Favorite Quotes About Writing

I love collecting great quotes about writing. Here are ten I’ve culled from Zachary Petit‘s “72 of the Best Quotes About Writing” for Writers Digest

1. “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
Philip Roth

2. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
Stephen King

3. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
George Orwell

4. “Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.”
Hunter S. Thompson

5. “I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.”
Roald Dahl, WD

—Ernest Hemingway

7. “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
Virginia Woolf

8. “If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.”
Peter Handke

9. “For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”
Catherine Drinker Bowen

10. “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”
Samuel Johnson

And a bonus quote I love:

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. Elmore Leonard

Meet the Author: Rae Ellen Lee

My guest this week is Rae Ellen Lee, Pacific Northwest author of one novel The Bluebird House, two memoir adventures, I Only Cuss When I’m Sailing and My Next Husband Will be Normal – A St. John Adventure, and the editor and publisher of  anecdotes told by Post Hole Augerson, her father, titled Powder Monkey Tales — A Portrait in Stories.

Thanks for joining me, Rae Ellen. I just finished reading The Bluebird House and I fell in love with its quirky small Montana mining town characters. This tale of a haunted brothel was a readers’ choice selection of the Salt Lake City public library system. Rae Ellen likes to describe this book as a paranormal-historical-romance-adventure novel with a mystery and some mountain man recipes.  It’s a multi-genre feast.

I understand this is partly based on your own adventure of living in and renovating a former brothel. Tell us how that came about.

I just finished a fun blog post about this — how an innocent (some called it “bad”) choice I made one Montana spring day in 1992 came to haunt me for three years. For the price of a used car, I bought a collection of old buildings up in the mountains near Helena. You see, I’m somewhat addicted to novelty, and this gets me into trouble sometimes. What an adventure it was, living in a dilapidated old brothel during its renovation.  Did I mention it had no running water or indoor plumbing? This is the setting for the novel – that and the mining camp town. But most of the other events in the novel, like Molly getting stepped on by a moose and having a near-death accident while cross-country skiing, didn’t happen to me. The characters are authentic Montana, however, and some of them were inspired by real people I’ve known. I loved writing that book. It was like the story insisted on being told.

What got you started on your writing journey?

In the 1980s I lived in West Yellowstone while working for the U.S. Forest Service. One weekend, when it was nearly sixty below zero, a friend and I were wondering what to do. She read a lot and said, “You’re good at writing Environmental Assessments, why don’t you try your hand at writing fiction?” I began by writing an essay about living in West Yellowstone, and branched out to produce a travel sketchbook to the area, now out of print. Years later when I took a fiction-writing class at the Univ. of Montana, the instructor told me, “Do us all a favor and don’t write any more fiction.”  But I went ahead and did it anyway. My then-husband, Tom, and I started writing a novel together. We set the story in the Caribbean, where neither of us had ever been.  We flew there on a book research trip, and that set into play a total change in our lifestyle.  We moved from Montana to a sailboat in Bellingham so we could fix up the boat, learn to sail, and sail it back to the Virgin Islands. This sailing life was so astonishing to me that I wrote extensively about events as they happened, so I could make sense of it all. It was during this time that I read Anne Lamott’s wonderful book, Bird By Bird, which gave me courage to turn my writings into a memoir, If The Shoe Fits, published by Sheridan House in 2001.

You have a wonderful writing style that puts me right in the skin of your character and drops me into the mountain setting of this story. Have you studied writing?

Heidi, thanks for your kind statement!  I believe that writing in first person, present tense immerses the reader into the action.  I also enjoy reading books written in this style. It’s so immediate. And I’m an outdoor girl and have studied the details of landscape, so the setting is a key character in all my books. I’m writing a novel now that is mostly set inside a sawmill, so I’m working to capture the sensory details, like the smell of sawdust and pitch, the noise of  saws and other machinery, and what it’s like to work wearing a hard hat and safety glasses. For me, this setting is much more difficult to write about than a landscape. Fortunately, I have friends and family members in northern Idaho who have worked in mills and I consult with them to get the details right.

