Monday, September 1, 2014

Digging for Clay and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Linda Phillips, for winning Words with Wings on last week's blog. As some of you know, Linda is a close writing buddy but I can assure you--there was no hanky panky in her winning this book. As far as I can tell, www.random.org does not keep track of previous winners!
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Let's start with a multiple choice question. How would you complete this comparison:

Pottery is to clay as books are to _______. 

a) words
b) drafts
c) paragraphs
d) all of the above

In ancient times, the hard work of digging up clay to make pottery was often considered slave labor. Potters throughout the centuries, and even today, still dig to find the perfect clay. It is messy, hard work.

Men Digging Clay for Pottery Making, Pamunkey Reservation, King William County, Virginia
Over the last few years, I haven't been a slave--but digging out the clay of my story, inspecting it, throwing some out, and digging deeper for more--has definitely been labor.

Years ago when I first dreamed up Half-Truths, I knew it would be about a white girl and a light-skinned black girl in Charlotte in 1960 who discovered they were second cousins. But, I didn't know much else. 

I spent months researching the time period and the place and found many interesting, historic facts. All of which I wanted to include. 


For example, I was thrilled when I found this article about the National Guard Engineers who left for Korea from Charlotte in 1950. I spent a lot of time digging around for information about Kate's father and how he could have been an engineer in Korea, where he went to school and how the family ended up in Charlotte. 

It took me a long time to figure out that Kate's story didn't start with her father leaving for the Korean conflict--even though that was the inciting event that brings her to Myers Park where she meets Lillie. Clay got discarded. Draft #1 was written totally from Kate's POV and completed in December, 2010.

At the SCBWI-Carolinas conference in 2011 I met Mary Cate Castellani who recommended writing the book from both Kate and Lillie's perspectives. New clay had to be dug for the second draft

Once again, I got interested (some might say side-tracked) into interesting historic details. Wanting to show the inequality of the Jim Crow era and hearing that every good novel should have a romance and a death, I decided Lillie's brother would die as a result of a racial incident and unequal treatment at the "Coloreds Only" hospital, Good Samaritan.

I had placed a scene when the girls discover a piece of china belonging to both families at the end of the book. 


At a plot workshop last fall, Rebecca Petruck, my writing coach, pointed out that the beautifully researched and tearfully written scenes about Lillie's brother's death were tangential to the story. And the china teacup scene belonged in the middle of the book where it would provoke a crisis between the girls. I needed to focus more on Kate and Lillie's story. 

I needed to dig more clay.

Five-time New York Times bestselling author Wally Lamb referred to this stage in a recent Writer's Digest interview. He was asked, "At what point do you usually know your ending?" and answered,

"Usually, just before the ending. And I'm talking about first draft. Of course, after you get the whole lump of clay, then you being to shape it and mold it and cut away stuff and everything. But, first draft--what happens is that I find characters that I both love and worry about. And then I have to keep writing to see if they're going to be OK or not. And there's no guarantee in my process that they are going to be OK. So that's my motivation. It's certainly more motivation than finishing a book so that I can get a royalty check. (Writer's Digest, "Wally Lam: The Weight of Words" by Suzy Spencer. March/April 2014)

Lamb uses his clay-making time to find out who his characters are and what trouble they're going to get into. Some authors call this a discovery draft. A time of finding out what their story is. 

Since last October when I took a plot workshop with Rebecca, I wrote just to get the story out. For example, I didn't obsess over the type of material in the dress Kate wears to the charity ball. I realized there was a good chance the scene would be cut or changed.  The third draft was full of questions, comments, and phrases highlighted in yellow. 

Here is a sample of two paragraphs from Chapter 19 from Kate's POV:

She gives a funny laugh. “What can you do? You’ve got everything you want/the world at your fingertips. You got grandparents who are so rich that all you got to do is point to a picture of a dress in a catalog and they’ll have it ordered by the next day. (HOW TO SAY THAT WHAT SHE WANTS ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES/POSSIBLITIES THAT L. HAS.)
I pull my hand back as if a hornet just stung me. It must have shown on my face because she says, “I shouldn’t have said that, Miss Anna Katherine. I’m sorry. I guess there’s something about this place,” she waves her hand to take in the gardens and pathways[describe better], “that just makes me feel like I can say whatever I want to say. It just feels…” her voice trails off.


