Doing my homework

If I want to get published, I have to write something that will sell. For that reason, I have to do my market research, so I’m now a regular at the local library, checking out books to read.

Most agents, on their web pages, list authors or books they especially like. I collect reading recommendations from the pages of agents, adding them to my reading list. (Some agents ask the submitter identify authors who published work is like mine. I have to admit I don’t know the universe of published authors well enough to give a reasonable answer to the question.)

I’m enjoying a variety of books. Even within one author’s body of work, the variety can be quite interesting.

As I read, I’m looking at the shape of the narrative, how the characters are described, how the subplots connect to the main story arc. Issues of this type address the flavor and complexity of a story. I consider how each chapter is constructed, how the chapters advance the story. The order in which information is presented holds particular interest. I understand flashbacks can be over-used, but I also understand telling the story in chronological order can easily lead to long, boring sections. Often the experience of the narrative is more fun with surprise disclosures. After all, life is how you deal with revelations.

I’m also looking at the writing style. I have a book in mind, I can’t put clearly into a genre yet. The main characters are all in high school, so I imagine the “young adult” label might be applied. However, I don’t intend to constrain the subject matter, nor the vocabulary. I suspect it will be too long to meet publishers’ expectations for YA as well. As a result, I’m interested in the expectations authors bring to their younger readers. I’m seeing, in the YA books I like most, authors who give their reader full credit, don’t dumb down their language and don’t take care to keep the sentences short.

I’m enjoying all that fiction reading, and my market research is going well.  I’m reading two or three books a week, which isn’t too bad considering I work full time and write nearly every evening.

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Decorative, little pillows on the bed

You’ve seen them if you’ve seen a home makeover show.  Perhaps you have them.

We have those little, decorative pillows on the bed.  They come off when we turn down to get ready for bed, they go back on when we make up the bed.

I’ve read online that a researcher found that couple who make their bed together are likely to stay together. Well, we don’t make the bed together ever day. Sometimes I do, sometimes she does, sometimes we do, sometimes it doesn’t get made.

I’m a quirky fellow, sometimes I do something because it will be strange. My dear wife, bless her, takes these things without getting ruffled. (At least I don’t do many strange things in public, where she might have a more emphatic response.)

Two weekends in the row, she asked me to make the bed while she showered. She specifically reminded me to stack the little, decorative pillows back on the bed.

So I did.

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She asked me again this past weekend, so I stacked them again.

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Hey, she likes stacked rocks, I’m sure she does because she has a stack out in our garden. In both cases, they stayed as I had stacked them all day. She is so patient with me.

A few days later, she put them in an unconventional stack herself.

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She is so cool.

I write to find out how it ends

When I start on a new piece, I am so eager to finish writing it.  I can’t wait, I want to find out what will happen.

Sure, I have an outline of the story, but I have yet to write a story which follows the outline exactly. That outline doesn’t tell me the details, it just tells me what events have to be explored, and their order.

The exploration in detail, the act of writing the narrative, teaches me how the characters will deal with the events to follow. Sure, I’ve written character sketches, a few paragraphs each, but that just gives me their history, notes on their outlook, their motivations.  When I write the first sentence, I don’t know the characters very well – yet. By writing out what they’re doing and saying, I learn how they think, what matters to them, their characteristics. Writing about them is getting to know them, clarifying what they might do later in the narrative.

I write to explore what motivates people. I write to explore how people really think, discovering what they do as I write about them.

For that reason, I’ve learned I should write from the beginning. When I’m approaching half-way through I know the characters well enough to skip ahead. Still, I find writing the story out in time sequence helps me keep it coherent.

I devoted an entire chapter to a character tearing down a building, a harsh act of revenge. It would have come late in the book, in fact I thought it might be the climax.  It was also one of the earliest things I’d imagined, therefore one of the earliest I wrote out. It was detailed, 2000 words. I cut it out completely because, by the time I needed to fit that building block of the narrative into place, the two characters didn’t have a relationship warranting such a response.  The man I intended to destroy the building, I’d learned, wasn’t likely to do something so extreme. In the final version, the event in that building was different and the building was just a venue rented for the event.  The building block no longer fit the story.

