Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writing in the Negative Space

No, I don't mean that I'm making my Hemingway-esque descent into drunken, depressed mad genius (though I wouldn't mind a good dose of mad-genius every now and then). I've just been thinking about one of my works in progress with which my creative wheels have gotten buried in about two feet of gooey, frustrating, infuriating mud.

This novel is a complete rewrite of one a did a few years ago. I mostly just scooped the cream off the top--the main character and all her delicious flaws, a couple of supporting characters, and two male leads. From there, I took the characteristics that spoke to me about each of those "cast members" and I used every drop of my psychology degrees to invent backstories that explained every quirk and facet of them all. Then I did that about twenty-five more times until I finally ended up with a social history for this little handful of people that rivals War and Peace.

Of course none of that will be in the book, but whatever. At least I know it, and that helps me to have the characters fully realized and in beautiful technicolor on the page, right?

The problem that I have now is that they're so technicolor in my mind, I have no idea what's on that page. Once you've gone that deep with your characters, you can't pull yourself out and see what the reader sees anymore. No mother looks at her child the way a stranger does, and that goes for fictional children, too.

This brings me to my problem. My main character has just experienced a fairly traumatic emotional crisis which will have lasting implications on her life-path, but also harkens back to some of that ginormous backstory I mentioned. I'm pleased with the lead up to this event and the direct aftermath, but now I'm kind of stuck. This character's history has set her up to be the type who puts on a facade while she's full of raging waters inside. I think I got that across in the "first punch" phase of her crisis, but now I'm up to the point where there are a little details that have to be ironed out and the next steps are setting in. I keep getting caught up in these little details even though I know the reader would be rolling their eyes and telling me to just get on with it.

Generally, that's a bad thing.

I want to get on with it. I do. I really, really, really with sugar on top do. My problem is that the way that she handles those little things show a lot about her character in subtle ways...way, way too subtle ways.

I love this character. We've been hanging out a lot for several years and she's like my little imaginary bestie. We like the same kind of ice cream and we're both left handed. She would get along with my evil cat. Of course it is hard to write about a character that you like going through terrible pain, but I am absolutely determined to keep her as miserable as possible in order to highlight her most redemptive quality--her quiet inner strength and resilience.

This brings me to the difference between the positive and negative space. I don't mean the "Yay, go team!" space and the "Everything sucks and then you die," space. I mean the difference between this:

 and this:

Positive strength in a character is really easy to portray. It's in style. It's cool. You have a character who goes out there and kicks some serious butt. She's taking names and wearing great boots. You really wish you knew who did her hair because it never looks bad, even when she's just taken out an entire room of bad guys while the hot male lead waits outside in the Porche.

Then you have my character. She's wearing scuffed up shoes that are definitely knockoffs from Payless. She's sarcastic and shy and mostly just wants to find a cave to crawl into so the sky will stop dropping chunks on her head. Then, the more you delve into her life and she starts to come out of her shell, you realize that she has been holding the whole world on her shoulders. She's holding it up pretty darn well, considering. After all, you didn't even notice at first. She's just not moving around a whole lot while she's doing it.

It sounds great in concept, but it sure is hard to write through, especially when I already know these things and I'm trying to write for people who do not know them and will never know them unless I get my words in tune. Her strength lies in the negative space, the places around her that reveal her shape while she's holding still. It's one thing to do that with a camera, but it's a heck of a lot harder to do it with the alphabet.

I'm going to keep pecking away at it and hopefully crest the summit long enough to get to another scene that sends me off at a run. That's where I struggle--I just can't stop worrying the lumpy spots long enough to get the rest of the manuscript out front.

If anyone is listening out there, I'd love to hear opinions or suggestions about how to fill in the foreground while drawing the attention to the background without your readers using your book to prop up an uneven table-leg.

I'm definitely wallowing in my warm welcome to the world of literary fiction. Plot? What's that?


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Ink Review, Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki

As a bribe for going to the dentist, my husband got me a bottle of one of my most vaunted inks. It's pricey stuff, and due to the cost of said dentist, not many pricey things will be coming my way for a while. However, I count myself lucky to have gotten my grubby little hands on a bottle of this ink to keep me writing even though my creative energies fell off the truck somewhere back there right around mile "I-broke-my-freakin'-teeth-and-can't-eat-food."

