Sometimes the Story has a Mind of Its Own

My Mug Reminder

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ~ Anaïs Nin

I admire writers who plot out their entire book and then stick to their outline as they write. For them adhering to a schedule and using spreadsheets to track their progress ensures they finish their book. I admire that, but my brain doesn’t work that way.

When I’m in the flow, I get snippets of ideas for my projects. They come at odd times, just as I’m waking up, when I’m in the shower, or while I’m cooking. I have a general idea of the themes I want to express in my work, but writing for me is a little bit like driving at night. I can only see what’s lit up by my headlights. I used to feel bad as if my process is not as good as those who plan, and plot and don’t waver. I used to compare myself to other writers but I’ve been changing my perspective this year. So I bought the above mug to remind myself to be myself no matter what I’m doing.

It’s hard to admit sometimes, but the inspiration I get is so much better than my original ideas. To maintain the flow, however, I have to make sure I write every day. If I don’t the inspiration faucet doesn’t work. If I take a break for longer than a few days, inspiration flows off to some other creative person’s well and it takes a while to get my creative plumbing working again.

During the fall, I loaded myself up with so many endeavors that I wasn’t working on Time’s Echo and when I got back to it months later, I sat and looked at the page feeling lost. I wasn’t sure where the story wanted to go next. To prime the pump, I wrote for half an hour or so everyday. I am happy to say that the faucet is working again and I’m waking up with new ideas on a regular basis.

I don’t know if this is true for other writers, but I love being home in the quiet working on my blog or book. I don’t like showing my work until I feel it’s ready to be shared for critique. That means, the work has gone through several revisions before anyone else sees it. I used to feel bad about this. It’s one of the reasons why I quit attending writing critique group. Most of the time I didn’t have anything to submit for critique and the group got so large, reading everyone else’s work took away from my own writing.

Now that I’ve been writing for almost eleven years, I understand my writing process. It’s okay to keep my own council about the piece I’m working during the early stages because my personal muses help me shape the story as it wants to be told not as someone else wants to impose upon it. But I’ve also realized that I need to be open to learning new things about writing.

The college where I teach has what they call a writing celebration every spring. I went once a few years back and was disappointed, but I think it was only in its infancy then. This year they have some interesting guest writer/presenters. Still, it took me a long time to decide to register for the event. It’s this weekend. I’m still tempted to shut myself up with my novel as I’ve been doing for many years now. For an introvert, that’s so tempting. But I think it’s time to meet other authors and hopefully pick up some important writing tips that I didn’t learn because my degrees are not in English.

No matter where I get tips for improving my writing, I intend to continue to let the stories I write lead me in unexpected ways. Some writer said, “I write to figure out what I’m thinking and feeling.” That’s me and I like it that way.

I’ll let you know if I had any profound realizations as a result of attending this conference.

Thanks for following, liking and commenting. Welcome new followers. I hope you are able to enjoy warm weather this weekend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden ©2019

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Only Jenna joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan, instead of traveling physically. She is able to come back at intervals and apply what she’s learned to her own life situations.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Writing Lessons So Far

Thunderstorm over Corfu

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ~ Toni Morrison

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” ~ Gustave Faubert

This morning as I awoke, for some reason I was thinking about what I’d share with eager attendees of a writing workshop should I ever conduct one. Sometimes I wake up with these kinds of flights of fancy rolling around in my head. I don’t know why. Maybe they are part of a dream I was having so it’s fresh in my mind.

In any case, since I’m not finished reading the next book I want to write about, I thought I’d write down some ideas so I can get them clear in my mind just in case one day I end up writing a memoir, or conducting a workshop about my writing process.

In my mind, memoirs by creative people are much more valuable to the new artist than a how to book about writing. I know, how to books are very popular. And common wisdom tells writers to get a MFA in creative writing, or take writer’s workshops. But I’m a contrarian. I take the view that the only person who can teach me (or you) how to write is me. I’m not saying don’t take that writing class, I’m saying that if you are going to be creative in any way, the muses are going to speak to you differently than they are to me. And what you have to share with the world is unique to you alone. No one else can share what you’ve experienced.

Last year I read Ann Patchett’s wonderful memoir, The Getaway Car. It’s about her writing life. It’s called The Getaway Car because in the beginning Ann tells about being a waitress and writing her first novel was her getaway car out of a job she hated. I loved that image, because I had a similar feeling about my writing.

But the point I wanted to make about her memoir is this, she writes about a fellow writer who had to move her writing desk away from the window so she couldn’t look out. She did this because her writing instructor told her having her desk by the window would be distracting. I was appalled! I would never presume to tell someone how to organize their writing space, nor what rituals to adopt, or what time is the best for writing. I wouldn’t do that because what’s great for me, might be disastrous for you.

My writing desk is right next to a window. I love seeing the wildlife that traipse under it. It gives my mind a little break every once in a while so that some new idea can sneak in. I prefer to wake up, get my husband off to work, then meditate, read something inspirational, write in my journal all before entering my office to write. That’s my routine. You may write better at night, or very early in the morning. You may need to play music. I can’t do that, it’s too distracting. See what I mean. Every one of us is unique. And if you’re going to be creative, you’ve got to plug into that core desire that is beating in your chest, train yourself to listen to what it’s telling you, and dive into a life apart from most of the people you know.

