Thursday’s Children May 23, 2013

Inspired by Contests!

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Late last summer, after beginning to query my third book, I decided to figure out Social Media Platforms. Seemed like a good distraction from the horror of an empty inbox. My Twitter feed was soon clogged with tweets about writing contests. My first foray into the contest world was WriteOnCon. Though I had no idea what the hell I was doing, in addition to getting some feedback on my query and first few hundred words, I met some wonderful people. One of them was Kristina Perez.

We exchanged manuscripts. Out of our CP relationship, a true friendship was born. We supported each other through the ups and downs of other contests, querying, revising, etc. Thursday’s Children is our first “baby” and we’re very proud of how it’s grown into a fabulous community for writers to share ideas and cheer each other on. Both Kristina and I are inspired by writers who give back (Heather Webb, Brenda Drake, Deana Barnhart, to name just a few) and we promised each other that if we EVER, FINALLY got agents, we’d do a contest too.

Well, that day has come! Here’s our second “child”! Hop along to Kristina’s TC post for more details and a link to the contest website! We hope you’ll enter if you’re eligible and we’re counting on your help to spread the word!

virgin_widget

Have you ever participated in a writing contest? What was the best thing about it? What was the worst? 

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Thursday’s Children May 16, 2013

Inspired by fog…

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Last week, Jessika Fleck’s TC post about snow sparked my idea for this post, in addition to time at the beach, during which I snapped these photos.

Photo by R. Wynn-Nolet

Photo by R. Wynn-Nolet

Photo by R. Wynn-Nolet

Photo by R. Wynn-Nolet

When I was in high school I wanted an airbrush, just so I could paint realistic mist and fog. Last week, on my way home, the sunny skies five miles inland gradually gave way to a thick fog blanket at the coast. It took only a few wisps drifting across the road to make my pulse race.

Fog is…atmospheric…transforming…disorienting…the sky brought down to our level. Otherworldly.

Sometimes, at the beach, people materialize out of the fog, right in front of me, like magic.

Fog makes an appearance in almost every book I’ve written.

Here are some excerpts about fog (which will also demonstrate that I don’t always write from a dark and twisty POV).

Unquiet Souls

The muffled sounds of waves lapping the shore enveloped us as we walked along the path. Clammy, salty-tasting mist turned the evergreens into feathery shadows. Our feet made almost no sound on the pine needles.

A slight puff of air on my right hand, like someone’s breath, raised goose bumps on the backs of both arms. I glanced behind us, but saw nothing.  Somewhere in the woods beside me a twig snapped. 

And later in that scene…

We kicked off our shoes and sat on a big boulder, above the seaweed line marking high tide…Droplets of moisture, like tiny crystal beads, collected on his hair. If only this moment could last indefinitely, the two of us in a cloud world, isolated from everything and everyone else.

If TENDRIL were actually a real book, mist might drift out from between the pages. It takes place in a fog-bound Maine town.

TENDRIL opening…

Sporadic blasts of the foghorn heralded our arrival at the lighthouse. The headlights illuminated the mist shrouding the island but couldn’t penetrate it. Once we were out of the car, fog clung to my skin like a veil. The air was thick with the smell of sea creatures, both living and dead.

Later in the book (“Pegasus” refers to her rickety bike)…

The fog was so dense I could taste its saltiness. Between the island and the mainland I flew among clouds, riding through the sky on my elderly Pegasus. The bleating of the foghorn and the disembodied cries of Canada geese seemed to come from the mist itself. I could see no more than a few feet in front of me… Had I not traveled the same route so many times I might easily have gotten lost.

Still later, in the voice of the male protagonist-

“Wait. Will you go out with me on Wednesday?”

“Yes…if I can…then I will.”

The way she said it gave me goose bumps. The bad kind. “What does that mean?”

“Well, you know, if I’m…free. There’s a chance I might not be. Goodbye, Dylan.” Before I could think of what to say, she disappeared into the fog, almost like she was part of it.

So, as you’ve read, I love the way fog can set a mood…ominous, romantic, mysterious. I think I need an “I ❤ Fog” bumper sticker. Or as we say here in Maine, bumpah stickah. Here’s a photo I took last fall. Those are my editorial assistants, getting a closer look at the boat.

Photo by R. Wynn-Nolet

Photo by R. Wynn-Nolet

Does fog appear in your writing? Do you like fog?

