March in Fiction

Origins of the Word “March”

The name of the month of March has different derivations. In English, “March” derives from the Latin month’s name “Martius” which came from the name of the god of war, Mars. The god of war was named after the planet Mars because it marked the spring season when the Romans began their season of warfare. Interestingly, “march” also derives from an ancient word, “mearc,” which means border or frontier—a meaning which subsequently gave rise to the meaning of the verb “to mark.” The two derivations may be related because wars usually occur across borderlands.

Markings of March

Various celebrations from different traditions mark the month of March. This year in the European-American tradition, Mardi Gras, celebrated with feasting and drinking fell on the first day of March. The day after Mardi Gras marks the first day of Lent in the Catholic tradition which requires believers to fast until Easter. I have friends who have a home in New Orleans and spend the spring in Louisiana. I’ve been able to enjoy the New Orleans version of Mardi Gras from the photos they send displaying the costumes, parades, and special dishes.

On the Roman calendar, the word “ides” simply indicated the middle of the month. Nevertheless, to this day, “Beware the ides of March” remains a somber warning phrase in the European-American tradition because of a line in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar when the soothsayer warns the emperor not to go to the forum that day. In real life, Caesar was assassinated on the ides of March in 44 BC.

March 17th which marks the feast of Saint Patrick in Ireland, has become a secular holiday celebrated not only in Ireland but across the United States with parades, beer, and Irish dishes. True to my own Irish roots, I always serve a dinner accompanied by Irish soda bread and Guinness. In Illinois, Chicago dyes the Chicago River green to celebrate the holiday. For years, an Irish pub in Colorado hosted the shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was one block long.

Astronomically, the spring equinox, or the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, occurs in March and marks the day when the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west. In the northern hemisphere, the spring equinox brings earlier sunrises and later sunsets. The reverse is true in the southern hemisphere where my daughter lives and where it is now cyclone season.

March in Fiction

Because my 2022 blogs are devoted to the months of the year, I have been searching for examples of how authors approach the months. Do they just name the month, use the names of the months to delineate a time sequence, or is the month used to set a tone or a contrast?

Herman Melville, in The Piazza Tales, uses the month of March in an intriguing way to contrast the behaviors and lives of two men. The main character has bought a farmhouse in the country and after considering each direction, decides to build his piazza on the north side. His neighbor, Dives, ridicules him because Dives’ piazza faces the warm sun of the south. Dives chuckles and hopes that the new owner of the farm has warm mittens. Once the North-facing piazza is installed, the new farm owner is quite content to spend the warm days on it during the summer as he watches Dives suffer during hot days on his full sun piazza: “But March don’t [sic] last forever; patience, and August comes. And then, in the cool elysium [sic] of my northern bower, I, Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, cast down the hill a pitying glance on poor old Dives, tormented in the purgatory of his piazza to the south.”

Charles Dickens, in Barnaby Rudge, uses the month of March to set a bleak scene in a tavern. Again, this author equates the dour weather with the cold personality of the innkeeper who is willing to send his customers out into the pounding rain:

“The evening with which we have to do, was neither a summer nor an autumn one, but the twilight of a day in March, when the wind howled dismally among the bare branches of the trees, and rumbling in the wide chimneys and driving the rain against the windows of the Maypole Inn, gave such of its frequenters as chanced to be there at the moment an undeniable reason for prolonging their stay, and caused the landlord to prophesy that the night would certainly clear at eleven o’clock precisely,—which by a remarkable coincidence was the hour at which he always closed his house.”

March in My Fiction

One of my novels takes place during the era of Watergate. While the setting is not on the East coast, it would be appropriate to work news of Watergate into the characters’ perception of the government’s affairs.

My second novel takes place during the Spanish flu epidemic, first identified in the USA in March of 1918. While the epidemic is not the focus of the novel, it appears in the storyline.

My third novel takes place during the depression. Interestingly, March 5, 1933, was the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed a four-day “Bank Holiday.” His goal was to prevent public panic and the withdrawal of so much money that the entire banking system would collapse.

My Writing Goals for 2022

Publish my second book of poetry:

This month I reworked some of the poems.

Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:

I worked on sections of this novel.

Continue to work on my other novels:

I worked on sections of one.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: As president, I presided over my first Steering Committee meeting, presented an evening workshop on to topic of Goal Setting for Creative Work and Success, laid out four poetry workshops, and made the slides for my upcoming BWA workshop on Professional Development for Writers.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I advertised the DWPC’s Unknown Writers Contest to BWA.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I read about the conference and speakers planned for fall 2022.

Women Writing the West: I followed a discussion on the email list about “sensitivity” feedback during the editing process.

Crestone Poetry Festival: Over the last weekend of February, I zoomed into the Crestone Poetry Festival which was presented virtually again this year. Art Goodtimes, the Western Slope Poet Laureate (2011­–2013), is the organizer along with the Crestone team. I particularly liked the Talking Gourds session in which poets read one of their own poems or a poem by another poet. I read one of mine aloud for the first time. More than 90 poets logged on over the two-day sessions, read their poems, listened to others read, and commented in the chat room. The sessions were refreshing and inspiring.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month in 2022:

Today is March 7, 2022, I am posting my third blog of 2022. Studying the names of the months, their derivations, and meanings is expanding my understanding of history while providing me with ideas for my writing. What I am learning or perhaps re-learning studying the months, is how changeable human categorizations are and how much they vary depending on the language, culture, and religion of groups over time.

March 7th in history: Amanda Gorman, poet and author of The Hill We Climb, Call Us What We Carry, and Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem, was born on March 7th.

February in Fiction

The second month of the year in our current Gregorian calendar is called February. February is a wiggly month in several ways. Its name is pronounced incorrectly so often that newer American dictionaries list the mispronunciation (which omits the first “R”) along with the correct American English pronunciation. The British pronounce both “R’s” but reduce the word to three syllables. In the time of the Julian calendar, it was the first month, then Julius Caesar decided to put January into first place. Not only is February the shortest month of the year but for three years in a row, it has 28 days, and every fourth year it has 29. February also has a wiggly history and diverse traditions.

The Origins of the Word “February”

The English word “February” derives from the Latin month Februarius—the traditional month of purification, februm in Latin. In the early days of Rome, when Februarius was still the first month of the year, on the fifteenth day of the month, priests sacrificed a goat. A priest then marked young men’s foreheads with blood and wiped it off with goat’s milk. Subsequently, the men ran naked through the town tapping passersby with pieces of goatskin. Women who wanted to conceive or deliver a healthy baby stepped up to be touched.

Once the Christian era began and February took its place as the second month, St. Valentine’s Day was feted on February 14th. Eventually, the festival of love became more important than the ancient februm. The connection with purification was lost. Over the centuries, February’s link with love evolved into an exchange of flowers, candy, or cards. In the USA, it has become a commercial holiday that has spread to some other cultures, while others have rejected both the holiday’s commercialism and its tie to Christianity. Today the hearts and flowers of St. Valentine’s Day are traditionally red and white. These colors appear to reprise those of the blood and milk of the ancient februm.

Symbols or Historical Events Associated with February

Reading up on the historical events associated with the various months is fascinating. Since I am European-American, my knowledge tends to be focused on the very short history of the USA, the long history of Europe, with my knowledge of Irish, Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian traditions being more limited. However, when I do follow the clues backward in time, I am always intrigued with how the so-called “pagan” holidays were transformed slowly and in different ways after Emperor Constantine was baptized as a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire around 325 BC.

