Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beginnings (Part II)

This is Part II of my thoughts about beginnings. The most important thing about a beginning to me is it is a promise. What kind of promise? Let me do some quick snaps. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we find Harry under the stairs of the Dursleys. He's all alone without a true family. In the end of the series we have Harry with a family. Yay, a promise keeper. In Charlotte's Web, Wilbur's life is on the line, Fern's daddy has the axe, and in the end, yes, Wilbur's saved. E. B. always kept his promises. And one last one, in Kathi Appelt's book, The Underneath, we are promised that the injustice to a poor cat is going to be set right. Kathi kept her promise. A first chapter is one that makes a promise. We usually know the promise by the end of the first page.

I will be honest, often times I have to write the whole book before I truly know what promise I'm making. So here's something to chew on, if you are rewriting that first chapter for the tenth time and you still only have thirty pages of manuscript or so. It's time to write the book. You are never going to write that first chapter until you get to the end of the book. You probably don't even know what you are promising and that's why you can't figure out that first chapter. If you have written the book, you need to look at that end make sure that the last chapter is a fulfillment of the promise that happens in that first one. Funny stuff happens on the journey of telling a story, you start out telling one story but end up telling another. Got to rewrite the beginning then.

So today we have some homework. What have you promised? Have you promised it on the first page? (Hint, hint, if the promise is on page 12, that's really your beginning.) Do you keep your promise?

Hope you check back next week for the next one in my series.

My doodle this week is "Noah's Ark". This story is all about a promise that God made to Noah. Hope you enjoy it.

Today's playlist is "Happy Ground" by Pete Murray. I hope that you are standing on happy ground. :)

My quote for the week:
Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment. Horace

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I'm all about the sunrise right now, so I've decided to do a series on how to write a great beginning to a novel. Let's start out with the basics. Generally a sunrise is an awful place to start a novel. Another bad idea is to start where your main character is waking up in the morning. Please avoid dark and stormy nights, too. This approach has really been done.

Next, don't slap down a huge hunk of description either. Think about this. A beginning can only hold so much information, so please don't flood the first chapter with so much stuff that the reader doesn't care. Also don't have people talking and really not saying anything but remarks about the weather and the price of pig bellies.

Nothing like a lovely pastoral scene with bunnies, apple trees, and puffy white clouds and not a whit of conflict to make a reader toss your book. So, if the bunnies are really zombie bunnies, and there's a deadly snake in that apple tree, and giant flying cats are lurking in those ethereal clouds, then they are probably OK. Otherwise take the red pen and cut them.

Here's my first piece of "do" advice. The best way to begin a book is to launch into the action! What sets your character's heart on fire? Over the next few weeks, I'll break down the nuts and bolts of beginnings. Hope you check back. If you have any thoughts, please post.

I call this week's doodle, "Abstract Light."

Remember: ©Molly Blaisdell, all rights reserved. If you want to use my cool doodles, ask permission first. It is so wrong to take people's doodles without permission!

Today's playlist hit is "Sun Will Rise" by Brendan James. There is nothing like the rising of the sun, folks. It's steadfastness is the promise that mercy is new every morning.

The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. John Muir

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pure Genius

My friend, author Conrad Wessehoeft, sent me video link a couple of weeks ago: Elizabeth Gilbert on Genius, and I've really had to think about it. This link also came about the same time I was rereading the essays of Emerson who firmly held this idea of exterior genius. The idea of genius goes back to Greeks and their belief that genius was something outside of you that showed up when you were doing work. The idea was that you are not a producer of genius but a conduit of it.

Yes, I do believe that genius is out there and that it's there to help. But I don't believe that it is a "house elf" or "a relative of the tooth fairy." This kind of thinking makes my head hurt. I just feel that the universe is so much more than that.

Yes, I am a true mystic - the Christian variety. There are certain things that I am sure of. In the white hot core of the invisible, of the things unseen, dwells the everlasting power of love. The book of John has this cryptic first bit, "In the begining was the Word, and the Word was with God and The Word was God." For me, this is a little crack that I can press my eye against and look into the unseen world. Underneath the people and the loves and wars, the spheres, the dark matter, the sticky stuff and the stars, underneath the cells the mitochondria, and DNA, underneath the atoms, the quarks, the muons, hovering underneath it all for me is the indestructible, unending, all powerful Word of God.

So "Genius" is the gift (that special spark of life) that comes to you when you start pouring out creatively. This spark infuses your work. For me, it like ying and yang, why electricity flows through a wire, and why people love each other, and the millions of other causes and effects that are going on out there in this big old place called the universe.

When you pour out, there is something real and tangible that floods into you. I don't think you need to "believe" in this any more than you believe in gravity. Hey, you woke up this morning, and yet again, you did not float off into outer space. It doesn't really take any faith to count on gravity. I think genius works the same way. When you you create, this action draws the creative power into your work. Call it a "house elf" if you can't wrap you mind around bigger things like good always triumphing over evil, hope never something to be ashamed of, and faith, a precious gift for anyone who is listening. You draw this power into your work when you open yourself up to self-expression.