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Thursday’s Children May 2, 2013

Inspired by Psychology Tests…

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I have a thing for personality tests and psychology generally, which explains how I ended up with a relatively useless degree in psych and art.  (Clearly, my choices were not based on any kind of “get rich quick” plan). When writers create characters they’re playing psychologists – assembling traits, ascribing motivation, exploring deep-seated fears, relationship dynamics, etc. My current WIP has a psychiatrist in it, so I’ve been reliving Personality 101 and doing some research into the bag of tricks psychiatrists use to determine what’s going on inside their patients’ heads. Especially those patients who are the “withholding” type.

Brace yourself, this could turn into a series because some of the tests I’ve rediscovered have actually inspired my writing. Next week I might share a scene from my WIP that involves a different diagnostic tool.

But for now, on to the Luscher Color Test. Once upon a time, I saw an avant-garde European film. The two protags were a psychiatrist and his patient. At one point this particular test came into play. It’s basically a matter of selecting colors based on preference, from the one which appeals to you most, to the one you like the least. Your preferences reveal things about your state of mind, motivations, personality, etc.

I find personality profiles can be useful when it comes to configuring characters.

luscher

Learn more about the meanings of color and take the whole test by clicking here. You can also learn more about what your first choice color means here.

When my then boyfriend, now husband, and I did this test, I picked violet. Sometimes he still teases me by saying, “You’re being REALLY violet, right now.” My MCs tend to have violet tendencies too.

Here’s what that means-

Violet attempts to fully unify the impulsive conquest of red and the gentle surrender of blue. This is a mystical, magical color, that represents intuitive and sensitive understanding of the unreal. It is the preferred color of almost 75 percent of pre-adolescent children. Oddly, it is also preferred by pregnant women and people with hyper-thyroidism and homosexuals of both genders. In short, it can be considered to be a desire for mystic intimacy or understanding.

Did you take the test? Did you feel the results were accurate? Do you feel like an amateur shrink when you develop your characters?

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Thursday’s Children April 25, 2013

Before anything else, I must say CONGRATULATIONS once again to my friend and Thursday’s Children participant Stacey Lee on the sale of her book to Putnam! She’s one of the funniest, kindest, and most generous people around (she gave me my little turtle Remy). I can’t wait to buy her book (tentatively titled Golden Boys).

And now for the most horrifically graceless segue ever,

Inspired by Muck…

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To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “You know you’re a New Englander if your four seasons are almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction.”

Of course, he’s not a New Englander and thus he forgot the fifth season. Mud.

In this part of the world, Old Man Winter kicks Mother Nature’s butt from November to April. When Spring finally comes to northern New England, she definitely looks “ridden hard and put away wet.” The glorious carpet of autumn leaves has turned ugly brown. Limbs have been ripped off, revealing raw wood-flesh and some poor, doomed trees lean at drunken angles, knocked over but unable to rest because their comrades caught them on the way down. No pretty green leaves hide the damage. Lawns show unsightly wounds inflicted by snow plows. Nobody in his right mind tries to sell his New England home in early to mid-Spring.

Photo by Rhiann Wynn-Nolet

Photo by Rhiann Wynn-Nolet

Flowers foolhardy enough to bloom are begging for a foot of late season snow to be dumped on their heads.

But, for all the destruction, and decay, there is life.

Photo by Rhiann Wynn-Nolet

Photo by Rhiann Wynn-Nolet

In the muck of vernal pools…

Photo by Rhiann Wynn-Nolet

Photo by Rhiann Wynn-Nolet

Do you see him? The little frog in the middle of the photo? There’s another frog facing him,those tiny glowing dots are his eyes.

These brackish puddles lack the aesthetic appeal of babbling brooks and crystalline streams. They’re lined with dead leaves and have a faintly ominous look – like you might lean over to look into one, and get sucked down into an alternate world, probably ruled by smelly trolls. In reality, vernal pools are thriving micro eco-systems.

Earlier in the week, a writer-friend and I had a teasing exchange over Facebook about our WIPs’ swampy middles. At the moment, I’m teetering on the edge of my WIP’s murky midsection. Its surface is dark, opaque, and undoubtedly concealing all kinds of writerly perils (aka smelly trolls). I can’t see the precise story lines, plot twists, and character arcs which will ultimately get me to the other side of my book (yes, I’m pantsing this one). They’re temporarily obscured by the fertile mud of too many ideas.

