Inspiration in the New Year: Simplicity

Now that the holidays are (finally) over, we writers can get back to work (or at least I can, since I seem to have taken too long a holiday from it). As a result of busily working two jobs for the last several months, my writing outside of this blog has all but disappeared and I madly desire to get back on track. My imagination craves an outlet for the myriad scenarios running amok in my mind. But first I need to whittle it all down to a doable list of projects.

That new nutrition book, for example; you know, the one with the first few chapters already completed? Probably going to make its way to the Recycle Bin on my laptop; it was one of the works I referenced in Lay Your Past to Rest. I’ve decided there are already some excellent books out on that very topic, so why try to compete with them? They’re written by successful colleagues with more than twenty-five years of practice under each of their belts (I have less than twelve). What could I possibly say that they haven’t? What would you do?

I’m even re-vamping my workshop. I decided a fresh approach is needed to draw more people in for the all-day class. What’s my inspiration? Boredom, mostly, with the “same-old, same-old”. Time to breathe new life into a stagnant one. Throw out the old, bring in the new, right?

Has your writing become a bit stale as of late? With a whole new year upon us, perhaps it’s time to take a writing inventory to decide what’s still working and what’s not. I like writing nonfiction, but I realized I prefer fiction – more freedom of expression, which to me, is far better (and more fun).

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” ~ Confucius

Where to find inspiration for our writing this new year? With a new presidency almost upon us, I feel we will not be lacking for parody material…it’s as if the situation demands it. There’s a lot going on out there in our big world. How can we be heard? How can we stand out? As always, we must create in a way that is best for each of us, not in a way that someone else thinks is right. Which is why I’m cutting back on following various groups on LinkedIn (and other sites) – it’s information overload. In this new year I wish to simplify my life a bit more. Avoiding frivolous junk news will surely increase the amount (and quality) of work I produce, simply because there will be less interference from trivial events that have no bearing on my life.

Perhaps in this new year we writers can decide to live more simply to create more fully. With less interruptions, we can better focus on what’s important: telling our stories.

“Writing is an escape from a world that crowds me. I like being alone in a room. It’s almost a form of meditation- an investigation of my own life. It has nothing to do with – I’ve got to get another play.” ~ Neil Simon

Paint a Picture: Our Words As Our Brushes

As writers, we are artists whose canvass is the mind of the reader; our brushes are the words we use to create the story. Some paint a broad picture while others paint a smaller, more narrow picture. I prefer to read stories with some (but not too much) well-placed descriptives (adjectives and other modifiers), as they lead me through a maze of landscapes, cityscapes, and textures I knew not of, with characters carved as from real life.

Has writing fiction nowadays changed the way we paint our broad brushes? The evolution of language has certainly modified our written expression to a great extent, especially in the last two centuries. What if someone wrote in the frenetic way Van Gogh painted?  What if someone wrote as Pablo Picasso painted during his Cubist period, or his Blue period, or during his early years when his work was more realistic? An interesting thought to ponder, comparing their art to ours.

One shining example of just-the-right-amount of descriptive words (in my opinion, anyway) is the book The Long Knives are Crying, by Joseph Marshall III. As a result of his writing savvy and storytelling prowess, he paints a broad but exceptionally detailed picture of life on the Plains in the late 18th century, during a time of war and strife between Lakota and the U.S. government. Throughout the whole book, I was carried along by his choice of descriptive words. I swear I can find my way across that part of the country based solely on his knack for painting a picture of the landscape down to the tiniest detail:

“High above the frozen river, the Lakota sentry hidden inside a tangle of deadfall gazed intently at the horse and rider below him on a wide plateau. His expression changed little as he noted that the buckskin horse was following the game trail along the north bank of the meandering ribbon of snow-covered ice, moving in a westerly direction.”

The following is a portion of a bad example of descriptive writing I found online; it’s too long and wordy for this blog, so I’ll share only a portion:

“Chocolate. Three different types and three different distinct flavors, each of which  has its own unique benefits. Because, you know, chocolate is sooooo healthy. It has no sugar in it whatsoever, and has tons of vitamins and minerals (she wrote sarcastically) Chocolate may not have health benefits, but its unique and rich flavor has been influencing human actions since the time of the Aztecs,  who used cocoa beans. Historians estimate that chocolate has been consumed for OVER 2000 years!!! That means that chocolate has been around since the fall of the Egyptian empire. When most people think chocolate, they think of a yummy delicious substance that can be eaten, but what about a substance that people can drink? Not hot chocolate, but actual normal chocolate that you can drink?” (source: https://sites.google.com/a/g.coppellisd.com/expository-writing–carrie-erin-katie-aparna-stephanie/descriptive/bad-examples)

I love to learn how to better include descriptive words in my own writing by reading other shining examples. With the explosion of self-publishing sites, many more writers are taking a turn at telling their stories. But are they of good quality? Do they dare to take us for that imaginative ride so many crave from good fiction? I dare say, with the Digital Age upon us, I am concerned that our ability to express ourselves with language will continue to devolve, as our dependence on computers that think for us grows. Bad grammar abounds and I find myself craving the classics, for the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, and Robert Luis Stevenson. They were writers that painted with their words as beautifully as any Picasso or Van Gogh painting.

