Tag Archives: details

Reblog: The Summer Season of Writing

10 May
Arizona

Arizona (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

by Telena Tanara Contreras

The Arizona summer is an early arriver. In late March a dry breeze descends on the valley to give spring its notice; and a mere month later Queen Summer herself follows behind a procession of scorching rays, ridiculous temperatures, and dramatic dust storms to begin her ruthless reign.
Come May, the people are done.

Snow birds lock up their homes, cover their pools, and head back north or east or wherever it is sane people run to when the weather is more foe than friend. The frugal adopt a beans-and-rice budget in order to crank up the air in homes where they will become hermits for the next five months. All projects that were started with fervor melt into burdens the initiator wishes would simply go away.

My first novel has hit that summer season.

It’s done, and has been for quite some time now. When I first finished it-before I knew anything about the publishing world-I took it to a conference sans edits and put out feelers. My feedback was favorable (the feedback I did get) but I was made aware of the need to do some editing.

After reading a few books on writing, like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King (and feeling appropriately horrified that my first draft was ever let out of its cage), I decided to put the novel through a rigorous edit-walkaway-read program …

You can find the rest of the article here: The Summer Season of Writing.

Poem: The Moon Over Asylum

4 Feb

The Moon Over Asylum

There is a quiet village,

just beyond his reach, with

a place to preach to the few

who would listen tonight.

The picturesque countryside

tries to hide, beneath the

soft light of the quarter-moon,

the ones who are in the wrong part of town.

He is trapped by the walls

named a refuge by some,

a prison by others, for all

a home for distorted minds.

Listless, he gazes at the

Swirling, bright evening sky

envisioning a serenity

only sunset can bring,

And begins to paint, the

sun now burning through the haze,

a scene of peace, of freedom,

of the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project

 
by Jennifer Boissonneault, April 2009
 
 

Season of Details

28 Jan

My sore spot is details. It’s not that I don’t notice little things in my life; it’s that I immediately move on the bare bones of what I need to know to get through the day. Rarely do I stop long enough to absorb the environment around me. As far as sharing the details in my writing, I tend to forget that I am the tour guide into another world, my world of fiction.

Reading Season of Ice has inspired me. (It also scared me. It brought out this fear that I won’t do as well. Or that I will never make it as a writer.) The difference between this story and many others is the author’s attention to details. Donald Maass tells us, “Details are an automatic voice all by themselves. They might seem to limit a novel’s appeal, but in fact they bring it to life.” (Maass, 122) Genesis Sommer, the narrator in Season of Ice, is a real person. What I mean is, while I was reading, I forgot it was fiction. Even though I have very little in common with her as far as life experiences, I was able to identify with the character. It did not limit the novel’s appeal, but rather enhanced it. I read the following passage recently, and I swore Maass was talking straight to me.

“Some novelists imagine it best to have a narrator as…a universal American into whom all readers can project themselves…. Even the most ordinary people have a life that’s unique. The details that make it so are a secret source of what critics glibly refer to as voice.” (122)

The key is to choose wisely which details to include. Too many, and you’ll bog down the story. Not enough and you risk alienating your readers. Season of Ice has the perfect blend.

I think my favorite scene was when Mike Sommer’s mother was praying for her lost son at the lake’s edge. It is a powerful and beautiful scene, completed by relevant details. Do we care what people are wearing in this scene? No. We care more about the raw emotion, and the way this distraught mother interacts with the environment that has taken her son.

Mémère was breaking through the groups of people, moving in swift steps toward the shore, looking at nothing but the water in front of her. “Please my Lord!” she continued to plead.
 By the time she reached the water’s edge, she stood no more than twenty feet from us. Prayerfully, she knelt, cupped her hands together, and dipped them into the icy froth. “S’il vous plait, mon Dieu, aidez-moi a trouver mon fils. Aidez-moi a trouver mon fils. Mon fils,” she cried.
She lifted her hands out of the water. Droplets ran down her arms.
(p 67)

In this passage, we learn the setting details without detracting from the emotion. We learn the distance of which the girls are from Genesis’s grandmother, and also where Mémère is standing. We learn that Mémère is French, since it is natural for people who are upset to return to their primary language. She is praying to God, both in her words and in her actions.