I have taken numerous creative writing classes and workshops, and read dozens of how-to books on writing. There is so much to learn, and always room for improvement.  I studied journalism and fiction writing at the Univ. of Montana; participated in a six-week fiction workshop at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C.; enjoyed a memoir writing workshop with Laura Kalpakian; and attended various writing conferences. I’m in an excellent writing group, and I’m telling you, they’re a tough bunch. It’s impossible to sneak an adverb or a trite saying past them.

I constantly strive to write better, with renewed efforts at the sentence level. For instance, I manipulate each sentence many times to make certain the emphasis is in the right place. Next I work to link the sentences. Then I play with specific word choices, studying my thesaurus.  And all of that has to result in a certain musicality when I read the piece aloud, or I start over. It usually takes a year to write a solid first draft, and two or three years after that to revise and polish the manuscript. I think it is essential that we put only our best work out into the world.

Your writing is infused with humor. Is that something you’ve had to develop or do you come by it naturally?

Humor is my drug of choice. I strongly believe the world needs more humor, and that my purpose in life is to take the truth, turn it on its ear, have fun with it, and help others do the same. Also, I’m allergic to alcohol, so I can’t drink to soften my troubles. I’ve had to learn to laugh at things. While some difficulties are simply not funny, like the loss of a loved one, there are so many other problems that can be made fun of. For instance, when my last husband realized at the age of sixty that he was really a she.  So many astonishing events took place during that time, and we both have a sense of humor, so we laughed a lot.  Not that we didn’t cry a lot, too.  It was a period of “high relationship drama.”

My father had a terrific sense of humor. His alias was Post Hole Augerson. Throughout my childhood he told stories about his life on an Illinois farm, and later about how he headed west with a friend and when they saw someone catch a fish in northern Idaho, they slammed on the brakes and settled there. His stories captured the history, hardships and especially the humor of his life.  I believe I got some good “humor” genes from him.

I love the titles of your books, especially My Next Husband Will Be Normal—that’s a real attention-grabber. Did you come up with the titles yourself?

One reason I became an “indie” author is to maintain control over my titles.  A brash statement, I realize. But my working title for If The Shoe Fits was I Only Cuss When I’m Sailing. However, my conservative publisher refused to publish a book with the word cuss in the title. I like my title so much better, and now that all rights have reverted to me I’ve e-published the book with its original title. The working title of my first novel, The Bluebird House, was What Darwin Said About Music, from the title of an article I found in the walls of my old brothel. The agent and publisher both said it was too obscure, and they’re possibly right.

Finding a title for my second memoir was difficult. I wanted to use The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful, but that phrase is more or less owned by Jimmy Buffet. Another one was Objects in Mirror Are Better Looking Than They Appear. Too long. I did not invent the title, My Next Husband Will Be Normal. My husband bought me a shirt with that saying on it as a joke.  When I researched it, I learned the saying is not trademarked. I could use it as a title.  Women love it.  The joke, of course, is that men are so different from women that to many of us they don’t seem “normal,” even the ones who don’t change gender on us. I wanted the title to show the humorous slant of the book, and I wanted to be able to add – A St. John Adventure so the title would show up when someone searches for info on St. John.

The title of my next novel, the one set in a sawmill, is Cheating the Hog. While some people might mistake this for a diet book, the title is the name of an actual job in the mill.

What authors or books have influenced your writing?

Anne Lamott, of course.  I love Bird By Bird about writing and life. I also love her book, Operating Instructions, about her son’s first year of life. She writes with honesty and truth, and a huge dose of self-deprecating humor. Another important book that helped me is On Writing Well by William Zinsser. The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris helped me structure The Bluebird House.  His idea of establishing plot points at key locations throughout the novel, and then writing from one plot point to the next, worked well for me.

For inspiration I read anything by Mark Twain. I sometimes reread parts of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Pam Houston’s essays and short stories are unabashedly personal and compelling. To name only a few.

What accomplishment are you the proudest of in your life?

