Month: February 2017

Making Mind Movies

I’ve started writing another novel. Along with short bouts of actual writing, I’ve been reading all kinds of stuff and peering at images and maps on my computer screen.  I’ve been dumping the facts, ideas and impressions harvested from books and other sources into the brain mixer and sketching out scenes.

This time I’m paying attention to the process of novel-writing, as well as the substance. Scenes are the key elements of a novel. A novel is a series of scenes, in which characters and situations are introduced and developed, leading to a climactic scene or scenes in which the situations are resolved and the characters transformed in some way.

Writing goes best for me when I envision compelling scenes — just like a good reading experience, curiously enough. I need to see the elements of my story like a movie in my mind before I can render them into words that will invoke a movie in the minds of my readers.

That’s it! That’s all there is to it!

It sounds easy. But just try it! Especially when the scenes don’t arrive ready-made from some magical studio of the imagination.

Deliberate, sustained imagining is hard. It strains the brain. Like physical exercise, it’s too easy to quit before much progress is made. There are so many elements to be created and/or assembled — the over-arching theme of the novel, the characters with all their quirks, characteristics and emotions, their actions, their thoughts, the setting, and possibly external facts and realities that must be accurate. The writer has to juggle all this stuff in the brain, and then select words to convey it — the right words, and enough of them to do the job, but not too many.

That’s to create one scene — a few thousand words at most, possibly less. Many more scenes will be sweated out to trace the entire story arc. And all those scenes will have to be put into order and glued together with suitably sticky words to make a complete first draft.

No wonder writers procrastinate and agonize, writing blog posts and looking at free images on the internet instead of buckling down and making mind movies from fleeting ideas they got in the shower.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Campion Cull

I have often mentioned the rose campion, Lychnis coronaria. It’s one of the easiest of garden perennials, practically a weed, in fact. It resists drought, tolerates shade, comes in white or what I call “magenta” (a dark purplish red, anyway), and seeds mightily.

That, of course, is why my place has more than enough of this plant. In the first flush of summer bloom, the white form is visually dominant in the back garden.

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Multiple clumps of white-flowered campion

The thing is, I find it impossible to yank out or dig up a plant that looks healthy, especially if it’s in full bloom. L. coronaria manages to look too good to kill most of the time, especially if deadheaded. This extends the bloom season and delays the onset of seediness. By July or August, deadheading 3 dozen or more plants gets to be a pain, especially those that are hard to get at. I resort to cutting the flowering stalks down or removing them altogether. That minimizes seed production, but does not eliminate it. Which is why I have so many plants.

This winter has been relatively tough, and one effect of that is that the campion plants look distinctly shabby.

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Noticing this, I seized the opportunity and a digging tool, and did a bit of a cull. Of course, there was no way to tell which plants were white-flowering and which were magenta, but I concentrated on spots I recalled as having way too many of the white form.

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Results of the massacre — a pile of pulled up campion plants.

At its best, the white-flowered form is as cool and elegant as many difficult perennials.

July 2, 2012

White Lychnis coronaria and unknown Euphorbia.

 

After the massacre, I started feeling some regret at the number of plants I had removed. Looking around, though, there is no shortage of Lychnis coronaria in this garden. And if I feel there is, all I have to do is let a single plant produce seed and scatter it around. Repopulation is guaranteed.

A Big Read

I bought a copy of The Egyptian Book of the Dead (the translation by E.A. Wallis Budge) a couple of years ago, when I was thinking about writing a novel set in Egypt. It sat around gathering dust until last week, when I started reading it in the hope that it would pump up some enthusiasm for that work in progress, which so far consists of a measly 10,000 words.

This book was first published more than a century ago, so easing into it via a 2008 introduction by archaeologist John Romer was helpful. The intro warned me that Budge had rendered the Egyptian texts into the English of the Bible — King James version — full of  “thees” and “thous” and verbs ending in “eth.” This reminded me of my intention, some years ago, to read the Bible, which never really got off the ground. Not too promising.

But I was surprised and intrigued to learn that J.R.R. Tolkien “described the inhabitants of Middle Earth as ‘best pictured in Egyptian terms’,” with helmets apparently modeled on some pictured in vignettes from Budge’s Book of the Dead. Hard to believe, but fascinating. Another surprise was that the structure of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake follows that of the Book of the Dead. T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and William Faulkner also found something worthwhile in it; then there’s Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. All in all, it seems that quite a few writers have found inspiration in this tome.

I’ve already noted quite a few pages with exciting stuff that has made me rethink some of the fundamental premises of my barely-started WIP. I’m excited about realizing these ideas in words; to do that, of course, I’ll have to write my way to that point.

