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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Sandra Kay


This is a blog I wrote for the Blog Carnival I was a part of, and I felt it fit right into the theme for my week of essays. I hope you enjoy it!

The settings in my stories are simply scenic and not especially significant to me, although I do paint them from places I’ve been and experiences I’ve had in life.

I set Heart of Stone in Texas because when I think of cowboys the Lone Star State comes to mind. But, that's not the only reason. Both my maternal and paternal family heritage is Texan. I lived there as a child. I can still remember the summer heat. I can still taste the watermelons we ate out on the porch. I can see the shiny spider webs in the bushes down by the lake. I can feel the cockle burrs sticking in my bare feet. I hear the crickets singing in the grass at night. And I can smell my grandma's fried chicken.

What I'm getting at is simple. As a writer, we experience settings with all five senses. Even today, when I go for a walk I’m watching, listening and thinking about what I see. The dog in my neighbor's backyard that charges the gate when I pass. I never fail to jump, my heart racing. Children laughing at the park--such a happy sound. The fact is, I never know when the impressions I get day by day might fit into a story I’m writing.

I’ll never forget the day I told my husband I was going for a walk along the riverbed. “I won’t be gone long,” I said. I became so engrossed in my surroundings, I lost track of time. The riverbed is part of the flood control in this area and continues all the way to Prado Dam. I stopped along the way to watch the water cascade over the small man-made waterfalls. I absorbed the sound of it splashing and playing along the way.

The birds—hawks soared high above me, on the lookout for prey. Majestic white egrets surprised me by flying out of the brush, so beautiful and large. A couple of swans floated on the lake to my left. And the ducks! The males preened in their pretty feathers, while the females looked dowdy in their brown “frocks.”

The leaves on the trees fluttered in the slight breeze. The high grass rippled. Small animals, rodents most likely, scurried in the brush, hiding from the circling hawk. Lizards did pushups on the hot rocks. Small birds scolded me for getting to close to their nest.

Finally, I turned around and headed back, clueless as to how much time had passed. That is until I ran into Bob and a friend, who were scouring the path looking for me. I guess my musings, and scene painting had kept me longer than I thought. After a “gentle” reminder from my worried hubby, I now carry my cell phone with me when I go on my walks. Lol But, I still take time to "smell the roses."

I think you can see how easy it is to absorb your surroundings, and transfer them onto your written pages.

My stories first form in my mind with the character in a particular setting. As in:

She saw him the minute she stepped through the thick strand of trees. He stood in the bed of the old pickup, hefting hay bales onto the dry cattle range. A modern-day Adonis—shirtless, muscles flexing with each movement of his powerful body. Sweat from a hard day’s work in the blistering heat glistened in the hair on his tanned chest.

With that scene in mind, I have my setting—a cattle ranch; conditions—dry, hot; and the beginnings of a character analysis. From this starting point I can go on to develop my story.

Books can be character-driven. They can be plot-driven. Do you ever hear of one being “setting-driven?” Of course not, but yet setting plays an important role in the overall picture a writer paints with words. It is the backbone that holds the story together. If the reader is unable to put themselves into the setting, my thinking is they’ll be confused. A confused reader is one that will soon leave an author. Remember, they don’t have access to what’s going on in our minds. We have to show them what we see.

And if we’re not sure? Research. People do live in the areas we write about, and they really don’t appreciate us painting the wrong picture.


LuAnn said...

At least they came looking for you when you failed to return from your walk within a certain time! I've often wondered ... if I suddenly disappeared, would anyone look for me? I would hope so!

Unknown said...

Sandra--I liked this, not just because I'm a native Texan (with roots five generations back), but because you addressed location or setting. This may be more important to me than most. I always must know "where I am" in space. some people have claustophobia, but I have "where am I?-phobia." when we travel, whether by land, by sea, or by air, I must have a map with me. Even if it's a teeny-tiny one I coped from a tour magazine. At all times, I need to know my location.
Often, i read some novel that never tells me, the reader, where I am. And I need to know!!! I just finished a very good book set in Seattle--the forests--in 1880. I could see, smell and almost touch the place--the author was that good. Not by long narrative, but how she used the setting within the story--thanks! Celia

Tina Gayle said...

Hi Sandy,

I agree we are always listening and watching the world around us. Both good and bad capture our attention.

Have fun this week,


Anonymous said...

Well, you guys are either up early or I'm being lazy this morning! Of course, there is the time difference element, too.

Oh, I'm sure someone would come looking for you, LuAnn. The thing is--if you don't realize you've been gone that long, it's kind of a shock to see their worried faces. :-)

Celia, that sounds like me. I always have the map in front of me when hubby and I travel. Not only do I want to know my surroundings, but I don't want to miss any interesting side trips.

Tina, do you suppose that's the creative mind we have? I know my husband can be completely oblivious of his surroundings. Maybe that's why I carry the map!! Gotta love him!


I agree with you, you needs the right setting or location or the book is done for.


Hywela Lyn said...

I can relate to the losing track of time when absorbng sights and scenes on a long walk - or ride - Sandra, done it myself more than once!

I agree, setting is very important/ If I don't know the sort of terrain my characters have to deal with, or enjoy, how can I expect my readers to?

Anonymous said...

Loretta and Lyn, thanks for your comments. Setting keeps me grounded in any book I read.