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text 2018-08-01 04:39
Extending my mini-vacation, and then it's over
  • The four-day week-end I spent in the Seattle area was not much of a vacation, other than being a break from cooking and washing dishes.

    I think I walked three or four miles just through the airports and had the burden of hauling a suitcase and overloaded laptop case.  Being old and out of shape doesn't help.  Even on wheels, the combination of luggage was heavy.  There was no way I could have carried it up and down stairs, so I appreciated the escalators, but in many places there were just ramps.  They're fine on the downward slant, but uphill ramps have always done a number on my ankle and calf muscles.

    During my stay, we went to baseball games three days out of the four, and invariably there was uphill and downhill walking, with the same effect on my muscles as airport ramps.  Nights were often late and most mornings were early, so I didn't get nearly as much sleep as I would have liked.  And sleep in an unfamiliar bed never provides the best rest.  Each day I fell further and further behind.

    Sunday, we went to beaches.  Several of them.  We went in search of stones and seaglass.  I found enough little stones at one beach to maybe make a small tumbler load and maybe produce some casual jewelry, but the seaglass beach was inaccessible.  That was a bit of a disappointment.

    We also went to the beaches to take pictures.  No one has any pictures of me because I'm always the one taking the photos, and I don't like any of the photos of me anyway.  But everyone wanted some family pictures, so we found a big driftwood log at one beach and some pictures were taken.  I haven't seen them yet.  I'm not sure when I will.

    I returned to Arizona Monday – the airport walks were longer and even more horrendous because I was already exhausted – and wasted no time.  Dirty laundry was the first thing unpacked, and while the washer was running I finished the unpacking.  As soon as the clothes were in the dryer, I set the timer for an hour and crawled into bed for a 60 minute nap.  There being insufficient groceries in the house to fix supper – and there being absolutely no enthusiasm on my part for cooking it anyway – we went out to eat.  I came home completely exhausted in spite of my nap, and was sound asleep shortly after 9:00.

    This morning I woke up earlier than I really wanted to and had no desire to get out of bed, so I spent about an hour just being lazy and doing some thinking.  It's not the first morning I've done that, but for a variety of reasons this morning was a bit different.

    A good portion of the past weekend was also devoted to motivational conversations, for reasons I won't go into here.  Although I was not the object of these discussions, much of what was said hit home: I've not been adequately motivated to stick to my writing and I've also been far too willing to come up with convenient excuses.  The weather is too hot or too cold, there are too many worries about finances, too many appliances have broken, blah, blah, blah, blah.  The end result is that I have two novels sitting at well more than 50,000 words each, and I have done virtually nothing on either of them for months.

    A few weeks ago, I figured out why one of the books was stalled.  The problems were fixable, with some work, and the fix would make the story much stronger.  And even at 50,000 words, the book was going to require a whole lot more writing anyway.  The words don't write themselves; I'd have to stop making excuses and get to work.

    The other book presents a much more complicated problem.  I began writing it without a clear idea where it was going.  The plot was vague and strongly character-driven, so I had the character arc well formed, but not much else.  The more I worked on it, the more the writing veered to the character part of the plot and away from the story, because the story wasn't strong enough to pull it back.

    The story also had a huge hole.  No, that's not quite right.  The story as I had written it up to those 50,000 words had an obvious weakness.  At least it was obvious to me.

    As I read other books and saw similar or even worse weaknesses, I wondered if readers noticed, and if they noticed, did they care.  These flimsy plots and characters who acted without proper motivation or consistency bothered me.  Did they bother other readers?  Whether or not they did, I knew I was having more and more problems with this book because it bothered me.  I had put my character, the one who was driving the whole book, into a situation I couldn't imagine her actually getting herself into.  It made no sense to me the author; how could I even begin to make it make sense to a reader?

    Over the weekend I found an answer, or at least a possible answer.  As with the other stalled novel, this one would require more work.  I'm not sure how much work, or where the changes will need to be made.  Will I have to go back into those existing 50,000 words and make major modifications?  It's been months since I've read it all the way through and I know there are details I've forgotten.  Will they fit in this new "fix" I've sort of come up with?

    The truth is, I've allowed myself to be distracted far too much.  I've forgotten how difficult writing is.  I wanted it to be easy.

    In fact, writing has always been easy for me.  That's not to say the easy writing is always good writing, but I've always been able to do it.  

