Saturday, November 18, 2017

Writing advice from Donna Drew Sawyer

Here is another blog especially for my writing and reading friends.

I met author Donna Drew Sawyer last month when she spoke about crafting characters that take on a life of their own. Whether you like them or hate them, her characters in Provenance, A Novel, definitely have distinct personalities.
Donna Drew Sawyer

Provenance was the winner of the Maryland State Writers’ Association 2017 Annual Book Award for Historical Fiction. Provenance also was a finalist for the 2016 Phillis Wheatley
 Award for First Fiction.

It also was been selected for the Go On Girl Book Club reading list in the novel category. The Go On Girl! Book Club, with over 30 chapters in 16 states is one of the largest national organizations dedicated to supporting African-American authors. Every year they choose 12 authors to read, discuss, review and champion. Sawyer’s was chosen for May 2017.

In this blog, I have varied my use of her name, sometimes referring to Sawyer (what my journalism training taught me) and other times as Donna, because she was so friendly and seemed like an instant friend.

She reminded the writers present about never building a character based on a single trait. Ask yourself why they are the way they are. You want to create understanding, she said. Even if your character isn’t nice, you at least might want to create some empathy.
They should make readers feel more than one emotion. They may surprise you while you are writing and surprise your readers.

“No one is any one thing all the time,” she said. “Layer your characters.”

Every character is on a mission of his or her own making. But you have to put the words in your character’s mouth.

Think about what makes a character breathe, including:
  • physical traits
  • emotions
  • secrets, questions and lies
  • engagement with other characters
  • time and place
  • action and reaction
  • thoughts
  • words or deeds
  • beliefs
  • life work or lack of it
Some quick notes mentioned by her are - Read everything, Observe, Empathize, Imagine, Write - Repeat and Live. I took that as meaning it is necessary to get away from your compute occasionally, get out, be with real people and enjoy life.

Our daily activities and personal observations can make a difference in making our books sound authentic, and of course, fiction depends on our imagination. I often set my stories in places where I have been. Although I don’t use real people, I use various characteristics and partial descriptions based on real people.

If you are participating in National Novel Writing Month, great. We need to write! Even if what we are writing is rough. We can edit and make it better later.

I am behind in my writing at slightly less than 26,000 words, but I am usually good under pressure, so there is still hope of reaching the 50,000-word goal by the end of November. Even if I stop today, I have 26,000 words toward my next novel and the basic idea has been moving along better than I expected.

My character has been asking many questions about a murder of someone she knew. Why was he killed? Who did it? Did my argument with him lead to his murder?

I can empathize with her, feel what she might be feeling. Also, I try to make the less-than-perfect victim a fully rounded character.
Donna Drew Sawyer and some of the members
and visitors at the October CCCMWA  meeting.

As I write, I think about some of Donna’s basic suggestions - Observe, Empathize, Imagine, Write. I look forward to reading more of her books and her blog.

She recommended some writing books, such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Brown and Dave King and The Modern Library’s Writer’s Workshop, A guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch.

At our meeting, she said Provenance is about a legacy of lies. It will be followed by Promise in 2018. Check out this author, reader, and ruminator at

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Veterans Day

On November 11, Americans will celebrate Veterans Day  to honor our military veterans.

This observance began in 1919 as Armistice Day to recognize the soldiers of World War I. Fighting during that war had basically ceased seven months before the official Treaty of Versailles was signed. An armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Ted Farinholt

In 1954, Congress changed the word "Armistice" to "Veterans"  to honor our military veterans of all wars.

There are so many excellent books about soldiers and veterans. Some recommended non-fiction books are:

  • Unbroken: a World War II story of Survival Resilience and Redemption  by Laura Hillenbrand
  • Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley
  • D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Battle for the Normandy Beaches by Stephen Ambrose
  • Tough As They Come by Travis Mills
  • No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen.
  • My Brother and the Lost Dreams of Americas Veterans by Catherine Whitney. In this book she writes about her brother Jim Schuler. A review stated that “He died the day before 9/11 at age
    Merrill Howard
    fifty-three, or, as the author tells us, three years younger than the average life expectancy of a Vietnam veteran.” “The great myth of war is that it can be left behind,” she wrote. 
While his father serves in
Europe young Carroll
Meile prepares for battle
Some picture books for children include:

  • H is for Honor, a military family Alphabet by by Devin Scillian, illustrated by Victor Juhasz
  • Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog, by Luis Carlos Montalvan and Bret Witter, photographs by Dan Dion
  • The Poppy Lady by Barbara Walsh, illustrated by Layne Johnson
  • The Wall by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler
  • Rags: Hero Dog of WWII by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Petra Brow.
Joseph Farinholt training in England
 A HuffPost blog By Michael Giltz mentioned books to read for Veterans Day. These included:
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes
  • Willie & Joe: The WW II Years and Willie & Joe Back Home by Bill Mauldin.

My father loved Bill Mauldin’s Willie & Joe cartoons and reporter Ernie Pyle’s newspaper articles on the war. Dad said they gave Americans the true picture of the World War II. He taught us to respect active service members and veterans. 

Bob Farinholt
Frank & Irene Farinholt (Woolsey), first
female Farinholt veteran
Many member of my family served in the armed forces. I’ve included a few of their pictures here. 

A thank you to our veterans and today's
military men and women.