Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Travel Writing, Writing

Conduct Research for Scenes in Your Fiction

via How to Research a Location You Haven’t Actually Been To

This blog post above by fellow writer, Helena Fairfax, has been wonderfully helpful to me in writing my novel set in India and on a ship in the Pacific and Indian oceans.  As an example, I wrote a scene in the book of slaughtering a sea turtle for eating aboard ship after watching a YouTube by today’s Aboriginal Australians.

Read the scene below from my book in-progress, Salwar Kameez. I’ve added a few notes to the reader to be able to grasp who the characters are in the scene, because it is out of context for you.

SCENE from BOOK on Butchering a Sea Turtle 

Next morning the cook, Paddy approached the aquatic turtles in the livestock watering tanks where he housed them for the voyage. Fiona joined the others to see how the butchering would go. She stood behind the crew circling the tank Paddy had selected.

He smiled at Fiona (the main character, who’s a horsewoman and only female aboard ship) and said, “Sure you want to watch this?”

“Sure.”

“It’s pretty bloody.”

“So is birthing a colt.”

In his sing-song Irish lilt, he said, “Dyin’ ain’t as romantic as birthin’.”

“I’ve watched hogs slaughtered. I want to see how you do it with a turtle.”

Paddy winked at her and said,“Okay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Fiona assumed his smile indicated he expected her to fold in the midst of the slaughter.

She was ready.

Frederick, Paddy’s steward and the ship’s stockman, asked, “How ya gonna do this?”

Paddy said, “With your help.”

“Me?”

“Yep, you. Come here; pull the monster’s front foot over the edge of the tank. Get it to the point so I can take a swing at his neck. It can’t draw back in its shell if a foot is outside the body.”

Paddy wielded an ax; whopped it once, twice, then three times until the head drooped from the body. But he had to whack him multiple times to cut through the cartilage that surrounded the neck. Then he manhandled the neck, the size of a newborn calf, by wrenching it round and round, twisting it to sever the neck bones. A final wallop broke the last vestiges of the neck to separate the head from the body.

That done, Paddy nodded for others to join him in lifting the body out of the tank. Several sailors stepped forward to drag it out and onto the deck. Scully, the slacker, stood back arms crossed without offering help, looking queasy.

Paddy narrated the process as the curious crew looked on, as he reached into the turtle cavity and started pulling entrails. “Some parts, we won’t eat. I have to pull the lungs, intestines, and gallbladder.”

With his arm inside the turtle up to his elbow, he seemed to know which organ he was reaching for. Turtle legs flailed at Paddy as the nerves continued to work, though he had severed the brain from the sea creature’s body. The large intestines slopped onto the deck, blood pooling.

Fiona had cooked entrails of a chicken, but these intestines here were as big around as a man’s leg. The odor escaping from the orifice was fishy smelling, unlike a chicken. However, blood holds a distinctive smell all its own. Though Fiona expected the mess made on the floor, the length of the bowels surprised her.

As Paddy reached the attached and continuous reel of guts, the small intestines narrowed into a smaller roll, the size of a man’s bicep. The tube became smaller to that of a man’s wrist by the end.

Shipmaster Best pointed to two of the crewmembers and then overboard. The two men sloshed the coiled heap into the ocean, leaving a trail of blood.

She heard retching behind her and turned to find the no-good Scully giving up his breakfast overboard. His pallid face registered embarrassment, as laughter broke out among the crew. He moved down the railing and away from the action without leaving the deck.

Paddy reached into the opening with his knife and slashed skin around another organ. He held it up in his hand, showed it to the group, and said, “This is the gallbladder. I take it out of the cavity to make the cut.”

He reached in again and pulled out a beating heart.

He said, “The heart will beat for a while like its nerves keep working. I’ll cook it and I’ll eat it,” he said with a flourish and arrogance. “That’s my call as butcher and cook.”

“It’s mine–I’ll eat it!” Jeff, the young upstart, bluffed.

Paddy taunted, “No, I get it. You don’t want it—can’t eat. Not man enough.”

