like this book. I’m now into the second half.

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August 15, 2012

Like many writers, I subscribe to magazines on writing, such as  Poets and Writers and Writer’s Digest. I also buy books on writing which I read and then use for reference. One of these books is by Elizabeth George called Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. I like its preciseness just as I like George’s precise writing in her mystery novels.

I especially like the way she approaches characterization. In Chapter One, called “Story is Character,” she says:

Give them flaws, allow them to doubt themselves about something, see to it that they grow and change, and make certain you are putting them into conflict.

She stresses the importance of character names and how those characters are going to talk. With a dialect? Educated? Down and out? The most important step for her is to create an analysis of the character before she begins to write the novel. I like the psychological approach she takes. It gives the characters depth and motivation. She discusses character development in Chapter 5:

1. What is the character’s core need? e.g. the need to be good at something, the need for excitement.
2. What is the character’s pathological maneuver? e.g. what he does under pressure – when his core need is being denied or thwarted.
3. What is the character’s sexuality – his attitudes toward sex, his sexual history.
4. What past circumstance had a big impact on the character that helped mold him into the person he is today?
5. What does the character want?

Chapter 16 is called “The Value of Bum Glue.” George illustrates the idea in one of her journal entries. From her July 6, 1998 entry in Journal of a Novel:

I suit up and show up. I sit down at the computer and do the work, moving it forward a sentence at a time, which is ultimately the only way to write a book.

All I have to do is think “Bum Glue” and it seems to put “starch in my jeans.” I go into my office and go to work. Work. That’s one four letter word that can’t be avoided.

Chapter 18 is called “Gimme a Map, Please.” Here she describes some plot structures: The Seven Step Story Line, The Hero’s Journey, Gustav Freitag’s Pyramid, The Three Act Structure, and Variations.

Writers, this is a good book to have on the shelf!

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August 1, 2012

When I first have a story idea, my main goal is getting “it” down and moving the storyline forward. After I reach a certain point in that process, I become conscious of the pacing, the tension, the building intensity of the piece, and the sentence variation.

Writing instructor and author Gary Provost (1944-1995) gave us this example of how sentence variety produces rhythm and an increase in tempo. The rhythm creates a deeper response in the reader. From his book 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

The first time I read this, I thought,  Wow!  Now this quote is ever present on a large Maxine post-it taped to the bottom right-hand corner of my iMac. It keeps me forever conscious of sentence length and variety and what those sentences can do to a story … and to a reader.

Rhythm is all around us in everyday life in many forms. A  person’s gait, a car turn signal, the drip of a faucet, the cadence of a voice, the rumble of a train. Why forget it in our writing?

Rhythm by Robert Delaunay

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July 15, 2012

How did Poe hook me?

After I finished writing the article called “Rebooting the Short Story,” I thought about “The Masque of the Red Death.” I became curious. What was it about the story that caused me to remember it after so many years? What had Poe done? I wondered if my recollection had anything to do with the five senses, something writers include to help the reader “feel” the story. Had he appealed to my ability to see, touch, hear, taste, and smell? I went looking.

Poe appealed to the visual throughout the story. Below, he describes the rooms:

The chamber at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange – the fifth with white – the sixth with violet …

He lingered in his description of the seventh room with its black velvet, a very tactile fabric familiar to most readers.

…The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue.

I could hear the ebony clock:

… a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy monotonous clang; and when the minute hand made the circuit of the face and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause …

I didn’t find anything to appeal to my sense of taste. One line referred to food:

The abbey was amply provisioned.

The smell of death builds and hits in the final line:

The Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

James V. Smith, Jr., in his book The Writer’s Little Helper,  tells writers to use a character’s senses instead of the author’sHowever, Poe wrote in the style of his day. Now, as writers, we focus on the senses through the point-of-view of individual characters. Either way, the senses build our perceptions. Poe hit four out of five.

I’ll have to add that Poe also appealed to my other “senses” of wonder, dread, and fear. My memory of this story lingers for good reason.

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July 1, 2012

Writing

Whether you write poetry often or very seldom, you might enjoy venturing into this exercise. I call it “The I Ams …” It becomes a symbolic and thought provoking exploration. Imagine yourself as a shape, a movement, a sound, and a number. What would you choose? Turn the choice to words.

The I Ams …

 Shape

I am a treble clef
filled with cinnamon song
curled around harmony
occasional discord

Movement

I am a flamenco step
heeled shoe
stomping insecurity
to the ground
whirling confidence


Sound

I am a soft melody
shy, peeking on tiptoe
whispering lyric
bursting to song


Number

I am a 7
stiff-winged, soaring skyward
sleek, eyes sharp
focused on 8
not looking back

by C. M.

Share your work by posting it in the comment box.

