By Leslie Lindsay (image source: www.alphabetart.com on 9.4.13)
When it comes to priorites, you could say Matt Wertz has them; he’s pretty driven. You could also say the guy can belt out some tunes, resulting in a fantastic melding of melodies ripe for this era. His new album, HEATWAVE was released yesterday, August 27th. You may say Mother Nature was on his side. Seems the nation is being swept with a heatwave–whether that is the acid-washed, jangly pop sounds of his new album, or the actual searing heat, but it’s fair to say the two events are a trippy coincidence.
With tracks like Shine and Sunny Day, you may think Matt was channeling the giant star in the sky, but in reality the album isn’t inspired by any one event, person, or theme, but rather a general sound he was shooting for–that of the late 1980’s. Think Richard Marx and Bryan Adams. Think boom boxes (hey–weren’t those once called ghetto-blasters) and lace. Matt admits that to get the sound he wanted he had to change the way he wrote songs, which was bit challenging. But the sound–and the feeling–these tracks evoke are positively epic.
Although I did reach out to Matt to provide a little piece on defining home, he graciously declined. “Practice for tour is really eating up at lot of time, plus there are a slew of publicity events…” all of which I can completely appreciate.
But I can tell you this: Matt Wertz likes his Tennessean home, a 1920s-era bungalow where he’s lived for the last twelve years writing, practicing, and entertaining. In fact, there are several YouTube videos showing Matt doing just that (I adore the friendly banter between band-mates, and the acoustic sound is fantastic). Take a peek into his life: the mindless ring game on the front porch (Matt indicates this is his favorite place to unwind and let the new lyrics and sounds percolate–it’s also where he wrote new track, “Get to You”). You’ll also glimpse the bike riding, the coffee gulping, and a peek at his ever-growing shoe collection in these videos. (He once wanted to design shoes for Nike). www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsI6SmMwUnk
But there’s more: be sure to read this Trib article from years past–same house, same musician, another little look inside the place he calls “home.” http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/realestate/chi-matt-wertz-snoop-1012oct12,0,3258691.story
In the meantime, be sure to pick up a copy of HEATWAVE, pop it in your computer, iPod, or cassette player (yes, there is a cassettee version) and see what writing inspiration you get from this number–I assure you, it’s a throw-back, and a good one at that!
So, Write on Wednesday!
By Leslie Lindsay (image source: www.alphabetart.com 9.4.13)
How do we define home? Is is an actual building? The people we surround ourselves with, or is it tangible pieces of things that bring to mind the comfort and stability of home? Today, we hear from author Amy Sue Nathan on just that:
“For me, home means things I can see and touch.
Photos on shelves, pre-school artwork next to high school graduation pictures, a china platter that belonged to my grandmother that sits on the middle of the dining room table. Home is being surrounded by sights and sounds and also, by textures. I often sit with a crocheted blanket on my lap as I write. It’s made up of squares, and baby-size. My grandmother made it when my son was born almost twenty-two years ago.
Let’s face it, crocheted blankets can itch! I never put it on him as a baby, but it has follow us through five homes in five states. It hung over the back of the rocking chair in the nursery when my daughter was born too. And while it’s not the softest blanket in the world, it’s the best one I have. And I think as long as I have it with me, I’ll be home.”
For the sake of extending Amy’s concept of home, here’s an exercise to help you hone in on the things that remind you of home:
- Close your eyes and drum up some of the items from your past that signifiy “home” to you. For you me, it’s the water-logged Baby Beth doll I carried everywhere–even the bathtub. There was also my imaginary friend, Jenn-Jenn, but also the antique dining room table, the old sewing machine, and the slanty part of my closet where I used to hide out and read.
- Now go a little deeper. What were some to the items you held onto into your adolescence and college years? Was there a particular item that went with you to your first apartment? Was there an item that stayed with you for a season, only to let it go once you felt more comfortable, confident?
- How about your characters in your work-in-progress? What do they hold onto? An old key? A diary? A person? A memory? A book? A photo? Make a list for each of your characters, but especially your protagonist and antagonist. It can be very telling what these “people” hold onto in various parts of their life. Go ahead…what did your protagonist value when she was a child? A teenager? Young adult? Adult? Now, in your story? Can you see a pattern
[Exercise created by Leslie Lindsay]
Special thanks to Amy Sue Nathan for sharing her lovely words about her son’s blanket. For more information on Amy and her books, please see:
Up Next Week on Write on, Wednesday: Memoirist Tanya Chernov talks about her place of home…at summer camp.
