Kay: Narrating Family History

The family tree of Cesky Sternberk Castle, Czech Republic (Library of Congress)

Novelists create characters. We give them names and personalities, families, backgrounds, and histories. We give them motivations and core values, often based on what they learned from their families or what’s important to their heritage, so they have reason to make the choices they do in our narratives.

Imagine my surprise when I learned from Ancestry that individual Americans actually know very little about their heritage.

Ancestry commissioned a survey from OnePoll, which canvassed 2,000 people in the United States. They found that many Americans don’t know or are unclear about their family origins.

  • 25 percent don’t know from what countries their families came to the United States
  • 40 percent of Americans polled are not certain from what country their last name originates

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Kay: Why I Write

In 1946, J.B. Pick and Charles Neil, editors of Gangrel magazine, published an essay by George Orwell called “Why I Write.” Orwell’s essay became famous, and when I first read it, it was a revelation, from his early life that shaped his mind, to his military service and early jobs that focused his point of view. His thoughts and opinions are, shall we say, bracing. So, whenever I want to think about why I spend so much time by myself in a small room, I look to see what other people who do what I do think about it. Continue reading

Michille: National Novel Writing Month

NaNo-Shield-Logo-Web

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.” It starts on November 1 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Participants attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in that timeframe. I’ve tried it before and was almost successful once.

So how does it work? The NaNo-er signs up and completes a profile, decides what to write, selects a “home region” (used for stats on the website and offers the potential to meet with others in your area for writing time or inspiration), and starts writing on November 1. During the month, stay tuned to the NaNo website to upload word count and check on others’ progress. Continue reading

Kay: How Romance Novels Can Reinvent Religion

From the Hot & Bothered podcast site

The first time I heard a feminist definition of a romance novel (female author writes a book celebrating values of love, compassion, community, and friendship, with a female protagonist who fights for what she wants and gets it), I was hooked. Those books were for me.

Can romance novels create a new feminist dynamic? I don’t know. But women and men read romances for the hope they offer, the comfort they give, and the values they aspire to. That’s good enough for me. And if they help create a new feminist dynamic, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

But there’s more! I recently read an article by Kimberly Winston in the Washington Post that suggests that religion can be reinvented through romance novels—that because of the themes and values romance novels showcase, they can be considered sacred texts. Holy bodice ripper, Batman! Continue reading

Elizabeth: NaNo Countdown – 1 Week To Go

October is racing to an end, which means there is only 1 week left before the start of this year’s NaNoWriMo.  Michille had a good post the other day about preparing to write and the NaNo website is full all sorts of good information, like the NaNo Prep Webcast.

Part of my prep-work has included finishing up a host of non-writing projects so they aren’t hanging overhead when I’m trying to write.  I’m also wrapping up a big multi-year project at the Day Job, which should free up some much needed brain-cells.  I will definitely need those to hit my daily writing goals.  All that is left, other than those pesky story details, is to decide when to write and to stock up on motivational “reward-for-hitting-today’s-goal” treats. I have found that cupcakes are excellent in that role.

As I’ve mentioned that last few weeks, my writing specific preparation has included drafting a rough outline for my new story, figuring out the setting(s), and getting to know my characters.

That’s all I need to craft a great story, right?

Oh wait, those characters probably need some goals and motivations so they actually have something to do.

<sigh>

Guess that means this is a good time to focus on:  Conflict Continue reading

Kay: Spending Your Time—The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The Wreckage of the Black Prince (fragment) by Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky, 1854.

Becoming an author requires a lot of work, from the writing to publishing and marketing. It’s easy to get caught up in writing-related activities that don’t yield much, if anything, in results. In the lingo of economists, this phenomenon is called the sunk cost fallacy—really a high-fallutin way of pointing out how you’re wasting your time.

I just read an article about the sunk cost fallacy, and it resonated with me since I’ve so recently fallen victim to it. So, what is it and how does it work?

In economics, a “sunk cost” is a cost that you’ve already paid, says Robert Wood on Standout Books. For writers, this payment can be financial, but usually the resources that you spend are time, energy, and emotional commitment.

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Michaeline: DIY Art

A baby looking into the mirror, much like a famous picture of Alice kneeling on the mantlepiece looking into Wonderland.

Everyone is an artist of some kind. Art is definitely something you should try at home, kids! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

All of us blogging here are DIY artists. We write, therefore we are. I suspect a great many of our readers also recognize themselves as creators. Last week, I talked a little bit about how all of us are creating art in our daily lives – whether it be expanding bread and water into herbal iced tea and pretty crackers with cheese and cucumber slices, or taking sackcloth and sandals up a notch to a sundress with really cute sandals. Or maybe you are taking some basic fictional elements, adding a few nuggets from the news or history, and coming up with your very own, do-it-yourself story, specially tailored to fit your tastes.

Jeanne in the comments last week linked to a very interesting piece from The Atlantic about bucket list art exhibits.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/yayoi-kusamas-existential-circus/528669/

The biggest thing that struck me after reading the article was how so many of these experiences sound like something we could re-create ourselves, should we wish to go through the time and effort. The article talks about an art installation where Rirkrit Tiravanija made Thai curry at a Chelsea gallery . . . and the Museum of Modern Art. (From the MoMA blog.) https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/02/03/rirkrit-tiravanija-cooking-up-an-art-experience/ I once missed the chance to watch a man make curry for Lois McMaster Bujold. This man does this in different venues, and while I don’t think he’d call it art, it sounds like it could be.

Yayoi Kusama’s mirrors remind me of childhood dressing rooms with three mirrors providing a glimpse into infinity. An infinity of grey carpet and slightly soiled beige walls, but there I was, right in the middle, multiplied over and over again. It wasn’t as beautiful as Kusama’s work, but it left a vivid memory.

A woodcut from 1857 showing Tanabata willows covered with wishing strips and summer decorations. A light wind is blowing and making them flutter above the rooftops.

The wishing trees of Tanabata are a very old tradition in Japan, and as you can see, they make striking art that also is suitable for other artists to recreate. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Yoko Ono’s Wish Trees are very much like the Tanabata wishing trees of the summer season in Japan. The difference is that people don’t fold up their papers like they might for Ono’s Wish Tree, but write their wish on a piece of thick paper, and hang it up on the bamboo or willow branch for the world to see. I’ve done this many times, and it’s so interesting to see the elementary scrawl of school children wishing for games and toys, or sometimes good grades and once in a while, something even more poignant. Peace for the soul of a family dog, or Continue reading