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Posts tagged ‘strong women’

GIVING OUR CHARACTERS SUBSTANCE & DIMENSION

“Honest writing cannot be separated from the person who wrote it.”
Carl Jung

We writers create the best characters when we know ourselves—the depth of ourselves—and tap into that depth when we write, using all our senses.

Writers often have trouble creating believable, unusual characters.

o Instead, we make them cookie-cutter, stereotypical people–and bore our readers.

o Even though we might conduct extensive research, we resist the elements that end in helping us
develop multi-faceted exciting characters.

o Research by itself won’t fix the problem. Why?

o Because the most important element for creating characters with emotional and psychological
depth—wishes, feelings, passion, depth and vision—resides within me, the writer.

o For me to write meaningfully, I must connect my inner world with the outer world of my
creation.

It takes more than just structure to make our writing and our characters come to life.

o Before our characters can stand out from all others we must tap into our inner self, while we
create that character.

o We must be present inside our characters, and in our writing, or our story will not be
successful, for it will lack depth.

o Our readers must hear our voice as the narrator—not some detached fact teller.

o We must create different characters that express all the various voices we have within
ourselves.

o WE, the writer, make the difference between a lackluster character portrayed over and over, and
a character with a fresh, unique voice.

HOW DO WE DO THIS?

o We must make ourselves vulnerable.

o If we are not willing to do this, we cheat our character out of a real-life personality.

o We must take risks.

o We must explore our inner selves.

o We must delve into the parts of ourselves that are the most vulnerable—our own life
experiences, particularly those painful or delightful parts of our childhood.

o When we approach that most vulnerable part of ourselves we must not stop—we must not blink.

o Instead, we write right through that part of our history, thereby giving life to our
characters.

o The search into self can’t be accomplished by our ego.

o We need to confront feelings and desires long hidden from our conscious thoughts.

o When we try to create a character without doing so—our characters become cookie cutter.

o For instance, many people feel a lack of spontaneity in their lives, so we look around at
others, jealous perhaps, or even feel ashamed at our own repressions.

o So, then, when we write, we try to capture that trait in our characters, but rather than being
able to release our characters to spontaneity, we end up creating characters that only imitate
what we are trying to create—much like we do.

When we learn to be honest with ourselves—warts and moles and all, we:

Unlock our own sensory recall and transform our experiences, feelings, high, lows, pain, and joys, into unique, powerful, believable, original characters who are capable of touching the hearts of our readers.

Easy to say—not always easy to do.

FAIRY TALES, GLASS SLIPPERS & BEAUTIFUL OLD WOMEN

_MG_8948RetroSylvia Dickey Smith is a novelist whose fiction has won the hearts of readers everywhere, especially in the south. Often told in third person, her novels portray strong, memorable characters struggling with the same issues and timely situations that readers face in their own lives. In downtime from novels, she dabbles in re-imagined fairy tales, such as this one.

Smith is a native Texan, where she formerly conducted private practice as a psychotherapist. She has published stories and essays in anthologies, and her Sidra Smart mystery series received terrific reviews. Her most recent release, A WAR OF HER OWN, is a historical novel set in southeast Texas during WWII, yet it isn’t a war story. Instead, it is of the home front—a period of profound sociological change, particularly for women. Her most recent novel is ORIGINAL CYN, a tale of love, lust, transgression, betrayal, and the transformational power of forgiveness.

To contact: sylviadickeysmith@gmail.com

 

whineycroneIn a far off land, east of the sun and west of the moon, a whiney old crone named Drizella sits outside the golden gates of the Queen’s Palace, wailing over fate’s misfortune. Beautiful in her youth (according to her mother, at least) she’d dreamed of slipping her foot into the glass slipper, marrying the prince and living happily ever after, raising perfect children, with a castle full of nannies to make sure, and of course wearing the finest of clothes.

But, alas, the slipper had been too short, and her foot too long. Her one consolation was that neither had the shoe fit her sister—that is her real sister.

The winey crone snivels, wipes her nose on the sleeve of her ragged garment and bemoans the cruelty of years. Whence came all the wrinkles and this thin mousy gray hair? Not to mention her ever-enlarging nose and ears, and the few scraggly hairs on her chin. Even the ‘widow-maker’ treats her unfairly, refusing to return her tiny waist regardless of how tight she pulls the laces. Her back aches. Her sister never calls and her sons come around no longer—the ungrateful lot.

One beautiful sunny day, while in the midst of her whining, an even older crone appears with a glow on her face and a spring in her step—her voice pleasant, melodic, even. “Why do you whine, my dear sister? Do you not know this is the best years of your life? Too bad you did not well prepare yourself, else your step would spring and your voice would sing.”

“Give me a break,” the whiney old crone exclaims. “What’s so great about getting old, ugly and feeble? My back hurts, no one calls or comes to visit, and should I venture out, men pass me by as if unseen.” Whine. Whine. whine.