When I sent the draft to Rebecca a month ago, it was rough but it was done. Linda Phillips and other writer friends told me to celebrate the completion of this draft. Everyone said I'd reached a milestone. But I wasn't ready to celebrate. Not until I received Rebecca's affirmation, "Yes, now I think you have the clay," was I ready to celebrate. 

I have five pages of notes to work through, serious thinking about deepening my characters and Kate's plot line to strengthen--but I'm thrilled. My hands are itching to get dirty-I can't wait to prod, tweak, sculpt, and shape it.
I once heard to put each draft of your book into a notebook.
It makes it feel real! 
I'm celebrating this stage in my novel's journey by giving away a copy of James Scott Bell's top-selling book, Plot and Structure Leave me a comment with your answer to my opening question or your experience with "clay-digging" and I'll enter your name to win: 

Leave me a comment by 7PM on September 5 with your name and contact information. If you post this on social media or become a new follower of my blog, I'll enter your name twice!

  

32 comments:

Dawn Simon said...

I think the answer could be all of the above, but it's when I finish the first draft that I tell myself the clay is on the wheel. That's when I have one complete version, though it will be added to, cut from, reformed--sculpted. I like the way you talk about clay-digging, since it is hard work. I'm not yet published, but I've learned so much through my own clay-digging with various manuscripts. I'm now reinserting a story line I cut in the last draft of a manuscript, and I'm changing my book (which was, I believed, finished) from YA to MG.

I like your blog! Becky Levine posted on FB about it, and I followed the link. I'd like to enter your contest. Good luck with your book! It sounds great!

Rebecca Petruck said...

I love the clay analogy, and that potters dug for the "right" clay because not just any clay would do. Sure, they could make a pot out of it, but could they make art? You are reaching hard for art, even when it's difficult!

I love Dear Sugar, and one of her quotes is my latest mantra: "Run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire." I LOVE that it's not "run fast" but "run far" because it means all you have to do is KEEP GOING.

You are definitely on your bridge, so run far, my dear!

Joanna said...

Great post about perseverance and the importance of experienced critique and many drafts! Well done!

Rosi said...

Congratulations! You really have reached a new milestone. I enjoyed reading this post. My answer is "all of the above." Thanks for a chance to win this book.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Dawn & Joanna-it's always nice to have some new commenters on my blog. Rosi-I appreciate you posting this on FB. Rebecca--that is such a great quote and knowing that people like you are cheering me on makes all the difference in the world!

Carol Baldwin said...

And Dawn-- I love that you took the pottery/clay image even further. "on the wheel" -- I love it!

sheri levy said...

I think the answer is all of the above. I love the analogy of using clay and all of the hard work it takes to get the right clay to form a piece of art! Well done. I'm sharing this on my timeline and author page.

Linda Vigen Phillips said...

No need to put my name in the hat this time around! Enjoyed your rumination about all that you have learned along the way playing in the clay. And kudos to you for the positive attitude facing the next round of revisions.

Linda A. said...

Carol,
You are so dedicated to your craft, research, and your novel. I admire you and your writing!

When I rewrite, I dig for clay that molds my characters in different situations. Sometimes, characters are written out and others added. I rewrite to place my characters where their struggles are believable; yet not so easily overcome.

kathleenburkinshaw said...

Carol, thank you for sharing your pottery process ideas. When I first started writing, I wrongly expected to just throw the clay on the wheel and it would stick and form into something beautiful. I still throw the clay on the wheel, but I now know that a LOT of work AND time need to go into molding it into something I am proud to display. And even then it will probably need to be molded further :) And definitely celebrate each finished draft-each one brings HALF-TRUTHS closer to the one that will be noticed by an agent and eventually a publisher!

sheri levy said...

7127Carol, I read your post yesterday and sent you a message on my IPAD. It didn't make it through, so I'm resending. Loved this analogy of digging for the perfect clay!! You certainly have shown us examples of
hunting for the perfect word, sentence, and paragraph.
Way to go! Sheri

Glenda Blaisdell-Buck said...