    What's hard is turning off the distractions.  What's hard is sitting down and facing the next blank line, the next sentence, the next paragraph, without worrying whether some reader is going to like it or not.  What's hard is turning of my internal editor who has the rejection slip already in her hand and just needs my own SASE to send it back to me.

    Today is Tuesday.  I'm catching up on some other work while I mentally play with these two plot improvement projects.  Tomorrow I have another grocery shopping expedition on the schedule, with the follow-up of putting the groceries away.  Overall, it will take up my entire morning.  Another list of chores faces me related to the upcoming art show season.  My first scheduled show is less than ten weeks away.

    The arts and crafts stuff is part of this.  It's a distraction in and of itself, but it's also a source of income, which I need.  There's a necessary balance to be achieved, and frankly, I haven't found it yet.  That's another task for the next couple of days as I think this all through.

    I've been in this position before.  There's always a desire to write, and plenty of workable ideas to which to apply that desire, but the distractions and emotional obstacles stand in the way.  Self doubt is a big one, and maybe having these two plots worked out – at least for now – will help erase some of that doubt.  I've never had an abundance of self-confidence, and it gets pummeled pretty regularly.  Even a light-hearted Twitter query about "Did you ever have someone who had more confidence in yourself than you did, and how did it affect you?" can feel like a dagger to the heart.  No, I never had anyone who had more confidence in me than I did.  Never.  And I never really had much confidence in myself to begin with.

    It's hard to push past that, and yet I've done it in the past.  I know it can be done.  I know I can do it.  I just have to do it.            

    Therefore, I've given myself the rest of this week to put all these other issues in order and out of the way.  There will still be work to be done for the art shows, but that's an ongoing effort.  The other stuff needs to be set aside, so I can focus on the writing.

    There were elements of my four-day weekend that were enough of a vacation to give me the opportunity to think out the problems of these two books and clarify potential fixes.  As I continue to think these through, my job is also to make -- make, not find -- the time to do the writing.  That means to stop making excuses, stop finding excuses.
     
    I think we get a warm feeling inside at the thought of everyone having a mentor, a supporter, someone who makes each of us somehow rise above whatever is holding us back so we can achieve our dreams.  The sad truth is that most of us don't have that someone.  Most of us don't achieve our dreams.  Many of us don't achieve those dreams because we're waiting for that bit of support or encouragement.  But I wonder just how many successes out there are attributable to raw, ugly, solo determination.  I'm taking that for my model.
     

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-05 18:13
Halloween Bingo BLACKOUT -- Witches -- Practical Magic -- omens abound, and I liked the movie better
Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman

 

 

 

Practical Magic wasn't my first choice for this square.  I originally intended to read Wicked, which I had picked up for 75 cents at one of those Friends of the Library sales.  But it was too much another good vs evil diatribe after I'd already read several of those, so after about 50 pages I set it aside.

 

Then I tried a few Kindle freebies, but they didn't grab me either, for a lot of reasons.

 

Last week, the writing bug bit me again, really hard as you've maybe seen by my tallies of daily production.  The Secrets of White Apple Tree Farm was -- is -- one of those weird phenomena that come to me all at once, beginning, middle, and end.  I'll be working on it again today when I finish this review, even though I also need to load my car for Sunday's art show and do a hundred other mundane tasks.

 

White Apple Tree Farm is a contemporary gothic, set in a fictitious community in northern Indiana similar to where my husband grew up.  There are some small details of the setting that are based on places -- but not people -- that actually existed there at one time.  My objective is to finish this book as soon as possible.  Hold that thought.

 

Last year, right after I had finished and self-published The Looking-Glass Portrait, I began another book.  It did not come to me in a flash, and in fact has undergone some major conceptual changes since the beginning.  One of the first changes was to the title.

 

I love coming up with titles for books.  I have, literally, lists of titles with no books to attach to them.  Rarely do I change a title once a project is underway; more often it's the title that drives the plot.  But with the book I started last year, the original title didn't work.  It so much didn't work that when I changed it, I completely forgot the original.  I even scrubbed it from the computer files I set up to collect research information.  And as the concept for that book evolved, I realized that the new (and now current) title offered some opportunities I hadn't considered.

 

The new title was -- is -- Forgotten Magic.

 

As with The Looking-Glass Portrait, that new book involved a house, and therefore I had to go looking on the internet to find just the right picture of a house to keep in my mind while writing.  I wanted a Victorian with lots of gingerbread, more romantic than creepy.  I wasn't sure, however, if there were any Queen Annes in the location where I wanted to set this story, so when I did my image search, I included the actual setting, which is Whidbey Island, Washington.  My search brought up this:

 

 

I learned that this house was built for the filming of the 1998 movie Practical Magic, which I had never even heard of, much less seen.  Although the story is supposed to be set in Massachusetts, the filming was done in Washington.

