Posts Tagged Creative writing
I never intended to write a piece of historical fiction. I swear! But somehow my second story for the Mosaic collection morphed into much more than I’d ever expected.
It started as a timed prompt. I wrote a letter from a man destined to hang for a crime he didn’t commit during our 20 minutes. I probably wouldn’t have done anything else with it, except that Margie Deeb suggested we put some short pieces into our Mosaic collection to give it some variety. So I posted the letter to the members of our Cartel Collaborative for a critique and I also took it to my local writing group. Both groups said that the letter needed context. What was his crime? How could we know the guy was innocent? And what year was it? Why would a man in those times be able to write?
They were right, although at first I didn’t want to deal with their comments. Instead, I suggested removing the story from the collection. This was met with dismay. So I started fooling around with it, turning it into a story. The letter writer acquired a family, a background, a job. He became an apprentice wood carver. But then I had to figure out the time period. The letter had probably emerged during the timed writing because of long-ago history classes and long-ago read novels (I’d been a huge fan of children’s novels based upon historical figures while in elementary school).
The internet is a fabulous place, but it isn’t the easiest world to navigate if the first page or two of responses doesn’t tell you what you want to know. I paged through mounds of irrelevant sites, but eventually learned enough to set the story in the beginning of the eighteenth century when several wonderful events came together to make my story realistic. The first was the break between the followers of the Anglican Church and what were called the Dissenters, which led to major riots. Perfect, I thought. I’ll make my poor man a Dissenter. His father became an Anglican priest who kicked him out for his beliefs.
The second was the justice system. It was much more difficult to figure this out, since I put my man in Manchester, instead of London. I found information on London’s legal system, but not much on other towns in England. I contacted some scholars, but only heard back from one of them. He sent me a chapter of his book. It was pretty useless, as was a book I got on inter-library loan. But I slogged onward, making a few assumptions. As far as I could tell, hanging was a very popular way to deal with almost all crimes in the early eighteenth century. It amazed me how different the legal system was in those days, with victims and their supporters facing off in the courtroom against the accused and their supporters.
I downloaded maps of Manchester, and read what I could about the city, which was still a small town. Manchester had an awful prison, which sat on a bridge and flooded every time the river rose. Putting the letter writer in it added a wonderful detail to the story.
I discovered that most men could read and write in those days, but perhaps not as beautifully as my man, so I made him a renegade student for the priesthood. Each little fact like that had to be double-checked. Where would he have gone to school? Who would have saved his letters? How would they have been delivered (the post was obscenely expensive)?
Also, there was the question of who would find the letters, and how they’d been preserved. At first, I had a man find them and present them to a scholar, but that was too boring. My editor suggested something more personal; a parallel between the past and the present stories. That took some thinking, but my real protagonist came to life, a young American woman remodeling an old vicarage outside Manchester.
Doing all of this, I gained a new appreciation for the work which goes into every historical novel. Unless they’re set so far back in the past that you can make up everything, you have to dig and dig and dig and double-check even the tiniest of facts. And then be willing to revise your story when you discover it doesn’t hold water.
You can read The Woodcarver and the rest of the pieces in Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing for free by clicking here. We’d love it if you’d leave us an honest review at your favorite online retailers.
Thanks to Asafesh at Freeimages.com for the photo of a quill
Are you someone who tries to do too much? I sure am. Lately I feel like one of those clowns who is trying to juggle so many objects that she can’t keep track of all of them. The balls, pins, and whatever other objects fly out into the audience, where they are forever lost.
I should know better, right? Years ago, I worked with a life coach who had me put an elephant on my desk. I forget exactly why an elephant, but it was supposed to remind me to do less. The elephant is still on my desk – but to be honest I hardly ever look at it. It’s lovely and even has colorful pinwheels in it, but I ignore it! I just keep taking on as much, no more, than I can handle.
A discussion on facebook about signing up for an online writing course sparked this post and made me wonder if there’s a cure. More than likely, I won’t have time to finish this course. I’m already behind and we’re just finishing the first week. I have excuses, but I’m also realizing that I didn’t need to add anything else to my to-do list. It looked so delicious and it’s FREE! How can I resist, except that I have deadlines coming up quickly, and I’m trying to write and edit stories for an anthology of my own short stories, help market Mosaic, get in shape for the summer bicycling season, and then there’s the day job. Oh, and I’m trying to design a WEB site for my author stuff, and well, I think I’m seriously becoming embarrassed, so I’ll stop listing the huge amount of things I’ve taken on, all of which were derailed this weekend by social commitments.
