Author Archives: dixiereale

Writing the small stuff may lead to something bigger

by Dixie Thomas Reale

How can I find time to do serious writing when nuisance writing chores keep copping up?

Just because you aren’t working on the great American Novel or some epic poem doesn’t mean you should not do your best when writing whatever you need to write. Many day to day opportunities come along that require you to write something — a few well-chosen words to mark an occasion — a wedding toast, a baby’s christening, a friend’s birthday.

Most of these events are no big deal and you can often get by with a few sentences, but if you craft your toast or comments well enough, and allow your creativity free reign — who knows what masterpiece might evolve from your words?

I had an opportunity recently. My daughter got married in Australia to an Australian fellow. I wanted to mark the occasion with some well-crafted words so decided to write a toast for the reception.

I asked the mother of the groom for information about his childhood. Then I listed out details from my daughter’s childhood.

They both had some interesting events listed and I played around with the idea of one child growing up in America while the other grew up in Australia. I needed a creative way to draw them together in adulthood so they could marry. Having them think about and long for one another before they met was just too hokey.

Then I got an idea and settled on two wild puppies. One was a girl coyote who grew up at the top of the world near the Yellowstone Volcano; the other was a boy dingo from Down Under who grew up near Ayres rock. With my make believe baby dogs I could get as fanciful as I wanted.

So, I had fun. She sang with her pack into the lava tubes in the Craters of the Moon and he howled with his mates across the Outback. The puppies didn’t know about one another, but heard the other’s singing coming back to them from the deepest part of their respective caves. Soon they were meeting every night to sing together — he in limestone caves on the Outback and she in lava tubes on the Snake River Plain

He invited her down under. She caught a ride on the back of a giant bird. They fell in love, married and lived happily ever after.

Once I finished the toast I liked it so much I decided to revise it slightly, add illustrations and use it for a children’s book.

If I had not labored over that toast I would not have my children’s story. So don’t knock the small stuff. It may evolve into something great that you can use elsewhere.

Now, let’s see what I can do with the grocery list.

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What does a room of my own mean to you?

When asked what one needs in order to write, Virginia Wolf said she needed “500 pounds and a room of my own.”

What do you think she meant? Was she saying that she needed exactly “500 pounds” as money in her day was measured? I do not think so. I think she was saying that she needed an income comfortable enough that the basic necessities of life were covered. Enough money that she did not have to worry where her next meal was coming from, or wonder if she could pay the rent. After all if I am always hungry and worried that I may be thrown out into the street and be homeless at anytime, I’m not going to be able to focus on similes and metaphors.

I believe “A room of my own” could mean a whole house or just a small corner of a room. It doesn’t matter. Many years ago I was sorting boxes of old magazines I wanted to keep for reference, into order by date of issue. I had so many magazines that I had to spread them out on the living room floor. It was the only space large enough. I’d spent an entire afternoon lining them up into rows and moving them from one area of a row to another as I worked through many years and months of dates. I was about halfway through when I had to stop to get dinner for my family.

When the evening dishes were finally done and the kitchen back in order I returned to the living room to resume my sorting. My magazines had been gathered up and thrown into a huge heap in the corner of the room. Nobody would admit to the deed, but I knew then the living room was not “my room.”

In my room or my own space I can spread out my projects and nobody will bother them. I can lay my papers and books on a table or on the floor if I wish and leave them there all strung out and in disarray. If this is truly “my own room” when I come back my papers will be exactly where I left them. Nothing will be touched. That I believe is what she means by “A room of my own.”

I recently staked out a room of my own from vacated rental space that the tenant no longer wanted. It is 20 feet by 22 feet with a huge storage area. It is in an area where I do not think I will be able to re-rent it easily, So, it is mine.

In my room I will put my favorite books, a library table, a music maker of some sort, my computer and printer, plenty of reference books, a big easy chair or recliner, reading lamp, coffee table, inspirational pictures on the wall, and enough shelves in my storage area to hold paper, ink supplies, glue, staples, paper clips, pencils, notebooks, paper cutters, laminating machines. I want plenty of daylight and maybe even a dorm sized refrigerator and microwave for snacks. The room will be comfortable enough that I will want to spend time there.

Who knows I may even store some folding chairs in the closet for friends or students, in case I decide to invite someone over or host a seminar in my space.

Right now I am measuring for carpet and plan to put a curse on any who disturbs my space. There will be an amulet above the door.

Dixie Thomas Reale

Hastings Book Signing

Book signing at Hastings -- October 30 th.

Sherri George, Kathy Wilson, Giselle Jefferies, Dixie Reale, Bonnie Dodge, Sherry McAllister, Lloyd Bakewell and Pat Marcantonio enjoyed an evening of conversation concerning writing at our book signing at Hastings in Twin Falls on October 30th. We will have to schedule some more writing conversations in the future.

QUESTION OF THE MONTH.

How do I get my writing published?

So, your story is finally finished. Each phrase is a polished gem that contributes toward the final climax. No word is wasted. Now, you need a home to showcase your masterpiece.
First, study the market place. Focus on subject matter, length of stories preferred and whether or not the intended market accepts unsolicited and/or unagented submissions. Follow the rules. Send your story only to publishers or agents who deal in your particular genre or subject matter.
Include a one page query letter with your manuscript . This is your sales pitch for both the story and you. The query should contain a brief synopsis of the story and a short biography with publishing credits and experience. If you do not have writing credits, be sure to include your background that relates to the story. Remember every published author started somewhere.
Double check. Do not send negative or self defeating messages in the correspondence. For example — “This is my first attempt to publish.” “I am not an expert.” “I am a really a poet but wanted to try my hand at fiction.” You get the idea. Include some facts about the story — “The title of your story is a 95,000 word mystery novel.”
Polish the query as you perfected your manuscript. If you belong to a critique group, critique the letter. Remember the query is the potential editor’s or agent’s first impression of you. If it is a bad impression you will probably not get a second chance.
Also, many beginning writers use the copyright symbol on their correspondence with potential publishers, editors and/or agents. They do this in an effort to protect their work.
Unfortunately using © in letters and cover sheets of a manuscript sends a negative message. You are telling the person reading the letter that you suspect he wants to steal your story. When writing to an agent or potential market, writers need to make a good impression. Put yourself in the editor or agent’s place. If someone told me even indirectly they suspected I was a thief, I would not want to deal with that person and would probably reject their story without even reading it. And, if an editor or agent is dishonest, all the ©s in the world will not stop him/her from stealing.
Remember, you can’t copyright an idea, only the telling of it — the arrangement of words on the page. All stories are old ideas recycled through a new author’s mind. There is no new idea. Writers steal ideas all the time.
If you are really concerned about theft of your story, print out a copy. Put it into a large manila envelope, take it to the U.S. Post Office and mail it to yourself via registered mail. When the envelope arrives in your mail box, do not open it, but put it away in a safe place. If anyone ever does steal your version of the telling of the story, you have dated legal evidence of ownership. You can then take them to court. But do not insult a potential business ally.
Good luck!

Dixie Thomas Reale

QUESTION OF THE MONTH

What can I do with my fickle muse?

Over the years I have developed a number of activities to get writing again when inspiration has fled. Automatic writing — writing down anything and everything that comes into my thoughts — sometimes works. Listening to classical music or jazz while reading inspirational poetry often sparks my imagination. I’ve watched a fire burn, a stream flow, taken a walk in the desert or forest, laid down on the grass and studied shapes of clouds on a warm summer afternoon, and stargazed at night. I’ve left a story completely and came back later. All of these strategies helped get pen to paper once again.

However, I recently experienced a twist of the capricious nature of my muse. I was working on a novel that has been rattling around in my intentions for many many years but the plot never wanted to come together, was never quite right. The story line kept changing. I’d started on it several times over the years only to abandon it after many pages when the idea turned stupid. This past fall my muse insisted that I start writing on the novel again. She reminded me “You are not getting any younger and you need to tell this story.” So I got busy on the plot and chapter outline. I had three great characters in mind and was introducing and developing their personalities one at a time while introducing symbolic threads I could later pull through the events I had planned for my story. I was in the middle of chapter three, maybe on page thirty-five or forty of the novel, when the muse turned perverse. She changed her mind. Another story started tumbling out of my imagination.

The second story is related to the novel in a round-about way but is more personal, a memoir. The main focus of the memoir makes the novel seem trivial, almost ridiculous by comparison and demands to be written first. So I set the novel aside and started working on the memoir. It has been building steadily since. I’m averaging about a page a day, which is great for me, I don’t normally produce that much. I have nearly one hundred pages of memoir and haven’t even gotten to developing an outline or chapter breakdown yet. The story is raw material running steadily from my mind to my fingertips to my word processor.

