Monday Musings: Advice from Dorthea Brand, Eighty Years Later

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by Kathleen Valentine

DBThis afternoon, while searching for something else, I came across an old copy of Dorthea Brand’s 1934 classic book Becoming A Writer. I had not thought about it in years and, because it was a lovely day here, I took it out to my back porch and began re-reading parts of it. I am not sure whether it is because I am now much older and have been writing for a long time, but I found the book surprisingly dated. Now I am wondering if that is just me, or if it is possible for a book such as this one to become dated.

To be fair, there was some good advice in it. One of the chapters, on learning to see, was something we cannot be reminded of too often. It has long been said that a writer is someone who misses nothing—a thought that I agree with. As an exercise, prompted by Brand’s suggestions, I decided to spend some time looking at the bushes that separate our backyard from the cemetery beyond them. This is quite a large bunch of bushes that have grown up over the years that run the length of the yard. From the ground they are towering and many people do not even know there is a cemetery back there, but from my perch on the second floor the view is different.

As I studied the bushes, I immediately picked out the multiflora rose bushes that smell so lovely in Spring, then the privet bushes with their lacy leaves. Other than those I counted the wild choke cherries that the squirrels get drunk on and stagger around the yard. But there were more. By the time I got done, making note of differences I’d counted a total of seven different bushes, some which I cannot identify. It was a good exercise and I learned that, though I’ve looked at those bushes for years, I’ve never really seen them.

In another chapter she talked about the method of writing. Obviously a lot has changed since 1934 and I could not help but smile at her annoyance with the use of typewriters (typewriters?) For writers accustomed to writing long-hand, the mechanics of pushing down those keys, watching the letters fly up and whack against the ribbon, then see the platen advance, was, apparently, arduous. Not to mention the fact that you had to then use your hand to mechanically return the carriage so you could type the next line. I can only imagine what Ms Brand would think of contemporary keyboards.

But to me the most interesting chapter was about originality. She made some excellent points about staying true to one’s own voice. She also pointed out some examples of writers who tried too hard to be original and wound up sounding pretentious in the process.

Which led me to wonder, do most writers think about being original these days? I wonder about that specifically when it comes to genre books. It seems that so many authors aim to produce the next Harry Potter, or the next Fifty Shades, or the next Game of Thrones. I often see books advertised as “if you liked The DaVinci Code, you’ll love this.” Has this type of advertising always been prevalent?

I have several vintage writing books that I love—especially those by John Gardner—and I know at one time I must have learned a lot from Dorothea Brand if I kept her book all these years. I am a firm believer that we can always learn something new and today I learned there are at least seven different kinds of bushes out back. I really should find out what they are.

Thanks for reading.

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Thursday teaser: Return of the Ascendant

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Ascendant Series #1
By Raine Thomas

You could WIN a signed copy of Return of the Ascendant. Find out how at the end of the excerpt.

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Looking up, Kyra realized she was walking in shadow. Typically, the quad was well-lit by tall lights designed to look like old-fashioned gas lamps. The posts stood about twenty feet apart and surrounded the square area, offering plenty of luminescence and providing a sense of safety. Now, at least three of the lights along Kyra’s route had gone out.

Her steps faltered. She looked to her right, where the school’s science building stood. Rows of bushes cast deep, uneven shadows along the brick face. A muggy breeze rustled the leaf-covered limbs, generating an eerie scratching sound as they brushed the harsh surface of the wall.

Feeling as though someone was watching her, she cast a furtive look around the quad. On any normal evening, there would be plenty of people walking around the area. Now, however, not another soul was in sight. Kyra supposed they were all either still moving into their dorm rooms or had already left for the big party.

Despite the visual confirmation that she was alone, she had the pressing urge to call out and ask who was there. An image of herself acting like a horror movie cliché kept her lips firmly sealed, however.

Another scraping noise on her right had her starting. She clutched her purse closer to her body and picked up her pace. Surely the shadows were just making her jumpy, she reasoned. That didn’t explain why every hair on her arms and neck now stood on end.

Swallowing her rising fear, she almost broke into a run as she reached the last twenty feet of darkness. Her eyes didn’t move from the gloomy bushes. She couldn’t explain her reaction, as the university was in a small, sleepy town and had a low crime rate. But every instinct in her told her to run.

Just as she neared the halo of light cast by the closest lamppost, it went out. She staggered to a halt.

That was when the darkness moved.

Not possible, she thought.

She watched the shadows take shape, growing ever taller. Five feet, six feet, seven feet tall…like a creature advancing and casting a longer and longer shadow. Her heartbeat accelerated. The voice in her head ordered her to flee.

Run now!

Before she could command her limbs to move, she felt her arm taken in a firm grip. She barely avoided issuing a terrified shriek over the contact. Her fear had escalated to a point where she couldn’t even get a sound past her throat.

Her head whipped to the side. She realized the man who had grabbed her was a good eight or nine inches taller than her, even in her heels. She got a sense of a chiseled profile and broad shoulders as he urged her to move. Her gaze flew to the ground as she tried to avoid breaking an ankle. Only when they emerged from the darkness did her sense of panic begin to ease.

Her unexpected companion’s pace also slowed once they reached the light. She turned her gaze to him once again. Had he been the one who had cast the shadow?

She didn’t think so. Although she couldn’t tell much about him from his profile, she didn’t sense that he would harm her.

“It isn’t me you need to worry about,” he said in a deep voice. “You were right to fear the dark.”

Win a signed copy of Return of the Ascendant by describing your favorite alien-related book or movie in the Comments section. The author will choose a winner.

About Return of the Ascendant

Expecting to enjoy another typical college night at a frat party with friends, Kyra Vaughn’s plans derail when she’s almost killed…twice. Her savior, a tall, sexy stranger who calls himself TaeDane, claims that he’s the personal bodyguard for the Ascendant of Alametria. She’s convinced he’s crazy.

Especially when he insists that she’s the Ascendant.

With dark enemies hunting her down, Kyra has no choice but to trust her supposed bodyguard. Ty vows to help her remember her past and return her safely to Alametria, but someone seems intent on interfering, challenging his abilities at every turn.

As Kyra’s memories emerge, she remembers that Ty is more to her than he’s let on…much more than he’s allowed to be. She’ll also discover that there are many things about her planet and herself that she’d rather forget. In the end, she’ll have to make a choice: cling to the life she knows, or risk it all to become the person she’s destined to be.

Where to get it:

About the author

Raine-Thomas-Headshot-small-233x300Raine Thomas is the award-winning author of bestselling Young Adult and New Adult fiction. Known for character-driven stories that inspire the imagination, Raine recently signed with multiple award-winning producer Chase Chenowith of Back Fence Productions to bring her popular Daughters of Saraqael trilogy to the big screen. She’s a proud indie author who is living the dream. When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.
Visit her:

And follow her on Twitter @Raine_Thomas.

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Monday Musings: Creating Visual Inspiration

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Thursday Teaser: Somewhere on St. Thomas

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