In 1986 I recorded my dad’s stories, edited them for chronology, and published Powder Monkey Tales – A Portrait in Stories.  In doing this project, I asked him lots of questions and learned details about his life I never would have known. He appreciated being asked. One of his stories, The Osprey and the Fishing License, was selected to be performed by an actor in the Idaho Centennial Play, Idaho Tales, Tall and True.

Which of your own books is your favorite? Which was the easiest or hardest to write?

The Bluebird House was easiest to write, not that it was so easy. I worked hard on it. My favorite book at the moment is, My Next Husband Will Be Normal – A St. John Adventure. The book documents a specific time on St. John (2001–2006). I’ve been back to the island, and certain developments have changed the island experience a lot. The book also captures what it was like to move to paradise and discover the difference between living there and being a tourist. That was a shocker. And then, too, my brilliant and funny (and difficult) husband realized he was transgendered. This book was also the hardest to write. It’s very personal, but we both hoped by my writing the funny side of the experience that others (including spouses and family members of other transgendered people) might relax a bit and allow a more compassionate view of the situation. Not that it’s an easy experience to go through. One reader said, “I laughed. I cried. What a ride. What a story.” And that’s what it was like for me to live the experience, as well as relive the events as I wrote and revised the manuscript. As I wrote, I also felt like I was walking a fence. Some women thought my acceptance of my husband’s realization would contribute to “depravity,” while a few transgendered individuals, sensitive to disapproval, were insulted by my title. But now that the book’s been published, it’s being met with cheers from both sides.

What would you say to someone who tells you, “I want to write a book”?

I would ask them lots of questions to see how serious they are. I’d ask if they’d considered learning to play the ukulele instead.  If they really are determined, I’d find out if they want to write fiction or non-fiction and ask if they have a unique story to tell.  I’d offer some books that have been helpful to me, and answer any specific questions they might have. Other than that, I’d say, “Go for it.”

Synopsis of The Bluebird House: The place: Montana. The time: the present.

After a nearly fatal encounter with a moose and a terrifyingly close brush with middle age, Molly reassesses her life. The result: she ends her stale marriage and moves to a small mining town where she purchases The Bluebird House, an old bordello. A madam. A diary. A murder. And romance, too.  The Bluebird House has it all.

Rae Ellen’s books are available through her website www.raeellenlee.com and for Kindle at Amazon.com. Follow her on Facebook, on Twitter @raeellenlee, and at her blog.

Show, Don’t Tell Part 2

Here are more ways to “show” rather than “tell” in your writing.

5. Use the five senses: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, Taste. Not only describing, but using what the character sees, hears, smells, touches and tastes.

6. Setting: Example: a love scene. Is sunset in a park more romantic than busy street corner? Where an action happens makes an impression.

7. Tension: I once attended a workshop where the instructor said there should be tension or conflict on every page. That doesn’t necessarily mean a big confrontation or fisticuffs, but something as simple as your main character feeling uncomfortable—too warm, too cold. Feeling out of place, clothing too tight, fidgety during a long lecture, etc.

Which of these openings would attract the reader more?
1. It was a spring day in 1974 when Tom and I were getting ready to sail up the Sound to Block Island. We had bought the boat the year before, but this was to be the longest sail we’d tried …

2. The cold dawn roused us from grainy sleep, and we stumbled from our bunks into the cockpit to stare at the open water of the Sound, less than a mile from the marina. The numbness we felt was more than the cold, it was the uncertainty of our sail to Block Island…

Example: If you write, “He was a gorgeous hunk.” What does that mean? Does that evoke any emotion at all in you? That could apply to a lot of men. So maybe you write, “He was a tall, gorgeous hunk.” That’s also pretty generic. Doesn’t attract you much, does it?

Show your hunk with powerful details of action, setting and body language. i.e. He ducked as he entered the room, the door frame barely brushing the top of his wavy black hair. Stopping to survey the room, he took a deep breath, his powerful torso stretching the seams of his black knit shirt.

The housewives clustered around the table stopped their chatter. Six pairs of eyes turned toward the door, coffee cups poised mid-way to their open mouths.

Watch for “telling” words: the “to be” verbs, especially was with an “ing” verb. Example: He was seething with anger. Show it in how he feels inside or how he reacts physically.

