Creative Writing, Writers, Writing, writing tips

How To Unleash the Power of Setting In Your Writing

I’m all about trying to improve my writing skills. The stacks of books, both virtual and physical, take up more than one shelf of my bookcase and four bookshelves in Kindle Fire. So, it is with great expectation that the new Urban and Rural Settings Thesaurus (I wonder if it’s ‘thesauri’) are now available.

As we storytellers sit before the keyboard to craft our magic, we’re usually laser-focused on the two titans of fiction: plot and character. Yet, there’s a third element that impacts almost every aspect of the tale, one we really need to home in on as well: the setting.

How would you describe this place to someone who’s never been here?

village in Italy, photo by Lou Levit,
Italy, photo by Lou Levit, unsplash.com, cc

The setting is so much more than a painted backdrop, more than a stage for our characters to tromp across during the scene. Used to its full advantage, the setting can characterize the story’s cast, supply mood, steer the plot, provide challenges and conflict, trigger emotions, help us deliver those necessary snippets of backstory…and that’s just scratching the surface. So the question is this: how do we unleash the full power of the setting within our stories?

Well, there’s some good news on that front. Two new books have released this week that may change the description game for writers. The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces and The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces look at the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds a character might experience within 225 different contemporary settings. And this is only the start of what these books offer writers.

In fact, swing by and check out this hidden entry from the Rural Setting Thesaurus: Ancient Ruins.

And there’s one more thing you might want to know more about….

Rock_The_Vault_WHW1Becca and Angela, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, are celebrating their double release with a fun event going on from June 13-20th called ROCK THE VAULT. At the heart of the Writers Helping Writers site is a tremendous vault, and these two ladies have been hoarding prizes of epic writerly proportions.

A safe full of prizes, ripe for the taking…if the writing community can work together to unlock it, of course.

Ready to do your part? Stop by Writers Helping Writers to find out more!
Don’t miss out on some fantastic prizes.

Art, Family, Latino culture, Latino Family Traditions, Writing

The Ortega Adobe – A House of Dreams

A couple of months ago I wrote about Ekphrasic Poetry. There is also such a thing as creating a story from a photograph, or Ekphrasic Prose.

This story is based on a painting housed in our county library. The Ortega Adobe is a California landmark that still stands 160 years after it was built.

Art Tales photo

                                                                     House of Dreams

 

María Conception awakened with a sharp intake of breath. Why did the man in her dream try to grasp her hand? He was a shadow, but his presence familiar.

The sun burned hot through the muslin curtains covering the window. She pulled her damp nightdress away from her chest and rose slowly, allowing her arthritic knees time to acclimate to movement. The clatter of pots, a knife chopping against a heavy board, and the kettle whistling sounded through the room.

Her legs moved slowly, shuffling towards the nightstand and the pitcher of water. After a rinse of cool water on her face, she stroked wet palms over her silver mane, twisted a rope of hair to the nape of her neck.

Buenas días, Doña María.” Her new daughter-in-law wiped her hands on a faded blue apron before she took an earthenware cup from the cupboard. “The coffee is ready.”

“Maybe today,” Maria Conception said noticing lines of worry across her daughter-in-law’s forehead. She sat heavily on the wood chair, its seat smoothed from years of use.

Both women cast glances towards the kitchen window, searching the sky for answers, wondering if bad weather approached or the bloated clouds were passing through. “I hope they return soon,” her daughter-in-law said.

Woven baskets filled with chiles sat next to the charcoal brazier, ready for roasting. “Canning day,” María Conception said. Soon, the familiar scent of burning coal and the sting of chile vapor rose, filling the home, before escaping through open windows.

María Conception instructed her daughter-in-law on the correct way to make chile sauce and the virtues of canning. She needed to know the Ortega family’s cooking secrets so she could provide for an unstable future when it arose. She began with the telling of the family history.

Their adobe, given to them in a land grant, stood on Chumash land spanning the years between Mexican territory and California statehood. Emigdio, María Conception’s husband, built the house.

She remembered the day he returned with his horse sweaty from pulling the carreta filled with redwood beams he found in an abandoned adobe in Rancho Sespe. Their river rock foundation would now have an equally sturdy roof. “A good home,” she said.

They raised thirteen children who worked their fields, tended the goats and provided for their needs.Their adobe withstood the flood of 1867 and the fire which burned their rafters of giant reed cane tied with rawhide. The odor lingered for months. The rugged beams survived, slightly scorched. “A miracle,” María Conception said.

