Sparked by Words

One Writer’s Inventions

To invent: a tool that will preserve my finger scribbles on the shower door and transfer them to my computer, all words intact rather than dripping down the glass, lost in the holes of my memory.

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To invent: a clipboard that slips under my pillow and catches my dreams –  words, sounds, images, sensations – then transcribes them to my work in progress without twisting them into  gibberish fragments, convincing me they were nightmares all along.

To invent: a microphone that absorbs the sound of my voice as I hear it while singing in the shower and packages it in convenient download apps thus recording a modicum of talent in at least one area, instead of garbling the sound and convincing me I sound as bad as my family insists, shower acoustics or not.

To invent: an Exercycle that moves my body muscles and keeps me fit while drawing out my brain muscle into useful writing modes, so I can lose weight and look gorgeous for my back page photo on my newly published book. Don’t ask, book not in final form yet. Haven’t hired the photographer.

To invent: a mind reading tool that seizes escaping brain waves that would lodge in my head if I didn’t have to interact verbally with the people at the grocery store (please don’t overstuff the reusable bags because they tear – um, yeah, like that) the banker, (two hundred dollars, but as four twenties, six tens, eight fives, and all the rest ones, so I have some tip money handy) and the medical intake nurse (yep, I’ve gained a bit more weight, and no, I don’t want to go to the health center thirty miles away to learn to do what I know how to do but don’t want o do to improve my eating habits, can’t you please just give me a pill?) because in all that yakking time I’ve lost many wonderful and creative story lines.

To invent: one perfect logline that nails the essence of book number one in all its lyrical glory and erudite splendor and does so within the infinitely tiny and impossible parameters of logline requirements, (synopsis of story, important characters, fifty words or less, one or two sentences) therefore allowing me to move forward with other requirements for publishing my book.

Wait, I did that. I wrote the logline. It’s wonderful, succinct, and mesmerizing. It captured the flag.

Oh yeah, baby, you’re a writer now. Ba da bing, ba da bang.

 

 

 

 

Image: water drops courtesy: Google public domain images

My Favorite Books, A to Z

 

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If you’re a writer, you’re a reader. My passion for books began with the first ones I read as a kid, and before I was ten I decided to become a writer.

The new Thursday blog involves the famous twenty-six letters again, this time with a specific focus. Thousands of books I’ve read but millions more beckon. I have favorites in all categories and a to-read list without end. (Actually, that’s a good thing.) Each week I’ll choose a book I’ve read whose title begins with that week’s letter of the alphabet. The first significant word will count for book choices, the words a, an, the, and, to, in, or by getting bypassed. I’ll stick with fiction but all genres are up for consideration.

Each post will feature a short synopsis of the book and identify why it was selected, maybe highlight a favorite phrase or moment. You’ll learn about the main character, but I won’t spoil the endings for you. These are the books that fostered passion in me, made me not only want to be a writer, but to write like the authors whose books I loved. Some I read when I was a kid, others were college requirements, a few were random choices or referrals, many are classics, several may be new to you. Most I’ve read more than once, some, multiple times. Each book left an impression as enduring as my social security number but far more intriguing. They identify something about me, but you’ll have to guess what it might be.

These books seduced me with the written word. Passages locked me in awe mode, and I reread them as they burned into my soul. They showed me how to write. They taught me how to see the world via a universal lens or intimate perspective. They presented history and hobbies, friendship and families, close communities and distant countries, lives in the constellations, worlds in the raindrops. I read about people as crazy as me and some even crazier, about heroes, fools, leaders, tyrants, and worker bees. Some books helped me grow up, others helped me maintain my child’s sense of wonder. Many endorsed my belief in God, others challenged me to find any good in the world and to ask where God was hiding. Each impacted me in meaningful ways, each a book to remember.

This is meant to be an interactive reading experience. I hope you’ll participate by sharing your own favorite books for each letter. See you here on September 1 when I’ll reveal A is for … Oops, you’ll just have to come back then.

Meanwhile, my Monday posts will enlighten you with a variety of topics, and they only ask for about five minutes of your reading time.

From my chair where the ink runs freely and the comment box entreats you to state your position, I send you a week of speculation.

What will I choose?

What will you?

 

 

 

Image courtesy: Google images public domain

This is the cover of To Hunt a Sub, the newly released thriller by J. Murray.

 

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I’m excited by the drama of the clouds and the sight of the submarine as it powers across the ocean. Even more, I’m intrigued by the synopsis of the book:

 

A brilliant Ph.D. candidate, a cynical ex-SEAL, and a quirky experimental robot team up against terrorists intent on stealing America’s most powerful nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. By all measures, they are an unlikely trio–one believes in brawn, another brains, and the third is all geek–but they’re all America has to stop this enemy who would destroy everything they believe in. But this trio has a secret weapon: the wisdom of a formidable female who died two million years ago. 

