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Creative Connections

Today’s post by Bonnie Grove of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @BonnieGrove

Bonnie Grove

I’ve finished writing a novel this week. A three-year journey of frustration and hope. As I combed through one last time before sending it off, I lingered over the pages that contained song lyrics. There are lyrics from eight songs in the manuscript. Snippets mostly, the apt verses that fit the moment in the book, except for one song I transcribed in its entirety. The songs had to be included in the manuscript because they add a dimension of emotional expression unattainable through any other method.

Music and novels are, for me, two sides of the same storytelling coin.

When I was a kid, I had bemoaned the fact that a soundtrack did not accompany real life the way it did in movies. It wasn’t until as an adult, I looked back and saw that I had created a soundtrack for my life after all. Summers were Chicago’s power ballads on a sandy beach holding hands with a boy I’d met two days ago. And The Beach Boys singing oldies but goodies while I learned to waterski and windsurf (I was terrible at both). Grade 11 was the soundtrack to Purple Rain as my friends and I acted out each song. (I was a drama geek.) The stories in those songs became my story.

How does that happen?

I think part of the answer is that storytelling is the creative connection between people and life. Both the novel, with its long view of unfolding events, and the song with its explosion of emotion capsuled in a few verses, weave themselves into our life journeys and help us express a prism of meaning and depth we cannot articulate on our own.

The lyrics from the eight songs I included in the manuscript add emotional depth and dimension to the story. A mother holding her child sings,

Baby mine, don’t you cry.

Baby mine, dry your eyes.

Rest your head close to my heart,

never to part, baby of mine

A fisherman faced with the daunting task of making an outsider understand how his life and livelihood have been wiped out sings,

They filled their dories twice a day

They fished their poor sweet lives away

They could not imagine then

No more fish, no fishermen.

The songs become something beyond language and usher us into the place of feeling and experiencing. Story weaves into story. A novel’s reach is extended by the songs ability to quickly touch the tender talon of longing, the ache in the bone, the explosion of hope.

I no longer bemoan the fact that life doesn’t come with a soundtrack. I’m convinced we create our own soundtrack thought the creative connection of storytelling both with the stories we read, and the music we listen to.

How about you? Which novels and/or songs have woven into the fabric of your life?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Stuckness – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post from Bonnie Grove from our sister blog, Novel Matters | @BonnieGrove

So I’m stuck, right?

I’m plotting a novel, assembling the scaffolding on which my story will hang. Connecting bones, thigh to hip, spine to brain stem. Who knows if I’m getting it right. Novels don’t come with instructions.

Still, some of the pieces seem to saddle up, and I start getting that relieved feeling like this might all hang together after all.

Except.

Blast it all, who is this chick? The one who steers the ship, the flawed and weak hero about to visit this mild death? Cannot get a handle on her. I know what I will have her do. Know the holes she will have to squeeze through, the love she will face, the failure that will swat her sideways like a bug. But she’s silent. Until she speaks, I have nothing.

So I force it.

What else can I do but curl up on my writing couch (every writer should have a writing couch. So cozy) pencil in hand and write lousy dialogue. The process makes sense to me. I began my creative life in theater, so for me dialogue is the fastest way to character revelation. It’s always worked for me before.

Blast.

Nothing comes of my dialogue. I’m moving her lips, but she’s not in the words. It’s just my monkey chatter flowing onto the page. My hero is a no show. Maybe if I move to the computer, try typing instead of writing by hand.

Worse.

Not only is my hero a no show, but now I’m wasting time on Facebook. I need to heed Jonathan Franzen’s advice and write on a computer that has no internet access. There’s only one thing to do now. Pout. The whole things a waste of time anyway. No one will want to read this mess.

But.

It’s autumn up here in Canada. I have two ash trees in my front yard. Ash trees are known for being the last trees out in spring, and the first to lose their leaves in fall. My ash trees live up to this reputation and have littered all over the lawn. I grab a rake.

Then.

I’m pushing tree debris around the yard, the air is snappy-cool, the sun is falling behind my house. I’m muttering to myself, Who is she? What’s she really all about? Rake, rake. Mutter, mutter.

Kapow.

She starts yapping. Really letting it flow. And—get this—it’s not dialogue. It’s narrative. Huh? I keep raking while I listen to her narrate. After a few minutes she starts adding things, internal dialogue, nuggets of perception, even a few plot details I had no idea about. She’s brilliant!

Thunk.

I drop the rake, run into the house, throw myself onto my writing couch. “Where’s a pencil? I need paper? Where’d I put my glasses?

My husband, who is used to me in this mode, silently hands me all I ask for, and I start writing. Long hand. I don’t know the reasons, but pencil and paper are what work for me. I write five pages without looking up. When I finish, I smile at my hubby.

Duh.

Of course. I know this. Whenever I’m stuck, I need to go do something else. I can’t sit and try to force the words. Novels don’t flow from the frontal lobe. They leek out sideways, come at you from the peripheral.

I suspect this works in other areas of life, too. Whenever we feel stuck—maybe even a little desperate—for answers they only come after we get on with living.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Up The Standard – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post by Bonnie Grove at our sister blog Novel Matters| @BonnieGrove @NovelMatters

A recent chat with a friend:

Me: What are you reading?

Friend: Uh. . . well. . .

Me: Life is too busy to read for fun these days, eh?
Friend: Uh. No. It’s just that . . .

Me (my Spidy-senses tingling): What? Oh-my-gosh you’re not reading smut and are ashamed to tell me, are you? (I said this jokingly. I’m married to her pastor, and while I often forget that the world views me as “The Pastor’s Wife “, oddly, the world does not.)

Friend: No. Not smut! It’s just that what I read probably isn’t up to your standards.

