Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead City, Arizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of
poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.
While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry. Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.
STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL
BE THE ARCHITECT, BUILDER AND REAL ESTATE AGENT
OF YOUR NOVEL
(Part two of a three-part series)
By T. Dawn Richard
Author of the May List Mystery Series
As the architect of your novel some of the most important things to consider before writing your story are genre, the span of your story in terms of time, the number of characters who will serve your story well, subplots, and setting. Like building a house, having a blueprint to keep you organized and structured will not only guide you but will alleviate frazzled nerves.
In one of my novels I was about 75 pages into the story when I realized I had no idea where the story was going. Delete fifty pages and begin again but this time with a plan. Especially in mysteries, it is paramount to know who did it, how they did it, how to apply misdirection, and how the mystery will be solved. Very difficult to do on the fly. I certainly don’t downplay the value of writing as the inspiration guides you; it can be some of the most beautiful writing you will ever do. It can be soul cleansing and exciting. But like taking a walk through the woods without a compass, while the journey is exhilarating, you may never reach your destination.
Once you have structured your novel in whatever way works for you—with an outline, a synopsis, a timeline, a list of scenes, or a very brief idea of beginning, middle, and end—it’s time to build.
Gather your tools. Some work best with pen and paper, some can’t do without a laptop, others like to speak into a recorder. I learned some time ago that my chicken scratch was almost impossible to read and I couldn’t write fast enough for my thoughts and I learned to use a computer. Today, submitting a handwritten manuscript will quickly be rejected. If you are not comfortable using a computer, find someone who can transcribe your writing before sending to an agent or publisher.
Find a writing space. Don’t apologize if you prefer to sit on your bed (my favorite writing spot) and if that restaurant or coffee joint down the road gets your fingers moving, order some coffee and don’t forget to tip your waitress generously especially if like me, you lose track of time and occupy a space for hours. Music can be wonderful as a background to your story. It can get you in a mood that will mirror the action on the page. If you prefer silence, schedule your writing time accordingly. But do schedule your writing time. Even if you can only manage thirty minutes every day. Write something.
I was reminded the other day that architects aren’t finished when they hand over the plans to the builders; they are available for consultation when the builders need clarification. You will need to refer to your plans, but often something amazing happens. A minor character will become so interesting they will move into a major role. In my own house, the basement wasn’t even finished when we moved in but it’s now where everyone prefers to gather. It’s our favorite space even though it took five years to finish.
During a writing workshop a well-known screenwriter gave me some advice. “Write quickly,” he said. Get the structure of your novel finished as if you’re on a deadline. This will keep you from getting bogged down in the details and it will not allow you to get discouraged. In addition, when your fingers are flying across the keyboard ideas will suddenly come to mind; brilliant ideas that you wouldn’t have found if you were laboring over every sentence. Don’t look back, keep moving.
When the structure is finished, it’s time to go back and edit. This not only means checking for typos, but to add color, texture, and personal flourishes. In a house, you would be decorating—making it livable and all yours.
After your novel is finished the work isn’t done. Now you will need to find a buyer. In the next segment I will describe some of the ways I have sold my novels and, after the novel is sold, ways to market your book. You will become the real estate agent of your story. I love what Gary Provost says in his book Make Every Word Count. “We are writers, you and I. We are writers because we write.”author T. Dawn Richard is a full time writer and author of the May List Mystery Series. Her first book, Death for Dessert, was published in 2003, followed byDigging up Otis, and A Wrinkle in Crime. She completed her fourth book in the series, Par for the Corpse, in 2009. Kirkus Reviews called her "A kind of geriatric Janet Evanovich" because of her quirky senior citizen characters. Richard has recently completed two screenplays and has several other projects in the works. Her books are available onAmazon.com.
By Susan Garver
I have a long background with left brain activities which means as a writer I am more comfortable editing and rewriting than creating. I have plenty of ideas, but my inner perfectionist tends to revise soon after if not before I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. This inner critic stymies word flow seeking the best and most efficient way to parlay the thoughts in my mind to written prose. I long to type like no one is looking, but I often find other things to do rather than face my all-seeing critic.
I decided to approach this issue from a new angle. If I keep my inner critic busy left-braining my current book, I can secretly work behind her back creating a new masterpiece. I made no mention of a new work to anyone and began scribbling on a blank page in the notebook for my current memoir. With no expectations for the clandestine project, I could let words stream from my brain to the page without anything hindering the flow. Since the project doesn’t officially exist as a item on my agenda, the inner critic has no reason to interfere.
For this project–that doesn’t exist–I set several parameters to aid my success in keeping the inner judge at bay. The first and possibly most important criteria requires I pen the story by hand in a notebook with no side page margins. Once I write something, the only available whitespace is in the forward direction. No room for the critic to cross out and reword or insert changes.
Each day I continue the narrative. A sentence, a paragraph, or several pages–the amount doesn’t matter as long as I increase the total word count. I reread a bit of what I wrote the previous day to keep the story somewhat on a track, but I don’t rewrite or edit anything. I promised myself I would not read what I wrote or transcribe it to electronic format until I finish the book. It’s too easy for my critic to edit and rewrite with a computer; she’s a quick typist.
I don’t recall on which day I started, because keeping track might rouse my censor as she would say I should have written more by this time. For the same reason I eschewed creating an outline. I need to be writing and not thinking. Too much thinking sends an alert to the critic. I have to keep her in the dark. In addition, an outline could function as a measuring stick for progress or lack thereof.
