Monica Stoner, Member at large
If there is a book in the house Iâ€™m anxious to read, nothing else gets done. Which might have a lot to do with why Iâ€™m perpetually late on completing projects. Having to fly at least four times a year means I can have up to twelve guilt free hours of solid reading. Often I save this time for authors new to me, so they can have my undivided attention.
On my most recent trip, I packed a book recommended by a dear friend, who knows I love good writing. Once I finished a book Iâ€™d started the day before, I reached for this new book and was immediately pulled into the life of a woman who had recreated herself several times over. Great writing, wonderful characters; I was mentally reviewing the call I would make to my friend once I landed.
As the story unfolded, I learned this woman had overcome raising a child as a single mother after she was left at the altar. Then her teenage son left to get to know her father better, right about the time she was diagnosed with cancer. Music started to waft through my head, I believe it was the theme to â€œBrianâ€™s Song.â€ She met the man of her dreams, someone who had dealt with adversity of his own and had finally moved on, ready to step into a new and wonderful relationship with the heroine.
Suddenly, I recalled the major difference between Womenâ€™s Fiction and Romance? Romance requires happily ever after endings. You guessed it, this book was not Romance. By then I was totally hooked, mesmerized by these characters and unwilling to close the book. None of this would be a problem in my own home. Unfortunately I was 35,000 feet above the ground, with people on all sides.
Ever tried to sob quietly? Try it some time with no tissues, only one scrawny, hard surfaced cocktail napkin. Fortunately my closest seat mate was sound asleep, and the cabin personnel were not overly attentive. That napkin got a lot of abuse, let me tell you. And I was very glad Iâ€™d decided to let my hair grow out instead of getting another trendy short style, so I had something to hide behind.
Would I read this author again? Absolutely. But not, I donâ€™t think, while in the air!
Monica Stoner, member at large
Iâ€™m reminded of phrases from my favorite writers. Any Rand, in Atlas Shrugged, Francisco talking to Dagny Taggartâ€™s brother: â€œWords have an exact meaning.â€ Henry Higgins ranting in My Fair Lady â€œBy rights they should be taken out and hung, for the cold blooded murder of the English tongue.â€ As a writer, it grates every time.
You hear it on newscasts and read it in newspapers: â€œThe person, that works for the company.â€ If itâ€™s a person, then itâ€™s a who. The rules read as follows: (taken from http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/whoVwhVt.asp)
Who refers to people. That and which refer to groups or things.
That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses.
If this, that, these, or those has already introduced an essential clause, you may use which to introduce the next clause, whether it is essential or nonessential.
The website gave some examples. In the interest of active writing, I would suggest going one step further. For: â€œShe belongs to an organization that specializes in saving endangered species.â€ why not write: â€œShe belongs to an organization specializing in saving endangered species.â€? Reduces the word count by one but punches up the sentence. Our minds automatically hesitate on certain words, including â€œthat.â€ When editing, I first go through to remove â€œthatâ€ plus any version of the â€œto be.â€
So instead of saying â€œThe group that is going to the museum.â€ try â€œThe group going to the museum.â€ And so on. Of course once you start, your automatic editor will intrude when youâ€™re reading for pleasure, and take some of the fun out of your stolen hours.
While Iâ€™m on an editing soapbox, letâ€™s look at the word â€œlaconic.â€ By definition, â€œlaconicâ€ means terse, of few words. The word has nothing to do with eyebrows, facial expressions, or any other body part. Unfortunately, some popular authors started the trend of such phrases as â€œhe raised a laconic eyebrow.â€ Have any of you ever heard an eyebrow talk, tersely or otherwise? Because I certainly havenâ€™t, nor would I want to. Eyebrows are supposed to stay quietly on my face, somewhere above my eyes.
Words have an exact meaning
For that matter, a phrase Iâ€™ve heard all too often recently is â€œmandatory spay/neuter,â€ referencing the removal of sexual organs from dogs or cats. Neuter is non gender specific, but is used for the sterilization of male dogs, most likely because the accurate word, â€œcastrate,â€ is too painful for males to hear. Since this PC phrasing has been used to mitigate the importance of these surgeries, and to encourage more people to support the goals of animal rights advocates, it is doubly important to use the correct word. Spay. Castrate. Sterilize. If you want to speak collectively, neuter is appropriate. For impact, Iâ€™ve been known to use â€œForced Sterilization.â€ If you want to sound a bit more knowledgeable, or just have fun, try Gonadectomy, a personal favorite of mine.
Words have an exact meaning and as writers we need to protect those meanings.
At a recent LERA meeting, the speaker handed out file cards. Told us to write down our goals for one month, six months, one year, and five years. Seemed like a great idea, get us to write down goals and really cement in our New Year resolution.
Then she collected them all back to keep. Oops.
Now itâ€™s not just a goal I make to myself, and can fulfill or ignore as the spirit moves me. Iâ€™m 100% sure sheâ€™s going to be standing up at the front of the room next month reading off our goals, asking if weâ€™ve met them, then asking why. In other words, a serious, buckle down and get it done goal.
Talk about motivation! Or would this be conflict? Iâ€™m motivated to avoid the conflict I would have to face by admitting I hadnâ€™t managed to follow through on those goals. Works for me. And I mean really works for me. Instead of an obscure someday I now have a concrete do it by date. Amazing what difference a 3 X 5 card makes. Especially in someone else’s hands.
Which got me thinking about resolutions and goals and all the rest of what we do to make ourselves write, or to keep ourselves from writing. And I realized I was not giving myself the respect I give to other writers.