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Notes for the work in progress and the Book of the Dead

And I haven’t even started reading the actual texts. The various introductions and prefaces and table of contents total ccxliv pages. (That’s 244 for those out of practice with Roman numerals). I’m only on page cxlviii (148). When I finally get to page 1 there will be 697 more. I’ll be immersed in this antique milieu for some time.

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Parts of Chapters 26 and 27

The printing even looks old-fashioned, somehow, full of parenthetical and bracketed stuff and bristling with footnotes. I actually need glasses to read it. In his introduction, Romer advises the reader “to slide through its texts as one might read Finnegan’s Wake, marvelling all the while at the expansive scholarship, and at the lilt and span of its exotic prose.”

Indeed. I’ve never tackled Finnegan’s Wake. I hope to slide, rather than struggle.

Pseudo-Haiku From Spam

I gather February is National Haiku Writing Month.

I write no haiku. This poetic form has quite exacting conventions and a long history. I suspect it would take considerable study and practice to become proficient in it, but many in the West seem to perceive it as “quick and easy poetry.” The result is a lot of of polysyllabic word-clumps intended to convey some fleeting notion. Or maybe I’m being disrespectful of well-meaning haiku writers.

But…

I was shoveling spam out of my email inbox the other day.  Most of the time I hit the “empty spam” button without looking at what is about to be flushed. But a couple of gem-like phrases caught my eye. I noted them down.

Rearranged a bit, here they are:

Body is a baggage for life / Protect stomach lining / Better tomorrow starts now.

Starry mood? / The energy of bright feelings / Just enables.

Quick start, long action! / Life is well when you take the right meds! / Be confident!

Afraid to fall? / Do not push me / You’re mighty!

You will note that these word-strings do not contain the 5-7-5 syllables prescribed for haiku. That, among other reasons and with apologies, is why I call them pseudo-haiku.

Feel free to guess what the spammers were trying to sell.

“Spam” image courtesy of Pixabay.

 

April 19, 2014

 

A Real Winter

After a run of wimpy winters, we are having a real one, with cold temperatures — all the way down to -2C (28F) — and snow. Snow that sticks around for more than a day. And then more snow!

Most years, I think of February as ‘early spring.’ Not this year! After the indecently mild El Nino winter of 2015-2016, this one must have been brought to us by La Nina, El Nino’s mischievous sister.

Fresh snow dresses up the garden and makes it look wonderful. Even drab or ugly scenes take on a new interest, as though the dead stalks were placed there intentionally to support snow.

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Magnolia looking elegant in snow

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Iris unguicularis keeps trying to bloom

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Ornamental grass “Little Bunny”

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Even a mess of dead stalks looks good under snow!

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Standard privet in pot (25 years old)

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Favourite scene of bench by pond — yet again

 

Comfort Reading

You know how sometimes you just want “comfort food?” No fancy stuff, no fretting about nutritional balance, just something simple, starchy and familiar.

It’s the same with books. When I’m dealing with something difficult, or am just fed up with the complications and nastiness of the world, I want to read something low-key and predictable. No tension, no conflict, no edginess or dark themes. It’s more than escapism; when even fictional adventures in an imaginary world with its own history and rules are too stressful, I want to send my battered mind into a safe, quiet space where I know exactly what’s going to happen. Spoilers are definitely not an issue.

The degree of tension and turmoil — present and anticipated — in the world these days makes ordinary life challenges, such as interpersonal rubs, illnesses and the losses inflicted by time, harder to bear. Books may be applied like compresses to these psychic sores.

Books for comfort reading are found in all genres, with the possible exception of those requiring violence and gore, although if such a book is dear and familiar, it might just do the trick. That’s the thing about books — the choice is an intensely personal one.

Cozy mysteries are often just the thing. Sure, there are dead bodies, but they are presented in contexts that are, well, cozy, and often furnished with characters ranging from charming to quirky. In the past couple of months, I found myself re-reading the Needed Killing Series by indie author Bill Fitts. The five books are described as “cozy mysteries with a Southern flair.” The pace is slow, the mysteries are just puzzling enough, and they all include animals (cats and dog) as significant characters. The plots always involve a lot of food, so you can vicariously enjoy good cooking (and drinks) while you read. Gentle distractions for a troubled mind.

You’ll notice I mentioned re-reading. That’s the key to comfort reading. When even fictional troubles seem like too much, it’s time to visit the bookshelf of rubbed and tattered books that are like old slippers, or old friends.

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