If you take anything away from today's post I hope it's a sense of relief. You areone of the beautiful bits of the universe, shouting, singing, sharing the wonder of it all. It's a chorus gig not ever a solo act.

My doodle for the week is my very feeble attempt to wrap my mind around the following passage from The Revelation, a book of shadows, figures, and symbols:
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. REV 1:12-16

My playlist hit of the week is from Gustav Holtz's symphony, The Planets.

My quote of the week is from Emerson's essay, "Art."

It is in vain that we look for genius to reiterate its miracles in the old arts; it is its instinct to find beauty and holiness in new and necessary facts, in the field and road-side, in the shop and mill.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Fear is part of the process

Are you working on a project that is intensely personal, perhaps it's saying more that you thought you could say, does it delve into the heart of the human condition? Are you scared witless? Good. Fear is an important part of the artistic process, and you need to listen to what it's telling you, and not give into the negative voices. That feeling of fear is a recognition that you have moved into action.

Many of us have the common experience of fear when learning to ride a bike. That first time you are cruising down the street and mom and dad have let go and you are on your own, oh, yes, fear is just wrapped around you heart like taunt string. But even if you fall, the rush of doing what you never done before, of independence, of success,these are now a part of the fabric of you.

Here's my best advice for fear. Recognize that it can't stop you. You are always the captain of your fate the master of destiny. I think living on your own terms is important. I'm going to stick with writers here, but this thought extends to all artists. Writers have layers of fear to navigate and it's take time and (my favorite word) perseverance to get through it, but the waters are navigable just not for the faint of heart.

The fear onion is complex. Once you get that layer of fear about publication out of the way. You have the much thicker layers of fear of the work to deal with. Can you create the story, draw out the story, that's hovering in your creative spirit? Will it just be awful, a waste of time and resources, or an amazing triumph that you don't feel worthy of? Have you chosen the right story?

Then you get into the fear layers of creating the work. Will you ever finish this thing? What happens when the thing that comes out is not the thing that you thought it was? What if this project is taking a really long time and though you have hundreds of pages of manuscript and its still a freaking mess? What if I'm not good enough? Oh, yes, we all hear stuff.

Inside me is a "Chicken Little" and she's running around screaming that the sky is falling. "Chill, Chicken Little." Folks, you've got to be careful. There are directions to go that will stop your work. Choose courage. Have some faith. Trust in the unknowable.

If you want to read a great book about art and fear, try this short 134-page book Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking written by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

Until next week, keep working. Seize the day.

My doodle of the week is "Story of the Stars."

Remember: ©Molly Blaisdell, all rights reserved. If you want to use my cool doodles, ask permission first. It is so wrong to take people's doodles without permission!

And my playlist hit for the week. "Time's they are a'changing" by Bob Dylan.

I always feel this deep connection with exploreres when I'm working. So my quote of the week comes from the determined folks who put a man on the moon.

The first of these factors is the compelling urge of man to explore and to discover, the thrust of curiosity that leads men to try to go where no one has gone before. Most of the surface of the earth has now been explored and men now turn on the exploration of outer space as their next objective from Introduction to Outer Space. A pamphlet from The White House. 1958.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Synopsis (part 4)

Hi, folks, welcome back for my synopsis series.

When you write your synopsis remember that you are trying to reveal the most concentrated taste of your book. This includes the ending. A synopsis is not the place to hold back on that. I also think it's good to avoid pat phrasing like 'a heartfelt coming of age novel', 'an epic fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien, Rowling or Lewis', or 'a seductive vampire love story like Twilight." Standing out from the crowd is paramount so no comparisons to other novels. Your synopsis should show and never tell that your story is heartfelt, epic, or seductive. Strike any 'generalzation phrasing' out of the sypnosis. Instead, reveal youself as a unique voice. This will be achieved by bold vision, succint words, and specific content.

My last bit of advice involves some research. Take that synopsis into critique group. Listen to the advice of your critiquers. If they have issues, address those issues. If they love it, read it to a few people outside that circle. I would find a children's librarian or someone who is a true bookophile.

These are the words you are hoping for, "I would read that book." Now, this is not something that you put in a query letter, but it something that will feed your confidence when you write that letter.

You want to make sure the copy is absolutely clean. You should be ready to go. Best of luck!

The doodle of the week is 'View from my window'.

Remember: ©Molly Blaisdell, all rights reserved. If you want to use my cool doodles, ask permission first. It is so wrong to take people's doodles without permission!

The playlist hit of the week is "Don't Stop" from Fleetwood Mac's
Rumors album from back in 1977.

Now the quote of the week:

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.

Ralph Waldo Emerson