Do your stories have swampy middles? Do they scare you a little bit?

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Thursday’s Children April 18, 2013

Regarding the tragic events in Boston, where I went to college and lived for over ten years, there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. During the horrific event and its aftermath, many ordinary people took extraordinarily inspiring action. Thank you for helping those in need and for allowing me to tell my children that people generally, are inherently good, and allowing me to actually believe it.

Inspired by Feet…

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Yes, really. But not just any feet. Ballerinas’ feet. When most people hear the word “ballerina”, an image like the one below pirouettes into their heads.

Russian Royal Ballet Swan Lake

Russian Royal Ballet Swan Lake

But when the lights come back on and the music stops and the pointe shoes come off, this is what a ballerina looks like.

Photo from theperformanceclub.org

Photo from theperformanceclub.org

Legend has it that Anna Pavolova left a trail of bloody footprints when she exited the stage after each performance.

When I was in art school, a friend of mine invited me to an adult ed ballet class she taught, so I could work on drawing figures in motion. Those dancers threw their over-age-thirty bodies around in sometimes laughable attempts to imitate the grace and strength of their teacher. That was an amazing lesson in courage right there, but I was too young and stupid to realize it at the time.

My friend said nobody understands the passion it takes to be a professional ballet dancer, until they see a dancer’s feet. She showed me hers once. A pretty horrific sight. She told me that when she danced with the Joffrey Ballet in New York, she was one of their best jumpers. Jumping over and over again fractured her ribs numerous times, simply from the impact of being caught by her male partners.

So, what intrigues me most about all this is that something ethereally beautiful is sometimes made possible by something excruciatingly painful. I’m wondering if the characters in my WIP, who are tortured by past and present experiences, are strong enough to love each other, and if my writing is strong enough to create something beautiful from their suffering. Only time will tell…


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Thursday’s Children April 11, 2013

Inspired by “The Piano”

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About 10K into my current WIP, I needed to find a piece of music. Something that my MC could dance to, that would give her ALL THE FEELS. And something that would give me ALL THE FEELS too, so I could write about her. It needed to be timeless, instrumental.

The song that came to mind is The Heart Asks Pleasure First by Michael Nyman, from “The Piano”. I hadn’t actually thought of either the song or the movie for years, though I adored the film when it came out in 1993. It has all the elements I crave in a movie, or a book for that matter – passion, tragedy, obsession, suspense, beautiful scenery, and a strong female lead. And by strong, I mean someone with a will of steel and an indomitable spirit. perhaps hidden behind a quiet demeanor. Maybe a survivor. Someone who will risk everything for love.

Want to hear something strange? I’d already written my MC as a selective mute when I went looking for a song. I’d forgotten Ada (the MC in “The Piano”) was a selective mute until I watched the video. You can see she wears a small pad on a ribbon around her neck, and her daughter uses sign language. Orla, my MC, uses her cell phone a lot.

If you’ve never seen the movie, I highly recommend it. Here’s the song…

Has a particular film influenced your writing, subconsciously or otherwise?

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Thursday’s Children April 4, 2013

Inspired by Handwriting…

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This weekend I was sorting through “stuff”, trying to decide what deserves to travel to North Carolina with us, and what does not. I came across some papers.

One was genealogical information from my Aunt Sybil, who died quite a few years ago. Just seeing her distinctive handwriting – bold, somewhat dramatic – brought all kinds of memories back. Like the time in Mexico when she put her hand on the restaurant table to heave herself out of her chair (she was a “big” woman). The whole table listed and the plates, water goblets, silverware slid off, causing all the waiters to rush at us exclaiming “Ay, dios mio!” Sybil surveyed the chaos, and with an air of haughty disdain, announced, “God damn flimsy table,” and exited the restaurant like a ship in full sail. Sybil always wrote with Flair felt-tip pens and I frequently gave them to her as Christmas presents. Here’s what her script looked like…

sybiljpg

Another was from my mother, who died only a couple of years ago. She always hated her handwriting. She compared it to her sister’s and although she thought Sybil’s was “showy”, she felt her own was not distinctive. They were like that in real life too, my mother always overshadowed by her flamboyant sister. When I look at my mom’s writing, I see an even, legible script, written before arthritis crippled her hands. It reminds me of her as a healthy, vibrant person. Her last few years were miserable and her handwriting was almost illegible.

mumjpg

For a very long time I kept a letter from my grandmother, Pearl. Her handwriting was strong, closely spaced, and often served to communicate judgmental observations and moral admonitions. The letter I saved was written in red ballpoint. I can “see” it, though I threw it away a long time ago. Now I wish I hadn’t, because I don’t remember what it said.