Ugh.

My standards? Do I have standards? Should I get me some? How exactly does a person go about acquiring standards of reading?

A quick peruse of the books piled beside my bed (this is not staged, I’ve just gone to my room and listed the books I see on my bedside table):

  • The Harbrace Anthology of Poetry
  • Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into History
  • Small Wonder, essays by Barbara Kingsolver
  • No Compromise, the life story of Keith Green, by Melody Green
  • The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, edited by R.V. Cassill
  • Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light: the private writings of the “Saint of Calcutta “, edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk.
  • Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning
  • Inhabiting the Cruciform God, Kenosis, justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, by Michael J. Gorman
  • How to Write a Sentence, and how to read one, by Stanley Fish
  • My personal writing journal by me (filled with bits of odd gibberish)
  • Good Poems, selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor
  • The Norton Introduction to Literature, (fourth edition)
  • The Forgotten Waltz, by Anne Enright (library book—Please, Lord, help me remember to take it back. Fines piling up.)
  • Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein
  • Comeback Churches, by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson
  • A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Roget’s college Thesaurus (huh?)
  • The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English, Selected by Margaret Atwood & Robert Weaver
  • The Man in the Shed, by Lloyd Jones (library book—must keep track)
  • The Gathering, by Anne Enright (library book—should attach beeper similar to the locator function on my cordless phone)
  • A magazine called Leadership (this issues is entitled: Dark Nights of the Soul)
  • The Harbrace Anthology of Drama
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry

Two things are clear: I have too many books burdening my bedside table. And secondly, my books aren’t about a personal “standard ” of reading, but are a refection of who I am.

Reading is so personal.

I’m a student of writing (anthologies of literature, poetry, drama, books on writing), a pastor’s wife who has more than a passing interest in what her husband does for a living (explains the theology books, and magazine), a soul out searching in the world (Manning, Mother Teresa), a student of psychology (hence the leaning toward dark, introspective, Irish writers), and am pressed for time (short stories galore), and a kid at heart (Uncle John’s, Madeleine “L’Engle).

Oh, and they have books for sale at Value Village for, like, practically free.

So, here’s the thing about my friend’s impression that I have a 'standard’ of reading that is somehow higher than hers—it’s just not true. Different, sure. Higher? I don’t even know what that means.

We live in a critical culture. Micro-managing backseat drivers abound. We’re conditioned to compare every facet of our lives with every facet of other people’s lives. Comparison is the thief of joy.

Reading is so joyful.

That feeling that comes over you when you crack the spine of a novel you’ve been looking forward to reading. Bliss.

That shock of recognition when you read the opening lines of a new-to-you author and realize you’ve found a friend.

Even if you’re the only one of your friends who is reading that novel you’re enjoying, I hope you read it anyway. If no one else likes what you like, I hope you like it anyway.

Your bookcase (or bedside table) is more than a collection of books. It’s a collection of the pieces of you.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Scribble On The Walls Of Life – A Novel Matters Guest Post

I am mom to two children aged 11 and 9. Today, I was watching them play in the backyard with neighborhood friends. Wild imagination games so complex that when I asked them about them at dinner it took nearly an hour for them to explain what they had been doing. Do you remember the freedom of play, to become someone else, to transform the landscape (a backyard, living room, bed room, wherever) into a wild raging river, or jungle? Wasn’t it grand? When did we stop doing that?

Rather – why did we stop doing that?

As children we used our imaginations to create new worlds — tiny ones, small enough for Barbie and her friends to inhabit, huge ones where all our neighborhood friends could come and join in. As we imagined and created, we were learning — teaching ourselves the value of things like logical outcomes, fair play, justice, rules, inclusion. We were also fashioning our personal likes and dislikes, giving voice to our true hopes and dreams. We took reality and stretched it to it furthest limits and back again. We were having fun — but we were accomplishing so much more. We were learning how to live in the world by using our imaginations.

As adults, we would do well to remember the imagination of childhood.

One of my strengths is daydreaming. Yes, you read that right. I love to daydream. In my daydreams, I’m the star of my own show and nothing happens without my say so. I have lots of fun in my daydreams — but they are more than goofing off. In my daydreams I am working out problems, rehearsing for conversations I’m nervous about, practicing for radio interviews, working out how I feel about a certain topic or issue. I’m having a lovely time, but I’m getting in touch with my real self and exploring a sometimes difficult world from a safe place.

In daydreaming, I’m also giving full voice to my creative self. The controls of grown-up rules are less stridently applied. The world of “what if ” opens at my feet and I’m free to follow the rabbit trails without fear of “making a mistake ” or “getting it wrong. ” There is no wrong in the realm of imagination. There is only discovery.

Another strength I have is pretending. Pretending strengthens my faith too. Anyone who has written a novel can tell you, stories take faith. Writing without a net is the only way to go. Ray Bradbury said it perfectly when he admonished writers to “jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. ”

That is the faith of imagination — knowing with all your heart that when you jump off the cliff, you will, at some point, begin to soar. When I am thinking about a story idea, I spend lots of time thinking about what could go wrong for my characters — what challenges they will face. I never bother to think about how I will get them out of trouble. Pretending has taught me that my characters will find their own way out.

The imagination is a wild place — filled with untamed ideas. But it is not childish. It is a place the storyteller feels at home. It is the place where anything can happen — and should. Let’s embrace our forgotten creativity of childhood and bring it into our lives today. Let’s dance in our underwear, sing a song we just made up, giggle at our thoughts, mentally rearrange our landscape, create places only we know how to get to. Let’s give ourselves full, unbridled permission to play, imagine, daydream, pretend, and scribble on the walls of life.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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