By Leslie Lindsay
For a writer, anything and everything is inspiration for writing. It’s just something with the way our brains are wired. We’re firecely observant. We scruntinize small things. And when we stare at something innocuous for a little longer than what might be “appropriate,” you can bet we’re thinking of some sinister little story or perhaps how to describe whatever it is in words that eventually make it on a page.
Yep. We’re weird.
And so it comes as no surprise that I found this little patch of land while walking my lumbering geriatric basset hound the other day. “It’s Mel’s yard!” I wanted to scream. No, not really. Well, kind of. Sure, my stomach did a little dip as I felt the story coming to life. Here’s an excerpt from an early chapter in my WIP, “Zombie Road,” which ironically contains no zombies. Sorry to disappoint.
“As I pulled the back door of Marianne Ashton’s home closed, a silent gasp worms through my throat, something grazed upon my back. I turn, but no one is there. I shake the feeling and teetered along the slate path between the side of her garage connecting our yards.
When I approach the bed where my begonias lay, the tiny plastic cartons are upturned, their heads broken off, revealing slick wet stalks.
Vandals. That word tumbled around again. This time, I consider the history of our lot. It doesn’t make sense. An animal, then?
My eyes scan the yard to the front porch, and up and down the driveway, to the small tree in the middle of the yard. No spade. Finally, I glance to the retaining wall where the land slopes downward, but no yellow spade.
Anxiety presses forth. Clumsy. Forgetful. Stupid. Maybe I took it into Marianne’s kitchen? No.
The sky darkened and appeared mottled with swaths of muslin contrails. I sit the pile of publications on the grass, patting the utility pockets of my pants. I frown at an old piece of chewing gum encased in worn, dented foil. Swarming at my ankles, as if a colony of ants has moved in, the ground peels back, revealing a patch of dead grass. Did Ran’s Lawnboy do this?
Clouds moved swiftly, an animated visage circulating god-knows-what. Just wait a minute, it will change. At least the rain will revive that dead patch of grass. Little Sally Water, choose the one you love best. I lean to retrieve the plastic flower bins as fat, heavy drops of rain splash the stack of reading materials.
A rumble of thunder, then a snap of electricity brightened the sky. No car ever arrived at Mrs. Ashton’s home depositing a music student. But her face, shrouded in a flowing curtain of Dorothy Hammil hair peers from the front window where the piano sits, a blank stare. I squint, tenting my hands over my forehead to get a better look. Maybe she’s not there, my imagination again. Maybe her student cancelled. Granite clouds lumber in from the west, darkening the sky. I raise my hand anyway, a semblance of recognition. She does not reciprocate. Embarrassed, I duck my head, scoop up the papers, and hustle to shelter in our garage, first passing by Ran’s “Big Green,” caked with cut grass. I toss the plastic tins into the recycling bin.
Another clap of thunder booms. Startled, I press the interior garage door button, allowing it to lower. I step into the mud room then, deposit water-logged papers from Marianne on the bench. A crack of lightening rocks the house with sheer ferocity. A hollow emptiness scrapes my gut. Solid, unyielding drops of rain smack the roof, resonating with life.”
[Thanks for reading! As always I appreciate feedback and "likes." Remember, this is an original work of fiction and not to be taken as your own.]
By Leslie Lindsay
I’ll let you in on a secret: writers love to read. The inverse relationship is not always true; readers do not always like to write.
Let’s say you are lucky enough to find yourself planted in both camps. You read. You write. Now, the moment of truth: is that a blessing or a curse?
There are times I read books and I am just floored. I mean, swept-away-jaw-on-the-floor wowed. It seems so effortless, so magically transporting. And so I think (perhaps erronously), “hey, I can do that.” So, I roll up the sleeves and curl the fingers over the keyboard. I watch the cursor blink. Uh…yeah…maybe not.
But since I am a pretty tenacious person, I plod through anyway.
And I recall those mesmerizing words and sublime transitions, ones that are so subtle they hardly feel calculated. Effortless. There. That word again. Interestingly, the effort is there. You just don’t see it. And that is what defines good writing.
I read a lot. I probably throw back a book a week. Five days. Some are undeniably better than others. Some blow it out of the water. And some, well some make me feel as if I am drowning in a world of….I don’t know…muck. Sophomoric talent. If you can call it that.
So, the next time you’re reading something and you’re in complete adoration as to how the author makes you feel as if you aren’t even reading, take note. Study those words not just for story purpose but locking phrases, transitions, emotional reactions into your noggin. Pause from time to time asking, “Do I have a scene in my WIP that needs a little TLC?” Perhaps Your transition is rough, but This Author does it masterfully. What technique does he use? Can you rearrange your words to mimic a similar rhythm? I bet you can.
