Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Advice: How I keep myself from getting all mixed up about who I am

All me, just different.

Like most writers, I have a day job.  I am a teacher.  I am also a wife and mother, so adding a writing life just increases confusion to the standard complicated life of this everywoman.

I have to keep them from overlapping.  My teaching is about the student, not about what I do in my spare time. (Did I actually say I have spare time?  Little pebbles of time I can sometimes shaped into a useful mound is more like it.)  And when my husband needs to rant on about politics, house building, or the barking dogs next door, I can't be Mrs. Teacher Lady or the Don't Bother Me Now I'm Creating person.  Same goes when my daughter needs to talk boys or fashion or Minecraft, where she wants to go to college or,.....  Back to keeping them from overlapping because I think you get the picture.

I found that setting up different accounts on my computer helped.  Each is named specific to that person, has a unique password, and the desktop and Firefox persona are designed to express the habits of the individual.  The bookmarks for each personality are only on the login they belong to.  So if I get confused and want to go to a particular site, I won't find the address in my bookmarks which is a quick hint to me to check who I am.  Each email is unique and won't have the same contacts either, so I don't have to check my email to make sure the right name is at the bottom.  (I had one awful panic thinking I had not clicked on the write persona for an email I was sending when I kept everything on one login.  Not going through that again.)  My phone is rigged to check all the email traffic, but they are not lumped together.  I keep them separate with different signatures.

So when I am L. Darby Gibbs, my desktop is an ever changing landscape of mountains, trees and flowers that remind me of New Hampshire.  The mom/wife in me has a more organized setup: a single landscape of an old stone house with a bright red door and roses by the stoop.  Teacher lady sports a cubist environment.  These personalities are reflected on my Mozilla page design as well.  The profile picture for each personality is different, too.

That is my simple solution.  The person I login is who I am.  It is particularly easy on Windows 8 to have all three personalities logged in.  I can moved from one to the other fairly quickly, yet it is clear which is which. 

So if you are juggling emails, platforms, website logins, and audience, try creating different computer logins.  There is no law stating that each person must really be a different person.  Just like when you set up that account for the child/ren in your life, you can also set them up for the different aspects of your life without feeling as if you have a split personality.

Do you have a simpler way of doing this?  I am all about simplicity, and I would enjoy hearing how you manage your different selves.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

You can't wear a bowler hat in 1861, just in case you were wondering

I write time travel novels, and one of the features that stands out when a character travels in time is fitting in with the culture.  That includes clothing, behavior, hair styles, social interaction and such.  Since my characters move about in time, I have had to research to make sure that Mick is wearing the right kind of hat (top hat, not bowler, by the way) when he takes a stroll in Boston 1861 or Emily's hairdo is appropriate for 1634 in Stepney, England.

That is part of taking on a time travel novel; it is just the nature of the beast.  But I love history, so any reason is a good excuse to immerse myself in the past.  It is time consuming and it is inspiring.  The simple endeavor of describing the sound of horses pulling a carriage down the street led me to learn what kind of paving stone was used on early Boston roads.

I wanted to know if Boston had dirt or cobble roads in 1861.  It is a simple question, but the answer carries a significant difference.  The thud of hoof on dirt is quite different from the sharp plod of a shod step on stone.  But I learned even the diction mattered.   There is a big difference between a sett and a cob, and which was used on the street effected horses and carriage wheels, too.  A sett is a flat granite stone laid in rows which were kinder to horses and did not wear out carriage wheels too quickly, while cobs, round stones that were not just awkward to walk on but dangerous due to their slipperiness, produced an annoying rocking motion.  And that effort to be accurate is meant to add authenticity to my novels.

Though my books are part of a series, they are not focused on one character but on a family of characters who are close in friendship or in family connections.  Brent Garrett is the main character in the first book (In Times Passed).  His daughter Misty picks up the time traveling bug in the second book (No-Time like the Present), and Mick and Emily, Brent's brother- and sister-in-law and Misty's foster parents, take up the baton in the third book.

The third book is where I had the most fun working with "costuming" because Mick and Emily are searching for Renwick, who has gone missing during a jump, and they are following clues as Misty finds them and forwards them on.   Since it's a bit of a mystery where he could have landed, and they have all of time to search, there are bound to be coincidental matches as well as reliable clues, but they are tough to tell apart.

So this detecting, time travel couple find themselves going to places unfamiliar.  Now I can't do research on times that have not come yet, but I can create such a place and time.  Still it must be unique and grow logically from what human beings do with fashion and interaction.  This excerpt is from the costuming room that Mick and Emily use to prep for their jumps.  In this excerpt, they are getting ready to go to Poukeepsie, New York, in 2082.

     "It's probably best we get dressed, Mick.  I think these outfits are designed to go together.  What do you think?" 

     Mick pulled his gaze from the empty doorway and looked at the clothes hanging on the closet extension.  He raised an eyebrow.  "I was hoping that one was yours, but I see now it must be mine."

     "They're not bad, Mick."  The two stood examining the outfits. 

     "I've never worn orange before," Mick said.  "Always thought it was illegal for a redhead to wear orange."

     "The brown coat and the tan pants probably keep it from overpowering the look."  Emily stood before the set provided for her.  On the shoe carousel, she saw a pair of tall black boots her size beside a set of brown ankle high stouts she knew were for Mick.  He stood to her right staring at the lower portion of the pants he would be donning.  "We'll figure those out when we get to them, Mick.  Start high and work down.  Ready?"  She started by taking off jewelry and emptying her pockets onto a tray.

