Guest Post

HAVE A BOOK TO PROMOTE? Lyrical Pens welcomes guest posts. Answer a questionnaire or create your own post. FYI, up front: This site is a definite PG-13. For details, contact cj

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Surprise finds and research rabbit holes

cj Sez: Meandering around my computer folders last week, I happened upon a “webarchive” document with info about some of my ancestors. It had been downloaded into my writing flash drive on Sept 2 . . . except I don’t remember doing that. Not only do I have a separate family history folder for things that I find, but I don’t have access to a Swedish church registry. Where did it come from? A computer ghost, no doubt.

The discovery started me down a rabbit hole of Googling for more information. After a few days, I found a Swedish forum conversation from 2007 that mentioned my great aunt’s name and asking for any U.S. information. So of course, I clicked on the file and sent an email to the writer, fully expecting my note to go to the little bit bucket in the sky. Guess what? I got a response! Now what? I get to develop an exciting, new relationship with a hitherto-unknown distant relative is what.

The thing is: Days and days of Google searches are pretty much how I write my novels. I like to play hide and seek with my characters. I hide an obstacle in someone’s way then seek out a logical/believable solution to it. That can take days and days of online research. The process keeps the storytelling new and exciting for me because I learn all kinds of neat things (learning something new every day is my personal goal). I admit I’m not a pre-write outliner or plotter. But once I’ve told the story, I go back over it chapter by chapter, scene by scene to chart the plot points, polish, add or delete as necessary, and make sure I haven’t dropped any threads that need to be tied up as the novel ends. I do the same thing with developing my characters, working to make them well-rounded and believable individuals.

Every writer has a special writing style. What’s yours? I’d guess that you’ve read zillions of ideas and advice on how to improve it. My advice? If it works for you (that's the key thing), don’t mess with it. 

That’s all for now. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


The toon is from my Facebook page . . . love it. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Importance of Settings

Settings are not indigenous to literary fiction, they are mandatory to all types of fiction. Try writing a book about a beach, a cabin in the mountains, a science lab, a wedding, or a funeral and include nothing about the setting. If you can do that, go back to writing 101. Readers need to know where you are taking them - a roadmap or GPS of sorts - to get them to the starting point, then take them on the journey of their life. 

Let them feel, taste, smell the setting whether it’s the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia in Adriana Trigiana’s wonderful books or the brilliantly colored settings she takes readers to in Italy. The hot, verdant Mississippi landscape in Carolyn Haines’ Bones series and the sooty, cold environment of Homer Hickman’s West Virginia books revel in their settings and are key to creating the tone of the book within which the characters interact. Can you imagine Miss Havisham in Dickens, Great Expectations, without her ancient wedding feast. Did you mind immediately go to a picture in the book or a movie?

Earlier this year, Michael Morris wrote a piece about his love affair with the land and it resonated with me, sweeping me back to my childhood and the memories of visiting relatives in North Alabama during the summers. Even as I write this, I can smell the half-moon apple pies frying in my grandmother’s kitchen, the warm smells of feed for the chickens and cows, the clean freshness of sheets dried on the clothesline.

Michael had just finished reading Brad Watson’s novel, The Heaven of Mercury, a National Book Award finalist when he penned these words.

“I love Brad’s book as much for its lyrical prose as I do for the dead on dialect of the multifaceted characters who live in the Gulf Coast town of Mercury, Mississippi. But more than anything, I love the town itself, the center that escorts the reader through decades of marriage, separation, lost love and even murder. It reminds me all too well of my own place and people in Perry, Florida, also a small town near the Gulf Coast. After reading Brad’s novel, I found myself tasting the salt air and thinking of the marsh that still sits behind the beach house that my grandparents once owned. The house, like the area, is not like the commercial high-rises of Destin (Florida). The place is more or less a fishing village. And the house is really a cottage, a two-bedroom structure on stilts with a wrap around porch. Like the marsh, the house has survived decades of change in my family: marriages, divorces, successes, bankruptcies and the passing of those who once congregated to eat fried mullet and to picnic in boats along sandbars.”

Don’t you want to know more about Michael’s family after reading this? It’s a family saga I would love to read. The place is vividly etched in my mind. I want to sit on the wrap around porch, smell the marsh (read pluff mud), and eat seafood.

“Late at night when sleep won’t come soon enough, I often close my eyes and feel the heat of summer at my feet as I stand on the porch of my grandparent’s house. I stick my tongue out in the air and look across the way at the marsh, with its tall pines, sawgrass, and lanky white birds searching for food. I stare off in the distance and in my mind, peace settles over me the same way my grandmother’s arms used to blanket me when I was a child. I am here…I am strong…I am at rest.” Michael Morris 2014

That’s what setting is all about: memories—new ones created, old ones drawn upon. Whether the reader has visited the same spot doesn’t matter. Once universal emotions like fear, longing, happiness, love, etc. well up, they connect with your book and your characters. Memories of experiences are what they draw from to understand and appreciate what you’ve written. 

Michael Morris is the author of the award winning novel, A Place Called Wiregrass, and Slow Way Home, which was named one of the best novels of 2003 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the St. Louis Dispatch. His novella, Live Like You Were Dying, was a finalist for the Southern Book Critics Circle Award.

