One of the first lessons humans need to learn is that the house is yours, not theirs. They are merely caretakers for you.
This gives you the right, and the obligation, to rearrange the house to your advantage. Never let a human have their own way, decorating wise. It sets a bad example.
I repeat. Never let them have their own way in decorating.
The first thing to do, and you should do this as soon after you move in as you can, is to knock everything off every level surface you can find. I’m talking countertops, desks, tables, and shelves in the kitchen, dining room, living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, clear them all off. Leave nothing behind. Even knock those pictures you can reach off the walls.
Yes, your human will get upset. They may scream and yell, and even chase you around the house. Maybe even not talk to you for a little while. Trust me, this is necessary. They have to learn you are the boss, that this living space belongs to you. It should be decorated the way you want it to be decorated, not the way they think it should be.
Give them a few sorrowful mews and some big googly eyes, and they’ll be eating out of the palm of your hand in no time.
The next step, and this is important to remember, is to be there when they clean up and put things back. Don’t skip this part! Stay right by their side—on the shelf, the desktop, the countertop, wherever—and knock things off continually until they place the item where you want it.
Keep doing this, over and over. Yes, it takes a little patience on your part, but it’s necessary, because humans are nothing if not stubborn. They don’t learn quickly or easily. Keep knocking things off and eventually they will learn to run all decorating placements by you first.
It may seem endless at first, but before you know it you will have trained your human to set up the house to your liking. They will be doing your bidding every day.
This week we have a guest post from author/poet Shirley Radcliff Bruton. She’s one of the most amazing poets I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with. I hope you find inspiration in her thoughts, whether you write poetry or simply read it for the sheer pleasure of it.
Most of my poetry comes from my experience with nature. I escape into it like a butterfly looking for a place to land. To reach into the delicate, sensuous, sometimes annoying or scary aspects of nature is to find those qualities inside me. And, I like that.
The treasure for me is to find ordinary occurrences and create new dimensions and metaphors.
I see the angst in a splintered wooden fence that holds fast to the boundary it defines. Each spring, delicate white flowers brush up against it as if to soften it’s weathered stance.
Shadows are a favorite of mine. Walking underneath its canopy, I feel the imprint cross over my body like a painting.
Craneflies show me how fragile and fleeting life is.
Tiny desert flowers, one by one create large patches of color that spread across the dry, cracked landscape. Each vibrant cluster tells a story. And then, day by day it changes and disappears.
I push into the beauty and tragedy of life as it’s expressed in nature, hoping to kick up dust along the way.
When writing a poem, I start by putting everything down on paper that wants to come out. It’s fun to be surprised. Then I start chiseling. I spend a lot of time choosing the right words. I’m always asking myself:
Can I say it with less words? When I’m writing about something specific, is my data correct?
Sound, cadence, and their relationship with one another are very important. How does it move across and down the page? The font, and overall design are all elements I care about. I tend to think punctuation gets in the way visually. But sometimes it can be important to the tempo and presentation.
Early Morning Walk
Soft, sticky, low lying cleavers cling to my pants.
They walk a ways with me.
Annoyed, I pull them off
make a big knot and toss ‘um to the side.
A dewy dampness drips down long blades of tall
grasses, soaking the ground and my shoes.
Bugs land on my shirt and buzz in my ears.
They want in. I itch.
Waving my hands in front of my eyes and mouth
I keep the gnats at bay.
Six long years of drought
and then, all winter and spring it rained.
Wealth is all around me. I should be full of joy.
But, the unfamiliar irritates me.
A lovely poem, written just for us, though I apologize that I could not figure out how to get the verses formatted properly. I’m not all that computer literate. But good news! Shirley has a new book that will be out in just a week or two, titled This N That, co-written with Debra Davis Hinkle, another wonderful poet. It’ll be available on Amazon.com; be sure to look for it! You’ll be so glad you did.
Today we hear from author Mark Arnold on the Historical Novel and his process in writing his novel, Monster: The Story of Young Mary Shelley under the name M.R. Arnold. Fascinating subject and equally fascinating thoughts!
My favorite genre has to be the historical novel. To glimpse another time and place defines my infatuation with the genre’. I’ve learned these cover a wide range. There are the novels that are about how a fictitious character experiences a historic time, and those that feature real people. I think the novels about a moment when the future is changed and the course of the world shifts are best of all.
