Another Masterpiece by Erdrich: The Master Butchers Singing Club

Louise Erdrich is a masterful writer. If you haven’t read any (or many) of her works, you are missing out. In the first sections of The Master Butchers Singing Club, I thought I knew the plot. (I don’t know about you, but I read a lot of books and can often pick out the plot quite early.) Yet, as I continued to read I realized the plot was nothing that I expected, and as usual I was pulled in by the precise and captivating language of Erdrich.

Around every corner loomed another twist and turn. We travel with Fidelis, a stoic German eager to make a life in America with his suitcase full of knives and the butchering skills passed down to him from his father. He’s married his best friend’s wife after his death in WWI. Making a new life isn’t easy but Fidelis is determined to succeed. The struggles of his life are both unexpected and enthralling.

From there, we are swept away by Delphine—a woman desperate to leave her hometown but pulled reluctantly back to care for her alcoholic father. Delphine brings her lover–a man she suspects may be more attracted to men than women. She befriends Eva, the wife of Fidelis, and is drawn into their life. The friendship that blossoms endures through tragedy and death.

This is the kind of book you can’t put down once you’re in it. You will be thinking about these characters long after you’ve finished the book. Erdrich explores so many aspects of love in these relationships—its complications, duty, forcefulness, and haunting qualities—you can’t help but to leave this book without thinking about your own relationships. I highly recommend this book.

Happy Reading,
​Madelyn March

Improve Your Writing: Wash Yourself in Words

Sadly, there are times when a writer has no time to write—other jobs, family commitments, emergencies of all varieties get in the way. Don’t let this happen often, but let’s face it, it happens.

What to do? How do you keep your writing fresh? How do you avoid losing that creative spark? Well, one thing I do is compose stories in my mind before I ever type a word. That isn’t what today’s post is about, however. Today’s post is about reuniting with the love of words. I’m guessing that many writers have a love affair with words. It is the sand that makes the castle of our creation. Without them, the castle can be left without the necessary moisture that holds it all together. Without them, you’d end up with a lump of listless sand that has no cohesive shape. Words matter. Enormously.

So, how do we continue to exercise our wordsmith skills? Here are some things you can do to help you improve your skills when you don’t have time to lift a pencil (or pen, or keyboard, so to speak).

Alliteration Allure:

  1. Play the Alliteration Allure game. Start with one word of your choice. In our example, we’ll use the word boy.
  2. Then, using only words that have the same letter, keep adding to the word to build as long of a phrase as you can or that you find entertaining and worthwhile. You can also use articles to help smooth the words together. In our example, we might continue to add words and end up with something like: boisterous boy buys bulbous bully a bashed banana. You could continue or start with something new.
  3. It is entertaining to use people you know in the Alliteration Allure game. It can be great fun.

Startling Synonyms
Another activity I like to do is what I think of as Starling Synonyms. Try to focus on words you frequently use or that are often used in our language. Once you notice them, start using other words instead. So, in my teaching, I use the word good quite often. To keep my vocabulary interesting and keep my students from utter boredom, I use synonyms like fabulous, wonderful, fantastic, excellent, super, great, wonderous, fantabulous (not a real word but love it), fantastic, and others. You get the idea.

You can apply this to other groups of words as well. Maybe one day focus on finding some nouns that are different than the first that come to mind. Or maybe you want to visualize more vivid verbs, go ahead and find new verbs instead of the same old language you normally use. On another day you might want to challenge yourself to focus on descriptive words.
Once you start thinking like this, you get on a roll and it can become a daily habit that increases your writing prowess when you’re not even writing! If that’s not efficient, I don’t know what is!

Add to the Pot
Finally, we sometimes need to add words that we may not think of or don’t even know. That’s where a good old-fashioned thesaurus comes in handy. A good one on your phone is a must. Look up a synonym for a word you’re thinking of and then use that word a handful of times that day. Make a habit of doing this daily with a few words. I know, we said we were doing these things when we’re too busy to write, but we can squeeze this into mere minutes.
Keep words close to your heart no matter if you’re in the middle of a novel or between them. It will keep your skills up and make it easier to use creative vocabulary the next time you sit to type your next masterpiece. Let me know how it goes and any creative word activities you do on a daily basis to keep those creative juices flowing when you’re short on writing time (and even when you’re not!).