     Mick nodded and removed his suit jacket, tossing it to the closet for return to the proper slot.  He continued to remove clothes until he could put on the first layer hanging before him.  It was a bright orange tunic with a V-neck collar over an under sheath of butter white.  The tunic tapered in, starting at the chest without being snug and stopped at the hip.  The long sleeves had butter white frills at the wrist.  Mick looked to Emily for comment, but she was busy pulling her pink tunic on sans trim and deep V-neck.  Another difference was that it stopped at just below her waist.  The material, a soft suede, was the same though.

     "If I put the coat on next, I'll feel like a flasher in a park," said Mick.  "I am going for the pants, but I am going to ignore those orange attachments at the ankle for now."

Emily nodded reaching for the knickers before her.

     After pulling the deep-waisted pants on, Mick shrugged into the calf-length overcoat in heavy brown suede.  "Must be going to Poughkeepsie in the early spring or late fall.  This is a warm outfit."

     "I think so, too.  These pants look like they stole the pattern from Louie the fourteenth."

     "Is that better or worse than genie windpants?" grumbled Mick.  Emily turned to look and laughed out loud.

     "I'm going to be armed and dangerous, little lady, so can the laughter."  Then Mick looked at her and choked and snorted.  "I feel much better now.  No one is going to shoot at us. You can't kill a man with a grin spread across your face.  What's that little black thing?"

     "It's a skull cap, and stop laughing at me."

     "I don't have one.  I don't have a hat at all."

     "Are you complaining?"

     "Don't get me started, woman.   I can complain about a lot more than not having a skull cap."

I love those two characters.

Book 3 publishes in July 2014

These two links provide access to the first two Students of Jump novels, my anthology of short stories and my non-fiction narrative frameworks text.  And I am off to research some more.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Simple to complex to simple to complex to simple: that's how we grow in everything

ring by ring, we build brevity, depth, complexity, simplicity
Every new skill or bit of knowledge we learn brings with it that usage curve that starts out complex, and as we gain understanding and mastery, we simplify and integrate.  That applies to life and work in general, but it is also the essence of growing as a writer.

My students practice descriptive imagery, and it is such agony for them.  They struggle with words like thing and stuff and painstakingly turn them into "blue-green fabric around stuffed spun polyester, stitched tight, bursting with fishy lushness among the two year old's many teddy bears" and beam with pride at their accomplishment.  It is indeed worth their excitement and pleasure for creating an image.

They repeat the exercise, draw the lesson into their writing, fill the pithy lines with gaudy images, each clamoring for attention, none greater or lesser than the other.

They learn discernment. They learn to select which images need to stand ahead of others.  They learn the pithy line has a place.  "The child's toys, a jumbled plethora of giraffes and Teddy bears, were topped with one lone length of glimmering scaled fishiness.  It flopped to one side, scalloped fins lolling over, soft tail aswamp in the white fuzz of a round-faced kitten."

The struggle begins again to create the perfect effect. The image that sets up place without overpowering.  The symbol that will appear at necessary intervals to carry a theme, support a motif.  It is a battle of controlled inspiration that requires complex planning, the ability to draw back from the precipice of too much and pull in from the wide open range of subtlety.  It is nail-biting, tongue out the side of the mouth, pencil tapping concentration.  It is love and hate of the written word, the designed phrase, the scintillating sentence.

They take another run at it.   This time much has become just part of their writing.  Meaning and clarity hold precedence, the image part of the foundation, not the crowning glory of the effort.

Simplicity gains complexity, complexity turns to simplicity, simplicity participates in the complexity, complexity feels like simplicity.

And this process does not change. We never reach the last summit, but keep climbing to the next.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The variety of the story beginning -- 57 and counting

start with something & keep writing
What better post to discuss beginnings on than In the beginning....  Where to start the story?

  1. Start with any word that comes to mind -- the beginning is just that: a place to start.
  2. a character talking to another character
  3. the character talking to the reader
  4. the character talking to the self
  5. start when things went wrong
  6. start when things finally went right
  7. begin with the ending
  8. begin with an argument
  9. describe an image
  10. the main character meets someone new
  11. a favor is called in
  12. start with an article of clothing and have your character put it on
  13. describe what the main character sees
  14. describe a smell
  15. start with a cup of coffee, a glass of juice, a piece of toast
  16. have him place groceries down before the cashier
  17. describe everything but the visual in a scene
  18. start with a woman crying
  19. start with a man laughing
  20. a fretful child
  21. blow something up
  22. knock something over
  23. land a plane with difficulty
  24. have the car skidding out of control
  25. drive around the circle of a town's central square looking for a parking spot
  26. stand up from being knocked down
  27. have the cat licking its paw seated next to a severed hand
  28. roll up a garden hose, water spraying everywhere
  29. wake up to the sound of a dog barking 
  30. have him pack his clothes into a grocery bag
  31. the family scrambles to exit a house when a car pulls into the driveway because it is not their house
  32. pull a ticket from beneath the windshield wiper
  33. a stack of papers on the desk,and an empty out-box
  34. run out of staples and cry about it
  35. the chair leg breaks
  36. pick at a sore
  37. dye her hair another color and put on clothes that don't quite fit
  38. a pipe burst in freezing weather
  39. the car breaks down 500 feet from the entrance to the drive way
  40. the car loses power while your character is driving down the highway
  41. lock their keys in the car
  42. the character checks every day under the car for rattlesnakes.  One day one is coiled beneath.
  43. step in a mudpuddle
  44. step off the curb and be struck by a bicyclist
  45. set a stone in a cobbled walkway
  46. draw money from the bank
  47. the loan goes through
  48. go looking for a new car
  49. quit his job
  50. walk away
  51. run away from something dangerous
  52. run away from someone who loves her
  53. break a promise 
  54. bury a pet
  55. talk to God, tell him how things are going since last the two talked
  56. ask your character a question and write down what she answers
  57. have your character describe someone he doesn't like