Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year Resolutions

The New Year reminds me of fresh beginnings, as well as a resurrection of old dreams lost somewhere in the shuffle of everyday life. When I was younger, I made resolutions I knew were impossible to keep due to a lack of motivation and a mindset that my every whim would just drop into my lap. Over the years, I have learned that anything I resolve to do requires action on my part. It does me no good to say I will earn $50,000 this year unless I have a skills and motivation to either find that $50,000 job, or to find extra work that will help me reach that goal. Hopefully, my goals are more realistic.

As a writer, I can set a goal to publish 5 short stories, 4 articles, 3 poems, 2 reviews and one novel (this song is titled "5 Writing Goals" to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas") this year. I know this will not happen for me unless I am established as a writer and am in the ranks to have tea with Stephen King or brunch with Patricia Cornwell. But, what about setting more realistic goals for myself? Here is my list of writing goals I have come up for with for 2007:

  • To put words into my word processing program (or, in the alternative, onto paper);
  • To set aside one hour a day each day writing- preferably after work;
  • To write no more than two pieces at the same time;
  • To finish all writing I start;
  • To continue working on my novel;
  • To submit at lease one short story per month for possible publication;
  • To create a writer's group in my area.

To some, this might seem like a lot. But, the difference between now and when I was younger is that my goals are not unrealistic. I can do all of the above as long as I put action behind my words.

Isn't that what life is about anyway, putting action behind our words? In the New Year, I challenge everyone to believe in their dreams and to put action behind their words Happy New Year to all!

© 2006 Susan Littlefield

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas

The holidays this year were difficult with the absence of my grandmother, who passed to a better place last January. She and grandpa had a way of making every holiday special with their humor and special love of life. When I was growing up, my parents and brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins, would gather at grandpa and grandma's house for Thanksgiving weekends. As an adult, I was given the gift of spending many Christmas eves with my grandparents. This year on Christmas eve, I felt the grief of that first Christmas without a beloved family member, but also shared in the joy of spending Christmas Eve and Christmas with Don, family and friends.

My grandmother had a special way of giving memorable gifts. For many, many years, my grandmother gave me turtlenecks, all a different color each Christmas. I could never figure out how to tell my grandmother I didn't like turtlenecks, that all those beautiful tops lived unworn in my top dresser drawer, until one year it all came out while were were shopping in a local clothing store.

She headed straight for the turtleneck display, and then pulled one off the shelf and held it up. "Honey, don't you think this turtleneck is pretty?"

Right then and there, I faced my dilemma- I could lie and tell her yes, or I could tell her my truth about turtlenecks. I knew from experience that grandmother had a way of uncovering every lie I ever tried to tell.

"Grandma, it is a pretty color," I said. "But, I don't really like turtlenecks."

She shot me a casual glance. "Oh. I didn't know that."

Needless to say, Grandma never gave me another turtleneck again. But, she knew I loved tea and never hesitated to include a box with my crew cut tops and other essential items, like dish towels.

My grandmother was a wonderful writer who self published her book of poetry Memories On Wings about a year before she died. She always said writing was how she taught others about God, but I also believe it was her way of sharing her great compassion and love for others. One of her poems in her book is titled Christmas:
Christmas is fast approaching,
What are your thoughts today,
Will you have an old fashioned Christmas,
With presents and love to give away?
Will you invite the needy one
Who has nowhere to go,
Or invite the proud and rich,
And forget your love to show?
What really is the meaning of Christmas,
But to do good to your fellow man.
Share what you have with the needy one
And love them while you can.
I hope your holiday season was alive with family and friends and filled with love and compassion for all mankind.
(c) 2006 by Susan Littlefield

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Experience and Ideas

This weekend was filled with surprises, some tender and heartfelt, others bazaar and scary. I was affected personally by all happenings, but I was also stirred as a writer because with each experience came a goulash of ideas.

On Saturday, Don and I had lunch with my 90 year old grandfather, two aunts and an uncle. After lunch, my aunts gave me some wonderful gifts. First was a picture of my mother when she was about seven years old. I was 23 when she died of lung and liver cancer. As I looked into her clear smiling eyes, I was reminded of how much I miss her, and how I have been blessed with a likeness to her in both looks and character. Even though my mother was 42 when she died and has been gone almost 22 years, I have experienced a continuing relationship with her, especially with comparisons of my life to hers. So many questions came to mind- how does my relationship with my mother live and breathe today? What influence has she had in my life, and what influences does she have now? And, what would life be like if my mother were still like today?

