Views from Japan!

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Looking out a window of the Adachi Museum at the Adachi Garden. The idea being that art need not be contained in a frame and displayed on a wall.

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Matsue castle. Not a large castle as castles go, but very impressive architecture all the same.

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Shikansen, aka bullet train. They are definitely fast and extremely comfortable.

dsc_9654Local train, not as fast as Shikansen, but a lot of fun.

dsc_9759Temple garden in Kyoto.

dsc_9828Japanese maple

dsc_9714Ginko.

dsc_9816A temple view from a tatami room.

dsc_9601Koi in a temple pond.

img_4554Ugly me!

dsc_0286-2A kite, much bigger than our red-tail hawk. Very impressive bird. Their favorite prey is fish. This fellow is soaring over the Sea of Japan.

img_4223Moon rise over the Sea of Japan. This moon was a particularly large moon due to the closeness of earth to our dear orbiting partner.

dsc_0250Elementary school children posing for a picture before they take off for a field trip. I’m standing to the side, hence a few of them are smiling my way. I love it!

dsc_0311Mt. Fuji. It is as beautiful as it looks!

dsc_0315One more time. Notice the reddish tint. It actually goes a bit red with the sunset. I nearly stopped breathing. Hokusai, a great nineteenth century Japanese artist, is famous for painting a red Fuji in a series of paintings: One hundred views of Mt. Fuji.

 

Well that’s all for the moment. We’ve been here for a week and we’ll be here for another week…having fun with family and friends. We’re in Fuji, Japan now and the two pics above were taken from our room’s balcony. It’s around 10:30 p.m. and in the past hour or so, Fuji-san has come into view from the rising moon. Sadako and I have our wine ready for a great moon viewing with Mt. Fuji.

Sayonara!

 

 

Strands

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One particularly bothersome aspect of novel writing is what I call a “strand.” A strand is a gadfly. A mosquito that refuses to go away. A bee that occasionally buzzes too close OR it could be that wondrous ray of sun light that illuminates everything then suddenly disappears.

 You are moving along. You have your plot outlined. You have copious notes in another file—very handy. Your characters are well defined. They have names. You have pictures of them. (Something I’ve never done, but I love the idea.) You have a meaningful sub plot. You’ve done the research. You’re writing five hundred words a day. But then, the strands make themselves known to you—often in strange places.

One night you wake up or just before you take that second sip of coffee the next morning or when you’re walking down the pet food aisle at Kroger wondering what snack you wanted to purchase for puppy—the scene comes to mind.

Your protagonist, Suzie, has driven to her ex-husband’s house. His name is Joe. They’ve been divorced for five years, now they’re good friends. Suzie is returning a book. Joe’s dog, Spot, gallops out to meet her. He wags his tail and barks once or twice. A startled redbird flies up into the cedar trees. Suzie goes to the door and knocks. Joe doesn’t come to the door—a young lady does. She is wearing Joe’s pajamas. Pajamas that Suzie recognizes—because she bought them years ago. The girl is slim, pretty. She laughs and flounces away to get “Joey.” Her youthful derriere jiggles as she walks.

This scene in your novel should not include the girlfriend. Or should it? The girlfriend is a strand. She could be there. She keeps cropping up, as it were. Who is she? She keeps getting in the way. Why is that? And later, there’s another strand…the neighbor who…what is it he does? He grins and waves. He has a tattoo on his neck, a lizard or a snake, something. He’s sitting in his car staring at Suzie. What’s that about?

Where are you going with that strand? Should you delete it? It’s not in your plot outline. Neither is the girlfriend. They’re not in the outline—the one you worked on for hours, days, weeks. But the tattooed neighbor shows up again in the novel. What page was that? That damned magazine article said if you have a PLOT OUTLINE this shit wouldn’t happen! So, so, so.

New re-writes don’t always help. They create more strands. Different strands. Like a fishing line that’s hopelessly tangled. You pull and pull and pull but the loopy strands just keep coming, keep getting stuck, creating more strands. It’s all confused. But, they could be important. It could be that ONE strand, if you pull it enough—slowly, cautiously, tease it out, then suddenly, the knot unravels, and everything makes sense.

Outside the window of my study, I see yellow leaves on the sweet gum tree. The sky is blue. Cody, lying by my chair, is asleep on the floor, snoring. The clock on book case is ticking, ticking, ticking. These things are disconnected, and yet, they all make sense. They all belong.

Any and all comments are welcome!

 

Who’s Telling the Story? A Case for Multiple POV

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I had just completed Chapter Five in my “still in progress” novel. My protagonist is a single female, late twenties, public school biology teacher. Chapter Five ends with her accepting an invitation to serve as the “Green Counselor” at a month long summer camp for girls. Chapter Six begins with her turning into the driveway of her best friend’s house. She will leave her dog with this friend. Chapter Seven has her arriving at the camp.

Now, thus far I’ve written this narrative in Third Person Omniscient. We see the world through my protagonist’s eyes and her eyes only.

BUT, by the time I had gotten to the end of Chapter Six I had an uneasy feeling. I let it go and finished Chapter Seven. But upon a quick read, the unease set in again. Chapter Five was just wrong. But why?

