Tag Archives: Writers

Make Your Story: Face the Shadow

1 May
NyxPergamonZA

Nyx, Goddess of Night; the Altar of Zeus ~200 BCE

Consider parts of your life-story that you never tell.

You don’t often think about your story when you tell it, because, really, why should you? If someone asks you your heritage, where your family is from, how many brothers and sisters you have, what your parents are like, who your grandparents were, those stories come spilling out fast-fast, without much thought. You tell it the same way with the same rhythms, the same half-smile on your face. And why not? You’ve told those stories the same way your whole life. It’s not like your story ever changes, and, anyway, it’s often a pleasure to relate such stories. Especially to writers like you.

But when people ask you about yourself, you deliberately avoid certain chapters, too. You have to. The person you didn’t marry. The career path you had to forego. A character from your past that you refuse to discuss. These parts of your story are “too much information,” you’ve learned. Offensive.

In this process, you are like Jehovah dividing the world into Night and Day, shedding your personal light on a very small number of scenes while relegating most of your life to night and shadow. When I say “shadow,” I’m talking about the moral need to bring order to one’s life, to deny unwanted aspects of yourself while “promoting” aspects you admire. Carl Jung called this part of ourselves “Shadow,” and he knew what he was talking about. It’s not a bad thing. One must make necessary, moral decisions when concocting a face for the civilized world.

And yet, that process is akin to lying. It’s a lie by omission like creating nothing but clean-white portraits in a clean-white space and spending your days airbrushing out blemishes. That might make a nifty business practice but artists consider the unconsidered. She’s willing to look at pain, her own, she shares it, doesn’t look away, and makes something beautiful from her hurt.

I can tell you as someone who has spent nearly my entire life eclipsed by one of my parents’ dense, dark Shadows that the process Jung describes is totally understandable, at times forgivable, all-too-human, and, yet, so bewildering it’s horrifying. It’s not easy or pleasant, but the Shadow is a human fact. And considering the undesirable , unwanted parts of being human is what writers and artists do.

So consider the shadows of your life while reading my posts in the “Make a Story” series. I challenge you to consider moments in your life that you believe don’t fit into your life-story.

Before jumping into the Writing Prompts below, come up with three stories/scenes from your life that might make good material but which you don’t usually tell about yourself. Give them three quick easy titles for easy reference. Don’t worry, I won’t make you write them out! But I will ask you to play with these scenes.

WRITING PROMPT #1: Without telling the actual stories themselves, write 500 words as fast as you can about what themes you see in these three scenes. What dynamics are similar in them? Do they match up with other themes in your life-story? How do you feel when you consider writing these scenes and how hard would it be to include them in your life-story? Write 500 words. Keep your hand/fingers moving. Don’t stop until the word count is met.

Writing Prompt #2: Choose one the three scenes. Pretend it’s a scene in an excellent movie and you are writing a review of it. Describe how the actor(s) nailed it. Describe how the cinematographer shot it to make it so sad, harrowing, or passionate. How was it edited to make such an effective sequence? Be inventive. Have fun with your imaginary movie. Do this for all three scenes, if you like. Write 500 words. Keep your hand/fingers moving. Don’t stop until the word count is met.

Writing Prompt 3: Choose a symbol for each scene. Choose three hard, bold images that appeal to you and write them down or find photos and place them on note cards. Pin the cards over your writing space. Maybe you won’t include the actual scenes, but perhaps these symbols will appear in your irresistible pages, resonating in your skeleton and bear cosmic meaning for you and you alone.

For now.

Make Your Story is a series of articles by novelist Barth Anderson about things you might consider when writing your life-story, autobiography, or when mining personal material for your art. 

In approaching your life story, consider that you might not know it as well as you think you do. Consider your own life the way you might consider a stranger’s. Consider it unknown territory. Consider what you’ve never considered before.

Novel Progress on The Mad Queen’s Game

5 May
juana

Queen Juana 1 of Castile

I had to make a big decision on the structure of The Mad Queen’s Game that cuts out a major plot line. It adds up to removing half the book.

This cut is a good decision — the two narratives don’t actually fit together, but I thought I could do it with sheer will power and creative force. Silly me. It turns out what I suspected from the beginning is correct, that the second narrative is actually redundant thematically. I pout in shame for not listening to that.

Of course, the material would make a terrific book in itself, a parallel story that’s more swashbuckling and adventurous in the same world. So it’s not lost time, really. I think the way to avoid this in the future is to:

1) KISA

Keep it Simpler, Anderson. Repetition without advancement of theme or mood might mean something needs to be cut. Watch for that early on next time.

2) Outline to Streamline

When in doubt, put the most effort into streamlining the plot. You’re just fine at complicating things later. No need to put more effort into that than you need to early on, Barth.

3) Breaking New Ground is Always Best

Sniff out the fun and new. That’ll allow you to see the plot more clearly earlier.

In other developments, I found a GIF of my main character from a 2001 Spanish movie called Juana la Loca.

giphyjuana

Juana the Mad whapping Philippe the Handsome

My book, The Mad Queen’s Game, is about Juana of Castile (Spain) who is slapping her incredible prick of a hubby in this GIF. Yay!

My Juana is very different than the Juana in this movie but it’s still fun to see how she’s presented, especially in her homeland. My Juana is not a basket case for a man, as she turns out to be in this flick: My Juana is mentally ill (and in my opinion she suffered from severe depression if not something stronger) but she had to suffer a mind-blowing Greek Tragedy-level of grief that didn’t have much to do with this dweeb in the GIF.

That said, there’s a lot behind this slap. He deserves a hot one across the chops, and after two years of research, I wanna slap this incredible prick, too.

More: My “Mad Queen’s Game” Pinterest page where I keep images from research about characters and the period (turn of the Sixteenth Century) for inspiration, if you like spying on that sort of thing.

New Blog and The “Food Mystery”

30 Jun

I’m Barth Anderson, and welcome to my new blog Con Gusto.

Con gusto is a lovely junk drawer of a Spanish phrase that can mean anything from “to taste” (as in, adding a spice to meet one’s liking), to accomplishing tasks with pleasure, eagerness, relish. Comer con gusto means to eat with a lusty appetite.

Some of you know me from Fair Food Fight, where I write under the name “El Dragón.” Y’all know that I blog con gusto.

Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about writing and books, two of my great loves. I miss writing about writing and reading, so that’s what I’m going to hit here on Con Gusto.

Well, that and food politics. I’m pretty obsessed with that, whether I’m writing at Fair Food Fight or here. And I’ll still write about issues facing small farmers. Oh, movies, too. And, music, probably. And stuff that makes me laugh. There’s a lot that I do con gusto.

I’m also starting this blog because I’ve begun work on my third novel (you can read about the first two books here), and I’m hoping to have a first draft/treatment finished in the next six weeks. This book doesn’t have a title yet, but it’s about a murder that takes place on a dairy farm and the shock waves its discovery sends through the food world. Let’s call it food noir, with a jaded organic inspector, an emergent super-flu, a supertasting clairgustant, and dead bodies getting dredged up in manure lagoons.

These are a few of my favorite things.

So throw me on your blog-reader and you can track the growth of this book from seed to store. Bueno? Claro. Thanks for stopping by.