Another lovely element of the writer’s psyche: we know how to clean up.
Oh, we may hate it. Put it off. Try to pawn the duties off on someone else to clean our messes for us. But we who are serious about craft and creation know the story will always need a good cleaning-up. How else will others see the language and imagery when there’s used napkins and half-eaten coconut oatmeal raisin cookies all over? And who brought those, anyway? Those raisins are disgustingly deceptive…
I imagine that, in moments like this, we’re all rather like my grandmother.
She took her place as Church Basement Lady very seriously. If there was to be a funeral or some sort of fellowship hour, count on her to bring a pan of date bars and some hot ham for sandwiches. Where are the cups? She knows. Out of sugar? She’ll get some. Zounds, but the tables are a mess. Don’t worry: Marge and her crew will handle the clean-up.
And handle they did…in their own way.
Grandma and the six other ladies loved that time: the congregation gone, pastors elsewhere, they could smoke and cackle over gossip while hobbling among the tables gathering half-empty plates and forgotten snack cups. They’d use washcloths they had crocheted themselves to wipe down the tables and chairs. They’d drink that God-awful coffee, each leaving their own distinct shade of magenta lipstick on the styrofoam cups.
So let’s sit around the last table, you and I, and fill this air with old perfume and nicotine. Drink the dregs, and share our thoughts about all things past, present, and future in this meager life of hope and faith.
Last week I mentioned writing some thoughts on children’s literature for writer and illustrator A.J. Cosmo. Yesterday he posted some of these thoughts. Please click on over to read, “How Dark is Too Dark in Kid’s Lit?”
Poet Mike Steeden also sent me his review of my e-book collection of Lessons Learned. Not gonna lie–I teared up. I’ve only been in the blogosphere for a little over a year, but the friendships and partnerships formed are stronger than many I have in the physical world around me. Mike and I only started speaking–what, a month ago? And to receive such reactions from him spurred me to interrupt Bo on the toilet just to show him.
‘Lessons Learned’, is a title that at first glance implies big picture aspirations gathered from history that make for a better future. In essence, albeit by way of cameo this book, should one be either a writer or an avid reader (or both) is just that…a backward glimpse at excellence; a message understood affording a more accomplished appreciation and/or production of what possibilities lie ahead.
An ever so silky smooth muse upon the works and thinking process of the prolific fantasy novelist Diana Wynne Jones, this book intelligently and painlessly dissects her extensive portfolio in a manner that new, indeed seasoned writers of the ‘now’, should they take heed of Jean Lee’s words, will be ‘better than before’.
For those, like this reader, unfamiliar with the works of Ms Jones, ‘Lessons Learned’ commences with a most agreeable account and crucial ‘hook’ as to how Ms Lee discovered the author, as well as providing a pertinent point glimpse as to, in colloquial terms, ‘what she was all about’.
As such, the book lives up to its title as it captures those lessons learned by the author herself in compiling the same and those, like me, grateful that such lessons are being passed on here.
Ms Lee debates a host of Ms Jones attributes, from genre and fictional character evolvement concepts that fascinate beyond measure. Also, as one who has had stabs at writing verse for children yet finding – in my case at least – the fun of silliness lost on more adult forms of poetic art the chapter ‘Don’t Sacrifice the Fun for Grown-Ups’ was particularly pertinent and educational. Later in the book the ‘what is normal’ for a child as opposed to an adult – may be obvious in hindsight, yet not always in the forefront of the mind-set of those who ‘aspire’ – was another ‘lesson learned’. Additionally, the importance, yet oft times overlooked first line attraction drawing the reader in is reinforced through specific example from Ms Jones’s portfolio.
‘Lessons Learned’ is an insightful analysis of a clutch of plainly super novels and furthermore, of the birth of a book and the specifics of its conception, thus making this well aimed tome a thing to serve as a vital aid for the writers far and wide. Far, far better than an account of mere chronological subject matter vis-à-vis Diana Wynne Jones. Moreover, the notes on ‘brevity’ caused this overly wordy reader to hang his head in shame (in a good way I stress)! The concluding chapter, ‘Yesterday Needn’t Stay in Yesterday’ conveys much about Jean Lee’s compelling way of thinking, an insight into both her own and Ms Jones mind in much the same way as a lyric might to an undisguised songwriter.
Most important of all though is that there is a certain magic in Ms Lee’s didactic words that will remain intact, not stored away in some dark recess of my head for some time to come.
Well done indeed Ms Lee!
How could I NOT interrupt Bo on the toilet with a review like that?
(Oh, and if you have no clue what I’m talking about with this e-book collection thingey, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you one. Yes, free. Friends share. 🙂
Yesterday I enjoyed reading smexy historical romance writer Shehanne Moore‘s interview (well, her power-hungry hamsters’ interview) of adventure fantasy writer Michael Dellert. They discussed the influence of place, as well as time, upon a writer, and how important it is to know how the when and where will impact the characters. Click here for the interview.
At one point Dellert states the following: “I think some writers sometimes make the mistake of plopping very contemporary attitudes down in a location that can’t support them. For example, in my medieval setting, literacy isn’t common.”
I know why he said that.
Me. 🙂 Well I’m sure I’m not the ONLY reason, but this specific example comes from the freewrites I’ve been working on for a Middle Grade story to take place in his created universe. The protagonist is a fourteen-year-old named Gwenwledyr (Gwen for short, thank God) and her quest to become a true Shield Maiden of Droma. The freewrite prompts currently have me picking apart her psyche. Here’s an example:
Prompt: “I struggle with…”
What do you need to know THAT for? My struggles are my affairs, not yours.