As monuments that still exist in Europe and Africa reveal, the pagan holidays were directly related to the seasons and to the revolution of the sun, moon, and planets. Newgrange for example dates back about 3,200 years before the Christian era. The Egyptian pyramids precede the Christian era by around 2550 years. Britain’s Stonehenge dates to 3000-1500 years before the Christian era. I read recently that an African henge 700 miles south of Egypt, called Nabta Playa, is even older than the European henges, dating back to approximately 7000 BC. The existence and function of these sites demonstrate the ancients’ knowledge of astronomy and the practical application of mathematics. This means that for more than 7000 years, human culture focused on astronomy and paid attention to the rotation of the spheres and the seasons. Yet, for the last 2022 years, European and American cultures have consistently masked astronomical events with Christian holidays. Perhaps it would make more sense to return to an observational and scientific view.

February in Fiction

In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare, knowing that listeners would relate the character’s look to the cold weather of the month, refers to the character Benedick as having: “…such a February face, so full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness.”  No one would want to be in a room with a person who has a February face. Shakespeare’s expression reminds me of a French expression that describes an arrogant, rigid, and cold person as having “un visage funèbre”—a funeral face.

In The Paris Wife, Paul McLain’s novel about Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, weather frames the mood of the couple. February is first mentioned as the time for Hadley and Ernest to escape Paris for the warmer clime of Italy, (p. 142-143) “February was a changeable time in Italy. Some days were hung with mist, blotting out the hills behind the town until we felt very remote… Sometimes the air was humid and drenched with sun. We could walk in the piazza or along the promenade to see fishermen on the concrete pier, dangling their poles out into the tide.” Later, when their relationship is on the rocks McLain writes:  “February in Schruns was a small kind of hell. Outside, the weather raged or flailed. Inside, things weren’t much better…”

In Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis (a novel that should be reread today as it is certainly apropos), the months November, January, and February are used in a series of short chapters to show the speed at which Gantry progresses from engagement to marriage to running his evangelical meetings with his wife as a soloist. Gantry moves quickly to establish himself as the evangelist in charge. He tries to motivate his parishioners by saying, “If old Satan were lazy as some would-be Christians in this burg, we’d all be safe.”

My Writing Goals for 2022

Publish my second book of poetry:

I have established connections with a publisher and a poetry editor. I worked on revisions.

Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:

Over the last few weeks, I worked on one secondary character building in more accuracy for her motivation.

Continue to work on my other novels:

I only worked on one other novel, playing with the timeline.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance:  As president, I am working on increasing local participation and membership in the organization. On February 16, I plan to present a Zoom workshop on Goal Setting for Creative Work.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I sent feedback and comments on her manuscript to my critique partner at DWPC.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I read the newsletter.

Women Writing the West: I signaled my interest in joining a critique group and read the email postings.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month in 2022:

Today is February 7, 2022, I am posting my second blog of 2022. The past four weeks have been trying with fires, floods, snowstorms, and cyclones affecting those I cherish and so many others. 50 Plus Marketplace published my poem about the fires in Colorado on page 7 (see link below):

February 7th in history: Sinclair Lewis, the first American novelist to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was born on February 7, 1885. 

January in Fiction

In 2022, this blog will address the months of the year, what their names mean, what they symbolize, and how authors use them in novels. I am a ponderer, using writing to work through my thought processes and to make choices about directions to take. I use symbols, visuals, and language to build levels of meaning. I like to figure things out for myself. My goal in choosing this topic is to delve more deeply into how I am using the months in my own writing.

The Origins of “January”

In early Rome, the citizens venerated the god Janus, whom they believed opened the heavenly gates at dawn and closed them at dusk.  Janus thus ruled over all beginnings, gates, doors, and other entrances.  The god was depicted as having one head with a face looking forward and a second face looking backward. Rome was known for its “Jani,” free-standing ceremonial gates through which armies could leave the city or return. During this early period, the months were divided into Kalends—which marked the first phases of the moon, Nones—the next phase, Ides—the full moon of the month, and the remaining days were called market days. Eventually, the name January, derived from Janus, came to mark the first month of the year in the Roman Republican, Julian, and Gregorian calendars. It is a fitting name to mark the beginning of our current calendar system which is designed to include 365 days with a leap year every four years to make up for the differential in the time it takes for the earth to circle the sun.

Uses of January in Current Fiction

Months can be used to set the mood. Because January is known as “the cruelest month,” Jean Hanff Korelitz in The Plot, uses the month of January for the setting of a writing retreat in “a snowbound latter-day spa town.” When the protagonist, Jacob, drives into the parking lot behind the creative arts center, the roads are icy, his Prius is losing its power, the hill is steep, and he is not feeling optimistic. The reactions that the visiting writers have to the cold weather reveal both their bad manners and unwillingness to cooperate.

Months can also be used to set clues throughout a novel. In These Toxic Things, Rachel Howzell Hall uses calendar dates to mark murders that occurred over a long period: “The second result leads me to an even briefer article on Beverly Prescott from Galveston, Texas. Found January 1, 1979, she was discovered near the Framers Export grain elevator as investigators combed through debris after an explosion that killed eighteen people. But Prescott’s autopsy confirmed that her death happened before December 29, and that the initials DD had been carved into her back.” The dates and times provide hints about the murderer’s history of violence.

January can also be used to set a historical stage or demarcate endings and beginnings across cultures. In Finding the Bones, Avery Russell describes Americans’ general lack of awareness of the status of events in Europe during the early period of the First World War: “Resettled in the Village by early January 1915, Charlie had entered an intellectual and artistic milieu grown more conscious of itself as a cultural influence and, thanks to England’s having cut the cables between Germany and America, immured in a cheerful solipsism.”

January in My Fiction

In one of my novels, events that occur in January lead the protagonist to change her place of residence. In another, soldiers return from the war. I am still working out the placement of January in my third novel.

My Writing Goals for 2022

Publish my second book of poetry:

This year, I plan to publish my second volume of poetry.

Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:

I am working on the secondary characters in this book.

Continue to work on my other novels:

I continue to do research and some writing each month.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: Kate Jonuska—the author of The Dictionary of Fiction Critique, Transference, and a collaborator on several anthologies—wrote an informative article on BWA for the December 2021, Boulder Magazine. At the end of December 2021, I was elected to serve as president of BWA for 2022.

Denver Women’s Press Club:

I provided a DWPC member with feedback on 25 pages of her work. In return, she will give me feedback on 25 pages in February.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I read the RMFW newsletter and follow the links to other writers’ blogs.

Women Writing the West: I might join a WWW novel critique group in 2022. I follow their discussions.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, a blog per month in 2022:

Today is January 7, 2022, I am posting my first blog of 2022 which is my 49th blog on writing fiction since I began on January 1, 2018. I would like to wish my readers a Happy New Year, however, given the way 2021 ended for so many, I am inclined to share the Chinese blessing, “May you live in boring times.” 

Joy and Sorrow in Fiction

Throughout 2021, I have discussed a range of human emotions in this blog. As I have read novels over the past year, it has been enlightening to observe how different authors approach the emotional aspects of their work. It seems appropriate to end this series with a discussion of joy and sorrow. Joy abounds during the holiday season because we enjoy holiday music, visit with friends and relatives, and welcome the tradition of holiday candles and lights that brightens the dark days of December. Then again sorrow often flows below the surface, an underlying current of memories of loved ones who are no longer here, opportunities lost, or sad events which occurred. As authors choose their themes, characters, and plotlines, joy and sorrow present creative avenues to consider.

