Wake up. Get Up. Write.

workingOne of the things I worry will happen as a result of having moved back home to small town Illinois is that I will lose sight of who I’ve grown to be in the years since I last lived here.  I think that is evident from the many posts I’ve written on the subject here in this blog.

Specifically, I don’t want to lose sight of the identity that classifies me as a writer.  I’ve moved from a city where serious, published, and talented writers abound.  Finding a writer’s group with the same aspirations as you, and at relatively the same skill level, is not that difficult if you just look. The friends and acquaintances I knew there first knew me as an adult, as a writer, which affirms your own sense of self and helps you to maintain that image.

Living in the town I grew up in surrounds me with people who knew me in my “before” state. Many read some of the juvenile attempts at writing I produced then and most remember the immaturities and stupid things I did when I was younger.  Few people here take my writing seriously and even fewer enjoy reading the type of writing I enjoy producing.

So how do I maintain my sense of self, my sense of “I am a writer?” The article I found today at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds gives me a blueprint to my future.  Wake up.  Get up.  And write, damn it.

Writer means writing. Even if it’s just a moment in the narrative, even if it’s just one thought orchestrated and set gently on the page. An avalanche is snowflakes. An ocean is all droplets. Our life is measured in seconds, our work measured in words, and so you have to put the words down….

The words you write right now are words you can fix later.

The words you don’t write today are a curse, a hex, a black hole painted white.

You think that forcing it is counterproductive, that it means nothing, that you’ll just spit mud and blood onto the paper — and you might be right, but you might be wrong. Might be gold in them thar hills, might be a cure for what ails you in those droplets of blood. You don’t know. You can’t know. You’re you — your own worst judge, your own enemy, your greatest hater.

If you’re dying in the snow, no matter how much it hurts, you’ve gotta get up and walk.

If you’re drowning in the deep, no matter how hard it is, you’ve gotta hold the air in your lungs until your chest feels like it’s on fire and you’ve gotta swim hard for the surface.

Writing is the act of doing. Surviving. Living. Being.

From nothing into something. The word of the gods spoken aloud and made real, signal in noise, order in chaos, Let There Be Words and then there were Words.

On the days it’s hard to write are the days it’s most important to write.

That’s how you know who you really are.

That’s how you know this is what you’re meant to do.

Wake up.

Get up.

Write.

via The Days When You Don’t Feel Like Writing « terribleminds: chuck wendig.

How Location Influences Fiction

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For the reading I did last night at the Princeton Public Library, I was asked to speak on how setting and location influences crime fiction.  Below is what I intended to say, though I was so nervous, who knows if I got it all out in an understandable form.

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When I first started thinking about how setting influences story, I wasn’t sure there was a whole lot to say.  Then I started looking back at stories and manuscripts I’ve written over the years and noticed a pattern.

When I was a young married woman living on a small Midwestern farm, most of the book and story ideas I wrote were set in the rural Midwest.  The two early exceptions I found were set in Europe, one in England and one in France. Those countries, however, were ones that I’d visited as a teen on an extended study tour and, guess what, the heroines in them were from the Midwest.

Those stories were suspense and mystery, just like almost all my work is, but the stories were simpler plots filled with romance, and always ended happily.  Partly that was because I was younger and more romantically inclined, but the events happening around me during those Midwest days were also, for the most part, lighter and easily solved, and those events are what sparked my imagination when coming up with story ideas.

I conceived the idea for my Street Stories books which are set in Chicago while I still lived in the country, but only after experiencing a life changing few days working with an inner city Chicago church.  And it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that my first novel, Painted Black, really became fully formed.   The plot for it was sparked by an article I read in the Chicago Tribune, and the characters and their mindset was greatly influenced by the people I met on the streets, people and attitudes I would never have encountered in my small town life.

As I was plotting the second Street Stories novel, Bend Me, Shape Me, I moved to Seattle, which influenced me to give my main character a partly Native American background and an uncle from the Pacific Northwest who wants to bring her back to her roots.  I wanted to explore a bit the contrast between the two lifestyles, which paralleled in some ways my own change from country girl to city slicker.

And as I was deciding to move back to Illinois to be closer to friends and family, I developed an idea for a cozy mystery series set in towns eerily similar to Tiskilwa and Princeton.  I found myself back to simpler plots, more heart-warming characters, and a lighter humor and tone than anything found in my Street Stories books.

Now partly these “coincidences” of my books matching my location happened because I was doing what all the writing books teach: write what you know.  I believe giving your reader a sense of place is as important as giving them action, adventure, romance, etc.  How better to do that than by setting your story in a location you know intimately?  It’s also true, however, that the place that I was in inspired me (almost pushed me subconsciously, even) to write a certain story, in a certain way, filled with a certain type of character.

Using setting correctly is a vital element in making your story realistic. You have to be subtle yet fine-tuned in the details.  Too much minutia and explanation and you end up writing a travelogue.  Too little and you end up with talking heads against a disorienting green screen.  The trick is in picking only those details that immediately ground your reader and/or set the tone for the scene.

Click here to see an example from Chapter 1 of Bend Me, Shape Me

Picking a place that matches a scene’s mood is one way to use setting to influence story, but another option is to pick one that is the exact opposite.  If you do that, the trick is to emphasize the contrast between the physical world and the emotional one, like this scene where I show kids enjoying a record snow storm and contrast that with an old woman and her shopping cart.

Click here to see an example from Chapter 30 of Bend Me, Shape Me.

In Chapter 10 of Bend Me, Shape Me, I also try to subtly emphasize the differences between Chicago’s gritty urban lifestyle and the slower, nature based life of the Yakama Reservation, and not in a way that paints either as preferable other than based on individual choice.

Click here to read that example.

The three books I currently have published are good examples of how the locations I lived in affected my writing. Painted Black shows Chicago’s dark gritty personality, Bend Me Shape Me contrasts that same Chicago personality with the slower pace of the Pacific Northwest, and Chasing Nightmares, a romantic suspense novel, makes use of the remote, stark areas around the abandoned gold mines of Colorado.