 

Lay Your Past to Rest

I’m a Tarot fan and I check my reading daily. Today I got the Judgment card. With Fire as its ruling element, Judgement is about rebirth and resurrection, and laying the past to rest. It got me thinking, as cards like this usually do. Along with the usual emotional basement of hidden/repressed childhood experiences I’ve yet to resolve, I find myself pondering the mystery of my unfinished works: a sequel novel (to Rescue on White Thunder), a coffee table blend of family tree/cookbook, a separate adventure novel, another nutrition book, and some miscellaneous works. Should I finish them or move on? There seem to be many starts but few completions. I desire to finish them but I don’t. Do you have the same experience? What would you do in this situation?

I particularly liked this part of the reading:

“There is no way to leave the past behind. Each step wears down the shoe just a bit, and so shapes the next step you take, and the next and the next. Your past is always under your feet. You cannot hide from it, run from it, or rid yourself of it. But you can call it up, and come to terms with it. Are you willing to do that?”

So each book I write shapes the next book I write? I suppose I could apply it that way. I’ve ignored my writing for some time now; working two jobs leaves little time or energy for tapping the imagination or doing the nonfiction research. But this message is more about making the conscious decision, and having the courage, to let go of whatever is not working. And that includes any unfinished writing. Perhaps unfinished work is meant to be an exercise, a way to stretch my mind and sharpen my writing skills. Perhaps it’s a way to find my voice, a way to come to terms with who I am as a writer and storyteller. Am I willing to let go? Only time will tell.

In the end, it will be best to lay some of it to rest, and focus on what is most likely to flourish (and allow me to grow as a writer). I wish the same for you.

Happy Holidays

 mistletoe

 

 

Is No Pain Really No Gain?

I know artists are supposed to write/paint/create from their pain, but it never works for me. If anything, it makes my writing worse, downright pathetic. What sounds good or interesting or adventurous in my mind when I’m sad, depressed, or stressed never comes out good on paper. Do any of you have this experience or can you work/create from pain? Do you feel that personal pain gives your work a certain je ne sais quoi?

The other morning I daydreamed instead of getting up to start my day at the usual time. I ran a scenario through my mind in relation to both a book I’ve contemplated writing (international suspense) and some life-changing events currently making my life way more challenging than I’d like (or can handle). The dialogue was West Wing-esque, one-liner banter between me and a male protagonist who I turned into not much of a protagonist after all. When I did finally arise, I thought about putting it on paper later in the day (I like to write after dinner, as I am now), because it sounded like it would be a good alternate beginning to the suspense novel.

The words flowed from my fingers. I struggled with a bit of the dialogue, trying to remember exactly how I’d envisioned it earlier, to get the feel of the scene just right. I tried to seamlessly weave it into the suspense book as a prologue to what I’d already written. That didn’t work. So I thought I’d try it out as a separate chapter that would explain my how main character got dragged into the mess happening in the book. That didn’t work either. As I read and re-read the three or so paragraphs, the words seemed lifeless, dull, and inadequate. The main character (a facsimile of me) sounded even worse on paper than what had been in my mind that morning. She was supposed to be someone down on her luck who happens across this man and together they become involved in a tangled web of deceit complete with mobsters, money laundering, extortion, and murder. I thought if I used my personal angst as the main character’s, she would come off as brave and high-spirited, facing danger and uncertainty. Instead, she came off sounding sullen and sarcastic, and completely unlikable. Absolutely paltry. Even I don’t like her and I’m practically her!

 I haven’t deleted it (yet) but I have decided to stick with the original opening. Maybe I can work it in somewhere, maybe not. Maybe I’ll keep it for now, as a reminder of what not to write. Or to not write at all when I’m not in a good place. For me, no pain is definitely gain – it’s when I have the most “juice.” Seems I write best when I’m feeling on top of the world and nothing or no one can bring me down.

You Have Too Many Adverbs, We Need To Operate ASAP

A funny, enlightening view of one of my less-than-desirable writing skills (and many others’, I’m sure). Read on…

P. S. Hoffman

Yesterday, I went to the Doctor’s to have my brain tested. She came into the room, staring at her charts, shaking her head.

“P.S. Hoffman, I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

“What is it? What’s wrong with me?”

