Guest Post: Is Your Story Carved In Stone? By Author Sharon Maas

Today on WFW author Sharon Maas is back (YAY!) to share with us a lesson she learned while traveling in India. Her words, photos, and video have transporting and transformative powers. (Don’t say I never took you anywhere, k?)

Amy xo

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Not Carved in Stone: Excavating for a Story

By Sharon Maas

CoverfinalLast February I spent three wonderful weeks in South India. The best part of my morning routine was a walk up a nearby mountain to visit a little ashram where I could sit and meditate in silence. On the way up, dotted here and there along the cobblestone path, sat a few of the local sculptors, selling their work and creating their next piece. Always I stopped to watch, fascinated.

These were simple men. They sat on the bare earth, their basic tools laid out before them. In one hand they held the stone they were working on, either soapstone or marble; in the other hand was the chisel. With all the patience in the world they carved away, scraping and sculpting to mould from the stone their works of art: effigies of gods, or elephants with babies in their innards, or ornate lampshades, candlesticks, incense holders, jewelery boxes, and, in one case, a snarling tiger. Each piece was perfectly formed.

They had no blueprint or model to work from. Each sculptor knew innately, with an uncanny surety and minute precision, how much to remove and at what angle, and did so as naturally and confidently as you and I would tap a keyboard. Sometimes he held the stone with his toes, and hammered (hammered!) away to get it right (see photo). A millimeter to the left or right would have ruined the finished product; but it never did. Symmetry and balance flowed from those sculptor hands, perfection in stone. It was as if the final product was already in the stone, waiting for the sculptor’s thought, the chisel’s touch. Some of these artworks may have lacked the sophistication of their expensive lookalikes in the boutiques of Chennai Airport, but each one was a miracle in stone. I was spellbound, hooked. I was probably their best customer in those three weeks; I bought several pieces to bring home as gifts.

I also brought back new inspiration, new insight into my own work as a writer.

“It’s not carved in stone!” is one of the maxims that comfort me as I write my first draft. It’s all right to make mistakes, as mistakes can be corrected in second, third and fourth drafts. Words are not stone; a clumsy word can be improved on, typos put right, ham-fisted scenes rewritten, dialogue made snappier, characters made more evil. I can chisel away at a story as much as I want; I can add new scenes if necessary, or remove ones that don’t work. I can polish, mould, move story elements around; and one day, hopefully, the story will be as perfect as my ability allows. There is no absolute perfection in storytelling; a different choice of words would produce a different story, or a different slant to the story, or a new nuance to the story. That is the beauty of writing; it is fluid, flexible, not carved in stone.

And yet I brought with me the insight that indeed, each story has its own innate truth, a form it has to be, a form it wants to be and needs to be – and that as surely as the Indian sculptor digs from a formless stone a beautiful Buddha’s head, so it is my task to dig within myself to find the inherent truth of each story I create. That takes time, and experience — and method.

In February I wrote a guest post here on “writing from the seat of my pants”. Very often, this kind of writing is dismissed as shallow, random or chaotic, and perhaps in some cases it is. But it doesn’t have to be. Done properly there is, or should be, skill involved, the skill of digging deep inside to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what the story is: its truth, which is the truth of its creator, the writer.

I was 49 when I started my writing career. I had no confidence in my writing abilities, no trust in the stories within me, or I would have started at a much younger age. I didn’t even know that stories were there in me to be written. But then I discovered Dorothea Brande’s classic Becoming a Writer, first published in 1934 and still in print.

Brande opened my eyes. Brande believed that hidden within the unconscious mind is an intelligence that must be tapped by the conscious, allowing it, the unconscious, to freely flow, “bringing at demand all the treasures of memory, all the emotions, incidents, scenes, intimations of character and relationship which it has stored away in its depths. The role of the conscious mind is to control, combine and discriminate between these materials without hampering the unconscious flow.”

In the “born writer” Brande believed, this process takes place smoothly and rapidly; by some fortunate accident of temperament or education the naturally gifted writer can put that unconscious flow completely to the service of reasonable intention, whether or not he or she is aware of doing so. There is a magic to writing, says Brande; and it can be learned.

For me the book was a turning point. She put into my hands the basic tools for excavating my own depths, for finding that hidden lump of story buried within me, and carving out its truth into a readable form, a process that indeed sometimes feels like magic.

