The Closet

Photo: Google Free Images

Overpowering perfume (rose)
lingers, crushes, blends with mold.
Hangers, scattered on the floor,
some padded with purple velour,
once held cashmere sweaters.

The door of the safe is ajar,
as it has been for years,
the combination hidden too well.
Heavy chains of gold entangle
with a strand of perfect pearls
and a locket that holds a black
and white tattered photo
of her youngest daughter
and a dent from a tiny tooth.

Shelves of shoeboxes overflow—
twenty years worth of receipts,
silent witnesses to money tossed
at frivolity. In my memory I hear
angry words hurled in defense
of wanton spending.

Bell bottoms cavort with
shoulder pads. Browns and beige,
no color. No prints. Just tepid tan and
one black knit suit.
I finger the smoothness
of silk and satin, the texture
of brocades and polyester.

In the far corner a cane leans
against a walker.
The week after she died I moved in.

Linked to dVerse Poets’ Pub Meeting the Bar where I’m grateful to be hostess today. “Oh, the places we will go…” I hope to see you there.

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Write2Day–Setting and Description

Writing

Image via Wikipedia

As writers of fiction and poetry, I believe part of our responsibility to readers is to allow them to travel places they have never been or to revisit places that are familiar, thus evoking memories or heightening awareness.

Long descriptive paragraphs of setting often disenchant today’s readers who are used to momentary flashes of multiple images across a screen within a few seconds (Does this relate to the high incidence of attention deficit disorder in our culture?) but the fact remains that setting and the use of sensory description enriches the reader’s experience. One way to use this technique without losing our audience is employ it as a device to break up dialogue. Here’s a very brief example from my recently-published novel, “Winter is Past”

“I wonder how Michael’s handling it. Do you think I should I call him?” Josh asked me.

“Will it help?” Based on Kathryn’s assessment, I had my doubts.

Josh shook his head and fixed his eyes on a quail eating seeds he’d planted in the flower garden. “Maybe not, but I can try; I’ll call after we eat…”

Even more valuable, in my opinion, is the writer’s ability to convey emotion through setting. Consider this brief passage from the same novel as a means of eliciting fear, sadness and powerlessness:

I trotted after Kathryn who jogged along the brick path beside our house. My eye caught sight of a tiny wren, cowering in the dense foliage of a rambling juniper shrub. Overhead, a majestic red-tailed hawk circled, squawking a message of certain doom at the tiny bird. I felt tears well up in my eyes then turned my attention back to Kathryn who now disappeared through the redwood gate.

In previous posts, I’ve described a practice I use off and on. In your writing journal, at the end of each day, describe 5-10 things you have noticed throughout the day. Return to these lists for ideas to supplement your own writing then return to a scene you have written in which you have “told” rather than “shown” an emotion. Try rewriting it using a bit of scenery or a background activity to elicit that same feeling. This is helpful to keep in mind when you are rewriting/revising your work as well.

So, for today’s prompt, write a poem or a piece of short fiction that features setting and/or description. You may want to post a bit of dialogue that you’ve broken up using the above-mentioned technique.

How to participate? Simply post your submission on your blog, then access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this page. Add your name and the direct URL of your post, and voila–you’re in. Kindly take the time to visit and comment on other participants.

I will be on the road for a couple of days, so I may not be able to visit your posts right away. Thank you for participating and have fun writing.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Cultivating Imagination

Children play

Image via Wikipedia

Growing up when I did–a long, long time ago–I had abundant opportunities to cultivate my imagination. The games we played as children could not depend on media or even toys…with rare exceptions. Kitchen utensils and tin cans, my mom’s broom and a few cardboard boxes were all I needed to play house. I baked mud pies and used small swatches of material to make clothes for my doll. Sticks became arrows and we kicked a can. It was a wonderful childhood that provided plenty of exercise and ample opportunity for developing an active imagination.

Then along came adulthood. No more room for flights of fancy or escapes into other cultures…except perhaps in between the covers of a good book when there was time. Television took over relaxation and it was so easy to slip into modes of passive entertainment.

But for us, as writers, an active imagination is as important as pen and paper or a computer and keyboard. How often are you able to time travel to the Tudor era or the American West or hop a quick flight to Bangalore where your character may be following a lead on the tail of a criminal? Or, what if, you’re writing a scene in the middle of a blizzard while it’s 90 degrees Farenheit outside? We have to be able to mentally, emotionally, and physically transport ourselves to these times and places. We want to be able to think “outside the box.” Those of you who write Sci Fi even have to transcend dimensions.

