April 13th, 2014
Is it difficult to trust yourself when you are writing? Not surprising if it is. Writers get so much advice: do this, don’t do this, that sometimes it feels as though it would be easy to lose your own voice in the process. You want to write with a desperation that feels like you’re growing a tapeworm inside, says Mario Vargas Llosa in his marvelous little book, Letters to a Young Novelist. In order to generate that passion and calm confidence in play side by side, you need to trust yourself. How do you know when you are trusting yourself?
1) That part of your brain that exits through your fingers moves along well, then you look at the screen, smile and say, “I didn’t know I knew/felt that”!
2) You’re not writing at the moment, but walking, or dreaming, reflecting, watching the sun float through the trees, and you have an epiphany. Believe me, you can trust that insight.
3) You are having tea and devouring that delicious French cookie known as the Madeleine and you can taste and smell your grandmother’s baking, bask in her love, feel the new shoes you worn that day in your youth. Thank Marcel Proust for this delightful observation (see Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life) about the dance of the mind when the senses are invoked.
more soon, Linda
April 1st, 2014
A few writers have asked me to post some lessons I’ve learned about writing. Hundreds, actually! I thought I’d start with a few of the reminders I keep posted around….
• BE WILD AND WONDERFUL, LET YOUR IMAGINATION FLY. OSCAR WILDE SAID, “LET YOUR MIND MISBEHAVE.”
• ADD SENSUOUS DETAIL AND “BRUSH STROKES” THAT GIVE TEXTURE AND WHIMSY
• GO LEAN, THEN ENRICH
• TAKE AWAY AGREEMENT–DIALOGUE SHOULD BE LIKE A SWORD FIGHT
March 11th, 2014
In August, 2013, The Cairo Codex, the first book in the Justine Trilogy, was released. In the beginning for this riveting trilogy, anthropologist Justine Jenner discovers a lost codex belonging to Mary, mother of Jesus. Readers particularly find and applaud the details describing Egypt and the build-up to the revolutions to be of compelling interest.
Now, I can forecast the publication of the second book in the Trilogy.
The Italian Letters lies in the sensuous curvature of ancient and present day Italy. The sequel to The Cairo Codex, follows the life of anthropologist Dr. Justine Jenner after she is expelled from Egypt in the wake of discovering and making public a controversial codex, the diary of the Virgin Mary. Exiled into Tuscany, Jenner finds herself embroiled in three interwoven stories of discovery: the long-lost letters from D.H. Lawrence to her great-grandmother, Isabella; an Etruscan tomb revealing the origin and migration of an ancient people predating Rome; and the genealogy of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. While shaken by the frank revelations in Lawrence’s letters and the intimate relationship between the primeval Etruscans and Jesus’ mother, Justine must confront her own sexuality and yearning for personal freedom. The Italian Letters is riveted with literary, religious and archeological history and international politics, each narrative magnifying and altering the meaning of the others.
February 12th, 2014
Recently, a member of a book club asked if I might be in Kansas City on a day scheduled for a meeting. They planned to discuss my novel, The Cairo Codex. I find such conversations exciting indeed! However, since I won’t be in the vicinity on that certain date, I suggested a speaker phone or Skype Q&A discussion. I hope to hear from you about scheduling such a conversation. Or, depending on the place and time, we might be able to schedule one in person.
January 7th, 2014
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. Ernest Hemingway
…as I was saying, Hemingway’s approach to writing–with his morning companions, whiskey and fine brandy–was to write to a peak moment. When he was in flow. Then break and allow ideas to germinate, slosh around while he spent time with others. He listened. He was creating and writing The Sun Also Rises at the time.
A second intriguing learning from Hemingway was how he found his “true” sentences for which he is most celebrated. If he were in need of one–but the “truth well” was dry–he went to the Louvre and sat in front of a painting by Cezanne. The true sentence thus revealed itself. Where do you find truth? Cross over into another creative discipline and listen.