There's nothing quite like feeling clay between your fingers with all the possibilities of what it can become. Words have a similar feeling on your tongue and in your soul. Digging to find the right words to tell a story can also be messy work. I have a YA novel in process now that I hope, when done, will be a vessel both of beauty and utility, one that will eventually hold both the intellectual and emotional response of its readers.

Thanks for entering me in your contest.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Everyone for your great comments! Glad to see this hit home for many of you. And some have added to the analogy. Fun!

Vanessa Brantley Newton said...

Congratulations!!! How awesome for you! What a wonderful post. Happy to celebrate with you.

Sandra Warren said...

I too loved the "clay analogy." It struck home because I'm in the middle of my first final complete almost ready to send out draft of an adult novel. I'm whittling 621 pages down. (Whittled 71 pages to the dust bin thus far.) What a process. It takes forever, doesn't it? But we mist keep plugging along.

Congratulations on your first final draft. It is a milestone worth celebrating.

Ann Eisenstein said...

Digging for Clay is such a perfect title - and analogy. It seems that I am always digging for treasures/clay - searching for the perfect words in dirt - what a beautiful, artful, and inspiring piece. Thank you for sharing and entering me in your contest, Carol!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Ann and Sandra- you're both in!

Eileen Heyes said...

Carol, you've reached me where I live with this analogy. As you know, I'm a beginning and still clumsy (and often frustrated) potter.

And I've found writing fiction to be like that. My first effort comes out lopsided and distorted, too dense in some places, too thin in others. Sometimes it is salvageable, and sometimes it collapses and I have to start over. But with what I've learned from the fail, I do better with my next try. Still not perfect, but better. And so on, better with practice, with developing an ability to feel problems early and make the right adjustments to fix them in time.

Congratulations on getting your first draft done! Ahead: Trimming and glazing, into a wonderful work of art!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Eileen. You're in--but I'm on to Major Draft #4. And Eileen-- as stubborn as she is, is hanging in there with me.

KellyDHouse said...

Carol, this is a great blog post. I love the analogy of digging for clay, and I also love how writers seem to come up for metaphors for each stage of writing. For me, the firs draft is the messy drip castle, with each draft refining the lump of sand a bit more and moving it onto until it stands complete, a beautiful work of architecture. No need to enter me in your contest -- I've got a dog-eared copy of PLOT AND STRUCTURE myself, but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your post.

Carol Baldwin said...

THANKS, Kelly for dropping by and adding your own analogy to the pile that we're accumulating here. A sand castle--I LOVE it!

winemama said...

All of these above! Great post and thanks for the giveaway!

Lori Ann said...

As someone who works with physical clay as well as words, I like your analogy of pottery to clay. Words to books is the answer for me. Like clay, words are my raw material to make my sentences which become my paragraphs which eventually become books! Thank you for your post.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks WInemama and Lori Ann. But if you win--I'm going to need your contact info!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks WInemama and Lori Ann. But if you win--I'm going to need your contact info!

Susa Silvermarie said...

I'd say all of the above for the analogy. Right now I'm rethinking everything about my "clay", having just received a Pass on a manuscript I thought was finished. The pass is from an editor who requested the full and gave me much positive feedback as well as a high bar to aspire to. Even though I am truly disappointed, his full attention on my work was a gift. I'm just sitting on the clay bank right now, not digging again, just processing the experience.

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, I think it's all of the above too, Susa. SOunds as if you have done a lot of work on your clay--and it might need a rest, or more tweaking and sculpting? Either way-- you've come a long way and I admire your perseverance! PS You need to leave me your contact info!

Carol Baldwin said...

Vanessa- I'm not sure what happened to your comment--it seems to have flown into cyberspace. But thanks for it--and you're in the contest!

Kim Van Sickler said...

My favorite answer is words, since it is the most elementary one--the first building block--so I'm going with that one. I am so impressed with how you are putting this book together. It is going to be amazing. I can't wait to read it, but I will be patient, while you mold your masterpiece.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Kim, for your vote of confidence. Your name is in the hat!

Gretchen Griffith said...

Hi Carol, Congratulations on your accomplishment. The lump of clay analogy tells it all!

Carol Baldwin said...

You're in Gretchen-thanks!