One pet peeve of late–okay, maybe always–is cliched verbs and attaching unoriginal (and sometimes unnatural) emotional responses of characters. It reads like big time cheese. For example, “My heart felt like it had it’s own jump rope as I ____.” Um…no. What about descriptions, “I looked into his smoldering eyes.” Also, no.
And poorly executed transitions. “Just then,” happened to be one I read over and over ad nauseum. Get creative, think differently.
How would Stephen King show something sinister? What would Nicholas Sparks do to make you feel twitterpated? What great comparison would Jodi Picoult use that felt original, yet natural? Try to think like a writer.
By Leslie Lindsay
The manuscript is finished. It’s actually not too terribly rough, either. Now it just needs a title. You’d think titles would be easy-peasy, but they are not.
You have to summarize everything that happens in–oh 100,000 words–into a few words (about four). No pressure, right?
You also don’t want to be so overt about it, in that all literary ‘secrets’ are given away.
And God forbidden the title is already “taken.”
Okay, you’re technically “safe” on that–titles aren’t copywrited. But who wants 8 books called WAR & PEACE?
Something pithy would be nice.
Last night, I couldn’t sleep for
obsessing thinking ruminating perseverating. I tossed and turned. I thought of every teacher who taught 4th grade and then 5th grade at my elementary school 30 years ago. That got me to sleep. But I woke up to pee around 2 a.m. and guess what I was thinking about?
Here’s some other advice I’ve gleaned of late, “We talked a lot about branding at [a local chapter meeting], and you really want to think about what kind of writer you want to be (the other books you hope to write), your genre, even the look of your covers.”
Again. No pressure.
Here’s what else I know about titles: they often change. Sure, what you slap on your manuscript may be absolutely beautiful and you could be completely in love with it. Swooning, even and then your agent cringes. Or your editor does. Or the art department can’t think of a suitable cover. Or sales/marketing know the chosen title will sicken and not intrigue the average consumer. So they tinker with the words and present a whole new alternative. At that point, you shrug and go along with it.
But, on the other hand, you don’t want something dull, dorky, or too close to something out that is “already out there.”
Finally, after hours of deliberation (seriously–I did some alone thinking on and off during the day and then picked my hubby’s brain–and crit partner’s brain “after hours”), my poor, exasperated other half said, “Hon, just pick something and slap it on the manuscript already.” He squeezed out a faint, “I love you” at the end of his mini tirade.
So I did. I chose a title and plugged it into the header of the manuscript. It looks pretty good. I’ll sit with that for awhile.
At least till tonight when I try to sleep. And then I just may have to recall all of the 1st and 2nd grade teachers from my youth. All 8 of them.
Write on, Wednesday!
By Leslie Lindsay
Oh, I am thrilled (bad pun) to introduce debut mystery/thriller author Elizabeth Little to our literary blog. (Like the alliteration there?) Well, if you do then you may want to check out these other titles by our guest, BITING THE WAX TADPOLE and TRIP OF THE TONGUE, both give a glimpse into the linguistic quirks of mankind.
But really, Elizabeth is here to talk about her newest book—one I am currently reading—DEAR DAUGHTER (Viking, July 31).
Here’s what you want to know about this book: it’s good. Here’s what else you want to know: it’s often “paired” with GONE GIRL and THE GOOD GIRL (see my review here) across the web-o-bookstores. That means it’s edgy. It’s smart. It’s a mind-twist of psychological suspense and so much more.
Leslie Lindsay: Elizabeth, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. First, I am curious to know how your launch experience of DEAR DAUGHTER varies with that of your previous (non-fiction) books? More fan-fare? Less? And what kind of promotion are you doing for the book?
Elizabeth Little: My experience with DEAR DAUGHTER has been so different than with my previous two books: significantly more fanfare (inasmuch as we have fanfare in publishing). In part, I’d imagine, this is because there isn’t exactly a broad audience for narrative sociolinguistics, no matter how many jokes I tried to shoehorn in there. But I’ve also been lucky enough to get some fantastic coverage in the press for this book, and I am absolutely blessed with a group of dedicated and enthusiastic collaborators and coworkers at Viking. (Also maybe I’m just getting better at writing? I hope??)
But whatever the reason, I’ve had the chance to tour bookstores around the country with DEAR DAUGHTER, and it has been such an amazing experience to meet with booksellers and other rabid mystery readers. I used to work in publishing, so I thought I knew a thing or two about the business, but I’ve learned so much from my tour about what booksellers look for and what readers want—to the point that I’ve totally changed my plans for my next book!
