Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Blocked. Why am I doing this to myself? Or is it the universe at work? Is it negative self-talk, even at this stage of the game when I have graduated from college with honors and know better what I am doing? Or do I? I finished what I started--a Bachelor's of Arts) though I have yet to receive my diploma in the mail. (Not awarded in the leather cover handed out at the ceremony.) But much of my work was independent study. But going back, taking two years to get my feet solidly on the ground after years of floating through financial chaos, things I couldn't do anything about, well, it was worth it for that alone!

A writer friend or two has said the first novel is often autobiographical to a degree. I pulled it out, started to revise it, and felt...I don't know. Like I need to get a better grasp of things. The reader said it is an important story to be told, needs a lot of work. Perhaps the problem is interruptions. Or that I feel like I'm not paying enough attention to Mom. I am her primare caregiver. I never was any good at finding balance between my responsibilities for my family and obligations to myself. I have always pushed me and my stuff to the back burner to tend to "Someday."

Um...I'm running out of Somedays.

I pulled out the manuscript for the novel I was writing before I went back to school. The first four chapters were included in my creative writing portfolio. It IS good. IT needs to be written, too, but since Ramblings is the one I am shopping around, that's the one I should be working on. So, OK. Ramblings it is. And mental block, you must depart. I don't have time for you right now.

The reader said relationships needed more clarity. I remember that my thesis committee asked for the family genealogy to help clarify relationships. I've seen such family trees in complex novels I've read. Ah. So my novel also is complex. Well, that isn't really a surprise. Women's lives, generations of women's lives have been complex. Every time another human being or critter is added to her life, her life becomes less simple, more complex, yet she is expected to keep track of everything, keep everything on track.

Have I put too many characters in this story? Has each one justified its presence in the tale I am telling? Are there enough characters to tell this tale? Six generations of women, each formed by the times they lived in.

Alice Mary, b. 1872, age 19 when she had her first child:
Gabriella Rose, b. 1899, age 32 when she had her fourth child:
Mariah, b. 1931, age 22 when she had her first child:
Amaris, b. 1953, age 21 when she had her first child:
Unnamed, unmentioned, needs name, mention, b. 1974, age 32 when her second child was born
Anna, b. 2007

Alice Mary was born during the Victorian Era, not too many years after the Civil War concluded.
Gabriella Rose was born during the Victorian Era.
Mariah was born during the Great Depression.
Amaris was born as the Korean Conflict ended and post WW2 economics took off into one of the wealthiest periods in American history.
The unnamed daughter lived through the Economic Malaise of the late 1970s and 1980s which began well before she was born--the economic boom that was, perhaps, a facade for what was really going on.
Anna was born during the New Economic Crisis/Recession/Depression/Malaise. All mean the same thing: economic downturn...depression.

Need to know more about the barons, men like Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and the Rockefellers and their influences on society.

Amaris is central character.

The reader didn't understand why Amaris was so contemplative for so much of the story, but could suddenly make the decision to be gone, and actually execute leaving. I am curious to know how old the reader is that she wouldn't understand this. A younger woman might not. My daughter, Beth, is reading Ramblings for me so I can see what her thoughts, feelings and questions are. She said she can read it right away.

Points I want Ramblings to make:

* women haven't always had rights.
* women teach each other and pass their knowledge to the younger generations as they come along.
* relationships--connectedness--are important for well being.
* communication is vital; what happens when men get selfish
* emotional vacancy harms everyone: have to give, can't just take.
* the more things change, the more they stay the same.
* when the heat gets hot enough, it will blow the lid off.
* religion and faith: interpretations

So, the reader said she wants more from Amaris, her kids, and their life. She wants more story line, conflict; more economic tragedy--go deeper; more depth to husband's suicide threats. OK.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Quick update

I just want to make a quick remark. I have a LOT of work to do. You're about to read why.

I submitted a novel manuscript right after graduation. The publisher advised me that they would get back to me within a month. It's two weeks later. I got a post. The two remarks that are most important are the first statement and the last statement.

"I think this is a great first effort and an important story to tell, but it needs much more work. I wanted more from the character fully fleshed out, her kids, their life. The overall story flow seemed too long to get through; I wanted more of the story line, conflict, but got way more of the inside of the main character's head which sometimes shut out the other possibilities to explore."


"Brownfield has a voice, but it's tucked away in the cliches."

I did post back to the publisher that the cliches were intentional and directly related to the title. But I am delighted with this response to my work. I've been itching to get back to it with revisions, but I waited until I heard back. The extra sets of eyes reading from an objective viewpoint was just what I needed. I paid $20 reading fee for this manuscript. At the time I thought that was a lot, but I believe the money was well spent. And I'm pulling out the manuscript and starting to work on it so I can build the strengths and rework the weaknesses into strengths. I am so encouraged by this correspondence today.