I also found a copy of a very old family letter (1861). I’m not really sure who this person was, other than an ancestor on my mother’s side. They spent considerable time and effort on penmanship back then. Just mastering pen and ink took lots of practice.

oldfamjpg

Anyway, all this made me think about how seldom I receive or send a handwritten letter. Yes, we fiddle around with fancy fonts to try to personalize things. But our fonts have gone missing. Even without making a study of handwriting, like a criminologist (and by the way, they must miss the handwriting days too), you can learn a lot about personality, as well as physical and emotional health, from studying a person’s writing.

One of my books features a husband and wife. His script is like my Aunt Sybil’s, but on steroids — commanding, showboat-y. He’s a respected lawyer and active member of the community, but underneath he’s a “bad hat”, as Madeline would say. His wife’s script is faint and practically microscopic. She’s so downtrodden and frightened, she barely dares to make an impact on paper. Hardly surprising that she cannot protect herself from her husband. She can’t protect my MC either.

I like using subtle, mundane nuggets like this to help bring characters to life. What kind of details do you use?

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Thursday’s Children March 28, 2013

Inspired by Cheerleaders…sort of

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“Leave It All On The Mat”

That was the first Facebook post I saw Sunday morning. One of my daughters belongs to an All-Star Cheering team and they had a competition later in the day. For those who have no idea what All-Star Cheering means, stick around. Five or so years ago, I had no idea either. I thought cheerleaders cheered for boys’ high school sports teams and that cheerleading was the domain of pretty, popular girls who could do cartwheels.

Times have changed.

Cheering is its own sport and has the dubious distinction of causing the most visits to the ER among school- age athletes, because the one thing that hasn’t changed are the skimpy uniforms. No helmet, no pads. Concussions are par for the course – not just for the flyers (the girls who get thrown up into the air) but also the bases (the team members who do the throwing and catching). Tumbling runs and stunts become more dangerous the higher the level. There are boys on teams. And non-skinny girls. And huge national competitions with really loud music. They’re all aspiring to be as good as this…

That was entertaining, right? But now you’re asking yourself what front tucks and scorpions and basket tosses have to do with writing. Well, maybe not in exactly those terms…

Writers must leave it all on the page.

Don’t end your ms feeling like you played it safe. If you hold nothing back, then you won’t be wondering what you could have or might have done. Put it all out there. Give it all you’ve got.

This is something I’m struggling with at the moment. The boy MC in my new WIP has a disturbing backstory. I wasn’t aware of this until I started writing about him. And the girl MC, well, she’s not the person I thought she would be either. She’s quite a bit more dysfunctional. I’m not sure this boy and girl are right for each other, or that their relationship can heal them. Their story might not be marketable. But, now that I know who they are, I’m fascinated. I can’t rethink their story into safer territory. At least not in the first draft.

Do your characters ever take you by surprise? What do you do about it? Do you give them free rein and let them tell you their stories, or do you make them tell the story you intended?

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Thursday’s Children March 21, 2013

Before anything else, I must congratulate three Thursday’s Children who’ve had exciting news this week!

Laura Oliva has launched her debut novel ALL THAT GLITTERS. Woot! She’ll be doing a guest spot here on my blog on Friday. I think even those of us attempting to go the traditional publishing route can benefit from her pointers about organization and promotion. I keep hearing pub houses have skimpy budgets for debut authors…

Jessie Devine is now an associate editor at Entranced Publishing. Yay!

Louise Gornall has revealed the cover of her book IN STONE!

Congratulations to you all! I’m looking forward to hearing more about…everything.

Inspired by Background Noise

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The idea for this post came from two different sources.

There was last week’s post about winter surfing, which led to a comment which led to a reply, wherein I mentioned that hearing ocean waves makes my heart beat faster. And a couple of months ago there was a conversation with an agent  – not the agent whose offer I accepted. She talked about audio-books  Someone she knows produces them with “background noise” — soundtracks that weave in and out of the narration. She imagined ocean waves for TENDRIL because it’s set on the Maine coast and the sea definitely plays an active role in the story. (And I would add the occasional foghorn too, because my fictitious Frost Island is frequently fog-bound).