Another of my favorite passages is the very first paragraph of the book. It tells us where the story takes place and when it begins. It is winter in northern Maine.

In the beginning there was snow. Torrents of tiny flakes blew in off the lake, pricked my skin before they melted on my hands and face and tongue. I live in Sebaticuk, a small town in northern Maine on the shores of Moosehead Lake. I no longer think of that massive body as just water but rather a whale of sorts, a creature that I cannot tame and whose belly I cannot see. (p 1)

In addition to the seamless integration of necessary details, there is an element of foreshadowing. From the beginning I had a feeling that Genesis’s father was gone for good. He is in the belly of the whale, and unlike Jonah in the Bible, he doesn’t resurface alive.
Genesis’s reactions to her father’s disappearance throughout the book are more great details that get the readers to identify with her. Her thoughts and actions are relatable to anyone who has dealt with grief. For example:

At that moment, I had the strangest feeling, as if it wasn’t my father out there, but someone else we were looking for – a cousin, or Perry, or one of my father’s friends, and that when I got home, Dad would be there, sitting at the kitchen table with Linda, rubbing her back like he would do and drinking a beer or coffee while we all waited for daybreak and for the snow to clear.
“Gen?” Officer Whalen asked tentatively, “You okay?”
 I didn’t answer him right away. I was standing there perplexed because I couldn’t decide whether my dad would be drinking beer or coffee on a night when someone was missing and the whole family was worried, and I wanted to know, didn’t want to move until I’d figured it out. (p 27)

An overloaded mind tends to hyper-focus on one thing in order to cope with the stress. Most people have experienced it at one time or another, I believe. This scene evokes empathy from those who have been through a traumatic event.

There are many more examples – I have sticky notes on so many pages – but these are the most memorable and favorite examples to me. These are some of the details that make this story come alive, both visually and emotionally.

Works Cited

Maass, Donald. The Fire in Fiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009.

Les Becquets, Diane. Season of Ice. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2008.

Getting raw…don’t skim the surface

1 Sep

I’m enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA Fiction program. I started in June 2011, and it’s been an eye-opening experience.

Not eye-opening in the sense that I thought I was the greatest writer ever and I found out I’m not. I knew then I had a lot to learn which is why I applied for the program. I also knew I needed a good butt-kicking to stay motivated, and I’ve gotten that too. It’s been eye-opening in the sense that I’m a superficial writer. I tell the facts (what happens first, second, third, etc) and sometimes I show the emotions (okay, a lot of time I tell the emotions, which is bad. Don’t do this. Ever). I tend to skim the surface of what’s really going on. My mentor for the first semester (Diane Les Becquets, who happens to be the program director and a brilliant author) has told me that I need raw, concrete details. I need to dig deeper into my characters. Breathe life into them. Let them tell their stories. Make it believable. Show the scene. Add smells and all the other senses, not just the visual. I interpret all this as writing in 2D. I need to make it 3D. Sound harsh? Not really. She’s so right. Who wants to see a book where no one “feels” the characters? Do I want to have characters no one cares about? No. What’s the point in that?

Why do I skim the surface? I’m not really sure. Perhaps there are things lurking below that I’d rather not deal with. If you’re not a writer, you might say, “Well, write about something else! After all, you’re the one making it up.” To fellow writers, you know that your stories have a life of their own and you have to tell it. You could change it, but it wouldn’t be as true. It would probably come across as fake to your readers. As Diane says about half of my submissions, “I don’t buy it.” I love her.

It comes down to this for me: Face the fears. Whatever they are, even if I don’t know and can’t explain them, I need to forge ahead and get to the center of the tootsie pop. That’s where it’s the best.

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