Thursday, December 31, 2009

Craft: Writing About Emotional Events

From my class on Tone: Emotion and Humor

A few tips to keep in mind when writing about conflict or violence:
  • Characters in a crisis often observe small, random, details.
[Ever been in a car accident, even a fender bender? Time seems to slow down, you remember the oddest things-- the policeman's scuffed shoes, the menacing smell of gasoline, the jarring cheerfulness of the radio, still playing light rock.]
  • Concrete, precise details create the effect of intensity.
Here's an example from Jane Smiley’s novel, A Thousand Acres. A wife leaves her husband near the end of the novel, surprising herself, her husband and the reader. Notice the pedestrian, rather ordinary scene –making dinner, worrying over the stove—and how the simmering emotions are handled in a controlled, vivid, unsentimental way as they intensify and –pardon the pun—boil over:

I peeled potatoes and put them on to boil, then went out in the garden and picked some brussels sprouts off the stalk. If you leave them though the fall, through the frosts, they sweeten up. . . all my motions were familiar—running an inch of water in an old pot, piercing the bottoms of the sprouts with a fork. I turned down the heat under the potatoes. Ty cam in, stepping out of his boots and hanging his insulated coverall by the door. I said, “Supper will be ready in twenty minutes.”
    I set the pan of sprouts over a low flame.
    He finished washing his hands, dried them carefully on a dish towel, and walked out of the room. I turned don the oven to broil and bent down to see if it had lit, because sometimes the pilot light went out.  I said, “One new thing we could get would be a range. This one is a menace.”
    He was back in the room. He said, “I don’t necessarily think this is the right time to get a new range.”
    “Well, maybe it will just blow up, then, and put us out of our misery.”
    He heaved an exasperated sigh, then said, “I’ll bring the range over from your father’s place tomorrow. That’s pretty new.”
    …Steam rose from the boiling potatoes and the simmering brussels sprouts. I remembered the broiler, which was now surely heated enough, and I opened the oven door and set the chops under the heat.
    We were silent. The contained roar of the gas and then, a minute later, the first sizzling of meat juices, took on the volume and weight of oracular mutterings, almost intelligible. With a feeling of punching through a wall, I said, “I need a thousand dollars.”
    Ty widened the opening. “I have a thousand dollars in my pocket, from the rent on my place. Fred brought it by last night, but I didn’t have a chance to put in the bank.”
    I held out my hand. He took a wad of money out of his pocket. It felt large and solid in my palm, larger and solider than it was. I went to the hall tree and took down my coat and scarf, then I went to the key hook and took the keys to my car, and with the meat broiling in the oven and the potatoes and sprouts boiling on the stove, I walked out the door. When he saw, I suppose, that I really meant to get in and drive away, Ty yelled, “I gave my life to this place!”
    Without looking around at him, I yelled back, “Now its yours!” The night was dark already, and moonless. I stumbled over a rut in the yard that threw me against the cold metal skin of the car. I reached for the door handle, but the money was still in my hand, so I thrust it into the pocket of my coat.
    In Mason City, I ate a hot dog at the A and W.
    In St. Paul, I found a room at the YWCA. They didn’t ask any questions when I didn’t write down a home address on the registration slip.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year, New Leaf

There's nothing like the clean-slate, turn-over-a-new-leaf feel of New Year's Day.

I love making resolutions, and sometimes I manage to keep a few.

The key is to start with small changes. Like the Spanish proverb says:  "Habits are first cobwebs, then cables." [Thanks to Zen Habits for pointing this out.]

I'm already thinking about what my list of resolutions will be. This year, I may limit them to six-- I  really like the 6 Changes Method.

Writers:  I also recommend perusing  C. M. Mayo's guest post,"New Year's Resolution: Write that Book! (12 Great Tips)" on Christina Baker Kline's blog A Writing Life.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter walks

The shortest, coldest days of the year are upon us, but I still do my best to walk in the evenings. It helps to have a dog who lifts my wrist from the laptop with his cold nose at 4 pm sharp to remind me it's time for our daily constitutional. Last night, at a nearby park, just as the sun was setting, I took this picture of the kind, dependable, solid trees above us.

There's just something about trees...

Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.
Rabindranath Tagore

In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they're still beautiful.
Alice Walker 

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
Robert Louis Stevenson  

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Short of It

The long and the short of it: brief, economical, tight communication is in.

Like Pecha Kucha.

You've never heard of it? I hadn't either, until last summer when I was asked to do one for the SC Arts Commission. According to the Pecha Kucha site, it's "a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images forward automatically and you talk along to the images." It was originally used by architects because "they talk too much."

I put together a Powerpoint presentation on "sense of place"-- how my surroundings informed the setting of my fiction. I used my own photos. 20 photos for 20 seconds each.

If you get the chance to attend or participate in Pecha Kucha, Do It. It's addictive.  Take a look at a few examples here.  I like the Wayward Plants presentation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On Social Networking and Writers...

My guest post today for A Good Blog is Hard to Find:

Welcome to the Shiny Happy Digital Age*

by Mindy Friddle

* This title is not ironic. I really believe our new digital age is full of opportunity.

A few years ago, it was considered "quaint" for an author to have a website. Now, it's a must. The "planks" of our author platforms aren't just our published works, newspaper columns, radio gigs--they're Facebook, Twitter, networking.

Take Twitter, for example. Yeah, I hear you groaning. Some of you, anyway. Twitter is a little hard to get used to at first. "Why should I Tweet that I just ordered a pizza?" a friend of mine asked. "Who cares?" Well, nobody. But if your Tweet is "The pizza delivery guy is a dead ringer for Brad Pitt. The green mohawk is a poor disguise." That's a little more interesting. READ MORE

Monday, December 14, 2009

Prickly Quote

Here is my cactus garden to remind me of SUN as we approach the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

They grow slowly, they are patient.

Cacti are prickly but calm. They are grouped, but don't touch; I sense their fierce independence.

I have them on my desk, by the window, near my laptop. Now I know why:

Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it's the answer to everything. To ''Why am I here?'' To uselessness. It's the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it's a cactus.”
-- Enid Bagnold (English Writer, 1889-1981)

Friday, December 11, 2009

RIP Kirkus

From The Times They Are A- Changin' file:

Kirkus Reviews is closing. They were "reliably cantankerous," but a good book review from them meant a lot-- to booksellers and librarians, especially.

My first novel The Garden Angel was reviewed favorably by Kirkus-- got one of those coveted starred reviews. I've always been grateful for that vote of confidence. THAT was a happy day.

Here's an innovative move-- a good change: According to an article in the Books section of the New York Times, The Atlantic will start selling individual short stories:
Priced at $3.99 each, the stories, which will bear the Atlantic logo, are exclusively available on the Kindle, Amazon’s electronic reader, and will not appear in the print version of the magazine. The Atlantic’s editors plan to offer about two Kindle stories every month.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tooting My Horn: Press Clips

Welcome to my virtual press clippings page. I'm grateful for the ink-- I love when the media covers books and authors.

This just in: An interview with me [about family secrets] in the Spartanburg Herald Journal here.

I'm so looking forward to reading tomorrow night-- Monday, Dec 7 for the Hub City Writers Project at The Showroom, 149 S. Daniel Morgan Ave., Spartanburg, SC. What a great organization!

And from Skirt-- an interview and book review of Secret Keepers.

The photo here, which appears in skirt, was taken by John Fowler.
eXTReMe Tracker