My epiphany was that Chapter Five would be vastly better if I used a different POV for my protagonist’s arrival at her best friend’s house. I changed the POV from my protagonist to her best friend, and sure enough the narrative took on a new life, seen from another person’s eyes, as it were. The improvement, if I may call it that, was a source of amazement.

Of course, I also realized I would have to go back to my outline and figure out POVs for each chapter. But even with the added work, I’m now convinced the multiple POV will work best for this novel.

What are some pros for multiple POV?

  • Greater mobility. For instance, with Chapter Six, I can avoid the cumbersome “arrival scene” and start with the person in the house! It works so much better.
  • Greater depth. I can reveal the attitude of “reliable” others towards my hero. An effective way to reveal your protagonist’s flaws.
  • Increased tension. I can, through various conflicting views, raise the bar, as it were regarding my characters’ actions.

What are some cons?

  • Derail plot movement. I spend too much time with a secondary character, and the narrative bogs down travelling in the wrong direction.
  • Character deflation. I spend too much energy with other characters and lose my protagonist in the turmoil. (In the novel I’m currently reading, I find myself liking the secondary characters more than the protagonist!)
  • Narrative implosion. My story line goes off in a thousand directions curves back in on itself and implodes into total oblivion! Whoa!

 

So dear Blogger writers, what’s the point of all this? My point is that we should be open to our “highly intuitive writer minds” when, for whatever reason, you suddenly feel something is not quite right with the way your narrative is moving—then believe me there IS SOMETHING WRONG, so, stop and review your work. I was reluctant to change my Chapter Six. But, I did it, and I am happily surprised with the results.

NOTE: As a writing exercise, re-writing a scene from one point of view to another often reveals some very interesting aspects of your story. I’m sure this has been said a million times…sorry.

Picture above: Crows in our front yard. Talking!

What are your thoughts about shifting from one POV to another?

Writers are Ghosts

20131225_3-2Moon set in North Alabama…with lone bird.

Even though Halloween is closing in, this isn’t a Halloween ghost kind of thing. First, I should clarify one thing. I’m not talking about being a “Ghostwriter.” We all know what that is and how it works. No, I’m talking about the relationship we as writers have with that “other place” the territory of the imagination—peopled by imaginary folk. Imaginary folk who talk to other imaginary folk, and we, invisible to them all, write down what they say and what they do.

We take note of their feelings and their environment. We follow them even into their most intimate moments. At times we become so involved we lose all sense of our own individuality. We don’t see the world around us. We don’t hear the clock ticking. We don’t smell the coffee.

I would like to suggest that we don’t “lose” ourselves, so much as we “insinuate” ourselves into that other place to such an extent that we are no longer “here.” We are “there.”

This intrusion, as it were, is not unwelcomed. In fact, it is desired. How many times have we had to “go back” and rewrite a scene because we “had it wrong?” How many times have you ignored a character only to have that person “demand” to be recognized? How many times have we wakened at 3:11 am and scrambled for a notepad to write down a word, a phrase, a snatch of conversation? How many times indeed.

You might say, well this happens too when I read. Of course it does. And when you write, are you not the first reader? When you write, as opposed to reading, it is your own small world, not someone else’s. And that world has chosen “you” to write it into existence. That’s amazing. Faulkner once responded to a question regarding the act of writing. “I trot along behind my characters and write down what they say.”

So, so, so.

This imagined world, what Wallace Stevens called the “Supreme Fiction” is a miracle. It isn’t a human invention; it is a human ability, and we must treasure it. When you become depressed or sad or melancholy over your unfinished work or your current draft, step away! Step back and give yourself a round of applause. Walt Whitman celebrated himself every day and then wrote a long poem about it. Sing your own Song of Yourself. You can do what not many people can do—albeit, it’s frustrating at times, but nevertheless, it is a miracle of sorts. Your “other” self has “access”—why? Hell I don’t know. But it does, and how grateful we should be for that ability.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you feel to be the relationship between imagination and reality.

 

in-ten(t)-shǝ-năʹ-lə-tē

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Trillium: A shy flower that flourishes here in the south. It’s everywhere but often missed.

With your current writing project what is your intention? Why is that important? Well, let’s talk.

We authors have an intention in mind, as we furiously peck out word after word of our grand narratives. Intention is obviously very similar to theme.

I intend for this work to show:

  • the futility of war, or
  • the futility of peace, or
  • love does conquer all, or
  • all men are dogs!

The problem is that, more often than not, we “intend” more than we realize.

When Robert Frost wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” he probably didn’t intend to write a poem about Santa Claus delivering gifts on Christmas Eve, but there is a published essay to that effect.

Another interesting take on Frost’s iconic poem is that he, Robert Frost is obsessed not with death or art, but with land ownership! Indeed, the very first word of the poem is a possessive, “Whose.”

Who is the “real” enemy in your novel? Are you so sure? Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar wrote a great essay on the fairy tale “Snow White” wherein they effectively show that Snow White is a docile, submissive girl who for the most part lies flat on her back and waits for a man to kiss her. Whereas the Evil Queen is a schemer, a plotter, an impersonator, an artist, and a woman of tremendous creative ability…does any of this ring a bell…writers?

