In June, we were driving down I-35 to Des Moines to renew my military ID (we live six miles south of the Minnesota border) and passed this parade of electrical service vehicles. At the time, I was head over heels into an edit of the second book in my World War II series, and wouldn’t have taken a day off unless it was vital.
Then I realized that all the people-power, expense, and energy in that line of trucks were geared toward helping flood victims in southern Iowa. My next thought concerned all the writer resources at our disposal through great books and authors, organizations, classes, and online sites. Right now, I’m learning through two different but exceptional books.
The other day I devoured a novel by E. E. Stevenson. I had never heard of her, and her book sat on my to-read pile forever—The Young Clementina. E. E. drew me in. Stopping was not an option. I’d been seeking how to structure the third novel in my World War II series, and it hit me that this author holds the secret, or at least one of them.
Unfortunately, she passed from this world some time ago, so I can’t ask her. Clementina first hit the bookshops in 1938, was reprinted in the 1970s, and is out again.
This novel’s style – its tone and flow, not to mention a powerful heroine who suffered greatly – gives me a target. I researched to discover what it was that made me care so much about the protagonist, but E. E. used more than flashback, more than a phantom correspondent and some intriguing characters to work her magic.
It’s hard to google her tactics. I love to define things, label them and study how they work, but no easy answers popped up, so I’m simply letting E. E.’s magic gel in my mind and heart. How did she make her heroine so real, the angst of her life so strong?
After seven years of learning about fiction writing, I have confidence that at some point the answer will come to me. At junctures like this, I often take a walk and pray for help. And it’s important to keep in mind that most answers are partial – we receive them a little at a time.
The other day, reading The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass revealed a bit of the answer. Do my novels employ scenes where people just sit and drink tea? If so, I need to go through the manuscript and delete them.
Now, the heroine in Clementina did experience a few non-action scenes – granted she lived a long time ago when women were less active – but still, she shines, and her conundrum kept my attention. No way would I have stopped reading without closure.
So I go through my manuscript searching for these “hanging around” scenes, and voila! There they are – or were.
Step by step, I learn a little more and know how to proceed. I’d rather know right NOW, of course. Bet get going on this. Time’s a-wasting. But it’s not like there aren’t other books in my stack. Maybe further clues lurk inside their covers, and what’s to lament, when I love to read?
Gail has always loved to read, but had no burning desire to write fiction. She was happy instructing college expository writing and English as a Second Language, but after she penned her memoir, the fiction bug bit her. She’s been addicted ever since, with special interest in the World War II era.
She and her husband enjoy life in small-town northern Iowa, where she teaches a writing group and enjoys their grandchildren. In winter, the Ponderosa forest of Central Arizona entrances her, and she’s available to facilitate workshops for reading clubs, writers’ organizations, and women’s groups.
Meeting new friends light’s up Gail’s life–please feel free to contact her.