Rompecabezas and Writing

It’s been a dreary, grey, and misty Monday here. I did not accomplish the writing I should have. Instead, I worked on a rompecabeza. What a fun word, especially when you can roll your “r”s. My tongue does not have that capacity.

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You’ll notice that I have most of this jigsaw puzzle done and so I’ve organized the puzzle pieces according to shape. I can’t help myself! When the colors get more subtle or more muddy, it’s easier to look for the shape I need rather than the color.

So what do rompecabezas have to do with writing?

Yes, it is a wonderful way to relax and let the subconscious mind work. Much the same as when I’m driving the car on a familiar road. I can disengage from the minute details of my story and think about the larger story.

Piecing Our Story Together

Story comes to each of us differently. My current story started out with four daughters of a widowed father who married a woman with two children of her own. It takes place in the 1970s and was about rebellious teen daughters. Then I added an older aunt who lived with them, a mash-up of Little Women and the Brady Bunch. I never wrote it to the end, though I had an ending in mind.

Instead, I set the story aside for many years but it never left me. In the meantime, I wrote a couple of short stories, romances, and attended a writing workshop. Married life and having children and full-time work and owning a house and living life took over.

Six years ago, I came back to the story although I had lost several chapters in the computer’s netherworld.. After a divorce, obtaining a Master’s degree, traveling around the U.S., grown children, and living in Scotland for awhile, I let the 1970s story become the backworld to my current story. The older aunt became an East Prussian Tante. Then the Tante had a story of her own to tell.

It took two years to finish my first draft. I did a lot of learning about the craft of writing. I found the Query Shark and Fiction University blogs. From there I found other blogs, started taking part in the flash fiction contests on Janet Reid’s blog.

All of these different aspects of writing—the characters, the craft, the contests, the living life—jell around and morph to create a story. Not just one but many. Tante Amalie’s story and Addison’s story and potentially more! But not all in the same book! But someday I will finish this story, just like I will finish the puzzle. It’s just the story is taking a lot longer.

How do I revise thee? Let me count the ways...

Welcome back! Happy New Year!

It’s revision time here. Or do I mean editing?

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No. Revision. That’s the process where we step back and look at the whole forest of plot points and characters and what scenes go where, while editing is the paragraphs, sentences, words.

I’ve been using information from three bloggers— Jami Gold, Janice Hardy, and KM Wieland— to sort through my weaknesses of:

  • getting a consistent goal on the page,

  • getting motivation on the page, and

  • getting the stakes on the page.

You noticed the commonalities among those three points? Getting it on the page! That’s pretty important for the reading of the story. If the goals, motivations, or stakes for the protagonist and the antagonist are not evident, or at least alluded to, there’s no tension in the story and if there’s no tension, why would anyone at all be interested in reading to the end of the story?

Creating A Worksheet

I’ve created worksheets. Several.

From Jami Gold’s blogs on Broken Story and on Missing Motivations or Stakes, the worksheets are simple word docs. I type her questions then answer it from the information I have written in my story.

It does sound like homework but it’s much more fun because it’s about a story that I am still thoroughly enthralled with and I’m trying to get it all out of my head and onto the page so readers will find it just as thrilling.

As I answer the questions, if I find I have not put this information, somehow, into the story, I either go right there to write it in OR, if it’s complicated, I’ll highlight that answer so I can go back later and find it after I’m done answering all her questions.

It’s not easy work. Broken Story alone has nine steps. I was able to complete Steps 1- 4 in one day on Dec 28, 2018!

Yes, I dated each step as that gives me a sense of accomplishment.

applying the Steps

What are the steps for Broken Story from Jami Gold’s blog? Here is how I handled her first three steps.

  • Step 1 - Identify what I’m trying to say in the story.

    Here I wrote down my theme. Since my theme focuses on coping with various levels of violence, I broke it down into the different levels and different types that happen in the story. The spectrum of violence encompasses: physical, emotional, economic, institutional, societal, and familial. I also looked at the opposite of violence and listed specifically what the antidote to violence is. What does love and courage look like in my story.