What Is Joy?

As I have thought about how to use joy in my fiction, I have realized that it is an emotion that is personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal. Joy is a state of mind, a goal, a realization, or a reward. At the personal level, a state of joy may be achieved through meditation. Meditative states of joy involve serenity, bliss, ecstasy, and potentially rapture. Interpersonally, joy may be a simple pleasure in another’s company. It may be the gladness or elation one feels when a friend or loved one returns home. Transpersonal joy goes beyond the personal and interpersonal to a consciousness of humanity, to the mystical, and even to the paranormal. Joy arises when one feels the thrill of celebration for athletes’ success at the Olympics. We experience joy when seeing the life’s work of an artist or hearing a musician’s new symphony.

Joy impacts different aspects of a person or character. At the personal level, joy is experienced as an emotion. As a simple personal emotion, joy is an experience of extreme pleasure, gladness, or bliss. It could be as simple as enjoying a beautiful sunset or sunrise. Joyful decisions may relate to finding what brings one a thrill of ecstasy from taking a risk and succeeding, to meeting one’s heartthrob, to finding one’s path in life. At the interpersonal level, joy is enacted through an exchange of responses. A joyful response may express gladness, celebration, or gratitude for something someone else has done. At the transpersonal level, joy is the result of decisions made in the act of figuring out how to live one’s life. Do we seek a life of service? Do we join a spiritual community? Do we explore a universe of possibilities?

What Is Sorrow?

Like joy, sorrow is experienced personally, interpersonally, and transpersonally. Sorrow is a state of mind that occurs from loss, disappointment, or torment. Personal sorrow may arise as simple sadness, feeling gloomy, or being in low spirits. A character who is sad because of unmet goals may express discouragement, appear to be morose, or be depressed. Tears may fall.

Interpersonal sorrow is often based on mourning the loss of a loved one, distress about what is happening in the world, or regret for one’s misdeeds. Depending upon the cultural norms of the group, interpersonal sorrow may manifest in silent grieving, formal laments, or outright wailing. Transpersonal sorrow might manifest as mental anguish, regret, or despair. This type of sorrow is evident during public mourning for the loss of a spiritual leader, a beloved leader of the people, or the failure of a national space project, such as the loss of the Challenger which killed a civilian schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe, in 1986.

How Are Joy and Sorrow Used in Current Fiction?

In fiction, joy and sorrow may be used as themes that interweave, as intermittent descriptions, or to define characters. Joy and sorrow are often intimately linked or juxtaposed.

In All that Is Secret, a unique mystery novel set in Denver, Colorado, Patricia Raybon ties joy and sorrow together. Sorrow motivates the protagonist and drives the plot of the story. Annalee leaves Chicago for Denver to unravel the mystery of her father’s death. Her sorrow about losing her father is sincere and reoccurring. She experiences joy when she connects with Jack Blake.

In Have You Seen Luis Velez by Catherine Ryan Hyde, joy is expressed in the sense of a bodily memory of pleasure when Raymond takes Millie out for brunch. The blind woman tastes something she loves again for the first time in years. Raymond experiences joy at connecting with Millie. However, sorrow is very present in the book because a beloved person is murdered. The shock of her friend’s death causes Millie to suffer from a resurgence of the pain she experienced during the horrors of her childhood. However, the main character’s ability to connect positively with others ends up bringing joy to their new community of friends.

In a quirky collection of Japanese short stories, Where the Wild Ladies Are, by Aoko Matsuda, joy is attached to eating food—delicious creamy cakes. The juxtaposition of the joy of eating with the integration of ghosts in the stories is perplexing but intriguing.

In James McBride’s Deacon King Kong, the cop, Potts, experiences joy when he meets Sister Gee and realizes when she laughs that it is like seeing “a silent mountain suddenly spring to life.” McBride links joy with sorrow when Potts immediately senses that he wants to tell Sister Gee “every sorrow he ever knew.”

How Do Joy and Sorrow Manifest in My Fiction?

In one of my novels, I deal with transpersonal joy and sorrow. The main character experiences sorrow through the personal loss of loved ones, then joy in finding her path. In another novel, I deal with personal sorrow which becomes motivational for the main character. And, in my third novel, interpersonal joy and sorrow are at play.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month I revised some chapters that integrate joy and sorrow.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

In November, I reedited the most sorrowful chapter.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

In November, I reread chapters that I thought used joy or sorrow.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

This month, I accomplished some minor edits of the workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: 

This month I worked on increasing membership in the organization and identifying potential leaders.

Denver Women’s Press Club:

I decided to join a critique group with other DWPC members in January 2022.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers:

I read the newsletter and other members’ blogs.

Women Writing the West: 

I filled out a survey for WWW.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is December 7, 2021, I am posting my twelfth blog of 2021. This month I have been pondering what the New Year 2022 will look like for me. Will I continue writing this blog? Will I choose to do something entirely different? Will I finally finish the novels I have been working on? Will I set a poetry goal? Fortunately, I have most of the month of December to make my decisions.

Attraction and Aversion in Fiction

Humans use the five senses to determine if something attracts or repels them. The sight of a beautiful sunset is inviting while the site of a rushing flood elicits horror. The smell of a rose delights our senses while the smell of a skunk disgusts us. The sound of a church bell ringing invites our attention while the raucous blaring car horns causes us to shudder. The taste of chocolate is alluring to most people while the taste of fried liver is repugnant to many. Touching a puppy’s or kitten’s soft coat is appealing to most people while touching the rough skin of an alligator would be repulsive to most.

This sensory aspect of attraction and aversion contributes to our use of the terms in both physical and emotional associations. Interpersonal attraction refers to relationships between friends, colleagues, and romantic relationships. Friends might be drawn together because they share a fondness for certain activities, items, or geographical areas. Colleagues are drawn together because they have a predilection for a particular career, subject matter, or way of working together. Sexual attraction seems to have a magnetic pull on both individuals involved. Friends, enemies, and things that attract or repel us make good topics for fiction.

What Is Attraction?

Attraction is a concept with both scientific and emotional aspects. On the scientific side, the word is used in physics to refer to magnetism which occurs in iron, nickel, steel, and cobalt. Because the Earth’s core is made of magnetic iron, magnetism is an essential aspect of life on Earth. A magnet has an invisible magnetic field defined as a north and south pole. North and south are poles attracted to each other and draw together until they meet. Thus, the common statement “opposites attract.” The north poles of different magnets repel each other as do two south poles.

Writing on this topic has made me wonder if we humans carry a magnetic charge. I am curious as to whether some people experience an actual magnetic pull toward each other or, on the other hand, experience being magnetically repelled one from the other. Personally, I have experienced both unexplainable situations. I looked online and discovered that some scientists have identified electromagnetic forces in our bodies and that others carry out research on the possibility that humans are able to perceive magnetic fields as birds and insects do.

What Is Aversion?

Aversion is a synonym for repulsion, disgust, revulsion, nausea, loathing, repugnance, dislike, or abhorrence. In relationships, it tends to reflect either dislike or disapproval. I suppose there is a continuum of aversion moving from mild to extreme. For example, the dislike continuum might extend from simple disinclination or displeasure to distaste and disgust, to outright animosity, antipathy, hatred, or loathing.

