Setting the Tone

This week, my family and I visited Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.  In comparing the two, I found a lesson for writing.

In many ways, these two places are similar.  Both are large-scale carvings in the sides of the Black Hills, which you can see without actually visiting the sites.  Both cost money to visit (although the price and purpose of the charges are different).  Both include a museum, visitor center, sculptor’s studio, and of course, gift shop and café.  Both tell two stories: that of the sculptor, and that of the people memorialized by the monument.

Even with all of these similarities, the two feel very different.  My mom and I discussed this at length, and my general impression is the tone, and the way in which the stories are told.

Crazy Horse is busy, and not because of the number of people.  You can see the sculpture from the parking lot, but the first thing you do on arrival is go into a building and into a theater to watch a movie about the making of the monument.  After the movie, you come out into a beautiful room with windows that look over the memorial, with a scale model of the finished sculpture.  Even in that space, designed to encourage reflection, the walls are covered with pictures of donors, paintings of Native American scenes, display cases full of artifacts, and a model of how the entire space will look when complete.  The other viewing area, where the larger scale model is kept, is a lovely outdoor deck with a great view of the mountain.  In order to get there, though, you have to go through rooms filled with Native American artifacts, not to mention the gift shop.  Even the sculptor’s home and studio are visually noisy, with paintings, art, furniture, and other pieces sculpted by the artist.

Crazy Horse is trying to tell too many stories at once, so none of them come across effectively.  My strongest takeaway impression was that they depend on the public to pay for the project, and unfortunately that registered mostly as a request for money.

Mount Rushmore feels like a monument.  As you park, the presidents are visible above trees, next to a large stone entry.  Walking through the archways, you can see the sculpture framed by trees and marble.  The path, lined with flags, leads directly to the large viewing terrace.  Even though it’s filled with visitors, the experience is breathtaking.  There are also trails that lead to the base of the mountain, with additional viewing areas and signs about each of the presidents on the mountain.  The gift shops and café are literally peripheral to your experience; they are on the side of the path, behind you, and below you as you first walk out to see the mountain.  The sculptor’s studio houses only models of Mount Rushmore, with information about the process, and every building possible has windows with views of the heads.

Mount Rushmore is also telling many stories, of each of the presidents as well as the artist and the politicians who supported and funded the project.  Here they are all told as echoes of the same story: America is awesome.  I walked away feeling patriotic, inspired by the people who are represented on the mountain and the people who made it happen.

There’s a lesson here for writing, too.  We want to tell many stories, in order to make the novel layered and interesting, but we need to be careful.  The stories we choose, and the way we include them, should all work together to tell a bigger story.  We don’t want our readers feeling overwhelmed by the noise, possibly even putting the book down before the end.



Tiny Life Update

Hello everyone!

I have just returned from an excellent trip to the western part of South Dakota with my parents.

We went to Mount Rushmore, of course, and several parts of the Black Hills.  We also took a little side trip through the Badlands on the way back, and hit the kitsch heavens of the Corn Palace and Wall Drug during the drive.  We called it our Americana Road Trip vacation.

I have several fun post ideas that have come from the trip, and I am excited to share them with you.  However, it’s been a very full, very tiring week and tonight what I want most is to sleep in my own bed.

Thank you for your patience!  More vacation-inspired posts to come…  (And yes, they will be writing related!)

Writing Rest Area

I frequently drive across Iowa on trips between my current home state of South Dakota and the state of my birth, Illinois.  (In fact, most of the drive is Iowa, and it crosses the entire state.)

While the drive tends to be long and tedious, there are some good things about crossing Iowa.  Unlike many of the other long drives I’ve taken in my life, there are no “dead air” zones where the radio fails me.  There are lots of good places to stop, including a visit with friends in Des Moines.  The Iowa Department of Transportation has also made an effort to take care of drivers in the state.  There are lots of rest areas available, and fifteen of them have been renovated and themed.  There’s a Lewis and Clark rest area, an agriculture rest area, and a very cool wind energy rest area.  On this trip I discovered what they call the “Iowa” rest area, which is writing themed.

There’s a huge sculpture of a fountain pen nib in front of the building.  There are names of novelists, poets, and playwrights from Iowa displayed throughout the building, with a large wraparound LED screen near the ceiling with constantly scrolling quotes.  Even the picnic shelters are themed, with quotes cut into metal at the back of each.

For someone who writes, it’s an inspirational place to pause.  I took the time to walk around and read several of the shelter quotes.  It was a really neat find, and it will be a planned stop on future trips.  The next time I drive through without animals in my car, I might even take a few moments to write with inspiration all around me.