Happy Writing,
Madelyn March

Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

eleanorGail Honeyman creates a refreshing, unique, and memorable character with Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Eleanor is real, broken, and imperfect. She struggles with what life handed her in her own unusual ways. She sometimes makes bad choices and can be rude, but you can’t help but root for this character and be entranced by her authenticity. Honeyman makes Eleanor so real that she could nearly walk off the page.

Eleanor is a woman struggling to find the pieces of herself. She didn’t even know parts of her were missing until a friend enters her life. A friend is something she’s never had. Through the lens of another, she begins to examine herself and she begins to change. These changes bring a cascade of events that both enrich her life and nearly undo her. Eleanor’s voice is so rich and distinctive, the pull is intense to turn the page and find out how it all will end. Yet, whenever I thought I had the end predicted, Honeyman added another twist.

This is entertaining and thought provoking through and through. I think this is a must-read book.

Happy Reading,
​Madelyn March

Take Your Writing to the Next Level

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How can you become a better writer? Let people rip your work to shreds so you can rearrange the pieces to create a shinier, more engaging novel. Ok, maybe that’s a bit drastic, but by how much? I’ve had many conversations with newer writers who think their novel is done but it’s only been read by their mom or a friend. What? That is not the kind of feedback that will lead to quality. It might boost the ego. I mean, how many moms are going to say your manuscript sucks? A few, yes, but most would not.

You cannot write your best piece of work without high-quality feedback from multiple people. You need people to read it who know about the craft of writing, are discerning and careful enough to pick up on problem areas as well as strengths, and most importantly, have the gumption to tell you the truth about things.

Case in point: The Muse Crew. They just finished reading a draft of my incredibly rough (did I mention this was very rough?) draft of my 4th book. I knew it needed lots of work. It was only my first go of translating ideas to page. I had the group read it early in the writing process so I could think about the overall content, character arc, and story arc as I did my intense revisions. I did this before with the group and it worked well if I could handle the critiques. You have to expect them that early (and even later) in the game. The rewards that come with those hits to my self-esteem are well worth it. I get a sense of what works in the big picture and what doesn’t. I see the story more clearly as I understand how others are interpreting it.

There is always someone in the group who picks up on something that I didn’t think of and that will require quite a bit of reworking. When this happens, there is this moment where everything slows down like in the fighting moments of The Matrix (or insert your favorite action movie here). In that slow-motion moment, I briefly become a broken writer. I thought I had one thing but now I see through the eyes of others that my characters need more development to reach the level I was shooting for or that maybe there is a plot hole that will lead to major revisions. Whatever it is, it hurts for a moment (or to be honest two). Then, there is the slow-motion rally, where I switch movements, thwart the negativity (or in our analogy here, the bad guy) and move forward with action and back to regular speed.

I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy. Constructive criticism can be difficult to take, especially when it means more work. But, look carefully at the constructive. It will help you build a better version of your book and make you a stronger writer. The end goal should be to produce our best. In order to do that, you need to have multiple high-quality critiques from people that you trust who know about writing. Then, look carefully at their comments, take what you can from them, let go of the ones that aren’t helpful, and create a shinier version of your masterpiece.

Happy Writing,
Madelyn March

Write What You Know

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Write What You Know…

It’s a phrase attributed to Mark Twain but I’m not sure what he meant by it. I don’t want to speculate on his thoughts. I just want to take the phrase and dissect it. See what its insides look like, dig for any value, sift through the interpretations.

How can we write what we know? In non-fiction, this seems like a valuable approach. We don’t want to learn how to be happy from angry people. It doesn’t make sense to write about building things if all you have ever built is a sandwich. We certainly don’t want to hear financial advice from a person in debt. You get the idea.