L.L.: And so…the book! Wow. It’s masterfully done. I love reading it because, well you have such a finely tuned feel for words. For example, ‘speculative glint’ is a turn of phrase I came across while reading last night. And don’t even get me started on the sublime verbs you plucked from the verb tree: bellowed, jammed, jangled, mashed, swelled, swarming…you must have studied linguistics.
As with English, I’ve never had a particular facility with spoken languages, but I love to pick up grammars and dictionaries and to try to decipher sentences and stories in languages I’ve never seen before. I suppose I’m always trying to chase that same feeling I had when reading HOP ON POP—that magic “Aha!” moment.
All this time spent with foreign language grammars and dictionaries has, I like to think, made me particularly sensitive to English grammar and vocabulary. Although sometimes I wonder if it’s as much a weakness as it is a strength. I can very easily get lost in the construction of a single sentence when really I should be thinking about extremely basic matters of plot. And of course some readers might prefer a more pared-down writing style! But it’s a love of words that drives my love of writing, so I can’t imagine that changing any time soon.
L.L.: Full-disclosure: I had to look up the word ‘diaphanous’ because I was thinking it has something to do with two, as in di-; but I was wrong. Now I am using it all the time. For example, I told my hubby that our basset hound is so not diaphanous. And he chuckled. “Yeah…let’s put a picture of our geriatric basset in the dictionary next to antonyms for diaphanous.” But let’s get this back to the book. Jane is the main character and she, like the basset hound is not diaphanous (by the way, it means opaque, flimsy, delicate, lacy, sheer, thin). Did you develop this character with those anti-qualities in mind? And let’s look at her name: Plain Jane. Which she is not. Can you explain?
Elizabeth Little: Well, first of all, in the interest of mutual full disclosure there are definitely words in DEAR DAUGHTER that I discovered in the course of writing it. I guess I’m just an inveterate word hound to the end!
So many of my characters changed their names from the first to the final draft, but Jane has always, always been Jane. There is a plot-based reason for this—her mother named her very deliberately—but I’m also placing Jane at an intersection of allusions that Jane herself references: Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, and Jane Doe. DEAR DAUGHTER is part social commentary, part Gothic journey of self-discovery, and part whodunit (or, perhaps more accurately, whoisit). I also loved the incongruity of a celebutante having such a pedestrian name. Paris Hilton she is not.
Jane’s character, though, really developed organically as I wrote and revised (and revised and revised). I didn’t set out to make her in any particular way: I wanted her to be true to her history, to be a credible product of her unique circumstances, and eventually her voice made itself known to me. And sometimes that voice is absolutely the opposite of diaphanous! But that’s because—in my mind, anyway—she is terrified of letting the world see her very real weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Every time she cracks a joke or unleashes an insult she’s essentially saying, “Look over there!”
I was never interested in opening with a perfectly believable premise—I mean, it’s a high-concept mystery novel, not Marilynne Robinson—but I always aimed for psychological believability, no matter how tough that sometimes made Jane to take.
L.L.: The structure of the book fascinates me. It’s written (so far) as the after-effects of Jane’s time in prison for killing her mother. (I’m not giving away any spoilers, that’s fact stated on the back jacket). And then we have letters and emails, texts, police reports sprinkled throughout. Can you tell us a bit about how you determined the structure of the book? Did this go through copious revisions or did this structure pretty much “appear” to you that way?
Elizabeth Little: The initial inspiration for the book came from the CNN breaking news alert that went out when Amanda Knox’s conviction was overturned in 2011. I started writing DEAR DAUGHTER—about my own infamous murderess released back into the wild—the very next day. It seemed natural to open with another CNN alert, and it was an easy step from that to other types of text. I lucked into it, in other words. But it turned out to be such a useful tool for expository purposes, for pacing purposes, and for plot purposes—sometimes I needed to let the reader in on information that Jane would never have supplied herself.
Otherwise, I stuck to a very traditional three-act structure, and even though the details of the plot changed radically as I wrote it, I always kept that basic structure the same: an inciting event, two major turns, a mid-point sea change, a dark night of the soul. There are plenty of writers who would yawn at that choice, but it’s a classic structure because it generally works. (And, um … is a great crutch for us beginning writers.)
