Saturday, February 9, 2013
Gabriela and The Widow is the third novel I’ve written with women protagonists. Early on, I worked out a post-apocalyptic novel called Citadel and later I came up with Lemon Custard. I got some static about Lemon Custard for not pulling a Nora Helmer (from A Doll’s House) and turning Olive, my protagonist, into some kind of liberation heroine. But Olive is a regular woman with kids trying to find a way to make it when the odds roll against her. Gabriela is a different kind of woman. She’s been hurt, displaced, damaged. Writing from her POV was a challenge.
I think that men are uneasy writing in a woman’s voice but I find it provoking and rewarding. The challenges are enormous because we’re always bugged by the limiting specter of American Realism in the literary novel: Write what you know. If you haven’t lived it, you can’t write about it.
This tells us that because I’m not a woman I can’t write either for women or about women. Realism is a trap I won’t fall into even when I get the question that drives me nuts: Did this really happen?
Look at me—I’m six feet tall, weigh 190, wear cowboy boots and ride a Harley. Do I look like a 19 year old Mexican woman? No, it didn’t happen to me and it’s not based on a “True Story”. This is fiction. I love to create good women who stand toe to toe with good men. Reality belongs in a memoir. In fiction, it’s about emotion.
Fear, Love, Anger, Grief, Joy, Surprise. If you want to write human characters and bring down everything we are onto the written page, and if you want to reach into the minds and senses of readers, you give the reader what the characters feel and project. Men feel fear. Women show surprise. Women get angry, men do too. We all have the same emotions. In writing, it’s reaction that gives you character and character has nothing to do with gender.
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Some Techniques and Tips:
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I want to share with you a few words about how I write. Every Tuesday and Friday, I sit down with a bunch of writers at Louisa’s Bakery Café in Seattle. We write for forty-five minutes under the clock. For years I wrote alone until Robert Ray introduced me to Natalie Goldberg and timed writing. Working with other writers—especially writers who know more than you do—gets you outside your head. You get feedback faster, you get to the rewrite quicker. The way I see it, the art is in the rewrite so the sooner you get a working draft the better you’ll write. With timed writing you don’t die in Act Two.
Timed writing—what Natalie Goldberg calls “Writing Practice”—is either the devil’s design to stifle your creativity or the gateway to a paradise of writing. For me, timed writing is liberation. Timed writing is easy: you get a kitchen timer, set it for five, ten, fifteen minutes and write as deep and rich as your hand will let you. I like the physical connection of the fountain pen on paper, so I write longhand. Some writers at Louisa’s write on laptops. That’s okay. The idea is to finish what you start—that’s the major discipline. Finish what you start.
I use “start lines” to get going. If I’m working on a novel, I might use—“Today I rewrite the scene called…
If I’m with my group at Louisa’s and I’m not locked into a novel or a story, the start line “today I’m writing about…” gives me plenty of room to explode. I use timed writing to write treatments, scene summaries, memoir moments, short stories, screenplay scenes. The big thing with timed writing is that you can use it to go nuts on the page, or you can use it in a very structured way to create tight, hard, clear, clean sentences, scenes, stories. I don’t think in terms of paragraphs, but I do think in terms of “action” and “image.” When I’m writing in a more structured way, I use a directed set of start lines. For instance, to write a three-act treatment for a novel here’s a set of start lines you can use:
- Act One opens when….
- Act One ends when….
- Act Two opens in a scene called….
- At the middle of my story, my protagonist….
- Act Two ends when….
- Act Three opens when….
- My story climaxes in a scene called….
- My story ends with this final image….
I keep a blog with Robert J Ray, author of the Matt Murdock detective novels. We’ve posted everything we know about writing there—http://bobandjackswritingblog.com. Take a look. It’s there for the asking.
Guest post by Jack Remick, a poet, short story writer and novelist. In 2012, Coffeetown Press published the first two volumes of Jack’s California Quartet series, The Deification and Valley Boy. The final two volumes will be released in 2013: The Book of Changes and Trio of Lost Souls. Blood, A Novel was published by Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press, in 2011. You can find Jack online at http://jackremick.com
You can find out more about Jack Remick, his books and World of Ink Author/Book Tour at http://tinyurl.com/akw7kk6