The only defense I have is that every single one of these things is important to me. Very important. Life-giving and exciting and interesting and many other wonderful adjectives. I want to do it all. And I would, if only there were twice as many hours in each day. Unfortunately, something will fall through the cracks, and it’s up to me to decide what that will be. In my opinion, though, prioritize is a dirty word.
What about you? Leave me a comment, and I promise to respond.
I tried something new yesterday – a local women’s cycling group. I’ve bicycled for years, from the time my father taught me how when I was six (and oh how I remember that first lesson. No training wheels in our family meant Dad had to hold up the bike while I wobbled around and figured out how to push the pedals and keep my balance). At times, I’ve been pretty serious about it. I’ve even done two centuries, although I’ve never raced. But I’ve usually ridden by myself, or with one or two other people.
Still, there’s a great group of women cyclists here in town, so I finally gave it a shot. There were ten of us of varying abilities on a short, rather level ride. We stopped frequently to let the slower ones catch up, which is a really sweet feature of this organization. No one gets left behind. If you have a flat, someone helps you out. What a concept! We had one pretty inexperienced rider, so the rest of us spent quite a bit of time waiting for her (she made the whole ride and was smiling at the end!). While we waited, we chatted about our favorite rides and how often we go out, getting to know each other a little. Instead of being competitive, it was low-key and fun.
Putting together Mosaic was a bit like that: sharing common interests with a group of people, and making sure no one got left behind, while we all learned something. Plus we were smiling at the end (this time because it’s such a well-written book).
But that isn’t really what I want to talk about in this post. I was thinking a little bit tonight about who I write for, as in who do I have in mind when I write. I went to a talk by Ruth Ozeki this afternoon, and she said that she writes for herself. That doesn’t sound very collaborative, does it? Yet it works for her, as she’s won numerous awards for her novels, and the auditorium was packed with people who seemed to have all read her most recent book (it was the Bend Community Read this spring). And if I think about who I write for, it’s people like myself. People like the women I rode with today. How can I do otherwise?
I admire someone who can write a book for children, or for teenagers, when they’re no longer one themselves. But I’m not like that. I write what I want to read. I write to explore issues which concern me. Things such as what it means to be a woman with a career, how to find a calling in life, how to move past childhood wounds and find self-worth, or deal with a difficult relationship. Sometimes I explore larger issues such as poverty, cruelty, or environmental destruction. And occasionally, I just have some fun and play around with the world of magic and adventure while throwing in a dash of these other issues. Ruth Ozeki did say something interesting: she strives for a balance between tragedy and comedy. I like that concept. I hope I manage to do that.
How about you? When have you collaborated on something, or made sure no one got left behind? How did that work out? If you write, do you write for people like yourself, or for a different group? Please leave a comment and let me know.
And don’t forget that Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing is still free. Click here to get your copy. And don’t forget to leave us an honest review!
With a sigh, Josephine dropped her head on the chest, hoping to catch a little of the jasmine scent Grandmother Rose used to wear, and feel again her grandmother’s kindness and love. She imagined burying herself in the old woman’s arms. If she could only bring her back to life, she would stop being so lonely and upset. But that, of course, was impossible.
The lid lifted easily, its leather hinges still intact. Velvet skirts covered in beads and mirrors filled the top tray. Again, she was a child. Her mother walked in the front door at Grandmother Rose’s in one of these outfits, her arms loaded with presents. Josephine ran to her, and she swung her around and around. Then Josephine ripped the paper off one of the presents to reveal a baby doll in a pink dress with a matching hair bow, exactly liked she’d wanted. She squealed and hugged her mother.
Her mother hadn’t stayed long, maybe a few days. After her mother left, Grandmother Rose held her while she cried herself to sleep. How many times had that happened before she’d learned not to get excited when her mother visited? The last time, the day of Rose’s funeral, she’d seen her mother park in front of the house, and she’d gone into her room and closed the door.
That’s an excerpt from my short story, Heritage. The full story can be read by downloading Mosaic, a Compilation of Creative Writing, by the Cartel Collaborative. The book is free, and you can get it on Amazon by clicking the link below. Or go here to find other formats.
