Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A moment that will someday appear in a story

Writers have these moments (not often enough) in life where something happens that we're like, Oh oh oh I am sooooo going to use this in a story someday!

This little moment is not clever or exciting, it's just a tiny slice of life with no rising action or dark moment of the soul, but it was rare and strange and beautiful, so I just have to share it.

Last Wednesday I was sitting in my office at work, the third floor of a University of Wyoming building, trying to puzzle out some web mapping code and trying to not be distracted by the Army ROTC unit doing drills outside my window, when a hauntingly lovely sound came floating up from some part of the building.

I work in the Agriculture building. I used to believe it was inhabitated by gnomes (there's another story about that), but I think they have departed due to some unspecified University policy, so there is nothing haunting about my building, unless you count the insect lab in the basement and the collection of butterflies pinned in a case.

Nothing ever exciting has even happened in my building, either, unless you count when students pull fire alarms to get out of taking exams.

So I was quite startled by the etheral sound suddenly wafting through the halls.  A violin playing.

Possibly just a recording someone was playing in a classroom? We are long way away from the Fine Arts building where an actual violin player might be found.  But I couldn't resist. I headed out of my office to track down the lovely sound.

Down the second floor; nothing there. Down to the first floor. Oh yes, getting closer.

If this was a recording, it was very impressive. I have NEVER HEARD SUCH A LOVELY SOUND. I had no idea the acoustics in this building were so amazing. (Actually, I did know it had impressive acoustics. You don't dare have a conversation on your cell phone in any of the halls; every word can be heard from adjoining classrooms and offices. Eerie acoustics. Might be the gnomes again).

I poked my head around a corner and discovered a girl reading flyers on a bulletin board. She has long hair, 5 inch heels, and a short skirt. While reading, she played this haunting melody on a violin.

Not just any violin. I have never heard such beautiful sound. I have been to violin concerts in fine auditoriums. I have endured two years of my daughter practicing the violin (wait. that is not a good example). We have had several impressive violinists who have done solos at our church.

One of the church soloists sometimes sits for me during summer when the girls are home a lot more. She is 15 years old, and has a rare form of macular degeneration which means she can only read if she holds a paper within an inch of her face. She will never be able to drive a car. (Side note: she is the most amazing teenager I have ever met: creative, smart, loves history, scorns other sitters who just play on their smart phones when they are supposed to be sitting kids. She doesn't just play with my kids, she INVENTS games for my kids).

She is saving up money to buy a really good violin; one that will cost her over $10,000.  I totally applaud her goal and wish I could give her a raise so she can buy this violin sooner, though I'm already impressed with the $2000 one she plays now (I fully admit I don't have a discerning ear for fine instruments).

Back to this random violin-playing girl in the Agriculture building, reading flyers on the wall while producing this heavenly sound.

She was an amazing violinist, and her violin must have been of the $10k or better variety, because I have never heard such beautiful sounds. It is was if a violin was a living creature singing. A fairy dancing inside the wood, weaving strands of musical gold from straw (or rather, from agricultural building molecules) like the miller's daughter in the Rumpelstilskin fairytale.

I stood in the stair well (out of sight) just listening, drinking it in, this unexpected, out of place moment. This is something you'd expect to happen in Paris, maybe. Or at least in the Fine Arts building.

Not in the building where I work.

So while I'm standing in the stair well with a goofy grin on my face, an agitated lady stomps down the hall and I had this terrible premonition that she was going to accost the violin girl and ask her to stop because she's disrupting a class or, heaven forbid, distracting an accountant trying to balance a grant budget. I almost tried to stop her before she stopped the violinist, but I head back up to my own floor (because I'm hopelessly non-confrontational).

A few moments later the loveliness ends.

But for the next few days, I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

Even if I never find a story to write this semi-magical moment into someday as scene, at least I have captured it here. And at last I have heard a violin worth paying $10k, maybe even $100k for. I have heard somthing in an entirely new way, in an unexpected place. A gift.

