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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Guest Post: A Tale As Old As Time—Sexism and Books By And About Women by Author Katie O’Rourke

katie orourke postIt’s a tale as old as—well for me, this blog. Overall, books written by women are not given the same attention as books written by men. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t something I paid attention to until I was on my quest to become a published author. I’ve always read books by men and women. Mostly women. When I tried to decide (in that “you must know what you write before you query” frenzy) what I was writing, the term women’s fiction made sense. I mostly write about women. Likely about topics of interest to women. Now, I know that men have read The Glass Wives and enjoyed it, appreciated it. Even men not related to me.

Obviously, I don’t mind the term women’s fiction. I always used it as a way to describe what I write until I started also using the term book club fiction. I never saw the term as an emblem of righteous indignation. Yet, the facts that author Katie O’Rourke brings to light below, are troubling. And the fact that books of all kinds by women (women don’t just write women’s fiction, shocking, I know!) don’t get the reviews and acclaim—or are even considered for it—is troubling.

Many thanks to Katie O’Rourke for wanting to share her thoughts here. Please share yours in the comments.

Amy xo 

Sexism and Books By and About Women

by Katie O’Rourke

Continue reading

Guest Post: Why I Lead A Writer’s Group by Joanne Tailele

roundtableclipartA common question I’m asked is “Are you in a writer’s group?” I’m not, which is not the answer someone is usually seeking. Even though I’m part of a few groups online Backspace, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Writer Unboxed on Facebook, in addition to my treasured Book Pregnant tribe, and have in-real-life writer friends with whom I can drink wine, kvetch, eat chocolate, hang out on the beach talk about writing and publishing and share my work, I’m not part of a group that gathers in a meeting room for the express purpose of talking about or sharing writing on a regular basis.

So when Joanne Tailele offered to write a guest post for WFW on how and why she is the president of her local writer’s group, I knew that post was the perfect fit!

Are you part of a writer’s group? Give us the info in the comments! If it’s a group at maximum capacity, or only for urban fantasy writers who are over 5’5″ and live in Idaho, share a little about the group anyway. We’d love to know how and why it started and if it works!

Please welcome Joanne Tailele to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Continue reading

Guest Post: How And Why Award-Winning Author Ann Hite Turns Her Family’s Stories Into Books

1925—Ann Hite's grandmother and grandfather at ages 15 and 16

1925—Ann Hite’s grandmother and grandfather at ages 15 and 16

StorycatcherIt can be precarious to reveal family truths within fiction. So what a treat we have today at Women’s Fiction Writers! Author Ann Hite shares with us not only the fascinating stories from her family, but how and why, she took those stories and reimagined them for her books.

Please welcome Ann Hite to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Continue reading

Guest Post: Author Sharon Maas Flies (And Writes) By The Seat Of Her Pants. And It Works.

pantsAs writers we’re often asked how we do what we do. Do we: free write, outline, summarize, dictate, timeline, chart—or do we pants. Pants? Yes. Pants. Do we write by the seat of our pants? Do we write without a roadmap? Everyone treads her (or his) own writing waters differently, and it’s always interesting and fun to find out how other writers do what they do. I do a little of each. I write outlines that I don’t always follow. I covet Post-It notes to remind me of ideas that might flee. I allow my work to wander, and use my guidelines to keep the story in check. Except when I don’t. :)

Today, we have author Sharon Maas sharing with us her writing journey which began in the 1970s in Guyana, and her writing style, which has wings. Share your journey and style in the comments.

Now, please welcome author Sharon Maas to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

The Writing Journey: Flying By The Seat Of My Pants

Continue reading

Guest Post: Debut Novelist Kathryn Craft On Women’s Fiction And Coming-Of-Age In Life And In Fiction

ArtOfFallingSmallI love introducing debut novelists at Women’s Fiction Writers! Not only is Kathryn Craft a debut novelist, but she lives in Pennsylvania not far from where I grew up. Isn’t it always fun to find out that you have something extra in common with other writers and readers besides the love of books? Today, Kathryn shares with us her true life and fictional coming-of-age story. Both are different than you might expect, and will grab your attention!

Please welcome Kathryn Craft to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Continue reading