Aversion refers to being repelled by something either mechanically, physically, or emotionally. Aversion is not conducive to relationships between friends, colleagues, and romantic partners. A hint of disgust is certain to cause cracks in a relationship.

How do Attraction and Aversion Play Out in Fiction?

In fiction, the aspect of attraction can be used positively as a motivator or negatively as a lure. If protagonists are attracted to success, it can become the driving force that motivates them throughout the story. If they are attracted to each other, romance becomes the engine of the story. On the other hand, if the antagonist wants to cause trouble, the story may involve ensnaring the unsuspecting protagonist into a trap or various intrigues.

Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s translator, says that one aspect of aversion is that it creates a negative cycle. This negativity could be reproduced in the plot, in relationships between characters, and even in the setting of a scene.  In fiction, this can be used to create negative feedback cycles with characters who don’t like each other or perhaps with characters involved in a relationship that is beginning to break apart.

Attraction and Aversion in Current Fiction

Martin Amis’ novel Inside Story depicts a scene of sexual attraction between a young man and woman who do not know each other. The man is simply passing by on the street when he spies a woman talking in a phone booth. He starts to walk past but is so attracted to her that he returns. He stands on the sidewalk waiting to engage with her when she exits the booth. His attraction is described through internal dialog.

Rachel Howell Hall’s novel, These Toxic Things, uses attraction and aversion regarding sartorial style, choices of technology, individuals of different races, and relationships between characters.    

In Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart uses aversion in settings, the most gripping being a scene in an abandoned mine surrounded by black greasy muck. Shuggie’s older brother pulls him out and saves his life.                                                                                      

In The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett, attraction and aversion are themes that flow throughout the novel. Bennett illustrates who is attracted to whom and why. One identical twin is attracted to a white man which enables her to escape from her aversive poverty. The other is attracted to a dark black man who fathers a dark daughter. Her husband’s violence forces his wife to leave him, take their daughter, and return to her family home. One sister’s daughter is attracted to a white transexual; the other sister’s daughter has a love affair with a black man from Africa. Bennet forces readers to make decisions about their own understanding of race and socio-economic conditions.

Attraction and Aversion in My Fiction

In my first novel, a young man is attracted to a young woman who is completely oblivious to his approach. In another, parents force a daughter to marry someone she finds objectionable. In a third novel, a woman uses her own sexuality to attract and cause mayhem. As I have worked on this concept of creating attraction and aversion in fiction, I have realized that it also applies to attracting or distancing readers, as well as forcing them to think about what is happening in the novel as Bennett so successfully did.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month I worked on the use of attraction and aversion in a scene.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month I edited a section to clarify elements of attraction and aversion.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I rewrote an important scene adding emotional aversion to the issue at hand. It worked. The rewritten scene gave me a stomach ache.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

This month, I did not work on the Workbook. Instead, I worked on marketing my Moon Chimes poetry book in local book stores. It is already available on Amazon.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: I attended a Steering Committee meeting, took over some membership tasks, and met with our webmaster.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I am in discussion with some members regarding a potential critique group.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: Even though I didn’t attend the conference, I followed what was happening on FaceBook and Twitter.

Women Writing the West: The conference was held online. The sessions with authors, editors, and agents were excellent. As a first-time attendee, I felt included and participated in the discussions. The authors’ research-based knowledge of the Western USA was impressive.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is November 7, 2021, I am posting my eleventh blog of 2021. This month, I have felt that I am barely hanging on as the roller coaster of life flies along. My writing helps to center me. It helps to shift my focus to practical questions of how to recreate reality in my fiction.

Peace and Violence in Fiction

Peace and violence are daily aspects of human life on this planet. Naturally, they both appear in fiction as themes, descriptions, and genres. Writers are challenged to figure out how to integrate opposite ends of the peace-violence continuum in a particular novel. Too much peace may bore the reader. Too much violence moves the story into the grossly absurd. Different approaches are particularly visible in films which the Motion Picture Association rates to communicate a film’s suitability for various audiences. “Peace” does not merit a rating, while even a G-rated film may have minimal violence. In PG-rated films, violence may occur if it is not intense. In PG-rated films some intense violence is admitted. In R-rated films the violence is allowed to be realistic and extreme throughout the film. Novels, on the other hand, are not rated according to such a system. It is up to the writer and the reader to decide how much peace and how much violence they can abide.

Peace in Fiction

How might “peace” be defined in fiction? Peace occurs during a time of tranquility, repose, or calm. It usually refers to an absence of overt action or movement, although mediation is action taken to assure peaceful transitions. It is a state that applies to individuals, groups, and the weather. A writer can use the concept of peace in different ways in fiction. Peace might describe a personal state of being, interpersonal relationships, or societal harmony. In fiction, peace might also be used to set a scene, a time, or a mood. I just read a quote by Ferdinand Denis that I liked: “Temperance is a tree whose roots are composed of contentment and whose fruits are calm and peace.” Thus, peace is a synonym of contentment.

A description of a peaceful character could apply to a state of being or to a state of action. A peaceful person might simply be enjoying a rocking chair on a warm, windless summer day. A character may prefer tranquility to going out to a bar. Another might embrace peace as a concept and a desirable social state of being. Such a character might be depicted as a participant in a peace march, as a pacifist, or politically as a peacenik.

Peaceful interpersonal relationships could refer to harmony or simply the absence of conflict within families, friends, or couples. Societal harmony could refer to periods that were historically peaceful, contemporary moments, or future utopias.

If a writer wants to set a scene that is peaceful, a description of a tranquil day uninterrupted by sounds or strife would suffice. The scene could be a calm morning with a gentle breeze or a still evening with lengthening shadows descending over the hillside. The purpose of the scene would be to create a tranquil mood.

Social harmony usually refers to a period without or between wars. It could also refer to a cease fire during a war. To write about a peaceful time, the story could be intimate or social. A couple could be enjoying a serene afternoon having tea. A family could be spending a pleasant Sunday afternoon gathered on the porch drinking lemonade. A historical scene might reflect the harmony that follows the end of a war or the celebration of an armistice.

Violence in Fiction

When related to human behaviors, violence is usually defined as a force used to injure, damage, destroy, or as extreme roughness of action. It also refers to unjust or callous use of power as in violating another’s rights or sensibilities. Violence is also used to mean a great force or strength of feeling, conduct, or expression, a twisting or wrenching of sense or form, as in “to do violence to a text.” Regarding nature, violence refers to an intense, explosive forces such as the wind, the rain, earthquakes, or floods.

My favorite French dictionary, Le Petit Robert, adds another interesting meaning to the word violence: to do violence to oneself is to constrain oneself to an opinion that is contrary to what one thinks spontaneously. It also adds examples of the violence of feelings, desires, and manners of expression. I love Le Petit Robert because it gives literary examples of the meanings of words. For example, Rolland wrote that “Violence is the law of brutes.”

Bernice King, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, recently tweeted: “Starving a child is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.” In other words, Bernice King clarified that discrimination is violence, as is a failure to act in peaceful, helpful ways.