“I’ll eat it right now, beating and blood red,” offered another weathered sailor, Wesley.

Each man weighed in on eating the throbbing heart. A fight for the sake of their manhood erupted. The slight-bodied Frederick backed out of the fray and joined Jacob, the peacemaker to watch the tangle of fists.

Captain Best stepped into a mass of arms and legs flailing about. He picked up Wesley by the seat of his pants and tossed him to the side. He landed on his tailbone, stunned. Then Best struck Lars in the kidney to hold him at bay. As Leo lunged from the floor to defend his brother Lars, Best set his fist square upon his jaw. The shipmaster’s job was to outsmart and/or outfight the men aboard ship. Best picked them off one by one.

For once Scully, the troublemaker, did not start this ruckus.

After the commotion calmed down, Paddy returned to his task. He inserted a mean looking eighteen-inch knife into the turtle’s underbelly. He cut through an inch-thick, tough shell until he could cut no farther, then took a mallet and tapped it around. He instructed Frederick, his student now, to lift the belly shell as he continued to cut. It required muscle and time.

After that, Paddy proceeded skillfully to cut the meat from the skin, butchered big chunks of it, and placed them on a large plank to cook later, saving the shell in which to stew the meat. The procedure took the better part of the morning. Paddy and Frederick perspired through their clothes, wiped sweat from their foreheads, and rinsed their bloody hands repeatedly in the turtle’s tank. The three smaller turtles would meet their fate another day.

The men came and went between their chores all morning. Fiona tended the horses with Jacob and Scully, as usual. She and Jacob returned to the butchering scene every little while; Scully moped from a distance after the nausea today.

Scully mumbled to Fiona, “Don’t think I’ll want turtle tonight.”

Fiona, on the other hand, relished the idea of sea turtle for supper.

Paddy cooked the turtle slowly in a huge kettle, shell and all, all day long. He created a broth in the caldron of onions and dried mushrooms. The evening meal was a new experience.

Fiona said, “M-m-m. An odd combination of flavors. It tastes a lot like beef,” she chuckled as she added, “but with a fishy taste.”

Jeff said before he had taken his first bite. “That makes no sense!”

Wesley weighed in, “But she’s right.”

Jacob, Fiona’s sole ally, added, “Of course it tastes like fish, it comes from salt water.”

 

Posted in Submission of writing, Submitting for Publication, Writing

Payoff when Submitting for Publication

For the last six months, my writing has been on hold.  On July 20, 2017, I almost lost my left middle digit to a fungal infection that a doctor deadened and lanced. Two days later, it was black—dead, not simply bruised. Doctors’ cautionary comments did not use the word, amputation, but they hinted at it for a month.

My writing life was on hold. Or so I thought.

Up until that time, I had continuously submitted stories and essays for publication or competition in contests. I learned that when writing dwindles or comes to a complete stop, my publication life can continue.

The Tally

I submitted eleven times this year in hopes of publication. Nine submissions were rejected, but two were accepted. While one is still pending, another chance to publish came unexpectedly.

Timing: Before the injury and talk of amputation

Late June Marfa House’s romance anthology entitled, Love is in the Air, published one of my finest pieces of fiction, “The End of Island Life.”

Timing: During treatment to avoid amputation

A previously published essay, “From Ugly Duckling to Howling Wolf,” was chosen from an earlier Story Circle Network anthology. This year the Network created a new anthology, Inside Out: Women’s Truths, Women’s Stories: Stories from the Story Circle Network with selected pieces pulled from several years’ worth of past anthologies.

Timing: Toward the end of treatment to circumvent amputation

By late October I could proficiently type with nine digits. So I submitted an essay to address my writing life interrupted in a 1000-word article, “Finger Gone Rogue; Novel Gone Mute.” The Story Circle Network accepted the piece for their annual online anthology of women’s voices for members only.

BONUS: In hopes to make something useful come from my tragedy, I wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper in early November about the unpredictability of health issues and the need to sign up for health insurance. (This was not in my “literary tally.”)

