Tonight’s guest blog post is brought to you by historical, romance and literary writer Ellen L Ekstrom.
I was NOT a normal child. Any of my siblings and my mother – were she alive – would tell you there was something not right about me. I used to stand against the apartment house wall facing east in the morning and just stand there, listening to the world wake up, watch as cars and buses started across the highway south to San Francisco. “What are you doing, Ellen?” they’d ask when I’d been discovered doing something not like everyone else – like the time I put the chair in the closet and pushed aside the clothes so I could have a reading nook. Responses were usually shakes of the head as they walked away, a finger twirling near their right ear.
I used to peer through raindrops.
I’d press my face against the window pane and look through the raindrops.
The view was most spectacular on winter nights when everything had a frosty patina. What I saw in these strange little worlds of my imaginings and those nights and early mornings stayed with me, feeding an imagination already bursting with visions and dreams. What did I see through those drops of water? Not the distorted views of the parking lot, the street lamps, the big lawn with the playground, or the other apartment houses, but elegant ladies in fairy tale kingdoms, angels, knights, flowers, trees, streams of water and waterfalls.
I took those moments and put them to paper, for my one rule for writing fiction is that you have to suspend reality and use what you have in the imagination.
Books that grab my senses and invite me to use my own imagination, my mind, are the books I read more than once. I keep these on my reader and my shelves. An author succeeds in gaining this reader as a fan if he or she gets me thinking about was written and has me looking up the historical aspect of the story, wanting more. Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick are good examples, as are Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. Shakespeare, most definitely. It was difficult for me to believe there was a king as noble and good as Henry the Fifth, or as wicked as Richard the Third. I wanted to see for myself the cities of Verona, Mantua, and Venice. Eventually I started to write my own stories about what I read and what I wanted to read.
One of the delights of writing is inventing worlds and the people who live in them. I draw my universe from reality. When I write I begin with ‘what if.’ Here’s an example: a couple stands on a platform at the train station. They are in their later years, older than me, and the husband scowls and frets over his clam-shell phone. He can’t get a signal, can’t figure out how to call. The woman with him sighs and pulls the latest iPhone out of her bag and hands it to him, saying, “Oh, For God’s sake, Henry! Come into the 20th century at least and get rid of that damned ‘granny phone!’ Here!”
This really happened! I was standing in line behind them. When they boarded the Concord train I watched them leave, the husband stepping aside to the let the women board first (unheard of at commute hour – it’s every commuter for themselves!) and then put an arm around his partner as they stood up on the over-crowded train as it left the station. They were laughing and smiling, the woman touching her partner’s face in a loving gesture. I see vignettes every day whether at the train station or walking through the Embarcadero Centers at lunch hour, or to the Transbay Terminal, and when they catch my attention I start to think about what happens next. Take the couple on the train platform: maybe they live in an older neighborhood near the center of town, settled there when the housing development was brand new back when. They’ve retired from a corporate middle management job and she’s always been the housewife. The wife decides she isn’t going to retire – she gets interested in technology, educates herself, decides she’s going to teach basic computer skills at the Senior Center so people like herself can be competitive in the current job market where knowing the latest computer software and knowing how to use a smart phone helps. This puts a divide in the relationship, for the husband wants to spend his afternoons playing golf, weekends, fishing maybe…and this leads to other conflicts…pretty soon I’ve got a story that started with a conversation overheard on a train platform and took off with the imagination. Another time, I watched a documentary on early medieval England and one of the women in the story caught my attention – from there I started research and answered the great ‘What if?’ in my mind. That story is still in the planning stage.
I give my reader the basics. I give the how, when, where and why, but also leave a blank page, as it were, for the reader to use their own imagination and figure things out. No one reads the same sentence and takes away the same idea. Place a rose before three people and one will notice the petals, another the dew on the petals, the third may comment on the hues. Okay, maybe all three will notice the color. But what shade of red or pink or yellow will it be? The point is, no one knows.
Leaving the plot ambiguous is never a good idea, so I give hints and information, some of it coming from characters’ actions or dialogue. A story that tells me what’s happening word for word, step for step, blow by blow, is boring. I could read that in a newspaper article or in a non-fiction work. My life is busy, time is short, but I am not that pressed for time that I need everything given to me so I can finish the book in one night and move on to the next on my TBR list. Reading is a gift – a time to dispel reality and go somewhere else. Fiction allows one to weave stories out of fact to entertain, to create something different from the life being lived, and at the same time, educate. Of all the gifts given to me, I am thankful most of all for the gift of imagination.
May your reading and writing paths take you on interesting journeys.
Thank you, Ellen. Writing fiction constantly amazes me as I never know where my imagination takes me and I can’t imagine it being any other way.
Now that she is in her own middle ages, her passion for all things medieval is still strong.
She is a member of the clergy in the Episcopal Church and serves as the parish deacon in a local church in Berkeley, California.
To support her family and frenetic lifestyle, she works as a legal secretary. Once in a while, she sleeps.
She can be found at:
- http://ladyelogos.com (Ellen’s website)
- http://centralavenuepublishing.com/Authors (publisher)
- http://reverendellasthoughts.wordpress.com (Sermons)
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