“It is because you spend your day in front of the mirror that you whine, my dear. For mirrors only beautiuful cronereflect the outward you, not giving chance for inward reflection. You give insult to the name of crone. For a true crone does not whine. Instead, she fills her days with wisdom learned over the years, with purpose, humor, courage, compassion for others, and vitality.”

“Vitality?” the whiney crone spat. “I fight to get out of bed every morning. How in the queen’s name am I to find vitality?”

“It takes years of work, my dear, and you are way behind. You’ve wasted your years regretting each one. You fail to feel empathy or compassion, or to use your energy and power wisely. As a consequence of such, you have not earned the joy a wise crone discovers with the passing years.”

“Okay, smarty pants. You know so much. Tell me what you did that is so different than me. For you, too, longed to wear the glass slipper and failed. You, too, have aged, yet I see young men here at your feet, eager to learn what you know. Why is that—tell me, old crone.”

“Dry your eyes, wipe your nose, and lend me your ear.”

The whiney crone did just that.

“First off,” the beautiful older crone said, “is to stop that infernal whining. You must let go of the idea that if the stupid glass slipper fit your big foot, your life would have been perfect. The shoe didn’t fit your big foot! What is is. Get over it.”

“Okay, Ms. Smarty Pants. Just tell me how in this world am I supposed to do that?”

broken slipper“Stop thinking about what didn’t work. To dwell on anything we have no power to change is a useless exercise, and we end up getting more and more depressed, and we spend our days whining about what might have been.

“The more you whine, the more stuck you are in the past—a past you can’t fix. The end result is you stay stuck right there at the moment the prince tried to put that silly glass shoe on your foot. That’s truly over and done with, but because you keep whining about losing out, you’re still caught at that moment in time. Which ends up helping you find even more to whine about.

“That was then—this is now. Whining makes you dry up into an old hag. Look in that mirror. Do you see one juicy thing about you?”

The whiney crone looked. She didn’t like what she saw. “You mean to tell me, if I stop whining, these wrinkles might go away?”

“It won’t make the wrinkles go away, but they’ll soften. You’ll have more energy—a passion for life. Get involved—care about something. Get interested in something—take your mind off of yourself and put it on others. Find something funny to laugh about—every day, without fail. If you can’t find it, create it—go find a young lover or something.” She laughed.

“Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen.”

“You never know—but this one thing I can guarantee—it’ll put a spring in your step.”

“So, that’s all I need do?”

“Goodness no. There’s a lot more to life than that. Grow something. Crones are good at pruning, weeding.”

“You mean like a garden? I can’t do that, for my back is too stiff and my joints, they ache like a son-of-a-gun. Every time I kneel, my—”

“There you go, whining again. Growing something doesn’t mean it has to be plants, my silly sister. It can be, but other things need to grow, too. Nurture something—whether it be a garden or people. Find something—or someone—vulnerable—like a child that’s lonely, or a young mother who can learn from your wisdom. For, despite your whining, you have learned a few things over the years—and that is the wisdom of the ages—otherwise known as Women’s Intuition. Trust what you know deep down in your bones. Let that wisdom bubble to the top. Share it with those open to receive it—those who look for the wisdom of the ages. Learn to practice patience—then teach it to the impatient.”

“Is that all?” Drizella wondered how in the world could she remember all these lessons, let alone do them. “I should’ve been taking notes.”

The wise, juicy old crone smiled, for she knew the secret of the HOW. “By finding your voice, my dear. For silence equals consent. Crones like you and me? We speak our minds. We tell ’em how the cow ate the cabbage—that the emperor’s running around outside nekked. That’s how. Find your voice, use the wisdom of the ages, grow something, let go of the past, stop your dang whining and laugh—and learn the beauty of a big foot.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Breath of a Dragon”

Come let me tell you the story of an Irish innkeeper with the breath of a dragon, a woman who inspires me to speak up, speak out, and take a stand, even when that stand might be unpopular, or put me at risk.

Catherine (Kate) McGill Dorman lived in the 1800s, but she marched into my life a few months ago and so fascinated me that I featured her in my modern day mystery novel, Deadly Sins Deadly Secrets.

Kate stood a mere 4 feet 10 inches, but according to legend, what she lacked in stature, she made up in guts, determination, and a delightfully acidic tongue. (I find myself drawn to women with one!)

Kate and her husband moved from Georgia to Sabine Pass where they built the Catfish Hotel on the banks of the Sabine River. The inn had a wharf off the back where steamboats often docked, and captains and passengers partook of Kate’s hospitality.

While Kate ran the hotel, her husband served as engineer on a mail packet that carried mail up and down the Texas coast. In late 1859 a boiler exploded, killing her husband, leaving Kate a young widow with two small daughters to care for, and an inn to run. Kate later remarried a captain of a cotton steamer that plied the Neches River.