Want to know where to find it?  It’s on Interstate 80, eastbound, near Tiffin, Iowa.  🙂

Revenge of the Sun

I spent too much time in the sun today.

It was gorgeous, and I was with a group of people who was also spending time outdoors in a structured manner.  (I believe this is called a field trip?)  I didn’t have much say about where we were or how long we were out, and I wasn’t really complaining when it was happening.

It was in the car that I discovered the sun’s revenge.

Perhaps I should correct my first sentence.  I spent too much time in the sun today without sun block.

My face is an angry red, which isn’t fun and doesn’t look nice.  On top of that, I got a little of what I’ve heard casually called “sun poisoning” on another occasion: I was sick.  Headache, nausea, shaking, fever-like chills, I was on the receiving end of the full list.

After water, a cold compress for my face and neck, and a 2.5 hour nap, I am feeling much better (although my face is still red).  But I missed dinner, I missed tonight’s speaker, and the headache is still lingering.  I should feel fully recovered in the morning, but for tonight, I’m silently yelling at the version of myself that forgot to bring sun block or a hat, and didn’t think to rectify that until after the damage was done.

An Overnight Adventure

In my family, the word “adventure” is used to describe a situation that doesn’t go exactly according to plan.  If we get lost going somewhere new, “It’s an adventure.”  If a plane is delayed and schedules have to be rearranged, “It’s an adventure.”

Last night, I had an adventure, as my mom called it when it happened.  I was driving back to South Dakota from visiting my family and got caught in the big snow storm in Iowa.  After spending nearly 4 hours traveling 5 miles (most of the time was spent in park with the car shut off), I got to sleep on the floor in the breakfast room at a Super 8.  Sharing that space were 15 strangers and a dog.  Thanks goodness my animals weren’t with me!

It wasn’t an adventure I’d like to repeat.  I only got a few hours of sleep, and there’s nothing quite like wearing the same clothes for 26 hours.  (A shower was high on the priority list when I did make it home, right after taking care of my bird and putting away perishable food.)  It wasn’t the most stressful sleeping arrangement I’ve had – that would probably be the downpour and cold front in a tent in the Chisos Mountains – but it also wasn’t restful.

To top it all off, I started getting sick Saturday night (a possible sinus infection) and sleeping on the floor with earplugs in made all the junk in my sinuses drain into my ear.  Pain was part of the reason for the lack of sleep.

I made it home this morning, though, and have showered and taken a nap.  I’m heading to the acute care clinic shortly to address my sickness, and I have tasty goodies leftover from the bridal shower (why I went home in the first place) to eat.  In case you hadn’t guessed, I’ll be heading to bed early tonight.  🙂

Aren’t adventures fun?


People like trees.

As I flew back into Sioux Falls today, I noticed the trees.  We flew over a small town (I regret to say I don’t know which one) and I was struck by the way that the trees marked the difference between fields and homes.  Even here, on the Great Plains, or in Houston, originally coastal prairie, people have lush mini-forests around their homes and businesses.

Think about a “yard” and what image do you get?  For me, a stretch of lawn with a handful of strategically placed trees.  It might have a swing set, or a shed, or even a flowerbed or veggie garden, but more likely than not it has at least one tree.

I’d be interested to explore if this is a cultural thing or a human thing.  It’s also something to think about when creating the space in which your characters live and thrive.  Will it subconsciously affect your readers if the yard has no trees?  What will it say to them about the world in which your characters live?

Writing for Myself

Sometimes your writing shouldn’t be shared with others.

Occasionally I get worked up, emotions running high.  Sometimes I call my mom, sometimes I dance, but lately there has been a lot of writing.  When I’m creating a story and a scene gets stuck in my head, I write it out and it leaves me alone.  The same thing happens when I put my rants on paper.

For example, I recently had to sit on an airplane near a couple of people who were discussing politics.  That’s probably not the best way to describe it; they were making snide, obnoxious comments about the candidate I support, loud enough that most of the people around them could hear.  In my opinion, that’s not a very nice way to behave around a large group of people.  Regardless, it ended up getting me very fired up.  Flying already puts me in a grumpy mood, and that just put it over the top.  So when I was sitting in the airport on the next layover, I pulled out my notebook and wrote.  The ink is thick, the pressure is heavy, and it covers two pages.

Clearly, that is writing that shouldn’t ever see the light of day.  Fortunately, it got the irritation out and served its purpose, whether or not it was writing for others.  This was writing for me.

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