I guess I have always been fascinated with historical fiction. The first book I remember reading was The Egyptian by Mika Waltari when I was somewhere around 11 years old. As I sat in my grandfather’s chair surrounded by the scent of his pipe, I lost myself in the valley of the Nile thousands of years before the birth of Christ. Protagonist Sinue’s, a healer to Akhenaton, fights to understand and protect his Pharaoh as he struggles to promote the idea that there is only one god. That book eventually drew me to writing. I want to know what drives these people to take the actions they choose.
Outlines for the book are my preferred way to write. Before the dialog goes in place I have to know what I expect to accomplish with each scene and each chapter, not to mention what message I want my book to convey. There are several purposes in most works. A good story well told is usually enough for most people, but in my most recent book I wanted to correct falsehoods that have crept in to a legend surrounding Mary Shelley and the night she was inspired to write Frankenstein. Research revealed a number of times when material about my main character had been either augmented authors or historians or omitted. You might think much of the action to be dictated by historical fact, but the things these people said was seldom in the historical record. So, careful outlining kept me on track.
That does not mean that a carefully crafted and thoroughly understood character based upon historical fact won’t surprise the hell out of me. Although I closely follow the information found through strict historical research, sometimes my characters do take over the action in a scene, mostly in the things they say or the way they say them. The more I delve into understanding these people of the past, the more I learn their flaws along with their strengths. What they did in the past when situations arise can astound me the same way that a person I think I know will do something out of character. I’m fascinated to discover the psychology of how my characters act and react. That is a big chunk of why I love writing in this genre’.
For me, understanding why people do what they did draws me to write as much as the skill of telling a good story. Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series is one of my favorites. I am in awe of the way he keeps my attention through three readings of the 20+ novels in the series. Although these books feature fictitious characters there is a solid base of historic fact. What happens to these people, the battles and betrayals, the fire and fury of wooden warships far from home is historically accurate. He used the framework of the Napoleonic wars as the setting for his characters, a British warship captain and a naval surgeon/spy, but it is the psychology of these two men, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin as they develop and mature a friendship over the course of more than a decade of warfare that creates the suspension of disbelief in me. It is the way they handle their respective rolls with complimentary psyches that fascinates me and shapes my writing.
But if this is not going to get far too long for continued interest, I better start answering some of the questions you asked because they are what prompted this screed.
Q: Do your characters ever take over the story and take it in new directions?
A: I’ve found two ways of crafting characters. A writer may either make up a fictional character or attempt to recreate a person. In Monster: the Story of Young Mary Shelley I chose to portray the actual people as close to the way they were. In my work about how she wrote Frankenstein I could have crafted a story around the generally accepted facts about her. Several novels and movies have done just that. But careful attention to facts revealed much more. For one example of the authenticity of research, I’ll let you know she didn’t write Frankenstein. She wrote The Modern Prometheus and although public changed the title, understanding who Prometheus was changes our appreciation for what Mary Shelley wanted to accomplish. Instead of a horror story, she thought she was writing a philosophical revelation i.e. what would happen if we could create human life?
Strict historical research must be thorough and exhaustive in order for a novel to have authenticity. That does not mean there weren’t surprises. Recorded history is often made up of the reminiscences of people. I found people in the past lie for as many reasons as they do today and they can also make mistakes as do sources. Often I would find a source who would try to convince me of a certain view. One case in point: several sources, perhaps influenced by a desire to spare readers what they considered to be sordid details, whitewashed the events regarding the Shelleys and Lord Byron. In diametric opposition were letters from people who saw, with their own eyes, the events that transpired around my main characters and wanted to smear their reputations (not that that took much.) I had to reconcile these with the actual words of the people who were key to my story.
Then there were the omissions in the historic record. The things left out made me have to piece together what I could prove about a person and deduce from that what I thought were that person’s values or morals to figure out how the facts conformed to their actions. I took what facts that I could prove and projected the attitudes that probably were inherent in that person and let that guide my portrayals. Finally, I created dialog. Reading novels about the period helped me with creating believable dialog, including slang and accents, but the actual words spoken by a person are seldom recorded.
Fun, I can’t begin to tell you.