 

An unlikely team is America’s only chance.

                                                                             

It’s a book I won’t be able to put down.  Current, well researched, edge-of-your-seat exciting, the kind of book to keep me up all night.

 

I had the opportunity to interview J. Murray to ask about the process of writing the book, a topic that always fascinates me.

 

Me:  How do you blend a 1.8 million-year-old character into a modern thriller?

 

Murray:  That’s a fair question. To Hunt a Sub is the story of 21st-century terrorists who threaten to destroy America’s subs by infecting them with a revolutionary virus. The nation’s best experts are stumped and call on an unusual team for help–a washed-up SEAL-turned-professor, a feisty grad student, and an artificial intelligence named Otto.

 

First, let me say it wasn’t my original plan to include Lucy, a long-dead 1.8 million-year-old hominid female. Her story (Lucy: Story of Man) won’t be out for a few years. But Lucy kept popping into To Hunt a Sub‘s plot until I could no longer ignore her: This ancient female faced down a world of volcanic eruptions, Sabertooth tigers, and bull-sized proto-wolves, her only weapons being dull teeth, flimsy claws, and thin hairless skin. How she did this was the answer to my modern-day characters’ problems as they struggled to defeat a well-equipped, militarized, and fervent terrorist.

 

Me: That’s an amazing concept – the solution to one of your books was found in the premise of another – serendipity at its most creative. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything similar from another author.

 

Thank you for taking the time for this interview.

 

Murray: Thanks for the chance to talk about my book.

 

Me: The pleasure is mine. I wish you the best in all your writing pursuits.

 

You can purchase J. Murray’s new book at Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01K7VSPBW#navbar

 

Below is the link to Jacqui’s blog. Pop on over and say hello to her.

 WordDreams

 

 

Cover image courtesy: J. Murray

 

Z is for Zounds!

 

 

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Zounds – I did it! If you’re one of the rare species of human who’s read my entire alphabet of writing topics, you know my twenty-six posts took more than three years to write. Beginning in August 2013, one article a week on Thursdays, I should have completed the series by about February 2014. Give me up to March if you want to be generous. Enthusiasm I’ve got aplenty but I’m not great at sticking to schedules.

It’s been a challenge to write these twenty-six posts because it’s all been written before. With millions of blogs on the web, millions of writers posting every day, millions of courses, books, conferences, magazine articles, student sessions, critique groups, published texts, questions posed and answered, and impromptu chat sessions in situ at the local java joint and on the web, what’s left to talk about? Not much, except I wrote each of my posts in my own voice, with my own peculiar take.

Yes, I’m peculiar. As are you. It’s this peculiar individuality that tickles stories to get written, to be read. My take on topics like critique groups, journaling, character development, plot arcs, heroes and villains, maintaining passion, and finding one’s own voice informs my posts. B is for Blog Newbie displayed my technical limitations in an era when pre-schoolers can navigate digital devices more comfortably than I can. H is for Hats Off for Helping Hands reminds writers to acknowledge the readers and supporters who have helped us along our publishing journey. O is for Outside the Box is a Story described books that broadcast magnetic personalities and unusual circumstances. It made reference to some of the recently published quixotic books that have captured our imagination.

Along the way, I’ve read articles across the spectrum, from writers who are as new to blogging as I am to those who nearly invented the genre. I follow dozens, maybe hundreds, of blogs and interact with many of them, reading posts, reading replies, making my own comments.

And, boy oh boy, have I learned some things. Other bloggers have showcased new ideas, refreshed old lessons, inspired deep thinking, helped me find my muse, and sometimes humbled me. Those are the anticipated bonuses of reading and writing blogs, the result of interacting with an engaged community.

Sometime around D is for Dares with Dreams, I discovered an unexpected gift: friendship. Genuine even if we never sit in the same room. I have friends here in blog country, you are likely to be one of them – people who care about me when I’m frustrated or confused, who cheer when I celebrate, and who contact me personally when I’m harrowed.

I’ll be launching a new alphabet line next Thursday, August 25, 2016. Looking forward to seeing you here at Ink Flare when I’ll unveil the new meme.

Zounds, this was fun – exhausting but fun.

 

 

 

Fireworks image courtesy public-domain-image.com

 

 

 

 

A Cryptic Tale

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Can a writer present history that’s more exciting than a textbook but still discharges the essence of truth if he strays from absolute fact by embellishing a real moment with creative interpretation?