Did you catch that viral video of a meterologist who caught thundersnow on video? Apparently thundersnow is a very rare (and complicated) weather phenomeon and this guy had waited his whole life to see it (or he was just super excited to have finally caught it on video).  I think it is absolutely wonderful how our world is peppered with events like these, discovering the purest violin music in the most ordinary place, or catching thundersnow on video and then dancing around cheering like mad.

I love capturing these moments in my writing. It reminds of the truth of one of my favorite writing quotes: "We write to taste life twice."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top Ten favorite quotes (at least for the moment)

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is about your favorite quotes from books.  Also, for the writers, Adam Gaylord is doing a Writer's Tip Tuesday and this Tuesday I have a guest post!

My quotes are about happiness, seeing in new ways, love of books (of course!), questions for which there are no answer, faith, and creativity.


And then there's a few quotes on falling in love, the deeper love that comes much longer after the falling in love stage, and a love that you grow into instead of falling into. 

1. What does happiness feel like?

“Happiness. It was the place where passion, with all its dazzle and drumbeat, met something softer: homecoming and safety and pure sunbeam comfort. It was all those things, intertwined with the heat and the thrill, and it was as bright within her as a swallowed star.” from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

2. Seeing in a new way

“These human eyes seemed weak to me at first," said Eskar, still staring away from me, scratching her short black hair. "They detect fewer colors and have terrible resolution, but they see things dragon eyes cannot. They can see beyond surfaces. I don't understand how that's possible, but it happened incrementally as I traveled with Orma: I began to see the inside of him. His questioning and gentle nature. His conviction. I'd glimpse it in something as incongruous as his hand holding a teacup, or his eyes when he spoke of you.” from Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman

3, Love of books (and libraries!)

“Libraries really are wonderful. They're better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.”  from Among Others, by Jo Walton

4. Unanswerable questions in life

“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”   from The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin

5. Faith, and doubt

“He said that doubt provided contour to faith, like shading in a drawing, that it allowed you to see what was really there.” from The Opposite of Hallelujah, by Anna Jarzab

6. Faith, and God's calling

“The place God calls us to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” from Kisses From Katie, by Katie J. Davis

7. Creativity

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”  from Ray Bradbury's book on writing

8. Falling in love

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”  from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

9.  Growing into love

“There is the great lesson of 'Beauty and the Beast,' that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”  from Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton 

10. The deeper love that comes from time

“They had an ordinary life, full of ordinary things-if love can ever be called that.”  from Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Bonus quote - this one is a bit long, but I love this one because it captures the frustration of the artist (or the writer, in my case): our desire to create something perfect and beautiful and how we always fall short, but the falling short is itself a beautiful thing for how to draws us onward, ever onward, to keep creating.

“This was not the perfect work that had existed in her mind. It was only the imperfect rendering that was the best her skill could manage. Yet Giulia was not dismayed. For she knew that she would try again – and again, and again, for as long as it took to gain the experience, the judgment, the understanding to get it right. And perhaps she never would get it right. Perhaps she would never attain that flawless blue, never create that perfect image, never find the ultimate point of balance between what she could accomplish an what she could dream. Yet wasn’t that the point? To be drawn onward, ever onward, in pursuit of your deepest passion? To look back at the end fo the race and knew that you had never done less than the most you could do?”  from Color Song, by Victoria Strauss


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Recent writing tidbits

Here's a few things that I've been collecting on the writing front, while revising my novel yet again based on feedback from agents, and working up the courage to send out queries again.