Here’s the thing about embracing the wild and crazy life of an artist. It isn’t easy, nor even fun sometimes. It can be scary and frustrating. Sometimes what you want to express plays tricks on you and hides. And the only way to come to terms with your fear and illusive ideas is to take a break for awhile. Sit by that window and watch the birds, or the storm gathering. Let your mind wander. Sometimes I go do housework, or read a book. But no matter what, you can’t let anything stand in your way of finishing that project. You have to go back to that chair, or into the studio and practice, practice, practice.

Barry and I had a voice teacher before we got married who used to say, “Perfect practice, makes perfect.” And I have a writer friend, Debrah Strait, you should check out her books by the way, who says, “The rough draft is always crap. Don’t worry about that just keep writing.” Those two statements may seem antithetical, but I disagree. As you practice, you do the very best you can at the moment you’re creating. When you go back to look at it later, you may well say, “This is crap.” But you practiced as perfectly as you could at the time. Then you throw away the bad parts and take the good parts and mold them into something new. Or you start over again with a new idea. We learn more from our failures than we do our successes. At least, I do. So, as Elizabeth Gilbert suggests, tell that critical voice in your head, “Thanks for sharing, but I’m going to get back to work now.”

I’ve been writing full-time for ten years now. I have two books published, and five years of blog posts trailing behind me, but I still feel like I’m an amateur. Taking creative writing classes may have helped me move along faster, but, again I’m a contrarian. I don’t want an instructor giving me writing prompts and then criticizing a story I didn’t want to write in the first place. I’ve learned that I’m a slow writer. I don’t do well if I have a deadline and that’s why I self publish. I have to let my story roll around in my head picking up little tidbits to add from lots of different sources. I never know how long it’s going to take me to finish my book and that’s okay with me.

So, if you feel the urge to create something, don’t let anything stop you. Jump right in. You will learn as you go.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

When Your Story Takes a Different Direction

“The characters won’t do what I want.” ~ Charles Dickens, The Man Who Invented Christmas

“Wherever my story takes me, however dark and difficult the theme, there is always some hope and redemption, not because readers like happy endings, but because I am an optimist at heart. I know the sun will rise in the morning that there is a light at the end of every tunnel.” ~ Michael Morpurgo

“Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.” ~ Octavia E. Butler

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

I used to think that writing was a matter of sitting down and letting the story pour forth in it’s completely finished form. Boy was I wrong!

When I began writing the book that became The Space Between Time, the story was going to be about the loving relationship between a daughter and her father in the years leading up to the Civil War. My initial inspirations were my relationship with own father and my pioneering ancestors. It was going to be a fictional chronicle of the wisdom my father had shared with me over the years.

I began writing the book after one particular visit when I knew that my father’s health had taken a definite downturn. That was in 1998 or ’99. But I had to stop writing because I began teaching full-time. When I picked up the book again in 2010, the story wanted to go in a different direction. Time had changed crucial elements about my story since my father had been dead for six years. Morgan now had to deal with the death of her father, and since her mother was also dead, she had an opportunity to build an new life. The link between Morgan and her father was not broken, but the talks I had envisioned had to be altered. Now she remembered things he taught her, and occasionally he came to her in spirit form when she needed him.

As I worked on my book, there came a point when I had written all I knew how to write about Morgan’s life. Something was nagging to be included in the story, but what it was was not quite clear to me. Then as I’ve written in previous posts, the inspiration came from another author. Originally I had thought that Morgan would be the main character and her life would somehow be aided, or intertwined with someone in our present time, but I couldn’t see or hear the story of the character in the present. It was as if I knew the character was there, but she was behind a veil, or off having ice cream, or hanging out with friends. Whatever she was up to, she wasn’t available to tell me her story.

However, when the fellow author suggested I intertwine the present timeline with the past, I knew he was right. That’s when Jenna began to reveal herself to me. Her life had been shattered too just like Morgan’s, only for her it happened all in one day. Her fiancé broke off their engagement, her mother died in a car accident and she lost her job. She needed to rebuild her life. As I listened to Jenna, I realized I was writing about the time when I lost a most beloved teaching position. Because of our connection, Jenna needed to be the main character. Once she told me that she would find the journals of her three-times great-grandmother linking their experiences, I was filled with all kinds of new story possibilities for both of my heroines.

Later, of course, another writer friend helped me by suggesting I spread out Jenna’s self-awakening more slowly. This forced me to remember how I had managed to rebuild my life. As I dredged up old memories, I used them to enhance the link between Jenna and Morgan as they helped each other through all kinds of challenges.

I’ve had friends and family, who have read the book, ask me how I came up with all the details of my story. What I tell them is that I did it a little at a time. For me, writing is a little bit like a scavenger hunt. (Do they have those any more?) I get a snippet of story and work on it until it feels like it’s done, at least for the present. Then another snippet comes to me usually just as I’m waking up in the morning, and I begin working on that new section, and on it goes until I have a finished draft.

When I finished the rough draft of The Space Between Time, I thought I was finished with Jenna and Morgan’s story. However, it wasn’t long before a new segment of their story nagged at the back of my mind and the sequel, Time’s Echo was born.

To tell you the truth, where the ideas for these books came from is a bit of a mystery. I mean, for a long time I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to put my ideas into a coherent form. Nevertheless, once I got the concept for The Space Between Time, it simmered on the back burner of my mind, even when I was extremely busy teaching. Finally the day came when the stew was ready to be served and I started writing. Now that it’s finished, I’m in a little bit of awe of how my writing process has evolved and that the ideas in this book have led to the next book. And not only that, I have ideas for books of different kinds.