Here I present to you, Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki, Superink! It is pictured with my beloved Pilot Vanishing Point in Blue Carbonesque, but the review was written with a Sailor 1911s.

First of all, the bottle is just about worth the price of the ink. If I had the funds, I'd decorate my office with them. When the light shines through the thick glass just right, it's a really, really pretty sight. You can't see it in this pic, but there is a little divot in the thick part of the glass at the bottom of the bottle that is perfect for fitting in the nib to fill your pen when the ink level gets low. The way I'm nursing this ink, that'll be a while. 

I apologize that the scan of this review is not color corrected. There is really something missing from it that makes the ink much more special in person. There are several retailers online, such as Goulet Pens, who have color corrected swabs that might give you a better idea of the true color. It's also worth noting that we purchased this ink through Vanness Pens in Little Rock, AR who have the fastest shipping and best prices ever.

 I hope this review was helpful to those who love fun inks and pens as I do, and to those who don't, I hope you see what you're missing with that ballpoint you snagged from the bank. Yeah, you know the one. It's green with a white clicky thing and it always skips when you're trying to sign your name. You don't even use that bank. Where did that pen come from, anyway?

I wouldn't trust it. No sirree.

Monday, January 28, 2013

How I Learned to Eat Like a Boa Constrictor

I hate snakes.

Nobody abhors them like me. I don't care what form they're in--pictures, pixels, or boots, I have no use for the things.

I mean, I have a heart about it. I don't wish them death...well, at least not all of them. I just want them to stay away from me forever and always forever and forever amen. Always.

For the record, I don't like them.
I don't like them in purses, or wallets, or belts.
I don't like them in zoos, in paintings, or pelts.
Not in a traffic jam, not at the Hoover Dam, not with a giant clam.
I do not like them, Sam-I-Am, not even with green eggs and ham.


Lately, I have been having some dental...adventures. 

Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic, but I am just about as phobic of dentists as I am of snakes, and as a result, I ended up with a couple of broken teeth inconveniently placed on either side of my mouth. This left me with nowhere to chew and a diet that looks like this:

Now, I like Jell-O as much as the next girl. It wiggles. It jiggles. It's fun to throw at my dog. However, after a couple of weeks of it, even the most stubborn among us (ahem), will get thee to a dentist. I did actually manage this with only a handful of half-hearted threats to run to Canada (and one really serious threat to run to Nashville). One would think that I would be saved after spending 10 hours in a dental chair. (No. I'm not exaggerating, however, it was probably the nicest dentist office with the nicest dentist and nicest staff that ever lived in all of Toothville, so it could have been worse.)

I thought that I was saved. I thought that the Jell-O and the yogurt and the Jell-O and the pudding and the Jell-O and the applesauce and the Jell-O and the broth were all over. No more tossing back those kind of slimy yogurt drink things like cheap tequila shots just to get something in my stomach without assaulting my poor mouth. No more jealously watching my husband chew and chew and chew--pizza, salad, chips, his fingernails. Surely the liquid nightmare would end after I, of all people, made myself go to the nice dentist. Surely.

I had somehow forgotten why it was that I feared dentists. When they're through with you, even the nice ones, you hurt. A lot. Too much to chew. Too much to open your mouth to squeeze in the pain pills.

I have another dental visit to go, which means more hurting, and more Jell-O. I think about eating solid food. I think about it a lot, the way a recovering alcoholic craves that drink. Then my jaw throbs and I give up the dream. Getting a bite of food from spoon to stomach is kind of like trying to swallow the Rocky Mountains.

As I said, I have been desperate for sustenance. That is when I remembered that my arch nemeses, the sssslithery sssnakes who are forced to gulp down their meals just like me. Suddenly, I find myself feeling a kinship to the boa constrictor, who must first catch his prey, squeeze it to death, and then swallow it whole. I'm not too keen on that whole squeezing things to death thing--I prefer to hunt my prey at the supermarket, but the swallowing whole thing has become compelling to me.

My new hero is the boa constrictor in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This guy knew how to do it. He managed to get an elephant down, and he looks a little smug about it. (For some reason the elephant looks a little smug too, but that's neither here nor there.)


This guy is giving me something to shoot for. He is now the official coolest snake ever to exist. It doesn't hurt that he is in the official coolest book ever to exist either, but hey. I'm learning to appreciate the nuances.

