Sunday, May 24, 2015

Just Call Me Lyn

You can find out what your name might be if you were born today (and at every decade dating back to 1890) by entering your name, birth year and gender in this name popularity generator.

My results:

Oooh lala. I also like my 1970's name (Terri) and my 1920's name (Opal). This might also be a fun generator to use to come up with some alternative names for your characters.

So what would your name be if you were born today? Let us know in comments.

(Name generator link nicked from Gerard over at The Presurfer.)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Personal Legends

Here's something you don't know about me: Back in the eighties I was a lab rat for Quaker Oats. Or to be more precise I was one of the many volunteer consumers on whom Quaker tested several variations of their new chocolate-covered granola bar product before deciding on the final product.

I was actually approached by a consumer product tester while I was out shopping, and she asked if I'd like to take part in her group. I agreed because free food was involved; also, I loved granola and chocolate, so I didn't think it would be awful -- and it was actually really neat. I was given several boxes with different versions of bars, had to taste each one, rate them, mark a survey sheet and then report my opinions over the phone. I took it very seriously and answered honestly (and got to eat a lot of chocolate-covered granola bars, another happy memory.) The Quaker Oats people in turn treated me with respect and thanked me for helping them out. Since the product has stayed on the market for like thirty years, and it's the version I picked as the best of the test lot, I like to think my opinion helped bring the best form of the product to the shelves.

Most everyone has a personal legend or two in their lives, I think -- being remotely involved with some huge product as I was, or finding something enormously valuable at a garage sale, or having a brush with fame by meeting celebrities under ordinary circumstances. According to family lore, my grandfather, who came down with osteomyletis when my mom was a little girl, was among the first Americans to receive penicillin after the antibiotic was first approved for testing on patients in the U.S. Because at the time osteomyletis was a death sentence, it also saved his life. On the much lighter side of family legends, my mom once bought a dirty but pretty pearl ring at a flea market that she later had cleaned and appraised. Since it was made of platinum and had two nice little diamonds along with the pearl the jeweler valued it at $2,500.00 -- which was ten thousand times what she paid for it. Yep, she bought it for a quarter.

Although I've never met a celebrity under ordinary circumstances I think that would be pretty cool. Singers seemed to gravitate toward my family; while working the makeup counter at a drug store my mom waited on Roberta Flack, who was lovely to her. I definitely envy my brother, who along with being a minister runs an appliance repair business; one time he was called out to Gloria Estefan's house to fix her dishwasher and got to talk to her. Probably the most famous singer-celeb encounter story in our family is the time when my daughter and her classmate ran into rapper/actor Will Smith while they were on a school field trip, and he was kind enough to stop and talk to them, and answered a question my daughter asked him (which is why I will always love Will Smith. He was nice to my kid.) The unifying note in all these celeb personal legends is how kind famous people are when they deal with non-famous people. Generally speaking celebs tend to be very nice people under ordinary circumstances, as long as you're not shoving a camera or something to sign at them.

When you're building a character, consider adding a personal legend or two to their background. This doesn't have to tie into your story if you just want to add it to flesh them out, but very often personal legends do motivate us after they happen. My mom always pokes through jewelry boxes at every garage sale, rummage sale or flea market she goes to, hoping to find another treasure for a quarter. To this day I still buy Quaker Oats products and feel good every time I do. I also try to see in the theater or buy on DVD every film Will Smith makes (there's an example of how kindness to a child affects the kid's parent.) I suspect even my minister brother has a personal collection of Gloria Estefan's albums stashed away behind his Bibles. Connect a personal legend to your character's present and you add depth, realism and fun.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dream Always

Here's a look at the sketchworks of Palma Rea, a self-taught artist whose watercolors and sketches are filled with color, drama and beauty (with background music, for those of you at work):

The Sketchworks by Palma Rea from PalmaRea on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Just Write

I'm back! And today I'm off to write something new and post it online before midnight. Everyone inclined to do the same is invited to join me.

My link: More on Ghost Writer, with new material beginning on page 57 (and sorry I'm late posting this; had to finish up a client project first.)

For more details on Just Write Thursdays, click here to go to the original post.