SUMMARY: Four 2017 publications = one before the injury + three during my injury and recovery (+bonus letter to the editor).

   The Payoff

The point? The payoff of continuing to build a repertoire of my work in various places with different audiences?

If we have been faithful to our work and to building a writing résumé, it continues to work for us, even when it appears our writing life has been stalled for reasons beyond our control.

Posted in Travel Writing

Travel Writing workshop coming up!

How to capture your travel adventures, while not missing a thing? How to prep yourself by deciding in advance what kinds of things you want to write about? How to find the right type of journal for your trip?

What to Expect

These are the things we’ll discuss in the workshop. You will practice journal writing with timed, flow writing. That means you will write about a topic from a prompt that you choose. You write for about seven minutes, as fast as you can without stopping to think or correct anything. You write fast and free and wild without hesitation, which engages the right side of the brain that makes connections and finds meaning. You will see how to capture memories, conversations, and experiences in the downtime you have.

Where and When

The workshop, “Travel Writing” will be held during International Education Week, next Tuesday, November 14, 3:00-4:15 p.m. at tglobal-program-logohe Cailloux Campus Activity Center (CCAC) in the Fish Bowl meeting room (2nd floor) on Schreiner University’s campus. McKenna Blackstone, a 2016 study abroad student in Spain, will facilitate the workshop with me.

Get inspired before you arrive. See my Pinterest board, Journal your Travels, for ideas galore on journal writing your travels and adventures.

Posted in fiction, Travel, Travel Writing

My Writing Hiatus in a Hyperbaric Chamber

 

 

 

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My fortieth and last visit in a pressurized hyperbaric oxygen chamber

I am right handed, so how can I steady a cantaloupe without the middle finger of my left hand while cutting it up? How can I keep it from slipping and then spilling juice and contents? How can I hold the fruit firm enough not to cut myself? Very carefully.

How can I type the E, D, and C letters on the computer without that middle finger? Slowly and with lots of mistakes.

I have been in a hyperbaric chamber every weekday for the last two months in an attempt to save a finger. Success is slow but promising.

A fungal infection with several complicating factors went rogue and the tissue on the tip of my finger died. (Think frostbite. I’ll spare you those photos.)

0919170944
The reflection of the lights overhead shows that I’m in a clear glass chamber. I can read or watch television during the 90-minute treatment.

Today I type with nine digits instead of ten–but am becoming habituated. The injury stalled the work on my novel for more than two months, but I’m back writing again. And back blogging about travel, writing, and more about my novel in the months to come.

I have missed you, my followers, and look forward to more time with you. Stay tuned.

Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Writing

Does my novel pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

I just learned about the Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test, as Bechdel prefers to call it to credit her friend, Ms. Wallace) from Andrea Lundgren’s recent blog post. This test requires in fiction or movies that 1) two women be present and named 2) talk to one another 3) about something other than a man.

I do find it intriguing to ask this question as I write my first novel about a young American unconventional horsewoman in the early 1900s. I have created as a part of the plot that Fiona, the main character, travel to India. There she interacts on various topics with her host in Calcutta, Amita, who becomes both friend and mentor to her.

Topics they discuss vary about Christianity, Quakerism, and Hinduism to questions about the social mores expressed in public Indian erotic art. The two women broaden their dialogues to include the value of education for women to the psychological foundations of women to chart their own adventures.

I am pleased to know my novel passes with flying colors. Fiona and Amita are “stars” in this regard.

What about your fiction? Does it pass the test, too?

I bet it does. And good for you if it does!

Posted in Craft of writing, Writers' Groups, Writing, Writing Groups

Writers are often INFJs or INFPs, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Lauren Sapala, the author of The INFJ Writer in a recent blog post, writes there is no coincidence that many writers are INFJs or INFPs, which are terms for the personality types in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The types are a four-part combination of four spectrums of likely thoughts, actions, behaviors that generate a personality type. These types are used to better understand ourselves and others, to improve communication between different types, and to work more effectively. But the types should not be used to label or box people into narrow definitions of self or others.