The finished novel isn’t necessarily told in order by time. I wrote a long explanation of a drive from the city out into the country, what roads they took, what they talked about. The entire section became two sentences referring back to the drive, after the two people arrived at their destination. But writing the long version clarified for me a number of details about their relationship.

In a lot of major scenes, I’ve seen the story in my imagination. Sometimes I imagine multiple variations before I sit down to write. I’ve rehearsed important conversations, out loud, while driving in the car (alone).  The wording tended to change with each repetition. Imaging, I’ve learned, it like dreaming.  You can flit around, skip over details, make errors of continuity, and it never runs the same path  twice.  It isn’t the same as writing.

Writing it out is the first time I must watch the continuity, see how the actions I’ve imagined fit with the character I’ve already defined in what’s been written before. In many cases, the actual story, the one that makes sense because it’s faithful to the characters, isn’t the story I’ve imagined while driving, or sitting in the waiting area at the doctor’s office. I’ve shifted the story arc by what I learn about the characters along the journey to the ending.

I am just starting thinking about a story focused on the black sheep of the family, the brother of the protagonist.  I can’t figure out if the story will end with the brother staying on the wrong side, or if the brother can be won over to better behavior. I know just how the scene will start when he is presented with the opportunity to change, I just can’t tell you how he’ll choose. I realized I don’t need to figure it out. By the time I write about the event when he has to decide, I’ll know the brother well enough, the choice he’ll make will be clear.

Georgia Rae

Out here in the countryside of Middle America, one of the sources of entertainment is the County Parks. All summer long, they bring an assortment of musicians to the patio out behind the visitors center in one of the biggest parks.

A change from tradition took place a few months ago, in midwinter, the park held an indoor concert, giving us the opportunity to hear an impressive, young artist. I had the pleasure of hearing a lively performance by Georgia Rae Mussared, of Richmond, Illinois. Calling her a fiddler and vocalist and songwriter rather understates her skill set.

Let’s start by talking about her as an instrumentalist. About two years ago, she lost her previous violin to the rain and damp  while performing at a music festival. I understand a musician and their instrument have a particularly intimate relationship, meaning changes can be challenging. Georgia Rae appears to have fully transitioned to the new instrument she played beautifully.

Clearly, she has been learning from pickers, she displayed a mastery of percussion on the body of her fiddle  I’m accustomed to seeing from skilled guitarists. She also played some interesting scratch and percussion effects by using her bow on the strings in a manner my stern, traditional music teacher would most certainly have considered inappropriate.

She has a loop box and used it to excellent effect in the one-person show. Setting up the first layers is at risk of not being interesting music; with Georgia Rae every layer was interesting in its own right. She stored multiple loops, including her own background vocals, and brought them in and out of her performance.

Playing mostly music she composed, she moved back and forth between instrumentals and vocals.

While I thought some of her lyrics reflected her young age, she has a solid grasp of the word-play needed to write a good lyric. Two examples come to mind: the song title “Insomniac Coyote,” and the lyric I’ll quote, perhaps incorrectly, from memory:  “you’ll never fly if you don’t wing it,” in a chorus sung with the conviction of a person who has learned from doing exactly that.

I imagine she’s only just graduated from high school, yet she spends some of her time visiting high schools for fiddling workshops, a reflection on both her willingness to give back to a community that likely supported her for several years, and the music teachers’ recognition of the skill – and energy – she brings to music. All through her teen years, while ordinary girls worried about what to wear or whether they’d make the team, Georgia Rae has been out winning solo and duet fiddling competitions all over the country.

I was impressed by the energy, the whole-body commitment, she brought to making wonderful music. I doubt she could play as well if we asked her to hold still. It seems her primary motivation to play music is because she’s enjoying it, a fine place from which to build a career.