If you’re curious about the story behind the story, here’s a little bit about how I wrote Heritage.
This story was born out of a writing prompt in my local writing group. I no longer remember what the prompt was, but I remember what I free-wrote in our twenty minutes; Josephine took a necklace she’d found in her mother’s home to her aunt. I opened with Josephine driving up to her aunt’s home in a downpour.
With this, I had two themes: cleaning out the home of a mother from whom she had been estranged; and a beautiful old necklace found there, which belonged to her aunt.
The rewriting started immediately. At first, I attempted a very short story, which I took to my writing group. They found it too complex for something that short. It must be a novel, they urged. I went home and tried expanding it, adding a father, two brothers, and a host of relatives. It grew into a childhood of gypsy wanderings, with all kinds of complexities, but I couldn’t make it work. I researched old necklaces, trying to build a story around the one Josephine finds. Eventually, I abandoned the enterprise, but my subconscious kept the ideas alive, and the files stayed on my computer.
Along came James Lee Schmidt, with his suggestion to compile a book of stories. With a short deadline, I scanned back through my computer and found my abandoned novella. Why not pare it back to its origins? Goodbye brothers. Goodbye wandering childhood, and so many other unnecessary bits and pieces. Josephine, though, needed expansion. She was a cardboard character in my original story; she had to come to life. With more years of writing experience since the initial version, I knew this was key. Who was she – not just what she looked like, and what she did for a living, but what was her character like? What made her that way? I don’t want to give too much away, but I made her a high school physics/math teacher. To match that, she’s introverted, a bit intimidating, a bitter loner who takes refuge in numbers, yet she’s sweet underneath the hard crust.
This may sound like an awful lot of modification, but I think of a story as a wad of wet clay. So long as you keep it wet, you can create a bunny rabbit, wad it back into an amorphous form, make a horse, add a saddle, then change it into a donkey. Until it’s dried, it can become anything, and that’s half the fun.
Once I liked my story, I sent it my co-authors for critiquing. There were a few comments which were along the lines of “what are you talking about?” If a reader says that, I know something needs fixing, even if it isn’t the spot they marked, so I made a few more significant modifications — adding cousins, for one—and sent it back to them. There were far fewer instances of “huh?” this time. After that, it went to a professional editor. By now, I was pretty tired of this wad of clay, and it was getting dry, at least in my mind. Mirel Abeles, my wonderful editor, suggested brown eyes, longer ears, and a larger saddle. I saw the wisdom of most of her words, so I dug in hard one last time. Finally, came the day when she gave me a thumbs up and it seemed I had a nice tale, free of extraneous commas and other bloopers.
Now comes the hard part, at least for me, which is asking for your feedback. Please read it and leave a review on your favorite retailer (or all of them). Reviews are the only way we, as independent authors, get found. Thank you so much!
After Margie created the 146 page .pdf, which you can download for free tomorrow here, or from my fellow author’s pages, if you prefer pdfs over kindle, nook, etc. (links will be up here), someone had to transform it into a .doc and get it onto all of those places. I took on this task, following the Smashword style guide to create a .doc file and run it through the lovely program called Meatgrinder (can you think of a worse name?). I tired to make it look as much like Margie’s lovely book as I possibly could (please, please don’t download the .pdf off of Smashwords. It’s not nearly as pretty as Margie’s version, for some reason). Smashwords distributes almost everywhere, except Amazon, so I uploaded it there as well. Christy Zigwied, the last author profiled, below, composed a description.
So the book was ready, but then came marketing. So let me introduce Lee, our main marketing guru (it really does take a village), who has given us all kinds of advice (most of which, we’ve probably ignored, being, you know, introverted writer types who wish the marketing part would magically happen on its own). But a little bit sunk in, I hope. (Sorry, Lee. Maybe as the weeks pass we’ll use more of it. I sure hope so).
Lee J. Tyler
Lee apparently loves to surf the WEB for advice about writing and marketing. So, as we went along, she kept putting up helpful links about these topics, and jumping in and suggesting this and that to smooth our way. As I said above, lately she’s been really great, just at the point where most of the rest of us began to freak out (at least, speaking for myself. Maybe everyone else totally has marketing under their belts, but it scares me no end). I’ve been getting about ten emails a day from her.
