Inventing Characters

18 05 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

 

Exhibit A: Barry Douglas.

  1. Who is Barry Douglas, this guy from Northern Ireland with two first names? (He was our guest soloist/conductor two weeks ago. Please take the time to check out his website here.)
  2. And what does he have to do with inventing characters? (See below!)

Guest artists are a bit of a crap shoot. We musicians often suggest conductors and soloists to management – many of us play in other orchestras during the summer, and if someone makes a strong artistic impression, whether as a conductor or guest soloist, we are likely to bring them up to management. But it’s not our call who gets hired. That is a management priority, in consultation with the Music Director or Artistic Advisor. This is true all over the orchestral world. We staff musicians come to work, and deal with whatever management has cooked up for us. Sometimes it’s life-changing, other times… not.

Barry Douglas at the Piano

Barry Douglas at the Festival des Nuits Romantiques du Lac du Bourget à Aix-les-Bains – 2011

In the case of Douglas, we thought he was terrific. He’s the yin to our Music Director’s yang: his low-key rehearsal style was a breath of fresh air, as our Music Director is all sweaty intensity in rehearsal. Douglas was unfailingly polite, while our guy ripped a section of the orchestra a new one just this past Tuesday. Our Music Director can get carried away in performance, leaving us stranded, but Douglas kept his head. That’s one thing that I wish more conductors realized – we need them to remain somewhat apart from the emotion of the music, so they can be there for us, to help us when things go sideways, which they do from time to time. And things are more likely to come apart when the conductor doesn’t stay present, because that’s when they make mistakes. But I digress…

I listened to the concerto both nights, with Douglas conducting from the piano, and was mesmerized by the performance. At the piano, Douglas’ Mozart interpretation was unapologetically Romantic, and he drew a brilliant, yet silky sound from the Symphony’s grand piano (which usually sounds like heck). I was moved by the performance, and I liked how the orchestra sounded under his direction… if you can call it that. Far from the usual ‘conductor as metronomic time-keeper’, at times it was as though he was doing Tai Chi, hurling bolts of energy at the orchestra. I loved it! You never knew what was coming next, and that kept you on your toes. No sleeping through this Haydn symphony! It was straight-up collaboration – chamber music – rather than someone standing up in front of the orchestra, waving his/her arms around to impress the rubes in the box seats. (And yes, that definitely happens!)

If you checked out his website above, you know that he was the second non-Russian to win the Gold Medal in the Tchaikovsky competition outright, in 1986 – Van Cliburn was the first, in 1956. I bet you recognize Van Cliburn’s name, dont’cha? And I bet you’d recognize Douglas’ name, if he was an American. Such is the spin machine in the US – all you have to do is watch the coverage of the Olympics. If there’s not an American within medaling range, you don’t get to see the sport. But I digress (once again).

Barry Douglas and Van Cliburn before the judging of the 2011 Tchaikovsky contest. Douglas was on the jury.

As I sat in the hall, listening to the concerto, a thought occurred to me. Here’s this man: friendly, approachable, not an ounce of attitude or ego, Tchaikovsky contest winner, amazing musician, damned good-looking… and even though I have over thirty years in the music business, I’d not heard of him. He’s been living his life, traveling all over the world, playing concerts for decades, while I have made music here in Texas, and our lives intersected the first week of May, 2012.

Besides wondering how many other fascinating people are out there just waiting to be discovered, it occurred to me that when we writers encounter interesting people we may put them on the page, drawing forth details from our imagination a story at a time. We look for inspiration everywhere, and when we find it, we chew on it, toss it in a boiling pot or a quiet pond, and see what it becomes. I could easily conjure Douglas’ doppelganger if I had need for a concert pianist in a story/poem/novel. Take the talent, the looks, even some of the history (make sure that the character you invent is significantly different from the person in real life!) then go for broke: add in a couple of quirky habits, or a wandering eye, or a history of DUI. Bingo – I have the beginnings of a tale I can tell. That’s what we writers do – we invent remarkable people, give them problems, and stand back to see what they do on the page, how they react. Once I learned of a real life college professor, a scientist, a tall man, who had endured tragedy in his life. That was all I needed to come up with the seed that became Steven Canelli, the protagonist in my current work in progress. In the end, they are so different that no one would ever connect Canelli with that other man, the one who’s story grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. Even if that man were to read my book, he would have no inkling that his life inspired the tale.