Historical works can benefit from the internet when it comes to writing scenes. You’d be surprised how much information in the form of description and pictorial material there is for historic places and times. I’ve entered, Men’s clothing, civilian, 1800 to 1820 and gotten many drawings of fashionable people. Same for places. There are modern photos of buildings and houses, many of them restored, that I used when describing the locations of my scenes, but there are also drawings and paintings of places that no longer exist. I also had to fill in the lighting for example: day or night, firelight or candlelight, and the smells. Especially the smells. The streets of London in the early 1800s sloped inward to gutters that ran down the center of the roadway. In some of the neighborhoods, that was the sewer system.
Q. Do you use beta readers? How many?
A: Once the novel was shaped up enough to let others read, I hired editors as Beta readers. They came in for the 3rd, the 6th and the 7th drafts. In the case of Monster, I went through two editors, each of whom suggested a new draft with a different idea. It was worth it. The editor/reader of the 3rd person draft suggested using a first person, present point of view. She was so right. Monster changed from a dispassionate look at Mary Shelley to a version of the truth told as a personal account. Similar changes came in for the other drafts. That was expensive, but I feel I got a good bargain. When I got to a late draft, 8 or 9 or so, I selected another writer for my final Beta reader. She was just a friend but one who was an avid reader and a sometime writer. She represented my target audience, so I listened carefully to what she said as I felt this was going to be the last chance I had to make changes. She had few suggestions. But the most useful thing she told me was what she liked. I went through the next draft to strengthen those things. My last Beta reader was a professional author who told me where I could expect trouble. I think he kept me out of a lot of grief from trolls.
My subject for Monster, Mary Shelley, has such broad appeal that traditional publishing chose me. When I presented my pitch letter to a publisher, she simply said, “Send me the manuscript.” She explained that because my subject was of interest worldwide I’d have a better chance reaching my intended group of people, those with an interest in the topics I wanted to depict from writing, to women’s issues, and science fiction fans, that traditional publishing could offer the widest reach.
My work is now in Barnes and Noble bookstores throughout the United States. So far I have had almost as much feedback from people in Indiana and Michigan as I’ve had from California. Recently another author wanted to know why I wasn’t obsessing over my sales numbers, which are pretty good, thank you, and my marketing. I told him I was having the time of my life just writing and lecturing. Thanks for the questions. I enjoyed this.
Here’s a sentence to start you off. You know the rules: set your timer for 10 or 15 minutes, start off with the Prompt Sentence, and start to write. No thinking, no crossing off, just write! Ready? Go!
I woke up at 3:00 a.m. one morning, with a story opening full in my head. It was so clear I could see the words as though they had been typed onto paper. So, I got up, turned on the computer, and wrote about Kaia Devon for 10 minutes.
It wasn’t much, only two pages, about 600 words, but doggone if I do say so myself, they were 600 really good words. An opening that breaks all the rules, but that somehow works (a writing friend, Mark Arnold, said it has something to do with the ice cream…). Clues dropped to past and future events. A whopping twist at the top of the second page that so far has made everyone who’s read or heard it, startle a bit, then laugh with surprise. And a really dark, unexpected twist at the bottom of page two that makes readers gasp.
Not bad for a middle-of-the-night, wake-up-and-write session.
But, and here’s the kicker — I have no idea what this story is about. No clue what that “the incident” with Kaia’s parents is. Not the least idea what is in that safe-deposit box. I do know what causes that twist at the end, but what it means as far as the plot? And where the story goes from here? Not a clue.
That’s because I’m what’s known as a “Pantser.” In other words, I write by the “seat of my pants.” I don’t plot out any of my stories, don’t make an outline, don’t line up the events of the story in order of occurrence. I write to see what is going to happen, to find out what my characters will do in the given situations. For me, if I know ahead of time what will happen, I have no need to write the story.
We all hear and read advice from “experts” about having an outline, how important one is to the flow and success of the story. Some writers are Plotters, like Anne Perry who crafts 40 to 60 page outlines to work from. And that’s good—if your mind happens to work that way. But what the advice about outlines ignores is that not everyone can work from an outline.
It’s a matter of brain chemistry.