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June 15, 2012

Writing Prompts

Do you ever sit at your desk and ponder, waiting for that kernel of an idea to pop? A possible solution to help with “the pop” is the writing prompt. If you haven’t worked with one, they can be fun and lead to some good stuff. One of the first writing classes I took, the professor gave us a prompt at the end of each session.  He held up an object such as a music box. Or  he said something like, “The mad dog dashed ….” Perhaps he said a single word. “Lost.” Perhaps he set up more of a scenario, “The woman knew she should keep her sister’s secret, but ….”

As the day moved on, the short story would begin to form in the back of my mind. I might have the opening line or the closing line. I might have a beginning and end. I might see a character. A setting. That night I’d write, just get the story down. No critic was allowed to hang over my shoulder. During the week the story grew as I “saw” more, felt more, discovered more.

I like prompts that are open and aren’t too scripted. There are some enticing prompts called Writing Aerobics plus good writerly advice at this website: http://cyndymuscatel.wordpress.com/writing-dos-and-dont/

Another source is Writer’s Digest magazine’s website which offers 23 pages of writing prompts. Visit http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts.  These prompts give a scenario. On page 2, for example, in “St. Patrick’s Day Hangover,” some intriguing details are given. A hangover, a sore forearm, a tatoo of a map, curiosity. Story length is 500 words. Writers then post their stories from the prompt. It’s always interesting to see what each writer does.

The website for Poets and Writers magazine is also a good place to visit. The prompts are divided by Poetry, Fiction, and Creative Non-Fiction. Their web address is http://www.pw.org/writing-prompts-exercises

Writing can be “prompted” by a painting or a visual piece of art. Below is  a work by artist R.C. Gorman which nudged at me.

Waiting Women
A Lithograph 1976

wrapped in blankets of patience
the women wait and watch
bearing wisdom timeless
a sisterhood of earth mothers

knowing sungods carry fire
wind spirits hurl gusts of fury
wolf moons call the hunter
rain brings growth from the seed

singing songs of lands ancestral
scarred by drought, famine blighted
washed in flood, war wearied
stained by lonely childbirth cries

waiting for sun to rise each day
from behind desert mountain crags
carrying in its ample pouch
dollops of nurturing goodness
for barefoot children …
running, laughing

A tribute to artist R.C. Gorman 1931-2005
by C. M.

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June 1, 2012

Punctuation …

The book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, published in 2004, helped revive focus on the elusive art of proper punctuation. The author chides us with humor about the errors of our writing ways and urges us to improve. I like the definition of punctuation she cited from a national newspaper’s style book: a courtesy designed to help readers to understand a story without stumbling.

A popular punctuation example which always amuses me adds to her admonition. A professor writes this sentence on the whiteboard,  “A woman without her man is nothing”  He asks his students to punctuate it. The exercise goes beyond the missing period. The men write, “A woman, without her man, is nothing.” The women write: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.” Oh, what punctuation can do to meaning.

I usually have to double-check where to place a comma or period or question mark when using quotation marks. The italicized rules below and the examples are taken from my well-thumbed copy of Merriam-Webster’s Revised Edition Manual for Writers & Editors, p. 31.

When a period or comma follows text enclosed in quotation marks, it is placed within the quotation marks, even if the original language quoted was not followed by a period or comma. 
Example: He smiled and said, “I’m happy for you.”
Example: But perhaps Pound’s most perfect poem was “The Raven.”
Example: The cameras were described as “waterproof,” but “moisture resistant” would have been a better description.

The dash, question mark, and exclamation point are placed inside quotation marks when they punctuate the quoted matter only, but outside the quotation marks when they punctuate the whole sentence. 
Example: He asked, ” When did they leave?”
Example: What is the meaning of “the open door”?

I keep several style manuals handy, such as the previously mentioned Merriam-Webster reference and The Chicago Manual of Style. I usually keep the Google page open. When in doubt, check.

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May 13, 2012

Mother’s Day

I have my mother’s straw hat. Nothing exotic or expensive. She bought it at WalMart. But, oddly, it’s one of her things I treasure most. It represents her biggest legacies to me. Perseverance, determination, and knowing how to work. She’d tend to her roses or sew a wedding gown or paint a room and wouldn’t stop until the job was just the way she wanted it. She was strong and determined, a survivor. A true poster girl for  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

She left us at age 97.

I share with you …

My Mother’s Hat

My mother’s woven straw hat,
circle of complicated love,
sits atop an antique stand.                                  

Refuge from midday sun,
its wide-brimmed haven
speaks of sacrifice
and constancy.

Its presence
recalls special gifts to me.
Choices … rainbowed with dreams.

Wearing it
brings my mother close.
I whisper
thank you.

by C. M.

