Category Archives: advent

Tell All the truth, but Tell it Slant

Write what you know, ever heard that advice before? It helps to locate and ignite an author’s passion. Ona Russell, the California Writers Club, Inland Empire Branch, February speaker, found a scrapbook of articles about her great-grandfather, a celebrated judge in Toledo, Ohio. Intrigued, Russell’s research unearthed family secrets and inconsistencies. Her own mother’s birth date was incorrect, the judge struggled with mental disorders, and a mysterious lady, Sarah Kaufman, legal assistant to the judge, appeared in many photos. Russell fell in love with these uncelebrated personalities from the past. Eventually, Sarah Kaufman became a sleuthing protagonist in Russell’s own historical mystery novels, a trilogy set in the 1920’s.

Part of her storytelling is true, based on the articles. Some of the storytelling is fact, based on research, but Russell worked hard to highlight the “slant,” the re-invented tensions and conflicts. Russell explained that excitement is created in the margins of the truth, in the details, in the spots where the story pauses and shifts gears. Generating a narrative from this blend of truth, fiction and fact is a tricky balance for writers, whether the works are memoir, science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction because all the world-building elements have to be credible to the reader. For Russell, this credibility is key. She said the way to engage the reader is by establishing credibility with an authentic setting, with historical details, with nuances and a pace that is true to the era. This means eliminating everything that does not move the story forward, research, back story, even a favorite character. A writer should look for things to emphasize, create complexity, and sacrifice anything that is not relevant to the story.

This except is from the Fresh Ink March 2016 issue. The title “Tell all the truth..” is from a poem by Emily Dickenson.

Writing prompt: Flood

When I think of floods, I think of the desert.  It’s an odd juxtaposition, water flooding the desert. I’ve experienced floods here in California, along the San Bernardino mountains, but the most startling floods were in the Middle East, when I lived in Iran in the seventies.

On our holiday breaks my family would leave Teheran to explore ancient Persian landmarks and ruins, caravanning with other expatriate families. Road trip! The desert landscape of Iran looks like the stretch from Palm Springs to Phoenix, or the road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It’s rough and stony terrain with a slow variation in rock color and the height of the hills–not sand dunes with palm trees. On our way to Herat, Afghanistan, we saw a single cloud dumping rain over a distant hill. The earth surrounding us was scorched into a flat, salty glisten, and the ribbon of road blended into mirages of lake water, simmering in the distance. To our surprise, a mile up the road there was a real flood over the road. Run-off from the distant hill had pooled to the flatter land below it, miles away from the original deluge.

One spring trip, in the Alborz mountains, spring waters had destroyed house made from mud bricks, washing out the road too. The villagers stood, leaning on their shovels, looking grim. Our western Dads, all engineers working in the oil and gas industry, went to help but they soon returned, frustrated and angry. Instead of digging channels to divert the waters away, the Iranian men responded “insha’Allah.” It was God’s will. There was no way to change or struggle against God. The better way was submission and acceptance.

When I read Biblical stories, all set in the stark yet unpredictable desert, and populated by small, tenacious family tribes, I remember that scene. Our Western minds want action, justice and solutions. If we are hard-working and true we can re-direct the floodwaters. We have a harder time with the notion of surrender, accepting that sometimes, like a flash flood in the desert, things really are in God’s hands, or to be more secular, outside of our control.

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This blog was written for www.yorocko.com as part of the Claremont Presbyterian Church Jesse Tree Advent Project. It posted there on December 3rd, 2014.

The Tale of the Advent Blog

My Pastor recently approached me, as a writer, wondering if I could set-up an Advent blog for the church. I struggle with my own blog and the California Writers Club website, so I declined. However, pastors are sterling negotiators and we settled on using the Youth Minister’s blog. I was then tasked to write, or find local talent, for a weeks worth of daily prompts.

Lord have mercy, the word is out! Church spies have infiltrated my blog, my Facebook account and are plotting new ways to reach out to the world. At the Thanksgiving potluck, members of the congregation commented with admiration, “I didn’t know you were a writer!” I had mixed feelings. I’ve been focused on writing for five years, I lead a weekly prompt writing workshop, but I felt caught—hiding my light under a bushel…

It takes a time to develop a voice as a writer, and longer for a writer promote and accept the label “writer.” Writers are a modest bunch, unwilling to shout out that they are scribblers, poets, bloggers, novelists or screenwriters. They write, but are not writers. What kind of equation is that?

The way out of this conundrum is to push forward, keeping writing, and to build a platform, an Internet presence. I tried the platform building formula out on myself. I sent out submissions to contests, submitted articles, maintained my blog, and showed-up at writing workshops and meetings. I stopped all other meetings or volunteer jobs unless they had to do with writing.

Over the past year, I’ve built up confidence and results. People, like my Pastor, introduce me as a writer. I have stuff published; I have a network of writers. I was able to find people, secular and church members, to try their hand at the Church Advent blog. It was not easy because the minute I mentioned “church,” the thrill of being a guest blogger disappeared. Seasoned writers looked sucker-punched, thinking they would not measure up. I was a little shocked that spirituality elicited such negative feelings. However, if they did write, their works were full of rich imagery, a testament to old symbols and ingrained stories.

If you show-up to your life in the guise of a writer, you’ll collect wisdom. You will sort through distractions, balance out challenges and find that unusual opportunities crop-up, creating a cycle of curious lessons, results, opportunities, and a writer’s lifestyle.