I have to say I’m hooked on this wonderful creative process. Now I write not only to make sense out of my own life, but to see where my imagination will take me. So, the moral of this post is that I have to keep writing.

There are many stories to be told by me, and other people, which means there are lots of different stories to be enjoyed. So, help your favorite storytellers by spreading the word about their work. Believe me, the creators will be grateful you did because, the main challenge for an author is to get their story noticed.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your likes and comments.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

The Work of Writing

Kate Chase by Brady-Handy
Kate Chase by Brady-Handy

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.” ~ Dale Carnegie

“Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity. Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.” ~ John Updike

So, how does a writer get ideas? Last week I told about how I got my idea for my soon to be published novel, The Space Between Time after a weekend with my mom and dad. When I began writing, the storyline that was most vivid to me was the father-daughter relationship in the past. I wanted to link Morgan to someone in the present but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Then I had to set the story aside. When I picked the book up again years later, I was still baffled about how to link Morgan to someone from the present time period. By then, though, I was able to trust that one day the answer would come so I continued to flesh out Morgan’s story.

Perhaps I should write here that I did not create a plot outline before I began writing. I just sat down and let the ideas flow until they stopped and then I’d go do something else while the story simmered on the back burner of my mind. It often happens that the best ideas come to me in that netherworld between sleeping and waking. But there came a point when I was was stuck. I knew the story needed something, but I didn’t know what. Though I was frustrated, I trusted that if I was patient the answer would come and it did some weeks later at a writer’s group meeting.

A local writer came to speak to our group. He asked each of us to tell what we were working on. When my turn came, he commented that it might be nice to have a character in the present somehow linked to the storyline in the past. Of course, I told him that had been my original idea but that I had not been able to figure out how to do it. That storyline wasn’t alive for me yet. But it occurred to me that I was stalled on Morgan’s story because I needed that other timeline. So on the drive home I let my mind wander about how to use a character in the present to finish my book. Miracles do happen because on the drive home the idea came. The woman in the present would find her three-times great-grandmother’s journals, and that’s how Jenna was born.

Though I was jazzed about writing Jenna’s story, it was the most difficult. Many of the things that happen to her are altered versions of events in my own life. I didn’t want to go back to those dark emotions much less put them down on paper. So in the first drafts, I glossed over the pain Jenna feels. I tried to rush her to healing before she was ready. And that’s why I had to be open to allowing people to critique my work. It’s scary. I often felt angry, or stupid and ripped apart after hearing my friends comments. For a short time I wondered if I should continue working on the book at all.

But through that process I learned that I had to be careful who I trusted with my manuscript. There are people who will rip you and your work apart just because they like to see you squirm, or they’re jealous, or they wish their work was as good. I encountered a person like that. However, I was fortunate to find one writer friend who was compassionate, yet firm. She encouraged me to keep writing and told me that the story was worthwhile. Yet she pushed me to let my characters get beat up by events and go to dark places so that in the end what they learned would mean more to the reader. As hard as it was to hear some of her comments, I knew she was on my side and after each read through, I felt energized to get busy on the next draft.

In the end The Space Between Time has become a story of two women, linked by blood but separated by time, who experience life shattering events. They must find ways to rebuild their lives. When Jenna finds the journals, she enters Morgan’s consciousness and through their link they help each other heal and discover who they really are. They each find their true life’s purpose.

More on the story in a later post.

If you’d like to join my mailing list to get updates about this and subsequent books, you can join here.

Thanks for reading. Welcome to my new followers.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Keeping Characters in Hot Water

A Woman
A Woman

Before I go on with this post, I must say something about the latest shootings in Orlando and New Mexico. Each time something like this happens, I’d deeply affected by the horrific events. This is what I can do. I have and will continue to petition my legislators to vote on gun control and I will vote for people who support such legislation. I also send out love to the entire planet when I meditate. Some people say that’s a wimpy way to try to change the world, but since science has proven that what we think creates our reality, I believe that envisioning a loving world is a powerful tool to facilitate the change we want to see. Each individual that turns away from hate and fear toward love send ripples of love out into the universe. When we heal ourselves, we help heal the world. That’s what I hope my readers get from my novel and the journeys of my two main characters.

Since the last two posts from The Space Between Time have included  scenes from Morgan’s timeline in the past, this week I thought I’d include one from Jenna’s timeline in the present.

When I started this novel, I wanted to have two intertwining characters who learn from each other and heal themselves along the way. Morgan’s timeline came to me first, and I got stuck there for a while. But through a series of events which are too complicated to write about here, I finally connected with Jenna, a woman in the present who is trying to put her life back together.

In this scene, Jenna is confronted by her ex-fiancé, who broke off the engagement in the first chapter.

* * * * *

That night Jenna slept better than she had in ever so long and when she awoke, she knew what she wanted to do. Writing had always been a solace, so that’s where she would begin. Only this time, she’d take her cue from Morgan and begin by sorting out her feelings in a journal.

Grabbing her purse and keys, she opened the door and ran into Sam.

“Hi Babe.”

Her stomach clenched, “Sam! What in the hell are you doing here?”

Leaning on the door jamb so she couldn’t get out of the house, he said. “You hung up on me, Babe. I needed a chance to explain,” Jenna wasn’t fooled by the look of mock contrition on his face.

