The Organic Writer

Fallingwater – the masterpiece of organic architecture

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I recently visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in western Pennsylvania. Wright described his design as organic architecture – a melding of nature and man. As I toured the home, I wanted to sit down and write. I yearned to send all the tour groups on their way so I could enjoy the sound of rushing water, feel the sunshine flowing through the open windows, see the treetops at eye level and taste the creative juices inspired by nature.

Tour groups flood the house on a typical day

As I began my writing day this morning, I realized I didn’t have to take over Fallingwater and hold it hostage to my desires. I have a writing space in my own home with similar features. Our summer has been so hot, I’d become captive in the air-conditioned house. But this morning, fall is beating down the heat. I stepped out onto my second floor balcony, wiped off the table and began to write.

backyard sanctuary

Suddenly, the words came easily after days of struggle, as I sat near the branches of three old maple trees. I gazed out at the wise willow in the backyard, and the sunflowers on the edge of our garden winked at me.

wise willow peeking behind maple tree

winking sunflowers

The birds chattered, happy to give me space in their home. One of them was so happy, he left a calling card on my notepad. The droppings remind me I am an organic writer, and all’s right (write) with my world.

my organic writing space

Katie Jennings has written a very insightful piece. My experience with self-publishing has shown me the wisdom in her words.

She Writes With Love

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. -Winston Churchill

Having been knee deep in the trenches of self-publishing for the last several months, I feel as though I’ve gotten a pretty good perspective on what’s really going on in the industry.  Not an expert opinion, mind you, but certainly an insider one.  What I see before me are thousands upon thousands of writers finally taking that first step towards becoming officially published authors, and I cannot commend Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and others enough for giving us the opportunity to do so.  For too long it seems as though the Big 6 Publishers have reigned over the industry picking winners and losers, and thank god we finally have a free market venue where anyone and everyone can have their shot at the big time.  Isn’t it fantastic?  It definitely makes my heart sing…

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Win Live from the Road

 

Live from the Road is featured on Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews today.

The blog contains an excerpt from the book, an interview with me and a chance to win either a print or kindle version of the book. Drop by and visit and enter to win! The contest ends September 22, 2012.

I’m shamelessly promoting today. You don’t have to purchase anything, but to enter to win a copy of my latest book, you do have to visit a blog that helps independent writers such as myself sell our books. I’m always grateful and impressed with those colleagues who strive to assist us all. Stop by and see what Laurie thinks.

All memory is fiction

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.

-Ernest Hemingway

I just finished reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a fictional account of Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. They married before he’d published any of his novels, and she accompanied his during his Paris years in the 1920s as he wrote The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway lost lots of friends throughout his life because his novels, particularly his first one Sun and For Whom the Bell Tolls are barely disguised as autobiographical. In his first draft of Sun, he didn’t even bother to fictionalize the names of those characters.

Whenever I’m asked if my fiction is autobiographical, I laugh. How can our writing not be about our past? Some of us merely disguise it more.

I’ve always maintained all of our memories are fiction so why not the other way around. Have you ever shared memories with friends and families years after an event? Everyone has a different story to tell based on their experience of that event.

I agree with Hemingway’s quote. I’ve read several novels recently where the main characters are caricatures, and they come across as false and hollow. I find myself concentrating on the characterization rather than losing myself in the writing.

The Paris Wife is an excellent read. Despite the real characters, such as Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, populating its pages, I was mesmerized by the story and captivated by the writer’s ability to portray the agony and angst of a writer whose every flaw is exposed. Despite that, I still found myself drawn to the Hemingway character. McLain takes real life and turns into fiction without losing the essence of the man and the era.

 

To Which or To That. . .

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

that is the question, which I pose today.
It’s always good to review the rules of grammar. Here’s an excellent article from Writer’s Digest on the vagaries of the not so interchangeable which and that. I probably need to read it a couple of times, even though I thought I knew the rules of this particular usage – now I’m not so sure, which means I need a refresher course that will enhance my writing.

 

Point of View

“I almost always urge people to write in the first person. . .Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it.”

William Zinsser

Point of view is crucial in a novel. One of the quickest ways to turn me from a book is immature point of view. I often experiment  with point of view. In my current work, I started out all first person, with one character telling the story. I’ve decided two other characters deserve to be heard in Trails in the Sand so I’m experimenting. After reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, I decided to change point of view after each chapter. I highly recommend this Pulitzer Prize novel as a primer on point of view. Not only does it change after every chapter, the author experiments with all of the type of POV, even using second person successfully.

Here’s my four samples of POV from Trails in the Sand.

Caroline – First Person

I savored that first sip of coffee every morning. The whir of the coffee grinder woke me as regularly as any alarm clock when my husband churned beans into grounds for our daily ritual. Simon used only the darkest roast with an oily sheen. Every morning he brought me a steaming mug of the brew along with the morning papers. If my eyes weren’t open when he came into the room, he bent down and gently kissed me on the forehead.

