Thursday, November 24, 2011

Behind the Scenes View of Rebecca Skloot's Process

Hi readers and writers,
I really found Rebecca Skloot's book on the origin and fate of HeLa cells to be fascinating, and I loved seeing it rise in the best-sellers list.  Now she has given a blog interview that opens up her writing process and her research process for us to see.  In the part at the end, she actually posted copies of pages of her research notebook at the time she first interviewed Deborah Lacks by telephone about Henrietta and found she didn't know her favorite color and longed for more information about her, but then refused to talk more with Rebecca for a year and a half.  She also included a page in which she got advice about how to dig for the information she knew Deborah wanted, using black churches and particularly their pastors, as helpers and sources of information.  I can't think of anything I've read about writing that moved me more than seeing how she had to struggle to get this story.  She wrote and rewrote it until it read seamlessly, weaving together the medical and the personal narratives, but here is the raw material.  If you're interested in how great books are written, I really recommend this blog post:  

Cheers, Laura

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Conflict with Conflict

I’ve been interested lately in “story,”  the underpinning of a lot of creative writing.  And there’s bad news about story for those of us who want to think good thoughts in the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas: story arises from conflict.  The worst criticism my fellow MFA students give to each other’s writing is, “No conflict.  Nothing happening,  No tension.”  A relaxed pair of old men, friends, fishing from a small boat, where’s the story in that?  But let one of them challenge the other to a fishing contest?  Let one be in love with the other’s wife?  Let them be competing for the same high mileage vehicle at the car dealer’s?  Conflict!  Drama!  Story!

I submitted a chapter about Holly, a young girl in North Carolina, getting to know her next door neighbor, an older woman of the Cherokee tribe, living alone in a house attached to an old pear orchard.  I loved envisioning the natural environment and describing it, and having the two enjoy each other across the lines of age and ethnicity.  But of course, I got, “Where’s the tension?  Why should we want to read this, and find out more about these people?”  And yes, conflict was coming, in that Galilani’s friend’s grandson, a Native American boy, was going to scandalize Galilani and his mother by going out with Holly.  But I didn’t want to foreshadow that in the beginning.  So my fellow writers suggested ways I could use language to clue the readers in that conflict was off stage but it was just around the corner.  I’m still thinking it over.  I suspect they are right But I am the same writer who is often accused of summarizing the conflict scene that should be developed fully, skipping over the problems.  Hmm.  I do that in movie DVDs sometimes too, although I’m pretty good about not looking ahead in murder mysteries.  Well, there is no fast forward in life, and as I writer, I must face that and even revel in the details of the scenes of conflict.

I deplore this finding, but I can’t deny it.  Without conflict there is really no reason to tell a story.  With conflict, the reader wants to find out what happened to the characters, how the conflict plays out, is resolved, or is passed down to the next generation, or whatever.  You don’t need resolution for the story, but you do need conflict.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sports Comparison per Carlin

Hi readers and writers,
One reason to have children is that they take you into areas of life you might never notice but for them.  In my case, baseball.  I was a Dodgers fan, but not a well-versed, ask-me-anything type.  But my son is a walking sports almanac and now my daughter, the former opera diva, has decided she wants to manage a baseball team some day.  Suddenly the names of those few women in baseball management have become quite familiar to me.  My daughter's boyfriend recently told me about something so entertaining I need to share it with you here.  George Carlin did a great comedy routine comparing baseball and football, largely in terms of their language (see, it IS related to writing after all!).  If you tend to write fast without thinking through the implications of the words you've chosen, this routine will make you resolve to think more about the messages people receive subliminally from your words.  Here is the link.  You may need to copy and paste the URL into your browser.  Enjoy!  http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor7.shtml
cheers,
Laura

Video of Talk on Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling

Hi readers and writers,

Recently I gave a plenary lecture to 600 women from DWP at Women's Leadership Legacy Conference, drawing from my memoir, Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling, to talk about leadership in education.  You can see and hear a half hour video of my talk, made by the fabulous Rob Daly, on YouTube by going to this URL:  http://www.youtube.com/user/laurahoopes#p/a/u/0/F_soc1DxCdk   


Carolyn Howard-Johnson, who has just released a new edition of her book on Frugal Book Marketing, recommends that you take off from the topic of your book and think what else you could talk about using it as a basis.  Here, I talked about educational leadership easily, although it's not the main topic on which I wrote.  I think this strategy is a real winner, and once I dig out of my MFA semester writing assignments, I am going to look for more opportunities like this. 


cheers,
Laura