Perception and Reality

Perception and Reality

Eldorado Ditch | Guy L. Pace
Plaque at historical site in Unity, Oregon.

Writing involves perception and reality. How we perceive things and how things really are.

On the one hand, we might be like William H. Packwood, who thought that bringing water to the Willow Creek Drainage in Malheur County in Oregon would be a great idea. His perception was that gold miners in the Willow Creek area needed the additional water. The reality is, the ditch–once constructed–took water badly needed by the ranchers in Baker County. Things got heated and–at one point–explosive.

Politics aside, the ditch was a pretty amazing construction. It wound about 140 miles, five feet at the bottom, seven feet at the top, with a grade of 4.8 feet per mile across mountainous country (Eldorado Pass is 4,623 feet, Willow Creek averages 2,000 feet). Constructed by Chinese laborers.

The perception is the Chinese laborers were cheaper and more reliable. That makes perfectly good, economic sense. You can read about the reality in the link above. It’s an old story of how they built things in the west.

You can still see much of the canal today if you travel through that part of North Central Oregon. If you get to this area, stop at the Unity historical site for more information. A small population of the descendants of the Chinese laborers still live in Baker City. More information on this engineering feat and the people involved is available at The Blue Pine Publishing website.

Travel

So, I didn’t know anything about this canal until earlier this summer when I stopped at the historical site in Unity, OR. I knew some sketchy things about mining in the Blue Mountains and I’ve seen the large dredge in Sumpter, OR (worth a visit!). But, I didn’t get the full picture until I found the historical site in Unity and found a few other online resources as a result. Sometimes you just have to know the questions to ask and the search terms to use.

As I travel, I do try to stop at interpretive sites as much as possible. It’s amazing the information they provide and adjust my perceptions of what happened in the past. Will I use this in a story or novel? Maybe.

Think about it. It makes a good story line. A group hires a brilliant engineer to build something. The project takes precious resources away from another group. There are consequences. Other story threads that would weave through it is the indentured labor used and the “side businesses” that crop up around that activity. And there’s the anger of the other contract laborers who lost out to the cheaper indentured laborers.

I used the word “explosive” earlier. Yes, that would accurately describe that story.

Keep writing.

 

Confidence

Confidence

Confidence | Guy L. PaceWe usually express confidence outwardly. It shows in our body language, dress, attitude, and how we communicate with others.

Or, lack of confidence.

Or, in the example provided by the image here, questionable fashion sense?

Okay, I’m really not one for criticizing other’s fashion taste, though. My wardrobe consists of t-shirts with pockets and jeans. Hmmm … getting off track a little here.

At one panel at the Spokane Science Fiction and Fantasy convention (SpoCon) I listened to fellow authors talk about confidence. When it came down to honest confessions, most said the same thing. While we know our first drafts are awful, we tremble in fear that we will be found as frauds when we submit our work. That’s basically true across the board.

This is familiar territory for men. We spend most of our lives in desperate fear we’ll be found out, and worry we aren’t good enough, smart enough, talented enough, or <whatever> enough. We hold ourselves up to co-workers and find ourselves lacking, and we beat ourselves up regularly. In truth we’re capable, strong, smart, and talented. It is just to hard to admit.

Yellow Jacket

Take the guy in the image with the yellow, double-breasted jacket. He is either, based on the impression, supremely confident and courageous. Or a complete idiot. But, when you compare yourself to certain best-selling authors, they look like that guy in the yellow jacket and you might feel like me–a guy who shows up in jeans and a t-shirt. They act, speak, and lecture like they know everything and the world turns on them. But who are they really?

Is their first draft gold? Does it go to press unchanged, unsullied by an editor? Does that best-selling author struggle with self-confidence after that first draft, wondering if it rises above the 90 percent that is crap in Sturgeon’s law?

What you find out in conventions–especially small, intimate ones where best-selling authors are honest and forthcoming–they struggle with confidence just like the rest of us. They know their first draft is awful. They rewrite, revise, and self-edit before getting more professional help. Just like the rest of us.

One difference is they (those best-selling authors) have been at it longer and manage to find a public persona to present to the world. They get up in the morning, put on that yellow jacket, and lecture to students, meet the adoring public, or get interviewed by the media.

It’s when they take off that yellow jacket and sit down and share with folks at a con, you get to meet the real person and find out they aren’t really any different.

Keep writing.

 

 

Craft

It’s About the Craft

craft | Guy L. PaceWriting is a craft. An art. A skill you hone and improve with practice and time–seasoned with blood and tears.

When you first start writing, your clumsy, stilted prose dribbles down the page. Your words flow in sluggish sentences with passive verbs and all to many adverbs. Your dialog shouts with too many words.

