Friday, October 24, 2014

Dear Writer, Do you Exploit Setting in your #Writing ?

I've been taking an open online course from Iowa, and one of the classes that impressed me the most was the one on Setting.

I've always been complimented on how 'vivid' my writing is-- so I thought maybe I've got this setting this down. Wrong.

I have much to learn on how to make the setting add a layer of meaning to my story.

If you're a writer, watch this video, and before you do that, read this story.

It would be time well-spent, I promise. That's an awesome story, and the tutor uses it well to illustrate her points.

This was a good lesson for me not to get into a comfort zone.

If you're a writer, what role do you think setting plays in your story? As a reader, do you get engrossed in the world of the book you're reading? Have you ever received a wake up call because you slid into a comfort zone?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Do you think in the language in which you write?

English is not my mother tongue.

It is the language I'm most at home with however. I speak three other languages, but English remains my natural medium of expression.

Someone asked me today whether I think in English, and my unthinking, immediate answer was, yes.

But I remembered snatches of other languages from my dreams, and my everyday mundane thoughts. I wonder if I also think in the other languages, and how it affects my fictive dream-- the dream-state I slip into when I'm writing?

I find local words strolling into my fiction, whether in Malay, Hokkien, Italian or Hindi, not all of which I speak! I hear those words (or versions of them, till I ask around and find the right ones when editing), and can't help taking them down-- because I don't make up most of my stories, they happen around me in the movie inside my head, and I try to put it on paper to create another movie in the reader's head.

I know that most of the audience of this blog speaks English as native tongue, but I also know there are others who do not.

If English isn't your mother tongue, how do you relate to it as a reader and as a writer? Do you think in the language in which you write? If English is your mother tongue, do you speak any other languages? Have you ever written in them?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

WHO are these people?

Every morning or afternoon or evening, I do a session of prompt-based free writing. And often in those, people emerge, people I've never met, like fragments of a strange dream.

I save up all these doodles, and once in a while, I glance through them. I meet new people each time people I'd forgotten about. This is who I found today, tucked in a file from way back in 2009:

For the longest time I wanted to hide. I wanted to stay surrounded by dirty dishes, overflowing ashtrays, empty beer cans and pizza cartons. My household, despite seventeen years of marriage, began to resemble a pad, a bachelor pad for a gang of rough types. I locked my huge mahogany door, unplugged my television, disconnected my telephone, my internet, switched off the cell phone and talked to nobody. I sent away the maid when she came knocking. I sat and shivered under a threadbare blanket on the living room sofa, and munched on Oreos.

I looked at myself naked in the mirror, my shriveled forty nine year old body with the breasts of a teenager, glossy and round, with nipples like drooping cactus flowers. Maybe this is why I suffered. For taking too much care of a few things, and of others, not enough.

I don't know who she is, her name, where she lives, and out of the blue, today I want to find out.

Do you have days like this as a writer, when you meet a person from your imagination, long forgotten in a folder? As a reader do you ever wonder where the characters you read about come from?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Up for an #Iowa Online #Creative #Writing course?

I'm finishing up with the second draft of a WIP and would take a break of a month or two, during which, I shall write short stories.

I'll also be traveling a fair bit, and as a result, possibly be disappearing at times.

In the meanwhile, though, I'll be doing a six-week online course by Iowa, beginning on the 26th of September. It's open to everyone (which can be a good, but also scary thing), and it doesn't cost a dime.
The Writing University Open Courses website provides MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) for creative writing through the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, which will offer new opportunities for the study and practice of creative writing and literary analysis to an unlimited number of participants around the world.
 I'm not sure what to expect, but I'm all registered.

I'm looking for some familiar faces as coursemates. I think this could be good for those beginning to write fiction, and those who don't mind a refresher.

  How Writers Write Fiction, a six-week course, will begin in September 2014. The MOOC will be co-taught by Christopher Merrill, IWP Director and University of Iowa Professor of English, and R. Clifton Spargo, author of Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and Dixon Professor of Creative Writing at Wittenberg University. Professors Merrill and Spargo will contextualize the contributing authors' video talks, encourage online discussion, and offer writing assignments. A team of fiction moderators will join the instructors in leading discussion and hosting live online fiction workshops.
Would any of you like to join me? Want to talk about any other online course you've done, and would recommend?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it?

“For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

In the madness of my life in the past few days, in between travel, work commitments and ill health, I read Housekeeping-- gut-wrenching in parts, at others, spectacular. Moving and truthful, at all times.

The above excerpt is just one of the gems strewn throughout. It is a poetic book to be meandered through, savored. It's tiny but dense-- each paragraph takes some reading, and reading again, for meaning and beauty to sink in.

In 2003, the Guardian Unlimited named Housekeeping one of the 100 greatest novels of all time,[1] describing the book thus: "Haunting, poetic story, drowned in water and light, about three generations of women." Time magazine also included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[2]

 If you haven't read it yet, check it out.

What books have you been reading lately? Has a book moved you, made you want to read it again, and again?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Do You Know that "Life is Good" No Matter What? Saying it with Sunflowers

Life is Good. That's what Tina Downey taught me.

I don't know when she stopped being just a blog friend, and became a friend. Sister in Spirit, SIS.

You can read more about her public persona here.

But she told me of her private struggles, and knowing of those, of just how many challenges she had overcome in life-- I marveled at her smile, her laugh-out-loud-bring-it-on spirit towards everything life threw at her.

We sent each other snapshots of our everyday surroundings and errands, between Singapore and Colorado, and when I sent her this one last year (of the swimming pool I swim laps at), she immediately said, I have to come to Singapore before I die and swim there, and I said don't be stupid, of course you'll come.

Yesterday when I took snapshots of the pool with my sunflower, I thought I heard her infectious laughter, her teasing, half-joking-bossy voice.

I swam a few laps this morning, and with each stroke of my arms, I told myself, life is good. Today, this moment, Now, life is good.

Tina hasn't left us. She's somewhere around, watching, smiling, sending out snarky reminders, laughing and crying in the same sentence.

And though each time I look at her emails or messages or read another of her blog posts, I feel the tears coming-- I see that Tina would have laughed at me, and said, I'm around, Damyanti, what are you crying about? Don't you see there's a lesson in this?

Tina always found a lesson in everything, no matter how sad, or senseless it seemed. And the lesson always was a version of: Life is Good-- see it with the eyes of faith, acceptance, and gratefulness.

If you knew Tina, please take part in this Sunflowers Blogfest for her.

 If you didn't know her, take part anyway-- celebrate Today, This Day, Now, in memory of a fabulous woman who found it in herself to Smile, no matter what.

(Tina's family has set up the Downey Education Fund for Tina's sons, if you'd like to donate, the way some of us have done, here's the link. If you want the code for a badge on your own blog, drop me a line at atozstories at gmail dot com)

SIS, you'll live on in my heart-- for as long as I'm given on this earth.
For the coming week, this blog's header would remain a field of sunflowers. For Tina, who loved Sunflowers.