Can I Quote You on That? (Back on the Chain Gang)

Well, folks, it’s time for another blog chain post.

This chain was started by the fabulous Michelle McLeanJessica Verday posted before me and Abi will be up next.

The topic this week is…

Share a favorite poem, quote, joke, anecdote, or anything of the sort that deals with writing, writers, the publishing industry, or the other strange and unusual tidbits that belong to our little world.

Now, the folks most interested in talking about writing are those called to do it. Which makes it no surprise that there are many different quotable sources for this topic.

I’m going to focus then, on one author in particular: Maya Angelou. With my poetry background, I have a soft spot for Ms. Angelou. I was lucky enough to hear her speak once. It’s always fabulous to hear a person in love with the sound of words. 🙂

First…

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Then if one is lucky…

If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform a million realities.

Then a fabulous mantra for the publishing process…

All great achievements require time.

And finally:

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.

So, blog chain ladies… you up for a little ass-kickin’?

Smug as a Bug in a Rug (Back on the Chain Gang)

The Blog Chain has circled back to me again, so I’m postponing my usual “In Deep Smit” posting (unless y’all will buy the deeply-smitten-with-the-chain-gang thing two weeks in a row. 😉 )  This chain’s topic was selected by Kate Karyus Quinn.  If you didn’t already find your way here from Leah Clifford’s blog, be sure to check out her post.  And Mary Lindsey will be up next.

The topic this time:

How as a writer do you find the balance between having too much or too little confidence in your work?

So, I’ve titled this entry, “Smug as a Bug in a Rug.”  And by “in a Rug,” of course, I mean “wearing a toupee.”

Rubber Tree Plants aside, have I done what the topic question asks?  Well, I will answer that with a strong, confident “Maybe.”

If you’ve followed our chain since it started, you’ve seen that most of us don’t really have a “balance”– more like a teeter-totter of ups and downs.

I have to say, this blog topic is not the first time I personally have pondered about my confidence.

In April, I attended my first writing conference, The Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling. (Posts about that here, here, and here.)  I did NOT anticipate the nervousness I experienced there.

I’m a physician and the director for a hospitalist program.  I think we can safely agree that a 35-year-old woman does not get where I am without a healthy portion of professional self-confidence.  I am an experienced public speaker.  From Speech and Debate teams in high school to delivering medical lectures, I’ve never been uncomfortable talking to anybody.

So I was as surprised as anyone to find myself picking at my conference lunch, envisioning myself puking on the agent’s shoes during my pitch session.

I’m a powerhouse, I told myself.  Why am I terrified of a 7-minute conversation?

The answer to that, I think, comes from the blurring of “professional” and “personal” that comes with writing.

To write a great story, you need to pour yourself into the work, so professional detachment gets a bit harder.

There are some components of writing that I am quite confident about.

  1. Professionalism. Business letters come easily to me.  I interview well.  I’m comfortable with public speaking.  My work requires skill in starting and conducting much more difficult conversations than any I could have about my writing. I know many authors are less comfortable on the networking/business side and would prefer to stay comfortably behind the keyboard.  This is thankfully not a concern for me.
  2. Stories. I love the story of The Edge of Memory.  I may need to revise some of the nuts-and-bolts of how the story is told (and I am always willing to consider ways to tell it better) but the story itself is solid.  I think about my stories for a long time before writing them, so the web of connections is already well-defined before the first draft.  This helps me weave in the details that eventually come together more naturally into the narrative.
  3. Communication skills. I’m not talking here about my writing, but more about my comprehension.  It is a running joke among my family and co-workers that I translate English to English.  Quite frequently, I am called upon to explain when folks have “a failure to communicate”.  I’m fluent in Mother-in-Law to Son translation, as well as Resident-Physician to Nurse.  When I receive feedback on my writing, I believe I’m good at understanding and then acting on it to improve my story.  Beyond a good story foundation, that might be the most useful skill I have.

Every writer has crisis moments. I know I have. All of us have reached the point where we’ve announced we were ready to give up.  We didn’t.  That makes all the difference.

I once read a quote from Erma Bombeck.  It’s not really about confidence per se, but more about perserverance:

~

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything you gave me”.