What larger than life people have you been privileged to meet? What about them surprised you? Have you been inspired to riff on someone’s famous (or not so famous) persona, to flesh out a work in progress? Let me know in the comments!





In Which I Become Productive: Row80 update

13 05 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

This has been a week. Well, yes, that’s true. More than that, it’s been a week that went from OMG to YESS!

Last Sunday I finally got on board with the whole Row80/blogging thing, and it solidified my Social Media preferences. That is, I’m a Blogger. Not a Tweeter, or a Facebooker. I went to the Row80 homepage, and took the time to actually read and comment on a good number of blogs, and while that could have deep-sixed my email (I subbed to all the comment threads!), I kept that window open and was diligent with scanning and deleting comment emails. I discovered that the blogging community means the most to me, and is more to my taste than Twitter. As far as Facebook, I’m keeping my personal FB for friends (including my writer friends, yay!), and eventually, when I get to the point of publishing something, I’ll go with an author fan page. Yes, I found Row80 and other writing friends on Twitter, and will still be there from time to time, but for now, I think that blogging is where it’s at for me.

So, on Sunday I was on the computer for hours – FUN hours. Then work started to intervene. Let’s just say that rehearsals this past week were pretty hellish, and though I played well (mostly), it was damned stressful. Beer helped, specifically the new Shiner brew: Wild Hare. I’ve been alcohol-free for months, but this brew made the week go better. Now that the 6-pack is gone, I’ll get back to my teetotaling days. My stomach acid is relieved (but wishes I’d also deep-six the coffee. Oy.)

Then came Friday, and my muse put her feet back on the ground and started running. 1,100 words, in a scene that I may use. Not sure yet. Because yesterday I fired up Scrivener (which I love with a mad, passionate, and completely inappropriate love) and printed out all my chapters and scene headings. While I’m still not convinced that my WIP is one novel (as opposed to, say, THREE), I went to Starbucks with the file, and organized it into three acts (including three intermezzos and two entr’actes). That took over two hours. When I got home I fired up Scrivener on the iMac once again, and re-arranged the file per my earlier work.

With that, I’ve taken my writing to another level. You see, it’s been driving me absolutely crazy that I hadn’t settled on the shape of the story. I’d written scenes from my protag’s entire life, and there was no way that anyone would buy a chronological book of that magnitude. I hadn’t determined where to begin, and how to incorporate some earlier scenes (if at all), and it had me in knots. I knew that I’d eventually figure it out – though I may not have it completely figured out just yet – and you cannot imagine the relief I feel.

Until last night.

I woke up several times, reminded of scenes that I’d intended to write, that seemed to be quite important to the novel, but wouldn’t fit into this structure. Ahem. But I’m not back to square one. Maybe square three. The important thing is that I have a huge smile on my face. This is such FUN!

Onward to my goals.

This week has been a bust in the Better Life Habits department. Too much stress, too little concentration. In addition to my work stress, my Mom had a lumpectomy on Thursday (she’s fine, just waiting on the final pathology report. Looks like Stage 1 and five days of radiation therapy), my Dad is having an angiogram on Monday (he had three stents in ’03, I’m hoping they’ll just put in a couple more, versus bypass surgery). They are 81 and 82, respectively, and in excellent health, except for the above. All this has affected my sleep – I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep. That’s very unusual for me. I’ve walked some, but I live in Texas, and the recent rain and storms put a dent in that (though we really need the rain!). The house is not spotless, and won’t be for a while. Oh. Well.

My Creativity is flourishing, as above. Too much music-making to do any knitting – it’s too hard on my hands. I’ll get back to that soon enough.

Social Media goals are working out well, as above, though I’m not going to meet with my writer friends this month. We are all too busy – or rather, when one of us is free, the other two are busy. June, for sure!

I’m adding a second blogpost series, Tuesdays will be for quotes that spark something in me. I inadvertently started that last week, with my post on the Cambrian Shoreline. I’ve got to get cracking on Tuesdays’ entry in the series, because I’ll be with my parents all day Monday… and Tuesday is full of (stressful) work.

Oh, and here’s a fabulous link for writers. Raelyn Barclay’s current Row80 update has a great link to Jami Gold’s post on Scenes and Sequels that you must read. Oh, and cute pics of Raelyn’s family’s three new members, Sonic, Neptune, and Poseidon. Squee! So cute!





Cambrian shoreline

8 05 2012

I was inspired by Matthew Wright’s post, Worldbuilding: putting it on ice, to offer up a quote from Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale: a Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life”.