Also the word “felt”—She felt a great sadness come over her. How does that actually FEEL? When you come across that usage, stop, close your eyes and remember a time you felt sad. Live through that moment again. Paint a picture of it in your mind. What do you see? What do you smell or taste? What physical things did you feel in your body? What triggered your reaction?

What else do you use to “show” rather than “tell” in your writing?

Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Comments (4)  
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Show, Don’t Tell

We’ve all heard this advice, but what does it mean and how do we accomplish it? I will share some of the ways here:

1. Emotion. Liking or disliking, feeling good or feeling bad about something. How a person reacts (physically and mentally) to a circumstance. Emotion gives a character direction. The character cares about something. He reacts to something that affects it.

It’s not as simple as just telling us that your character has a certain emotion—the character has to arouse emotion in us as the reader as well. That is empathy. We are pre-conditioned to react to certain things in a certain way. Death, sex, frustration, potential danger or humiliation evokes feeling in us.

So if we’re reading about a character’s reaction to one of those things and it reminds us of our own experiences, we identify with that character. It’s a “Yeah, Me Too” kind of feeling. Then you feel like you can root for this person—you’re on the same side. Even the bad guys have a sympathetic side.

Example: From David Baldacci’s Hour Game: A serial killer has been keeping law enforcement puzzled, using a different MO with each murder. Clearly, this is a cold-blooded sociopath.

He took off his hood as he drove away. Then he did something he’d never done before. He drove directly to the home where he’d just committed perhaps his most heinous crime of all. The murdered mother was in her bedroom. Tommy was in his—the third dormer window from his left. The kids got up at seven to be ready for school. If their mother wasn’t up by then, they’d go and get her. He checked his watch; it was one o’clock now. Tommy perhaps had six more hours of normalcy. “Enjoy them, Tommy,” he mumbled to the dark window. “Enjoy them … And I’m sorry.” He drove off, licking at the salt of the tears sliding down his cheeks.

Stages of emotion:
A.Physical reaction—how the body feels
B. Behavioral response—something you do whenever a certain thing happens. For example: you stub your toe—you hop on one foot, or swear, or sit down and cry.
C. Chosen response—How you decide to respond to situations, based on your background. How you experience emotion throughout your life. For example, when someone wants to argue with you, do you clam up and say nothing or do you become red in the face, your voice rises in pitch and you spew forth in a vehement lecture?

2. Dialogue. If you write: Jane was angry. What do you feel? Do you identify with her anger? No? How about: “I hate you, you lily-livered spawn of a rattlesnake.” Rather than “telling” you she’s angry, I “showed” you with the words she used. In writing this, I don’t need to say, “You lily-livered spawn of a rattlesnake,” she said angrily. The words show the anger. Whenever possible, use action and re-action instead of taglines (said).

3. Use behavior, gestures or action, to show the character’s inner feelings. Pounding the table. Stomping out of the room. Throw something at the lily-livered… spit, peer at him through narrow squinted eyes. Physical reactions are also great ways to show emotion. (internal—stomach clenches, cold chills, legs wobble, etc.)

4. Use Props or “Vehicles”. Using an object that reflects the character’s emotion. What she wears, carries and uses becomes part of her personality. Think of items you associate with certain emotions—a favorite song, picture, a food, or a certain scene. Note how hearing the song unexpectedly or seeing the sight will arouse a distinct mood in you. A better way to characterize than straight description of hair and eye color, height, weight, etc.

Example: Melissa’s eye color doesn’t show us much about her personality, but if she wears rhinestone catseye glasses, or if she drives an old wreck of a car, or if her plaid skirt is held together with safety pins, that tells us much more about what kind of person she is.

Check back on Monday to see some additional hints for “Showing, not Telling.”

Love and Holsteins at the Corner Cafe

My guest today is Sherry Wachter, writing as Bodie Parkhurst. She and other members of the BBT Café group are on a month-long virtual tour with their anthology of short stories, Corner Café, available on Amazon for 99 cents. Learn more about this book at the Blog Book Tours blog. Bodie’s story is “Love Song with Holsteins.”

