A year ago, I attended one of my favorite writing retreats: the writers’ weekend at Nimrod Hall. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it this year, and I missed the camaraderie and stimulation I find at Nimrod. I recommend my readers find a good residential writing workshop; in addition to the community of writers you’ll meet, you’ll also receive great feedback on your writing. Below is a blog post from this time last year, telling a little about Nimrod and the programs it offers. I hope you’ll check out the opportunities they have!
For many years I’ve traveled to Nimrod Hall in Millboro, Virginia, for their annual writing retreat. Nimrod has inspired several of my stories and given me hours of valuable writing time.
Nimrod Hall, established in 1783, has been providing summer respite from everyday stress since 1906. It has been operating as an artist and writer colony for over 25 years. The Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program is a non-competitive, inspirational environment for artists to create without the distractions of everyday life.
Once upon a time, I worked with Dr. Joyce Dyer at Hiram College. We were just solidifying the writing program and making it more prominent within the curriculum. Joyce was a great choice to head those efforts, for she is a stellar colleague and widely admired teacher. But that’s not why I am writing about her today.
Joyce Dyer has a flair for drawing on her own life and making it bigger—relevant, compelling reading.
In a Tangled Wood: An Alzheimer’s Journey is a rare, powerful memoir of a mother and daughter in the world of Alzheimer’s. It is humorous, painful, and wise. Joyce doesn’t shy away from the struggle, but this book contains a surprising wealth of joy as well.
Sociology of time and place permeate two of her books. The titles say it all: Goosetown: Reconstructing an Akron Neighborhood and Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town. The former, in particular, is a case study in writing memoir based on the earliest years of one’s life. How can those memories be recovered? Those times revisited? Anyone interested in writing—or simply reading—memoir should check out these books.
The keen eye and talent for the telling detail that characterize her own work enabled her to edit two volumes of essays that are prime reading for anyone interested in writing, women’s writing, women’s history, or life in general!
Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers is particularly poignant for me. Being firmly rooted in the hills of eastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio, Appalachian voices and places permeate many of my short stories and one (as yet unpublished) novel.
And now I have the pleasure of starting From Curlers to Chainsaws: Women and Their Machines. Published just last year, this is a new acquisition, an anthology I expect to enjoy reading and to shelve for reference. Bill Roorbach’s cover comment says it beautifully: “From Curlers to Chainsaws makes stops along the way to visit prosthetics, lawnmowers, typewriters, vibrators, washing machines, and on and on, from traditional women’s gear to equipment we’re all using now, praise be… a book of women’s voices so clear and diverse and funny and heartbreakingly individual that you hurry from one to the next…” I can hardly wait!
The importance of birth order is so widely recognized, there are even T-shirts about it! And every good novel that involves family relationships takes birth order into account, either directly or indirectly.
You probably know Jane Austen is one of my all-time favorite authors. Her books are rife with sibling relationships. Partly, that reflects the period in which her novels are set. In the 19th century, at least among the gentry, birth order determined everything from how one was addressed (Miss Bennett vs. Miss Elizabeth) to who inherited titles and estates.
But birth order goes much beyond the social niceties. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, birth order of the five Bennett daughters is a recurring theme, with much being made of Lydia’s position as the spoiled baby of the family. The dour Mr. Darcy’s personality reflects his position as the only son charged at a young age with the care of his estate, tenants, and a much younger sister. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s position as a second son determined everything from his career choice to his marital prospects. Charles Bingley is manipulated by his sisters.
More recently, you have four sisters who thrive as individuals (Little Women) but also a family falling apart (Sound and the Fury). In the latter, Quentin is hypersensitive, aware of sibling issues but unable to act, and considers suicide; Jason is jealous, tries to dominate, and wants to put Benjy in an institution; everyone tries to protect Caddie, who gets pregnant out of wedlock; and Benjy, the youngest, is feeble-minded and pure.
Perhaps my brain just isn’t functioning well this morning, but as best I can recall, among mystery writers, sibling relationships’ primary role relates to the victim and the suspects. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But what about the sleuth—whether professional or amateur?
Consciously giving your main characters siblings—or not—makes for a richer, more realistic portrayal. This is true whether they are present on the page or only in the thoughts or awareness of the character. This is especially true for series characters.
Reams of psychological research exists to determine the effects of birth order and explain how those effects come about. But here’s a quick-and-dirty crib sheet to get you started.
First borns are high achieving, conscientious, approval-seeking, risk-averse, anxious, emotionally intense, defensive, and prone to jealousy.
Latter borns are more competitive (especially second-born, same sex), rebellious, liberal, agreeable, flexible, sociable, able to compromise, build coalitions, negotiate, and adopt peacemaker roles.
Last born children are more likely to question rules, develop a revolutionary personality, and expect others to serve them; they’re also less likely to volunteer or take responsibility.
Only children share many characteristics with first-borns; they may feel like outsiders, are extremely mature, aloof, and expect special standing.
Things to keep in mind: 1) the generalizations are based on group data, so there are wide individual variations; 2) effects are moderated based on the sex of each child and the age gap between them; family patterns often transfer to the workplace or social relationships.
I just returned from family time in Colorado, with lots of airport hours each way.
And as is the case with airports everywhere, there was a Hudson’s for last-minute purchases at exorbitant prices, with prominent displays of bestsellers. Oh, to be Patterson or Sedaris!
Who buys a big heavy book at an airport?
This made me think of The Accidental Tourist–at least I think that was the book/movie in which the protagonist wrote travel guides for people who hate travel. He advised always traveling with a hardcover book to discourage seat mates from chatting.
But are there many people like that out there?
If so, they must be limited to the planes, because they certainly weren’t in the airports.
In ascending order of frequency, I saw people work reading,
and reading on electronic devices.