I predict a bright future for Georgia Rae, and I look forward to hearing her again.

Flowers

Every once in a while, I bring my wife some flowers, for no particular reason. She likes that very much.

I don’t just have the impulse every once in a while. I put a repeating event in my calendar, every several weeks, to remind me. Sometimes the reminder is convenient, sometimes it takes a week for me to buy flowers, sometimes I never act on the reminder.

Then I ruined everything.

A while ago, she commented on how consistent I was, bringing flowers. So, I told her I had a reminder in my calendar.

It seems bring home flowers on occasion is sweet and romantic. Putting a reminder in your calendar to do it is cold.  She’s a lot more spontaneous than I am, she liked the flowers more when she thought they were spontaneous.

I’m still bringing flowers, but she doesn’t always think they are as nice as she once did.

The lives she touches

About a year ago I attended a funeral. A friend’s mother had passed. A small event there has stayed with me.

Her funeral was attended mostly by family: her children, her adult grandchildren, and a few great-grandchildren. It isn’t as common these days, but some of her great-grand children lived nearby and knew this woman.  Life in middle-America’s small towns hasn’t changed as much as those poor folk out on the coasts.

The people attending the funeral were mostly dry eyed. She’d had a long and complete life, she was well into her nineties, her passing did not come as a surprise. The tone was a celebration of her life and recognizing the lives she touched, not so much about mourning.

As seems the norm in churches, the pews for the service seemed to fill from back to front. We walked forward to a row closer to the front, a gap of a few empty pews open between ourselves and the others further back. It turns out the immediate family filled all the rows ahead of us, so we were sitting right behind a man in his twenties, I imagine a grandchild, and his son, a great-grandchild.

The boy was perhaps five, he seemed quite somber. This young child knew his great-grandmother well enough that he was aware of her absence. Part-way into the service the boy started sniffling. The father lifted his son onto his lap, gave him a handkerchief, kissed him, whispered a few words, kissed him again. Wrapping his arms around the boy, he held him in a long hug for the remainder of the sermon.

What a good father. Of all the things at a funeral that might bring tears to your eyes, it was this father and a small, private act of love for his little boy.

I fully expect the father’s behavior was guided in part by what his parents learned from the departed woman. The son, in turn, has a better chance to be a good father himself, following what he learns by example from his own father, handed down a chain of parentage from the good parent to whom we gave a final farewell that day.

Life goes on, it has a continuity. People pass, but their legacy lives on in a thousand little details.

How do you pronounce your name?

Alain: Alan. To be exquisitely correct you put emphasis on the second syllable and the n is just a slight, nasal sound.

Richard: Rish-ard. Again, the final consonant is given little emphasis, you barely hear the d.

It is pronounced in the French language. Four generations ago, my father’s family came to the United States from Alsace, the land near the Rhine River that was either French or German over the centuries, depending on who had won the most recent war.

I am not a former French Defense Minister. I am not an accomplished Swiss ski mountaineer, but the activity sounds very cool. I am neither a visual artist nor an art photographer.

Alain Richard is the pseudonym of a writer. What’s the difference between a writer and author? An author has been published, a write aspires to be published.

I’m currently working on four novels:

  • a romance of two people, in their thirties, developing a relationship, despite barriers, from their meeting to their engagement
  • an erotic romance of a couple in their late forties who’ve been married for decades and bump into a way to bring a lot of passion back
  • a novel featuring rather ordinary kids trying to make their way through high school
  • a story, set in a small town in the Midwest, about three people who come home after trying to succeed out in the bigger world

One is a finished manuscript, one is a draft that needs a lot of work, two are character sketches and an outline. I have notes scribbled for a few more novels. When I get the first one published, I’ll change myself here from writer to author, and by that time I should have more projects underway.

I have a day job, I am an engineer working in healthcare. I write there, too. My reports typically describe conflict and a series of events leading to resolution, but there is rarely any room for character development, and, of course, we have rules prohibiting fiction.  Once in a while there is even an unhappy ending.