In fiction as in life, violence occurs in family relationships, interpersonal relationships, and relationships between parts of society. When violence occurs domestically, it occurs along a continuum, allowing the writer to create different levels of tension among family members. It might be in the form of reserve rather than intimacy. It might be coolness, coldness, or bitterness between spouses or siblings. It might develop into physical abuse.

In more public interpersonal relationships, violence might be expressed through rejection or unsociability, a frosty expression, verbal antagonism, rancor, or deliberate inhospitality. Extreme forms of violence might begin with vicious words, forceful behaviors, then progress through various forms of aggression. A violent interaction might be verbally pugnacious, then progress to physical cruelty, brutality, or even savagery.

When a writer is depicting large scale societal violence, the continuum tends to range from local conflict between groups to area divisions to confrontations or actual battle between states. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an example of local violence that has societal implications. The societal violence in the story of the Alamo in the area that split Texas from Mexico has generated many different historical novels. Myriad examples of novels treat the violence of World War I and World War II. Science fiction novels tend to treat interstellar violence.

Peace and Violence in Current Fiction

Maggie O’Harrell’s novel, Hamnet, has beautiful examples of peace and violence. In one scene, Agnes returns to a peaceful, moss-covered hideaway next to a river she has loved since she was a child to give birth alone and unattended. The novel also has a scene of familial violence. The father has warned his son to stay clear and safely far away from his grandfather. At a crucial point in the story, the grandson is desperate to ask his grandfather something and enters his study. The grandfather lures the child closer, grabs him, and hits him, injuring his forehead.

In The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, peace and violence are threaded throughout the novel. Two family relationships, one between a father and his daughter and the other between a father and his adopted son, form the basis of the plot. Both fathers’ relationships with their respective children are based on psychological and physical violence that carry the plot through to the end. A secondary character finds peace and quiet only when he climbs a giant tree which gives him a broad perspective on the world and the circus.

Another novel I read this past month, Finding the Bones by Avery Russell posits a return to home as a way to find personal peace, although this bliss is shattered by a violent psychological act on the part of the protagonist’s former lover.

Peace and Violence in My Fiction

One of my novels takes place after World War I, thus the violence and damage of the war has scarred the characters. Another of my novels takes place during the Great Depression in the USA, as a result, the violence tends to occur between individuals who lack what they need. And the third takes place during a period of American violence abroad which instigates daily expressions of violence at home, both of which affect the characters.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month, I have studied more about the philosophy of this novel.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I worked on a violent scene that occurs in the novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I made a minor addition to this novel.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

This month, I did not work on this project.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: 

I attended the Steering Committee Meeting. I also attended part of the Writers Who Read discussion of Maggie O’Harrell’s Hamnet.

Denver Women’s Press Club:

The DWPC sessions are in person this year, so I won’t be able to attend. However, I gained important information from the DWPC e-newsletter about marketing books locally.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: 

To my great disappointment, RMFW canceled the virtual portion of their October conference. However, the BWA newsletter team collaborated with the co-chairs of the RMFW conference to feature it in the Boulder Writers Alliance e-newsletter.

Women Writing the West:

I am looking forward to the WWW virtual conference this week.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021

Today is October 7, 2021, I am posting my tenth blog of 2021. Fall has arrived. The air is clear and bright. Fortunately, my brain always seems clearer in the autumn than in the summer. I spent some time this month marketing my poetry book, Moon Chimes. With other non-writing projects finally completed, I anticipate having more time to devote to my own writing this month.

Anticipation and Surprise in Fiction

What is Anticipation in Fiction?

Anticipation is an element of style in which the author deliberately sets up the passage to lead the reader to think that something is likely to happen (or not to happen) or to be said (or not to be said). It is used to create interest in the story line and to draw the reader into the story. Anticipation also helps the reader follow the characters’ progression as the story unfolds. As I have thought about how to use anticipation in my fiction, I have tried to learn how to apply it to action, the characters’ arcs, and to the dialog to involve my readers emotionally as they read.

Anticipation and Action in Fiction

Which aspects of anticipation have to do with action? Anticipation is related to suspense, potential prospects, and the probability that something will occur or not in the story line. The means that the writer must understand how to create suspense, how to lay out potentialities for each character, and suggest through techniques, such as foreshadowing, that the action will or will not develop in a certain way.

Anticipation is also connected to characters’ beliefs and their ability to react to what happens. Do they move quickly to intervene, to attack, to fight back? Do they enter a room alertly? Do they respond immediately with sensitivity when another character is in emotional or physical pain?  Does an action move the story along, interrupt, or redirect what the reader anticipates? The use of anticipation in fiction writing involves the reader as an active problem solver in the unveiling of the action.

Anticipation and Character Arc

Character arcs must be developed for the protagonists and antagonist that illustrate each one’s acuity and perceptiveness (or lack thereof) regarding each one’s ability to anticipate what will happen in their own life stories. The writer must communicate to the reader the characters’ soft spots, what they hope for, what they are eager to do, what they are passionate about, or if they are fanatical about something.

Readers also want to know how keen characters are about pursuing something, the intensity of their passion, or if their desires are going to get them into trouble. Once readers know the depth of the characters’ courage and enthusiasm as well as their weaker areas, they can anticipate the likelihood or the improbability of characters’ successful course of action.

Anticipation and Dialog

Anticipation can be built into dialog by creating characters who are astute or clueless. They might be responsive or not. They might hang with bated breath on the words of others or ignore all nonverbal signals sent in a conversation. Characters’ ability to anticipate will depend on their alertness and sensitivity to what other say. Are the characters quick responders? Are they perceptive? Are they intelligent? If they are, they can anticipate what others are going to say or do. If they are contrary or negative, both the characters and the reader may be surprised and forced to figure how to respond to them.

What is Surprise in Fiction?

Generally, people are surprised when they encounter something unexpected. The experience might range from wonder to amazement to being scared out one’s wits. Personally, I don’t like surprises. They can have a negative or a positive valance. Of course, they occur, but even the happy ones can be unnerving.

Surprise is related to anticipation in the sense that if characters think something is going to happen and it doesn’t, they may be disappointed. If they think something is not going to happen and it does, they might be shocked. Thinking about the relationship of surprise to anticipation in fiction lead me to figure out how to apply it to action, character arc, and dialog as well.

Surprise in Action

Surprise in action can be the result of interruption, disruption, or intrusion. Whatever characters are doing, another character, something mechanical, or a sound could interrupt them. They might be simply bothered, annoyed, or distracted. If they are completely disrupted and caught unawares, they are likely to be scared or frightened. If someone or something intrudes on them unexpectedly, the action will take a new direction.

Surprise in Character Arc

Characters are likely to experience surprise as shock, astonishment, or as revelation. Each response could affect how their transit through the story occurs. A startling event such as an accident or death might occur. A disruption might ensue in the middle of a sober scene or at the end of a chapter.

When surprise manifests as astonishment, something completely unexpected might happen. For example, winning the lottery, a partner announcing an unexpected departure, or another character doing something completely out of character, such as throw a party.

Regarding revelation, the impact depends on a character’s relationship with another. A character might be shocked by an unexpected disclosure, behavior, or report from a friend. Or they might not be surprised at all, if they have already surmised what is going on.

Surprise in Dialog

Dialog can be written to show characters’ level of surprise. Are they simply flummoxed? Amazed, stunned, bowled over, or dazed? Of are they so shocked that they are rendered speechless? What can cause a character to be surprised? Another character might reveal something that was unknown. Something the character was unaware of may be exposed. A friend might leak information about a secret. A partner might be caught having an affair.

