Wednesday, October 17, 2007

old beginnings and new research

I was going to title this post New Beginnings, but really, my current project is not new at all but a continuation of an old project.

With one novel just starting the rounds of publishers, I'm working on getting my next more finished than what it was. That is, it sat "finished" at 30,000 words. Not enough, but I couldn't think what else to do with it. Giving it a break of a year [or so] and having talked to the Creative Director at Varuna House, I've decided to get it back out, dive into some more research and get it really finished. I'm also thinking that I need a better title but that will come later.

So, the one doing the rounds is set in New Mexico/Colorado with forays into other areas [such as Ancient Mesopotamia... naturally] and is very much an adventure story with a hero-type, sidekicks and, of course, a quest that will save the world. There's also some magic thrown in, a murder or two and a good dose of hurt/comfort.

The novel I'm working on now is set only in New Mexico [what can I say, I really like New Mexico] but in two different timezones. Time/story 1 is around the time of the Desert Archaic or BasketMaker peoples and time/story 2 is in the late 1870s. Both stories deal with monsters of their time and the defeat of the monsters. There is a connection between the two stories, of course, but not a direct one.

I find that digging deep with research [which translates as lots and lots of reading - my favourite activity] helps me with a few aspects of writing. The first is that it puts me in the mood to write generally and specifically, and gives me new ideas and paths to consider. My reading is as widespread as I can make it from internet articles, museum & information centre pages [see my article on location research], blogposts and books [non-fiction and fiction]. I also listen to music and look at pictures. Doing these last two help with movement [of story and characters] and description. For instance, if I show a character is feeling the deep resonance of drums from inside out, I draw that from listening to drums myself and putting into words what I feel when I do.

Active research [such as listening/dancing to music] is an important tool for the writer and includes contacting other people for more information including direct experiences as well as detailed knowledge. Not everyone a writer contacts is going to be an "expert" in a specific field - that is, university professors etc. Of equal importance are the ordinary people with similar interests who like to talk about what they know, think and feel. A writer can learn a lot from casual conversation whether it be real life, via e-mail or through blog commenting and discussion boards.

I also try and find some short courses/seminars to attend that cover the area I'm researching. Not only are these a good source for professional information but the other people attending are great for the all-important casual conversation. I usually spend the "lecture" time scribbling down notes from the instructor as well as ideas and details I want to remember for my stories. I try to follow a similar pattern when I go to museums and art galleries and, as there's no instructor to listen to, ask questions of the curator or attendents.

Right now, I'm trying to find somewhere that I can experience Native American drumming live. That's not easy in Sydney, Australia but I'm sure I heard of someone running workshops in this area a few years ago. I'm also combing blogs and other websites looking for tidbits on BasketMaker culture [if you've got any you want to share, don't be shy and let me know]. My favourite blog to visit at the moment is Mark Hinton's Chaco Canyon site. He has some really great images of Chaco and other areas plus maps and an interesting [and easy to read] travelogue of his trips.

A great place to go for pictures is the Wild West Art Gallery right here in Sydney. It's great because it's only 10 minutes down the road from where I live and they have quite a good collection of prints including Bana, Terpning, Doolittle & McCarthy and books from Civil War topics to Native American, Cowboys & Trappers as well as beautiful art books. Drop in to their website - they import from America so whatever they have you can certainly obtain the same in the States.

My next novel is set a little closer to home so maybe I'll post my own "travelogue" of research and pictures... just as soon as I drag myself away from New Mexico that is.

[image: Chaco Canyon 2005]

Monday, October 15, 2007

Imaginative Journeys

or what I learned on the weekend...

1. Spring days are the best days

2. Little Athletics is hard work [for the parents that is, the kids have got it easy!]

3. Orchids are beautiful

4. Spending a few hours on a warm spring day is much more preferrable to attending to laundry needs

5. Having a coffee with your best bud is a predestined event that you shouldn't bother trying to fight.

Somewhere in that weekend I had a few profound moments that lifted a run-of-the-mill couple of days to pretty darn good days. I learned patience. At the Orchid Spectacular I went to on Sunday I restrained myself from buying every pretty flower I could find and purchased only one. If I manage to get that one to grow, flower and, hopefully, thrive, then next year I will buy another. I'm new to the whole orchid grower scene so it's baby steps for me.

I ran into my best bud at the local shopping mall mere seconds after thinking about her and wondering if she'd like to go get coffee in that afternoon. She couldn't, but invited me to go get coffee right away. I couldn't. However, in the afternoon, I was sitting at the cafe sipping coffee and who walked by? My best bud. She couldn't stay so we organised to meet up properly on Wednesday instead. That was this morning. There's something very satisfying about chatting with a friend in a cafe - away from home and work, relaxed, good atmosphere. Coffee always tastes better too!

How does all this contribute to my writing? On one level, not a lot. On a variety of others; through physical experience and activity, imagination, relaxing, going with the flow. These all help toward building character, story, background and plot. They also help clear the head, bring you out of any corners you may be stuck in, and if you do get that perfect spring day, share the realisation that life is great and can only get greater.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Oft Beaten Path 3

Back to this writer’s retreat. As of this exact point of writing time [late August 2007], I am nearing the end of day one.

At the exact moment in time after the above, I switched from writing this to working on my novel [that is why I’m here] so now I’m at the end of day 3. Sorry about that but let me fill you in.

I’ve had two sessions with the creative director who is a marvellously sincere gentlemen, a great reader, makes wonderful observations and comments on each and every work, and has an amazing memory.

In our first session he advised that I work on character development. This observation was not exactly a surprise because I’d been discussing something similar with my teenage daughter. However, he went in to what was missing from my characters in such a way that I was able to pinpoint where and when such development could be slipped into scenes. He like the rhythm and pace of the action scenes but said they needed to be balanced, and would be given further impact, if the reader could relate just a little more to the main character.

No prob. I spent the afternoon after that pinning up notes on my corkboard on who need work. There is something immensely satisfying about pinning notes up on a board I found. I felt like a real writer. Someone who was creating something, constructing a work that was a physical piece of art. Typing into a computer is just not the same thing.

Day 3 brought another session with the director. We discussed mostly similar themes. I read to him the developments I had made and he thought they worked well. Not overdone and adding just enough to connect to the reader.

The hours after that were even busier than previous as I read through page after page of manuscript with a red pen in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. It was a hard balancing act but I managed and came up with, what I think is quite a good scene involving one of my main female characters and the man she loves. I won’t go into details, but I do like it. I shall look at it again in the morning however, to make sure I haven’t gotten carried away with myself. You may be surprised to learn this, but that does happen quite a bit.

We have no sessions tomorrow so I will concentrate on the second half of my novel and see if I can’t get it finished (yet again) by the end of the week.

Now, let me tell you about some of the other things I’ve learned so far this week. Go and read those nine points I made above – just a quick skim through is fine.

From the lips of the creative director [with only a little twist or two from me] – they are all true!

How a writer is supposed to find a way through all this, I’m not sure. It does happen of course though to those of us who are yet unpublished (in the traditional sense), it remains a mystery. I find myself asking whether or not publishers and agents recall at any time that they have their work because there are people out there who actually write the stories they publish?

I know they do and that I am being cynical, but, hell (or heck, if you don’t like to curse), it sure doesn’t seem like it at times.

Then, of course, I recall that writers (like you and me) really are a dime a dozen. What a depressingly realistic thought.

I’m going to start the next chapter with a few tips on how us “newbie” writers might be able to help ourselves along. One of those tips includes going on a writer’s retreat!

Go make yourself a cuppa (or stock up on whatever is your preferred form of refreshment) while I prepare...