  • Step 2 - Identify what pieces of the story fit with this and what pieces don’t. Do the plot developments, character insights, story elements tie into the theme identified in Step 1. Do my subplots reflect the theme of dealing with violence through courage and love? Do any aspects of my story undermine the theme and focus of my story?

  • Step 3 - Are there enough scenes that fit the theme or are there enough bits and pieces of the theme that all I need to do is tweak or shift the scene a bit so that it’ll refocus on the big picture again.

I have found this process helpful for layering my story and making sure I have on the page, what I have envisioned in my imagination.

How do you handle revisions?

Christmas time of year

How has it happened that it’s already two weeks before Christmas? Last I looked, it was still Thanksgiving!

Baking Christmas Goodies

Traditionally, my family avoids shopping on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) like the plague! So we gather together at one of our homes to bake goodies to share.

This year my daughter and oldest niece were able to join me and Mom at my place as we made our candy. We make:

  • Christmas-shaped sugar cookies frosted and dusted with sprinkles

  • Chocolate covered peanut butter balls

  • Toffee

  • Caramels

  • Chocolate Fudge (we used to make Mint Fudge too)

  • Christmas-shaped pretzels dipped in almond bark

Christmas tins and plain packages sitting on steps (I’ve not much countertop space).

Christmas tins and plain packages sitting on steps (I’ve not much countertop space).

My sister always makes the caramel and toffee as it involves a candy thermometer. This year her daughter and mine made it. They were yummy delicious.

What types of holiday goodies do you make?

Advent

Advent, as Christians call the four weeks before Christmas Eve, becomes filled with more church events. Clark-Grace United Church of Christ, where I serve as pastor, went to a semi-independent apartment facility for seniors on Saturday and we Christmas caroled in their chapel with gusto. The other pastor from our church and I took turns as pianists so our music director could direct the choir and the audience. I’m much better with hymn-type carols and he’s excellent with the contemporary and the spiritual tunes for Christmas.

This year, we’re trying our first Soup and Solstice the night before the longest night of the year (Winter Solstice is Friday, Dec 21). After the soup meal, the worship service will center on readings, singing of quieter songs and candlelight through the Advent wreath and the use of luminaries. The last song will be more rousing as we sing Canticle of the Turning, which uses the Traditional Irish Folk music, Star of the County Down.

There’ll be a more casual service on the last Sunday before Christmas Eve with children and youth participating and the singing of Christmas carols, and of course, there is the Christmas Eve candlelight service of Scriptures and Christmas hymns on December 24.

This year, on December 30, we’re joining with Community United Church of Christ who has just called their first African-American pastor and we will celebrate Kwanzaa through worship and a meal.

And that’s how we celebrate our holidays here at our home and in my church.

Happy Hanukkah to all our Jewish brothers and sisters who will be celebrating the last day of their holiday season.

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And Merry Christmas to all the people who celebrate this season!








Thanksgiving

Here in the States, it is Thanksgiving week. We gather to eat turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes and stuffing, with cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and green beans. In my family we make homemade oatmeal rolls and have sliced raw veggies served with dip.

What are you thankful for? For your inspiration here is an article of the 10 Things Grateful People Do Differently. Briefly, they are:

  1. Journal

  2. Don’t avoid the negative

  3. Spend time with loved ones

  4. Tell them you love them

  5. Use social media mindfully

  6. Know the value of little things

  7. Help others to appreciate the little things

  8. Volunteer

  9. Get moving

  10. Love yourself

When I was in grade school, we were taught about the first Thanksgiving in 1621, between the Pilgrims and “Indians.”

Nowadays, I’m conscious of my white-washed knowledge.

The Native American people present on that day were the Wampanoag people. They had lived in the Cape Cod (Massachusetts) area for thousands of years. They knew the land and were successful hunters, farmers, and fishers, and they shared their knowledge with the new arrivals, the white English people. Because the Wampanoag shared of their knowledge and their food, the English settlers survived on these shores.

