Black Forest Fire

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Hey friends! Sorry I’ve been away lately. My husband has been off fighting fires and I’ve been editing/submitting my second project, the YA Fantasy ASHES & EMPIRES, which (coincidentally) focuses on a massive wildfire in Arapahoe National Forest: an area devastated by pine beetles. Two friends lost houses in the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs and a couple more lost a barn and garage, but some have been able to find strength in this loss. Hope you are doing well, and keep writing!

 

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Image Credit: Bronwen Maxson (books destroyed in her garage)

Top Image Credit: Toby Partridge

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Guest post for The Bursting Bookshelf: Carrie Nyman and “Life in Writing”

After hearing about my blog tour for my WWII historical fiction novel “Why Aren’t You Sweet Like Me??” from Shane at Itching for Books, Anna Tee from  The Bursting Bookshelf graciously asked me to guest post for her on how I merge my life into my work. Also, there is a giveaway for my book on the “Itching for Books” blog as well as Goodreads.com (you can see carrienyman.com to enter on the latter).

Life in Writing

When I was in college at CU-Boulder, I had a poetry professor tell me that my writing was egotistical, selfish. He then proceeded to gut my writing with one caveat: I was good at prose but seriously lacked as a poetry writer. As a 19-year-old kid who believed that writing was the only thing that I excelled in (and poetry was a big part of that), this cut me off at the knees. Like many artists, I was a tad oversensitive.

I looked at my work and I found a very present word: “I.” Soon, everything I wrote was insufficient. Working diligently to focus on others, to pull the work outside of my own self and my experiences, I felt that my new writing was dry, manufactured, and full of false importance. I spent three years believing one man’s words about mine.

Why Aren't You Sweet Like Me?Having good grades, I got into the honors program and my honors thesis adviser (he’s now Dean of the graduate school) started asking if I wrote for fun. I confessed the moment that seemed to disable my creativity. He then started talking about how Wordsworth felt that all writing is inherently about oneself because you cannot adequately write from the perspective of another – or even from an omniscient view – without inserting your life (feelings, experiences, prejudices) into every word. In fact, the more you deny your role in your work (by trying to be someone else), the more you exacerbate it. I accepted this fact and because of it, I am a better writer.

My WWII historical fiction novel Why Aren’t You Sweet Like Me?? was published this year by the Sunbury Press. In it, I write from the perspectives of my grandmother and grandfather. I identified with them (using my grandfather’s letters and my grandmother’s interviews) while I also had to empathize heavily with their situations in order to capture the time; as such, the experiences that I describe within the text are inherently about me as well: how I would respond, how I feel, how I express emotion. This book is about them and I honor both Honey and Don through this experience, but I cannot remove myself from my writing. They are the same.

For instance, there is a scene with a plane crash that actually took place in 1943. It is heavily documented in military records and newspaper articles. Everything I have concerning this incident is from an outsider’s perspective, that is, people wrote about it in a detached way because they weren’t present for it and professionalism desired that type of language. The scene is mapped out but I had to lift it from the yellowed pages to make it involving, traumatic, and believable. That’s what writing truly is: leading a blinded reader down a path and letting them use their imagination to experience your story for themselves. But just remember, you are the one holding their hand; insisting otherwise will only discredit your work and impugn your audience.

Creative Use of Setting in Fiction: Guest blog by T. Anderson, author of MONAD 12.21.12

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Creative Use of Setting in Fiction

The setting of a story is a highly useful tool for an author.  It not only helps set the stage for location and time, but also the mood and the genre.  When writing fiction, an author has complete control over all variables involved in the setting, with few rules to follow.  This is the main difference between a fictional setting and a non-fictional setting, in which an author is striving to recreate reality in a given period of time.  In my metaphysical novel, MONAD 12.21.12 The Awakening of Stella Steinar, I used the setting strategically in a few different ways.  Here, I’ll discuss the most obvious.

The main storyline is set in present day United States, primarily two locations; Minnesota and California.  Stella Steinar, my main character, is an adopted teen raised in northern Minnesota.  I have first-hand experience with this location because like my main character, I grew up there.  I suppose that makes me an expert!  Here’s a short excerpt related to the setting:

            “Despite its frigid, unbearable winters, Minnesota is humid and lush in the summer.  But fall is the best season of all.  Yes, I decided to myself, fall is the one thing I will miss.  The air is cool and crisp while the sun is still shining brightly.  The moon beckons through the inky cloudless night.  The water in the lake retains a small reserve of heat and in the early morning you can see the steam rising off of it.  Everything outside seems sleepy and peaceful, preparing for the long hibernation.  The scent of the first decaying leaves on the ground is eerily predictable and comforting, while the vibrant golds and deep reds scatter about in perfect abstraction.  I’m pretty sure California will be nothing like this.” (Stella)

My goal with that description was not only to appeal to the sense of sight, but temperature, scent, and mood.

In the first chapter, another main character is introduced; Stella’s twin whom she’s never met, Aron Erickson.  Aron has spent her life of 18 years in California, a stark contrast to what Stella knows as ‘home’.  Here are a few samples for this setting, with some parts removed between sentences:

            “I was lounging in the backyard garden, swinging in the hammock, listening to Cloud Cult through my earphones, when my dad jumped into view and frightened me half to death.”…”He brushed his sandy blond bangs from his eyes and pulled up a teak chair in front of me.  He straddled it backwards, resting his forearms on the back.”…”I would miss the security of this serene multi-level backyard rock garden in this little two-story row house, perched on the side of a hill in our eclectic, San Fran neighborhood.”…”The sound of his flip-flops slapping his feet faded into the house and my gaze fell onto the statue in the shade at the fence—Shiva, the cosmic dancer who presides over the constant destruction and recreation of the universe.” (Aron)

Again, I have not only appealed visually, but have incorporated auditory and mood details, invoking a laid back feeling.  Having lived a few years on the west coast and having spent time in San Francisco and other parts of California on several occasions, it was easy for me to describe Aron’s environment.  In the story I used the difference in settings to shape the opposing personalities of the twins.  But this isn’t the only contrast in which I put the use of setting to work.