So for this week’s post, I’m going to offer a few exercises to help flex your imagination muscles and then I want to ask you to either offer up an exercise of your own or share your response to one of the exercises that one of us posts. Or both. Go ahead and get in touch with that inner child and play!

Exercise I.
You are a small dog. How do you experience the world around you? Choose your own setting and characters.
Exercise II.
You are a reporter called upon to interview a great religious or political figure? Choose your own interviewee and describe one or two questions you would like to ask and their response to your question. Include setting and body language if you want.
Exercise III.
You live in (choose a country you have never visited). Describe the scents and tastes of the foods. This may take a bit of research.
Exercise IV.
You are dying and cannot speak. Who is with you and what is said?
Exercise V.
It is the opposite season of wherever you are now. Describe the scene you would see outside.

I’m anxious to see your response and I hope to use one of YOUR exercises to strengthen my own power of imagination. Now, go play.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Setting

Old Mansion

Image by another.point.in.time via Flickr

How do you choose a setting for your novel, short fiction or poem? What role does setting serve? How can a place inspire your writing? These are only a few of the questions you want to ask yourself when you begin to write, no matter what the genre. And here is just a sampling of setting-issues for you to consider.

  • What kind of mood do I want to create? Setting is a means of creating atmosphere. It helps me to think about film. Consider Hitchcock’s Psycho or King’s The Shining in which darkness and gloom prevailed. Now compare that to Under Tuscan Skies, a movie about independence, love and freedom. Horror, romance, mystery–different genres call for different settings.
  • How well do I know the location I’ve chosen? Based on the role that setting will play in your story, you need to be attentive to accuracy. My first novel is set in the location where I live: Reno, Nevada, but my second I wanted to immerse myself in a city I love to visit: Chicago. That one took a lot more work. I visited Chicago, called upon the concierge of the hotel where I stayed to help me obtain some specific information, and sought out a couple of Chicagoans as consultants. You always have the option of “inventing” a place and in certain types of fiction, that’s just what you better do. Think: Hogwarts.
  • Can place inspire my writing? You bet. Those of us who write poetry will tell you that a number of poems write themselves while we’re walking the dogs or tramping in the woods. Many of us go to coffee shops or sit on park benches to capture moods, snippets of conversations, physical details. I enjoy trolling garage sales or thrift shops looking for untold stories.
  • Finally, how about setting as a character? All you have to do is think of John Steinbeck. (The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row…) Or, how about Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby)

Can you add examples of how place has worked for you in your own fiction or poetry writing? Can you think of other novels that rely on setting. I’m currently reading Jane Eyre and just realized the importance of the role of those gloomy old mansions in the telling of the story. If you come up with something, please share in the comments.

Wordsmith Wednesday–10 Suggestions to Improve your Fiction Writing

Underwood Typewriter

Image via Wikipedia

I’m in a bullet point mood. That is to say, I feel like posting a list of short, unrelated tidbits that aim to help you improve your writing. Some, I’ve already mentioned. Others are new but don’t need a thesis.

  • To create a bit of drama in the relationships of your fictional characters, triangulate. Add a third party to a friendship or love relationship…someone who threatens to disturb the balance.
  • Within the first few pages of your novel (or first few paragraphs of your short story) create a destabilizing event–something that creates an obstacle to the goals of your protagonist.
  • Take two steps forward and one step backward. The path to resolution should be full of obstacles. As the story advances, allow your hero to solve a problem, but introduce another one in its wake. Keep the reader on edge and turning pages.
  • Embrace realism. We ask our readers to suspend disbelief, but there must be a thread of truth in what you write, even if you write sci-fi or fantasy. Your audience should be able to say, “If we were invaded by Martians, it is not improbable that humans would react like….”
  • Create multidimensional scenes. Don’t relay solely on one sense to describe a setting. What does it look like? Smell like? Sound like. The more you are able to engage the readers senses, the better able will you be to hurl them into the story.
  • Read aloud. Whether you edit/revise as you go along or as one unit (or both, like I do) be sure to read your manuscript aloud. You will catch typos, stilted dialogue, echos, or odd syntax when you go through that exercise. If you can find someone to read with you, especially portions of dialogue, all the better.
  • Be objective. If you use a familiar setting, for example, make sure your descriptions are clear to the reader. You may be able to envision the details of a scene but have you written it so that anyone can picture the progression of the action?
  • Connect with your reader. Identify the demographics of your target audience and write to them. Use appropriate language for age, gender, education level etc.
  • Allow a theme to emerge from your story–don’t force the story to fit the theme.
  • And, finally, whenever possible, substitute an active verb for an adverb or adjective.