Since this project does not exist, my inner critic reworks the third major draft of the tale of my first nine months living based from my car. I have to keep her busy with something or she might find my secret notebook. My memoir has been my top burner project for nearly two years although it’s not been cooking that entire time. My inner critic decided it should sit for months at a stretch as she plotted and schemed on how each rewrite should be approached. Outer critics also contributed to the idea of rework but my inner critic is such an exacting taskmaster that she sometimes scares me into inaction, more so than an outside critic.
As the number of handwritten pages increases so does my confidence that the more I write in this non-judgmental manner, the easier it will become for me to do so in the future. I hope to reach the point I can ease my hand cramps by bypassing the initial handwritten draft and typing the first pass at lightening speed. Until then I continue to write in stealth mode on my imaginary project. With each page (I’m not counting so don’t ask me how many I have) I claim success in writing like my inner critic is not looking.
After success in two different career fields
Susan is currently enjoying the sunshine and warm temps of north
“Not from earthly riches but from the milk of human kindness comes true beatitude.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa
A mystic who lived in Cappadocia in Asia Minor around 380 AD.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful
for they shall obtain mercy
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be children of God."
Mathew 5 1-12
When faced with the enormous task of writing fiction, of describing an experience through the senses, food can be a terrific resource. The relationship between food and fiction has a rich and satisfying past.
Valentin Louis Georges Eugene Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871 and lived until November 18, 1922. Coming of age in the era of the Third Republic in France, he lived in southern Paris, in an age when the aristocracy was beginning its decline, in favor a rising middle class. While he had a prolific career, he was beset by grief following the death of his beloved mother. In Remembrance of Things Past, he described a momentous event involving a simple little delicacy. This is an excerpt from the famous passage:
“Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theater and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother seeing that I was cold offered me some tea, a thing which I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, I changed my mind. She sent me one of those squat, plump little cakes called 'petites madelines,' which though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised my lips to a spoonful of tea in which I had soaked a morsel of cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no sensation of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disastrous innocuous, its brevity illusory- this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had now ceased to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors, could, not, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? How could I seize and apprehend it?”
Proust's thoughts on the experience continue on for another two pages. At the end, he speaks of the taste of a madeline dipped in tea, bringing him back in his mind's eye to the house in Combray, to the garden, to the village and to the county and with that memory, to the emotion of being exquisitely happy. The skill with which Proust describes that cookie has been talked and written about for almost one hundred years. It is unarguably the greatest passage about food in all of our vast library of literature.
Lest I give Proust all the credit I can name others whose talent lingered in my mind, and may have more than once sent me in the direction of the kitchen, or a restaurant with the hope of recreating the experience for myself. Ernest Hemingway used a very simple and direct method, in keeping with his personal style that would have me scurrying to recreate the same dish. In A Moveable Feast, he writes:
“Wine is the most civilized thing in the world. In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”
As a young woman I craved the cakes and feasts of the Maritime Provinces described in turn of the century Canada, where as Lucy Maude Montgomery stated, “if you have not set your table with three kinds of cake, you have not done your family proud.”
When I wrote My American Eden, I took on the challenge of discovering what the diet consisted of in seventeenth century New England. I learned that the sky turned black with the plethora of ptarmigan overhead, that streams seamed to boil with the plenitude of fish, and that shooting game was as easy as walking out the door with musket in hand. Flour, on the other hand being scarce and precious, could not be spared for two pie crusts. Only the bottom of the plate would be lined, excepted in the finest houses, where the 'upper crust' found a home.
In my memoir in progress, now called Four Stanley Cups and a Funeral, I sometimes find my mouth watering describing the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding of my youth. If I recall picking apples from the trees in our orchard, I suddenly feel the brisk wind; I can bring to mind my jeans and cowboy boots, and I can hear the sound of the crisp bite into the first, newly ripe, Northern Spy, grown in the hardscrabble soil of Caledon, Ontario. From there, the smell of the barn comes squarely back to me, and I hear the steadying breaths of the horses lined up in their stalls, with inquisitive and friendly heads poking out the top.
Cultures are defined by their various dishes. You only need to let the reader know what your protagonist had for lunch and they will know something of who they are. How they start their day, what they have for breakfast and how they feel about it, will set the stage. Is the main dish fried, boiled, or grilled? Do they cherish fresh fish, or never eat it? Do they have Oysters for lunch on Boxing Day? Is there a large table set outside, or under an arbor, or do they eat in a dining room with starched and spotless linen. Who serves the food? Who prepares it? Do they eat in restaurants, and if so what kind?
More from Proust:
"Undoubtedly what it is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, is trying to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too confused and chaotic; scarcely can I perceive the neutral glow into which the elusive whirling medley of stirred up colors is fused, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter to translate for me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste, cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, from what period in my past life."
Run, don't walk, to your nearest bakery. I should have included a word of warning at the beginning. Writing will make you very hungry, diets impossible, and cooking the ultimate distraction.
At the age of eighty two, one of our most esteemed poets took her leave, in Santa Cruz, on March 27, 2012. Many of us will remember reading the poems of Adrienne Rich in our salad days and there are those who may recall being inspired to write poetry after reading her work. People who are really good at something make it look easy.
Critics will say that great, strong and vivid writing will jump off the page. Unlike so many wonderful poets who toil in obscurity, Ms. Rich was recognized early. A daughter of a renowned pathologist and concert pianist, she was raised as a future progeny. While poetry may not have been the desired aim of her parents, she found a clear and solid voice at Radcliffe College and went on to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship to Oxford.
While her political leanings and feminist causes are well documented, I believe she will be remembered for her poetry above all. Here is an excerpt from What Times are These:
“There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into the shadows,
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.
I've walked there picking mushrooms
at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem this is not somewhere else but here
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread
its own ways of making people disappear.”
For a closer look at the poems of this marvelous woman: