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!)


I’m planning to get a tattoo.

Wait!  It really does have something to do with writing, I promise!

First, the tattoo will be to commemorate selling 50 copies of The Queen’s Butterflies e-book.  I’m at 31 now – do you have your copy?  😉

Second, it is based on something in the book.  The Butterflies each get a tiny, freckle-like butterfly tattoo on their wrists when they finish training.  This is to mark them as a Butterfly, in a way that others who know can identify but those who don’t know won’t notice.  My plan is to get a slightly larger, brown butterfly on the back of my wrist.  Obviously, as it is body art, I want it to be more noticeable than the spies in the book would prefer, but the color and location will be consistent with the story.

This week on vacation I saw a lot of tattoos.  Some were interesting, some were bad, and one or two were simply odd.  My favorite strange tattoo was actually a matched set; a girl had a pair of cherries (a la a slot machine) on the back of each calf, about two-thirds of the way up to her knee.  The two tattoos were mirror-image, and very, very obvious when she walked.  I wanted to ask what inspired them, but the opportunity didn’t present itself.

I think I’ll stick with something that marks an important moment…  Permanent marks on my body should be there to remind me of something I want to remember forever, don’t you think?

Routine Reset

I just got back from a week in the happiest place on earth.  (You didn’t even know I was gone, did you?)  Yes, my family and I (all adults) spent a week at the Florida house of the Mouse, which was very fun.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

I love to travel, but I find that there are a couple of problems that it creates.  First, I am almost always tired when I get home.  This time that was partly due to being on my feet most of the week – you walk a lot at theme parks – and partly due to the fact that I didn’t get adequate sleep on my last night of the trip.  I slept through most of the two plane flights back, napped in the afternoon, and slept 10 hours the night I returned.

The second, and potentially more difficult problem, is that I lose my routine when I go on vacation.  The days leading up to the trip I wrote two or three posts a day; while I was gone I barely thought about writing, let alone actually putting down any thoughts.

I did make some interesting observations of human behavior while I was gone, and I’m getting ready to jump back into my long list of writing tasks.  Hopefully I get a few posts out of these!

A lot to get done on my vacation

Phew!  After a visit to my family, I left myself 5 days at home to get stuff completed.  I’m working on my “purge” to get rid of anything in my apartment that I’m not actually using (my desk drawers are on my living room floor, awaiting sorting) and I’m working on things for my committee positions with my professional organization. There are also several things on my “Author” to-do list, and none of them have been addressed yet.

The two biggest things I’m hoping to get done before I go back to work on Tuesday are getting Butterflies up for sale on Amazon and putting together a short story collection for sale on Smashwords.  Amazon and Smashwords are currently having technical difficulties, so I’m going to use Amazon’s own ebook publishing option to get Butterflies out there and available.  This requires some changes to the formatting, which is why I haven’t completed it yet.  I also want to pull the three Butterflies-related stories that are currently on Serial Central and make a little collection that I can sell on Smashwords.  Again, it’s mostly a formatting thing, so it shouldn’t be too difficult, but I haven’t completed it yet.

I also need to peruse the marketing guide on Smashwords.  I’d like to sell some more copies of Butterflies, but I think I need to do a bit of broad-base marketing for it in order to boost sales.  This is the part of self-publishing that I find the biggest challenge.  I don’t mind participating in someone else’s plan, but creating my own marketing plan is not something I currently have in my skill set.

The Epitome of Scatterbrained

I just got home from a solo road trip to visit my family.  The drive from Houston to central Illinois and back is a long one, and a dog and a parrot are indifferent road companions.  I had also forgotten my iPod charger, so while I had music to get me through the gaps, I listened to a lot of random radio stations along the way.  (Of course, they all play the same songs over and over again, and I am an auditory learner.  I now know most of the words to “Lighters,” “Cheers,” and “Stereo Hearts.”)

I thought this trip might be a great time to work on my sequel.  I’ve found driving to be a great time to let my brain develop dialogue and story, so here’s a really long drive to work on the novel!  It was a good idea; too bad it failed.  I was the epitome of scatterbrained on this drive, especially the return trip.

Somehow, it seemed as though I couldn’t even complete a couple of sentences of a thought before my mind jumped to something else entirely.  I don’t even know what all I thought about.  There were some story ideas, some blog post ideas (including this one), a couple one-sided conversations with friends, generating to-do lists for the rest of my vacation, pondering billboards and license plates; you name it, my brain was all over the place.

At least part of it was focused – the part that was paying attention to the road!  Now that I’m home and still on vacation, I’n planning to get a bit more focused.  My writing to-do list is getting longer.