Man in the Blue Moon published in 2012 is an inspiring book laced with a hints of Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor - a must read.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

This could be a story

Nubbin and the Samurai

cj Sez:  I think I've touched on this before, but now I believe I could make a story out of this:  There is a love quadrangle (of sorts) going on at my house. About four years ago, my patio became the go-to place for food. I had a habit of putting out some dry bread for the birds, and one night a little nubbin of a kitten showed up and ran off with a piece in its mouth. I figured that was a really hungry feline because the cats I knew didn’t generally eat hard, dry bread. It came back the next evening and the next, so I started putting out cat food, knowing it would cost me in the long run because I’d have to trap it out and get it spayed or neutered.

Didn’t take long before a yellow cat appeared, and Son and I learned Nubbin was a female because she started courting Yellow Cat. Yep, SHE did the pursuing. I watched the little flirt follow him around the yard and rub her face against his. So, because I didn’t want to populate the neighborhood with kittens, we made a trap. We caught Yellow Cat first and had him neutered, and a few weeks later, we caught Nubbin and had her spayed. That was the end of the romance. Both of them had lost their alluring hormones, and as a result, she’d panic and run every time she saw Yellow Cat. Confused him all to pieces.

A couple of years later, a big grey cat with white feet showed up, and there was no question about him being a tomcat. Nubbin fell in love with Boots’s manly scent and began to pursue him. His interest in her is akin to a big brother. He’ll tolerate her face rubs with an occasional push away, and he'll chase off Yellow Cat if she gets nervous and runs. But he imprinted on me. Although he has bitten me hard twice (two courses of antiobiotics for infected hands/wrists), he follows me around like a dog when I’m out in the yard and sits like a sentry at the back door where he can watch me work in the kitchen. The problem is he’s very feral, and we haven’t been able to catch him. The other problem is, I’m partial to Yellow Cat who purrs and lets me rub his tummy. I can’t touch the other two.

About the same time that Boots arrived, a little turtle came into the yard to feast on fallen figs. Mr. Turtle also loves the cat foodas do the cardinals, blue jays, thrashers, the occasional curious wren, raccoons, and ‘possums. If Mr. Turtle happens to be in the area when I’m refilling the bowls, he will come running (truly) when he hears my voice.

Now here we are: Yellow Cat is in love with Nubbin, Nubbin adores Boots, Boots wants to possess me, I am partial to Yellow Cat, and Mr. Turtle just stops by for the food.

I’ll admit that if I hadn’t put out that first crust of bread, none of this would’ve happened, but I’m blaming Nubbin.

I just know there’s a story in there somewhere. Maybe even a human one.

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Green Stamps of Writing

Think keeping a journal and a notebook at the ready is a waste of time? Think again.

Many of you will remember Green Stamps. Back in the day, we zealously collected them every time we bought groceries, and then pasted them into our collection books. If you were too busy to deal with them when you got home, you tossed them into a paper bag for a future date. My mother and I and later I as a young wife had marathon pasting sessions. I would collect the bag jammed with stamps, a stack of the little paper books, a bowl of water, and a sponge and watch television why I pasted the thousands of little green possibilities. I still have several Christmas bells and other tchotchkes I traded my precious books to buy.            

Seeing a picture of Green Stamps recently brought a flood of memories to the fore, and I realized there is a relationship to my days of saving Green Stamps and my days as a writer.

Thomas Edison, the genius inventor, said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

I’m a collector. A list maker. A saver. Once I filled little books with petite Green Stamps and now I fill larger books full of words. My current two books (aka WIPs) began with twenty composition books filled with character names, settings, plot ideas, snippets of scenes, full chapters, etc.

From those yellowed pages, I transferred everything to my pc—didn’t exclude anything as one would never throw out a wrinkled green stamp—and an author was born. Many of those became short stories and a few have won awards and been published in a number of anthologies. Some of those became non-fiction articles that are in print or online. Most have found their way into novels, five at latest count.

Into that count of word saving I added hundreds of notes from journals I’d kept since I was a teenager. In my childhood, we moved over forty times. In my adulthood, I’ve moved almost thirty times. All of my notes and journals went with me, including across the Pacific and back. I have been a writer since I won my first contest in fifth grade with an exciting story about not being a litterbug, which obviously tells you what generation molded me.

Today, I save snippets from the blogs and websites of others that generate my blog and article ideas and loads of ideas for my creative writing classes. Pinterest opened a world of pictures to go with my words, turning my files are burgeoning paths of possibilities, ideas for clients and my own writing. As I did with the bags full of Green Stamps, occasionally I set aside time to paste ideas and pictures into readily accessible files and delete those that are too crumpled and out of date to use.

Recently a writer I respect asked me to describe the room I was in, not by the room accoutrements themselves, but by the people. We were in a restaurant, and she asked me to tell her about the restaurant by looking at the people around me. How were they dressed? What were their ages? And so forth. I have to admit that I stumbled until I caught the idea and began to regurgitate information. I came home to make notes on those people, because it occurred to me that they would fit nicely in a scene in an upcoming short story.

If you truly want to write, begin your idea files ASAP: journals, notes, pictures, old photos, info from social media, workshop notes transcribed and expanded into a viable idea. Writers by nature are collectors: ideas, new ways to see the world, character studies (just listen to conversations while you are in line, in an elevator, in church), the color of the moon, the sounds at the beach.

If you are a writer at heart, every one of these made an idea jump into your mind. Now turn that into a story.