Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Where Willows Grow - A Book Review

Kim Vogel Sawyer has hit another winning home run with her novel, Where Willows Grow. The time period is 1936, and her main characters Anna Mae and Harley Phipps, a farmer and his wife, struggle to keep their farm afloat in the midst of the depression and the terrible drought that afflicted the mid-west during those awful years.

As Where Willows Grow opens, Anna Mae realizes she is pregnant with their third child. Though she loves her other two children, Dorothy and Marjorie, this is not the time to bring another mouth into the world to feed. Harley loves their farm but knows if he hadn't married Annie, the farm would have never been his. The knowledge of another child is a burden. Both of them know that they will love the new child, but will they be able to care for him or her properly?

The drought and depression have strained the Phipps' relationship. Harley feels the only way he can continue to provide for his family is to leave the farm, temporarily, to take on work across Kansas at a construction site. He shocks Anna Mae when he tells her of his plan. She's afraid Harley is leaving his family for good.

Throughout the book, Anna Mae has to rely on her belief in God and His promises to provide for all those who lean on him to get her through the lonely days and nights without Harley. But what does Harley have to rely on? His steadfast refusal to give his life to Jesus has left him to his own devices. Is it the final wedge that will split their marriage apart - permanently?

Much is written and discussed about voice in writing. Kim's voice will become more apparent as you read each new book. Her writing voice is an extension of her own deep beliefs. Where Willows Grow is a tender tale of love and determination. And if you are lucky enough to know the author in person, as I am, you can hear the words in her own soft, gentle speaking voice as you read them. But don't take that as a weakness. Behind those quietly spoken words there is steel. Kim Vogel Sawyer believes deeply in the message she writes in her novels. I challenge you to read one and not be touched.

Kim Vogel Sawyer won first place for her long historical, Waiting For Summer's Return, at the ACFW Conference on September 22. It is a wonderful book, which I reviewed earlier (see August 30, 2006 post). She deserved the win. Her gratitude was evident in her acceptance speech and the tears that flowed. Those tears were real, from her heart. My joy was such that when she won, I cried with her. I cried again near the end of Where Willows Grow.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Off To the ACFW Writing Conference

I'm heading for the 2007 ACFW Writing Conference in Dallas. So the blog will be silent for a week or so. I'm sure there will be lots to say when I return. So in the meantime, read a couple of good books!


Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Countdown Has Begun

The clock is ticking. Do you hear it? Time is passing. Are you prepared? It is September 15, 2007. November first is 46 days away. So what, you ask?

So have you chosen a topic, done your research, plotted your novel, sharpened your pencils, stacked your blank CD's, straightened your desk, made and frozen casseroles for 30 days or arranged for the caterer to appear at your home with dinner prepared, warned your family that your designated writing time is yours and yours alone and only a blood loss of 1 liter or more is a reason to disturb you during the month of November? If not, go do that, now, right now. You have exactly 45 days and 21 1/2 hours to get everything lined up and in order so you can join us in writing a 50,000-word novel - the annual NaNoWriMo challenge.

I have one major task left to accomplish. I have to buy a new desk chair. Mine lost its lift a couple of weeks ago. Now it's too short and these pillows are not cutting it. I've put two in the seat and it does raise me up a few inches, but it's still not quite enough. They're a good substitute but not for long term. I plan on putting long hours in my chair in front of the computer so I can make my goal this year. Nobody better get in my way. I've learned to be hard-hearted over the past year. I'll not let anyone get in my way.

Hear that world - clear out, back off and leave me alone!


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Novels vs. Screenplays, Are They Really So Different?

Everyone knows that the format of a novel is completely different from the format of a screenplay. But are they really so different?

I don't think so. When writing a screenplay or play, the writer must include characters, plot development, dialogue, and settings. Aren't these same elements in novels?

Of course they are. The difference between screenplays and novels is in the format of the typed page. In screenplays the characters and their dialogue are set apart from the stage directions. At least in the screenplays I've seen in script form, the character's name is to the far left margin of the page with the dialogue written in block form to the right, leaving white space below the character's name. Stage directions, or rather the actions, are typed in parenthesis and italicized. The setting of the scene is usually typed at the beginning of the scene before any stage directions or dialogue are given.