He quoted p. 120 of “Life: An Unauthorized Biography” by Richard Fortey. Can you imagine the utter strangeness of this landscape?

“I can imagine standing upon a Cambrian shore in the evening, much as I stood on the shore at Spitsbergen and wondered about the biography of life for the first time. The sea lapping at my feet would look and feel much the same. Where the sea meets the land there is a patch of slightly sticky, rounded stromatolite pillows, survivors from the last groves of the Precambrian. The wind is whistling across the red plains behind me, where nothing visible lives, and I can feel the sharp sting of wind-blown sand on the back of my legs. But in the muddy sand at my feet I can see worm casts, little curled wiggles that look familiar. I can see trails of dimpled impressions left by the scuttling of crustacean-like animals… Apart from the whistle of the breeze and the crash and suck of the breakers, it is completely silent, and nothing cries in the wind…”

This phrase – the wind is whistling across the red plains behind me, where nothing visible lives – grabbed my imagination, and has never let it go. No animals, no plants, just dirt, and rocks, and volcanoes… no movement, no wind in the trees, nothing but clouds scudding over a barren landscape.

And that was the earth, 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period. Already the world was teeming with microscopic life, but the sea? It was also home to worms, hard-shelled beasties, and the things they fed on. Life was exploding under the waves, but the first brave multi-cellular beings had yet to make their way to the open air.

If you would like to know more about the Cambrian period, I recommend this link.

Can you imagine how strange the earth must have been at that time? It opens up more and more ideas for worldbuilding in fantasy/scifi novels, doesn’t it?





Row80 update May 6, 2012

6 05 2012

Cinco de Mayo is behind us, and a great and fun week at the symphony has been put to bed. More on that this next week.

Concerning my Row80 goals – once again, it’s a mixed bag. I had my frequent house guest, and between that fun and work, the beds didn’t get made! The one thing that I’m bitchin’ with is the walking – I walked every day, mostly 30+ minutes, even though the heat is ramping up here in South Texas. The bathroom is still a science experiment. I’m grateful that my guest didn’t mind!

Last Sunday I wrote over 1800 words… then didn’t write another the rest of the week. This is not okay with me… and will change this week! I spent a lot of time on Social Media on Sunday, and continue to read blogposts and comment. I feel good about that.

I was supposed to write a non-row80 blogpost last week. As you can see, I didn’t. However, I have 2 posts in mind for this week, and they will  be accomplished!

I have been practicing, mostly due to necessity. I have some big parts to play in the next two weeks, and would like my stress level to be as low as possible. Right now it’s off the charts. By the time we get to the concerts, all will be well.

I started a new knitting project – a mohair cardigan – and am almost finished with a very generously-sized gauge swatch. I have no idea if I’ve “gotten gauge”, but the fabric is so wonderfully light and airy that I don’t care if I end up knitting another gauge swatch, or two before actually getting to the sweater. The wool scarf that I started a while back is on the back burner for now. As I’ve mentioned before, I have creative ADHD. I have a gorgeous AVL weaving loom that I’ve been trying to sell for some time to no avail. However, the weaving bug may be biting again, so I guess it’s a good thing that I haven’t sold it yet!

I haven’t done anything toward learning mask-making, even with inspiration like this.

I still haven’t managed to schedule a meet up with any local writer tweeps for May – we’re all so busy!





A successful week: Row80 update

29 04 2012

I feel a sense of satisfaction, glancing over my list of Row80 goals. I’m happy with my progress in almost every area under Better Life Habits, so much so that I’m adding a couple of other goals.

While I haven’t been religious about walking every single day, I’m well on my way to establishing the following habits: turning off lights, making my bed, shutting cabinet doors, having a clean kitchen sink, so I’m adding the following: keeping the bathroom clean, and brushing the dog 1x/week. My canine is a miniature poodle, so brushing her is essential… and I’m a bad doggy mom. I let her go, and then it’s a huge chore when I get around to it… which is a task that I’m still putting off. TODAY, Ms. Blossom – I promise! I’m sick of the science experiment that is my bathroom, oy. Enough said, or perhaps too much.

Creatively, I’m now officially unblocked! As I blogged two days ago, I had a major realization, and the ideas (if not the words) are flowing again. Yay! Unfortunately, I haven’t been practicing, knitting, or starting on the mask-making project, because I’ve been rather out of control re: Facebook, Tiny Wings, and Stoneloops of Jurassica. And instead of finishing my scarf, I’m thinking of starting on a sweater. Or a weaving project. I must have creative ADD.