Jim Fergus based his novel, One Thousand White Women, the Journals of May Dodd, on one small incident in American history. In 1854 Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf traveled to Washington and proposed to President Ulysses Grant that the two cultures make a trade. The Indians, whose people were dying out, would give one thousand horses in exchange for one thousand white women. The women would procreate with Indian men, and the resulting children would be a bridge between cultures, ensuring a future for Indians within the annexation of their land by the white community. Never happened, of course, or you’d know a gazillion women claiming to be heroic descendents of this social experiment and likely demanding reparations loudly, or hiding the humiliating fact of their heritage and likely demanding reparations secretly, depending on whether they found the act courageous or shameful.

Fergus used this failed attempt at genetic meddling as the kernel for his book, but he changed the original suggestion to take place in 1874. The U.S. government accepts Little Wolf’s offer and rounds up women on the fringes of American society (no debutantes these future Indian wives): those in insane asylums, prisons, or the social bondage of being too homely to marry. From an insane asylum comes May Dodd, a young and progressive woman who has already exhibited unconventional characteristics by living out of wedlock with a man below her social standing and bearing him two children. Her own family determines the obvious conclusion: she is mad, and they confine her to a mental institution where she is treated brutally. May volunteers to go west and become a Bride for Indians, as it’s the only way she can be released from the asylum.

The strange journey of her life with the Indians reflects a great deal of the actual history of the broken treaties between the US government and the Indian tribes they are trying to confine to reservations. May Dodd witnesses horrible acts on the part of American soldiers as well as Cheyenne warriors. She finds the “savage” lifestyle of the Indians more appealing than that of the White America that betrayed her. In the end, May learns that betrayal and savagery is the territory of all men, and skin color and culture have little hand in making anyone a noble being. Is Fergus’ book a twist of history? Of course, but in his hands he reveals both Indian and American societies, showing that they are closer in kind than either would admit. There is much truth in the betrayal of the Indians at the business end of government rifles and broken treaties, and in the narration of repugnant tribal savagery. May Dodd is the vehicle through which this mortifying period of history comes alive in ways that history books don’t achieve.

The historian Josephus, a first century Jewish scholar who lived in Roman controlled Judea, wrote the only known account of the siege of Masada. Masada was a fortress built on a desert mountaintop south of Jerusalem which in 70 C.E. held out against 10,000 well armed and provisioned Roman troops. More than 900 Jewish men, women, and children determined that they would not concede to Roman condemnation of their faith or control of their destiny, and chose instead a mass suicide pact, thus deflating Rome’s power. Josephus’ history discloses that two women and five children survived the massacre though no details exist. Museums in Israel and Wales maintain in their collections several artifacts from the siege: a scrap of plaid fabric, a woman’s sandals, an amulet, remnants of silver armor, incantation bowls.

From these few remains Alice Hoffman constructed The Dovekeepers, a story of four women whose resilience and extraordinary skills bear witness to the cruelty of the Romans and the ingenuity of the Jewish rebels who refuse to be conquered. Yael is the daughter of the master assassin who leads the Jewish band. Revka fiercely hides and protects her grandsons after the murder of their mother at the hands of Roman soldiers. Shirah uses her skill with magic and folk medicine to aid those in precarious health, especially women. Aziza secrets herself in the guise of a male and bests the young Jewish warriors at skills they cannot imagine a girl could learn. These women maintain the dovecote, an essential asset in keeping the Jewish community from starving. Hoffman admits that there is controversy over whether or not doves were actually kept at Masada, but in her book they represent a critical resource and the future.

History may be intricately folded like origami or cut like lace in attempts to tell only the most significant parts of an event and leave out the mundane details. Thus textbooks explain complex troop movements, the rank of leaders, and political intrigue but miss telling about the impact of war on the children and wives left behind, of the ordinary farmers, weavers, and sailors still trying to bring in their crops, sew coats, or transport goods. Common folk have little place in the annals of world history and are given short shrift, if any shrift at all, in history books. In the hands of deft wordsmiths, the truths of these ordinary lives come to light in rich and unexpected ways, exposing the full breadth of history, filling in the spaces between what historians find important and what people want to know.

 

Robert Morgan writes at the end of his novel Gap Creek:

I tell my students that you do not write living fiction by attempting to transcribe actual events onto the page. You create a sense of real characters and a real story by putting down one vivid detail, one exact phrase, at a time. The fiction is imagined, but if it is done well, it seems absolutely true, as real as the world around us.

 

I offer only scant apology to the reworking of history in my own stories. I am a storyteller who loves history and researching real events, real people. But if a detail would better tell my story with a bit of imaginative revision, then hand me the scissors and glue. You can always go read a history book about the same events. It’s not meant for one genre to usurp another but for each to complement the other, a silk image embroidered on parchment.