But the early cooperation and respect between Native and non-Native people lasted only until 1675. The relationship in the U.S. between Native and non-Native people has been and remains complex and filled with struggle and cruelty. Thanksgiving for the Native people became a National Day of Mourning.

Yet there has been persistence and resilience too and there are changes coming.

I take courage and hope from the U.S.’s 2018 elections. Can you believe that Native people were not given the right to vote until 1924?

New incoming Congress women are: Deb Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, representing New Mexico and Sharice Davids of the Ho-Chunk Nation representing Kansas.

In Minnesota, Peggy Flanagan was elected as Lieutenant Governor in Minnesota (alongside Governor-elect Tim Walz). Peggy is a citizen of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe.

We have a long way to go. We are a diverse nation. We need that diversity represented at the table of elected officials who make decisions for our country.

I have much that I am grateful for and I look forward to our future. It won’t be easy but we are a resilient people.

Interested in more info about Native people culture. Here’s another article of how how to approach Thanksgiving.

Turkeys by Ruth Caron

Turkeys by Ruth Caron

Midterm Elections

Here in the U.S., it’s midterm elections.

We have a democracy. Get out there and vote!

Our vote helps determine what kind of a world we believe in, what is of importance to our nation. Will our elected representatives and senators and council members work together for the good of our whole nation? Or will they continue to squabble and only work with their own parties?

My hope?

We live in a diverse nation. I want to see young and old people sitting at the decision-making table. I want to see more people of color sitting at the decision-making table that for too long has been a majority white people. I want to see more women sitting at the table, which for too long has been predominated by a male perspective. I want to see other faith traditions sitting at a table where the common good will be sought for all people not just a narrow few.

Common good meaning we all have…clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, food enough to not be hungry, access to safe schools, the ability to view art and beauty that inspires dreams and lofty goals, research and medicines that help us cope with our health issues and the health of the natural world around us.

We will not always agree with one another in how to move towards a goal but it’d be nice if we all agreed on the goals needed to ensure the care and survival not only of our group and tribal clans but also of our diverse elements of earth and the varied species of creatures.

We need all of us.

10 Favorite Books

These are books that inspire me, are thought-provoking, that entertain and entrance. In no particular order, my top 10 favorites that I’ve read in 2018 are:

Photo by Laura Kapfer

Photo by Laura Kapfer

  1. In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen: A World War II story in Britain and the death of a man whose parachute doesn’t open against the backdrop of the blitzes of London, war time deprivations, and evacuations.

  2. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans: The author’s return to a life of faith as an exvangelistic Christian.

  3. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: a World War I story about an aristocrat on house arrest in his hotel room, the politics of his time and the varied people he meets.

  4. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys: A World War II story of three young people—a young Polish woman, a Lithuanian nurse, a Konigsberg artist—fleeing as the Red Army marches through East Prussia.

  5. Perception by Terri Fleming: A story of the Bennett’s middle daughter, Mary, from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

  6. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson: A story of a young woman and the events that separated her from her four best childhood friends.

  7. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: An eccentric artist and her young daughter move into a respectable neighborhood and four children of an upstanding couple become friends with them.

  8. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper: Written by a former Merriam-Webster associate editor, a wonderful peek behind the scenes about creating and updating the dictionary and the fascination of words in the English language.

  9. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: Villagers sacrifice babies to a appease a witch who lives in the woods nearby. The witch accidentally feeds one baby from the magic of the moon.

  10. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones: A young girl, whose father is a bigamist, and the effect of living as a secret child on her life.

What are your top 10 favorite reads from 2018?

A Royal Spyness Mystery

I have inducted myself into the Cosy (British spelling) Mysteries. I couldn’t resist with Crowned and Dangerous: A Royal Spyness Mystery by Rhys Bowen.