Minutes passed to hours as the chile roasted, was peeled, and plucked clean of seeds. Unspoken anxiety stretched in the space between the two women. María Conception rocked in the oak chair her husband carved decades before. The rhythm, a comforting pulse, creaked to a stop.

A knock on the door boomed and paused, followed by rapid taps. María Conception looked through the window where Mr. Sanchez stood, his hat in his hand, and she knew what her dream meant.

#

This story is fictional however some of the characters are based on fact. Emilio Ortega, Emigdio and Maria Conception’s 11th child, established the Ortega Chile Packing Company using his mother’s recipes. The company has a variety of products on the market.

Family, Latino culture, Writing, Writing classes, writing tips

How to Time Travel via #Writing Prompt

Federal housing projects, low income
Ramona Housing Projects, Boyle Heights, LA. Closest I could find to La Colonia housing projects in 1960’s-Photo by Tedder/Wikipedia CC lic.

Summer had its high points, one of them the opportunity to attend writing workshops. One seminar stood out for its time travel back to childhood: “Excavating the Home.”

The 10 minute writing prompt: Think about a childhood home and map it from the front door to the back, from the cellar to the attic, wandering in each room: 

The first place to come to mind was the housing projects in La Colonia, Oxnard where I lived until I was sixteen years old. La Colonia means “the neighborhood.” The words come from the Spanish land grant given in the 1800’s to seven Santa Barbara Presido soldiers. Lots of history in those projects.

The square concrete porch sits in front of a cream colored door. A tiny peephole, too high for a nine-year-old to peer out, is in the center. When you open the door too wide it hits the wood staircase, always polished and slippery. My sister fell down those stairs more times than I could count. 

An alcove fit underneath the stairs, the perfect altar for the Virgin of Guadalupe. She stood two feet high in her sky blue robe atop a crocheted white doily, surrounded by smoky votives. A yellow towel neatly folded on the floor under the altar for Mom to kneel on when she prayed. A plaster St. Jude, in a deep green robe, stood next to the towel. 

To the left of the staircase was our living room. Our Zenith TV, a huge hulk of a thing, lorded over the room in front of our avocado couches covered in plastic. A sleek black ceramic panther with emerald eyes stalked invisible prey on our coffee table.

Similar to our TV. Image www.curtis-mathes.com
Similar to our TV. Image http://www.curtis-mathes.com

An oblong table, five chairs, and crocheted runner sat behind the couches, next to it the rectangular kitchen, with painted cabinets.

There was a white radio, with a gold-toned dial, on the kitchen counter next to a back door with a key chain latch, long enough for a junkie’s arm to reach through and snatch mom’s prized Green Stamps bought treasure in mid-song.

Funny how I remember the big Zenith TV. Mom said it had blonde wood, very proud when she uttered “blonde.” She made years of payment on it and we weren’t to touch it except to change the channel. A bright white round doily sat on top, like the head covering mom wore to mass.

One or the four of us kids watched television from seven to ten p.m while Mom sat in a hard student desk at night school. We sat on a rug in front of the Zenith, not on the plastic covered couches.

Sitting on those sofas were not only uncomfortable, squeaking sounds beneath your legs, but they left a tell tale butt print of depressed plastic.

Our favorite shows came on between eight and ten p.m. The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Mission Impossible, and reruns of the Twilight Zone.

We heated up floury tortillas, slathered in butter, and enjoyed the shows.

We felt grown up watching TV shows that began at 8:00 p.m. because that was our bedtime. At five minutes to ten we shouted for the show to hurry up and finish, lest we be caught by Mom who felt up the back of the TV set when she got home at 10:10 p.m.

If the back of the set was warm she knew we hadn’t been in bed at 8:00 p.m.

One night she returned early, at 9:45 p..m. We heard the car door close, lifting our heads to the sound like startled deer. I punched in the knob, cutting off the most exciting part of the Mission Impossible while the four of us scrambled off the floor, grabbing pillows and racing up the stairs, tripping on each other.

We jumped into bed, listened for the click of her shoes across the linoleum floor to the kitchen but instead we heard nothing. We waited, under the bedcovers, because we knew she was feeling up Blondie.

“The Zenith is hot. Who had the set on, who was watching TV?” she yelled upstairs from the stair landing. We burrowed into our beds, silent, pretending to sleep as her heels clicked on the staircase, closer and closer.

My ten minutes were up before I completed the exercise, but I did have fond memories of our downstairs living space and a tiny slice of my life.

You can find hundreds of writing and poetry prompts at Poets & Writers. The Writer Magazine has 90 writing exercises to stoke your imagination. An interesting site is Random First Line Generator. I had fun with that one.