This ordeal has inspired me to conquer my phobias and learn to appreciate two things that I have spent my life outright running away from. If you were to get creative about it, what kinds of things could you find in your life that might have a little more to them than you give them credit for?

Probably not Jell-O, though. It just kind of is what it is.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Muses

Writers are always going on about their muses, what kind of mood their muses are in, what their muses ate for breakfast, how awesome Muse the band is (they are!), and how to get their stubborn muses to cooperate.

Oh, those stubborn muses. Technically, I have two of them. There's Black Muse and Brown Muse, otherwise known as Boo and Bella.


These two serve me well, and they're darn cute. When I'm having trouble writing, I try to blame them. They look at me with patient, innocent eyes...well, the cat's eyes are rarely innocent, but that's beside the point...and I realize that there's no one to blame for the words not getting onto paper but myself.
Wait a minute. Isn't the point of having a muse to have someone to blame when the writing doesn't work out? Someone to give credit when that magical moment happens and the words are flowing faster than you can write them? I'm not sure I'm ready for this. Besides, I'm not trying to put Boo and Bella out of a job here. They're unionized.

But what if they're right? What if it is really just my own fault for not getting the words down on paper? 


Maybe the answer is not to give up on muses altogether--where's the romance in that?--but that I need more muses. Maybe there are already applications on file and all I need to do is pull some resumes. 

Today I found a muse in the form of a 51 year old man who has been homeless for the last 18 years. Today, for the first time in probably a very, very long time, he asked for help. Not the little kind of help like, "Will you please pass me a napkin?" or, "Can someone please make her stop reading her novel to me?" This was the real kind of help, the kind that hurts, the kind that makes you feel weak even though you know that all you're really doing is taking your hands away from a wound and hoping your insides won't fall out. His didn't, and they won't, but it doesn't mean that it won't feel like it sometimes. It's a long road for him. He'll change his mind. But, for probably the first time in his life, he'll change it back and he knows that he has the support behind him to eventually change it and keep it that way. 

I can't think of a better muse than that for today. I'm going to borrow his energy, his trepidation, his mischief, and his courage and do my very best to infuse it into my writing. I don't care if what I'm writing is a blurb for a caption contest, we can all use a little of what he demonstrated today. 

There are muses among us, as plentiful as the inspiration that can be plucked from the trees. Sometimes I wonder why everyone isn't an artist of some sort. Maybe they are and I just haven't deciphered their mediums.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tools of the Trade

Like many story-tellers, when I'm coming up with a good yarn, I find it difficult to remember everything word for word so that I can hand it down via oral tradition. I've tried and tried, but I never get the pauses just right and most of the time my listeners run away from me before I've managed to spout out much past chapter 1.

As a result, I decided to give a try to writing things down. Now, just in case you haven't tried this yourself, let me save you some heartache. Writing in wet sand is awesome for short works of fiction and poetry, but only until the tide comes in. Artful mustard on a hotdog kind of works for hashing out titles, but too many drafts and you'll have serious tummy trouble. Then there is the ever faithful bathroom wall. This one has served me well, but I think a lot of people have probably been calling my characters' fictional phone numbers for a good time only to be disappointed by their inherent fiction-ness.

So, I've turned to a few materials that are a little more efficient in my daily pursuit of story. Throughout the course of this blog, I will dedicate posts on Tuesdays to reviewing/discussing some of the "tools of the trade" which have helped me put down the sidewalk chalk and fingerpaints to embrace more conventional materials. (I no longer eat my first drafts, but I do occasionally enjoy a Hebrew National hotdog or two. I am still awaiting the first Pulitzer Prize for "works of mustard.")

The Digital Age

I like to write by hand. I actually wrote this blog by hand, but my husband came along behind me and cleaned the screen with Windex, so I had to start all over. Okay, okay, that didn't happen, but it would have made it a lot easier to see my email if there still weren't all of my scribblings over the screen.