Welcome, Bodie. How did your story come about?

The roots of this story grew out of a past filled with dairies. My great-grandfather ran a dairy farm, which he passed down to my great-uncle, who also ran it, then got rid of the cows and just had a farm for years. The actual setting was built around a childhood visit to another dairy farm, where I played happily for hours with the little girl who lived there.

Russell (the bull) came from stories my parents and grandparents used to tell about a dairy farmer and his wife who did exactly what Maggie would like to do—they made their dairy bull into a family pet—even called themselves “Mamma” and “Daddy” to it.

He got his name from my sister’s cutting steer, which she used to practice for rodeos. She got him as a calf, but it turned out he was friendly. He loved her sons, and they loved him. Feeding time became play time, and of course it was probably inevitable that they named the calf Russell (because that’s what one does with cows) and trained him to ride. At that point Russell lost his value as a cutting steer—he no longer believed he had to run from horses. A steer like Russell is just too good to waste, hence the story. No life experience need ever be wasted.

Is your main character, Maggie, based on a real person?

Maggie is no one person, but a tribute to a lot of farm and ranch wives I’ve known—women who feed and care for their families, keep reasonably neat houses, keep everybody dressed, and yet spend huge parts of their days working outside—with the cows, in the fields or orchards, wherever there’s work to be done. These are women who rarely ever sit down—and yet they seem to carry a kind of graciousness that makes it hard to see how very hard they work, and how very much they do.

Bodie, I’m quite familiar with women like this—my mother was one.

How did you get started writing?

When I was in college, my professor used to tell us to “write what we knew.” The truth is, I spent a lot of my life not knowing what I knew. I had a lot of experience, snippets of stories, but my family was the kind of family where there were a lot of secrets. Trying to understand our history was a little bit like crossing a creek by jumping from rock to rock—a story here, a story there, lots of dark water in between. And I definitely didn’t want to fall into that water.

What else have you written?

I’ve written a lot since then—a couple novels, several children’s stories, articles for historical magazines, a memoir, and I’m working on more memoirs, and a textbook. I’m also writing a music book for musicians who, for one reason or another, need a less complex, more linear form of musical notation, and I’m developing some of the art that I’ve done over the years for sale in textiles, housewares, clothing, and even, in one case, a painted memoir.

Bodie’s novels include Redeeming Stanley, (winner of Best of E-Books), a savage little tale of true love, old gods, bitches, bestiality, burnout, and above all, Payback; Good on Paper, another book about ranch women who find themselves in a world where Americana has gone wrong—the “All-American” life they lead in rural America conceals a twisted, deadly core.

She has also published Past Lives: A Journey, a collection of short stories that grew out of what she says she later learned was an ill-advised foray into solo past-life regression, and Benchmarks: A Single Mother’s Illustrated Journal (available as both an illustrated book and as an unillustrated “text-only” book), a memoir about the journey from single life to motherhood.

Her picture books include: The Someone’s in the Kitchen Family Cookbook; Secret History, A Painted Journal: A series of captioned paintings documenting passage from abused child to happy, successful parent; Building Something Better: A story of a woman (Harriet) and her car (Betsy), and what Harriet discovers when Betsy breaks down; and The Very Good Dog: A character sketch of a farm dog with “Personality”—sometimes a little too much personality, maybe. Bodie’s books are available on Amazon.com

BIO: Bodie Parkhurst is a writer, artist, and designer. She lives in a Craftsman worker’s cottage named Betty in the empty half of Oregon, with her son Patrick, two formerly-feral Hawaiian cats, and a ghost named Jesús. She has a Master’s degree in English with a minor in Art, got through college by driving a truck and working in a dairy, and believes that no experience in life should be wasted. If nothing else, it provides plot material. She provides cover design, typesetting, and print coordination services to various small presses, and self-publishers.

Learn more about Bodie Parkhurst at her blog, where she shares news about her writing, her life, her projects, her printing house Magic Dog Press and her family recipes.

Please join the BBT Cafe group at the next stop: Monday, June 11 Marian Allen http://www.marianallen.com/

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