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Blogging My 2013 Oxford University Summer School Experience

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Discovering Mrs. Standhope
I had received criticism that two of my characters, an English couple named Mr. and Mrs. Standhope, were too formulaic and only existed as a vehicle to advance the mazzeri subplot in the story. I hoped that at Oxford I would meet an English couple who could provide inspiration for more memorable and essential characters. And did I ever. Only it was just "Mrs. Standhope" that I met. One of my classmates, Marjorie, an outspoken, sassy, witty, and slightly "daft" (but in the nicest, more endearing way) Englishwoman, turned out to be the very essence of the character I had hoped to create. And she has agreed to help me with dialogue and description to make "Mrs. Standhope" into a version of herself. Mr. Standhope is off to the dust bin along with Marjorie's ex! I know that my readers will take as much delight in her as I did if I can get her properly translated onto the page.
Tue, August 13, 2013 | link          Comments

Monday, August 12, 2013

Too Much Imagination

In all my years of taking writing classes and being critiqued, Jonathan Miles was the first to suggest that I had "too much imagination". As a result, I throw in irrelevant or superfluous information, get too wordy, explain too much, and don't let the reader the privilege of drawing his or her own conclusions. So that was my task as I went through the week at Oxford. To pare down, keep to the essentials, and STOP explaining stuff!

On the way home on the plane I was reading "The Paris Wife", the novel about the wife of Hemingway. The author has a scene where Hemingway meets Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. Stein has read one of his stories and said it was not to her liking. She says, "Three sentences about the color of the sky. The sky is the sky and that's all. Strong declarative sentences, that's what you do best. Stick to that...When you begin over, leave only what is truly needed." Pound gives Hemingway similar advice, "Cut everything superfluous. Go in fear of abstractions. Don't tell readers what to think. Let the action speak for itself." Of course, I'd heard such advice before, even from my reading of Stephen King's "On Writing", but it sunk in this time. So I will begin over keeping that advice in the forefront of my mind.

Mon, August 12, 2013 | link          Comments

Home, Jet Lagged, and Catching Up

I have been home for 5 days now and just beginning to catch up with sleep, finances, laundry. In kind of a fog from the jet lag although sleep hours are back to normal. I feel like I want to continue to blog and post about the trip in retrospect, from my notes and memories.

Our time in Saint Maximim was filled with solving transportation problems, getting Aveline started in her day-long French school, which she loves, and trying to do some sightseeing with the baby in tow while Aveline was at school. Every evening we took a swim in the lovely in-ground pool at our home exchange house, fed the kids dinner, ate a leisurely French dinner ourselves (my daughter and myself), and then collapsed into bed to get ready for the next day.

We took day trips with the baby. The first to Cassis where I took a dip in the Mediterranean, which had turned suddenly cold a few days prior, had a fabulous lunch of their famous moules et frites (a huge bucket of mussels in a lobster and red pepper bisque sauce--yummy!), and walked the waterfront. I had been there before and it's just as relaxing and inviting.

Another day we headed 150 km to Digne Les Bains for the Lavendar Festival. We discovered that the "festival" consisted mostly of a big parade with floats and bands and the street lined with tables so everyone could have lunch before the parade started. Aveline just loved it. My favorite was the band in traditional costumes all on bikes! They kept perfect formation with one hand on the handlebars and one on their instruments. Quite the sight!

A third trip was to my all-time favorite restaurant on the terrace of the Logic du Gutteur in Les Arcs sur L'Argens (north of Saint Tropez). Fabulous food (you can drool over the food on photo page). The last time we went (with my daughter, son-in-law, and his mother) we had arrived late, but Maggie, with her excellent French had talked the chef into staying and preparing lunch for us and a waitress stayed on as well to serve us. This time we arrived on time and it was just as fabulous as before. Tres cher--but what the heck!

Then on another day we traveled to the Abbaye du Thornonet and after visiting that ancient place had lunch at the Logis du Thoronet--equally elegant. A salad with duck gizzards, smoked duck, and foie gras to die for followed by a scrumptious filet in a rich mushroom sauce. The French certainly know how to do food.

Before I headed to the Marseille airport to head home, Maggie talked me into visiting the Basillica in Saint Maximin. I was glad I did. It's quite beautiful and like many Catholic churches in Europe has a crypt purported to be the resting place of Mary Magdalene. I wrote and performed a dramatic portrayal of her years ago so it was interesting to see the relic they have.

Mon, August 12, 2013 | link          Comments


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A bit about OUSSA

I will be taking a one-week residential course on "Creating Character" by well-known author Jonathan Miles,  July 13-20, 2013, at Rewley House, Oxford


I will be joining people from the UK, Europe and further afield (me!) for enjoyable, yet serious study with some of the finest tutors in the country. For over 100 years the Oxford University Summer School for Adults (OUSSA) programme has been making it possible for everyone to take advantage of the Oxford system of expert tuition in small groups.

This intensely practical course explores character. Through examples stretching from Chaucer to Becket, you will identify the ingredients that give fictional beings life. When, does a character take on an archetypal status? When does a character degenerate into a two-dimensional stereotype? Most people feel comfortable creating characters that they know well. But what about those figures that are more distant from our everyday experience and yet who seem to demand a place in our stories? And what about the possibility that there may be no such thing as character? This writing workshop explores different ways of approaching and building rounded, interesting, recognisable but not cliché-ridden characters.

The only entrance requirement for a summer school course is enthusiasm for the subject and a commitment to undertake the required coursework before and during the summer school.