I hope that you will find one or more of these suggestions helpful to you in your writing and revision process. I would love any feedback you have to offer. Above all, enjoy what you do!

Wordsmith Wednesday–Setting and Description Revisited

As a writer of fiction and poetry, I believe part of my responsibility to the reader is to allow her to travel places she has never been or to revisit places that are familiar, thus evoking memories or heightening awareness.

Long descriptive paragraphs of setting may disenchant the reader of today who’s used to momentary flashes of multiple images across a screen within a few second. (Does this relate to the high incidence of attention deficit disorder in our culture?)

Above all, setting and the use of sensory description enriches the reader’s experience. One way to use this technique is to break up dialogue. Here’s a brief example from my novel, “Winter is Past”:

“I wonder how Michael’s handling it. Do you think I should I call him?” Josh asked me.

“Will it help?” Based on Kathryn’s assessment, I had my doubts.

Josh shook his head and fixed his eyes on a quail eating seeds he’d planted in the flower garden. “Maybe not, but I can try; I’ll call after we eat. Honey, why did Kathryn ask you to take her to her appointments instead of Michael?” Josh grabbed the meat with tongs, slid it onto a plate and headed back into the house.

Even more valuable, in my opinion, is the writer’s ability to convey emotion through setting. Consider this brief passage from “Winter is Past” as a means of eliciting fear, sadness and powerlessness:

I trotted after Kathryn who jogged along the brick path beside our house. My eye caught sight of a tiny wren, cowering in the dense foliage of a rambling juniper shrub. Overhead, a majestic red-tailed hawk circled, squawking a message of certain doom at the tiny bird. I felt tears well up in my eyes then turned my attention back to Kathryn who now disappeared through the redwood gate.

In a previous post, I described a practice I use off and on. In your writing journal, at the end of each day, describe 5-10 things you have noticed throughout the day. Return to these lists for ideas to supplement your own writing then return to a scene you have written in which you have “told” rather than “shown” an emotion. Try rewriting it using a bit of scenery or a background activity to elicit that same feeling. This is helpful to keep in mind when you are rewriting/revising your work as well.

Happy writing. Enjoy the process

Wordsmith Wednesday–Sensory Description

I am a visual, hands-on learner. My husband is more auditory. If I’m sitting through a lecture, I need to take notes in order to incorporate the key points being delivered. David will just sit, listen and absorb.

In the same way, people differ in their favored modes of sensory perception. You may want to touch or taste, while your friend will associate sounds, colors or aromas with a place or event. That’s why it’s important to evaluate your descriptions in terms of the senses. Make sure you haven’t just focused on those things that speak to you.

I’d like to share with you some examples from the opening chapter of my novel, “The Sin of His Father.” The protagonist is at the deathbed of his mother. Here’s how I’ve tried to incorporate the senses:

Sight: “The dim light threw his mother’s profile into an eerie silhouette. It was as though someone had let the air out of a grotesque balloon–the parody of an Irish washer woman paraded down Columbus Drive in downtown Chicago on St. Paddy’s day…”

Taste: “…the taste of bitter coffee he’d sipped a few hours earlier crept up his esophagus and caused him to gag.”

Hearing: “Ellen’s roommate breathed slowly before turning in her sleep. That was the only sound Matt heard, aside from his mother’s raspy breathing, the bubbles of the oxygen humidifier and the gentle hiss of the gas escaping around the small prongs sticking in her nose.”

Touch: “He fondled the smooth bowl of the pipe that waited for his attention in the pocket of his jacket and longed to step outside to indulge his habit.”

Smell: “His mother’s fetid breath stroked his cheek. He wanted to flee the close air of the room and take off into the night.”

Attention to sensory descriptions throughout the process of rewriting is an excellent way to enrich your manuscript.

Writing exercise. Select a key scene from one of your stories or a poem and rewrite it, utilizing all of the senses in your descriptions.