Photo © Joy Pixley
(This is a candle tree, but they don’t use these fruits as candles. There’s another tree, the candlenut tree, and they really do use the candlenuts as candles.)
Hello my friends, long time no talk to! I’m sorry I haven’t been doing my regular flash fiction updates lately. I don’t even have time to do one now (not write the story and also read and comment on everyone else’s stories) but I thought I’d check in and let you know what I’ve been up to. I haven’t been getting a lot of writing done, but I’ve been inspired in other ways.
Trip to Hawaii
I spent 11 days in Hawaii with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law. It was amazing! I’d never been to Hawaii and it was never high on my priority list, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I’m not a huge fan of beaches, for one. I live a few miles from the Pacific coast in southern California and barely visit the beach as it is. But our hotel in O’ahu was right on the beach and it was absolutely lovely to listen to the surf pound against the beach all night long.
My family ended up doing exactly what I’d predicted we would. We spent one morning in our swim suits on the beach, and most of that we spent under an umbrella sipping cocktails with pineapple spears in them. (The pineapple is so ridiculous fresh and fragrant and juicy in Hawaii — I am spoiled for life!) The rest of the time we spent going to every cultural, historical, and nature museum or event we could get to, pausing only to eat meal after meal of delicious food and drink more of those fruity cocktails.
- The Polynesian Cultural Center, with demonstrations of crafts, buildings, and dancing from Hawai’i, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and Aoteara (the Maori name for New Zealand).
- The Bishop Museum, with amazing exhibits and explanations of traditional Hawaiian customs and cultural artifacts.
- Foster Botanical Gardens, where I saw plants I wouldn’t have believed if you’d described them to me.
- A luau, where I had the chance to try spear-throwing (which is substantially harder than I would have expected).
- The Honolulu Museum of Art, with a fascinating collection of near- and far-Asian arts.
- Pearl Harbor, which was profoundly moving, even though the USS Arizona memorial itself was closed.
- A performance by the Hawaiian slack guitar and ukulele player, Ledward Kaapana, at a dinner club called Honey’s out in the boonies, where I could swear we were the only tourists there (especially since half the room seemed to be Ledward’s family members, several of whom joined him on stage at some point).
- And during the worst of Hurricane Olivia, we stayed inside and took a two-hour historical tour of our own hotel, the Moana Surfrider–the “first lady” of Waikiki, built in 1901.
In other words, a huge amount of interesting ideas to inspire my worldbuilding for Eneana!
And did I mention the eating? Thank goodness our hotel had a nice exercise room. Even so, I gained four pounds. Totally worth it!
Southern California Writers Conference
Then I spent this past three-day weekend at SCWC. They hold it twice a year, and this was my fifth time attending. By now I know a lot of people there, so it’s wonderful to reconnect with my writer friends. The conference had sessions on every aspect of the writing journey, from plotting versus pantsing, to analyzing your characters’ personalities, to all the different ways (and challenges) of publishing. They always host an agents’ panel one evening, where four agents answer questions about what they’re looking for and give advice on how to find agents and what to expect after that point.
The conference offered many opportunities for getting critiqued, either informally or by submitting ahead of time (for a fee) for more professional feedback on your first few pages or query letter. I didn’t do either this time, but hope to take advantage of it next time.
Plus, as always, they had great guest speakers who offered inspiration and insights into their experiences. My all-time favorite presentation was by Henry Lien, who walked us through how he presents his amazing middle-grade book “Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword” when he gives talks at schools and libraries. He performed and then described how (and why) he presents himself and the story and characters, acted out his reading, and even sung the theme song that’s written into the book! It never occurred to me, for instance, that if you’re doing a reading from your book, you are not actually obligated to read every single word that’s in the original. You can plan ahead to skip over some sentences or even whole paragraphs so that you can get to an ending that makes sense within a reasonable time frame. Wow, mind blown! (Note: the fact that the book is marketed as middle-grade and features a 14-year old protagonist had no effect on my utter enjoyment in reading it – I highly recommend it!)
New direction for Heart in a Box
You might remember me talking about a new novel I began last November during NaNoWriMo — the one that I thought had a nice, simple, direct plot, and turned out to accidentally be the first book of a trilogy. That story was Heart in a Box, and I have been absolutely struggling with it ever since. Two days ago, I had a major breakthrough about why it wasn’t working. I watched a video by one of my favorite writer youtubers, Jenna Moreci, about what she looks for in a book to read on her own time. Two of her top ten were “healthy romance” and “nice men”: basically, that she’s sick of reading about men who are arrogant pieces of, er, excrement, and yet stupid women are drawn into dysfunctional relationships with Mr. Excrement where they’re treated badly.
Reality check: oops, my MC is a jerkwad!
The specific magic “trick” that the whole story is based around — the Heart in a Box — essentially requires that the main character be a jerk and that the female love interest suffers horribly and then (seriously, what was I thinking?) she DIES. But hey, she’s made him a better man in the process, so that makes it worth it. UGH. Nobody is going to want to buy that book! Even I don’t want to read that book!
In a sense, it was a huge relief to realize now that the basic story concept was fundamentally flawed, and not after I’d devoted another year or more of my life to it.
So I ceremonially dumped it out on the metaphorical curb.
And then I went back when nobody was looking, picked it up, and took it back inside.
Because even if I have to drop the original “heart in a box” premise, much of the rest of it can be salvaged. Almost all of the backstory, setting, and list of characters could still work, as the beginning for a different story. All I need to do* is create a new central conflict, and a new way for my main characters to approach it. And, of course, a different character arc, so that my main man does not, in fact, do horrible things to the woman he supposedly loves.
* Cue hysterical laughter here.
I’m sharing this in case any of you can relate. Have you ever struggled with a story concept that refuses to be wrangled into reasonable shape? Maybe stepping back and rethinking even the elements that you think are most central — and dumping them — is exactly what you need to give that baby the perfect refreshing new facelift.
I plan to get in a little flash fiction this weekend, but then I’ll be traveling again for work the following weekend, so October might be a “light” month too.
I hope all of you are feeling inspired by whatever is happening in your lives these days, and getting in lots of productive writing time!
To quote the motto of SCWC: