Category Archives: point of view

How Soon Is Soon?

I was going to write a blogpost soon, but that was hours ago. I was going to advertize my new novellas soon, but that was days ago. My husband was going to choose paint colors soon, but that was months ago. And my next novel, Subtraction, was going to come out soon, but how soon is soon?

subtraction copy

Then yesterday I got good news. Subtraction has a tentative release date of August 1st. Hurray! So now I shall have to advertize soon, beg for reviews, try to get the book into stores… and dream. And definitely dream. Because Subtraction completes a trilogy begun with Divide by Zero and continued in Infinite Sum. Sure, I’m working on Imaginary Numbers now, but that will follows lives on different paths. Subtraction completes the arc of lives wounded by Amelia’s death. Subtraction follows the absent father, and places him very present on center stage. And I can’t wait to see how it will be received.

As to those novellas, perhaps they’ll be fodder for another blogpost, coming “soon.” But for now, here’s a taste of Subtraction, following the writing prompt.

Writing Prompt:

Our writer’s group’s experimenting with different points of view – it’s amazing how they can feel like different authors when you let them on the page. So…

  1. Imagine a teacher walking into a classroom. The students stare.
  2. Start the story in first person from the teacher’s point of view. “New class. New students. What do I do? Will they listen?” and write for just 5 minutes.
  3. Continue in 3rd person omniscient – what does the teacher look like? What about the students. What are they thinking? What does the teacher think? How does the lesson begin? 5 minutes again.
  4. Then finish with nothing but dialog between teacher and students, and see where it takes you.

When you’ve finished, meet Andrew from Subtraction, as he meets his new class:

Part 1

1

“Now children, today I will teach you to subtract.” Andrew marched to the front of the classroom, ready to start his second year with these kids. He frowned as he pondered whether addressing a middle-grade, special-needs audience as children might be insulting, but his mind seemed devoid of alternative words as it sank into more familiar mathematical terms. “Subtract,” he repeated.  To take away, abuse, discard, destroy…

Youthful faces, ranging from blandly accusing to sleepily bland, stared back at him, and clearly couldn’t care less if he frowned or cried. Faint groans arose, inspiring that familiar tightness in his chest. But these students, subtracted from their regular classes, weren’t rejects; not really; not yet; Andrew wasn’t going to fail them if he could help it.

“Sub-traction.” He spoke the syllables carefully and wrote the word with a purple flourish on the whiteboard. The pen squeaked louder than the nervous quiver of his throat while he half-turned to check the children were seated, and to see who was laughing.

A class clown bounced on his chair in the middle of the room.  “Is that like action that’s not acting right?” Beetled eyebrows wiggled, mimicking the bouncing of the tall boy’s limbs.

“Nah,” groaned the one known as Jonah the Whale, squashed like a deflated football in his seat near the door. The force of Jonah’s voice blew strands of sandy hair up like a helmet, and he clawed his armpits with stubby fists. “ Sub-track; it’s like acting subhuman, like what you do.” He pointed to the clown.

Andrew rapped a ruler on the desk. “No teasing in class,” he insisted. Then he repeated, slowly, solemnly—fiercely driving down the whimper of his new-year apprehension— “We’re studying subtraction.”

For a moment, the deep, cultured tone of his own voice distracted him. Who am I? he wondered, and who am I to teach them? But he couldn’t pause to evaluate the answer. “Subtraction is sometimes called taking away.” And what has been taken from me?

Andrew’s eyes wandered, taking in shapes, positions, posture, provocation and more. Meanwhile he pondered what these middle-school rejects might make of the phrase, taken away, they who’d never been given enough in the first place? Inhaling an unhealthy burst of dry-erase solvent, he dragged himself back to the present and began a slow walk around the room.

Fair-haired Amy sat near clownish Zeke. She wrapped thin, freckled arms around the treasures on her desk. Her lips were parted as she muttered under her breath, “Not take away. Not take away.” The delicate voice reminded Andrew of the tick from an antique clock, from an antique home, from a life long lost. He leaned forward to offer comfort to the child. Doll-eyes blinked, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her gaze was fixed on some curious infinity. Her face, pink-cheeked and porcelain smooth, bore only the tiniest hint of unlikely concern, as if she were looking through a window at someone else’s lesson.

“Ah, Amy.” Andrew sighed. “Nobody’s going to take your treasures away.”

Three safety pins from a diaper set were arrayed in the middle of her desk. Buttons in multiple colors formed jagged hills beside them. A pencil with rainbow-colored point, and a pad of rainbow notelets were neatly positioned between musically drumming fingers.

“First we add things,” Andrew said, raising his voice as he marched toward the front of the room again. “Then we have a collection”—a collection of buttons perhaps, and did Amy know how many were lying there?—“and then we…”

“Takeaway! Like burgers!” brayed Julie’s rusty voice of triumph behind him.

Andrew turned. “Well, not quite, Julie,” he admitted, feeling the focus splinter.

