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

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?

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

 

Unbound

 

I am bound by my maladies–

fears, pain, insecurity, perception,

they keep me from seeking,

they keep me from being,

all that I could be–

my dreams, possibilities, potential,

left like limping question marks.

They shall claim my life no longer.

Freedom is not free,

but I am ready, willing, able

to stake claim and break these chains,

no longer shall fear shackle and bind me,

it will not control me.

I will chart my route, take the steps,

not without fear, but in the face of it.

 

Madelyn March

 

Inspiration in the Woods

 

This summer I had the privilege of visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For those who haven’t been there, it is a rugged sort of beauty, one in which outdoor lovers are in their element.

Now, I’ve spent lots of time there in the past, but it’s been awhile.  Yet, I’ve been there, in my mind. The Upper Peninsula is almost like a character in my book, The Nature of Denial. It was part of what inspired the story.

I remember working through the entire book in my mind over hiking and camping trips. I snuggled in my sleeping bag, listened to the snores of others, and imagined how the rugged nature of the U.P. could help heal a person so badly in need of healing.

Anna (my main character) is not taken from my life or any  other person’s life, but the scenery is very much what (for the most part) I’ve seen on my own. And it has, in many ways, healed me, again and again.

Visiting some of my old “haunts” was exhilarating for me, like meeting an old, dear friend. I couldn’t help but smile at references in my book that only I would get as I passed an old (not to be named) questionable motel, a dazzling waterfall, or heard the calming whispers of the forest leaves.

So, that was a part of my inspiration for the book. The other parts are too long to get into for this blog (maybe another one?) but they have to do with themes that I seem to revisit in my writing–struggle, hope, friendship, and love.  The world is full of darkness, but there is light around every corner.

Happy Writing,

Madelyn March

 

 

Dreams

“Dreams.  Don’t be afraid of them.  Immerse yourself in yours.  Remember, they exist today, in the here and now, in the what you do in this very moment.  Dream big, break goals down small, and start checking them off the list.  It’s empowering.”

This is part of an email I sent to some of the high school students that I work with.  One of my jobs is to mentor students in an online program.  Many of these teens need to hear that they are capable, that dreams are possible, and other positive affirmations.  I’m sharing this because I think it’s important for all of us to dream, and dream big.

Whatever the goal–being a writer, promoting world peace, making a decent living doing something you love–it is okay, imperative even, that we are dreamers.  Dreamers have created the beautiful parts of humanity and advancements that have altered how we live.  So, go ahead, dream a little, and if you have kids, encourage their dreams too!

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United We Write

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I am a lucky gal.  I’m part of a writing group that challenges me to be a better writer, tells me when my writing rant has gone horribly wrong, and notices my strengths.  I suspect that I might not have finished three novels without their continued support and I’m certain that my stories wouldn’t be as good without the critiques of my writing sisters.

We didn’t set out to be a women’s writing group.  We’ve had men before, they just didn’t stay.  Could it have been that we have some romance writers?  I mean some of their stuff makes my cheeks glow fire red.  Maybe it was too much for them.

I’m not suggesting that you seek out an all male or all female group (so stop writing the hate mail right now).  I am insisting that you find a writing group that feeds your talent. I’ve said it before, you can’t grow as a writer without input from people reading your stuff. You can’t!!!  Or, if you can, it’s at a snail’s pace.  Trust me.

Anyway, I’m thinking about my sisterhood of writers, otherwise known as the Muse Crew, because we’re going to start a writing and reviewing website/blog.  We’ve been working together for years, expanding our writing skills, critiquing the work of others, and exploring countless nuances of the writing process.  Now, we’re going to invite others to share in our discussions and help other authors (many of them will be self published) by reviewing their work.

Did I say that we’re not any ordinary group of writers?  We all come from vastly different life experiences and writing backgrounds.  That’s part of what makes this group so special. (Am I partial? Yes, but you would be too!).  Our group combines expertise in the areas of writing, editing, psychology, teaching, business, and more.  We have writers in different genres of fiction and non-fiction.  Our varied backgrounds give us unique perspectives to what we read and have enriched the way we approach authorship. We are driven by our shared passion for the well-written page.

You can probably tell that I could go on, and on…. and… well, you get it.  It’s a great group of women and I look forward to expanding our writing journey online.  I’m telling you so that you know and if you have suggestions about what you would like in a website and blog like this, please share them in the comments.

Happy writing!

Madelyn