Every writer needs someone like this to cheer their book on: 

Tadashi, from Big Hero Six

This was posted by Leatrice McKinney. I'm reposting it so I can re-read it again and again when I'm feeling doubtful about another rejection:
I am grateful for my rejections.
I'm sure that's a strange thing to read, it certainly is a strange thing to say, but it's true. And I didn't really realize it until today.
I'm looking over the current version of my manuscript, comparing it to the version I queried in the beginning. My story is so much better, richer, fuller, enticing. It's been through I don't know how many bits of agent feedback, from rejection letters. It's now been through some editor feedback as I get those rejections. Without all of the no's and the reasons why, my story wouldn't be half what it is right now.
With each rejection Alice's tale gets better and better. When she finally hits the shelves, she'll be so much more than what she was. I want to put the best book possible out there, and it's taken me all this time to realize that without those rejections my story wouldn't be near half what it is now.

This was just posted by Martina Boone (author of Compulsion), on the connection between setting and memory (I think this will be my writing exercise this week):
Based on who they are and their individual experiences, each character is going to see the setting in different ways, and the objects and aspects within the setting will raise memories from their lives. Giving thought to those connections and varying perspectives within a setting will, in turn, help you create the fine details that bring the setting to life. 
  • Sounds, smells, objects within the setting that trigger particular memories
  • Attitudes toward the setting and objects within It that tell us about that character
  • Ways of describing the setting and the objects in it that reveal how the character’s are changing as the story develops

This is what I'm reading right now, The Girl At Midnight, and it's doing that wonderful magic of whisking me away to another imaginative world, and firing up my own imagination at the same time, making my fingers itch to keep writing and to keep making my writing better.
The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight, #1)

Here's the premise: Echo lives in a secret room inside of the New York City Public Library...  until she's sent on a quest to find the Firebird, the only hope of bringing peace between two warring magical races, the bird-like Avicen and the dragon-like Drakharin. A new twist on the Firebird mythology, bird and dragon. 

I've already highlighted a tons of wonderful quotes from this book, mostly delicious characterizations and great snippets of dialogue, and some scary-good world-building. Echo is an interesting mix of youthful bravado, well-read brilliance, and orphaned/not-fitting-in-anywhere sadness.

"she had the unflappable compsure of those who have lived too long in too short a span of time" 
"Kalverliefde, Echo thought [she collects odd words that describe powerful moments] The euphoria you experience when you fall in love for the first time. For a word that contained only four letters, love felt like a monumental leap" 
"Echo did not giggle. She chuckled. She cackled. Occasionally, she even chortled. But giggling? Heavens, no." 
"If her hormones had a face, she would slap it" 
"Greatness is not always good." "Yeah, yeah, one ring to trule them all, I get it" 
"The young always think they are invincible. Right up to the moment they learn otherwise. Usually, the hard way" 

Sorry for the fangirling episode!

May this day be a day of great writing and outrageous dreaming up of ideas, and happy reading for all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Insecure writer: challenged by the unexpected

Something I've been noticing lately with examples of writing that catch my attention are the scenarios where a character does something unexpected, or something happens unexpectedly.

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
For instance, I read a great first chapter from a friend in our writer's group where her character felt compelled to buy a desert jackal for sale at market. He thinks he feels some sort of bond with the critter, but after the purchase the jackal bites him and runs away.

What? I did not expect that. But I sympathized with the character more after that event.

Perhaps in subconcious response to reading that, or in subconscious reaction to the new Cinderella movie, I was daydreaming the other day and a story idea popped into my head where a girl and a prince meet, and it's not love at first sight. It's hate at first sight. I wanted to find out why they hated each other, and I wanted to see how that hate could be overcome. So much more intriguing.

I also just finished reading a book where the main character always said something in conversations that I didn't expect.  It made her fascinating.

It's hard to write this way. Of course it's natural to write what first comes to mind, but it's a good exercise to force myself to delete the first thing that comes out, and come up with an unexpected thing.

It takes a lot longer. It means long pauses in my writing, while I'm casting about for ideas. And the first few attempts at "unexpected" are lame, but then the next day at some random moment I'll think of something unexpected that makes me smile, something that fits in a perfectly unsettling sort of way.

We writers are twisted sorts of creatures, aren't we?

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