This brilliant woman contributed a story about a woman who lost her father on 9-11 to Mosaic. She has a novel in progress, as well as a mystery series. You can find her at www.thepointofthequill.com and www.leejtyler.com/about-me/
Last, but not least, we have Christy, who not only contributed a short story to Mosaic, but wrote the book blurb. Christy’s story focuses upon people helping others. There’s of course a dog who brings them together.
Christy was often the first one to jump in with suggestions when anyone raised a question (again that village thingy). She’s working on two novels. You can find her at www.christyzigweid.com.
Over the past three days, I’ve brought you to the point where the stories were finished. Margie Deeb took these and created a beautiful .pdf for us, which you’ll be able to download for free (yes, FREE!) on Wednesday. She chose an elegant style, with black and white graphics for each story, sort of a wood-block look, times new roman font for the text, and a modern font for the story titles. She also set up a table of contents, to ease moving around in the .pdf. We each wrote bios for the end of the book. I can’t even imagine all of the hours which she put into this. She caught typos, and sent our chapters to us for proof-reading, link-checking, etc. This was all volunteer, guys!
James Lee Schmidt, with our input (and a lot of that!) wrote an introduction. He helped Angie with the cover, and Margie put it all together into the document. Finally, we proofed it, and we had a product!!! Yippee! But we weren’t done, yet. I’ll talk about that tomorrow. Right now, though, it’s time for you to meet James.
James Lee Schmidt
He looks awfully serious, doesn’t he? This photo could be a Rembrandt, or some other Dutch Master, like Vermeer, especially with that hat….
Anyway, Mosaic was James’ idea. We were all enrolled in The Story Cartel Course, sending stories back and forth, and chatting, when he asked if anyone wanted to put together a compilation. A few of us signed on, and the book was born. He took the lead in setting up ground rules and making decisions. He was also a great cheerleader and techie support.
James is the author of Strange Tales of the Oskaloosa Oddities Society. He wrote a story for Mosaic about re-finding one’s inner child and understanding that succeeding at work isn’t everything. The story centers around an uncle taking his niece to a theme park, when he doesn’t want to. You can find him at jamesleeschmidt.com
As James says “it takes a village to raise a writer.”
Since it’s Sunday, I thought I’d reveal our cover. Also, because I’ll say a few words below about Angie, who designed the cover.
Isn’t it beautiful! And you can get our book for free, starting Wednesday, March 25th.
Yesterday, I mentioned the first drafts, then the critiques. After getting their first critiques, each author rewrote their pieces, using the critiques to improve the plot lines and flow. Some added more tension, some made their characters more interesting, all kinds of things. My one story expanded from a short thousand or so words to about two thousand, as I recall. We critiqued all the pieces again (round 2, but it was a good idea). After that, everyone went their own way for a while, as we edited and then each hired our own professional editor.
I was surprised and delighted that I liked working with my editor. I’d never really done this, but she nailed the issues with my stories (and two thousand words became 4600 in the original short-short). Without her, they wouldn’t have been so delightful (at least I sure hope you’ll like them). I’ll write more about what came next, but today I want to introduce our cover artist, Angelique Mroczka, and our fourth writer, Brian Rella.
Angie is a visual artist, as well as a writer, and the owner of a small publishing company. She creates amazing covers for books, as you can see, runs workshops for writers, does one-on-one coaching, blogs, runs a podcast, and seems to do a million other things. If you go to her WEB site, you can snag her short story book. We’d hoped she would contribute a story for Mosaic, but all of those zillion other things kept her too busy. I have to say that her Web site is stunningly beautiful, but what else would you expect from this amazing woman?
I don’t know if I’m making the book seem easy, but there was lots going on behind the scenes. Brian would step in and offer wisdom, encouragement (and oh, do writers need that!), and help any time it was needed. He contributed one of the longer stories in Mosiac, an intriguing tale of coming of age, human conflict and wise beings. When we started the book, Brian had never published anything, but he had a wonderful short story, Scarlach, appear at strangerviews.com. It’s available for free, along with another entertaining story, The Bathroom Incident at Dunmaster Academy, at his WEB site, www.brianrella.com.
Again, I’ve got to say, this project couldn’t have happened without every single author jumping in and doing their part. We all learned so much from each other.