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Stretching the brain

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One of the most common questions Mom and I get at book functions is: where do you get your ideas

The answer to that question is just about as easy to find as the answer to another question we ask each other frequently: where the heck did that dream come from? Mom and I both have vivid imaginations that create wild dreams. Last week, for example, I dreamed my sister Monya lived in a mansion so huge she had one, double-gymnasium-sized room where she held a yoga class with 40 of her closest women friends. It isn’t that the concept was so far out; if she had a house that large she might indeed set aside a room just for her friends and exercise. The dream was amazing because of the detail my brain created. I still see the green fronds of plants everywhere, gold archways decorated with Roman-themed crown moulding, the wheat-colored weaved mat I exercised upon. I can hear the gently falling sound of water that filled that room, and I feel my envy that so many of the women looked toned and relaxed in the white robed gym outfits my mind created.

I went over and over details of the day before that dream and could find no hints where the gym or white robes came from.

I will say, however, that my dreams are even more vivid since I started writing frequently, which tells me something about the nature of creativity and how it feeds upon itself. For me personally, I believe my ideas spring from mental agility that comes with practice. The more I sit down and write, the easier ideas come. In a way, it’s like a yoga class for the brain—by practicing, I’m flexing my thinking and the next time I get on the mat, the ideas move more smoothly.

But ideas also come from stimulation, and you have to recognize and acknowledge what’s happening to you to be stimulated by it. When you walk, do you stare at the pavement in front of you? Or do you look around and see? Our world is made of millions of microcosms and if you raise your head you’ll spot them. My dog Laney has given me lessons in this wonder. We’ll be walking along a path and suddenly, she’ll stop dead in her tracks. If I didn’t see her nose twitching, I’d think she’d turned to stone, she’s so still. While Laney is a hound-mix, she’s a site-hound, not a scent hound. Whatever she’s smelling is only backup to what she’s seeing. I thought the first few times it happened she was nuts. Then one time, I stopped walking and just waited. And waited and waited some more, not making a sound, just telling myself I was nuts right alongside her. After what seemed like five minutes, a young adolescent deer stepped right out in front of us. We were in a field and the deer had been on a hill below us, eating its way upward. I guess it couldn’t smell us because of the direction of the wind. There it was in all its male teenage glory, small antlers beginning to show, not yet old enough that the site of us brought instant fear. The deer stared at us and we stared back for several more minutes. The deer didn’t move until Laney’s dog-ness took over, and she couldn’t contain her excitement. She made a move towards the deer, and it turned and white-tailed it out of there.

For a brief few minutes, our microcosms intertwined, but only because Laney and I stopped our world long enough to let the deer walk into it. And none of us―Laney, the young deer or I―would have had the experience if we’d kept our noses to the ground.DSCN0457

 

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Making friends with our synapses

How many of us have a smart phone, an iPod, a tablet or reading device that we don’t really know how to use? Since nothing comes with a manual anymore (and no one read them when they did), chances are, with most gadgets we buy today, we use at most a quarter of the features. We chose the device for a specific reason (cool navigation, the ability to read a book in all light levels, a calendar reminder we hope will keep us organized), but as it turns out, that darn piece of technology is full of bells and whistles and more bells that we will NEVER use and certainly never understand. Okay, I’ll admit it, I don’t even know how to set the time on my Radio Shack alarm clock. When the power goes out, I first cuss at myself for failing to put batteries in, then play with the buttons for 10 minutes or so knowing it’s a certain sequence (my dear husband bought the clock because it was billed as “simple,” which today means two buttons that will do everything if only you know exactly how and when to punch them, hold them in and let them out.)For those of us over 40, this phenomenon is a constant source of stress. Between computers that crash and smart phones that we just KNOW have a silent button somewhere, we spend way too much time using the phrase “Why do they have to make it so complicated!!”

Do we just give up, throw the phone in the lake, the iPod in the drawer and the tablet in the closet?

That’s a big “no” for most of us. We’ve come to depend on that magic feature that makes it all worthwhile. The lucky ones (like me) have a teenager or another tech-savvy friend or loved one (thank you God, for giving me my geek husband).

So here’s one way to look at the situation: your brain is like your device. It’s crammed with creativity and magic, so many ideas that you’ll never use them all. We may get frustrated on those days when we just can’t pull what we want out of our head. But surely there is someone out there (or something if our brains came with manuals)Synapses working for us that can help.