L.L. And now I have to ask about St. Louis. It’s such a big-little city, but we don’t know each other. You’ve since moved to L.A. and me, well I’m in Chicago. But, there’s some really great writers of late who have popped out of the Show Me State (Laura McHugh in Columbia, Gillian Flynn has ties to Kansas City, Daniel Woodrell in the Ozarks, and there’s a bunch more). What is it, in your opinion that gives Missouri writers a grit that’s unlike others?
Elizabeth Little: That’s a great question that I’m not sure I have an answer to! I’ve been told on numerous occasions that Missourians have to compensate for their fundamentally friendly, Midwestern exteriors with equally menacing interiors, and I always laugh, because inevitably the people who say this with such authority have never been to Missouri except on a layover. We’re always just thrown in with Kansas and Iowa and Nebraska and—weirdly—Ohio. (Why not Illinois? I think because everyone knows Chicago is cooler than anything in Missouri.)
I don’t think of myself as Midwestern at all—I think Missouri and Missourians as very much their own demented creatures. Maybe there is a environmental element to this. Even though I grew up in the city, when I think about my home state I think about all the camping trips I was forced to go on. It was always damp; there were always possum. No matter what the season, if the ground was warm, it was just from the heat of decay. Caves aren’t intriguing or beautiful or mysterious: they’re flash-flood death holes. It’s a bit of a fancy, I suspect, but even though these trips can’t possibly comprise more than 5% of my childhood and adolescence, this is the land that I feel the most connected to. There’s a literal darkness to the landscape, and I feel that same darkness in my bones.
Or maybe I’m just a weirdo.
L.L.: What is the single most important thing a writer can do to improve his or her chances of getting published? I know, big question…but we all want to know!
Elizabeth Little: It’s different for fiction and for nonfiction, but for fiction I’d say that you have to make sure you have a hell of a query letter. When I worked in publishing, a big part of my job was sifting through the slush pile, and what I learned was that the sheer volume of queries means that a writer has to catch the agent’s or assistant’s eye immediately. The first two sentences of that query letter have to wow the agent. And then you have to capitalize on that interest by showcasing your unique voice as a writer. There are many ways to do this—with style, with humor, with smarts—but it has to sparkle, and it has to be you. A great query letter should be so full of personality that I would be able to know who wrote your sample pages even if they didn’t have your name on it.
(I hate the word “slush,” by the way, because those were people’s dreams I was handling, but I guess you do have to distance yourself emotionally or you’d be passing along every single query to your boss, which is not what they pay you (very little) for.)
L.L. What is currently obsessing you?
Elizabeth Little: As I’m sure you understand, it’s tough to find too much free time when there’s work to be done and a child to be raised. But when I do have a quiet moment, I’m currently spending a lot of time reading about comparative religion and the history of Christianity. I’m a truly terrible Catholic, so I’m not sure where this is coming from (guilt, probably), but there you have it. And the concurrent language obsession is New Testament Greek. I spent several years in my youth studying Ancient (Attic) Greek, so I definitely have a leg up here, and there’s something about the very manageable size of the vocabulary that is appealing to me at a time when my work and home life very often seem totally unmanageable.
I also read so, so many mystery and romance novels. Again, it’s tricky to do with a little kid and a husband who for some reason really likes to hang out with me. But I’ll confess something: Sometimes I’ll pretend that I’m taking a shower when really I’m hiding in the bathroom with a book!
L. L. What haven’t I asked that I should have?
Elizabeth Little: What am I reading right now? (A: The Paying Guest by Sarah Waters. It’s magnificent.)
And, even more importantly, who is my all-time favorite St. Louis Cardinal? (A: Bob Gibson.)
L.L.: Finally, can you tell us what you are working on next?
Elizabeth Little: I can! I’m currently working on my next book for Viking, which at the moment I’m calling DO AS I SAY. It’s the story of a well-meaning therapist with some serious boundary issues whose patients start dying under mysterious circumstances. I can also tell you that an important character from DEAR DAUGHTER will play an even more important part in this story….
L.L. Thanks so much for being with us today!! We’ve so enjoyed you.
Elizabeth Little: And thank you so much for having me! This was a real treat.
Elizabeth Little is the author of the nonfiction books Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic and Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America’s Languages.
Her work has appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and she has been a guest on NPR’s All Things Considered, The World, and Here and Now. A graduate of Harvard University, she grew up in St. Louis and now lives in Los Angeles with her family. More about Elizabeth can be found at her website, http://elizabeth_little.com/
or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/authorelizabethlittle
. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethLittle.
[author image: Jonathan Vandiveer, courtesy of Elizabeth Little. DEAR DAUGHTER over image courtesy of Viking/author, other image covers retrieved from Amazon on 8.26.14]