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The Legend of White Thunder

For those who are not yet familiar with my work, I’m posting a FREE PREVIEW of a portion of one of my favorite chapters from my first novel adventure, Rescue on White Thunder. Originally, this particular character was not a part of the story; he came along at the right time and the rest of the story developed around him and his Native traditions. It’s the part of the writing process I enjoy most – the unexpected meanders and turns we writers take on the storytelling journey to entertain and enlighten.
 

Chapter 3: The Legend of White Thunder

(Amazon, copyright 2012 D. Thunderhawk All rights reserved)
 
“Leonard Laughing Bear is a six-foot man in his mid-fifties with a stout build and broad shoulders designed for carrying the weight of the world. Hair as thick as a Berber carpet flows freely down his back and is streaked with gray between strands of deep black. The lines on his face are a roadmap to the life history of an experienced elder. His left knee is bowed outward so when he walks he tilts a little to the left. His eyes are small, dark beads that glow with an intensity and hint of a deeper knowing, and are bordered by prominent cheekbones that seem carved from rock. He is a soft-spoken man with a velvety-toned voice that draws people in to listen attentively. He is a gifted storyteller.
three flames bullets 
Upon entering the library, Annie followed signs that read “Story Hour with Laughing Bear – All Ages Welcome,” down the east hall to Reading Room A. Inside, children of various ages vied for space up front and closest to a small stage set with a mission-style wooden chair. A leather fringed bag rested on the seat next to a microphone and stand; a gourd rattle and rain stick lay on the floor next to the chair. Adults, most likely parents of the excited children, Annie assumed, leaned against walls at the rear of the room on either side of the door. Annie joined them, not knowing what to expect. There was electricity in the air. A moment later, Leonard Laughing Bear stepped up on to the stage from behind a curtained-off area and a hushed silence fell over the room. The children sat cross-legged and leaned in, their faces beaming with anticipation.
 
Leonard opened the leather bag and removed a deerskin wrap containing a bundle of dried sage and cedar and a large fan fashioned of six eagle feathers drawn together with rawhide – one for each direction, and the Sky Beings and Mother Earth. He lit the singed end of the bundle and fanned the sweet, pungent curls of smoke first over himself and then over the crowd seated before him, speaking in a language they did not understand. When he finished, he dowsed the bundle in a small plate of sand placed on the floor at his feet. When the bundle no longer glowed, he carefully packed away the deerskin wrap and its sacred contents. He pulled a hand-carved cedar flute from the bag and placed the bag on the floor. Leonard sat in the chair, flute in his lap, and pulled the microphone closer, adjusting the height for maximum amplification. No one moved or made a sound.
 
Leonard spoke slowly, ritualistically. “Welcome children, parents, everyone, to Story Hour. My name is Leonard Laughing Bear. I am also called Wahúnkh-têshi, Keeper of the Spirit Cave. The sacred medicine bundle and prayers have been passed down to me by my mother’s people. My people, the Uşkéwah , have lived on this land for more than four thousand years,” he emphasized, sweeping his arm over the attentive crowd and gesturing with four fingers, “under the watchful eye of Washīshi Tetŭ and his children, who live on White Thunder Mountain in the Spirit Cave. Now I know many of you have heard the story of the Thunder Beings and maybe some of you do not believe, but I tell you, they do exist. So I will tell you the story of the Thunder Beings and how they watch over us humans. My mother and her mother before her, and so on back through time, have been the guardians of our oral tradition and now I pass it on to you.”
three flames bullets

“It came to pass long ago, before there were white people, when my people lived in peace and harmony with the land,” he began, leaning forward, sweeping his eyes across the front row of children, who seemed to barely breathe as he spoke, “When the Great Thunderbird, Washīshi Tetŭ, came to live on White Thunder Mountain.”

“It was during the Moon of the Drying Grass,” he continued, “when warriors were heading home from their hunts. Women readied for tanning the hides of animals the warriors brought back with them, and prepared a tipi for smoking the meat that would provide food for the people in the long winter that was to come. Others harvested roots and mushrooms.”

 Leonard paused, as if in deep thought, then continued, a note of foreboding in his voice. “One day, two of the young women, Woman With Fire and Talking Bird, were gathering mushrooms and wild turnips on the edge of their winter camp. Storm clouds raced in to cover the blue sky, leaving Woman With Fire and Talking Bird in darkness.”

three flames bullets
Leonard didn’t skip a beat. “Woman With Fire, a name given to her because she was strong-willed and outspoken, looked up to the sky and saw Nahünķpt′a, the Night Rider, a dark and powerful bird with red flames for eyes and talons so sharp they could tear a human to shreds with one swipe. Nahünķpt′a was a selfish creature who wished for dominion over all the lands as well as the sky, and he would kill any human who took from his land.” Leonard closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath as he vividly remembered how his mother used to tell him the story of the Evil One Who Was Dropped from the Sky.”