Friday, August 10, 2012

Inspiration, at Home and Abroad

In the continuing saga of me and  my manuscript ...

Well, I did finish my revisions … a little over my deadline of May 31st but not by too much, and with good reasons for running late (a revolving door of sick family members being one of them) so I’m happy with that. Even better, I got everything done just in time to pack my bags and head off for a vacation … to Paris.

Here's the proof.

("Children? What children?")

Ah, Paris. The city I’ve longed to visit ever since I can remember and the setting of my book, no less. I spent my ten days there pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, and have come back with a ton of fodder for my book and with my batteries fully recharged for another round of revisions.

And I mean revisions; not the wholesale re-writing that the last few go-throughs of my manuscript has entailed, which I’m mighty happy about.  I’ve chiseled away enough of the first (and second, and third and fourth ...) draft of my manuscript and can now see the full shape of my story. It’s lumpy and bumpy and in need of a good smoothing over and final polish, that’s for sure, but at least I’m at the stage where I’m swapping the heavy duty mallet and chisel work for the finer rasp and file business.

Anyways … rolling up my sleeves to get stuck into my manuscript once again got me thinking about the things that help keep up our enthusiasm for projects that take a long time to come to fruition. For it can start to seem all too hard and pointless, especially when the creative well has run dry or that vinegar-lipped lady is on your shoulder sniping that your writing is crap.

One thing that works for me it to step back from the keyboard, to go out into the world and visit museums and art galleries, take walks in the park, listen to music or catch a movie (or, cough, go to Paris), all of which serve to clear my mind and top up my creative juices so that I come back to my writing with renewed drive and fresh perspective.

But when I don’t have the time or the ability to do these things, my bookshelf is my best battery re-charger. I have a handful of authors whose works I can dip into, just for a page or so, and I’m guaranteed to come away awed and inspired. Their writing grabs me, reminds me of what I’m aspiring to, and the swell of excitement and hope that I feel compels me to get my butt back into my chair and write.

Not every writer does this for me, but a few are guaranteed to. Writers such as Deanna Raybourne, Jo Bourne, C.S. Harris, Ariana Franklin, Thomas Harris, Sarah Waters, Louis Bayard, Imogen Robertson, Geraldine Brooks, to name but a few.

And all the ladies here at ATWOP, of course.

I know some might find it a depressing exercise to read polished, published work, then dive into the hot festering messes they’re working on, but I don’t. They urge me on to do better, and to ignore that vinegar-lipped bitch and write some more.

So tell me: whose work inspires you?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Cast of Characters

Boulder Bay is a wild, untouched place. It's far from anything remotely civilized, isolated by the sea and the mountains that circle it. The only footprints you'll find in the sand are those of animals. The only noises you'll hear are natural ones like the buzzing of fat, furry bumblebees, the roar of the ocean breakers, and the melodies of birds.

I can only wonder what the locals think when we motor in on our boat and camp at the mouth of a small, crystal-clear river. By now some of them must remember us. I remember them, at any rate, and with this, our third visit, the sight of familiar characters was like greeting old friends.

Even before we finished setting up camp, it became clear that the neighborhood had had some changes. Our campsite has a lean-to frame that we built to serve as a kitchen (with the addition of a tarp it becomes sheltered). The bald eagles use the frame as a perch, probably happy that these oddball people have left them this seat with front-row views of the river in a land where trees are scarce. We found numerous eagle feathers scattered in the kitchen. "My eagles," I thought happily, "are still here." Not only were the eagles still living near camp, they were busy raising an eaglet in a nest that was empty the year before. Thriving.

What were not thriving were the little Sitka deer. We found nothing but bones on the beach. Numerous skeletons, as if the whole herd had died in that place. The darling fawns of last year were now nothing more than smaller skeletons among the larger ones.  It was a hard winter, with deep snows that pushed the herd from the hills to the beach where they eventually ran out of food to eat. I mourned the lot of them, those graceful, big-eyed creatures who meant no harm to anyone.

But life goes on, and the happy evidence of that was the newest neighbors to move in - a family of river otters. It was such a joy to watch the four of them roll and tumble on the sand in a knot of silky fur and sleek bodies. Such fun! They lived in a small creek behind our camp and I think we probably trespassed on their property. But they didn't hold a grudge, apparently, and soon accepted us warily - enough to bring their pups down to the sea to go to otter-fishing-school, anyway.

The biggest character on the block, the Kodiak brown bear, was still in residence too. We saw one bear on the beach and wisely turned back from a walk. Other than that one sighting, we saw nothing but footprints on an almost daily basis. There was a mother and cub who seemed to cross paths with us like ships in the night. They were there, but preferred to avoid us. The mother's prints told of a careful bear with long claws. The cub's small paw prints revealed a more playful nature. She took the shortcuts, wandered more, and just like a kid, walked through the mud while mother walked around it. 

 The family of foxes who live across the lagoon from our camp had wisely moved their den away from the eagle's nest. We didn't see the kits, as we had the year before, but we saw the parents often, as well as their kit from last year. She was now a lanky, curious thing who came to camp several times. I had a nice conversation with her at the fire one evening. She sat down not far from me, content to let me carry the conversation. Her eyes were golden, glittering with wonder and curiosity.

The only animal I've named is a harbor seal. Constance earned her name early because of her uncanny habit of popping up in the bay no matter where we were. We could walk miles down the beach and she'd greet us there. We'd come back to camp and she'd be there, too. Constant, like a shadow, watching with big wet eyes. I'd wave at her and yell, "Hello Constance!" My husband, who had a "crazy French girlfriend" named Constance, always said her name with a French accent. 

Even my own characters came along. Nathan, Carrie, and Carl flitted in and out of Boulder Bay like the small brown birds that fluttered around our camp. Without the bright white pages of my wip, the three of them had a holiday of their own. Nate thought about being a hunting guide. He'd buy a boat and live on it, he said. He'd call it the Compass Rose.

Eventually it was time to leave our beloved Boulder Bay. We bid farewell to the creatures who kept us entertained, who kept us company, and who reminded me that there are stories being written every day by characters more real than the ones in my head.