|Indian War 1855-1856|
A special evening here at 'Blots. My former student, Alisa and her husband Justin, have joined us for the evening. Alisa has written a number of full length fiction manuscripts but has yet to be published. Though she writes regularly for newspapers and journals, she continues to pursue her dream of having one of her novels published--they deserved to be, in my opinion.
Alisa leads off with a reading about a girl who is out of round with her sisters and the rest of the family, a bit of a rebel, who isn't interested in the social life of the well to do family, doesn't care about all that. It's set in the 1940s. Jessany is resentful of her older sister who is pregnant out of wedlock, with a naval officer Jessany does not like. Good job setting the tension, but maybe a bit of overwriting, too much telling about the tension. You created it already, so no need to tell us there was tension. We had trouble seeing the room this scene was set in but that was described in a previous section. This is a big family saga, spanning thirty years or more. Four hundred pages, single spaced. Big. Is this two books, or three?
We talked about showing and not telling, and how easy it is to paste on a telling because we're not sure if we actually showed effectively enough. We also talked about creating longing for redemption in the reader, not everything perfect fantasy, but a deep desire for things to be put to rights. Mary Lynn Robertson's Gilead and Laura Hildebrand’s Unbroken came up; those who had read Gilead say it is awesome, no dialogue, all inside the character's head. John absolutely loved this book, best book he's ever read (that's the end of our friendship). Alisa likes the music of the 1940s and listens to the era as she writes. Alisa's manuscript The Emblem (set in Rosaline, WA) about African Americans in the 30s, she became fascinated with this mining town and its troubled history (called Nigger Hill, WA back in the day--tragic).
John reads next. Russian revolution era novel, Huguenot governess, named Viret. Hung her head ever so slightly—can you show us this more than tell it to us? This is a bit too cliché, predictable, what we expect to hear, which makes it less effective. How about another mannerism that conveys this; she has the habit of twirling a lock of her hair tightly in her index finger, pulling until it brought the water to her eyes. Prayer just bounces off the barn roof, good image. Enter a puppy, with names that has some significance to the big story? Or not. I find it helpful to ask myself with every episode I write, is this essential to the story; does it add to my big picture, allude to future plot movement, help develop my character or the larger theme of the whole? This helps me to know if what I am writing is needed or am I just filling space with some clever or exciting episode but one that is not really moving the plot forward.
I read from chapter eight of my Indian War novel. A chapter wherein my protagonist listens in to the conversation of two privates at Ft Steilacoom, speculating on the mounting tension to war with the Nisquallys and Puyallups, and the likelihood of widespread blood shed if it comes to war. The regular army soldier doesn't think much of the militia, which William Tidd will join in the next few chapters.
Alisa is going to read another passage from a new manuscript she has just gotten launched into. We asked her to read twice so we could hear the wider range of what you are writing these days. This from a manuscript idea that is super fresh, just started in the last days, based on a soldier who had just returned from war, PTSD feature. The Stronghold. Story begins as the plane touches down on the tarmac, seeing the American flag, a can of Coors snatched up and guzzled. Hugh not entering into the bravado and celebration, withdrawn, something pressing on him, jabbing him in the ribcage. Good description of the rolling hills and the rest. His recollection of the carnage of the battlefield in snatches, effective. Surprised at the water standing in his eyes. We learn in flashbacks of maimed comrades, and of shrapnel tearing into his own flesh. You do a great job of describing place. What did the high pitched chatter remind him of? Could it flash him back to something from the war, the chatter of villagers moments before the air strike, or something like that? You really have drawn us in. I stopped typing for a stretch, when you were having your protagonist meet the woman who is guarding him from his younger brother. Intriguing encounter. Put her nighttime instruction to the children in actual dialogue. Just written two days ago. Wow.
Give him a mannerism that connects to his wound, twitch in his leg, breaking into a cold sweat, door slams and he has the overwhelming urge to dive under a table. Start the story with his encounter with the attractive young woman. Maybe he watches her for an hour, sitting in the corner of the waiting area, with flashbacks to his combat episodes, ones that weave into the waiting room, the shouting of children, and always the woman, her voice, the way she walks, his fascination with her, and her growing discomfort at this solitary war vet sitting in her waiting room. This is an intriguing beginning and you need to keep writing on it. Great having you with us tonight.