“About what? That you were cheating on me? And don’t call me Babe.” She pushed him out of the way. Then shut and locked the door. She brushed past him starting for her car wishing this encounter would soon end. But Sam’s car was parked behind hers. She’d have to deal with him.

Knowing he’d trapped her, he smirked. “I always call you Babe.”

Jenna turned walked up to him and put her face close to his. “I’ve told you time and again I don’t like it when you call me that.”

Surprisingly he took a step back. “I don’t remember that.”

“Of course not, because you never listen.”

“Now, Babe,” The look on Jenna’s face made him amend his approach. “I mean Jenna, aren’t you gonna let me talk to you?”

Oh, if only he’d go away! Keeping her eyes on his face and putting her hands on her hips, she said, “What for? You said it yourself. Neither one of us was happy, so it’s over.”

Pulling himself taller to pretend confidence, he said, “I know I said that, but, I’ve been thinking. I might’ve been wrong.” He had that I’m-innocent-of-whatever-you-think-I’ve-done look on his face she’d learned to hate long before the break-up.

She looked at him, trying to formulate the response that would make him leave. The moments slowed. For the first time she noticed muddy waves emanating from and around his body. Her instinct was to back away from the unwanted onslaught of his murky energy, but before she could do so, it touched her own energy field. She nearly fell over as dark self-doubt swept over her. The image of a wounded wolf flashed through her mind. Somehow she knew exactly what had happened that brought him to her doorstep. “Ah, what happened, Sam? Did she leave you? I know you hate to be alone.”

The dark energy was sucked into Sam’s body and he stuttered “I – I don’t k-know what you’re talking about. There’s never been anybody but you.”

“Oh? But, you know, I heard her in the background when we talked on the phone!” She faced him square on, “Now, please get in your car and go back to L.A.”

Suddenly Sam took Jenna by the arm, and clamped down hard, “It was a one night stand thing. I was hurt that we broke up.” Dark gray and muddy brown energy shot out at her again. This time she thought to shield herself and her own aura in red, orange, and yellow shot out to block what was coming from him.

Gasping from the pain, she tried to get her arm free. “You were hurt? Oh, yeah, I see that now. You’ve been wounded from the very beginning, but I was too dazzled by the bling to notice. Now let me go!” They struggled. Sam grabbed for Jenna’s other arm. She tried to back away, and slid on a mossy patch on the sidewalk forcing her to sit on a porch step.

Just then an unmarked police car drove up. Sam’s back was to it as Detective Spade got out of the car, assessing the situation and putting his hand on his gun.

Walking toward the struggling pair, Detective Spade said, “Let go of her, Sir!”

Sam turned around, still holding onto Jenna’s arm. “Who are you to interfere in a private matter? She’s my fiancée,” Sam said as Jenna continued to struggle to get her arm free.

Advancing on Sam with his hand still on his gun, Detective Spade said, “That’s not what I heard, Sir. Now back away from her.”

Sam puffed up like a rooster in the ring, but he let go of her arm. Jenna moved away. He turned toward Detective Spade saying, “What you gonna do, shoot me?” Jenna heard the fear underneath the bluster for the first time. With a snarl, Sam said, “We’re having a private conversation. Do you mind?”

Detective Spade had stopped a few feet from Sam. “It didn’t look that way to me, Sir. Is that true Miss Holden?”

“Miss Holden? So, you’ve met before. Who is this? Your new boyfriend? You didn’t waste any time,” Sam said with a sneer.

Detective Spade was surrounded by a clear yellow and green aura. He was relaxed, though cautious. Jenna knew she could trust him, but Sam was getting angry. She saw the wounded wolf image surrounded by dark fog emanating from him again, and knew if she didn’t do something he’d become dangerous. She saw that Detective Spade knew it too.

She took a few steps closer to him. “Sam, are you drunk or something? He’s a police officer, and he’s got a gun. Do you want to get arrested? What’ll that do to your precious career?” Sam’s countenance changed, and the swirls of muddy energy retreated close to his body.

Now that she looked more closely at him, Sam looked a little unsteady on his feet. She hadn’t smelled alcohol on him, though, so it must be drugs.

Taking a deep breath, Sam said. “I’ve been on the road for twenty hours with not much sleep before that. I guess I’m crashing from the wake-up pills,” he said as he sat abruptly onto a porch step.

Taking his hand away from his gun, Detective Spade gently took a hold of Jenna’s arm and moved her behind him. “I’ll need to see those pills, Sir. Are they in your car?”

“Yeah, go ahead. You won’t find any drugs. They’re the over the counter kind,” Sam said as he ran his hands through his hair, then deflated like a balloon and rested his head on his arms.

“Is the car unlocked?”

“Yeah,” came the muffled reply.

Detective Spade looked over at Jenna and indicated with the jerk of his head to follow him as he went to Sam’s car. He kept his eyes on Sam. She opened the driver’s door and moved back so Detective Spade could investigate. He’d put on latex gloves, pulled the trunk release, examined the open briefcase that sat on the passenger seat. The pills were in the briefcase. After searching the car and trunk, he approached Sam. “You’re telling the truth, at least. Did you read the instructions, you’ve got to be careful not to take too many of these things. How many did you take?”

Not lifting his head, Sam said, “I don’t know, one or two whenever I got tired.”

“Just as a precaution, I’m going to take you to emergency to get you checked out.” Detective Spade took Sam by the arm and led him to the police car. Miraculously, Sam didn’t object. Putting Sam in the front seat, he turned to Jenna. “Is it okay if we leave his car here?”