I am basically a shy, elusive and clumsy person, and so imagine my joy when I read the following words:

The unconscious is shy, elusive and unwieldy, but it is possible to learn to tap it at will, and even to direct it. The conscious mind is meddlesome, opinionated and arrogant, but it can be made subservient to the inborn talent through training.

Brande taught me to trust the unconscious mind, to know that it is the repository of all the ingredients that make good stories. She gave me clues, hints to the many ways and means of tapping into that source. This turned out to be the method that worked for me, and worked well. In the 14 years since reading that book I have written seven novels; three were published by HarperCollins, and two became French bestsellers.  The others are waiting in line for publication, and two more are waiting to be written. To any writer who struggles to find their story, who feel that his or her problem is not with the actual craft of writing, but antecedent to that, with the finding of a story to tell; anyone who finds the actual storytelling the hardest part of writing,  that inspiration has dried up, that writer’s block has set in, that his or her story is hidden away behind a locked door I would say: read Brande’s book. It just might provide a key.

At present I am revising a novel I wrote in 2004, a novel which didn’t find an agent or a publisher back then. I thought it needed just a spit and a polish, but now, ten years later, I realised that the flaw ran much deeper. Something was missing in that first draft, a vital dimension to the story without which it fell flat.

Fresh from India and inspired by the work of those Indian sculptors, I finally found that missing dimension. I found it because I’m now a better, more mature writer, and can dig deeper. I’m a miner and a sculptor. And I am more thankful than ever that stories are not carved in stone.

Sharon #2Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1951, and spent many childhood hours either curled up behind a novel or writing her own adventure stories.  After a few years as a reporter with the Guyana Graphic in Georgetown she spent some time travelling in South America and overland to India. She ended up in Germany, married with two children, and now has a day job as a social worker in a hospital. She writes novels in her free time.

Learn more about OF MARRIAGEABLE AGE here.

Learn more about Sharon and her books here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Mixing Food Into Fiction by Author Katharine Britton

food in fictionGosh, it’s been a while! A holiday and a getaway got in the way, but really, they didn’t. Stepping aside makes it better when you come back. And, can’t write if you don’t live life, right? And food is part of living…so…today author Katharine Britton talks about food in fiction! Coming off the spring religious holiday season, we’re all probably a little bit stuffed (matzah pizza will do that to ya) but it’s a good time to think about how we use food in our writing. THE GLASS WIVES readers told me they came away hungry. In FINDING IZZY LANE I incorporate much less “real” food, but the main character, Izzy, has a lot of fond food memories. I’d like use Michigan as a setting in a novel so I collected some menus and magazines on a writer-getaway there last week. Oh, yes, and there was wine tasting of Michigan wines. That was TOTALLY research. Yep. 

Share some of your ideas and thoughts in the comments and—please welcome our friend Katharine Britton back to WFW!  (And be sure to check out the trailers for Katharine’s books at the end of the post–maybe grab a snack first!) 

Amy xo

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Guest Post: From Writing Facts To Writing Fiction by Darlene Deluca

I remember trying my typing fingers at fiction in 2007 and wondering how I was going to just make things up. It was foreign to me, this concept. I’d been a journalist, a corporate writer, an essayist, then dabbled in the brand new world of blogging. All true writing, all authentic, all me. Now I had to put the five Ws and and the H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) aside, at least sometimes? 

Indeed!

Today we have a guest post from Darlene Deluca who did the same thing. While I continued writing both fact and fiction, she set aside her corporate life to embark on fiction writing alone. Brave (and lucky) Darlene is joining us to day to share her journey.

Please welcome Darlene Deluca to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Guest Post by Debut Author Lindsey J. Palmer: Why I Set My Novel At A Women’s Magazine (even after The Devil Wears Prada)

pretty-in-inkWhen you’re writing a novel do you choose the setting—or does the setting choose you? When you read about debut author Lindsey J. Palmer’s decision to write about the world of women’s magazines, you’ll see that in her case (and in many) a setting just begs for a story. How can we, as writers, resist?

Please welcome Lindsey J. Palmer to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Book Cover Reveal For Historical Fiction Author Renee Rosen’s “WHAT THE LADY WANTS”

rrasn2014There is undeniable joy to having in-real-life friends who are authors. Hugs and wine are just part of it.  I am always so happy to share in my friends’ triumphs (tribulation sharing builds the bond, but it’s not  joyful).Truly, what more could a writer want than to be part of someone else’s story?