In a novel the stage directions are written as part of the narrative in the novel and intertwined with the dialogue. The character's names are in the tags, and the actions show up, often, as beats. The setting shows up in narrative prose seen through the eyes of the characters as they "look" upon the scenery before them.

So, screenplays and novels are the same, just as cars and trucks are the same.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

When to Make Changes & When Not To

Changes can be good, but only if those changes are made for specific reasons.

When writers create a storyline, the writer plots out ideas and characters and develops scenes and begins writing. Then the writer hits a wall. The story is not working. Now what?

The writer can resort to any number of ways to solve the problem. One of those ways is to pass what has been written to a friend or critique partner to read and make suggestions. Very effective - sometimes. What you, as the writer, need to remember about critique suggestions is whether or not the changes suggested make sense. Did the person doing the critique have a personal dislike of the writing? Or is the critique back by solid reasoning?

I have a friend who hates tomatoes and onion. If I entered a recipe into a contest where she is the judge, and I had both tomatoes and onions in abundance in my dish, how do you think she would score my concoction? I'll tell you, she'd score it very low.

Look at suggestions under a microscope. Weigh them carefully before abandoning your own ideas. But if the critiquer's ideas have validity then employ them.

What I find invaluable is the brainstorming sessions I have with friends. In a brainstorming session, ideas are thrown out without regard to how well they would work. Whatever comes to mind is allowable. You make note of them all, then later consider each one. Eliminate the ones that are completely from left field. Focus on the ones with potential. Sometimes it takes a couple of sessions or so before you settle on a solution to your plot problem. To me brainstorming should be a part of each critique group. Brainstorming is as important as the editing, if not more so.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Falling Stars

Tonight is the main event for the annual Perseid Shower. The sky is clear and there is no moon - perfect for viewing the sky.

The trick is to find a place without the lights of town interfering and without a stand of trees to block vision. Hard to do in east Texas. Even with the cities nearby growing and expanding, there are still thousands of acres of land filled with trees.

I think I have come up with a good place. It's a couple of miles from my home. There is a small hill that overlooks a plot of land where trees have been removed to provide space to grow hay. It faces the east, and there is a driveway leading to the top of the hill. The drawback? The drive leads to an old, family cemetery. Now, I know some people who wouldn't be caught dead (pun intended) sitting there watching shooting stars streaking across the sky in the middle of a cemetery, but that's not a problem for me.

I'm not superstitious nor afraid of the dark. I'll take a large, cold diet Dr. Pepper with me and lock my doors, just to be on the safe side. Too bad I don't have a camera that will take night pictures. I'll bet those pictures would be spectacular.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

An ETWA Writing Assignment

Our president has hit on an ingenious idea, in my opinion. Monthly writing assignments for the members of the group and any visitors who wish to participate.

In July, Gay Ingram presented a program and at the end an assignment was given - write a 1,000 - 2,000 word piece in any genre on one of five topics. The topics were: a cabin in the woods, a cold morning, an empty parking garage, a woman on the beach, and one other that I can't remember at this moment. Brain lock is terrible you know.

Last night, at the August meeting, members brought in their projects and read them with the members present. They were wonderful. I did notice that each person who completed the assignment wrote in the same genre as they usually do. That's beneficial in one way because at least people wrote something.

Then before we were dismissed, the president gave out another writing assignment - take one topic and write it in three genres. These are shorter, only 250 - 500 words, but it will force each person who participates to write in at least two genres different from the genre in which he or she usually writes. The topic can be anything, even one of last month's topics, just so all three genres are on the same topic.

I'm a former teacher by profession, so this type of thing is exciting in itself. I came home and wrote the first of my three versions. Now, I chose a typical genre to start with - romance. But I plan on the other two versions to be a teen story and a science fiction story, or maybe a western. Hmmm, I'll have to think about that for a while. Can't wait to get typing on the next one.