Characters’ reactions to the surprising event can be portrayed through their astonishment. A revelation might unnerve them. However, the surprise transpires, the other characters will be obliged to attempt to soothe or comfort or perhaps even abandon the interlocutor.

Anticipation and Surprise in Current Fiction

In Shuggie Bain (winner of the 2021 Booker Prize), Douglas Stuart uses both anticipation and surprise in his development of action, dialog, and character beginning on page one. Anticipation and surprise in the action is evident when the family moves to a new house that has its own door (as opposed to an apartment building). Each family member anticipates what might occur. The wife dresses up because she believes she is moving up in society. The children anticipate having new friends. The husband thinks he is moving them to an attractive place. Unfortunately, they are all surprised by the blackness, ugliness, lack of privacy, and abandonment they encounter.

Another excellent example is in the hospital scene when Shuggie questions a nurse about his grandfather going to heaven. He wonders what kind of vehicle his grandfather will ride in on his way to heaven. The nurse explains that only the soul goes to heaven. Surprise is used when Shuggie expresses relief that only the soul goes because he is worried about how his own body has been defiled by an older boy.

Another good example of surprise in character arc in the novel occurs when Shuggie, at the age of eight, is saved from bullies by a larger nine-year-old girl. He is grateful. Annie invites him to her place to play with her plastic ponies. Shuggie enjoys playing with the little girl and loves the pink and purple ponies. However, he is horrified to learn that his mother comes to interact with Annie’s disgusting drunk father. His horror turns to anger and when Annie leaves the room, he steals two of the toy ponies.

Anticipation and Surprise in My Fiction

As I look at my manuscripts, it is clear to me that anticipation and surprise are not my strong points in action, character development, or dialog. Because my awareness of the need for these aspects in writing a novel has been heightened, I need to do some rewriting. Anticipation and surprise keep the action, character arcs, and dialog moving along which keeps the reader guessing.  

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month, I rewrote several passages to introduce anticipation and surprise.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I spent some time developing a map of my fictional town.  

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I wrote another section of this novel.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I didn’t work on this project this month.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance:  Because I am stepping down as vice president, I offered to serve as membership chair in 2022. I line edited the newsletter for September 1, 2021. I attended the Writers Who Read group on Zoom where we had a lively discussion of Shuggie Bain.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I wrote a small piece about the DWPC to be published in the September 2021 issue of the Boulder Writers Alliance Newsletter. I communicated with the president of DWPC.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: 

I read Kelley J. P. Lindberg’s and Jason Evan’s blogs. In “Don’t Toss Those Writing Fragments” Kelley suggests that you save drafts so you can integrate them or repurpose them later. Interestingly, I just read a tweet by Stephen King who revealed that a story he wrote in college was repurposed as the prologue of Salem’s Lot.

Jason’s blog was about “Managing Your Author Platform.”

Women Writing the West:

I paid my registration fee for the online virtual conference on October 7-9, 2021. I also voted in the annual election. I read the WWW newsletter.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is September 7, 2021, I am posting my ninth blog of 2021. August has been another month of stressful news: fires, earthquakes, floods, evacuations, hurricanes, tornadoes, and needless deaths. I do my best to not anticipate disaster and am happily surprised when a day goes by without one. I also try (As Mr. Roger’s mother reputedly said) to “Look for the helpers.” There are always many. Additionally, I try to be a helper when I am able.

Contempt and Shame in Fiction

When I started studying up on contempt and shame as ways to portray characters’ interactions, I realized that their enactment encompasses a continuum of behaviors that I had never thought of as specifically contemptuous or shaming. The enactment of both contempt and shame requires both an actor and a receiver. Both run the gamut from a static level of behavior, through a deliberate action, to a deliberately aggressive form of conduct. If you had ever asked me if I treated individuals with contempt, I would have said “No, of course not.” However, I must admit to being guilty of the lowest level of my own continuum. I’ve been told that writers come to know themselves better through writing. I am finding that sometimes my writing holds up a mirror in which I see my own face reflected with a shocked expression.

What Is Contempt?

My own definition of what I am calling “indeterminant or static contempt” involves contempt that one feels for another silently without acting on that contempt. In other words, the other person may not be aware of the contemptuous person’s stance because it is more about mannerisms than about acting it out. This low level static contempt might be unobservable, though it involves a feeling of disapproval or discontentment. I have certainly felt disapproval of others. I have been discontented with a variety of individuals throughout my lifetime. However, when disapproval is not voiced or not directed at the receiver, it may go unnoticed.

Even stronger indeterminant contempt might be disdain, condescension, aloofness, haughtiness, snobbery, pomposity, or supercilious arrogance—all mannerisms visible to the observant. However, the receiver may just assume that the condescending person enacting contempt is simply an arrogant snob and not interpret the snootiness as a reaction to his or her own behavior.

An extreme level of static contempt on the other hand would create discomfort between two people. The receiver would notice that the deliverer seems to be repulsed by his or her presence. The receiver might sense the dislike the deliverer of contempt is expressing. The receiver might sense the realty that the deliverer of contempt would prefer not to be engaged.

The intermediate type of contempt—what I am calling “active contempt”—involves deliberate movement, word choice, and expression of contempt regarding another person. Perpetrators might directly ridicule, sneer at, or mock a person. They may choose to diss or belittle someone in person. They may put someone down. They may physically spurn or rebuff someone. With a parent, they may be insolent or impertinent. I have never thought of teenage behavior as contemptuous, but according to my definition here, it is. Active contempt might also be indirect. In this case, the perpetrator, may ridicule, belittle, or scorn one individual when talking to someone else. Gossip is an example of indirect active contempt.

Aggressive contempt is the most extreme enactment of contempt because it has such a negative effect on both the perpetrator and the receiver. The aggressive continuum begins with feelings of aversion, loathing, disapproval, displeasure, hatred, or disgust. It moves toward nonverbal expressions of repugnance, antipathy, animosity, disrespect, or revulsion. In its most deadly form, aggressive contempt involves real-time actions against another person, such as refusing to interact with them or turning them down for a position or a request. It could also involve censuring them verbally, as well as publicly.

Unfortunately, in the USA in the last four years, aggressive contempt has become more visible, particularly regarding issues of language, gender, and race. A particular racist version of contemporary aggressive contempt is a perpetrator feeling antipathy for a stranger who is just going about minding their own business. Perpetrators, sometimes now called “Karens,” might stick their nose into some else’s business. Such individuals might report an innocent person of color to the authorities for exhibiting normal daily actions—such as shopping for groceries with their child.

What is Shame? 

While contempt tends to be inappropriately directed at others, shame has a personal, internal aspect as well as a hostile public manifestation. Shame is a difficult concept to understand because it can be experienced personally at the emotional and physical level where it has a visible physical manifestation—blushing. This personal aspect of shame can be viewed as a sign of simple awkwardness, as a manifestation of extreme modesty or bashfulness, as embarrassment, or even as a sense of mortification in the presence of others. Most people blush, that is, their faces turn red when they are experiencing shame in this personal way. Because their discomfort is obvious to others, they experience their own shame as a loss of face.

My second category for shame involves one or more persons shaming one or more persons with the goal of tarnishing someone’s reputation. A low level of shaming may involve idle thoughtless talk about another person. A middle level might include serious chin wagging or gossip. A more serious type of shaming might consist of spreading tales about someone or rumormongering.  