As Louise Penny is quoted,

Brilliant...So much more than a murder mystery. It’s part love story, part social commentary, part fun and part downright terrifying. And completely riveting. I adore this book.
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With a Welsh named author, a heroine named Georgie who’s 34th in line for the British Crown, and an Irish hero named Darcy, that’s all it took for this Anglophile reader! Set it in 1934 November and December (Did you know airplanes were called aeroplanes?) and I’m in.

What’s a woman to do, when the man she loves tells her they’re heading to Gretna Green (in other words—eloping) but they’re interrupted by a blizzard?

Then they read a newspaper article about his estranged father being accused of murder.

Darcy goes to his ancestral estates in Ireland alone, then tells Georgie during a phone call that the elopement is off. She does not take that mildly.

What is a Cozy Mystery?

Elizabeth Spann Craig, a North American author, is my go-to blogger about all things Cozy. She shares a list of what makes a cozy different from other mysteries: thrillers, military, police procedural, and hard-boiled detective.

  • amateur sleuth

  • a body before page 30

  • no gory details about the body

  • little to no use of profanity

  • create a puzzle with red herrings, distractions, and clues

  • close the door on romance subplots

  • write as a series

  • create a pun on the title

  • and, of course, humor

She also lists things to avoid in cozies: too many characters, too much “hook” (subplot that series is based on such as the royal connections in the Royal Spyness series), too much mystery (not enough subplots), too dark, and supporting characters who steal the show (and this can happen in any genre).

If you’re ready for a light and fun read, this is a great book. Rhys Bowen has written twelve books in this series. She has also written two other cosy series: ten Constable Evans Mysteries and seventeen Molly Murphy Mysteries. Bowen is also author of two World War II novels which I have checked out to read next.

Enjoy!

Bubble Charts

In Paula Munier’s book Plot Perfect: Building Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene, she demonstrates how to use chart bubbles to create a symphony of subplots that build upon the main theme of a story.

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My story, now in draft six, is told from the points-of-view of two women from a diverse family and the violence that happens against a member in their family.

My main theme focuses on communication or the lack of communication. How does conversation work among the family members when they are faced with a crisis, especially when they are shushed, and the family is splintered into different factions about that shushing.

Communication Subplots

What did my bubbles look like with communication at the center? It was a fun task as I thought of the relationships between my various characters:

Unfriendly Cheerful

Defame Certain

Superficial Applaud Inviting

Chatterbox Honest Transparent

Gossip Encouraged Positive

Blunt Soft Direct

COMMUNICATON

Sideways Loud Tactful

Negative Repressed Quiet

Incomprehensible Dishonest Reserved

Tenebrous Critical Thoughtful

Cryptic Cherish

Ominous Cordial

Munier uses Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice as an example with Love at the center of her bubble chart. Munier then writes a summary of each bubble and how it is expressed in the plot and subplots of Austen’s novel.

[Austen’s] work illustrates how subplots and variations on theme can be used to help plot a compelling story.
— Paula Munier

Moving On

How did I do last week in the flash fiction contest sponsored on Janet Reid’s blog? It was a great contest with many fascinating, wondrous, amusing combination of stories.

Photo by AAron Lee Kuan Leng

Photo by AAron Lee Kuan Leng

My 100-word flash fiction story? Nary a mention.

So I thought about it and realized I had relied on a tired trope. How embarrassing. You’d think I’d have better sense after seriously working on my craft for the past five to six years.

How is your work in progress going?

I am about ready to have story printed up a second time and read through it as a reader. Then read through it again to take note of what needs changing. I want to check out professional editors.

types of professional editors

You will find this list on several craft of writing blogs but below is, author and blogger, Jami Gold’s definitions:

  • content/developmental editing (fix story and character level-issues)

  • line editing (fix scene and paragraph-level issues)

  • copy editing (fix sentence, word, and grammar-level issues)

If you follow the link, you’ll also notice that Jami created a master list for each of these three areas of edits. Yes, a DIY list!

I have done as much of the first two edit areas as I am capable of, with help from crit partners. Time to move on to the next step!