Although this book is set in present day USA, Stella is plagued with visions and dreams, remnants of memories of a past life that is set in 16th century Scandinavia.  By providing vivid details of Stella’s account of these experiences, I was able to clearly distinguish a boundary between the main story and the subplot that this past life was leading to, essentially telling two stories at the same time.  The setting provides a clear definition between the two “worlds”.  Here is an excerpt for an example of this, again with some editing between sentences to keep it brief:

            “Sitting in a big round room with stone walls and a domed ceiling made of ribbed mechanical-looking planks, Stella noticed the oversized wooden shutters were open, allowing the fresh sea air to flow into the room.  It was dark.  Night.  She heard waves lapping at rocks far below.  Seated at a rustic wooden table, a dozen dripping candles illuminated the room.  Papers were scattered about, with writing in a language she couldn’t read.”…”He pulled out the cork and poured the shimmering liquid onto the table.  She had never seen anything like it.  The way it moved—it was like metal had married water and made a beautiful little baby.  ‘Is it silver?’ she asked.”…”His voice faded into the background as she brought her face closer to the stuff.  She reached her hand toward it and touched it with one finger, noticing how it bounced and rolled mysteriously on the rough wooden surface.  ‘It has been named Mercury,’ she heard him say just before losing the dream to the white stillness of sleep.”

The goal of my vision/dream setting descriptions was to create an ethereal, magical feeling for the reader, as if they’d been transported back through time.  This task was much different than merely describing a place I’d already been, like Minnesota or California.  I researched locations typical of this time period with a specific idea in mind, but allowed my imagination to conjure this world.

I’m currently writing the sequel to this first book in the Stella Steinar series, hoping to be in the editing stage by June 2012, and I’m having just as much fun with this one as I did with the first.  If you like multi or cross genre fiction including metaphysical, paranormal, new age, visionary, mystery, thriller, romance…the list goes on…give my book a try!  It is appropriate for both young adult and adult readers.  It’s available in paperback and ebook.  You can sample the entire first chapter of my book using Amazon’s ‘look inside’ tool here:

http://www.amazon.com/Monad-12-21-12-Awakening-Stella-Steinar/dp/1934597635/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331315126&sr=8-1

You can find me and other links to my Goodreads profile, Twitter, my blog and more at my website:

http://www.authortanderson.com

Many thanks to Carrie Nyman for inviting me to write this guest post for her blog!

T. Anderson

I will, ’til I can’t

Most of those closest to me know that my father died on my 24th birthday, and with his passing, I’ve come to revile anything that had to do with it. A few months ago, I started to come around to the idea of celebrating it. I managed to keep it together pretty well this year (even though there seems to be something dreaded about turning 30) and I was not even upset by my mother bringing me a cake. It actually felt good to acknowledge the day.

Upon seeing my editor, Mark, yesterday (he was my dad’s best friend), I was reminded of the fact that I stopped writing for years after losing my dad (yes, I term it “losing” him because it’s much harder to say what really happened). Mark brought up the fact that he encouraged me to write a poem about how I felt then: crushed, alone.

I wish that my dad could have seen what my life is like, what my sister is like. I wish he could have been there for me on my wedding day, to meet his grandchildren. And instead, he will be a ghost: an ever-present cautionary tale of what was and what could have been.

When a parent dies, there is an overwhelming sensation that nothing will ever be OK again. Luckily, that’s just a feeling. Things return to normal; they get better. And while I will never forget him or what he taught me (not) to be, I know that such a loss is not uncommon. At the same time though, it seemed to take over my life. This is how I felt:

And one

 

It started in my hands

As I held in them his present for all todays

Staring in the ICU that held onto florescent light and machines

Looked into the eyes

That have been likened to mine

For a moment I saw he was happy

And I have nothing more to say

 

I held in my hands a second beer

As they covertly pulled me into my mother’s room

“you’re sitting me down”

“Dad’s gone”

And my stuttering was hastened by alcohol while it stifled my fluttering

lungs

I prayed and I fell and I slept alone

And I have nothing more to say

 

Now his own hands have taken what I never really had

A father addicted to feeling nothing and in one breath

He halted

With Morphine and Beam and I am screaming at him for taking

It all

Pounding my knuckles into my steering wheel

And I have nothing more to say

give me chills

Maybe it’s because I’m such a nerd-slash-sucker-for-a-good-story that I get the chills from music and from literature often. When I first heard Placebo’s “Running Up That Hill” back in 2006, I got the chills so bad that I had to find out what was playing that moment, interrupting my viewing of The OC (don’t judge me…) There is a certain darkness about this song.

It’s amazing when you find something that can move you so much that your body physically responds in such a magical way. Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, and pretty much every Harry Potter novel (again, don’t judge me) do the exact same thing to me, but for different reasons.

In literature, there is a thing called “magical realism”. It’s when you have something that is normal, real, and then the fantastical is implemented (speaking of which, Paris Hilton mentioned it on an episode of The OC). It’s at the moments where the magical merges with reality that I feel this intangible rising: invisible cold fingers sliding up my spine.

So my question to you is what words/songs gives you the chills? What is required for such a strange but beautiful feeling?

Inspiration

“When you make music or write or create, it’s really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about at the time. ”

― Lady Gaga

What inspires you to create? Music and literature are my usual resources, along with little quotes like this one. My first book was inspired by my grandmother’s life, and the second one has a variety of inspirations. Maybe I’ll have to explore those more…