“Sure, I’ll move it. I was on my way out. Does he have his wallet?”

“I got it out of his briefcase. The keys are in the ignition. Do you want me to make sure he doesn’t bother you when he comes back for his car?”

The adrenaline was beginning to wear off and Jenna was feeling shaky. She tried to lighten the atmosphere by saying, “Feeling protective, Detective?”

“It’s my job, Ma’am,” His handsome face lit up in a big smile.

Smiling back, Jenna said, “I’m much obliged to you, Sir, but I think I’ll be fine.”

* * * * *

Thanks for reading and your comments. Feel free to share with your friends and family.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Writing Emotions

Henri Matisse - Blue Pot and Lemon
Henri Matisse – Blue Pot and Lemon

“I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.” ~ Henri Matisse

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” ~ James A. Michener

“The best and most beautiful thing in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller

I love books that move me to tears, or laughter, or foreboding. That’s how I want to write, but often, like this morning, I wake up with the certain knowledge that I’ve failed on a certain scene and must go back to rework it.

When I’m trying to write the physicality of emotions, how my body would feel if I were in the character’s situation, I find myself in a quandary. As an actor/director I know about body language and facial expressions. They convey our inner states of being, but an actor doesn’t necessarily need to experience the bodily reactions when they are supposed to be demonstrating strong emotion.

I’ll tell one short story to illustrate what I mean. The first play I directed as a public school drama teacher was Our Town. The actor playing George Gibbs could not cry in the crucial scene near the end of the play. So, I told him to lay over his wife’s grave on his forearms, head down, and move his shoulders as if he were weeping with the appropriate crying sounds to go with the action. It worked! We cried during rehearsals and the audience did during performances.

But you can’t fake emotions in a novel and describing them is something I struggle with as I’m sure many authors do. I’m going to include a portion of the scene here that I was thinking about this morning. I made a few changes but it will undoubtedly need more work. You can tell me what you think.

* * * * *

Once Jenna had read those words something was pulling her into a vortex of swirling energy. Panic overtook her but no matter how hard she struggled, she could not free herself. Her mind was paralyzed with fear. Though her present life was a mess, it was familiar.

As her vision cleared, the calming voice of the woman came to her, All is well. “Fine for you to say!” She was not prepared for this experience but she was trapped. The one thing that came to her paralyzed mind was something her father used to say, “The only way out iss through.” She would have to trust. That was difficult for her. However it was her only option. She took a deep figurative breath, and allowed the mists to engulf her.

When they cleared, She was standing in an old style kitchen. There were three women working there wearing Civil War era dresses like her apparition’s. Somehow Jenna knew this was Morgan’s home and who these women were. It was the day of Morgan’s father’s funeral. Jenna’s writer’s curiosity supplanted the panic of only moments before. Looking up from her task, Morgan’s best friend Emma said, eyes dancing, “We’re here if you need us.”

Jenna had only a moment to comprehend that her consciousness had merged with Morgan’s as she said, “Thanks.” Emma’s motto was, “Why put off until tomorrow what you can do this minute.” Morgan knew she was right. She couldn’t put off the confrontation any longer. She walked to the door of the small sitting room where her aunt sat fuming.

Looking at Veronica’s stoney face at the funeral, she was glad her father had decided to keep his illness from her. They’d sent the telegram informing Veronica of Thomas’ death the day before the funeral. When she arrived just in time for the service, storm clouds filled her eyes and each word she spoke was covered in ice crystals.

Morgan paused outside the sitting room to gather her thoughts with sweaty palms and a roiling stomach, before facing the ogre. Veronica was nothing like Morgan’s mother Julia who had been loving, open minded, fair and generous. Morgan always thought of her mother as the perfect representation of pink, lavender and green, caring and restful.

Veronica was made of different colors. She was gold, silver and shimmering diamond. Lovely to look at, but cold and hard-hearted. She wanted riches, power and position. That’s what she got when she married into Boston’s highest echelons.

Morgan took a deep breath hoping to regain her ability to think as she opened the sliding doors of the sitting room.

“So, you and your father decided to deceive me,” Veronica said with malice. “How do you think this will look when my friends back in Boston hear that you did not tell me of Thomas illness? Don’t you think I had a right to know? After all, I am family.”

Morgan felt a shiver run down her spine. Jenna understood very well how she felt. It had been the same for her when interacting with Fletcher and Mr. Dayton, but they weren’t family, and she didn’t have to associate with them any longer.

Morgan squared her shoulders. “Father wanted us to be left in peace, to spend what time we had together uninterrupted by fussing nurses, which you no doubt would have insisted upon.”

Veronica sniffed. “Your father never knew what was best for you. I’m sure he did this to spite me because I wanted to take you away and give you every advantage he couldn’t.”

Morgan crossed the room and stood in front of her aunt. “Aunt Veronica, father was a good and kind man who loved me very deeply. He knew that I’d be just another bobble for you to polish and have admired.”

At this statement Veronica bristled and lost control of herself. “Morgan, you are too independent by half. I see now that your father has taught you too much and not had a thought for your future. If he’d cared about you, he never would have raised you to think like a man nor would he have involved you in this underground railroad nonsense.”

Morgan gasped. How had her aunt found out about that?