Don’t give up on that computing device that sits on your shoulders—even when you can’t access what you want. Make friends with it, get help understanding it (a writing class, an online writers group) and you will find you simply can’t live without it.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
Synapses working for us
 
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Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Fishing for readers

The most common question both mom and I get when we speak to book clubs and meetings is: where do you get your inspiration and ideas? How did you come up with a girl in a wheelchair and a boy who is homeless who get thrown together in a snowstorm? How were you able to lead readers away from the true villain so they were surprised at “who dunnit?” We’ve discussed this issue many times, and we’ll be talking about it for many more years. This is because the source of creativity for each of us, at least for these Sam Osborne books, is different.

Mom is a story-former. She lays in bed at night and the characters come to her, then when she sits down at the computer, they spill at random, sometimes shocking her with their actions. The story has its own steam. I would call myself, in terms of this series, the word polisher. I take what she’s written and my own knowledge from years of being an editor, as well as my knowledge of how my own mom thinks, and I do what I do best: flourish. I fill in the descriptions, round out the characters, paint the scenery.

I think the reason this book series works so well is that we have combined those two aspects of being a writer. Both are vital and the best books are written by authors thagoldfish_and_hookt can do both. You have to have tasty-looking bait or readers will just ignore your lure. But you also need a good, solid story line to keep them hooked and reel them in.

Think about some of your favorite authors. Mary Higgins Clark, for example, is a master story teller. She can create twists and turns that fascinate. But would you read her work if she didn’t also have the skill it takes to give you a smooth ride? You barely know you’re boating when you read a Mary Higgins Clark novel. You just cut through the waves on your way to the destination she’s created. A good example from my own personal favorites is P.C. Cast and her daughter Kristin. My teenage daughter got me to read the first in the House of Night series and once I was on my way, I didn’t stop reading until I realized I was spending way too much time reading a teenagers’ series (that was about book seven and I’m just taking a break!). The series is about vampires, which is a sore subject (forgive the pun) for someone of my generation who feels the teenage world has been bombarded with fangs, fur and blood. I was fascinated with why I couldn’t put down the Cast authors’ books, and I now believe it’s because the mother’s many years as a writer and the daughter’s input into what youth truly reads were the two main ingredients. The series has a good story line and the words are put together smoothly.

I think if mom had started writing earlier in life, she would have become the wordsmith I am. And I hope that through her example, I’ll be able to sit down some day and let my own story lines emerge more fully. I’ve started that process with a book of my own about a girl who learns to travel outside her physical body. For now, though, I’m happy with the progress of Sam Osborne and the characters in the Twist of Fate series. And pretty soon, we’ll be casting out the next line: Wretched Fate.
Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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A Peek into Book Three

magnifying glassI just received a phone call from a lovely woman who met Genilee in a dress store, found out about Twist of Fate, our first book, ordered it, then called to tell us how much she enjoyed the story. It’s people like her that make what Genilee and I do truly enjoyable. She also said what many of the people who have read the book say: hurry up and write the second one!

We have done just that and sent it off to the publisher for editing. I am very fond of this second book (Wretched Fate) because the characters are so different—both from one another and from the characters in the first book. Someone asked me recently how I go about coming up with these characters and the rest of my writing. Do I visualize and work out the personalities and appearance on paper, figure out the plot and timeline and outline everything? No, I don’t. I write exactly the way I remember Sidney Shelton saying in an interview that he used: “I just sit down and write. No planning. It just comes to me.”

However, like all things in life, the process doesn’t end with the first draft. I go through what I’ve done. Right now, for example I am going through Book No. 3: Fate of the Violet Eyes. And let me tell you, this second draft is not fun. I love to sit down and just write—rereading it, however, is a chore. Not just because it’s not as fun, but because the computer and I don’t always get along. I am 85, and like many people my age, very dumb about all that a computer can do for me, as well as what I must do to use it right. Inserting new chapters and then getting them in the right place, changing new chapter numbers to replace the old —well, it’s not my cup of tea. I get thoroughly mixed up, to say the least.

Still, it’s been fun remembering what I wrote because it’s been awhile since I’ve dealt with these characters and plot (I’ve finished book four and gone on to write a book unrelated to this series). The third book is a about a kidnapping, something Detective Sam Osborne (who is a recurring figure in the series) does not want to handle because of his past experiences (You’ll get a glimpse of those experience in books one and two). The main characters in the Fate of the Violet Eyes tale are the male kidnapper and a little girl he takes, and one of the most endearing aspects of this book is the effect the girl has on her captor. I sincerely hope you will be as intrigued with these two characters as I was while I was creating them.
And I’ll leave our readers with one more juicy tidbit that should get you to buy this book: Sam falls in love!

Thanks to everyone who has called or written to encourage us and tell us how much you are enjoying the Twist of Fate series.

F. Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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