My aunts also gave me my mother's baby book, which contained the story of her life from birth to three years old. As I read through the pages, I sensed the joy of first motherhood in my grandmother's beautiful cursive. How proud she was as my mom grew to a three years old, with each step, each new word, and all of her cute sayings. As I read, I began to wonder- what was motherhood like in 1942 during World War II? How were birthdays celebrated during such trying times as the war? What type of gifts did children receive, or were families too poor to give gifts?

By late afternoon, Don and I were in the car on the way home. We talked about places and things, joys in our lives and, most appropriately, the upcoming Christmas season. In fact, just before I saw the headlights coming straight for us, we were talking about whether or not we wanted to get a Christmas tree! By the grace of some angel (who may have been my mother or my grandmother), I was able to hit my breaks and pull my car over to avoid the driver on the wrong side of the road. Perhaps it was that same angel (or angels) who made sure no cars were behind me to get the impact of that crazy driver. Once we had regained composure, I looked at Don and said, "Yep, I think we ought to get that Christmas tree!"

It’s amazing how such a brief, small experience was so life changing. All I could think about was that nobody was hurt because of the stupid choice of a driver on the wrong side of the road, and how my life is truly blessed. But, what would have happened if I had not been able to avoid the other driver? Or, after avoiding the crazy driver, what if there had been a car full of people behind me who were not so lucky?

The final bazaar event of the day was receiving a Christmas card from a family I did not know. I looked the telephone number of the family up and gave them a call. The woman who answered explained that her husband gave her a list of people to send Christmas cards to and my name was on the list.

“But, I don’t recall knowing your husband,” I said. “Please refresh my memory.”

“He said he knows you from the Starbucks down by Safeway,” she explained.

I told her I didn’t go to Starbucks by Safeway, but I thought I knew what had happened. There is another person in town with my name who I have received telephone calls for over the years. We are both listed in the phone book with our first initial and last name. I have been told by people who have called my number, thinking it was her they were calling, that I sound a lot like her. I have often wondered what this other person with my name is really like. What does she look like, what type of work does she do? Does she ever receive any of my phone calls?!

It’s interesting how one day can spring forth so many story ideas, but ideas are also waiting to be discovered within mundane experiences. My advice- treasure each experience, keep your notepad and pen with you at all times and don’t forget to write it down.

© 2006 Susan Littlefield

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Thinking of a Geographical

From the standpoint of a human being, if I or someone else says, "I'm thinking of a geographical," it means a move or job change is an easy road from big problems. However, from a writer's point of view, thinking of a geographical means contemplating where I want my story to be. How do you find the right setting for your story? Instead of just thinking of a geographical, take a geographical and do some research!

I love traveling, and once took a road trip halfway across the United States to Arkansas, where my dad and step mother live. While wandering through all of the different terrain, I wondered what makes each city, town or state different than others. What distinguishing characteristics does an area have? What might the place be famous for? Most importantly, how does this region fit into my story?

Suppose I want to write a story set in the church to the right located in Mossville, Arkansas. I've been there and taken this picture. Is visiting and taking this picture enough? It could be, if all I want is a church that looks a certain way to be in my story. But, if I want to bring some realism to my story, I might want to do some geographical research on the church, and the area. Since I've already been to Mossville and may not return, I might want to search online for anything on Mossville history I can find. I can write (or email!) their Chamber of Commerce or historical society.

Last summer, my boyfriend, Don, and I traveled to Rockport, Massachusetts. We visited his loved ones for about a week, went sailing, to the beach, shopping, and took long walks through the small, lovely English village with three and four story houses that, from this Californians point of view, look like mansions. Even though I experienced snapshots of life in the Eastern U.S., I learned enough to write a realistic short story or two. For other details, I can do online research or interview Don's relatives who live there!

As a writer, the important thing about geographical research is that facts are essential in creating realistic fiction, as well as maintaining my credibility.

© 2006 Susan Littlefield


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Realizing Story in Everyday Life

Don lives in a small, remote town in hill country where life is simple and change is difficult. I love going to Don's place because of the quiet and my feeling of stepping back in time. This weekend was no exception.

Saturday was alive with a Christmas party at a historic two-story house on the state park replicated to the early 1900's. In the parlor sat a beautiful decorated Christmas tree with presents beneath, Santa sat in a chair next to the fireplace and musicians, complete with guitar, base, mandolin and piano, led young and old alike in carols. Children sat on Santa's lap and leaned close to his ear and whispered their wishes. People from all walks of life, who might not normally cross paths during everyday life, came together to share in the joy of Christmas.

During a pause in music, one of the musicians said, "You know, this is exactly what people used to do years ago, sit around and sing. They didn't have electricity, just some oil lanterns and everybody else." As I pondered his words, I realized what a great story this would make, about a poor family whose only gifts were each other and the sounds of their voices in music. This story has been lived and written many times over the generations, but it becomes fresh with each new writer's voice and perception. What would be different for my characters around Christmas, or would Christmas be just the same as any time of the year? Would it matter? What all of the gift shared be handmade? The questions come until I have taken an old story and made it new again.