A malicious smile spread across Veronica’s face. “Ah, you’re surprised I knew about that. Your father exposed you to filthy, shiftless slaves who ran away shirking their duty to their masters. Any number of terrible things could have happened to you because of your father’s thoughtlessness. I intend to change your foolish notions by taking you back to Boston with me and see that you’re properly looked after by marrying the right sort of man. I will brook no refusals. You’re not getting any younger, you know. Go upstairs this instant and pack your things. We’re leaving on the evening train.”

Deep calm swept over Morgan. Ignoring the bait her aunt wanted to distract her with, she spoke softly. “No, Aunt Veronica. I am not going with you.”

* * * * *

Thanks for reading and sharing with friends. Feel free to leave a comment from a reader’s point of view.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

My Process is Backwards

Cart - Before - Horse
Cart – Before – Horse

The other day I was thinking about my writing process and I realized that I do it backwards to the conventional wisdom. When I get an idea, I sit down and begin writing. I don’t do an outline, or any research. I get my ideas down on paper and it’s only as I write that I see the shape the story is supposed to take. If I need to do research, I do it on the fly, and I don’t apply a plot outline until after I’ve finished the first draft.

Some of you may think I’m weird but as I was considering my process it occurred to me that the reason I write in this way might be because of my theatre background. For many years I analyzed plays from an actor/director point of view. I was handed a script and discovered the shape of the story and character arcs from the finished product. For that reason, I find it difficult to create the plot outline from scratch before writing the story that is in my head. In a way, this is very inconvenient because I find myself waking up in the morning realizing I left out a vital part of the story. I must then go back and rewrite that scene I worked on the day before, and I may have to do that four or five days in a row before I’m satisfied with it. When the first draft is completed, I go through the manuscript dropping out scenes that slow down the story and creating new scenes that add to building the suspense in the plot.

Many writers advise newbies like me to keep writing the first draft without going back to revise because it slows down the process. We have the opportunity to make changes when the rough draft is finished. Maybe they’re right. All I know is that if I don’t get the improvements down on paper when they occur to me, they sit in my head clogging up my creative flow until I add them to my story. This does slow me down a good deal, but it’s my process. At some point I will change my method, but for now I’m stuck writing backwards.

I have never been a big believer in one right way to do anything. It’s true that there are as many ways to create a piece of artwork as there are people to create them. So my writing advice is find the method that works for you and expand upon it. If you attend writer’s workshops or take creative writing classes, remember, the method of writing that the instructor is proposing is their method. It doesn’t have to be yours and don’t let them bully you into thinking you are doing it wrong. There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to creative thinking. In fact it’s the people who think outside the box who come up with the best stories, theories, inventions, or artwork.

Having written that, I thought I’d include a portion of a new scene in my novel that I added in my latest round of revisions. It’s one of those scenes that I had to work on for several days before I felt it had all the elements it needed. I will no doubt do more work on it after I get comments and do more revisions, but for now, I’m happy with the way the scene turned out.

The set up: The Space Between Time is a time travel story of sorts. Jenna Holden in the present finds her three times great-grandmother’s journals. When she begins to read them, she enters her great-grandmother, Morgan’s consciousness. For her part, Morgan slowly becomes aware of Jenna’s presence and takes comfort in it as she travels from Vermont to become a teacher in Southern Oregon. The year In this scene is late fall 1859. Morgan is facing the town council, school board, and other town organizations on charges of indecent behavior. This fracas is lead by banker, Herbert Perry who does not keep it a secret that he does not like Morgan. This is Morgan’s explanation about what happened.

* * * * *

Charles cut him off by saying, “I agree with Mrs. Cobb. Let Miss Carlyle tell us what happened.”

Though Morgan was warmed by Charles support, he was only one man. Rage licked through her veins as she studied Herbert’s bloated face. He looked like the slugs that left slimy trails on her sidewalk. Resentment clamped its icy fist around her heart. Why does he hate me so? Getting herself under control, she cleared her throat and said, “I’ll be happy to respond to the charges.” Charles sat down. She stared into Herbert’s cold eyes for a few moments gathering her strategy. The silence lengthened and as he was about to speak, she cut him off by saying, “However, first I’d like a few questions answered. Mr. Perry is it not true that you have disliked me from the moment I stepped off the wagon train?”

Herbert glared at her, “What does that have to do with your conduct last night?”

“It has everything to do with why you’ve accused me of misconduct.” Again he was about to speak but she went on. “Isn’t it true that your first words to me had to do with the fact that you thought it inappropriate that since I was an unmarried woman, I should have an entire house to myself?” He started to speak, but again, she proceeded as if she were a lawyer interrogating a witness. “However, wasn’t the building of the house suggested by Mr. Evans and Mr. Pendleton, and was duly approved by the school board before my arrival?” She didn’t give anyone time to answer before continuing, “In addition, can you deny that every time I attempt to withdraw money from my account, which is legally and rightfully mine since I have no living male blood relatives, that you force me to produce the notarized letter from my lawyer, of which you already have a copy, stating that I am to be given complete control of my account? And, unlike other members of the community, I must wait an entire month before you will release the funds to me?” At this question, the women behind her gasped, while the men mumbled and shuffled their feet.

Mr. Wheeler startled everyone when he spoke up. “Yes, that is true. Miss Mancruso, who also has an account, receives her money on the day she fills out the withdrawal slip.” Morgan was grateful that Mr. Wheeler had spoken up. He had whispered those facts to her upon her second attempt to withdraw money from her account. Attention shifted from her to Herbert who turned his venomous gaze upon Mr. Wheeler. He, however, was unperturbed. She was sure he’d lose his job over the revelation.