So, hereâ€™s a goal, in writing, and in front of most of my world. I am a writer. I matter as a writer, and I deserve respect from other writers but most of all from myself. I will give myself that respect, and make the effort to WRITE when I first sit down at the computer. Not check e-mail. Not format artwork. Write.
I deserve it. I AM a writer.
Monica Henderson Stoner
At the recent LERA (Land of Enchantment Romance Authors) Christmas party, we exchanged gifts and writing tips. Some of the tips were old stand bys, some were new, and some came at just the right time. The one impressing me the most was: “Set a timer clock for fifteen minutes, and write until the timer goes off. It doesnâ€™t matter what you write, even “I hate writing, I hate my computer, I hate books, this is stupid, why do I put myself through this torture.” Well before the end of the fifteen minutes youâ€™ll be writing in someone elseâ€™s mind, and youâ€™ll be back to a story instead of a blank screen.
Or so the theory goes. It canâ€™t be much more difficult than answering e-mails and heaven knows weâ€™re nearly all good at that. You just donâ€™t take your hands off the keys for anything until the fifteen minutes are up.
Iâ€™m writing this while my husband takes a shower, which is usually about fifteen minutes. No timer yet but itâ€™s probably not as important as just plain writing. Another tip was to read Lawrence Blockâ€™s “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.” Okay, that was my tip, because that one book has done more to help me over this non-writing hump than anything else. Going to seminars didnâ€™t help, hearing about contests I could enter didnâ€™t help. Reading that book did help. The hint that meant the most to me was what I wrote down for my goal next month. Take your writing seriously, and take yourself seriously as a writer. Have respect for yourself as a writer, and treat writing like the job you want it to be.
This really hit home. How much respect was I giving myself as a writer? And not just a placer of words on a page, but a writer of readable fiction. Was I just skating on the fact Iâ€™d written five books, who cares how good they were? Or on the fact Iâ€™d actually published for money, albeit it articles for dog magazines? And isnâ€™t that a thrill and a half, to hold that first check? Not quite enough of a thrill to frame it in lieu of cashing but still pretty darned cool.
So Iâ€™m taking that advice, writing fifteen minutes every day and turning out something, good or bad. Exercise builds muscle, and you burn calories even when you canâ€™t exercise like the pros. Iâ€™m exercising those imagination muscles – they were getting pretty flabby!
Showerâ€™s off, and looky here I wrote my blog for the month! Hereâ€™s wishing creative thoughts and flying fingers this holiday season
Miss you all!
MEMBER AT LARGE
More on traveling…
Some people have asked how I could travel to far away exotic locations and not sightsee more. The easy answer is I plan to return with my husband and will behave more like a tourist at that time. I could also cite time constrictions and the involvement in dog activities. The real answer goes deeper and speaks to my life as a writer even when Iâ€™m not writing.
Unless my characters fall into their stories from a group tour or from their long planned vacation thatâ€™s about to become disarranged, theyâ€™re not going to be spending much time in museums or at well known locales. Far more likely they will be driving along the winding back roads scared spit less but not ready to give up yet. Or theyâ€™ll be running for their lives along the walking paths cut through fields all over the country. Hope they donâ€™t trip over the many old dogs waddling along those paths and not likely to step aside.
Thatch roofs cost 20,000 pounds to maintain and have to be redone every so many years, which really reduces any desire to have this sort of roof. Each locale has a particular style of thatching, and itâ€™s a very lucrative profession. Maybe you can find that kind of information on the Internet but did you realize old thatched roofs look like packed moldy straw with chicken wire on the top. Not quite as appealing as the pictures Iâ€™ve seen of cottages with bright straw thatching.
In New Zealand, now known as the country where Peter Jackson filmed Lord of the Rings, the opportunities off the beaten path are even more fascinating. In Wellington, thereâ€™s a bridge which looks like it was thrown up overnight during a drunken contest. Every section slants a slightly different direction. In fact it is magnificently engineered to look like the set of a Disney cartoon. Crossing to the bridge from the waterfront, I found a large concrete sculpture mounted in the ground, quoting Pat Lawlor, Wellington writer: “And now, as I grow in years, I feel at times like an old violin played on by a master hand. You, dear city, are the maestro drawing the bow over the sensibilities of my mind, echoing the music of my days.”
On the bridge itself I read another plaque: “Itâ€™s true you canâ€™t live here by chance, you ave to do and be, not simply watch or even describe, this city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.” Someone had sprayed letters across this message, I suppose in their own statement of action. Later I learned this is a part of Wellingtonâ€™s Writerâ€™s walk – now I need to go back and take the rest of the walk!
My host felt New Zealanders were dour and often depressed, unlike Americans who always seem positive and upbeat, or even Australians who seem sometimes aggressively cheerful. I had to disagree. How can any people who intentionally build a bridge looking like it was thrown together in the dark, and erect buildings in the shape of sheep and sheepdogs be depressed? Much less people who feel their writers are important enough to have concrete plaques installed. Subtle, perhaps so much so they fool themselves. My host reminded me much of New Zealand was settled by Scots, who tend toward a dour attitude. When I thought about this it made perfect sense. Both peoples live in a country with immense natural beauty and so many creative minds but so far away from most of the world.
More fascinating was the attitude of the current residents, depending on their ancestry and for that matter if they were born in New Zealand or emigrated later. Those who came over as bond servants and made their way in the new world by interacting with the Maori, who preceded them by about 1,000 years, told me about the losses for the Maori when New Zealand was “discovered” by Europeans. Those whose ancestors served as officers in the British army showed me paintings of the forts commanded by their great great grandfather, erected to defend the British against the Natives. Perception really is everything.
Monica K Stoner
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