I posted a non-Row80 blogpost (linked above) this week, and have another planned for next week (yay), this is my Sunday check in. I’ve been on Twitter and reading blogs, and did the monthly get-together with local writer tweeps. Come to think of it, we need to schedule one for May.

Next week will be more of a challenge, because my houseguest will be back on Tuesday for 5 days. I hope I can have some boundaries with her, and get some stuff done while she’s here. I know she’ll understand – and she has a couple of projects to work on, too.

Row80 is turning out to be a positive thing for me, this time around. Last time my health issues got the better of me, but that is more or less in the past, and I’m looking forward to the next several months. Except for the temperature part. Summer is tough here in South Texas.

How are you doing, at the end of April? Have you made Row80 or New Years’ Goals that you’re struggling with? What are your success stories?





Quit Resisting the Muse!

27 04 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

 

The past several weeks have been, for all practical purposes, novel-writing free. As you might remember, I received a sleep apnea diagnosis a while back, and have now completed two months of treatment using a CPAP machine. I’m finally feeling mostly better, having more energy. If I wasn’t superstitious I’d say that I’m over the hump.

:::knocks on wood:::

Most weeks I’d barely managed 1,000 words, and that mostly blogposts, some weeks were a big, fat zero. Then on April 22nd I knocked out over 2,100. What happened? I stopped trying to tell my muse what’s what, that’s what!

I have been trying to hog-tie my (now 116,000+ word) novel into something that made three-act sense. I was looking for that opening scene, that inciting incident which would hook the reader into reading something that I hoped would be around 85,000 words. And it wasn’t working. I was blocked up, unable to move until I figured out where the heck to begin.

Then on Sunday morning, in the shower, my muse hit me over the head. (She has a way of jumping me when I least expect it).

“Just write the damned thing! Tell this man’s story! Damn the word count! We’ll figure it out later!”

Um, yeah. By the time I had dried my hair, I had the beginnings of three new scenes begging to be put on paper, and was ENTHUSED about writing again.

Today? I’m all WTH if it turns into a 210,000 word-trilogy. I’m unblocked, and writing better than ever.

And… I found a website with a novel-writing system that really appeals to me: the Snowflake System.

 

I’m going to take that out for a walk today, going through the steps for this particular novel, and fitting in the scenes that I’ve already written as I find them. Then I’m going to finish this novel, and self-publish it.





Friday blog love

20 04 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

I confess: I’m not much of a blog reader. I have a double handful of writer blogs that I subscribe to, and I read them from my inbox. For someone who got her geek cred when she hackintoshed her Dell Mini netbook with OSX, you’d think I could figure out how to use an RSS feed. But no. They are opaque to me. I rarely comment. I know, horrible HORRIBLE blog etiquette! But I do read the blogs that I subscribe to, and one that I adore is Lani Wendt Young’s blog, Sleepless In Samoa. One of her recent posts is a fav of mine: A Piano Fell On My Head.

It was like a piano had fallen on my head. This is just not good enough.  I know I’m a hermit. I know I’m rather anti-social. I know that I have loser interpersonal skills. But after 52 weeks worth of Sundays with very welcoming, friendly, supportive and fun people – I should be better at this. But I’m not. Because I keep thinking that “I’m going home soon. I’m not going to be here for very long. This is not my REAL church/neighborhood/community. I don’t REALLY belong here. My REAL church/neighborhood/community is at home in Samoa.” So therefore I don’t REALLY need to make an effort. Because why bother?

I’m also a hermit, Lani. I need to put myself out there more, too. I can so identify with this! (and I did try to comment on that post, but the sign in was so frustrating that I gave up.)

Another blog that means a lot to me is Guinevere Gets Sober. Guinevere is in the UK, and her thoughts on addiction and sobriety and recovery are actually applicable to just about everyone, addicted or not, because recovery is about being human. And, as a bonus for me, her thoughts help me flesh out those of my alcoholic, sexually-addicted main character, Steven Canelli. More on him next week. Her post, Running With Athena (her friend, not the Goddess!) let’s everyone in on her insecurities… and how they are being healed.

Imagine, someone thanking me for running with her. Bloody hell.

My life is changing without my even trying.

And, if you want gorgeous pics to salivate over, try A Certain Slant of Light Photography. I have no idea how I found this blog, but I’m ooohing and aaaahing all the time there. Lovely stuff!

What blogs do you subscribe to, and why? What turns your crank?








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