 

 

Native American image courtesy: publicdomainpictures.net

Thin Skinned

scary-young-manThere’s something I figured out a long time ago: if I want to glean important information from my writer’s critique group: I must listen without falling apart. It’s still my book and I can write what I want, but if I choose to be part of a writer’s critique group, I have to close my mouth, open my ears, take legible notes, and grab hold of my pulse for the ride. Listening to someone else talk about my book, my baby, without the awe I feel I’ve earned – it’s hard not to fall sobbing on the floor. Ouch! I can’t be thin skinned in a critique group.

I’ve written often about critique groups, mostly from the perspective of how one should behave when attending, (respectfully) or relating how another writer missed an important message from the group because he stopped listening at, “This part didn’t work for me.”  I’ve belonged to several groups; most didn’t work for me for reasons I don’t need to discuss here. My current group suits my needs. The members are articulate and know a lot about writing, at least from an academic position. I accept that the purpose of belonging to such a group is to improve my writing by hearing what they perceive as me falling short of good storytelling in some part of my work in progress, the hard lessons of what doesn’t work. The comments that make me cringe.

My most recent submission to the group was the first chapter of my newest WIP, The Milkman’s Horse, a sort of biography of my grandparents and parents but without any real facts. Yes, you read that right – no facts, just some specious memories, poorly recorded tales, unsupported information, all of this from people no longer alive, or who no longer remember, or whose original accounts were wrong to begin with. I’m talking here about fiction, pure fiction, the basis of novels. The most factual contributions to this tale comes from my own memory bank, all of it put in storage before I turned eleven. Shortly after that birthday, my parents moved us 5000 miles away from family and friends, a distance so far that we basically lost contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and all other family historians who might have corroborated or corrected the facts stated by my parents. For you who are Millennial, this occurred pre  personal computer, Internet, email, and smart phone. All storage was filed in my head and could not be confirmed by Wikipedia. Letters took long to write, in ink, longhand, and replies took about as long as it might have taken the Pony Express to race across the Pacific Ocean. A roundabout way of telling you: I have no means to find out if anything I always believed about my family is true. So I made it all up. I’m nervous and sweating that someone will call me out on a “fact” I got wrong, about which  they know the truth. Ouch!

Which brings me back to my critique group and the review I got about the first chapter. The crits began with the usual introduction – I like your writing, you write well, blah, blah – polite and inconsequential, a sweet way to set me up for the real crit. But… the most common complaint was that there was too much Yiddish in the story. Everyone felt the same, no matter that a translation was only a phrase or sentence away. I did include more Yiddish than is commonly heard in New York among nearly all ethnic neighborhoods. My mom’s family spoke with much Yiddish interspersed between their heavily accented English, and also included deposits of Polish and Russian. Not only individual words, but the construction of the conversation reflected the way Yiddish is spoken, with modifiers coming after objects, and many sentences resembling questions even though they may have been demands. We third generation kids became adept at the olio of language.

A Yiddish-English conversation:

Nu, you want I should tell you how mameh was farklemt after that meshugener Polack Yid, mitten drinnen, tells her his watch is missing, she should go look for it and bring it back to him od razu.

“You’re eating my kishkehs out with all your tsores,” she’s yelling at him. “Nishtgedeiget, you should maybe look for it with that shiksa under your bed.”

“Kineahora,” he mumbles and backs away.

“Naydi tsarya,” she spits. Nu, down the steps he’s running and she hollers, “Hok nicht keyn tshaynik!”

Translation:

So, let me tell you how upset Mamah was after that crazy Polish Jew all of a sudden tells her his watch is missing, she should go look for it and bring it back to him right away. (od razu: Polish)

“You’re eating my guts out with your problems,” she yells at him. “Don’t worry, maybe you should look for it under the bed with your Gentile girlfriend.”

“Stay away,” he mumbles and backs away. (Kineahora is a superstitious Jewish phrase meant to ward off the evil eye.)

“Go tell the tsar.” (naydi tsarya: Russian) she says. So, he’s running down the steps and she hollers, “Stop bothering me.”

Is it any wonder I didn’t know the word “fork” until I was ten? It was always a gupple.

Though this conversation was not in my book, perhaps there was so much Yiddish it interrupted the flow for readers. Though the story will lose a bit of the flavor of my childhood, I should yank out some of the words. That will hurt. Ouch!

Mirtseshem – God willing – I’ll get it right, and if I don’t, it’s not for lack of trying to pay attention to my critique group. I may not have the thickest skin, you can see the blood hurtling through my veins. But I am paying attention to you.

 

 

Image courtesy: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net

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Birthday cake image courtesy: publicdomainpictures.net

 

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