Seriously, of course I use a computer to write. In this day and age where smartphones have become so ubiquitous, almost everyone has a computer as near as their pocket. Word processing brought about a new era of writing, a whole new paradigm of drafting and structure. I believe that it was the onset of computer writing that helped shape mainstream writers' and readers' tastes from the verbose, long-winded narrative to the tighter, more action oriented works that set the standard these days. In the days of Victor Hugo, there was no easy way to go back through a draft and delete all mentions of Fantine when he realized that he really meant to name her Dorothy Mae and let her live to the end of the book just so that Anne Hathaway would someday have more screentime in the movie version of the musical version of the book (or something like that.) Writing was grueling, painstaking work. It still is, but it is a lot easier these days to get your thoughts out and arrange them the way you want.

Now the medium works for the way our brains do, not the other way around. Writing is malleable, and there are options out there for everyone. I use a couple of different writing programs that I love and intend to name children after, but the way my work starts, every single time, is with the good old pen and paper.

The Holy Trinity

I could use a 10 cent Bic and the back of a napkin to write. As a matter of fact, I have done this and done it often. However, when it comes down to the act of "setting the stage" to write, there three things for me to consider that will have a huge bearing on the enjoyment I might get from the experience, and the quality of the pages I will have in front of me when I'm through (which still matter a great deal to me even once I've pecked them out on a computer later). The "holy trinity" of the act of writing: pen, paper, and ink.

The Pen: Fountain Pen

I use fountain pens for a number of reasons. The first, most important reason is that I like them. They are beautiful objects to me, and I collect and fawn over them the way many women do with jewelry. They are not only beautiful, (or are perhaps beautiful because) they are useful. They earn their keep, and every word I write with them brings them value to me. I remember how it felt to have that particular pen in my hand while I wrote a particularly intense or moving scene. My pens can almost become a talisman of sorts, but they don't smell nearly as bad as the athlete who refuses to change his socks and risk breaking a winning streak. Fountain pens are comfortable to use, and they will outlive me. I love vintage pens, like this Sheaffer Balance from the 1930's. I love thinking about the fact that this very nib could have written a book that I've read. You never know.

The Paper: All Comers Accepted, Must Play Nice with Fountain Pen

I love notebooks. I hand-bind journals with good paper because I love them so much. I have a cabinet with a shelf of full ones and a shelf of blank ones, just waiting to be used. I'm partial to Rhodia paper as it is wonderful with fountain pens and a nice writing experience, but I also love Moleskines despite my fountain pens' protests. Either way, a good notebook can make you feel like you're housing your writing in something special. It is where it sleeps it night, it is where you will go to visit it when you have a new idea. Glancing over and seeing that notebook is going to give you a feeling in your gut because you left some of your guts in there, outlined in ink. Okay, that was a little dramatic, but my writing is important to me, so what I write on is important to me, too.

The Ink: The Color of Your Mood

Ink is something that not a lot of people think about unless they too write with fountain pens. If you don't, it usually comes in blue or black (or red, if you're a teacher). That's about it. Oh, my non-fountain pen using friends, there is so much you have to learn. There are amazing inks out there in every color you can imagine (and some that were a surprise to me). For me, this enables me to further entrance myself with my writing because I can tailor the color of ink I'm using to the style I'm writing in at the time. If it's serious, dour, I might pull out a steadfast blue-black. If it's a fun, wild scene, I have an electric purple that makes my eyes hurt. There is nothing like flipping back through your notebook and seeing your scenes divided up by color and knowing off the bat exactly what mood you were going for in a glance. 

I hope that this overview is helpful in understanding my process, but there is more than one way to pet a cat. (I know that it's really "skin" a cat, but my cat is on my desk and she's staring at me.) Hopefully as we journey along through the blogsphere, I can hit some items/programs/napkins that will appeal to others as well. Please send me suggestions for reviews and feel free to comment or drop me an email at blankpagewarrior at gmail dot com (take that, spambots!) and let me know what you think! Anything that can enhance or streamline a writing process is a welcome thing.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Inspiration Monday

One of my many quirks is that I like to give everything a backstory.

There is a coffee cup left half full on a cafe table. Maybe the owner wasn't thirsty, or maybe the coffee was just too sweet. Right?

Nope! Of course what really happened was that a handsome young man was sitting at that table, sipping that coffee (with just the right amount of sugar for his liking) and playing Words with Friends on his iPhone. He was looking for a good way to use the letters "ERQRIAA" and still hit a Triple Word score when he yawned and stretched to clear his mind. When he opened his eyes, for the first time, he saw her across the cafe. He scooted his chair back so fast that he almost tipped it backward when the leg caught on a piece of broken tile. He righted himself and snatched up his iPhone, forgetting all about Words with Anyone, and ran out of the cafe as fast as his legs would carry him. He left only a lonely coffee cup to show he'd ever been there. 