Each day of my life is a new experience waiting for the realization of a new story. Now, all I need to do is sit down and write.

© 2006 By Susan Littlefield

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Characterscope

This evening, while sweating away on the stair master (that's the one that looks like escalating stairs, but never gets you to the second floor of the mall), I engaged in 40 minutes of enjoyable people-watching. I love to people watch at the gym, or in any venue where interesting people congregate. While observing people, it is too easy to project my own judgments and create a persona of who I think a person is. In everyday life, this is a sign I am not accepting a person as is. But, in writing, it is impossible to create a character without drawing upon observations I have of other people (i.e., people watching) and who I think they might be.

What does building a character look like? Think about yourself and your own character. We create ourselves by our actions, words and choices. Sometimes we have behaviors that are not desirable to who we want to be; behavior is a symptom, whether positive or negative, of some underlying belief. In real life, we have many tools to for self-actualization and improvement. The concept of creating self can be applied to creating characters in story. If my character has a certain belief, or a certain set of beliefs, he or she will behave in certain ways- just like in real life!

Before building character, I need to have some idea what my story will be about and what the situation of the story is. For example, if I’m writing a novel set during the civil war, I cannot create a female protagonist who is a left-wing activist who convinces her female friends to burn their bras and forget about their husbands who are out fighting the war. But, it might be reasonable to create a strong female protagonist who is an example to other civil war wives, a woman who does what she has to do while her husband is at war.

Once I have decided my story line and situation, I can pull out all my perceptions drawn from people watching and throw them into a big old kaleidoscope and start spinning it around to see how the different characteristics mix together. Maybe my male protagonist will look like that tall man I saw running on the treadmill who did not make eye contact with anyone. I sensed he was lost in his own world and focused on his task at hand. But, in my story, my character’s wife has died in a car accident. In his grief, he keeps prefers to let no one into his life, thus he has difficulty making eye contact with others.

The wonderful thing is that building character is not black and white, but more like a characterscope filled with colorful possibilities.

Now, it’s time to go and give my new character some color!



© 2006 by Susan Littlefield

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

My First Words

I wonder what my first word was. I'm sure mother cried as she told her friends in the sewing circle, "Her first word was Mama." Or, maybe dad passed around cigars to his work buddies as he said, "Dada. That's the first word my girl said." I wonder, was my first word actually some unintelligible muttering that pleased my parents so much that they simply heard what they pleased? What parent doesn't want their child's first word to be a reflection of their own parenthood?

The power of the written word captured me at an early age. When I was a little girl, my mother used to read me a story titled The Little Engine That Could. I can still see the smooth, bright cover with the train on the front, the colorful pictures and words within, as my mother read me the story about the train who had trouble getting up the hill. Ms. Choo-Choo pushed herself up the hill on pure motivation and the words, "I think I can, I think I can." While growing up and going through the growing pains of pessimism, my mother would say, "Remember the little train that could?" Even as an adult, those words have become a part of my being, a mantra that carries me through darker periods of low motivation and self-imposed pity.

I have always wanted to be a writer. I discovered poetry when I was about 12 years old, scribbling out long, rhyming verses on notebook paper. Poetry helped me escape to a place were I could create any kind of story I wanted, all it took was stanzas, meter and rhyming. I still have copies of those poems tucked away in a notebook.

When I was in high school, I began writing lyrics. I wondered what my words would sound like set to music. I studied everything I could at the library on writing lyrics. When I was 17, I secretly entered Velvet Roses in the American Song Festival Lyric Competition. Out of thousands of entrants, I won an honorable mention. I laminated that award, and it now lives with all of my precious memorabilia.

I have been a self-proclaimed writer for many years- I have poetry published in a few small press magazines, and have won first place for two stories in writing contests and have authored other small non-paying contributions. For my senior project for my Bachelor Degree, I wrote a novella then gave a presentation of my creative process. I have never been paid in more than copies, and most of my work has been for self-fulfillment purposes.

Now, as I embark on my new adventure, I feel a little like I am speaking my first words, or writing my first poem or short story. When I want to give up on my writing, or I wonder why I write at all, my mother whispers from a faraway place, "I think I can, I think I can."

Yes- I think I can. In fact, I'm sure I can.



(c) 2006 by Susan Littlefield

To Go Oxford....or Not

Do you use the Oxford comma or do you omit it? Some grammar sages say to either keep it or omit it, unless omitting the Oxford comma will...