“Thank you, Mr. Wheeler. I may need your testimony if I notify my lawyers of what has taken place today.” Herbert’s face looked like mottled stone. Morgan went on. “I wonder, if I were a man in this situation, would we be having this inquisition?”

“But you are not a man,” said Herbert, “and women must be held to a higher standard.”

“Why, may I ask?”

“Because it was Eve who ate of the fruit and led Adam to sin. Women must redeem themselves.” said Herbert lifting his chin. Some men nodded in agreement but most of them sat as still as statues.

“And that is an account of the creation of the human race written by a MAN in a culture where women were property, much like they are today.” She paused to let what she had said sink in. “As you well know from my credentials, among the subjects my father taught me were biblical criticism, world history, and world religions. The bible is one of only a few such accounts where the woman is to blame for a moral fall from grace. Many other religions revere the feminine aspect of God.” This statement created another stir in the room. “That having been said, I cannot help that I was raised for half my life by a man who taught me to think like a man. I can’t go back and unlearn what my father taught me, nor do I have any desire to do so. However, I have always followed a moral path as evidenced by my behavior since arriving, and by the references which I sent with my application. Yet at my first assumed offense, you decided that I should be sacked.

“However, to get to the point of this meeting, this is my side of what happened last night. When I discovered that neither the O’Days, or the Jeffries could attend my dinner party, I did as my friends have testified, I consulted not only Mr. Jeffries, but Mrs. Cobb. They both approved of my plans. We had our dinner at which we conversed, and played a game. Nothing more, so, I can only conclude that you have a personal dislike for me and have brought forward this vendetta for reasons of your own. I surmise this from the fact that you frequently come to the school to observe my teaching.” She had not mentioned this fact to the other school board members. Charles directed his disapproval in Herbert’s direction.

Before she could continue, Herbert sneered, “And it is evident by your teachin’ that you are an abolitionist. Ah am not sure that is the kind of teacher we want.”

Charles spoke up. “Herbert, Oregon is a free state, albeit a white one. What Miss Carlyle believes about slavery is her own business as is yours, I might add. I’ve had no complaints from any parents about her spreading her personal views and since you have no children in school, you have no right to harass her by showing up unannounced in her classroom. You jeopardize your seat on the school board. But that is a matter to be dealt with at another time. Miss Carlyle, will you please continue.”

She paused looking at Herbert, who had turned a dark shade of purple. Taking a look around the room she continued. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am perfectly willing to resign my position if that is your wish. However, I will not leave Table Rock City. I have funds elsewhere and can live very comfortably working with Mr. Evans at the paper and doing all I can to contribute to the growth of this community. You may get rid of me as a teacher, Mr. Perry, but I will still be a thorn in your side.”

By the end of her speech, Herbert’s jaw seemed made of stone. He was about to speak, when Arthur stood. Charles said, “Arthur, I hope you can bring some wisdom to these proceedings.”

“I hope I speak for others here when I say that I think Miss Carlyle acted in a most considerate manner last evening. She was deliberate in seeking advice from more than one quarter as to the appropriateness of having dinner alone with three bachelors, all prominent and respected members of our community, I might add. As Miss Carlyle has pointed out, it is no secret that you, Herbert, have not approved of her since she arrived.”

Arthur took a deep breath and continued. “May I also say, that she has been an asset to our town and our children. If we condemn her and release her from her position, it will take a great deal of effort to find a replacement with as wide a range of knowledge. I for one want her to remain in her post.” Turning to Charles, Arthur asked, “Is it appropriate to call for an indication of support for Miss Carlyle by a show of hands?”

Charles smiled as if he thought it good that for once someone else was taking the lead. “It is entirely appropriate. Before we call for a show of hands, does anyone have have anything else to add?”

The atmosphere in the room had changed markedly and it appeared that Herbert was resigned to his defeat for the present. After a considerable pause, Charles surprised everyone by adding, “Ladies, I would like you to vote as well. If you are in support of Miss Carlyle retaining her post as teacher of our school, please raise your hands.” A majority of hands went up immediately, others more slowly.” With a wicked smile, Charles said, “Those who do not support Miss Carlyle, raise your hands as well so she knows her accusers. Mr. Cobb and four older men looking over at Herbert, slowly raised their hands. Herbert only glared.

“Support carries for …”

Just then Emmet burst into the room. His clothes were covered with dust as if he’d been riding full tilt from his ranch. “What is this I hear about sacking Miss Carlyle?” His face was contorted in anger and his voice hard as rock. “If one of my hands hadn’t heard what Herbert said to her at church and told me, you would have cut me out of adding my two cents worth.” He looked around and saw for the first time since his entrance, that the room was full to bursting.

“We’re not sacking Miss Carlyle, Emmet. This is not an official meeting of any of these bodies, though we are keeping a record of what is said and done for future reference.”

“Well, why meet then?”

“To clear the air and see how to proceed,” said Charles.

“Well, I still wish someone had sent for me. I’d have things to say in her defense. Have you voted yet?”

“Yes. We’ve decided by majority vote to support Miss Carlyle which means no further action will be taken against her.”

“Good.” He put his face near Herbert’s. “Thwarted again, Herbert!”