Okay, it's more likely that it was too sweet or had gone cold, but I like my way better.

Driving through my neighborhood, there is one lone garbage can still at the street days after trash day has passed. The neighbors probably forgot, or maybe they are out of town.

Oooor maybe they were sitting in their living room, minding their own business on trash day. They're both home from work because they were supposed to go on vacation, but he came down with a cold and they couldn't go. Rather than give up the rest and relaxation, they decided to have a stay-cation instead. 

A knock comes at the door. They're not expecting anyone since everyone already thinks that they're out of town, but he goes to the door anyway, praying the whole way he doesn't have another embarrassing sneezing fit in front of whomever it is. 

Standing there in front of him is a man in a blue suit, wearing a grin only a game-show-host's dentist could love. "Congratulations, sir!" says the man, and holds out a check to my neighbor. 

"What's this?" he asks. 

"You've won, sir!" says the game-show-host.

"What exactly have I won?" asks my neighbor. His wife appears behind him, wiping her hands on a paint splattered rag. 

"This," says the game-show-host, and he releases a spray of chemicals into their faces. They crumple to the ground in a heap, and two more men in blue suits with slicked back hair and crocodile smiles pick them up, stow them comfortably in the nondescript sedan they've parked in the driveway, and drive off, leaving only the garbage can staring after them. 

You can see how this gets amusing, though probably not for long-suffering Mr. Husband who sits patiently and tries to listen to my rambling about how the overturned container of yogurt in the grocery store was really left there by someone who was examining the expiration date carefully after that last spoiled-yogurt-in-the-office-fridge embarrassment, only to realize with a start that she was late for an appointment. Not just any appointment, but the appointment...

I digress. Again.

So. You out there. Creative types--what do you think? What can you find around you that seems mundane that maybe isn't quite as it seems? Artists, art! Writers, write! Readers, read our crap and tell us what you think! Inspiration is all over the place if you just pay attention.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Once Upon a Time...

The most important word in any writer’s life is the one that is yet unwritten.

Michelangelo once said of his sculpture, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Like Michelangelo and his marble, in the stacks of notebooks on my desk, in the ink of my pen, in the pixels of my Word doc, there lies something alive that will never be free unless I make it so.

Inspiration is everywhere and materials are cheap, so what is my excuse for leaving creations-to-be in bondage?

That is the whole point of this venture—I want to find a way to channel my creative spirit and share that with those around me so that we can set our own angels free. Then we get to do it over and over again.

This is the important part, the doing-over-again. Whether it be to continue honing a work in progress—such as Margaret Mitchell finally deciding on "Scarlett" as a better name for her protagonist in Gone with the Wind than her intended “Pansy,” or to chase down that next big work whether your current writing has found success or not. What if Charles Dickens had thought, “Hmm…I did a pretty spiffy job with Oliver Twist,” and decided to spend the rest of his life rereading his favorite parts and sipping tea? I would have never known the horror of living through ninth grade English class and suffering through the basketball coach’s reading of Great Expectations. (Not to mention the subsequent joy of rediscovering the book as an adult and realizing that it is quite amazing when not being read aloud by a man tapping a yard stick on the floor while patrolling back and forth in front of my desk.) There would have been no A Christmas Carol and no subsequent Scrooge McDuck.

When it comes to literature, the only enemy is the blank page. For the writer it is the arch nemesis. For the reader, starvation.
The purpose of this blog is to battle the blank page with all means necessary, some obvious, some not so much. It exists to encourage creativity surrounding the written word in all its forms, including the creativity of the reader (let’s be honest—nothing written holds significance to anyone unless the reader brings their own creativity and substance to bring it to life), the relentless labors of the writer, the craftsmanship of fine materials (okay, okay—we can call this one a geeky obsession with really cool office supplies), and just about anything else that can somehow be construed to relate to anything literary.

This is who I am. My life is made of words and swirls around in their creation and consumption. I know I am not alone in this (or my obsession with really cool office supplies.) So please join me in this wild attempt to grow a community surrounding the unwritten words inside us all.