(c)2009 Cathy Thomas Brownfield

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Getting a new start

The minute I mailed out my manuscript for the first of three novels in a trilogy I began to work on the second novel. Actually, I decided at the end of Ramblings that I was going to do a trilogy. It wasn’t enough to send Amaris off on an adventure of self-discovery at the end of one story. So I already was thinking about the second book in the series. I’ve dabbled with ideas involved with the second novel, the continuation of the story. How will I format it? Will it be the same format as the first book? What will be the focus of it and how is it related to the first one? What characters will return in the second book? Who will be added in this one?

I have a LOT of questions about the continuation of Amaris’ story. I can’t discuss any of the three novels in detail because they are not published and because if I put a lot of my passion into blogs and email posts, there won’t be anything left for the manuscript. I also know that theft of works is common on the Internet even if there is a notice at the end, “©2009 Cathy Brownfield ~ All rights reserved.” I know it’s true. Some of my own work has been pirated online. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the links when I get them. It’s that someone somewhere did NOT ask for permission to use my work. That’s the very least they should be doing. Copyright infringement is a serious issue. Writers have the right to know where their work appears on the Internet. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

So, what am I doing with this second in the series of three that I CAN tell you about?

OK. First I thought about what the first book is about: Between the Rock and the Hard Place. It comes across very clearly and strongly. What is the focus of the second book? The Hard Place. And the third book will focus on the Rock. What does all that mean? You’ll have to wait to read the books. ;) Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. I need a clear idea of what I will be writing about. I know what the series is about, I’ve broken it all down into three books. I’ve written a few passages that have helped me to get started with the writing. It comes naturally that questions arise as I let the whole story percolate in my brain. I write down notes to remind me of certain things, things I don’t want to forget. As I’m synopsizing my novel, I am developing characters and plotting their courses. I want just enough drama to carry the story forward, to make it realistic, believable.
I write in a notebook designated specifically for the novel I’m working on. I keep a journal of my days, not every day because my everyday life is boring, but on days that something particularly interesting or related happens. Anything is game for a writer, isn’t it? But I do fictionize characters to protect the innocent. I don’t want to write verbatim what happens in a real life incident. I want to write a good story which requires building tension in ways that my creative mind concocts. That’s why it’s called fiction. It’s not that it isn’t real. It’s that it isn’t necessarily something that actually happened, but similar to something that actually happened, and to which other people can relate. It’s not that it isn’t truth. Writers are philosophers, seekers of truth and wisdom. I needed to make that clear because someone said, “Let me get this straight. Non-fiction is real and fiction is not.” Uh, no. That’s not right. But maybe it’s just semantics? Someone said that to me once, too.

So, I have a tentative title that relates to the whole story: Sounds of Silence. Since nobody can copyright a title, it doesn’t really matter if anyone knows that. I have the main character, the heroine. I have some supporting characters. I know I must develop some other important characters related to the heroine. I have to sit down and visit with my characters so I know them, because I can’t write about what I don’t know. I must be intimate with my characters.

How long a time period will my novel need to complete the tale? I’m thinking 12 months, more or less. So I’ve built a document containing the 12 months. I am summarizing what will happen in each of those 12 months. Just a general, broad summary while I’m building the characterization. I know where it’s going to take place. And I know that Alzheimer’s is going to play a role in the story. Much of my current work does. It’s a devastating illness that hurts deeply. I know that. My mother has Alzheimer’s. I’m learning about it first hand. A lot of people don’t have any idea what AD is like. They haven’t faced it yet. I want other people to understand AD. I want to keep it in the public eye so research will continue and a cure found. Is it my mother’s story that I’m writing? No. It is a work of fiction very loosely based on things I have learned through this experience. A writer has to write about the things (s)he knows. (Sound familiar yet?)

Someone asked me about writing prompts. I will try to remember to include one each time I write a new blog. This week: Think of a happening in your life, one that deeply affected you, that stirs your passions. Why did it affect you as it did? Don’t take a lot of time to think about it. Sit down and write it out fully. Don’t think about changing words. Just set a timer for 10 minutes and write for all you’re worth, without thinking, of that event. If you aren’t finished, keep writing for as long as the words come to you. Don’t think about it. Just write, beginning, middle and end. Stop writing when you have described the entire event. Then put it in a drawer. Don’t read it again until the next day. When you read it the next day, does it project the very same images you described when you wrote it? Why? Why not? Now you can work to improve it. That’s the editing process. How does it impact you? How can you make it better, stronger? Are you using passive or active verbs? Are you over-using adverbs? (Hint: adverbs are words that end in –ly.) Why did you select the words you used?

Don’t overwork the piece. Tuck it away and read it again in another day or two, and repeat the process until you are satisfied with it. Why are you satisfied with it? What point does it make and are you successful in making the point? Write from the heart. Write from your passion. Write from your pain, your delight. Feel the feelings from their deepest depths.

Write well.

©2009 Cathy Thomas Brownfield

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beginning, middle and end of story

I submitted my novel three weeks ago. Last week I got an email from the publisher. He read the letter, the synopsis, the marketing plan and a chapter and passed it on to the first reader. I should hear back from them within a month.