I could mention any number of authors whose works reveal ideas, concepts, themes, that the author surely did not intend. So why are they there? Because when we write, we reveal our own idiosyncrasies or in the worst case scenario our own fears or hidden desires!

Hey, Steven King in his excellent memoir, ON WRITING discusses how at one point he looked back on his early novels and noted his own fascination with blood.

One may not see a pattern until one has completed a large number of novels. We, in the process of writing, discover bits and pieces of ourselves. Writing is self-discovery and what one discovers can be revealing in a positive manner or it may be quite difficult to accept. Or you discover absolutely nothing, and it all comes to light after you’re good and gone! Whoops!

So what’s my point? Well, we can’t always control everything in our works, but we can at least in this “information sensitive” age be on the lookout for what might be construed as racist or sexist or jingoist or whatever and deal with it as one who wishes to leave something of worth for the never-ending world of readers to cherish.

Are we really facing our fears? Or are we hiding them…in the attic…like Jane Eyre’s Madwoman. Well, be careful; someday soon, she will come out.

What are your thoughts on this?

Three words I Hate! And they’re ADVERBS!

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(Sparrows enjoying a meal at the driveway’s edge.)

The first word is one that I don’t hear as much as I did years ago. The word CLEARLY.

Back in the day, I used to listen to National Public Radio every morning. I loved it. The one issue was the overuse, I felt, of the word “clearly.” The newscaster, whoever it may be, would be humming along with an interesting interview when sure enough a response would start thus: “Well, clearly, one can see that, blah, blah, blah.” I put up with it. It was annoying but hey, the story was good and informing. But then, some work friends of mine, who also listened to NPR, started using the word. I would make some remark about a work issue. And, the instant response: “Clearly, this is a result of…blah, blah, blah….”

I became sick of the word. Still am. It became CLEAR to me that nothing was “CLEARLY” anything! It was the speaker who felt it was CLEARLY this or that. In short, it became a hinted criticism. What? YOU don’t see the situation. WE do. It’s CLEARLY…”

The next word is one that I hear way too much: ACTUALLY!

I was talking to a relative of mine and had explained that my wife and I abandoned a particular weight loss plan because of the expense. Before I could get out my next word, he came back with, “ACTUALLY, you save money.”

What’s so ACTUALLY about it. Grrrrr. But ACTUALLY seems to be in the smart mouth of each and every “Know-it-all” out there. And like “clearly,” it seems to be a side-winder criticism. But maybe not. What really pisses me off is that I find myself actually using the word…sigh.

Another word that is annoying as hell, but I put up with it—ABSOLUTELY.

I asked an assistant manager in a popular store a few months ago if they accept American Express. “Absolutely,” he blared out.

“Absolutely?” Well, okay. Why should I be such a pedant? If they accept Am X absolutely, then fine. But then I asked the Animal Boarding people whether or not they exercise the animals twice a day, and she immediately responded, “Absolutely!” With eyebrows furrowed and head shaking. She was ringing up my bill at the time. They absolutely walk the dogs? Okay, okay.

I think the word “Absolutely” really means, “shut up!” You know, they want you to stop asking stupid questions. “Absolutely!”

In my writing I use these words to enhance the “annoyance” factor of certain annoying characters.

So what adverbs, or any word or phrase for that matter, do you hate and despise the most? All, none? How do you use them in your writing?

Who calls me ‘villain’? from Hamlet

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Red fox here in Alabama.

As many writers and teachers of writers have emphatically stated: The plot of the novel hinges upon conflict. The protagonist desires “something,” and our hero’s attempt to acquire that “something” is made difficult by the antagonist: a man, a woman, the government, a dragon, a storm, the police, the military, the mafia, booze, sex, Republicans…the list goes on and on.

So we have the necessity of opposition that often takes shape as: villain. I pose the question: How villainous must our villain be? I’m currently working on a novel…into the second year…. but never mind that. I am trying my best to create the “flawed antagonist.” But isn’t that redundant? Well maybe not.

Bad people usually, not always, see themselves as “good people.” This statement introduces a host of questions. Who is bad? Who is good? Can a bad person do a truly good thing? Or can a genuinely bad person be genuinely good? We’ve now entered the realm of philosophy. What is good? What is bad? Who defines? Is Ignorance evil or bliss?

I don’t believe we as writers need to sit down and write treatise after treatise on the nature of good and evil, but I do believe that we must seriously think about the nature of the “bad” guy. It’s something like Michelangelo studying the muscles of human cadavers in order to draw perfectly the muscles of living persons. What indeed is going on in the mind of the villain?

We speak of the hero being flawed. For instance, the hero is quick to anger. Or she drinks too much. Or he cheats and lies. All of these flaws are representations of bad behavior, a la evil.

So then what about the antagonist? In other words, can the antagonist be a flawed villain? I don’t mean a villain who doesn’t drink or cheat or lie, or has a bum knee, but rather a villain who is intrinsically good.

I like the idea. What do you think?