"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, May 18, 2009

A loaf of bread, a slab of meat, and thou. Oh, and a dagger.

As I indicated yesterday, this weekend was simply chock full o' authors, which would normally send me right to my laptop, inspired and energetic. They did inspire me. They did give me a big jolt of "git 'er done" spiritedness. Too bad I live in the real world.

If I could only get them to come to my house to clear my schedule so I could put my energy toward writing instead of cleaning out rooms, calling the plumber to fix leaks, and washing the cat's bloomers practically every morning because she's getting her long hair caught in, well, you know.

But, at least let me share these authors and give you a dose of inspiration.

On Saturday, I listened to three authors, Jeri Westerson, Jo Ann De Matteo, and Ann Mauer. Jo Ann wrote a historical romance, Cranberry Lake, which she self-published.

Ann wrote The Magic Eye, which is historical fiction and also self-published.

And then, there's Jeri.

Jeri's first novel, Veil of Lies, was published by St. Martin's Minotaur last year, and her latest, Serpent in the Thorns, will be published later this year. Both novels follow the exploits of Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight turned detective in 14th century England. As you can imagine, Jeri's talk grabbed my attention. Not only was she the most animated storyteller in the group, I love a good speech about dead bodies.

By the way, I'd love to direct you to the other two authors' websites, but Jo Ann doesn't have one, at least none that I can find with Google. Ann has a business website, which contains a couple of pages about her book. These were lovely ladies, and their novels have gotten great reviews on Amazon, but they truly need to step up their Internet presence. And Jo Ann, bless her heart, needs to stop reading her speeches and learn to talk to her audience.

I hope I don't offend them – just a little constructive criticism.

Back to Jeri: I felt an immediate affinity for her work. I don't necessarily adore all things Medieval, but I was drawn to her passion for the period, particularly her love of the weaponry. She has quite a collection of swords, knives, axes, etc, and told a most hysterical story about learning to use said implements of destruction on actual flesh.

It made perfect sense to me, as an author, that she would want to know how to describe the feel of a broadsword as it hacked into a body, or a knife stabbing a victim. Knowing she couldn't just go to Cadavers 'R' Us to purchase a corpse, Jeri went to Costco and bought the largest slab of meat (bone-in) she could find.

She figured out quickly that meat on a kitchen counter didn't have the same feel as a standing foe, so she nailed it to her kid's swing-set and spent the afternoon stabbing, whacking, and generally murdering a side of beef.

Amid the laughter in our audience, Jeri admitted she hoped the neighbors weren't watching, and she was glad her family wasn't home. She also gave us a great insight: when you're hacking an opponent to death, you get a lot of them on you. It's something to remember when you're writing that dismemberment scene.

After listening to that, of course I bought her book, and of course I'll read it. I'll probably give it to my 16-year old to read, too, since he loves that time period.

So, the questions of the day are: As writers, what have you done or tried in order to describe it properly? As readers, have you ever read anything that was described so thoroughly, you felt you were actually doing it yourself?

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about Steve Hodel and D.P. Lyle at the SinC meeting. In the meantime, don't forget to enter the contest!


C. Margery Kempe said...

What fun! I can see why you were completely captivated by Jeri. I hope her book is as fun as she herself was.

I do find it necessary to "act out" certain parts of a book just to slow down the actions and see how they work. Sometimes I have to stop and close my eyes and picture it minutely, but other times, I have to go through the motions -- like cooking.

I do a lot of "location scouting" too where I walk through the place where a story will unfold so I know the sounds, steps and feel of the scene in detail. Sometimes I take photographs as well.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Oh, yes. I had to figure out how to describe a woman (who has a bit of arthritis) untangling herself from duct tape wound around her wrists and around her ankles. I didn't apply the duct tape, but I put myself in the starting position with wrists together and ankles together and then writhed around on the floor until I figured it out. I did this when I was all alone, of course. lol


AlanChinWriter said...

I have read many novels that put me in the story because of the rich detail to the time period. None better than Atonement, by Ian McEwain.

And yes, would life be simple if all we had to do was write?

alan chin

Elle Parker said...

I spent a lot of time in dive bars in Florida in order to write my novel *g*

Like some of the others, I also act out certain things to get a real sense of spatial relations and how things work.

Elle Parker

N A Sharpe said...

It is interesting to hear how other writers "get into the character" or what they do to get the scene just right.


Alexis Grant said...

This is great, that you are able to find opportunities to interact/learn from other authors. I need to seek out more of those opportunities myself!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I laughed at the story Jeri Westerson told. Researching aside, hacking at a slab of meat in your backyard sounds like a great method for stress relief and/or anger control management.

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Nick said...

Wow! Ok, now I want to read this.I love it when authors go to extreme lengths to do research. That is huge for me. Personally, I like to take research trips by myself. It is unreal to be alone in a strange town and just take notes and pictures all day or sit down and write descriptions of things and places around you.


Karen Brees said...

Dishes unwashed, beds unmade, garden unweeded - all this when the Muse is afoot!

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.