There were four possible pairs of personality traits:

  • Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E)
  • Intuition (N) or Sensing (S)
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

These four sets of dichotomies create sixteen personality types. A brief description of each can be found at The Myers-Briggs website.

INFJ and INFP are closely related because three of the indicators are the same INF.

Isabel Briggs-Myers, the daughter of Katherine Cook Briggs (the co-founders of the indicator index) says,

Good type development can be achieved at any age by anyone who cares to understand his or her own gifts and the appropriate use of those gifts.

Read Lauren’s insightful blog post to understand the increased likelihood that you (and I) as a writer will be an introverted (I), intuitive (N), and feeling (F) person who leans toward perceiving (P) or judging (J).

I found Lauren Sapala’s blog post useful and insightful. I also have her book. Check it out for yourself.

Lauren Sapala states,

It wasn’t until I started coaching so many other Highly Sensitive People (who are also highly creative people, empaths, and intuitives) that I realized there is a very good reason so many of us have turned to writing as a lifeline.

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel Writing, Writing exercises

Revise a draft using the five senses.

Another way to revise our travel stories (or any story or scene) is to use the senses to describe the setting, the characters, and the action. Using the words “I smell…, we heard…, or you may taste…” is NOT the point. We can imply the senses by using rhythm with our words or utilizing descriptors that convey the sense itself.

Using a draft of flow-writing from my last blog post, today I’ll add more description by writing with the senses.  I have highlighted my revisions in red. See how it enhances the overall writing?

The interior room, used for yoga class at the Red Buddha Yoga and Wellness stands rather zen-like. The space feels quiet and serene, much like a chapel. Reverence for the body, the yoga poses, the breath. The stillness massages the nerves of my skin.

The other yogis arrived this morning for the same experience I’m expecting. We are greeted by a massive red-and-yellow bouquet, incense curling in the air, and lemon water to sate our thirst.

We adore Meg and her soft, lilting voice keeping time with the music while lightly snapping her fingers to the inhale and exhale. That musical voice of hers takes us into, through and out of each yoga pose.

Meg, the golden-headed goddess, lithely floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife, birthing her thousandth asana. We follow the motion, the hold, and the release with ease.

The chamber sits with a cool, bare floor. It is wall-to-wall empty, but ready, waiting for the birth of Nirvana. With nothing to impede our progress, the breath-beating music relaxes us, Meg’s entranced voice focuses us, and we move to the breath that entrains us together.

Feel the difference? See the richness of the prose? Grasp a sense of the place, of Meg the instructor, the experience? Do you understand the yearning for a place like this by the participants?

Then you know the value of writing with our senses.

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Memoir writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing exercises, Writing Workshops

Flow Writing followed by 3-step Revision

Flow Writing 

In a recent Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative JouMe w. handout (2)rnal Writing workshop with lively participants, I explained that I developed the writing exercises as a result of not having the right kind of material from my journals when drafting my coming-of-age travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.

I offered a flow writing activity. 1) Describe a memory from a notable trip. 2) Before writiJulie writingng, prime the pump (brain) with six words that convey feelings about the memory. 3) Then write fast and wild and free without stopping, editing, or rethinking. I allowed them about eight minutes and called time.

I’ll share my timed, flow writing as an example that I wrote during the last three minutes of their writing. Here I  write about the new yoga studio I visited on Isla Mujeres this year.

Feelings: calm, quiet, dark, serene, zen, meditative

Flow Writing Example (think-rough draft)

The new indoor yoga studio is rather zen-like. It’s quiet and serene, like a church. Reverence for the body, the movement, the breath. The others are there for the same. We love Meg. Like a goddess, she floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife — birthing her first one-thousandth baby or asana. The space is sparse, empty, ready, waiting for the baby. Nothing to impede our progress. The music relaxes us, Meg’s voice focuses us, and we move to the joy of the breath.

Next I suggested a three-step revision process to illustrate thaMarlene and Julie writingt our first draft is never what we want it to be.

Revision Steps 

Look for any noun that is general and make it more specific. If you have written the word “car,” now replace it with a make or model, Lexus or F-150.