That’s why today I’m thrilled to present the cover for my friend, Renee Rosen’s, cover for her next novel, WHAT THE LADY WANTS.

When this photo of us was taken, just a few weeks ago at our favorite meeting place in Chicago, there were still tweaks and decisions to be made, there was still no official date she could share the cover. Now it’s here!

Renee is also the author of DOLLFACE, and you can read the WFW interview here.

But right now, let’s focus on WHAT THE LADY WANTS.

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WFW Interview: Karoline Barrett, author of THE ART OF BEING REBEKKAH

RebekkahCoverGood morning, WFW! It’s pouring here today, with thunder and lightening that sounds more like the implosion of buildings across the street than heavenly bowling. The only good thing about it? IT’S NOT SNOW! 

It’s all perspective.

And that’s what we have here today, author Karoline Barrett offering her perspective on being a debut author with a new kind of publisher. Some are calling them hybrid publishers, I think Karoline is just calling hers fabulous! (Like with anything in publishing, please do your due diligence before signing with anyone or any company.)

Now, please welcome Karoline Barrett to WFW!

Amy xo

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A WFW Book Review: Beach Plum Island by Holly Robinson

Taking Inspiration from Author Holly Robinson

beach-plum-islandAs I’m awaiting edits on my second novel from my editor, guess what I’m doing? Writing another story. Now, that may seem presumptuous. It may seem crazy. Why not take a break? Well, the more I write, the more I write. Does that make sense? It would certainly make sense to author Holly Robinson, my friend, and one of the busiest writers I know. Holly is a novelist, ghost writer, freelancer, and award-winning journalist. In addition to those things, she’s a wife, mom of FIVE, and dedicated daughter. So when I think I’M SO BUSY and my thoughts jumble, I conjure up a vision of Holly doing everything she does. And then I get back to work.

Today, Holly’s second novel with NAL is out for the world to enjoy. BEACH PLUM ISLAND is her second novel with this publisher, but her third novel, and fourth book. Holly’s memoir, THE GERBIL FARMER’S DAUGHTER was published in 2010 by Broadway Books, and Holly self-published her novel, SLEEPING TIGERS, just as she got a contract THE WISHING HILL from NAL. And, now Holly is working on her third novel for NAL, LAKE UTOPIA, due out in 2015.

But back to BEACH PLUM ISLAND!

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Tough Love And A Vintage Vibe From Debut Novelist Susan Gloss

VintageHC C (3)When I heard about VINTAGE by Susan Gloss, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! A thrift shop, clothes, accessories, jewelery, and friendships? In women’s fiction. This isn’t your high heels chick lit novel, folks, not that there’s anything wrong with those. This book showcases a cross-section of the female population and is a layered tale of friendship, written with some special touches (like the vintage clothes).

VINTAGE debuted this week, and Susan was kind enough to answer my interview questions last minute, because GUESS WHO was a little behind on her blog interviews (for shame).

Please welcome debut novelist Susan Gloss to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Fill Your Cup With Inspiration and A Story From Author Brenda Bevan Remmes

Quaker-Cafe-A-NovelHold onto your keyboards, my friends! Just when you thought you knew about all the twists and turns of publishing, meet Brenda Bevan Remmes and prepare to be inspired by the talent and tenacity!

Today is the official launch of Brenda’s novel, THE QUAKER CAFE. Congratulation her, and share your own stories, in the comment section!

Amy xo

 

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Guest Post: One Writer’s Plan To Write A Novel Before She Turned Thirty

What’s your writing story? I was always a writer, but frankly, I didn’t think I’d ever write a novel. It just wasn’t on my to-do list. And when I was looking at thirty I was looking at a two-year-old, a golden-retriever, and a cross-country move—NOT at a typewriter. When I was turning thirty, we did not own a computer, almost no one did. OY!

But, Cortney Roudebush had a plan and she followed through and finished writing a novel before her thirtieth birthday! (Which I’m guessing wasn’t that long ago.)

Remember: finishing a novel is an accomplishment. Caught up in the drive to publish we forget that. But I do remember the first time I typed THE END on the first draft of what would become The Glass Wives. That book was pronoun-challenged, cliche-filled, and lord only knows what else. But, it was FINISHED.

Read about Cortney’s journey, and welcome her to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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