“Good morning, baby,” he’d say, and I’d look up into his smiling face, his blue eyes twinkling a greeting. His eyes mirrored my own blue eyes. At one time we both had blonde hair, but now with age, Simon’s had turned white while mine remained the same color of our youth, thanks to L’Oreal.

As I sipped the aromatic brew, I glanced at the morning’s headlines before my attention was diverted to the television and George Stephanopoulos.

It was only a blip on the charts of the day’s news stories. I would have missed mention of it if I’d gone to the bathroom when George said an oil rig had caught on fire in the Gulf of Mexico the night before. On the morning of April 21, 2010, other news took precedence over this minor incident occurring miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Simon – First Person

I liked things simple. When I first met Caroline, I was fourteen and she was nine, and my feelings for her were anything but simple for three decades. Now watching her sip her morning coffee, her forehead crinkled into a frown as she considered how to find out more about the oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico, I marveled at the simplicity of our life. I reveled in it.

“I’m going to check on the garden while you do your Lois Lane thing,” I said when I finished my first cup. “We should have tomatoes within the month. You ready to start putting up salsa?”

“You bring me tomatoes, and I’ll dance the salsa,” Caroline said. “You know you grow the best in the world.”

Narrative – Third Person Omniscient

Details about the oil rig explosion and fire slowly leaked into the news as it became more than a blip in the media. Often the early reports contradicted each other, confused the public, and spread distrust between all parties involved.

Within days, the name BP – British Petroleum – became synonymous with “oil spill.” The rig, Deepwater Horizon, was owned by Transocean, but leased by BP for drilling its Macondo well, forty-miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, 5,000 feet below sea level, 13,000 feet under the seabed.

Jodi – Third Person Limited

The shock of her mother dying came to Jodi slowly despite all the false alarms over the years. All those hospitalizations, each time never knowing if Amy would come home or not, still didn’t prepare the daughter for the loss of her mother.

“Somehow you’ve got to make her eat,” Jodi heard the doctor tell her father more than once. “Or you need to admit her to the psych ward at Shands in Gainesville.”

Jodi’s dad said he knew the doctor was right, but then GG interjected.

“There’s not a thing wrong with my daughter, Greg Simpson,” GG said. “I’ve known you since before you were born, and you’ve always been a trouble maker.”

“Gladdy, Greg is only trying to help,” Jodi’s grandfather said. “Maybe we should think about what he’s saying.”

“I hope you all do think about it,” Dr. Greg Simpson said. “Otherwise, Amy is going to die.”

Jodi slumped in her chair when she heard the pronouncement from Dr. Simpson. No one noticed her sitting there. She was eight years old that time. As an only child, she learned one thing very well. She retreated into a hole of her own making while the grownups ignored her silence as they retreated into their own lies.

I’m still plodding and plotting my way through the second draft. Then when I leave on vacation  next week, I’m going to let the whole thing sit in a notebook waiting for my return. Hopefully, the break will allow me to come back to the novel with fresh eyes. Then I’ll decide if this experiment in point of view works.

What do you think?

Set your writing critics free

Releasing the Writing Critic

“Art is a jealous mistress.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 By P. C. Zick @PCZick

Somewhere along the way during our writing life, most of us have encountered others who expressed certain opinions about our writing. Unfortunately these expressions make their way into our psyche causing us to become our own worst critics.

Here’s an exercise geared to turn all of those critics loose. You can do this exercise on your own whenever you feel those censors making their way into your work.

Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Close your eyes and calm your breath. When you find yourself breathing deeply and your mind calm, set your intention for this exercise. Use this process for all of the exercises in this seminar.

  1. Imagine yourself getting on the school bus for the first day of school. You get off the bus and behind you comes anyone who has ever said anything to you about your writing: your mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, neighbor, Sunday school teacher. Listen to the things they say to you. Write down a few of those comments.
  2. You are now seated at your desk in the classroom. Look around the room. What is written on the blackboard? Who is your teacher? What are the other students doing? Your teacher instructs you to take out a piece of paper and gives an assignment. What thoughts are you experiencing? Write down whatever comes to mind.
  3. After you have described the classroom experience, take a moment to go back and respond to your earlier critics. You have the last word in this exercise so take full advantage of it! Get rid of those critics and turn them into admirers.

When I began pulling together this exercise from various sources on this topic for one of my writing workshops, I thought I had no negative censors regarding my writing, but I’d heard enough stories from others to know that it could be a valuable exercise.

I went through the process of setting intention and then the imagining of the bus and classroom, finally coming back to the answering of my critics. Here is what happened.

As I hopped off that bus, quite a few people came following from behind me. A teacher said, “Your handwriting stinks.” My first editor at a weekly newspaper held my first novel in his hands and said, “Who published this book? They must publish anyone.” A very good friend who was in a writing group with me pronounced after reading my second novel, “I like your articles much better than your fiction.” When I first began writing travel pieces for the local newspaper, an acquaintance said, “I would read your pieces, but you use too many big words.”