Strike every verb that is not an action verb (was, had been, would have been), and rewrite it so you use an active, powerful, explicit verb. (My example will show what I mean below.)

Then add at least one simile or metaphor to give the reader a deeper understanding of what you are describing.

Revision Example

 The interior room at the Red Buddha Yoga Studio stands rather zen-like. The space feels quiet and serene, much like a chapel. Reverence for the body, the yoga poses, the breath. The other yogis arrived this morning for the same experience I expected. We adore Meg and her unique skill of guiding us through yoga poses. Meg, the goddess, golden and lithe, floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife, birthing her one-thousanth asana. The chamber sits with a bare floor wall-to-wall, empty, ready, waiting for the baby. With nothing to impede our progress, the music relaxes us, Meg’s voice focuses us, and we move to the breath that entrains us.

Summary 

From this example, I hope you can see how using a few emotion-packed words before writing focuses the brain on the outcome of a descMarlene writingription you want to write. Allowing the mind to write freely without the “editor” stopping or slowing you, gets words on the page from a travel experience.

Then a simple revision of replacing general nouns and passive verbs with specific, precise and meaningful substitutions can bring the writing to life. Add a simile or metaphor for color and interest.

Do you have other simple ways to edit your work to make it more dynamic and readable?

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Memoir writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Writing exercises

Insight from Travel through Journal Writing Exercise

Ira Progoff’s “Stepping Stones” Journal Writing Exercise

Stepping Stones is a journal writing exercise developed by Ira Progoff. He conducted research about how individuals develop more fulfilling lives. In his role as psychotherapist, he found that clients who wrote about their life experiences were able to work through issues more rapidly. Through this research, he then developed and refined the Intensive Journal Method to provide a way to encourage the processes by which people learn, grow, and develop as individuals.

I have adapted his Stepping Stones process to use in reflecting on your travels. It is particularly useful in writing a memoir or learning to explore the world more intentionally. Give it a try!

Stepping Stone Activity #1

Make a list of what happened during a memorable event or series of events during a past journey. Use short sentences to convey what occurred. Begin the list with your starting point. “I am packed and ready to go.” Here is my list from a trip I made when I was twenty-seven to the United Kingdom in 1980 with everything on my back and no plans. (If you are interested, read my coming-of-age, travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.)513KiIBFrSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

  • I am packed and ready to go.
  • I arrive in London.
  • I find hospitality with M&M.
  • Hospitality turns caustic.
  • Take train north toward Scotland
  • Stay lost in Edinburgh
  • Enjoy the magic of Isle of Skye
  • Regret the turbulence of schedules
  • Relish the oasis of York
  • Relax in the calm of Wales
  • Plagued by disappointment in schedules
  • Headed to London and home

Stepping Stone Activity #2

Now choose one of those events and list stepping stones, as Progoff calls them. Using the four functions that make a complete experience, recall your responses (or stepping stones) in each category. The functional categories are: feeling (heart); thinking (mind); intuiting (spirit); and sensing (body). See my examples below taken from and using the bulleted item above, “plagued by disappointment.”

Feeling

  • Disappointed in self
  • Lonely
  • Disheartened
  • Angry

Thinking

  • Questioning: How did I get in this mess?
  • Blaming: I should have known better than to travel without plans
  • Rethinking: I should have anticipated this. I should have considered traveling with a friend
  • Obsessing: I should have; I could have; I better not next time; Why, what, how? Now what?

Intuiting

  • It will get better. This can’t continue for another week.
  • Just keep going. It will get better.
  • If it doesn’t, I can go home early.
  • I’m tired of making decisions alone; I’m ready to go home.

Sensing

  • My Achilles’ tendon is pulled taut.
  • The backpack seems heavier each day.
  • I’m limping.
  • I’m exhausted; I no longer am rested when I wake up.