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed that scene. Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment from a reader’s point of view. Also feel free to share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Mind Shift from Amateur to Professional

Shakespeare - There's a Professional
Shakespeare – There’s a Professional

“Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.” ~ Steven Pressfield

“Fairness is not an attitude. It’s a professional skill that must be developed and exercised.” ~ Brit Hume

“At 20, I realized that I could not possibly adjust to a feminine role as conceived by my father and asked him permission to engage in a professional career. In eight months I filled my gaps in Latin, Greek and mathematics, graduated from high school, and entered medical school in Turin.” ~ Rita Levi-Montalcini

About a year or so ago, I read the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and it changed my life. Six years earlier I’d retired from teaching public school to follow my dream of being a writer. I thought it would be easy to work from home, another dream come true, but it wasn’t. Every morning I found all kinds of excuses and tasks to do INSTEAD of making writing my first priority. I don’t know why we do this to ourselves, but I’ve seen lots of people do the same thing when they attempt to follow their dream. What is it about humans that makes us sabotage ourselves? Anyway when I read Pressfield’s book I realized that there was a switch in my head that had not been flipped from amateur to professional. By the end of the book, I’d flipped the switch and I’m immensely happy that I did.

Steven Pressfield’s concept of what it means to be a professional is very simple. A professional puts the work they want to be doing first every day no matter what. For me that means that I have to set a time to be in my office everyday with my hands on the computer keys working on my latest project. Writing is my work, and I must treat it like any other job even on the days when the ideas don’t come easily, or when there is a shift from one task to another. At the end of the writing day, I may throw out all that I’ve written, but at least I stuck to my commitment.

Being creative is like anything else in life, sometimes it flows easily and other times we’re faced with difficult challenges and feel like we’ll never create anything wonderful again, we’ll never be happy again, and we’ll be stuck in our misery forever. Yet, if we are willing to do the work, we always come through to a happier situation. Our muse comes back and we find the solution to the problems we’d been struggling with.

I’m in a little bit of a lull period in terms of my fiction writing right now. My novel is in the hands of writer friends and I’m waiting to get their comments back so I know whether I need to do more work or if I can have my manuscript edited and published. That’s a completely different set of tasks. My fingers itch to be working on something creative, but so far all I’ve been writing are this blog and pieces I hope to use in marketing my book. It’s good to work on those types of writing too, but I don’t find as much joy in writing them as I do creating characters and the worlds in which they live.

As I was typing that last paragraph, I remembered a story Pressfield shares in the book about finishing his first novel. When he’d finished the first draft, he went to tell his mentor that he’d finished the book. He felt a great sense of accomplishment, but his mentor said, “Good. Now go start the next one.” Remembering that little story helps me realize that I’ve fallen down on my commitment to myself. I did what Pressfield’s mentor said when I finished the rough draft of The Space Between Time. I sat down immediately and started the sequel. But then I got caught up in revisions of the first book, which were rather extensive. I haven’t gone back to the second book even though I’ve got this span of time while I’m waiting for feedback. That’s not good. I need to be working on the sequel in addition to my promotional materials.

I’m convinced that every creative person has to find their own “voice”, their own method of creating and being a professional. Maybe it’s more about finding their own rhythm. I’m still new to this writing thing and still learning how to juggle the various parts of the process. For now, I plan to go back and do more work on the sequel to my first novel. Who knows perhaps parts of the sequel novel can be things I include in the promotional materials for this first book.

Thanks for reading. I hope you don’t mind that I used Shakespeare’s picture again this week. He’s my idea of the ultimate professional. If you’ve got ideas about how I can improve my creative process, feel free to leave a comment.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

Bridging the Gap

Earth from the Moon
Earth from the Moon

“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” ~ Malala Yousafzai

“When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way.” ~ Wayne Dyer

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” ~ Pablo Picasso

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.” ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

During the spring, I was kind of stuck with my novel, The Space Between Time. I felt like it was pretty good, but even I got bored in the middle of the book. I couldn’t quite identify what was wrong with it. When you’ve lived and breathed a project like writing a novel for so long, I’ve been working on it for five years, you need outside help to point out the weak parts of the story. Then a writer friend of mine said something that helped me see the problem with the story arc I had created. She said, “Get your main character into trouble and keep her there.” On one level I knew she was right. On another, I felt resistance. I didn’t want to admit that there was a gap between where I was headed in my personal life and where the lives of my characters needed to go. My characters needed to get into sticky situations, the kind I avoid like the plague.

At first my heart sank at having to go back to my novel to add more complications for my main characters. But the more I thought about it, I realized that the stories I love best are the ones where the characters face very difficult challenges, learn something profound and are changed in the process. So my challenge became, can I do that in my novel too?

Yesterday, I finished another round of major revisions, which I started in May, and am ready to send the manuscript off to my writer friends to get comments and suggestions for more revisions. I like what I’ve done, but I have to admit that sometimes I shy away from too much conflict. Maybe I empathize with my characters too much. Feeling such deep empathy for others can be a problem at times and when I’m writing I sometimes weep for my characters because of the situations I’ve put them into. Maybe that’s a sign I’m on the right track. Even though I like the complications I’ve added, I also think I might need to take them even farther. That’s what I hope to get advice about from my beta readers.

There are many times when I have to remind myself that this writing a novel business is a long process and it doesn’t do to rush it. So, for a couple of weeks I’ll rest my mind, focus on other projects and deal with whatever needs to be changed when I get the comments back from my friends.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
LinkedIn