 

One the simple pleasures I had in writing LGP was that I incorporated details of places I actually knew because I had either lived or visited them.  When the idea for Forgotten Magic came to me, I knew that the atmosphere of Whidbey Island was perfect for it.  I have family who live there and I've visited a few times.  Finding the picture of the "perfect" house seemed like a little bit of an omen.

 

It's not, however, the house that is being used in the book as it's being written, for various reasons, but that's not the subject of this review.

 

Because I had not seen the movie, I checked to see if my library had the book.  They didn't, but they did have the DVD of the movie.  I checked it out.  And I enjoyed it -- except for the utterly stupid last scene.  I also recognized . . . things.

 

The character of Sally Owens (Sandra Bullock) opens a little shop in the town.  The scenes were filmed in the picturesque village of Coupeville, on Whidbey Island.  It's instantly recognizable.

 

I grabbed some screen shots while viewing the film on the laptop.

 

This is Coupeville.  The building out on the water at the upper right is a gift shop that's a favorite subject for artists.  I tried to find a souvenir cap there, but everything was made in China, so I didn't buy one.

 

Later in the film, there's another scene in Coupeville that really caught my attention:

 

 

Practical Magic was released in 1998, so filmed probably 1997-98. 

 

In July of 2013, I went up to Washington for a kind of family reunion.  My daughter and her husband and son (and dog) drove all the way from New Jersey.  With my son and his wife and son, we hit some of the usual touristy spots, including Coupeville.  We walked up and down the streets, poked into some of the shops, and even stopped for ice cream cones.

 

That's what caught my attention:  The building in the middle of that screen shot is the ice cream shop we stopped in.

 

Well, of course.  Anyone can see a shot in a movie and say, "I was there!" and maybe yes, and maybe no.  A quick Google search indicates the business is still there.

 

Next to the ice cream shop, on the far left of the screen shot, is another building.  The sign on the front reads "The Jan McGregor Studio."

 

I was quite certain, watching the movie, that I had been in that building.  In fact, I was almost certain I had bought something there.  I knew what that something was, and I knew where it was, so it was a simple matter of going to my bedroom, opening the bag it was still in, and scanning the hand-written receipt for a bundle of Japanese silk fabric swatches. 

 

The irony of refusing to buy a made in China souvenir cap but then buying the Japanese silk is not lost on me.  Or maybe it was an omen??

 

 

Because I have a bit of a fetish about fabric.

 

For various reasons, Forgotten Magic languished.  I've worked on it off and on, but other things interfered, and my passion for the novel wasn't strong enough to shove them aside.  Maybe the passion that's driving White Apple Tree Farm will fade, too, as the empty time of summer gives way to art shows and holidays and other obligations.  But Forgotten Magic is clearly not forgotten; I put together a cover art mock-up to use as my Bingo marker.

 

After the huge disappointment of The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, I knew I had to have a comfort read for my last Bingo square.  I put in a request at the library for Practical Magic. It arrived Monday.

 

I knew that there were huge differences between the book and the movie, so I was prepared for that.  I had read -- or tried to read -- Alice Hoffman before and so I was also prepared for that.

 

The book was still a bit of a disappointment, and when I finished it last night I knew exactly why:  It's me, not the book.

 

The movie had a focus the book lacked.  The movie also had characters I liked.

 

I read, and have always read, because of the people.  I want to care about them, root for them, empathize with them, encourage them.  I want them to be more than I am, to do things I can't do or am afraid to do.  I write for the same reasons -- the people.

 

Most of the characters as Alice Hoffman created them were not very likable.  The aunts are either mean or irresponsible.  Sally is too perfect and self-righteous.  Gillian is often just plain stupid.  Antonia is a bitch, then Kylie is a bitch.  None of them seem to care when their actions impact other people negatively.  (Holy shit, don't we see enough of that on the news these days?)

 

The book's lack of focus stemmed, I think, from the use of too many viewpoint characters and an omniscient point of view.  This problem was exacerbated by shifts from present to past tense.  You can call me a funky old traditionalist, and I won't be insulted, but I like a certain consistency in the writing.  Maybe it's fine for a more literary style like Hoffman's, but I found it distanced me from the events and especially the emotions.