Stepping Stone Activity #3

Now review your lists above as a holistic view of that experience in your travels. Writing about an episode in time helps you recapture the journey that shaped your response, reaction, or reflection that may, in turn, have influenced your destiny. Start your summary with these words, “It was a time…” Writing can help you learn from a missed lesson; one you did not fully absorb; and/or guide you to be intentional in the future. See my summary as an example.

It was a time when my body was breaking down from the amount of walking and carrying weight with which I was unaccustomed. It was a time when train schedules fell apart because I didn’t know about national holidays. I was lonely with no one to help make a decision whether to stay or move on. I had wanted this trip to serve as another marker of independence. I had looked forward to it and now was so disappointed in myself—hoping for a good ending. I came to question every move I made or didn’t make. I obsessed questioning myself and berating myself for not being up to the adventure. I felt my confidence wavering and I felt defeated by one happenstance after another that wouldn’t let me enjoy the rest of the trip. I just wanted to go home. But being a never-give-up kind of person I didn’t want to give in. That was not the picture I had of myself. I decided to let the cost of going home or staying make the decision for me. That too didn’t work. It came out a wash. So, in the end, crying on a park bench in London I made the decision to go home. I wondered what people passing by must think of this crybaby. It was not the picture of myself I had in my mind when I left home.

You can see from the example of my troublesome trip that this writing exercise offered insight into myself. The trip had crippled my body and as a result my view of myself as a confident young woman striding through the world. I literally limped home early.

What this activity does not show is the pride I carried back with me, nonetheless, because I had walked the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I had accomplished it, though with a different end in mind.

513KiIBFrSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.)

Try this journal writing exercise and see what results you find. Then share with me and others what you discover. I’m eager to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Craft of writing, Writing, Writing exercises

BUILDING TENSION

A WRITING EXERCISE THAT HELPS BUILD TENSION

Open your thesaurus; go to any letter in the alphabet. Pick words from that letter that prompts questions that may help you think about your characters, plot, setting, dialogue, actions, emotions, and especially tension. Then for every word, develop a question that can push you deeper into your story, hopefully building tension in your book, story, or scene.

MY EXAMPLE

I chose the letter “D,” because desire is the beginning of all tension. Your character wants something—whether it is an external goal, like the inheritance, the murderer, or a lover; or an internal motivation, such as confidence, freedom, acceptance, or maybe to be understood by someone. Desire can be dampened, dangerous, delayed, or denied. (Yeah, I’m leaning heavy on alliteration, but just in this one blog.)

See, I’m just playing around with words. Being playful is the heart of the creative process. Also, you can think of it as a working exercise in which you can use random words that will take you to unexpected, and yet productive, powerful places in our writing.

Here are the ones I pulled and the questions I drafted for each. The queries provide me tips, hints, and techniques that in turn give me ways to access new ideas for my novel.

Dilemma:  What kinds of problems can I generate for my protagonist, Fiona?

Discord:  Where can I create relationship issues between characters that make the story more complex and intriguing?

Draw (either stalemate or attraction): How can I bring in mistakes or misunderstandings that generate a stalemate? How can I illustrate the first attraction between characters and then continually enhance that attraction over time?

Denial = What element(s) in Fiona’s life can I deny her to thwart her primary desire, to gain acceptance from others when she’s unconventional?

Dream:  How do I articulate Fiona’s dream or desire through action and dialogue?

Disaster:  What natural disaster is logical and reasonable based on the setting and environment to add depth, complexity, and tension to the story?

Disappointment:  How can I express disappointment through body language in various characters?

Danger:  What dangers might my characters encounter that will force them to know themselves better?

Dire straits:   What situations could I develop within the plot that create emotional tension and make characters have to fight for what they want?

Dogged problems:  What problem(s) won’t go away; and therefore, continue to frustrate and inhibit Fiona in the pursuit of her longing?

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. — E. L. Doctorow

FIND YOUR OWN PROMPTS

Replicate the exercise, or use my example as a launching pad. Plunge in and find the questions you need to answer for your story or scene. It can aid you in writing fiction, your memoir, a story, or a difficult scene.

What kind of success or struggles did you have with this approach? I’d like to hear from you.