Some writers say, “I am going to write a story and A, B, and C is going to happen.” I can’t do that. I don’t know what is going to occur in a story until I write it. At this point I’m not sure if, when I finish the memoir, I will return to the novel or not. Maybe I had to write that novel outline and three chapters to reach the point where I need to be mentally to write the memoir. Or maybe the memoir will turn out to be personal baggage related to the subject of the novel that I have to work through in order to write the novel with a clear focus. Maybe the memoir is going to integrate itself into the novel, somehow. I do not know. I’ll figure that out when I get to the other end of these narratives.

Right now I have two stories in progress. And although my muse is fickle, as long as she is talking to me I am taking dictation.

Dixie Thomas Reale

QUESTION OF THE MONTH

How much detail should I include when writing a story?

This can be a tricky balance.

Generally obscurity in writing is deadly for the average writer. Sure I remember in literature classes in college — I often had to look up obscure references to places, people and even customs of the past. I did the research so I could talk about the authors intelligently in class discussions, or on examinations given by sadistic professors. Understanding the minutiae of authors lives added another level of understanding to an already thick tapestry of meaning in stories written by giants like Joyce, Shakespeare, Twain or Faulkner.

College students may grumble about the research but they do it because they know the effort will add to their understanding and should even improve their grade.

However, the average reader is not going to bother looking up many, if any, unexplained references in a story by an acquaintance from Small Town, Idaho. Nothing personal, that is just the way it is. Remember time and distance have made many details in stories by the greats unclear or ambiguous. If the reader is going to fully understand the story he needs to be aware of the particulars.

At the same time, including too much detail is just as fatal. Imagine reading ten single spaced pages of minute detail enumerating every step in a search through archives located in the basement of a library for specifics of life events of a historical figure. Who cares? Only a fellow researcher, certainly not the average reader of fiction. If you have to include details of the fictitious search cut it down to a paragraph or two.

You have to find the right balance in your stories. It lies somewhere between writing simply the name “George” and writing “George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Va., on Feb. 22, 1732, signer of the Declaration of Independence, commander in chief of the Continental army during the American Revolution, first president of the United States, father of the nation, husband of Martha, step father to” . . . You get the idea. But remember only you can decide which details to include. After all, it is your story.

Dixie Thomas Reale

Question of the Month. How can I find neat names for characters?

The Other Bunch — Bonnie, Pat and Dixie — went to Bonnie’s cabin in Featherville for a weekend retreat recently. While there we did some writing workshops to prime our creative pumps.

A naming exercise, that proved to be reasonably productive, involved mining telephone books, obituaries or cemeteries for names. Interesting first names are to be listed on one page, interesting last names on another. When the writer needs a name for a character the lists are matched up until the right combination presents itself. Once the right first and last names are together the chosen character’s name might give an idea of the his or her personality.

For instance — Dixie matched up Adelphia and Albedyll. The character immediately took on an attitude, probably because of the wild name. The writing exercise said to stand the character in the middle of the room, walk around her and follow her down the street.

This is what resulted: Everyone called her Adel, at her request, because her name was quite a mouthful. She went forth into the morning with purpose, marching rather than ambling so no one would think she was idle or aimless. She kicked a rock in her path, as if it had placed itself there on purpose just to irritate her. In fact some days she felt the whole world was conspiring against her to make her mad.

Bonnie named her character Doyle Lesner. She didn’t get a sense of his personality from the name but he did see quite a lot of scenery when she walked him down the street.
Doyle walked down the dusty street, passing the red hydrant on the corner. It was a bright, sunshiny day, and a kid was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk instead of the street. Rusty’s old pickup truck stopped and Rusty waved from the window, “Hay ya, Lesner.” Doyle waved back and crossed the street. He passed the coffee shop on his way to the hardware store. He glanced briefly at the stand holding real estate brochures. The stand beside it usually holding the daily newspaper was empty. As he passed the cafe, Mildred stopped filling a customer’s cup with coffee long enough to wave. The red wagon outside the cafe was filled with white geraniums. Someone was getting a permanent in the beauty salon next door. A dog barked as it chased the kid on the bicycle. The caution light was blinking yellow at the corner of Main and Second.

Pat named her character Wes Manley and here is what he did. Wes Manley sloughed off his cigarette as he walked to work. He tried to remember where he had parked his car the night before. It would come to him later in the day after his fifth cup of coffee.
Running a hand over his face, he felt patches of whiskers. His boss Sam wouldn’t mind because Sam only showered three times each week.

You might like to try this activity next time you need a name for a character or even an idea to get you started writing.

Dixie Thomas Reale