Sunday, February 24, 2013

Do You Want To Write A Novel?

I encourage anyone who wants to write a novel! Making up stories for a living is the greatest job there is. Here is one of the most helpful things I can think of.
Writers write.
I know, it's an old cliche, but it's true.
The whole thing about the art of writing being the application of the seat of your pants to a chair is accurate. But much of writing isn't the typing part. The majority of writing is thinking. This happens in a variety of ways. Writers are often working on their novel even as they wash the dishes, drive to appointments, shovel the driveway, or take a shower. (I can't tell you how many times I've gotten out of the shower, completely focused on my book, only to wonder if I remembered to wash my hair – what little of it there is.) For me, much of writing is done taking long walks, walks where I'm not bird-watching or talking. The most important part of writing an effective novel is figuring out the intricacies of plot and conjuring up characters that are as real as your next-door neighbor. One can do much of that while engaging in habitual activity that doesn't require thinking.
But, unfortunately, this mix of writing while doing something else doesn't work if the something else involves talking or hanging out with other people. Nor does it work when the TV or radio is on. (Listening to background music, whether it be Yo Yo Ma or Aerosmith or Louis Armstrong is different, but only if your brain can keep it in the background.)
Writing at Carleton College

In short, if you want to write, you have to say no to most activities most of the time. I often think that that is the hardest part about writing, disconnecting yourself from the phone, the internet, the TV, the radio, the other people in the house.
Yes, some people like to write while surrounded by a crowd, but they are a small minority. I, too, have written entire chapters at Starbucks or the airport. But mostly, one needs to be alone and quiet.
So if you want to write, one of the best things you can do is turn off your phone, find some quiet solitude, and start writing.
Speaking of which, I better get back to this novel I've been working on.
Writers write.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tahoe Tunnels

There's something about secret tunnels.
I was weaned on the Hardy Boys mysteries. I believe that my parents had somewhat loftier hopes for my reading. But when I showed a dim enthusiasm for the grander works of literature, they were happy to simply have me read, so they introduced me to the Hardy Boys, of which my dad still had a few copies left over from his boyhood.
I enjoyed the stories (and was a little in love with Joe Hardy's girlfriend). But what I remember best were the book's covers.
They were classic over-the-top scenes of drama, like the dime novel pulp covers from the '40s and '50s but without the sexy women in lingerie. This was far beyond simply judging a book by its cover. I have to assume that uncountable boys like me bought the books for their covers.
One cover theme that was featured on many of the books in the series was the secret passage, the secret door, the secret panel... all of which invariably led, by my boyhood calculation, to a secret tunnel.
Now, I live in an area with real tunnels! We have the Cave Rock tunnels, many old mining tunnels, railroad tunnels, natural underwater tunnels through which you can dive, old flume tunnels. We also have the 600-foot tunnel at the Thunderbird Lodge on the East Shore, built by the eccentric, super-rich George Whittell.

 George's secret tunnel allowed him (and his lion named Bill) to travel unseen from his mansion to the boathouse of his Thunderbird boat, the beautiful old woodie that still goes half the speed of light and looks even faster. We also have the Cal Neva Lodge in Crystal Bay where owner Frank Sinatra had tunnels built to allow him, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, and other pals to escape their fans and paparazzi while they moved about the Tahoe property. There are rumors, too, that a few other Tahoe mansions, old and new, have tunnels.
You can even take tours of many of these tunnels, secret and not-so-secret.
Whether a tunnel bores through Tahoe granite or simply tantalizes from the cover of a book, there's something about secret passages. And tunnels, hidden from the world, are the epitome of secret.
Perfect subjects for a mystery writer.
Maybe Owen and Spot will one day encounter a secret tunnel.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter Night In Tahoe

 Fresh snow on the deck, lights turned down low, sparkling fire in the little red wood stove, stars visible out the skylights, Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue on the stereo, Cabernet in the wine glasses... it's time to think back on good times past. Thanks for the memories.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Power Of Stories

I was very young when I first noticed that a good story can move you more than real events in real life. Like many kids, there were books I read over and over, story records I listened to until the needle wore out the groove in the vinyl. 
Don't get me wrong. When tragedy strikes in real life, it can pull you down into the quicksand until you can't breathe. And when you fall in love in real life, you can fly better than the birds.
But good stories have a power that transcends much of normal experience. When we want to experience a good time, we may go skiing or hiking or get together with friends, drink beer, and tell jokes. We may travel and visit fine restaurants and wineries. But over and over, people use their free time to go to the movies or turn on the TV looking for a good story. And of course, those of us who love to read pick up a book.
Erika sent this pic from Miami Beach

What we often find are stories that can be funnier and make us laugh more than the funny things in real life. Make us cry more than the sad things in real life. Scare us or move us or give us the chills or make us swoon more than in real life.
It is this power of stories that make them so compelling to write. Like most authors, I'm always trying to put together a powerful story. I always wish I could do it better. But when I get email from a reader who tells me how my story entertained them, moved them, made them laugh or cry, made them worry and fret, kept them up all night, my spirit floats weightless for a little while.
Of all the tiny marks I've made in this world, telling stories is the most rewarding. People have been addicted to, and smitten by, stories from the very beginning of people-time.
Stories have amazing power.