Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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My Sources of Good Material

Not resting–people watching.

Collecting good material is all part of the writing process. Here are a few of the ways I gather mine.

First, I’m always on the lookout for new words (new to me, that is) to use in my writing someday. Yesterday I added “flumped” and “clots” to my list just because they made me smile.

I also collect phrases–mostly from listening to my quick-witted husband. I keep a small spiral pad with me at all times. When he speaks, I take notes. (It’s not really stealing if it’s common property; we are ONE after all.)

Unfortunately, he does not provide this service on demand. He  says, “I have no idea when something useful will float to the surface of the muck and mire. You have to take what you get.”  Watching his mind work is pure genius . . .  and a little bit scary.

I also eavesdrop on conversations–in restaurants, at church, while shopping, at meetings. Some might accuse me of being nosy; without hesitation, I admit I’m guilty.

People-watching is kin to eavesdropping, but you can do that from afar.  My husband calls it “rubbernecking;” I call it research. Many of my characters have been dressed in the get-ups I’ve seen while walking through a public place.

Then there are my co-workers, friends and family. In my latest book, Party of One,  some of my friends and family may recognize a few of their own quirks and characteristics. (I do hope they will forgive me.)

And I’m certain they will recognize mine.

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Why I Stalked a Shopper in Hannaford

old-womanwigIt’s near impossible for a writer to go out in public without imagining characters for their next novels.

Once, while waiting at a bank’s drive-up window, I wondered about my teller’s hair–which was really a bad wig. Why would she pick a style from the ’60s? Was she threatened by the aging process? Or had she spurned the whims of fashion?

The drawer slid open with my receipt. I reached over my half-opened, stuck-off-its track window to retrieve it. My arm wasn’t long enough. While I tried not to stare at the woman, character names for her ran through my head: Paula? Nancy? Frances? 

I soon realized I’d have to open my door and half-step out to get my hand inside the drawer. I had one foot in and one foot out. Unfortunately the car was in drive, and the foot that was in was not on the brake.

I grabbed the receipt and hopped alongside my rolling car to the end of building. It came to a stop after it withdrew the bank’s downspout.

 All because of that woman’s hair.

Recently, I was developing a female character. It was important for this character to be recognized by her perfume, which meant researching fragrances. I tested a multitude of brands in department stores. All I came away with was a bunch of stinky samples and a whopping headache.

None of them were right for my character. I needed to simplify my method. I would sniff it out in a more natural habitat.

It worked. I was standing at the deli counter in Hannaford when I smelled the perfect scent: Clementine and cactus flower, bergamot, Hawaiian tuberose, spring honeysuckle, frangipani, musk, exotic woods, and nectarine. [Research, people research!]

I looked around and tried to figure out which woman owned it. The one in the Nike jogging suit? The lady with the kerchief and polyester pants? The one in the beige top and funky straw hat who looked a lot like Minnie Driver?

Minnie DriverI wove my cart in and around them, sniffing as subtly as I could, pretending to check out cheese. I quickly eliminated the kerchiefed woman, who smelled more like salami than the salami she was buying. I tucked her away for another day.

I tailed the other two women until I reached a fork between two aisles. It called for a quick decision. I chose the Minnie lookalike. I tried to get as near to her as I could without drawing attention to myself. I dropped a few items in my cart to throw her off. Each time I got close, I sniffed, surer than ever I was on the right scent.

Even when she skipped aisles and pushed her cart faster, I kept up. I had to have the name of that perfume!

At one point, she gave me a weird look. I wasn’t sure if I’d blown my cover or if she’d looked in my cart. I’d been in the store for forty-five minutes and all I had to show for it was a jar of Gerber strained peas, a box of matches, and a toilet plunger.

Before she called security, I gave up the hunt. I retraced my steps and found the makings for dinner. Rather despondent, I checked out.  All my research had been for nought.

Pushing my cart through the lot, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Loading groceries into the car parked right next to mine was my perfumed lady!

I sprinted toward her, then slowed to a stroll, blocking her only way of escape. I said, “Excuse me, you may have noticed me in the grocery store?”

“Ye-es.” She quickened her pace and scanned the area.

Before I could finish my explanation, she gave up the name of her perfume and took off faster than I could say Tommy Bahama.

Nice woman. Haven’t seen her since.