Yet, in fiction, it seems like we must write what we don’t know. How boring would fiction be if we didn’t? We’d be severely limited by writing about our singular existence. Isn’t the point of fiction to do more than the ordinary and to reach into the extraordinary? If we can’t imagine a better existence, how can we create one? We can create worlds with alien creatures, out of body experiences, incredible adventures that change who we are, or worlds where peace reigns. The possibilities are endless. The world would be sad if we confined ourselves to only what we know.

With that being said, there are some grains of truth within this phrase that do apply to fiction. We need to be cautious and learn about the worlds we create. We must make our fictional worlds believable, and in order to do that, you have to create them and know them in your mind. If you don’t bother to do that, your readers won’t either.

We can’t just imagine what it’s like to be a person completely different from us. We must research things to make them believable. We have to be astute observers of the world around us to create characters that seem real. If you’ve never heard a person from the south talk, you will probably ruin their accent in your writing. If you’ve never stepped outside your own experience to imagine the experience of others, you may never reach the full potential of your character creation. Research to know your fiction and it will be more powerful.

So, to avoid creating books where we’re given bad directions and false information or offered flimsy fiction with no backbone of consistency and sense, we do need to heed Twain’s advice. Then, on the other hand, we need to reach deep into our creativity to give life to things that are new and interesting. Those things we create we should know intimately by fleshing out our world and characters to create believable fiction. The answer to Twain’s advice, like many things, lies in the middle.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this phrase. Please share.

Happy Writing,
Madelyn March

Time to Release!

Ebook cover

Release day has finally arrived. It’s been an intense journey to get here. Rewrites, revisions, and reality all coalesced to make this a much slower process than I had anticipated. But alas, we’re here and I’m ecstatic.

Read the blurb below and if you’re interested, it’s available on Amazon. (Please leave a review because writing careers depend on them.)

Happy Reading,

Madelyn

 

What if circumstances beyond your control made you question everything you believed about yourself and your life? This is what happens to Amy Clark. Her structured ways and reclusive tendencies offer her no protection against the changes to come. 

Amy’s life begins to unravel after a fateful phone call. Her estranged father is dying. She returns to her childhood home in Northern Michigan to find that she can no longer control her life. Voices and hallucinations come uninvited and she is powerless to stop them. Even more terrifying, she experiences shocking visions about the lives of strangers that she encounters.

These glimpses into other people’s lives convince Amy that her sanity is slipping away. She struggles to understand if there is any meaning in her visions before they destroy her. She questions her choices and her path. Does she have the courage, or time, to change?

 

The Lost Art of Listening

11049228_sI don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is an epidemic of people not listening. You only need look next to you or across the room to find an example of this. People ignore each other, people put words in the mouths of others, and people just aren’t reliable listeners.

Writers cannot be unreliable listeners. It’s just not an option, folks. Not if you want to be a good writer anyway. Here’s why….

In order to tell a good story, you need to be able to recognize a good story (and why it’s good). Quality stories come in a variety of forms like books and movies. The best stories often come from the people around you. Unbelievable and astounding things happen frequently and we need to catch those gems. I don’t mean you should go and copy the stories you hear. I do mean you should practice the art of listening and see where it takes you.

For me, tidbits of stories that people tell me inspire other ideas and they grow from there. For example, in my third book, I knew the general plot before I wrote it, but a story that a pastor told me about her experiences tending people on their deathbed changed my story. It added an element that was not like anything the pastor told me, but was inspired by it. The novel grew much stronger because of it.

Other times when we listen, we can discover character traits that we might not have thought to use. (This requires observation and listening.) Maybe the way the story teller describes the story is memorable because of the way they move their hands, change their voice, or do neither and tell it straight faced and expressionless. Or maybe the way they describe other people offers inspiration. Any of these possibilities could be a learning opportunity if you’re open to it. After all, writing comes from our creativity, but creativity does not spring from a vacuum. It comes from living and observing life.

Understanding the art of listening is imperative within our stories. Our characters will be more believable if they cover the gamut of real listeners in the world. If conversation carries on with everyone always understanding the full meaning of each speaker, you’ve created a fictional situation that may not be believable. Why? Because the world is full of bad listeners and some of your characters should be bad listeners too.

