Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday's Children: Inspired by History

I admire writers who create new worlds. What a lot of imagination it takes to develop a setting, civilizations, and technology or magic in addition to all the other components of a story.

I venture to say that the historical fiction writer does something similar. The only difference is that there are usually real artifacts and evidence of that other world--the past.

The truth is, we probably have it easier than people at any time in history. We eat better and have better medical care, for sure. Our houses are solid and climate-controlled. We have lots of gadgets that mean we don't have to draw water from a well and wash clothes by hand or worry about food spoiling. We don't have to go to bed at sunset because candles are handmade and you just burned the last one to a nub.

Why then is the past so fascinating to many of us? Besides the desire to wear sweeping gowns or wield a sword, I think many of us conceive the past as more interesting and romantic yet simpler, with better values. Probably people in other eras felt the same about times previous. Woody Allen's film, Midnight in Paris, makes this point. The MC travels back to the 1920s, which he believes is the perfect period for a writer. A woman he meets there, an artist's model, believes the best period for her is the Belle Epoque, the late 1800s. 

I have two favorite periods. One is the 1880s-1910, the grand hotel era. Not only was it an intensely creative time for artists (art is one of my passions), the architecture was incredible (another passion). The wealthy in the so-called Gilded Age had the money, imagination, and taste to create houses and public buildings that were eclectically beautiful and often whimsical. They showed appreciation for Nature's majesty by creating elaborate gardens and many of our national parks. During that period, they believed in important connections between Art, Landscape, and the Divine. Vacations lasted all summer and were spent in lavish, sprawling hotels located in gorgeous spots.

My other favorite period is the 1920s. The Flapper--independent and bold, gorgeous in silk and satin and beads, dancing all night and riding in roadsters with chisel-chinned college men...The 1920s were a seminal time for women. They forged their own path and have never been more drop dead glamorous.

The challenge of writing historical fiction is to place yourself there. To feel, touch, see, and even smell it. To imagine landscapes and towns and cities as they once were. You must create characters true to their time and way of thinking. Research is key, and perhaps in another post, I'll share my secrets regarding digging out facets of the past that will enrich your writing.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thursday's Children: Inspired by Frites and Fries

I know you're thinking: what the heck is she talking about? Aren't frites and fries the same thing? By definition, yes. But you never see "fries" in fancy restaurants, do you? They are always "frites."

I am using this humble food item as an analogy for--what else--writing. Frites are served on dome-lidded platters. They are perfectly crisped, not greasy, and oh so delectable. In contrast, fries are limp, soggy, cooked in old oil and served in grease-stained cardboard containers. Frites = good, fries = bad.

I started my writing career as a business writer, which at least gave me lots of experience being succinct and meeting deadlines. Naturally, I wanted to write fiction (the most fun!)  since childhood but I lacked something vital: inspiration. I quite simply didn't know what to write about.

Like most aspiring writers, I devoured frites constantly and avoided fries whenever possible. But it was a serving of fries that first inspired me. Surely, I said to myself as I threw the fries across the room, I can do better than THIS! Those lousy fries gave me the confidence to try.

Disclaimer: I know in the superstitious society of writers, we're not supposed to criticize anyone's work. Reason one is, who are we, lowly writer-worms, to judge? And two, if we diss someone, our work might be slammed in turn. Plus we know how much it hurts. OK, that said, how many of you secretly agree and have been inspired by fries not to our taste and standards of reading?

Now on to frites as inspiration. No, I never picked up Shakespeare and said, I can do better! Ha ha. But frites inspire me all the time. I love love LOVE frites. Deft description here, subtle plotting there. Atmosphere. Intrigue. Narrative drive. Heart-pounding truth. Tears. Laughter. Worlds you can dive into from page one. Characters that you don't want to relinquish at "the end." Sigh.

Frites and fries: all potatoes but some are better potatoes than others. However, tastes vary widely and other readers may feel differently.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Thursday's Children: Inspired by Revenge

As a writer toiling in mostly quiet obscurity (or quiet mostly obscurity), I've enjoyed connecting with other writers through contests, the Blueboards, and Twitter. Then I heard about this blog hop...Thursday's Children, where writers talk about inspiration. Sounds like fun, another way to make new friends and share the writing journey.

Inspiration comes through so many sources but I thought I would focus on one that is so sweet: revenge.

Now, as a good person (ahem), I don't believe in actually getting revenge on people. Living well and all that. Plus who wants to lower themselves to be like THAT?

(sounds of hands rubbing together with cackles of glee) But I do have a saying: Don't Piss Off A Writer!

In our deft hands, the most egregious character flaws, personality disorders, iniquities, screwing-overs and "f***** withs" can be avenged through a discreet character assassination, er, portrayal. Names and identifying characteristics changed to protect the guilty, of course. More likely, the writer's pocketbook, life, and personal property.

Think of it: the jerks in your family, ex-lovers, horrible bosses, obnoxious co-workers, all those creatures who have messed with your mind and life--don't they inspire you to create truly authentic portraits of the vile underbelly of humankind?

I thought so. Lift one and toast the writer's fount: revenge!

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