When I arrived in the classroom, I was transported back to Mrs. Marsh’s fifth grade class. We had connected square desks. She asked us to write a story in our lined penmanship books on the solar system. I received a poor grade because my handwriting did not meet the set standards we were to follow. I was further humiliated when she pointed out to the class that I had determined that the sun revolved around the earth.

To this day, I am fearful of making a mistake in whatever I write. When I do make those errors, I pronounce myself a failure. And I am still amazed forty-five years later whenever anyone praises my handwriting! It probably spurred me to become a superb typist.

However, as I contemplate this one scenario, I realize this one moment out of thousands in my life, made me a careful writer and a fast typist.

I answer my critics on the bus in the following manner:

      To my teacher: My handwriting is uniquely my own.

      To my first editor: How many books have you published?

      To my friend in the writing group: Then just read my articles, but I’m going to continue writing fiction because it pleases me.

      To the acquaintance: Get a dictionary and use my articles to educate yourself.

 

I found this process to be liberating and a confidence builder. I hadn’t realized how much those comments bothered me, but by going through this exercise I’ve released them and put them in their proper perspective. One of the participants in a workshop found that she only remembers being praised for her writing and always being told, “You need to write a book.” She discovered those words were just as debilitating to her as negative words because she hadn’t even begun to write the book everyone else thought she should write. She still hasn’t written the book, but she doesn’t feel guilty about it anymore.  Give it a try and see if it works for you.

 

Tortoise Stew Cover

Tortoise Stew on Kindle

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

As promised, I’ve now released Tortoise Stew on Kindle (by P.C. Zick). It’s a real deal at .99 cents. It was originally published in paperback in 2006 under my former name (Patricia Camburn Behnke). The new e-book version has been updated and edited.

Here’s a review of the book from 2006. It still holds true today, except I now live in Pennsylvania and work full time writing my blogs and working on my fiction. I especially love this review because the writer makes a loose comparison between me and one of my heroes, Carl Hiassen.

Book review: Tortoise Stew – a feast inside a whirlwind

By Peter Guinta, St. Augustine Record

Published Friday, July 07, 2006

An old reporter once said, “The smaller the town, the more vicious its politics.”

Patricia Camburn Behnke’s novel, Tortoise Stew, released in March, illustrates that point perfectly, even though it is set in the fictional town of Calloway in North Florida.

Tortoise Stew tells the story of Kelly Sands, a reporter working for a weekly newspaper in Zion County (also fictional). Sands had thoroughly irritated a powerful cabal of local public officials, outside developers, corrupt real estate agents — and their muscle-bound stooges — with her probing questions and news stories about land usage.

The group thinks she’s far, far too aggressive in telling the public about their plans to build an airstrip and movie studio. They are acquiring property in secret, using false names and coercing public officials, she learns. But how to prove it?

They’re not above bribery or threats when need be, such as leaving a bomb on her desk one day or breaking into her computer.

But, incredibly, that’s just one thread in the book’s plot tapestry, which spirals into murder, incest, rape, armadillos, death by tractor trailer and mayhem — all the things that make a small town interesting.

A reader will recognize right away the Big Gulp that has been Florida’s land grab.

Tortoises, too, are part of the story. There are also emotional peaks and valleys, rabid environmentalists, an up-close look at how newspapers work and how relationships don’t, though it’s a love story too. This isn’t a chick book. It’s a page-turning thriller set in a condensed place, which just makes the pot boil quicker.

Behnke is a St. Augustine resident and an experienced and award-winning journalist who worked for the High Springs Herald in 2002. The following year, she and her ex-husband started and published a 5,000-circulation newspaper in another small town.

She served as its editor and chief writer, covering politics and writing columns, editorials and news articles. Her husband was art director. They sold the paper in 2005.

So Behnke knows the biz.

Now she is editor-in-chief for Tower Publications in Gainesville and is working on a non-fiction book, Two Moons In Africa, about a Florida man taken hostage in Angola in 1990.

Behnke is an active public speaker and recently spoke to St. Augustine’s chapter of the Florida Writers Association. (The FWA meets 10 a.m. to noon at the main library on July 15.)

I suspect Kelly Sands is Behnke’s alter-ego. Sands is a thorough reporter who learns to be feisty. At one point, after a triumph over the forces of darkness, she says, “That’ll teach them to leave a bomb on my desk!”

Tortoise Stew can be shelved with your Carl Hiassen’s books, because both authors hate the development and corruption that is making all of Florida look like Miami, and because both are great reads.

 

Words of Wisdom?

“I carried scars, but those scars bring us to places where happiness is perhaps just having the morning paper in the driveway and the coffee steaming hot in the kitchen – the simple pleasures enjoyed in moments of grace.”

from Live from the Road

By P.C. Zick