I am in this last group. It’s the perfect way to carry literally hundreds of books in the space and weight of one paperback. DEFINITELY THE WAY TO GO!
From now through August 27, 2017, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is featuring an exhibition of the work of Yves Saint Laurent, a trend-setting couturier who built a body of work unique in creativity and originality.
A whole section of the exhibit pays homage to Saint Laurent’s artistic influences, including Piet Mondrian (far right in photo above), ancient Greek vases, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, and Tom Wessellmann (far left in photo).
Artistic cross-pollination is everywhere. A prime example of art to music is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann. Viktor Hartmann was an artist, architect, and designer.
Using photos as story starters for writers is a classic technique. Whole books have been based on that premise.
Bottom line: Attend to non-written art and often inspiration strikes. Look at photos, art exhibits, paintings and pottery. Listen to the lyrics of songs and the emotions evoked by music. Think cross-pollination!
This is a fun read and less than 200 pages. For one thing, it’s humorous. And it’s a scientific fact that laughing is good for your physical and mental health. So, even if you aren’t rule-bound, you might want to be rule-informed.
The authors are concerned with everyday actions which—although neither immoral nor illegal—are generally considered improper. In general, these are rules for getting along well in U.S. society. Readers are encouraged to suggest additions or amendments to thebookofrules.com.
The rules are organized into the following chapters.
DRIVING, should you want to know about the Green Light Honk, singing along with the radio, who controls the dashboard configuration, and similar vital information.
SHOPPING, including the proper direction and speed of pedestrian flow, shopping cart selection and return, seasonal shopping guidelines, and the proper protocol for found money, to name a few.
DINING OUT, besides dress codes and tipping guidelines for awkward situation, includes dining out with coupons, touching hot plates, and offering compliments/complaints—and more!
FOOD, including accommodating vegetarians, the cereal box prize, and the thickness of peanut butter and jelly.
HABITS AND MANNERS: Who doesn’t want to know how to yawn properly, issue an acceptable fart, or notify an individual of bad breath? This is a long chapter.
HOME: Learn how to make a 60-second sofa seat reservation, authorize the use of wind chimes, deal with yard parkers, and more.
BATHROOMS (such a major topic it’s separated from home in general): Look her for advice on locking the bathroom door, looking in a friend’s medicine cabinet, towel folding and display, and public restroom rules for men and for women. (BTW, I, for one, disagree with their guideline for dispensing toilet tissue.)
The remaining chapters of KITCHENS, DRESS, MULTIMEDIA, THE WORKPLACE, AND TRAVEL contain similarly essential and guidance. As I said, it’s a pleasant read. And if you are like me, intentionally flaunting the rules is inherently gratifying!
If you’re a writer, imagine the ideas for creating an unusual obsessive-compulsive character’s behavior.
I had a high school English teacher who much preferred “it isn’t” to “it’s not” because, she said, the latter sounded too much like “snot.” Apparently snot was an uncomfortable word for her. Decades later, I still say “it isn’t.”
But that isn’t to say snot should always be avoided. Snot can be a very useful word for writers. The word has connotations beyond the definition and can imply, among other things, social class—for example, a snot-nosed kid—whether spoken by a character or part of the narrative.
The Dictionary of Uncomfortable Words is a collection of words that two men (Andrew Withan and Brian Snyder) label as uncomfortable. In that regard, it is personal opinion. They emphasize that this dictionary does not contain “dirty” words, just words that evoke a response of uneasiness in the listener/reader. Consider the power this gives you, the writer.
For example, if a character drops words like masticate, undulate, viscous, flaccid, or engorge into his/her speech, it might make other characters uncomfortable. And if the other character is unfamiliar with the word, such as invaginate would be for most people, then that other character could well feel insulted or offended—which could lead to any number of responses by the speaker.
Then there is the issue of whether the character/narrator uses uncomfortable words on purpose—and if so, what purpose?
Words like faggot, fairy, dike, gay, and queer are fraught with implications, not completely counteracted by a non-sexual context.
What words make you uncomfortable? Identify them and find ways to use them to strengthen your writing.
If words like lugubrious or luscious don’t readily come to mind, pick up this dictionary. It’s a treasure!
From early childhood—before I was even old enough to know what the holiday commemorated—before I could even say “independence”—the 4th of July meant a family gathering. Given that my mother was one of thirteen children, that meant a BIG family gathering. It would be a potluck, with tons of food before dark, kids playing tag and catching fireflies, men playing penny-ante poker and drinking beer, women gossiping and keeping the food table laden.
We typically gathered at one of several relatives’ farms. Food was under the trees. And after dark there were fireworks—illegal fireworks. The children had to stand way back, but at least we could hold sparklers.
The next time I got into a 4th of July tradition was when I moved to Ashland, Virginia, self-styled The Center of the Universe.
The Ashland parade goes a fair way toward being unique. Besides the old-time vehicles, military marchers, and onlookers dressed in red, white, and blue, they often have a kazoo band, Miss Liberty in costume, and people on horseback. Then there is the Bicycle/Tricycle Brigade, and Uncle Sam.
But the truly unusual aspects (IMHO) are the Lawn Chair Brigade…
and The Bassett Brigade.
When the parade is over, everyone gathers on the lawn of the Hanover Arts and Activities Center to hear the community band play patriotic music.
This is also the time for food—brought from home or bought from vendors. AND to find out who won the apple pie baking contest!
This year, now that I am living in Richmond, I’ll celebrate by watching John Adams and family, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson (impersonators, of course) share memories of 1776 meetings.
And then there will be a performance by Williamsburg Musick Fife & Drum.
That will leave most of the day free to read—maybe my latest Gabaldon purchase.
Whatever you do, see, hear, or read, enjoy your day of Independence!