Sunday, June 29, 2014

When Characters Hijack the Outline

Today I took a look at the outline for the final chapters of The Storm Women. Last week I finally put Chapter 14 to bed and found that the Chapter 15 outline takes the story places my characters no longer want to go. I rather guiltily deleted the Chapter 15 outline in its entirety and began writing the following chapter without losing the basic thread of the story.

The question facing me now, “Does an outline help or hinder the writing of a novel?” I’ve heard some authors say they wouldn’t think of writing without an outline, and others who feel constrained by using one. Of course, I expected changes in the outline would emerge, but not so drastic as to cause the demolition of an entire chapter. And I have a feeling much more dismantling is yet to come.

Now that I’ve gotten to know Opal better, I can see the story playing out in a much different way than I’d planned when I wrote the outline.  Secondly, each of the elements in the outline take many more words to express than I imagined. And third, as the characters reveal themselves, their personalities begin to dictate the plot line.

I recently read that it’s not good to worry about the plot too much, but rather to let the characters actions and personalities reveal the story’s direction. It seems this gradual process gets sidelined when a predetermined destiny is spelled out in an outline. Here I thought I’d done a great thing by actually finishing an outline for this novel. Previously I’d get only halfway into a novel’s outline and maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

Defining my writing process has proven to be much more complicated than I originally anticipated. I’ve developed a style, but I’m still struggling with the best ways to approach the writing. I’m really annoyed with my characters for running amuck of my precious outline!

Tidbit: Giving up is not an option.

Saddle Up!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What if You Must Write “What You Don’t Know?”

“Write What You Know” has been drummed into my head by teachers, magazine articles and books about writing since I got the bug to write years ago. Now one of my characters has escaped from Arizona to the heart of Los Angeles. She arrives in 1955 to make a mark in the music industry. Here I am trying to write “what I don’t know.”
I’m making headway in becoming familiar with the landscape where my character, Opal, walks, lives, and works. Can you believe I’ve found videos and photos from the 1950s on the Internet? One of Opal’s closest friends lives in the area known as Bunker Hill, and I’ve viewed a driving tour around those streets that was filmed in the 1940s.
This area wasn’t a victim of urban renewal until the early 1960s, so the buildings I’m seeing in the video would have survived into the 1950s. It’s a place where old Victorian houses reside among brick and mortar apartments and hotels. There are drug stores, dry cleaners, small grocery stores and other mom-and-pop businesses conveniently tucked within walking distance of these residential buildings. 
I also discovered a cache of photographs of Bunker Hill taken by George Mann during the 1950s. His daughter found them in the basement as she prepared for a move. She held exhibits of his work and now they are posted on the Internet. What a treasure trove of street scenes and structures just as they looked when my character lived among them.
With these images lodged in my mind, I’m having better luck imagining Opal walking those streets and settling into the city. L.A. is a world away from the dusty streets of Mineral City, but Opal feels at home here in the company of a diverse and creative community of musicians, poets, actors, and artists. She thinks she might find her voice here and make a name for herself out from under the thumb of her mother.
Just a thought: Sometimes writing feels like swimming through a murky pond.

Solution: “Just keep swimming!”

Write On!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bop and Swing = the Sound of Cool West Coast Jazz

If you were in Los Angeles in the 1950s and hot to hear West Coast music, you’d head to The Lighthouse CafĂ© or maybe The Haig. Then again, you might take a walk on Central Avenue in Watts. You’d likely hear R&B and jazz floating out of every jazz club door. Musicians like Etta James, the bassist, composer, and bandleader Charles Mingus, Lionel Hampton, trumpet players Miles Davis and Jack Sheldon knew the place. If you’re curious, listen to “Central Avenue Breakdown” and let Lionel Hampton and Nat King Cole take you “right downtown” on YouTube:


I’d like to walk down Central Avenue back in the day 10 years before the six days of Watts’ riots in the summer of 1965 and listen to those mellow sounds all night long.


Research sure can be fun! A couple of other things I ran into while rooting around in 1950s LA were the Watts’ Towers and the Angels Flight Railway. I guess I’ve had my head in the sand because I was unfamiliar with both. In case you’re in the same fog as me, the Watts’ Towers were built by an Italian artist over a period of 30 years. You can still visit them and marvel at their height, whimsy, and oh-my-gosh power. The Angels Flight Railway with its trolley-like train cars used to transport people up steep Bunker Hill. It’s been moved due to urban renewal, but you can still visit and ride. Delightful!


Have I written a word over the last two days? I’d have to answer with a resounding NO! I did catch up with Opal, but I still needed to feel the pulse of LA in 1955 and listen to its heartbeat. Bless YouTube for providing all those things. There are 1950s films, audio of the music of the times, and lots of inspiration for a writer on the trail of an elusive character who refuses to show herself. I think I’m sneaking up on her now, so maybe tomorrow there will be actual words on paper. Perhaps she will agree to walk down Central Avenue with me and listen to the music.


Movie Quote: “Take a walk on the wild side, Lowenstein!”  Nick Nolte to Barbara Streisand in The Prince of Tides. Let’s try that in LA!


Write On!



Friday, June 13, 2014

I'm Back!!!!

After clickling through to my blog from Facebook this morning, I discovered I'm no longer locked out of Blogger. Hooray! I guess there must have been technical troubles with the site itself rather than with my particular blog.

That's the good news. The bad news is that I haven't worked on The Storm Women for several weeks! I've had the "cough from Hell" for about a month and a half. It turns out a blood pressure medicine called Lisinopril - an ACE Inhibitor - is responsible. I'm certainly not taking that anymore since I'm one of the 20% of people with this side-effect.

I now have some soft-gel caps called Tessalon Perles that are supposed to suppress this persistent nagging cough. I'm up to 200 mg. of it now with mixed results. I'm praying I'll be able to stop coughing soon. I am truly worn out with these severe coughing fits. Sleeping is quite a trick as well since I'm frequently awakened with the cough.

I'm still writing about one of my central characters, Opal. She's the wild child from the 50s and 60s, so the research into the music biz in L.A. during this time has slowed me down a bit. I'm fascinated by what I'm learning about the musicians at the birth of rock-and-roll. The phenomenon began with Rhythm and Blues and guys like Johnny Otis, who turned out to be a big player in the LA music scene with his Barrelhouse Club and California Rhythm and Blues Caravan in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

It's difficult for me to imagine the flavor of the times in LA, so I'm listening to the music and trying to transport myself across time. I'm counting on finding Opal, her unique sound and her hopes and dreams skipping along inside those notes.

Wish me luck as I try to get back into the flow of the story after such a long break. I find myself playing writer avoidance games again, and it's so discouraging. I want so much to get this first draft finished and start polishing!

I'm delighted to be communicating again, and I hope you'll come along as The Storm Women novel takes shape. I hope you'll encourage me to put aside all this struggle and angst as I dig back in.

Full Moon at dawn thought: Get with it! It's a new day.
I'm Currently Reading: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Write On! Read On!