Texans tried to stay out of a civil war that raged elsewhere in the country, but folks along the coast found themselves caught in the middle of a battle for control over the prized waterway, easy access for blockade runners smuggling cotton to Europe—fundraising for the Confederate army.

Things got worse in 1862 when the deadly yellow fever hit. The epidemic soon raged out of control. Hundreds of town folk and Confederate soldiers died, hundreds more fled the area. But not Kate, instead, she turned the Catfish Hotel into a hospital where she and two friends tended to soldiers and civilians, alike.

While the pestilence raged, and the Confederate soldiers lay sick and dying, the Union took advantage of the situation and captured Sabine Pass. One day, fifty Union soldiers brought a 6-pound howitzer ashore, with a plan to burn down the Confederate barracks west of town. Needing something on which to mount and transport the heavy gun, they made a big mistake—they absconded with Kate’s horse and cart.

Angry as all get-out, Kate sprang into action. The November 5, 1862 issue of the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph described the event:

“…Mrs. Kate Dorman, who witnessed the act, became perfectly enraged, and being one of the bravest women in the Confederacy, gave them such a tongue-lashing as only a brave woman would dare do. She shook her fist at them, and told them she hoped our boys would kill the last one of them, and if she had 25 men, she would take them and their cannon with them.

“After the enemy retired to their gunboat, they gave Capt. Dorman his horse and cart back, and told him if he didn’t keep his damned wife’s mouth shut, they would hang him. Mr. and Mrs. Dorman have a large hotel in the place, and the Yanks declare that if she does not apologize to them, they will burn it down. She declares that she will see them in the lower regions first, and they may burn it if they choose.”

A week later, a second Union Navy patrol landed and set fire to most of the town, but they did not touch Kate’s Catfish Hotel. As W. T. Block says in his Beaumont Enterprise article dated August 18, 1974, “Perhaps they did not fancy another encounter with the Irish innkeeper with a dragon’s hot breath.”

Historians well-document Dick Dowling and his men’s famous Battle of Sabine Pass, but few tell how, as the battle raged, thirty-four-year old Kate and her friend spent hours laboring over a hot wood stove cooking food for Dowling and his men. Then, despite the intense battle going on around her, Kate hitched her now-famous horse to her cart, loaded the food, and, with the bombardment overhead, she and her friend delivered a huge pot of stew, doughnuts and coffee, and even a gallon of whiskey to the 47 Irishmen defending nearby Fort Griffin. Certainly the action of Kate and her friend sustained Dowling’s men, strengthening their ability to hold off the enemy. And hold off they did.

Kate died at the age of 69, on Christmas Eve, 1897. Of the many eulogies written about her, perhaps that of Margaret Watson, who shared a room with Kate during much of the Civil War, gives us the best glimpse of this phenomenal woman:

“During the days of trials and privations of the Civil War, Mrs. Dorman stood strong and brave under every difficulty. She was the friend of the private soldiers as well as the officers; she nursed them when sick, gave the best she had to feed them. She was always on hand in the hour of peril to express faith in their success, to give an enthusiastic welcome in their hour of victory. Though Kate now sleeps in the cemetery at the Pass, she lives forever in the hearts of these survivors.”

Kate inspires me to bravery, to new strength and determination to make a positive difference in my world. I hope she does you as well.

This book is available at Amazon.com

Strong Women: Independent or Not?

Lesley A. Diehl is a strong, independent woman! She is also our guest blogger today. She talks about writing strong women, whether those women are independent or not. Hear what she says about her own writing, and that of others.

Lesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York.  In the winter she migrates to old Florida–cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office.  Back north, she devotes her afternoons to writing and, when the sun sets, relaxing on the bank of her trout stream, sipping tea or a local microbrew.

“I taught courses in developmental psychology including a course on psychology of women for over 25 years beginning in the 1970s.  The first assignment I gave to my class on women was to look up “feminist” in the dictionary.  Most of them were surprised the definition didn’t include “man hater” and that it didn’t begin with “a woman who” but rather “a person who” and went on to read “espouses equality of the sexes in economic, political, and social areas.”  Even in what I’ve been informed is the present “post feminist era”, the definition still holds.  Unfortunately, so does the antipathy towards using it to describe oneself.

I don’t really care if a person uses feminist as a self descriptor, but I am concerned that discarding the term has allowed us to detach ourselves from a history that binds women together and acknowledges their support for one another, their debt to the contributions of women who have gone before, in fact, their dependence upon one another.  Perhaps it is part of the “me” generation for each individual to claim success was achieved solely through one’s own efforts.  As I left higher education I found more and more young women who had no use for the support of other women, who would make it independent of their sisters as if they existed in a vacuum and not in a society shaped by social forces.  The descriptor most popular among many of these women was that they were “independent” women, and it was this independence that made them strong.