“I want my takeaway. I want.” Loud thumps of threatening persistence on the desk accompanied Tom’s voice. Angry Tom, he was in his fourth special school for misbehavior and might soon be dropped out entirely unless teachers like Andrew could win him over. But chaos rumbled over other desks as well.

Andrew tensed, needing a clearer answer, before things fell apart. Then he felt a bubble of inspiration turn his frown to a smile. This was why he did this job. This was why he loved it.

“Yes. Yes. And yes,” Andrew announced, facing the class from behind his desk and pumping his arm with the words like a teenager. His tones turned increasingly valiant as his gaze slid across the sea of puzzled faces. “You’re right.” He pointed to Julie. “Tom’s right… And you… and you… Let’s order some takeaway, just as soon as we’ve got this done.” Then he started to count, pointing to the students each in turn. “Let’s order… seven, eight, nine burgers.”

“I want nuggets!”

“Nine orders of food.” Andrew corrected himself. “And I’ll be in charge of passing them around.”

He had their attention now, or food did anyway.

“I’ll set the box down on my desk, right here. And when I’ve handed one meal to Jonah… you tell me… how many more will be in the box?”

“Me first,” shouted Tom, ignoring the question. But others students waved fingers to count and tried to work it out.

Shy Amy’s head hung down as she continued to play with the buttons on her desk. Her fingers wove in hypnotically distracting patterns. Don’t look at her. Don’t watch. You’ll make her mad. But blue eyes focused suddenly on Andrew, cold as winter, distant as spring. Red-button lips pursed into words, spoked out in a quietly determined, uninflected voice. “Eight.”

“Very good, Amy. So then I give one meal to Amy.” Andrew waved a hand with the imaginary parcel. “Just wait a minute, Tom. And how many are left?”

Middle-grade mind needed a pause before answering, “Seven?”

“Then to Tom… “

“Hurray!”

“Six… five… four…”

The students completed the sequence at last, and Andrew announced in triumph, “That’s subtraction, class. When we take something out of the box, we’ve subtracted it.”

Faces shone back at him in that pause within the triangle of trouble, food and learning. Then Jonah the Whale bounced his chair, legs creaking scarily. “So, when can we eat?”

Whispers rustled, then Tom’s throaty voice rang out, combining threat and doubt. “Order it! I’m hungry.”

Andrew took out his phone. “What’s the number? Anyone know?”

Then food’s calm promise brought peace, giving Andrew a chance to spend more time in quiet discussion with Tom. He said all the right words, warning of all the right consequences, taking into account the rightness of Tom’s desire for burgers, and adding a reminder that the whole class needed to learn. Subtract a little bad behavior here and there, don’t shout too loud, look like you’re taking notice, and all will be well.

Meanwhile Shy Amy drew with her rainbow pencil, plus and minus signs entwined with whispering shades and colors on the rainbow page. Take away her autism, and who might Amy be then?

Take away Amelia’s autism…?

Voices from the past ushered a host of memories in Andrew’s mind. Amelia was the girl long gone, long lost under green of trees and waving branches in a place called Paradise—Amelia, her mother, Andrew’s parents, Carl… all subtracted like numbers from his page. He let his gaze drift to the window, hoping the sky’s bright tones would wash his palette clean again. But who-am-I doubts combined with the whispering of leaves and chatter of children. He couldn’t forget. That long slow walk between Tom’s desk and the classroom door could take a lifetime, waiting for delivery’s knock.

 

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Can You Write A Selfie?

I’m getting better at taking selfies–really I am–though I doubt they’d help me sell any books if I stuck my image on the back. Aging, graying, not quite sure which direction to look in–would you buy a book photographed by me? More importantly–from my point of view anyway–would you buy a book written by me? And can you write a selfie?

Photographic selfies come–or at least they came–in many forms. Here’s my first one, taken through a mirror.

IMG_1557

Hmmm, a little blurred isn’t it, like one of those out-of-focus stories that never quite gets to the point, or has so many points the reader can’t find them? Next came the camera-on-the-computer selfie, with me so proud, holding the first (of many) proofs.

Picture 002

Are you looking at the books or the writer here? If you read my stories, will you see my characters or me? Then I ponder: Even if my opinions don’t totally obscure the scene, they can still distract (and detract from the best-told tale). But At last I got a phone with a backward-facing lens–my chance to take a real, modern-day selfie. What do you think?

20150804_182149 (2)

Look up, look down, look straight, left, right, or somewhere: Choose an angle, I guess, but surely don’t choose this one, in writing or photography, from which I conclude, points of view are really quite important.

I tried again. Does this one work…

20140824_184317

…or should I have chosen a background that made sense? Set a scene that’s understandable for the reader or the viewer–that’s one to remember.

And then there was this. What do you think?

20160116_121643

(No glasses – the wonders of cataract surgery earlier this year!)

Someone suggested that everyone we write about lives in our heads (unless we’re writing biographies I suppose). So all those characters entering and leaving rooms, victims and perpetrators of crimes, male, female, adult, child… are they all me? Is every character study in my novel a selfie from some hidden part of my mind?

