Archive for January, 2011

Goodies, Gods, & Goddesses . . .

January 27, 2011

At our most recent Supernatural Tea Party we shared tales of the days of Gods and Goddesses. 

I served a three tiered tray of sweets — divinity on the top, closer to the heavens; truffles below since they come from the earth. Well, since they’re named for something found in the earth. 

We provided health nibblies for those being good (celery and carrot sticks, cheese, nuts, rice crackers and sugar-free candies) and naughty things for those being bad (tea sandwiches, huckleberry brownies that Don baked, shortbread from Pam, chocolate almond squares and rum cake.)

We talked about the oldest samples of written language (cuneiform) supposedly taught to humans “by the gods.” We contemplated the passage of scripture that references giants walking the earth.

Binny had a grand time. I wonder if he’ll remember any of the tea parties from his first year. Perhaps they’ll just simmer in the back of his mind like the picture books we are shown in infancy. Ooo, what a treasury of heroes, quests, myths, mysterious monsters and magical beasts!

Later we watched clips, everything from Jason and the Argonauts to The Twilight Zone. As usual, a lovely time had by all. These conversations are excellent for stirring up story ideas.


Writing Tip #12 — “that can’t be good”

January 25, 2011

One way I jokingly acknowledge certain kinds of plot points while watching movies on TV with my writer sister is by using the catch phrases “that can’t be good” and “that ought to do it.” They signify the heightening of tension and the resolution. As in Jaws — the boat’s motor breaks down while they are floating above a 25 foot man-eating shark (that can’t be good) and Sheriff Brody blows that same shark to smithereens (that ought to do it.)

I have a third phrase I use less often, but it’s still helpful: “wait a minute now” for that moment when the protagonist (or reader/movie watcher) first realizes something is afoot. In a mystery it might be the police detective discovering that the supposed suicide victim had, on the morning of her death, bought a play ticket for the next night.

In a ghost story the “wait a minute now” might be when an object moves by itself or a disembodied voice is heard for the first time. The “that can’t be good” might be a climactic attack by the ghost. The “that ought to do it” might be the freeing of the spirit to leave the haunted house/the earthly plane.

In a love story the “wait a minute now” might be when the main characters, who start out hating each other, first see something unexpected in the other’s character. The “that can’t be good” might be some dire misunderstanding of heartbreaking proportion. And “that ought to do it” is often a wedding.

Whatever kind of story you are writing, there are probably at least one of each of these kinds of moments that create the rise and fall of emotion. Just for fun, look for them and see if the moments are satisfying.

And if you have your own catch phrases for turning points of the plot . . . I’d love to hear them.

What I did on my Christmas vacation . . .

January 19, 2011

Okay, I confess. I don’t have a vacation at Christmas because I don’t have a day job (other than being a novelist and a mommy.) But here’s what happened to me:

I wrangled the props again for the Christmas Revels, this year set in Spain. Wonderful, haunting show.

I had a holiday supernatural tea party where we discussed Christmas magic like Santa, elves, Jack Frost, the winter solstice, and other mysterious things of the Decemberish ilk.

To celebrate my birthday I went shopping at several Goodwills with my family finding delightful treasures, went out to eat at California Pizza Kitchen, and could hardly get enough of my Tres Leche cake. (Better start a diet soon.)

My sister hosted a brunch at our place and it was splendid to schmooze with old friends and new.

I loved having my sister Wendy and her kids visiting from California. We played games like dominoes, dressed the baby up like a shepherd and an elf, watched old movies (White Christmas, Scrooge, A Christmas Story) and took turns cooking for each other, reading out loud to each other, and using the Wii Fit.

Binny with cousin Molly

Cousins Siobhan and Dave try to convince Binny that solid food is a good idea

It was Binny’s first Christmas and as predicted he loved the wrapping and boxes as much as the toys. He thoroughly enjoyed all the holiday music and rocked out to it in his little one-year-old, head-bobbing, knee bouncing style.

And, as you might have guessed, I’m still recovering from all the fun. Hope your holidays were just as exhaustingly blissful.

Writing tip #11: Research wisdom

January 8, 2011

When I was young I hated research. It seemed like homework – making things up seemed much more fun. But now I love it. Sometimes, too much. Reading and taking notes often makes me want to keep reading and to take more notes. And sometimes I get obsessed with a detail I cannot find. What was the most common cosmetic brand sold in Harlem in the twenties or how close together were boats docked at the turn of the century near London? How did they make sandals in first century Palestine, I mean, step by step?

What I found was that I needed to know when to keep digging and when to move on.

I love reading about a subject for one of my novels. So often I find cool facts that enrich my stories. There’s nothing quite like that particular thrill. But I also love the freeing sensation of saying to myself, “Okay. I tried. I’m going to go with the closest thing I could find.”

So maybe I couldn’t find a historian who was interested in the spacing of boats in 1903. I discovered a photograph on Google images of the West India docks from 1912. Close enough, baby. And maybe I couldn’t find instructions for making Jesus’ sandals – I looked up a book at the library on communal living that included a chapter on making your own sandals and those sandals looked pretty Biblical. I couldn’t find anyone writing about the Harlem Renaissance who mentioned the names of the lipstick or face powder, but I could write about it without using a brand name. A name would have been great, of course. But describing the details of the color and scent and texture of the cosmetics that I pulled out of my imagination would have to satisfy me.

I’ve had some fun research adventures – discovered the concept of a Fetch while reading about supernatural beings for a different story, chose names for characters from volumes of family trees at the public library, came across details of antique tools from sketch books of a farm boy turned artist, got tips on travel during WWI from a history prof at a local college via email, pulled setting descriptions from places I had traveled or lived, and used bits of stories from my own dreams and nightmares.

If you have an interesting research story, please share!

p.s. I’m calling this tip “#11” only because I’ve written ten other posts on writing before this. Just so you don’t have to try to decode the tip hierarchy of which there is none.   =)

January Give-Away

January 3, 2011

The winner of the December Give-Away (a signed copy of NOVEL SHORTCUTS) was Aimee of Dixon, California.

The January Give-Away will be a writing book grab bag — a surprise collection of secondhand books on the craft of writing. To enter, email your name and physical address via the “Email Laura Whitcomb” link on my website. (Tell me if you do NOT want to be on my snail mail list for bookmarks, postcards, and other freebies when my next novel comes out.)

Happy New Year, everyone!