TB Perfume

 

Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. ~ 2 Corinthians 2:15 (MSG)

 


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Hold On To Those Lightning Bolts of Creativity!

lightninig boltWriters are familiar with the creative ideas that come at us like lightning bolts. They strike without warning, often at the most mundane or inconvenient times, like when we’re trying to fall asleep, pay bills, or grasp the deeper meaning in Chapter 15 of Leviticus. (Go on, look, I can wait.)

But, before we have the opportunity to use these flashes of brilliance (everything from plot twists to character names to dialogue), how do we keep them from fading like a dream upon wakening or from getting lost in our memory mazes?

Here’s what I do. Technophobes need not panic; this is something anyone can master.

I carry a small spiral notepad with me wherever I go. Yes, I could use my smart phone or tablet if I owned either, but I prefer to keep it simple. These inexpensive 3” x 5” pads can fit on my nightstand, in a kitchen drawer, or in my pocket or purse. Whenever I hear a witty phrase or dumb comment, or whenever a perfect pun or play-on-words pops into my head unbidden, I scribble it down.

I’ve noticed another thing about using these notepads:  The people I’m with don’t seem threatened or insulted when I pull one out in the middle of a conversation or a sermon. For some reason, writing on a pad appears less impolite than taking out a piece of technology. Maybe because it takes less time, effort and concentration. (Note: Sometimes it does unnerve those who know I’m a writer, but most of the time they’re  flattered that I think something they’ve said is novel-worthy.)

You ask, “Then what do you do with all those little notes?”

Glad you asked. First, I enjoy them. There’s nothing that will make me feel more like a writer than to open my pad and read a list like I did this morning:

  • Toad Johnson beer-bellied up to the buffet with his stone mason hands.
  • miasma (love this word! must use it soon)
  • inconsistent eye contact, shifty
  • Whirligigs and weeds filled covered their sparse (or scrappy or mangy?) lawn.
  • book, line, and stinker?
  • (golfer) dog-legged to another topic
  • Lovina Avalon

Next, I tear off these pages of mini lightning bolts and put them under my paperweight near my laptop. At least once a week, I go through them, adding them to the appropriate file in a folder called “Slush.” The document files in the Slush folder are:

  • Action Verbs and Words
  • Author Quotes
  • Character Development
  • Character Names
  • Interjections
  • Phrases and Description

Having them in one Slush folder gives me easy access.

Once I’ve incorporated one of these literary scraps in an article or book, I code it so I don’t repeat it. For instance, for my novels Party of One and Double Header, I add Po1 or DH to the beginning of the filename. Helps me find them when I sort the list, too.

In addition to my scribbled odds and ends, I save articles and pictures that pertain to each project. I store hard copies in the Current Project files in my desk drawer. Inside each of these files is an individual folder for Character, Setting, and Story & Plot. The contents looks like what you might find in a scrapbook. Here are a few of the things that add dimension to my stories and characters:

  • Pictures of actors or models that resemble my fictional characters
  • Recipes one of my characters might use
  • Home décor photographs
  • History of the town where they live
  • Common activities in the part of the country where they live
  • Wardrobe, hairstyle, make-up
  • Political issues that may define them
  • Work place environment
  • Church and church leaders

The more I get to know my characters, the better I’ll know how they will behave and interact with one another.

A few months back I was conversing with my granddaughter, Jess and her friend, Tiffnee.

Jess said, “Tiffnee! You’ve got to see what my grandmother has in her purse.” She looked at me and said, “Show her, show her!  I know it’s in there.”

“Show her what?” I asked.

Jess said. “You know, your notepad.”

I reached into my purse and pulled one out. “This?” I asked, surprised they were so interested.

“Told you!” Jess said. “And it’s always a different color!”

“Really? Like wow,” Tiffnee said, fingering the glossy red cover. “Ooh, it has lines, too. Like wow! What, like, do you do with it?”

“Anything she wants!” said Jess.Mini-spiral-notebook

“Like, write lists and stuff?” Tiffnee asked. “And play tic-tac-toe or hangman?”

“Mostly, I record people, places and things I want to remember,” I said.

“Like cool,” said Tiffnee, handing it back to me.

“I know,” said Jess, all puffed up and smiling like I made her proud.

(And there I was wishing I owned an iPad.)

I flipped open my bright shiny notepad and grabbed my pen. Filled with new confidence, I jotted down words faster than I could, like, spell, like, Tiffnee, like wow, like cool.