I don’t know the answer, but the question did inspire a writing exercise:

Now Write

  1. Imagine yourself entering a room–to win a writing prize perhaps, or to stop your child from crying, or…
  2. Describe your entry from your own point of view–are you confident, scared, excited… how do you walk? Is your breathing slow or fast? Where are your eyes focused? What are you doing with your hands? And what are you wearing; how does the fabric move with you, or the wind blow your hair?
  3. Describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s glad to see you–parent, child, spouse, best friend, eager recipient of your benevolence… Who or what do they see, hear, or smell, and what thoughts fill their minds?
  4. Now describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s not pleased to see you–the person who hoped to win the prize, the cat who hoped to stay with the child, the monster returned to its closet…
  5. And finally, turn one of those descriptions into a story.

Publishing is Murder!

If I’ve fallen off the face of the internet recently, I have a good excuse. Our local writers’ group, The Writers’ Mill, committed to self-publishing our fourth anthology in time for Christmas 2015, and time sped by. Suddenly I was fifteen books behind with reading and reviewing, three behind with writing, and deeply entrenched in editing, formatting and publishing one solitary volume. But now, at last, I can raise my head above the metaphorical quick-sand. Our next writers’ contest has the theme of murder, and I’m thinking it won’t be half as murderous as this.

In case you’re interested, our anthology, The Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 4, is now available from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Mill-Journal-2015-Journals/dp/1517594472/) and all good bookstores (and from Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Mill-Journal-Journals-Book-ebook/dp/B016C98RI4/):

The Writers' Mill Journal Volume 4
The Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 4

Meanwhile, how about those murders… Here’s a writing exercise for our next Writers’ Mill meeting, and for you:

First Think

  1. What do you think of when somebody says “Murder”?
    1. Clue – Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick?
    2. TV cop show – CSI Miami?
    3. Recent events and shootings – gun control?
    4. Old movies – Arsenic and Old Lace?
    5. Self-publishing
    6. What else?
  2. A murder story doesn’t have to be a mystery. What else can it be?
    1. Horror
    2. Psychological thriller
    3. Humor
    4. What else?
  3. The type of story might determine the point of view
    1. Whose head do you need to be inside for horror to scare you?
    2. Whose head do you need to be inside to get involved in solving a mystery?
    3. Whose head will you be in to understand the murderer’s mind?
    4. Whose head to not take it seriously?

Then Try

  1. You’re going to write three one-paragraph mini-murder stories, but first we’ll do the Clue thing:
    1. Where might a murder take place?
    2. Who might commit a murder?
    3. Who might get killed? (or what, I suppose)
    4. Who might try to solve the crime?
  2. Pick a location, a murderer, a victim and an optional investigator or bystander.
    1. Write one paragraph describing the murder scene after the event. This might be through the eyes of an investigator or passer-by, or just describe from an omniscient point of view.
    2. Describe the same scene in one paragraph through the eyes of the killer. This can be before, after or even during the event – depends how gruesome you want to be.
    3. Describe the same scene in one paragraph through the eyes of the victim. This can be before or during the event… or if you want to deal in ghosts or inanimate objects, describe the scene after the event.
  3. Read your three paragraphs
    1. How did the scene change as you looked through different eyes?
    2. Which version was harder to write?
    3. Which point of view will you choose to write the longer story?

Now Write

Overwhelming those Devils in the Details

I finished reading a novel recently. It was a really detailed novel; the sort of tale that tells exactly what a woman was wearing and why they chose each garment for what intended effect before she left the house this morning, which she did with a longing gaze around each of the rooms she passed through, remembering the appearance and provenance of each item of beloved furniture. Then someone shot her and she died.

The novel qualified as a pretty slow read; probably a frustrating one too. After all, as a reader I invested enough thought to follow those various pages, only to find the character didn’t matter. The scenes were vividly real. Her thoughts rang convincingly true. But I felt side-tracked from a story that continued by following someone else. Perhaps it’s just me.

Still, it reminded me of a writing exercise we did a while ago in our group, so I’ll offer our question of details here, for your reading and writing enjoyment:

table and chair

Brainstorm:

Imagine you’re standing in the doorway to an office. Inside the room is a desk. Behind the desk is a chair. Behind the chair is a window. There might be some shelves or filing cabinets against the wall. What can you see? Make a (clear and detailed) list.

Looking deeper:

Now imagine a character standing there instead of you. Who is he, she or it?

  • frightened girl
  • angry man
  • clever spy
  • controlling daughter
  • add to the list and take your pick.

There’s no one else in this office right now, but give your character a reason to be there:

  • She got a message demanding her presence
  • He’s determined to get his revenge
  • Something’s hidden; she’s going to find it
  • She needs a way to make her dad agree
  • what else?

Rapid Write:

Now write a paragraph in which your character enters the room. Which things do they notice and what do they ignore? Which details matter from your original list? If your character’s too scared or too busy to look out the window, do you really need to describe how tiny the people seem down below, or the color of the curtains?

Have fun.