Image credit: windujedi

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Blast from the Past #3

From Focus to Palette

After reading my Story Palettes post last month, some of you asked if I would give some working examples of how I create a character palette.

Simone, who is a female protagonist in an upcoming novel of mine, has been gradually developing over the course of the last six months while I've put together her backstory, built her personality and figured out who she is, what she wants and, of course, what is the worst thing I can do to her. Simone is a woman of contradictions; everything about her is new and old, yesterday and tomorrow, fire and ice. The problem with all those lovely contrasts is that they make her very hard to nail down. Despite all the character development I'd done, I still had trouble seeing her in my head.

Recently at an art festival I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with watercolor artist Peggy Engsberg Furlin, who painted this little gem (click on any image to see a larger version):

As soon as I saw it I knew it was the focus piece I needed for Simone's character. I can't tell you why; most of the time there isn't a why, it just clicks and I know. So I bought the painting and brought it home, at which point I began building the character palette. First, I took a photo of the painting and cropped it so that no other colors showed:

I then ran the image through DeGraeve's Color Palette Generator to get a working palette, and set up the page for my novel notebook. From there I cut and pasted the DeGraeve palette, and began adding images from my digital collection that I felt suited Simone and worked inside the framework of the palette, until I had this page of visuals:

Colors are an important part of my process. They're symbolic and evocative, and so are the real world elements that I associate with them. They also create new ideas when I combine them. All of these images and colors echo different aspects of Simone's character and what she has to face in the story; defiance, temptation, risk, silence, loneliness, endurance, realization, fruition. They relate to each other, too: Old death, new life; the transition from winter to spring; flowers blooming in snow, what ends to begin/what begins to end, etc etc.

I could go on for pages because now that I have Simone's colors, I know her better. I feel as if I can make her come to life on the page now. Because while I can imagine all the character elements I want, if I don't make the connections between them I can't feel the character or get inside her head. Having a character palette often helps me navigate my way through a lot of uncertainty.

As for inspiration, you should always be ready for it to come at you from any direction or source. Take these gorgeous lampwork beads, which I purchased last week from Pond Art Glass Studio:

I have been revising and updating Korvel, a character who has appeared in the Darkyn series, to serve as one of the protagonists in the new trilogy (there, you have some insider info no one else but my editor has, too.) I never created a character palette for Korvel, and I needed one, but I kept dithering around with old visuals I had from the original series notebooks, none of which were really tailored to his character.

It wasn't until the lampwork beads arrived and I was photographing them for an appeciation shot that I saw Korvel's colors gleaming at me from the intricate swirls in the glass. Twenty minutes later I had put together this palette for him:

For most character palettes I usually narrow it down to three colors, but Korvel and I have a lot of history together, so that's probably why he got a wider range. Readers know a lot about him as a secondary character; now they need to rediscover him as a protagonist, which requires a different approach than presenting a brand-new character. This palette will definitely guide my choices and help me shed some light on the Korvel no one but me yet knows.

I think the key to creating palettes that help you with writing is not to cheat on the focus factor. Inspiration is not something you can artificially generate by throwing together all your favorite colors. You'll be creating a pretty palette that looks nice, but you'll find it does nothing to help you explore your character. Instead, look for something (and not just art, it can be anything at all) that inspires you to think of your character in ways you haven't before you saw it. That's when you know you've got the beginnings of a great character palette.

(Originally posted on PBW on 2/9/11)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Blast from the Past #2

The Fabric of Inspiration

In 2007 a friend sent me some specialty watercolors made by LuminArte Inc., which I started playing with while painting. One of the first pieces I painted with them was this one (which I then sent to the friend, as thanks):

I get mildly obsessed with colors and patterns, and since 2007 I've painted the same concept over and over -- a tower, towers, castle or ruins made of opal bricks -- like this one I mentioned back in May:

Recently I was at my favorite fabric store, looking for a dark green batik to finish a holiday project, and I pulled about twelve different bolts out to compare colors when I found one bolt with about two yards of this fabric on it stuck in the back of the display cabinet:

I've been in that store at least fifty times over the last two years, and have never seen this fabric in the past. I've never seen this fabric before in my life -- and I've been pretty much painting it nonstop since 2007. So either I've become a fabric psychic, this is one cosmic coincidence, or the universe has been trying to tell me something.