My third category for shame involves the effect one suffers from being shamed by another person or group. When a person experiences this kind of shaming, the impact might be personal. If individuals suffer the low level of shaming, they might be simply uncomfortable, but it might also destroy their confidence in themselves or in others. If they are the subject of gossip or rumormongering, they may be confounded by the experience, offended, or mortified. At the worst level of shaming, they are likely to fear that their reputation has been destroyed. If they fear a negative impact on their family or community, they might feel dishonored by the public disgrace. If the shaming is a severe case of slander, which probably creates a scandal, victims might be forced to protect their reputations and defend their honor publicly or in the court system.

Contempt and Shame in Current Fiction

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor in The Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston, has studied the effect of shame in individuals’ lives. She states that, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” Secrecy, silence, and judgment work well to create tension in a novel. These aspects are visible in Cho Nam-Joo’s novel, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982.

In fact, in Cho’s novel, contempt and shame are both subthemes to the main theme of feminism in a Korean setting. I had never considered sexism as a synonym for contempt until I started reading Cho’s novel while I was working on this blog. In one heart-wrenching scene in the novel, a mother chooses to abort a female fetus because only male children are valued. If only male children are valued, females are the objects of societal and even parental contempt. Likewise in the novel, shaming is used as a weapon to control young women. At school, in public, and even at home, teenage girls are shamed if their skirts are too short or if a strange man approaches them on the street. Jiyoung, the protagonist, struggles mightily with the mixed messages she receives from parents and teachers because some are silent while others are judgmental. Later as a young mother, she is shamed for having a daughter instead of a son. She is also shamed by family and strangers for working outside the home when she has a child.

Contempt and Shame in My Novels

In my first novel, the antagonist operates in a contemptuous manner. Shaming is used to try to control the protagonist. In my second novel, the antagonist shows her contempt for others’ relationships. She also shames the protagonist. In my third novel, an oil company demonstrates its contempt for its employees.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month, I have studied more about my topic but I have not written or edited anything.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I have worked on descriptions of place for this novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I have not worked on this novel.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I did no work on the workbook this month.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: This month I met with the officers. I also met with the BWA Newsletter team. I chose not to attend BWA’s in-person socials at local restaurants.

Denver Women’s Press Club: DWPC had an in-person book sale this month, but I did not attend.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I listened to a podcast in which Mark Stevens interviewed John DeDakis. They discussed John’s work as a journalist and his success as a novelist. I also read several excellent RMFW blog posts on writing.

Women Writing the West. This month I decided to join an organization that is made up of members who write a variety of types of novels about the western United States. This is of interest to me because my novels take place in Colorado. I am already acquainted with two of the members. The WWW conference will be virtual this fall, so I will be able to attend online. Hopefully, I will learn how to better integrate salient aspects of the West into my stories, while connecting with some kindred spirits.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is August 7, 2021, I am posting my eighth blog of 2021. This month I have been cataloguing stacks of my book collection with the goal of donating the books.

The month of July has been a stressful month around the world. Belgian friends of mine managed to survive the flooding in Europe although they will be housing friends of theirs for months to come. In Colorado, we are suffering from the smoke from forest fires in the mountains and the West Coast, while dealing with mudslides that have closed Interstate 70.

Fortunately, Colorado has a high COVID-19 vaccine rate. In line with today’s theme, I have been doing my best not to feel contempt for those who do not “believe” in vaccines and not to shame the ones I know personally. I do choose to stay away from them. On a daily basis, I am reminded that life itself is filled with drama and tension, yet punctuated with flashes of hope and compassion.

Pride and Humility in Fiction

Once I won a prize for innovative work at a national conference. An older man from a Minnesotan Scandinavian background later took me aside and chastised me for expressing happiness rather than humility when I accepted the award. It goes without saying that his rebuke shocked and saddened me. My response when someone wins something related to their performance is to simply congratulate them on their success. However, this experience forced me to reconsider different traditions and expectations regarding pride and humility. It is important for writers to think about how humility and pride interact when structuring characters’ motivations, conflicts, and personalities.

Pride in Fiction

As concerns pride, writers must take several aspects into consideration. My interaction with the older man taught me to view pride from both positive and negative viewpoints. A positive aspect of pride is related to self-satisfaction with one’s performance, enjoying one’s own performance, and expressing gratitude for recognition of a performance well done. Another positive aspect of pride involves one’s self-respect, one’s dignity under pressure, feelings of self-esteem, or attending to one’s honor in a situation. In this positive sense, pride can be posited as the root of a character’s motivation.

Negative aspects of pride fall on the side of vanity or egotism. In this sense, pride mirrors arrogance or conceit. A character might be smug or self-important in relationship to others. Or  characters might be egotistical, viewing themselves as superior to other characters, and behaving in a pretentious manner. Condescension, haughtiness, or conceit also indicate pridefulness. Such negative aspects of pride can be used to create conflict with other characters in the story.

Humility in Fiction

When I explored humility, I observed that it falls along a continuum from what could be considered as good manners or behaviors on the positive side, to a normal type of genuineness, unpretentiousness, ingenuousness, and modesty at the midpoint of the continuum, to a form of wariness, inhibition, fearfulness, or uncommunicativeness on the negative side. On the good manners side, characters might demonstrate politeness or tact. At the midpoint of the continuum, they might be shy, submissive, or simply quiet. On the fearful end of the continuum, they might be coy or cagey. Their inhibitions or introversion might lead them to inappropriately comply in a bad situation.

Humility and Pride in Contemporary Fiction

An examination of how to use humility and pride in fiction shows how they can be applied to character development and setting. In Finding the Bones by Avery Russell, humility is rare while pride is portrayed in both the positive and negative senses. The protagonists work in the press corps in Philadelphia, New York, and Europe over the course of the novel. As they move up to better prints, they are pleased with their progress, despite being competitive with each other. The female protagonist demonstrates her personal pride in her style of dress and considers the male protagonist a bit frumpy. Pride is also evidenced in the main character’s love for his southern home and upbringing. Negative aspects of pride appear in the characters’ competitive viewpoints but also in their competitive amorous relationships. Humility in the novel was expressed in the portrayal of the protagonist’s mother whose wisdom was precious to her son.

Humility and Pride in My Fiction

In the first novel I am working on, humility is a theme and pride is a weakness of character in the antagonist. In my second novel pride and humility interplay in the protagonist’s work. He is humble about his work and never brags but experiences personal pride in a job well done. In my third novel, a character must overcome humility that begins as submissiveness and embrace the pride that can come from a challenge well met.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

This month, I expanded the protagonist’s experiences based on research I have been doing.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

I went on a field trip and took some reference photos of an area featured in the novel. I had never thought of doing this before. The views and sites renewed my desire to work on this novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

I didn’t work on this novel this month. However, another novel I read this month gave me some good ideas about how to use memory, imagination, and characters’ internal thoughts to develop the characters in this specific novel.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I rewrote several parts of the Moon Chimes Workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: This month the BWA Newsletter Committee met to plan our next edition which will come out in September. I also worked on organizing BWA’s summer in-person social. After meeting our May meeting, Gary Alan McBride’s Writers Who Read Group decided to take the summer off and regroup in September.