~

I’m a writer.  I am going to have crises of self-doubt.  I’m going to think what I’ve written is the worst drivel ever to be strung together.  I’m going to believe my test readers are just being nice when they tell me they stayed up all night to finish my novel.  I’ll convince myself that I’ll never be good enough to make it in this industry.

And then I’ll get over it and write.

Back on the Chain Gang– Certificate of Authenticity

It’s my turn to start the Blog Chain this round, which means it’s my turn to pick the topic! Photobucket Image Hosting

I had another topic in mind, but the recent discussion about the “Realness” of characters got me thinking along a different line. Photobucket Image Hosting

For any novelist, it is important that the story seem real to the reader at some level.  Even the most fanciful of fantasies needs a grounding in reality for people to relate to it.

The previous chain covered the “Who” pretty thoroughly, but what about the “Where” and “When”?

So my question for the group is:

How do you as an author choose or create your story-world  and give that setting authenticity?

I am really interested to see the responses on this with such a wide representation of genres in this chain. Photobucket Image Hosting

For The Edge of Memory, my story was set in the real world, so I had a bit of a head start. But it was sheer authenticity issues that set my story primarily in Nebraska.  Although I’m quite familiar with small Midwestern towns, I’ve never been to Omaha.  So how in heaven’s name did my story end up there?

I Photobucket Image Hostingtrains.  I love the sounds they make, the romance of them.  I love that rhythmic sway that your legs remember for hours after you disembark.  And I love the predestination of the path of the tracks.

When I decided that Beatrice was going to be searching for a place she had no idea where to find, she needed something concrete to lead her there.  So I looked for a passenger railway line that didn’t branch, where if someone knew they needed to find a particular town along the way based on landmarks, that task would be overwhelming, but not impossible.  This line also had to have been operational in 1951.  And I found that in the California Zephyr Line.  It leaves Chicago heading for California and after the branch near Galesburg, IL, there is nothing but a straight shot all the way west through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.

Then, for my backstory, I needed a town near a major river… a river that was large enough to be dangerous. The Mississippi was out, since I was setting the starting point just before the last fork in the Zephyr line (very near the Illinois/Iowa border).  The Missouri River was the next likely option.  And it happened to cross the Zephyr Line at Omaha.  Suddenly I was writing a story set in Nebraska. Photobucket Image Hosting

*I should add here that I was fortunate enough to have several test readers from Nebraska who were later quite surprised to discover I’d never been to Omaha.  That was a major relief!

I used real U.S. cities for most of the novel.  Gladstone is a real small town in central Illinois.  Naturally, Chicago and Omaha are real cities.  But for the town Beatrice is searching for, where all the ugliness goes down, I wanted a fictional location, but I still wanted it to be believable.

Using Google Maps, I found an area of Nebraska close to the Missouri River which appears completely uninhabited by satellite images.  That is where I set my fictional town of Corbeander and the imaginary area near the river where Hawthorne Mill and Clemmons Field are found.

The timing of my novel was also specifically driven by the story itself.  The backstory action ended up set in 1951 for specific reasons.  I needed a time period where an abandoned child in a small town could be adopted without state social services getting involved or a nationwide police action.  I needed local officials to be able to handle the situation at their own discretion.  In Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services was started in 1964, and smaller scale social service programs were in effect before that.  So, the background storyline got pushed back to the 50’s.

Since the story is set a bit in the past, the dates in my story have already happened.  I made efforts to make those aspects as real as possible as well.  My story dates match the days of the week and the historical events and holidays that occured on them.  For some days, I even checked the weather archives.  The Korean War battle that kills Thea’s husband was chosen based on the timing of Stacey’s birth.

In short, my entire setting (both time and place) were chosen by my story for the sake of authenticity.  I never guessed I would be writing a novel set in Omaha in the 50’s and 80’s.  It just turned out that way. Photobucket Image Hosting

So, that’s how it worked for me.  But I bet a lot of other folks chose their settings and worlds first…

There’s only one way to find out though, and that’s to follow the blog chain.

Next up would be the always fabulous Mary Lindsay, if she wasn’t current battling a hurricane.  Photobucket Image Hosting

So the equally fabulous Michelle McLean will be up next instead.  Links to my other fabulous Chain Gang cohorts are in my sidebar. 😉