Some brains need the structure of an outline, a roadmap that makes the direction of the story clear. It revs up the creative motor, and the writer can churn out scene after exciting scene, like running a marathon. Without a roadmap, without a clear linear direction with plot points along the way showing the major events and leading to a set ending, the blank sheet of paper (virtual or real) remains blank.
The outline is the gas that makes the engine run.
But for some brains, an outline becomes a break in the gas line. It leaks out all the fuel, leaving an empty tank. It stops creativity cold, leaving the writer floundering the the midst of writer’s block. But let that writer just put words on the page, allow the characters to “take over” and dictate how they want their story told, then the engine fires with enthusiasm and creativity. Scenes not on the writer’s radar appear out of nowhere; surprising twists never before thought of arise from the void; endings morph from an early idea into something even better and more satisfying. And amazing stories flow onto the page.
The lack of an outline is what fires these engines and makes them purr.
And, of course, there are those who fall somewhere between these two extremes: Those who work best with an abbreviated outline, or just a few notes on the main events of the story, or those who only need to know how the story starts and ends.
Like I said, I’m a true “Pantser.” Even when I know how I want a story to end, usually when I get there something else happens. Something better. Something more exciting. The characters take over and do their own thing. The story has flown off on a tangent and my original idea no longer works.
I discovered my true process with my first book, Tangled Webs. I’d spend hours outlining the next few chapters, but when I’d sit down to write them, by the middle of the first chapter the story would have veered off in another direction and I’d have to scrap all that planning. Next day, same thing. And the next. And the next. So much wasted time. (And yes, the characters changed the ending I wanted, too!)
Eventually, about halfway through the book, I gave up on outlining. Permanently. Now I just sit, and write, and go with the flow. When I don’t, the story just doesn’t work. I’ve learned to “Pants” it, to give my brain the space to work to its fullest capacity in the way it works best.
There’s no right or wrong. There’s only what works for you.
So forget all the advice. Experiment and find out where you fall on the Plotter-Pantser spectrum. Try a full outline; an abbreviated one; a few notes; or just writing whatever comes to mind. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that just because an “expert” says that outlining is the way it has to be that you have to write that way. Trust yourself and your process. That’s where your truest and most authentic stories lie.
So, tell me: Are you a Pantser (like me) or a Plotter (like Anne Perry)? Or are you somewhere on the continuum between those two extremes?
Today we have Barbara M. Hodges with us to answer some very interesting questions about her writing. Enjoy!
When did you first know you were going to be a writer?
I didn’t really know until we moved here to the central coast twenty-nine years ago. It was always lurking in the back of my mind that someday I’d like to author a book, but when we moved here, I decided if not now, then when. I’ve always been an avid reader. One day I was looking for a new book to read. I wanted an epic fantasy with a strong women character, a little romance, and a basset hound. I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I wrote it, The Blue Flame.
What is the theme/message that threads through your work?
Good versus evil. Good must go through all forms of torture but win in the end.
What is the one story you would like to write, but just can’t?
I don’r think there is a story that I, just can’t write. If it starts bugging me and won’t leave me alone, then it will be written.
How do you choose the names for your characters?
I love names. I create my characters first, then pick a name the fits them. There’s a big difference between a Daphne and a Susan.
How many drafts do you do before you are ready to publish?
Now that I’ve written 14 books, it’s two drafts, then to my first readers, then to the editor. With my first book, The Blue Flame, it was more like nine drafts.
How many times do you redo the opening of your stories before you are satisfied with it?
Numerous times. I can be changing the opening right up to the day I send the completed manuscript for publishing.
Have you ever started a story and been surprised by its genre, age-range, or subject matter?
Not by any of those, but I have started story, been halfway through the writing and decide it needed to be in first person, rather than the third person which I had written it in. It was so funny how changing it to first person changed so much of the storyline and the characterization.
Thank you, Barbara, for your very insightful answers to our questions. Here’s a link to Barbara’s latest book; if you love mysteries and dogs, especially Basset Hounds, you’ll love Barbara’s books!
Here’s a fun, weird little situation that will make your creativity sit up and take notice. Set your timer for 10 to 15 minutes, start to write, and see what your subconscious pulls up!
You go to a street fair and bring your digital camera. You take a lot of pictures. When you get home and download the photos to your computer, you discover a very strange anomaly on one (or more) of the photos. What is it, and what do you think it means?