It wasn’t an acceptance, but it also wasn’t a rejection. It was encouragement. I’ll take it! And get my nose to the grindstone on the sequel. It’s percolating in my brain, and bits and pieces of the story are making themselves known. My Sounds of Silence (the working title) notebook, once filled with empty pages is filling with plotting, character development, ideas, outlines, details I don’t want to forget about, things I need to research.

Book I (Ramblings), the one I submitted is “between the rock and the hard place.” Book II (Sounds of Silence)is “the hard place.” Book III (untitled) is “the rock.” What does that suggest to you? I guess you’ll have to wait for the book to come out. It’s too early to say more than that.

I’ve decided Sounds of Silence will take a longer time period than Ramblings, which takes Amaris Golden Jewett through one month of her life, December. During that time she sifts through her memories trying to be that phoenix that rises from ashes. Sounds may be broken down into parts of a year. A lot will be happening in that story.

What I’m feeling as I work on this sequel is my mind expanding as I read, discuss, think some more, develop an interesting and appealing story line that says what I think is important to say and still holds my reader’s attention.

How many times did I start a novel, get to a certain point and set it aside because I didn’t know where to go with it? Dig deeper inside when you get to that point. And what does she mean by that, you may ask. I mean, look at your underlying message. What is the message you want to convey? What is so important for you to pass on that you are consumed with building a novel to say it?

Someone asked me once, well, I’ve been asked more than just once, “What is your novel about?”

I said I didn’t know exactly how to explain it to her.

“How are you going to write it if you don’t know what it’s about?”

I imagined a turtle pulling its little noggin inside its protective shell. That represented me to a “T”. From then on I usually say something like, “It’s too soon to talk about it.”

Ramblings works because it comes from deep inside me—the feelings, thoughts, experiences, observations—a LOT of observation—of the people who populate my world, even if they are in my world only a few influential, productive moments.

I recognize now that I must take my conception of something—whatever it is I want to write about—and prove it out. So, let me apply that to the idea that a story needs a beginning, a middle and an ending.

My conception/Beginning => Conflict development/Middle => Proving my theory/Ending

Now, take this itty bit of information and the plot a novel in an hour link I posted last time and see what you can come up with.

By the way, I’m interested in knowing about your “sounds of silence.” What are they? When and why do they occur? What do you gain/lose from them? And are you male or female? Please leave your comments by clicking the comment link. If you don’t want your comments to be publicized, let me know that, too.

Thanks! Now, get to work writers!

©2009 Cathy Thomas Brownfield

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Get to it!

It’s nearly three weeks since I sent out my novel to a publisher. If I remember correctly he said it would be about two months before I would hear anything. I wasn’t sure about the mailing of it. I sent it with delivery confirmation because it was so important to me that it arrive and the postal service has been less than efficient. (Proof? Well, I haven’t received the delivery confirmation that I paid for.) Well, I have ways to find out what I want to know. Mwaaaa-haaaa-haaaaa-haaaaaa-haaaaa. (That’s a sinister laugh, by the way.)

As soon as I sent that first novel out I began work on the sequel. I see the story of Amaris as a trilogy. I also started a romance novel. Listen, romance novels take a huge percentage of book sales. Why shouldn’t I use my skills and abilities to make money? Why shouldn’t I take my cut of that pie? If I have the ability to write them, I should use that ability. Haven’t I always said I am a diverse writer? And haven’t I always striven to write long-lived stories that my readers can relate to? There are some romance novels that I hold onto because the messages within the stories were so deep and meaningful that they are worthy of being on my bookshelf for years and for other readers who come along. I will add that I am selective about the books I keep on my shelves. The others I swap at paperbackswap.com to get the books that I am looking for.

Is it easier to “do” a novel once you’ve written the first one? Well, I have a deeper understanding now about plotting. I did find a source “plotting a novel in an hour.” Sketch a Novel in an Hour by Christina F. York and J. Steven York, www.YorkWriters.com. Based on Outline a Novel in a Hour, an exercise by Alicia Rasley, http://www.sff.net/people/alicia/. It might be helpful to you. But since I know where my story is beginning and where I want it to end, I used the same plotting tools for the sequel as I used for the first novel. I feel comfortable with it and figure by the time I get the third book of the trilogy complete, I will have a pretty good handle on plotting. That should make it easier for me to complete the other novels I have started over the years. And wasn’t that one of the reasons why I went back to college to begin with? I especially want to finish the novel, part of which is in my writing portfolio for my Bachelor of Arts in English with writing minor degree. My reader, Dr. Karen Boyle, advised that she’d really like to know the rest of that story. That’s all I needed to hear. Yeah. :D

Back to writing, now. The obligatory work is finished and my characters await my attention…oh, after I go to the campus and sign up as a guest for the fiction workshop that will be held over the summer. Yeah. One of the perks of graduating with my BA is that I can take 12 hours of courses as a guest. And I’m thinking of working on a BA in History over the next year since I won’t begin my master’s studies in creative writing until fall 2010.

What are you writing today?

(c) 2009 Cathy Brownfield ~ All rights reserved.