 

The screenplay, on the other hand, narrowed that focus to the character of Sally Owens and made the story her story.  Instead of all the bad romantic choices made by Gillian and Antonia and Kylie and the drugstore girl and all the boys they ever loved, Sally became the microcosm and the prism.  Her hurt became everyone's hurt.  Her triumph became everyone's triumph.

 

I wondered how the book would have fared under the scrutiny of Christopher Vogler, whose work The Writer's Journey is virtually a bible for screenwriters and, by extension, novelists.  Then I realized that it would have fared exactly as its conversion to screen played out.  The film was better.

 

But there were other aspects of the film that I felt succeeded where the book didn't.  Although the film purports to be set in Massachusetts with its connection to witchcraft, most of the book's action takes place on Long Island, New York, where Sally has escaped to in order to raise her daughters without any influence from the aunts.  The milieu is suburban, and instead of being an outcast, Sally is fully accepted into the community.  She works at the school and the girls are more or less normal. 

 

The magical elements are far better integrated in the film than in the book.  More important, however, was that the emotional elements were better developed.  The aunts loved the sisters and cared about them; in the book the aunts were nasty and cruel, and I could only imagine them allowing the young Sally and Gillian to eat Snickers for breakfast out of a sense of neglect, not affection.  Sally and Gillian, for all their differences, still loved each other in the film.  It wasn't always easy, but the love was still there.  So was the love Sally had for her daughters -- and the love they had for the aunts.

 

Sally's romance in the book takes a back seat to Gillian's, and I found Gillian's romance with the biology teacher to be shallow and contrived.  The fact that Gillian's story in the film did not end with a happily ever after relationship seemed more fitting; she emerged from the near-death experience with renewed hope and faith in the magic of love.  (The resolution of the murder in the book seemed stupid and contrived, too.)  Sally's romance became the main thread in the film and provided motivation for all the other events.

 

One of the impressions I took away from reading the book was that Hoffman had a little bit of the Daphne DuMaurier stamp -- she didn't much like people.

 

I watched the movie three times when I checked it out the first time; I checked it out again and watched it twice more.  I make no apologies for being a romantic and for demanding a happily ever after ending from a romance.  The film version of Practical Magic worked much better as a coherent character story and as a romantic story than the book did.

 

As I said, however, that cheesy ending to the film was dumb; the final paragraphs of the book were actually better, but they weren't enough to save it from mediocrity.

 

I think on my next trip into town I'll check the film out of the library again.

 

But I have writing to do first.

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text 2016-09-23 06:20
I'm just reminding myself again that I don't believe in omens . . .

So the internet was out for about four hours this morning.  I used the time to hunt up my copy of "Somebody's trying to kill me. . .  " and a few other research materials.  And I put a few things away.

 

I also took the advice of that "omen" and did some more writing.  I had quit last night because I was at a minor block, but it worked itself out and I made progress while the internet was off.

 

Of course, there is also the TBR staring me in the face, and I have a whole bunch of reading I wanted to do before the week-end.  At the very top of the list was to finish Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Road, because I was close to being done, because it's an electronic library book, and because it's a really fascinating book.  Even if it doesn't fill a Bingo square, it was a priority.

 

Being a multi-tasker -- and one of those people who if she's reading one book is probably reading six at a time -- I was flipping back and forth between Steinem and Joanna Russ and Kay Mussell, as well as working on my own book, which I briefly mentioned here in the Mansions, Moonlight, and Menace discussion group.  My own contemporary gothic romance, set on Whidbey Island, Washington.

 

Real life interrupted me frequently, as it always does, but as the day wore on, I made progress on all fronts.  I put up a couple of posts here on BookLikes.  I ran a few errands.  I demolished the gigantic cobweb on the corner of the big bookcase.  And I got within striking distance of the end of the Steinem book.

 

Then, on page 267 out of 285, this:

 

 

The very real Hedgebrook is located no more than two miles from the location on Whidbey Island where I had mapped my fictitious sites; the photos on their website could have been extracted from my own imagination.

 

I don't believe in omens.  I don't believe there's some cosmic entity that is dropping little personal hints to me that hey, Linda Ann, you need to write this book.  Nope, not even the scenes from Practical Magic are omenic enough.  I knew before I saw the film that it had been shot there, that the house had been built there just for filming.  So it was no surprise to see the scenes of Sandra Bullock walking the streets of Coupeville.

 

 

It's not an omen if you're expecting it, right?

 

But if you're not expecting it, does that make a difference?

 

 

 

 

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