In my class, I liked to talk about androgynous women, a term that has now gone out of style, but still says much about women’s search for a strong self.  An androgynous woman is one who is both independent and dependent; she can take independent action when the circumstances call for it, but she also knows when to call in others for help.  Doesn’t that sound like the perfect female protagonist in mysteries?  Yes.  These are the kind of protagonists we love.  Take for example, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, a strong woman who can get herself out of (and into) tight situations.  The men in her life may come to her aid at times, but it is often Lulu who is beside her when the bullets begin to fly.

Jean Henry Mead writes a mystery series about two retired women who have become amateur sleuths.  In her recent book Murder on the Interstate the women find a dead body along the interstate and set out to find the killer.  She achieves a perfect balance of the independent women getting into fixes and helping one another to get out of them.  These are strong women, but dependent upon one another when it’s necessary.

There are other examples, e.g., Goldie with her husband and her first husband’s ex-wife in Dianne Mott Davidson’s caterer series, Mary Daheim’s Judith who runs a bed and breakfast and relies on her cousin as a sleuthing partner, or Susan Albert Wittig’s herbalist who is surrounded by women friends to call on for help.  Whether we know it or not, we like to read about women who have both independent and dependent aspects to their personalities.  We don’t want men to ride in and rescue them, but we do want protagonists who are connected by love and friendship with other people.  We don’t want them to say no to a little help when facing down a killer.

In my own writing I try to remember what I like about others’ characters and craft my protagonists as strong women, but never so independent they can’t borrow their friend’s gun to shoot the bad guy.  How do you write your protagonist?”

 

Lesley A. Diehl, author of A Deadly Draught, a Hera Knightsbridge Master Brewer series and Dumpster Dying, a Big Lake Murder Mystery.

Visit her at www.lesleydiehl.com and on her blog at http://anotherdraught.com

Independent or not, strong women are strong women!

 

 

Feminist? Unabashedly!

Unabashedly A Feminist

Among the reasons I write strong women today is because of the inspiration I’ve gained from others who have done such. Over the last forty years, I’ve filled my library, and my mind, with writings by women who offered what I needed. These women have inspired me to find my voice, to identify and claim who I am, what I stand for, and what I refuse to stand for. Their writing also helped me change those things that I didn’t like about myself. I find it amazing how women touch our lives so many years after they have passed from this world—women who lived and died, often years before we were born. Yet still they teach us much about ourselves.

One such example is the life and writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, born in 1860.

I first met her in a Women in Literature class at the University of Texas at El Paso in the early  1980s. I was forty-three years old and a sophomore. (Non-traditional students rock! It is never too late for a woman to go to college.)

My professor chose Charlotte’s feminist utopian novel, Herland, first published in 1915, for our class to read and discuss. (That cherished book is still an important part of my library, thirty years later.) I must admit, I was inspired—mesmerized—blown away—that a woman could pen such a novel at that time—that she had the wherewithal, the foresight, the wisdom, the forward-thinking—to do such.

Abandoned by her husband, Frederick Beecher, a relative of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte’s mother was forced to rear her children alone, which meant Gilman moved around a lot, and her education suffered as a result.

Despite her opposition to marriage, Charlotte did marry an artist named Charles Stetson in 1884, and in their 10-year marriage, they had a daughter named Katherine. During this time, Charlotte became a social activist. She also suffered a severe depression and underwent a series of unusualtreatments for it. This experience is likely to have inspired her best-known short story The Yellow Wall-Paper, penned in 1892. (If you don’t think being in an unhappy marriage is depressing–this story will convince you.)

While best known for writing fiction, she was also a well-known lecturer and intellectual. One of her greatest nonfiction publications is Women and Economics, published in 1898. Today, many women struggle with being called a feminist—not Charlotte. In this work, she took a bold stand and encouraged women to gain economic independence, cementing her standing as a social theorist.

Other significant works of nonfiction followed, such as The Home: Its Work and Influence (1903) and Does a Man Support His Wife? (1915). Charlotte also established The Forerunner, a magazine where she expressed her own ideas on social reform and women’s issues.

In 1900, Charlotte married again, this time to her cousin George Gilman, and the two remained happily married until he died in 1934. A year later, at the age of 75, Charlotte learned that she had inoperable breast cancer and ended her life, leaving behind a note that said she “chose chloroform over cancer.”

Today, much of her work is beginning to be recognized as important and is being re-published. She had an incredible influence on women of her day, and offers much to us today. Let’s give her the recognition she deserves. Read her books. Let her inspire you. Tell others about her.  Don’t be ashamed to call yourself a feminist.

Instead, name it, and claim it.

 

 

 

 

 

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