I bought the fabric (how could I even resist?) brought it home and put it on the sewing table. Immediately I began cutting it and making part of it into a book bag -- it just wanted to be a quilted book bag. The rest of the yardage I hung on the wall in my office until the universe figures out what it wants me to make out of it.

I know my watercolor paintings aren't going to set the world on fire, but I'm a little better with fabric. The bag (almost finished) is turning out nicely. The fabric sings through my sewing machine. It pairs beautifully with this deep amethyst broadcloth that I'm using to line the bag. It dances in front of my eyes. It's even started telling me stories I need to write. I can only work on it an hour a day or inspiration intoxication would hit me and I wouldn't leave the sewing table until someone dragged me away.

This is what writing is like for me -- why I don't talk about this part of it very often. When you try to explain your inspiration, or your process, or your joy in creation to others, it generally sounds like this. Like you're a little nuts. And writing is like having an entire store filled with hundreds of bolts of fabric in your head that you've been painting for years before you even saw them or tried to make something out of them.

Whatever anyone says about the fabric of my inspiration, it came to me. It belongs to me, but it's also up to me to make something out of it. Something that makes me deserve finding it and having it. When that work is finished, then I can show it to the world, and hopefully the job I do is good enough that they'll see what I saw, and feel what I felt, and know what I knew.

(Originally posted on PBW on 12/03/08)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Off to Finish Up

I'm going to bail on you guys for a few days in order to slay a deadline for a client. So that your stop here was not entirely wasted, here's a PBW archives blast from the past:

Know Thy Hub

While I've been reading Mr. Ray's book on writing, I realized why he is so object-obsessed. He encourages writers to make noun lists and use them to spark ideas because he uses objects as story hubs, or that thing around which everything else in the story revolves. Once you know what a writer's favorite or most frequently used hub is, you can begin picking them out (for Ray Bradbury, the playroom, the carnival, the tattoo, the planet Mars and the book have all served as hubs.)

The object as hub is an effective device: Guy de Maupassant likely used a beautiful diamond necklace to write one of the most miserably ironic short stories of all time; Stephen King used a '58 Plymouth Fury named Christine for a novel that made most of us give our cars an uneasy look or two (two more of his vehicle-as-hub works are From a Buick 8 and Trucks.)

My story hubs are almost always characters (the faceless man, the girl-knight, the golden assassin) or character-based concepts (the doctor who can never get sick or die.) This is probably because I find people more fascinating than objects, settings, events, etc. I've used one character as the hub for a ten-book series, and seven characters as the hub for a single novel. Even in my one dog story, Familiar, the shepherd who serves as the hub used to be a person and still retains most of his human qualities.

Some writers may argue that they never use a hub, and that's a possibility, although I think in those cases the hub may be tucked away in the subconscious. The process of discovering the story as they write it may be more important than knowing the hub up front. Organic writers who just sit down and let it flow might not want to name their hub is because it could kill their momentum. Hubs are not always great things, either; they can repeat on you, and if you're not careful, they can take over your work. This may be why those writers reuse the same hub for their books over and over ad nauseum end up becoming cookie-cutter novelists; they can't escape that one hub that sinks its claws into their brains.

Knowing your hub isn't a requirement of writing, but I think it helps to know what you were planning to write around whenever you get stuck. At times when I falter, stumble or otherwise get mired down in a story, I usually end up thinking about the hub character and asking myself questions as to how my problem relates to them and their situation. Everyone and everything in the story serves the hub, and if it doesn't, I've gotten off-track and wandered away from my story, usually with another character who distracts me (nine times out of ten, that's always the case.)

If you're not sure how to determine what your hub is, think about what inspired you to write the story, or make a list of those elements that are most important to you and/or that you spend the most time developing. If knowing doesn't squash your enthusiasm, having a good grasp of what your hub is gives you some advantages, especially when you write up your story premise for a query or a synopsis for a submission package.

(Originally posted on PBW on 1/15/11)