And, as a writer, I forever marvel how a poem or story can emerge from anywhere or anything, at any time … a trip, a feeling, a keepsake … a hat.

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May 1, 2012

Writing Descriptions

Some writers as they tell their stories give detailed descriptions in a clump. They tell what the setting looks like. What a character is wearing. His or her physical characteristics. How or what they are feeling. Other writers prefer blending these elements into the scene as it progresses. Both approaches work and are determined by the writer’s style. To me, the latter technique allows the writer to keep revealing and to keep leading the reader forward. It encourages the reader to discover, question and conclude.

Thrity Umrigar begins her novel The Space Between Us with this prologue:

The thin woman in the green sari stood on the slippery rocks and gazed at the dark waters around her. The warm wind loosened strands of her scanty hair, pulling them out of her bun. Behind her, the sounds of the city were muted, shushed into silence by the steady lapping of the water around her bare feet. Other than the crabs that she heard and felt scuttling around the rocks, she was all alone here – alone with the murmuring sea and the distant moon, stretched thin as a smile in the nighttime sky. Even her hands were empty, now that she had unclenched them and released her helium filled cargo, watching until the last of the balloons had been swallowed up by the darkness of the Bombay night. Her hands were empty now, as empty as her heart, which itself was a coconut shell with its meat scooped out.

What do we learn?

Physical appearance: The woman is thin; she wears a green sari; her scanty hair is worn in a bun; her feet are bare; her hands are empty …

Setting: She’s in Bombay, standing in the sea, feeling crabs scuttle about her feet, watching helium filled balloons rise into the sky …

Emotional state: Her heart is empty; her heart is hard; she stands alone …

Sensory cues: the smell of the sea, the feel of the water, the feel of a warm wind, sounds of sea life and city life, the sight of balloons drifting away …

The blending of these elements flows so easily, yet gives so much. It leads me forward and makes me curious.

The scene feels lonely. She seems sad. Why? I want to keep reading …

Click on the book for more information.

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April 15, 2012

The World of Women

Sonabai Rajawar

I first learned of Sonabai Rajawar through participation in a program called     The World of Women, dedicated to women who have made a difference in the world. The participating writers and poets were asked to select one of the names listed by the organizers of the program and write a poem. I chose Sonabai Rajawar because I had never heard of her.

Sonabai Rajawar lived in a remote village in India. Married to an older man, her marriage had been childless for 10 years. When she finally gave birth to a son, her jealous husband moved the family to the outskirts of the village. She was forbidden to leave her windowless home or have contact with other people. The isolation continued for the next 15 years.

Wanting toys for her son, Sonabai Rajawar began to fashion animals from the clay soil by her well. She made her own colors from herbs and pigments. She made her own brushes. Over the years of isolated confinement she filled her home with colorful folk art. Today Sonabai Rajawar’s work is world famous. Through adversity she taught herself to become a decorative and assemblage artist. She proved that amid the worst of circumstances the creative spirit cannot be quelled. This inspirational artist passed away in August of 2007.

For more information and images of her art, I suggest Stephen P. Huyler’s book  Sonabai, Another Way of Seeing. Simply click on the book image.

The Artist 

Unblinded by windowless barriers, Sonabai Rajawar
viewed life through
panes of recollection,
found ways to see the world
beyond the village well and planting fields,
though confined … behind mud-hut walls.

Clay-soil, mixed and molded, shaped and folded,
made a shrinking reality
become limitless,
imagination’s door a gateway
to memories … held within mud-hut walls.

Clay-slip slid over slender brown fingers,
onto callused palms,
over veined hands,
smoothing contours
on memories … held within mud-hut walls.

Gentle touch fashioned four-legged forms,
color-brushed black stripes
on yellow tigers strong,
sculptured a son’s toys
from memories … held within mud-hut walls.

Monkey chatter, donkey bray, tiger growl,
sounds of figures born
under her vision,
remembrances of village life,
but memories … held within mud-hut walls.

Companionable friends of clay gathered in her space,
joyful painted faces
shared her imprisonment,
peopled the loneliness
of a husband’s cruel decree … enforced by mud-hut walls.

A creative soul soared free beyond human capriciousness,
consoled a heavy heart,
showed mankind how to survive,
to endure oppression,
to understand creative force is unstoppable …
Sonabai Rajawar’s legacy.
                                                                                                            by C.M. 2010                                                            

2 Responses to Writing

  1. I’ve had a little look around your blog and I absolutely love it! For a long time now I’ve been thinking about plans to study English Literature and Creative Writing at University – I really want to write. Write anything! It’s realy encouraging to read your blog content and find advice and such 😉

  2. cmwriter says:

    Hi Shan – Glad you stopped by. Read all you can, study craft all you can, and keep writing!! And submitting. Much success to you!

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