As you practice and improve, you find efficiencies in voice and style. Sometimes you try to imitate another writer’s style to see how things fit. Still, more words end up in the trash bin than in the submission envelope.

Finally, something changes. Your writing becomes a craft. An art. You develop your own style and your own voice. You may still have one roadblock. Fear. You fear letting your feelings, secrets, desires, or beliefs out on the page. What if someone reads that?

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”Ernest Hemingway

Papa says it best. He also says it concisely and briefly. Your fears try to keep you from getting the hurt, the emotion, the beliefs out on the page. What you may not know: You’re not alone in those things. You are not the only one who hurts, who believes what you do, who feels the way you do about something. You’re not the only one with That secret.

A Service

One of the great services writers do in society is sharing those hard things so others know they are not alone. If you hold it all back, others can’t learn and you’ll always be alone. The story must come out.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”Ernest Hemingway

Then, write another. And another. Repeat until you’re done and you told the story.

Look, it if were easy, it wouldn’t be a craft or art form. Everyone could do it and stories or novels would have little or no value. So it isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done. One more quote from Papa.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

The main thing, keep writing. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep improving and learning. Someday you’ll write something others will find and value. Then you’ll know it was all worth it.

Keep writing.

 

 

Small

Small is Beautiful

Small | Guy L. PaceThese days, I’m amazed at how small things can get. What used to need more carrying capacity, now fits into a small bag.

I’m packing for a trip. My sleeping bag compresses into a very small bag. My sleeping mat and pillow go into a smaller bag. Cooking and other necessities take much less space in the saddle bags these days. What required a lot of bungee cords and cargo nets in the past, now fit neatly into the saddle bags and I have more room for basic luggage and me.

In the past, touting on my Harley-Davidson softail was more complicated. Now, with all the newer, more compressed, smaller equipment, it is getting simpler. I now expect a more enjoyable journey. I’m looking forward to it.

Like the Chihuahua in the picture (that looks so very much like my little Paco from years ago), small is beautiful. Simple, little, small things make a huge difference in our lives and in our writing. Chihuahuas bring to their humans huge loyalty and great courage. What a wonderful and unexpected benefit from such a small package.

After the first draft

When we write–after the first draft of course–we should make every effort to trim the writing down to the essentials. Just those words necessary to the story. Like Hemingway, use economy, precise word choice, nuance, to move the story and the reader. In The Old Man and the Sea, Papa kept the narrative to a minimum and used his skills to tell a powerful, complete, Nobel-prize winning novella in under 30,000 words. He claims the story did not have symbolism, but was the bare story of courage, pain, and triumph.

Like Papa, I don’t need to lead the reader around the story by the nose. I let them fill in the details with their own imagination. My own Sudden Mission could have run to 100,000 words, but would have been more of a doorstop at that length. Write just what needs writing.

Keep writing (with a Chihuahua in your lap).

 

Smelly

Something is smelly.

I smell something up thereThings smell. Sometimes the smells are good, sometimes the smells are not good.

In my current work in progress, the main character encounters a lot of different smells as she moves through the story. Riding in the back of a military truck is “hot, loud, and smelly.” Of course, that is pretty generic, so I’ll add some things that mix in to make it smelly. There are other aromas she encounters later that are disgusting or nasty, and some that are just from the terrain she is in.

Like the cat in the picture here, smells connect her to her environment or the action. You probably connect certain smells to memories, like the smell of pine trees and their sap in the early summer at Salmon La Sac in the Cascade Mountains. Or the aroma of fresh-baked bread from grandma’s kitchen when you were young. How about warm cherry pie with a melting scoop of ice cream? Then there is the smell of new-mown hay, onion fields near Ontario, Oregon, or a nearby stockyard.

Or, skunk.

Smells help set a scene or help evoke emotions, and can accomplish a lot in just a few words. Smells trigger memories and you can use that to enrich what is happening in your story. They clue your character in to what might be coming, or what might be nearby.

Think about your own memories, especially those triggered by smells. You know the ones. You’re walking down a street, entering a building, strolling by Cinnabon in the mall. A smell hits you and it brings a memory front and center. Is it a pleasant memory? A sad memory? Or, does it just make you hungry?

Some may say that visual or audio experiences are powerful, but don’t forget smells. In Nasty Leftovers, the main characters used mentholated cream smeared in paper masks to help deal with overly strong aromas of rot and filth, the sour stench in the air of the city, and the burning sulfur smell of the hellhounds. Dealing with the smells affected almost everything the main characters did.

Some of smells carry forward into the work in progress, adding continuity and bringing up memories for the main character. Those memories impact her reactions and behaviors as she works through the story.

Right now, I smell a Cinnabon and I think it’s calling my name.

Keep writing.