FINE. Fine fine fine.
It’ll come out worse around others, but don’t you DARE speak of this without permission.
I don’t read really well. Actually, remove the “well.” I don’t read, really. Being the middler of the Not-Loved Woman meant I didn’t get the attention Muirgurgle and Nutty receive. They, THEY received educations. What makes them so special? One’s a boy, and one’s pretty. So what is it, their mothers? Must be. I hear of Muirgurgle’s mom spoken of, and pretty often too, by Father and some of the staff. She sounds like she was a sweet one. Maybe if she had lived a bit longer, that sweetness could have been gifted to Muirgurgle and he wouldn’t be the twit he is today.
Nutty’s mom is…around. Father’s a bit touchy about her. She goes off to meditate, see, a lot, and he’s wondering if she’s meditating with a little help, if you catch the nudge nudge there.
Sorry. I’m a *laaaady.* I shouldn’t speak of such things.
Hmm. Well actually, as a Shield Maiden, I *should* be more respectful of my elders.
When they earn it.
And right now our stableman Fiachna gets more respect from me than THAT woman.
But I have to be GOOD about it, see? That’s a struggle, too. Put on the Good Girl mask when others are around. Prim. Polite.
Even when Nutty asks me to read through a message, like the one that came from Dunsciath. THE message, from the king, that said he agreed to letting me become a Shield Maiden.
I held that message IN MY HAND, and had no idea what it said. Nutty and Muirgurgle laughed. Father politely told me what was going on.
Never have I wanted to read so badly in all my life.
Maybe another Shield Maiden could teach me….but that means talking about this to ANOTHER person besides you.
Damnation, but people are irritating.
I sent this to Michael, and that’s when he most graciously reminded me that illiteracy would be the norm of the period.
In my head I said:
DAMMIT THIS IS WHY I DON’T WRITE FAN FICTION IN OTHER PEOPLE’S UNIVERSESESES I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL THE GOD DAMN RULES ARE AND WHY THE HELL SHOULD I BOTHER
In the message I typed:
No, I didn’t know that. I presumed their class would know at least a little. Ok. That alters things.
Which has led me to wonder about the very concept of fan fiction, and what really defines it. I suppose such a talk could go on for ages, but as this post has already gone on for ages, I’m going to set out two of these styrofoam cups and tip my ashes into the one with fewer dregs.
That’s the setting cup.
And this one with the lipstick will be the character cup.
It seems to me, being a noob in the online writing universe, that fanfic either fixates on a particular person (or two, like *cough* 50 Shades *cough cough*), or on a universe. I’ve got piles of Sherlock Holmes stories not written by Doyle that my dad enjoyed: Holmes in the Midwest, Holmes vs. The Phantom of the Opera, and so on. People took the character, and gave him more adventures. Hell, my very, VERY first picture book I can remember making had to do with a monster kidnapping a little boy and Superman flying in to save him.
Damn. My first story’s a fanfic.
Maybe for some writers, fanfic with characters is a bit like training wheels on a bike. Uncertain how to create originals, they move around with others until they’re confident enough to balance without help. That seems to be the case for me, anyway.
And if that’s the case, writing in another’s setting should be like training wheels again, right?
Only it’s not. As I told Michael some time ago, I felt like I was writing blindfolded. I couldn’t SEE where these characters stood because I don’t know Droma like Michael does. He’s spent years building this world, and now I’m just in there, picking up and dropping and throwing stuff around like my sons. Blondie will tell you: those two are destroyers.
And I felt no better.
Michael, bless him, kept it simple: yeah there’s a map, but that part of Droma isn’t defined.
I thought about Jason Voorhees. He’s been on my thoughts a lot since the start of motherhood. He. Is. A Character. People just looove toying around with his past, uncovering what makes him immortal, that real relationship with his mom, all that garbage. Bo, being a fan of slasher films, will even get into comic books based on the characters from time to time. One particular volume by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti stuck out, in part because of this image:
Just…look at that. (If you have the stomach, sorry–I know slashers are NOT for everyone.)
This image of ghosts rising up from the lake’s floor is the foreshadowing of what’s to come: Jason lets one character hold his machete, and in that instance, we see the true past of Camp Crystal Lake: of settlers who butchered entire tribes of natives, of a shaman’s curse, of the countless drownings, fires…
Gray and Palmiotti don’t do anything fancy with Jason. Jason’s Jason. Instead, they define the place.
The characters are mostly my own. I don’t know them all just yet, but little by little they’re coming into focus; you can read more of my freewrites on my facebook page if you’d like. A few already have traits established by Michael, but they, too, have blanks to be filled in.
With the freedom to define the place, I feel like I’m no longer confined by another’s universe. Yes, I do need to abide by some laws of history and progress. (What do you mean, they didn’t have the number zero? GAH! Next you’ll be telling me they don’t have alloys or mustard gas.) These laws, though, are rather like the foot-high picket fence people put around flowers because it looks cute. Yeah, it sucks to trip on, but otherwise, you can step over and around it without hurting yourself.
I need to stop hurting myself.
I need to stop treating that little fence like some sort of electrified contraption.
I need to let Gwen show me around. Introduce me to people. Take me to where she saw the the Cat-Eyed Man.
I need to grip the grass in my fingers. Balance on large rocks that look like a giant’s toes. Smell the river air mix with hidden herbs. Listen to the bees work through the glens.
Time to wrap this up, my friends. I’ll get the lights if you can grab that garbage bag. May the coming week find you in strange places with stranger company.
That’s how the best stories–and gossip–are born.