Back to School

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In case you aren’t aware, I am the author of Shadow Ballet, a novel I wrote many years ago.  I took three years to complete the manuscript, another two decades to finally see it in print.  After being rejected by what seems like every publisher on the planet I bit the bullet and self published.  Those who have read the novel have been very complimentary, but I, like so many others, have learned that self publishing is a way to spend a lot of money without earning profits.

I continue to work on other stories because I love to write, to tell stories, to express myself through the characters I create.  On the other hand, after so many years of not earning a living by writing, I have begun to learn how to write profitably.

Through the years of my careers, I have found myself being tasked with writing for the people who employed me, often being paid for my efforts, but usually in conjunction with other duties for which I was hired.  Unfortunately, that sort of writing is not what can be counted on the pay the bills, so I set out to investigate what kind of writing would keep the rent paid.

It took a while, there being a thousand ways to choose the wrong road to follow, my diligence has paid dividends and I am now enrolled in a course of study and applying the elbow grease needed to complete the courses of study.  The homework is not easy, but that is a good thing.  If it was easy it would have little true value.  I look forward to being able to spend my days doing what I love: writing.

Oh yeah, my granddaughter has written a book, available at Amazon just like mine.  Check out The Forces That Connect Us by R. Beverly.

Architecture of a Novel

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Telling a story is like designing and building a house. The house has different rooms, different finished surfaces, rooms and spaces with different purposes, all organized into a working whole. The idea of the design usually begins with where it will be built so that it can take advantage of light, view, the lay of the land. So it is with my novel, formed around a location I knew as a young man.

Places sometimes become indelibly imprinted on our mind, remembered for any number of reasons. No matter where life’s path leads us, memories of those locations remain as sweet reminders of what we once experienced. I chose to leave the north coast and live elsewhere, but I carry deep a love for the region and its unique character.

Choosing Big Lagoon as a location for my story was made many years ago and by having been away for long many years I felt free to take some liberties with my descriptions. Like the architect who moves some earth around to place a foundation or cuts foliage to open up a view, I carved some new features into the landscape to make my tale take the form I had designed. I love the freedom fiction offers in creating settings, events, and people.

Once I had created the landscape to suit my intentions, the enjoyment of creating the characters who would populate the story began. Building the characteristics of a person is where I had the freedom to draw from the habits, speech patterns, behaviors, and appearances of people I know and have known. As a writer, I have the freedom to choose the physical characteristics, make them as perfect or imperfect as I wish, but always working to make them believable, perhaps the greatest challenge. If the person in the story is not someone the reader can relate to, then the reader is less apt to find themselves living the story with the character.

Naming the people is part of building the personality profile for each character. I named the people in the story after men and women I have known, worked with, gone to school with, or were a part of my family. I used my middle name and a neighbor’s name for one character, my grandmother and my aunt’s names for another. Like the geography of the location of the story, I also manipulated and altered the characteristics of the people in the story from the true people on whom they are based.

Like the architect who first studies the land in order to visualize the finished construction of a building, the writer draws inspiration from the location chosen for the story, then visualizes and imagines the events to be played out and the characters who will be the story. The writer, like the architect who manipulates the design to suit the conditions, must always remember to follow where the direction the characters lead. After all their story is the one being told.

Hidden Messages in the Stream

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Artists begin with an idea, a message they wish to convey to their audiences. This is true of painters, singers, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, and authors, each choosing a different medium where his or her unique views and thoughts are revealed. The messages are sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, sometimes obscure, but always dependent upon the viewer, listener, or reader to complete the circuit from sender to receiver.

I set out to express a particular message in Shadow Ballet, but as the characters told me their stories I discovered other important views and ideas to flavor the rather large picture I had chosen to create. By placing myself in each character and listening to each character’s words and thoughts, I became a conduit for what each had to say to the reader. In the manner of an audience member, I set my characters on stage and watched them perform their parts in the story, writing down every subtle nuance I observed, discovering inferences, attitudes, feelings, and emotions in the raw.

In this way more than a single message became embedded in Shadow Ballet. The reader can choose any of them, all of them, or may even find a hidden treasure the author may not have intentionally laid in the story, but one that speaks clearly to the reader. The beauty of art in all its forms is the ability to touch the audience, bring forth memories, inspire thought, ignite emotion, and transport you into a space you might not otherwise venture. Whether the message received is specifically what was sent or not is irrelevant. What is important is that a message is received. Even a response of indifference is still a message received. As the adage goes, you can reach some of the people all of the time or all of the people some of the time, but you can’t reach all the people all of the time.

At its heart, Shadow Ballet is about second chances, new beginnings, and an optimistic expression of hope in the midst of disaster. Each day offers the opportunity for good things to happen. Look for the worst and you will find it; look for the best and you will find it, even in the worst day. There are messages in the stream of events that make up our lives, and while being aware of them is a challenge, listening to them is the toughest challenge of all.

The shadows of despair and the light of hope dance together for each of us. When life knocks you down, and it will, the challenge is to stand up, dust yourself off, and defiantly declare: “Is that the best you’ve got?”

We don’t learn from what works, only from what doesn’t. These are the messages in the stream we call experience and upon which we work to build each day.

Exposing tragedy to define character through writing

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For me, writing a novel is a journey of exploration, discovery, and enlightenment. Along the way I find myself exposing my personal tragedies, my frailties, and in doing so, discover and define my strengths of character. Sharing these experiences with my readers means I am not making a solitary trek, but one accompanied by friends and family previously undiscovered, a passage of celebration, finding bright lights within the darkest moments.

My inspiration for writing Shadow Ballet springs from my life experience. My characters are composites of friends, family, and acquaintances. Jean Parker, for instance, is based on Gale Silva, to whom Shadow Ballet is dedicated. An incredible artist, she encouraged me to follow my dream of being a writer, to finally incubate the embryonic tale I had carried with me for so long. After losing her to cancer, I found the best way to keep my sanity was by telling this story. Without experiencing the pain and pleasure of days and years this story could not be told. My discovery of the way life seems to obey Newton’s first law of motion (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) provided me the insights I needed to tell this story that formed in my mind when I was a teenager, but that could not be completed until I had lived long enough to understand how to relate the emotions of the characters who populate the space I created for them.

I built my characters based on the men and women I encountered in my checkerboard of careers, using my own experiences in their fictional lives. By plucking characteristics from several different people I created each character, giving them the shape and attitudes I visualized. Some of my father is found in the senior detective; some of my mother, along with my grandmother, shows through one character; and my young business partner joins me in shaping Paul McAfee. There is a marvelous freedom in being able to invent people who behave as you wish, a blessing never found anywhere in real life.

I suppose at the root of my inspiration lies the need to share my personal feelings and beliefs by wrapping them in make believe and inviting my reader inside to enjoy and appreciate the pictures my words paint.