Denver Women’s Press Club: In June I watched a Zoom Fireside Chat, led by Marie Williams of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, that featured women who are in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Juana Bordas, a member of the DWPC, spoke about how important art is to maintain joy and love of one’s culture. She currently works on intergenerational leadership and encourages white allies to participate. Lauren Casteel, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, talked about how important love, humor, compassion, and kindness are to philanthropy. She guides the WFC to do the right thing for the greater good. Lily Nie spoke about bringing more than 12000 public school students through her Chinese cultural center to encourage collaboration and friendship with adoptees from China and from other countries.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I listened to a RMFW’s podcast facilitated by Mark Stevens. He interviewed the conference co-hosts, Kate Jonuska and Mira Landry. They discussed the new combination face-to-face/virtual RMFW Gold conference that is planned for October 2021. I plan to attend virtually. Also, I attended a Zoom workshop on “Navigating the Winding Road of Self-Publishing” by Karla M. Jay who writes and self-publishes historical fiction. Her guidance on marketing was invaluable. I also listened to Mark Stevens’ podcast with Rachel Howzell Hall who writes mysteries and novels about a Black woman detective in Los Angeles. I loved the discussion about her writing and plan to read one of her novels.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is July 7, 2021, I am posting my seventh blog of 2021. The cool weather we have experienced this month has been conducive to thinking and writing.

Appreciation and Envy in Fiction

Working with Appreciation

During the pandemic, I decided to devote time to appreciate the good people and experiences in my life. In May 2020, I started a gratitude journal. My goal was to write down a minimum of three things each day for which I was grateful. At first, it was difficult. My husband and I were staying home to be safe. He had broken his back in March. The pandemic raged around us. We had completely changed our shopping and entertainment habits. We hadn’t seen our friends or family for several months. Everyone was worried. Fortunately, no one close to us was sick. Thank goodness, little rays of sunshine floated in from Madagascar via videoconferencing on at least a tri-weekly basis as our daughter checked in on us to see how we were doing.

My efforts to express gratitude proved productive. I discovered that deliberately focusing on gratitude each day helped me to establish a positive mindset during a difficult period. This personal daily practice led me to ask myself, “What does appreciation have to do with fiction?”

Appreciation in Fiction

What exactly is appreciation? First it requires recognition, that is, identifying what one appreciates. For example, “I am glad you were willing to edit my book.” Second, it requires expression, “Thank you for your work on my project.” This expression may occur in face-to-face communication, in writing, or sometimes in solitude—as in prayer. While a person might feel appreciation, it is best to demonstrate it through action, express it orally, or through the written word. Sending flowers expresses appreciation. Words of respect, gratitude, or admiration communicate appreciation. For example, readers might articulate the pleasure they experienced upon reading a book by filling out an online review form. But how does a writer integrate appreciation when composing a novel? Does appreciation have a place in theme, character, or action in fiction?

Themes are often about what characters cherish or treasure, that is, what they appreciate. Even though I had never thought about it this way before, I realized that in books I have read recently, appreciation is often a central, if hidden, theme. In The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, the family values education. In The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, the main characters prize old manuscripts. In The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams, the lexicographers relish words and their etymologies.

Protagonists’ motivations might be based on what they appreciate. Their actions might derive from what they value. Antagonists on the other hand might be motivated by displeasure or disapproval. They might criticize or scorn the main character. Their contempt might be at the base of their damaging actions.

Plot and action might also be based on appreciation. Consider the enduring story of Raiders of the Lost Ark which is based on the value or appreciation of a historical treasure. The writers took readers’ interest in the lost ark and aligned it with their appreciation for an exciting competition. Thus, the race between competing good guys—Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood— and bad guys—the rival archeologist and the Nazis—created an action film that viewers watch again and again.

Envy in Fiction

Envy on the other hand involves desire for what someone else has. Remember the Tenth Commandment about not coveting anything thy neighbor has? On this point, I see a parallel between Christianity and Buddhism because one of the three poisons in Buddhism is defined as desire, greed, or attachment, that is, coveting. The person who covets is an envious person who resentfully wants what someone else has. This yearning creates painful behaviors, such as being suspicious or distrustful of others. The envious person is usually bitter about not being able to have what someone else has or to achieve what someone else has accomplished.

Does envy have a place in theme, character, or action in fiction? Clearly, envy can cause problems for self and others which makes it a workable theme in fiction, particularly for the antagonist. When writers think about motivating a character, the antagonist, for example, might be motivated by jealousy, possessiveness, or greed.

Appreciation and Envy in Current Fiction

In The Liar’s Dictionary, appreciation and envy are themes that interweave throughout the novel in professional and interpersonal relationships. Williams uses the word “appreciation” several times in the book. The appreciation theme is apparent in the lexicographers’ interest in meanings, forms, and uses of language. It also threads through her remarkable portrayals of amorous relationships when she describes individuals through the eyes of their lovers. I don’t recall reading the word “envy” in the novel, but it is the undercurrent that drives the creation of Swansby’s publishing house and its ultimate demise.

Envy surfaces in action when the antagonist takes steps to bring the protagonist down in some minor or major way. The inheritor of Swansby’s is envious of the success of other publishers of dictionaries in English. Even though he has inherited property and the publishing rights to the dictionary, he not only handles the situation poorly, but his yearning for fame leads to his own destruction.

In The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett, one twin envies the ease with which white people function in dominant white settings. She abandons her former life, her family, and her past to pass easily as a white woman with a wealthy white husband. Her identical twin instead marries a handsome dark man and produces a beautiful black child. Her child, who appreciates and values family relationships, serendipitously ends up participating in the same social setting as her long lost aunt and eventually brings the family back to the truth.

Appreciation and Envy in My Fiction

In my first novel, a loving relationship develops because partners appreciate the creative work the other one produces. Envy, on the other hand, leads the antagonist to malfeasance.

In my second novel, appreciation builds relationship between an old man and a group of young siblings. Envy creates friction when a drilling company wants to lease their parents’ land.

In my third novel, appreciation for each other’s talents leads two men to build a successful business. The antagonist’s envy leads to disaster.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the last month, I clarified my main character by studying more references to make sure she will be authentic as viewed by experts.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month I wrote a new chapter for my second novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month I reworked one character.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

The results of the contest I entered were announced. My poetry book, Moon Chimes, did not place.

I spent some time adding to and editing my Moon Chimes Workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: I worked with the BWA Newsletter Committee on the first edition of our newsletter which was e-published on June 1, 2021. In Gary Alan McBride’s Writers Who Read group, we analyzed The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.

Denver Women’s Press Club:  I attended a Zoom talk with Zaina Arafat, a Palestinian-American writer, who discussed her well received debut novel, You Exist Too Much. I appreciated one of her comments. She said, “Persistence means you keep going through resistance.” A good motto for all writers! I look forward to reading her novel.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I attended an extraordinarily helpful Zoom session titled: Between the Margins: A Critique Panel. Seven panelists, who have participated in critique groups over long periods, discussed the importance of sharing one’s writing with others. They emphasized the importance of listening to reviewers’ comments on what works or doesn’t work in a short piece of fiction. Although I have not yet participated in a critique group for fiction, I will join one when I am ready.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is June 7, 2021, I am posting my sixth blog of 2021.  Some of my regular monthly responsibilities are reduced over the summer months which has allowed me to devote more time to my writing. This month felt rewarding because I made some good progress.