Something along the lines of 

Waves are the omnipresent background noise during my daily walks on the beach, when I’m most often thinking about writing. Depending on the weather, I sometimes hear them at my house when I’m actually writing too. A few months from now we’ll be moving and I might need to resort to a wave soundtrack for my computer…

My childhood soundtrack included mourning doves. They’re called that because of their doleful coos. But I never think of them as sad sounds, instead they remind me of lazy summer mornings, where the day stretched out ahead of me, waiting to be filled by my imagination. I still get that same “anything’s possible” feeling whenever I hear them.

Mourning Dove Coo

My husband thought they were owls… Guess his childhood soundtrack was different.

Owl hoots sound quite different, and give me a wild and spooky sort of sensation.

During my twenties, my soundtrack was urban. Lots of sirens, car horns, club music, and an apartment-building neighbor with an obsession.  Think Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the comic version. “You still deliver, right?…Great. I’ll have the Shrimp Egg Foo Yong, Kung Pao Shrimp, Shrimp with Spicy Garlic Sauce, and the Sweet and Sour Shrimp, oh and some Shrimp Lo Mein…” Every. Single. Saturday. All shrimp, all the time.

Background noise in a book can convey a sense of place, time of day, season, and emotional atmosphere. Maybe the same sound has different connotations for different characters in the same story. Let’s say the MC lives near the train tracks. The sound of clacking and whooshing fills him with guilty excitement as he fantasizes escaping his snarky wife and bratty children. To his neighbor on the other side of the tracks, the same noise induces gut-wrenching despair as she recalls the day her son tried train-hopping with tragic results. Anticipating the train, hearing the train, ratchets up those emotions.

Perhaps even a seemingly innocent but constant background noise like a bouncing basketball, a barking dog, or the snapping of chewing gum could  drive someone over the edge. Or maybe a familiar sound could pull someone back from it. Warning: do NOT snap gum around me.

What’s the background soundtrack to your writing? To the story you’re telling? What feelings do these sounds inspire in your characters? Your readers?

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Thursday’s Children March 7, 2013

Inspired by Trees…

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There’s no question that I was a tree-worshiping pagan in a former life. Willows, oaks and birches are my favorites. Throughout my life, individual trees have held special significance for me.

First there was the mighty pine tree which supported my childhood tree-house — a double-trunked monster with its bristled head in the clouds and its scaly dragon claws dug into the ground. Its sticky golden blood was virtually impossible to remove from human skin, and somehow I always got some on me. Dirt and pine needles adhered to my skin with the power of super-glue.

Then there was the decayed weeping willow tree in the Boston Public Garden, whose hollow trunk provided privacy and shelter during a super-steamy kiss one drizzly autumn evening. Fond memories of that willow inspired us to get married under a different willow tree two Halloweens later.

flickr.com

Boston Public Garden flickr.com

During a trying time in my life I made a weekly pilgrimage to a particular oak tree. It lived in a nature reserve on the New Hampshire seacoast. Its gnarled branches and twisted trunk had endured the harsh elements for well over a century. I’d lay my hands on it and close my eyes and try to absorb stillness and strength. That actually works, you should try it sometime. Okay, secret’s out, I’m a tree-worhiping pagan in this life too. Sssshhhh...

One day a few years later, I was working in the yard. A young woman stopped her car and got out. She asked if she could come see our willow tree. The willow was a stately specimen and completely dominated our side yard. As it turned out, her father had planted the tree to mark her birth. She didn’t care to see the house where she’d lived as a child, but she really wanted to visit “her” tree because it was an important part of her story.

Sometimes inspiration can be found literally, in my own front yard.

BirchTreesBlueskyJPG

The slender birch on the left leans against the sturdier one. The larger tree’s dark branch embraces the paler one’s trunk and the embrace itself has actually wounded them both. The scar tissue binds them closer still. (Why yes, I AM mad for metaphors). Their branches mingle as they reach for the sky. Their roots are tangled, like lovers’ legs, under the blanket of snow and earth.

I love this tree couple. They provided inspiration for my first book, in which spirits from the 17th century try to fulfill their thwarted passions through my modern day main characters. Two trees that begin as individuals have hidden interwoven roots. Eventually they meet and become irreversibly joined. They will grow, and eventually die, together.

Do you like trees? Any particular kind? Is there a tree which holds special significance for you?

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