January 2nd, 2014
In the past week or so, I’ve written about the novel from several perspectives, including styles, fiction vs. non-fiction, behaviors to abandon, the story of two Kents, etc. The habits I write about here are the roles of others in our writing lives. Since I enjoy writing alone in my private world, I initially resisted the time necessary to involve myself in the thoughts of other writers.
Ah, but writing is not a singular life. Instead of losing time in the presence of others—those conversations projected my writing into new realms, new ideas, a process of jump frogging ahead. So when you return to your own manuscript, doors yawn open revealing new images.
I learned this long ago from Ernest Hemingway through his claims in A Moveable Feast. He would end his writing in the late morning when his creativity was in full flow and wouldn’t allow himself to think about it again until the next morning. The afternoon and evenings were spent with his son Bumby, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein….
Find your Hemingway, Pound, Stein, Joyce in a writing coach, a writing group, a writing conference or class, an insightful editor, or a critical friend. Staring in the mirror can be inspiring, yet staring into the eyes of others can provoke a new way of imagining the world.
December 30th, 2013
Post Dec. 28
The story of the two Kents (Haruf and Nelson) in my last post represented two ends of the cognition spectrum: stories that spring organically from experience…and stories that present themselves in a more systematic way. The common ingredient: imagination and fine writing.
Imagination is still the driving force, regardless of how we bring it to life. Because I had written non-fiction texts in leadership before turning to the novel genre, I brought along many strategies that serve me well in my former life. Many of those strategies got in the way!! They had to be discarded, often painfully.
In non-fiction, a writer leads the reader down a primrose path to understanding, bridging and looping ideas, repeating key points, closing arguments—all in service of thorough understanding.
But what about: Surprise? Puzzlement? Tension? Not if you can help it.My first draft of a novel read like a graduate thesis. But surely some practices served me well in fiction as well as non-fiction…what were they?
1) The discipline of writing—writing every day.
2) Tenacity—staying with the project until it is done.
3) Getting the ideas and story down quickly, revising later.
4) Not personalizing critique from self and others.
5) Rewriting, then rewriting again.
Next…New Habits for Writing a Novel
December 26th, 2013
Let me start by saying…that, of course, there is no formula. However I have the story of two Kents, both from Salida, Colorado, on the day that I talked with them. First, Kent Nelson (The Touching that Lasts) at lunch. Later Kent Haruf—the New York Times best-selling author of Plainsong and Benediction—at a book talk later in the day. They are both fine, poetic writers. I will tell you their approaches—then my own.
Kent Nelson was driving along the highway south of Flagstaff, headed for Phoenix, when he spied a formally dressed man sitting proudly in a lavish field of grass. Kent pulled over, approached the man, sat down beside him, and coaxed out his story. Thus began a book of short stories, later a novel. No outline, no themes—at least at first—just a man and his story. Once he begins, the stories flow organically, one emerging from another.
Kent Haruf, on the other hand, is a quiet, interior man of precision. He outlines his books, organizes his work and time: a linear author of non-linear stories. Each character, action, shared interaction, and conclusion is part of a plan rather than serendipity.
Are you one of the two “Kents?” Is one approach better than the other? In my next post, I’ll describe how I write a novel.
December 23rd, 2013
It is said that vast numbers of people have—or believe they have—the GreatAmerican Novel inside them. Perhaps that is so, in that the novel blends our imagination and dreams, our biographies and experiences, our hurts and disappointments. We can decide how life turns out. We can shape our destinies.
A few ideas to consider as you undertake this magnificent, mammoth task:
1) Do you have a concept or story that will carry you through to the end?
2) Can you unravel the threads of your story into intriguing characters and sub-plots?
3) Will you discipline yourself to find the time to write each day?
4) Do you enjoy spending time alone, inside your own imagination?
5) Can you write fully, joyfully, and freely without worrying about publication? (more on that soon)
Next: How Do You Write?