So, take your listening skills to the next level. Sit back and listen to people, ask them questions, and go talk to people you don’t usually talk to. You will learn something, you may change, and you will certainly become a better writer. Then, throw some bad listeners in your stories (some good ones would be nice too) and let the fun begin.

Happy Writing,
Madelyn March

Now, I See

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My second novel is almost done! I can see the finish line. The manuscript if off to the editor in a few weeks and I’m talking cover design with my designer. I can’t believe it!!!

If this is the finish line, the whole process has been a marathon. I had the idea for this book many years ago. I wrote it two years ago, then changed the whole thing to first-person present tense, and then let it simmer for awhile before final revisions. Now here we are…nearing the finish line.

I have a working blurb (emphasis on the word working) and I’d like to share it. Feel free to let me know what you think.  Happy Writing!  –Madelyn

What if circumstances beyond your control made you question everything you believed about yourself and your life? This is what happens to Amy Clark. Her structured ways and reclusive tendencies offer her no protection against the changes to come. 

Amy’s life begins to unravel after a fateful phone call.  Her estranged father is dying. She returns to her childhood home in Northern Michigan to find that she can no longer control her life. Voices and hallucinations come uninvited and she is powerless to stop them. Even more terrifying, she experiences shocking visions about the lives of strangers that she encounters.

These glimpses into other people’s lives convince Amy that her sanity is slipping away.  She struggles to understand if there is any meaning in her visions before it’s too late. She questions her choices and her path. Did she make a mistake creating a purposefully isolated life? Does she have the courage, or time, to change?

How Misdirection Makes Your Novel Interesting

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I never know where I’m going and neither should your reader!  Okay, never is an exaggeration, but I have what I like to call directional dyslexia. I know they haven’t created this term yet (that I know of) and I’m not belittling dyslexic people (many of my students are dyslexic) but I literally get directions turned around in my head. If I make five turns, then reverse order, I often want to go the opposite way! I don’t know why! If I think it through, I can get it, but it is tough for me!

Why am I sharing this embarrassing detail? Well, I feel like books need to do this to us on occasion. I don’t mean never let your reader know where your story is going, but certainly don’t give them a perfect map with precise directions. Give them MIS-direction.

I have to be honest here, if I read a book and I know within the first few chapters where the story is going, I feel cheated! Why should I give up my precious time to something so predictable? I’ve read lots of books, watched my share of movies, I have an idea how these things work. It doesn’t mean that I need the tables turned 100% every time, but give me something interesting. Don’t just replicate a story that’s already been told! UGH!

How do we do that? There are lots of strategies to achieve this. The one we’re focused on today is misdirection. Misdirection means exactly what you’d think…point your reader in one direction while going the other. This can be subtle or a big part of the story. Use your judgement for what is best for your book.

There are many ways to accomplish this. The options are limitless. Want grand examples? Think of Snape in Harry Potter. What did you think of him in the first few books as opposed to the end? Remember the movie Sixth Sense? The whole movie rests upon masterful misdirection. I’ve added some links below if you want to further explore this technique.

Just make them wonder. Respect your audience. They don’t want to be spoon fed a story. They want to be enthralled with one. Misdirection is one of the things we can do to help accomplish this.

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-create-tension-through-misdirection

https://www.writing.ie/resources/the-unreliable-narrator-the-art-of-misdirection/

https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbox/articles/the-art-of-misdirection

Happy Writing,

Madelyn

 

Something to Muse about…

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The Muse Crew

Do you like books? Do you write books? Are you a person, with a pulse? Well, you’ve got to check out my newest project.  The Muse Crew 

These ladies and I have shared so much through the years…thought provoking discussions, tear-inducing laughter, and the tremendous growth of our writing skills (which both tears at the ego and then rebuilds it).

Now, we’re ready to share the wonders of our group with the WORLD! Yes, I’m thinking big here…world! So, if you like to read books, then take a look, because we’re working to find the best of the bestbooks. Writers, we’ve got your back because we’re willing to review your high quality books.

Please, come and join us, you’re sure to find something to make the visit worth your time at The Muse Crew.

Happy Reading,

Madelyn March