Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Friday, April 20, 2012

Guest blogger Tom Kepler

This week, guest blogger Tom Kepler keeps us enthralled with location.

Welcome, Tom!


Rosanne Dingli has published three works in which the island of Malta is of central importance: Counting Churches, The Malta Stories; Death in Malta; and her most recent work, Camera Obscura. Perhaps the old truism Write about what you know applies to Rosanne because she was born and raised on Malta, living there until she was twenty-seven years old. I'm guessing it's more than that, though. A familiar setting cannot only supply compelling detail for a story: a setting can also suggest compelling stories to a writer.

Rosanne has asked that I write a guest post, and setting seems appropriate, since Rosanne has used it to such great effect. I write fantasy and have published a fantasy novel, The Stone Dragon. The story came to me one Thanksgiving vacation: dragons, gnomes, and a protagonist called Glimmer. I started writing, and suddenly I was seven thousand words into the novel, which is now available in both print and e-formats. This reality has grown to include a sequel in draft version, Dragons of Blood and Stone, and short stories published as an e-book Who Listened to Dragons, Three Stories.
I drew a map to aid me in the writing of The Stone Dragon, and that map grew and filled itself in as I wrote the first draft of Dragons of Stone and Blood. A funny thing then happened regarding that map. During this last winter vacation (I'm a school teacher in America), I wrote several short stories that were set in the fantasy reality of the novels. 

The stories all started with place. What if in this place a particular character had this conflict? What would happen? One short story begins off the map, to the south, and then moves onto the map. It also takes place two generations prior to Glimmer and The Stone Dragon. Another takes a character from The Stone Dragon and writes about that character prior to the novel. A third considers one reality of the fantasy novel--magical elemental water spirits--and explores the relationship of the season of the year to the behavior of the elemental spirits. All are set in specific places from the Dragons of Blood and Stone series: the Sand Barrens, The Easypeace River, and the Castle Madrone.

Having a reality with which one is familiar can both enrich one's writing and also inspire one's writing. I have more stories to tell. One is about a selkie at Seal Rock. Another is about rock gnomes and a young man named Cobb. I'm also waiting for a place name on the map to whisper to me an unexpected character and conflict.

Rosanne must know all about this. Her book Counting Churches, The Malta Stories consists of thirteen stories. Counting her novels set in Malta, it's apparent that the island speaks to her, tells her its stories. I'm happy to read the Maltese stories that Rosanne tells.
And I'm also happy to explore the fantasy reality of The Stone Dragon, to learn its stories and to tell them to you.


Thanks so much, Tom! I am sure all readers would love to ask questions or comment.
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Thursday, April 12, 2012

What does this painting mean to me?

For years now this blue-grey painting of yachts in a marina has graced my blog.

Many of my readers have asked, privately and not, where it's from, what it means, who painted it, and why I chose this painting to head my blog.

The time has come to tell you.

First, look at it for a moment: note the vague bank of buildings in the background. Note the hanging sky, which has just shed its burden of rain over the promenade, where afternoon strollers quickly take the daily air before another shower sends them scurrying to the cafes along the waterfront. Can you smell the fresh rainy scent that just veils the stagnant algae-heavy odour that hangs about the wharves?

Claude Monet, Fishing Boats Leaving the Harbor...Claude Monet, Fishing Boats, Le Havre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Can you see how children hurry adults along, thinking of the pastries that might accompany a bowl of warm milk in a minute? The impatience of meeting yet another acquaintance is in their step. Being told to watch the berthing boats, and the departing fishing ketches, is no consolation: it would be better to be indoors, or to watch the shifting scene and the gathering storm from behind a large window.

The crack of a canvas sail, the whistle of a breeze that clinks a steel chain block against a mast, the snap of a painter that tows a small dinghy, the plash of oar in cold water: the sounds of yachts being berthed, ropes being coiled and shouts carried by water, but dulled by coming rain are all here ... there.

There: just the way Claude Monet painted them in 1874, at Le Havre, in France.

This is the Le Havre of more than a hundred years before I used the very same location in my novel Camera Obscura, released globally last month by BeWrite Books. The painting appears in the book, and the location is significant in the story. Much has happened to change the harbour at Le Havre - there are still yachts there, and some fishing boats, but they are not the same as the ones you see here. Renovations and the march of the decades, prosperity, wars, ingenuity, and new architecture have changed the port town.

Enjoy this scene, and seek it in Camera Obscura - and let me know whether you recognize the landmarks.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Aspects of the human condition

It is possible to watch oneself develop as a writer. One can see oneself mature. Even without a mirror, one can take a step back and see a kind of stream in one's writing that becomes predominant. A stream that seems to take over: perhaps it's the aspect of life that fascinates, that preoccupies that author most.

That author is me: I take myself as the case in point and find some recurring themes in my writing - now that three of my novels are published, and a fourth is being written, it is certainly detectable. There are several aspects of the human condition I find fascinating, and they take over as I write.

Even without my knowing, they infiltrate my stories, and predominate. The careful reader will have noticed this some time ago, possibly even before I noticed that I am drawn to the way men of a certain age engage in affairs of the heart. Even before I understood my own fascination with the way locations affect people, perhaps, readers were twigging the fact that I am bowled over by some locations.

The things people 'know' and 'believe' do intrigue me. Belief and knowledge, especially when they dominate a life, move and inspire me. How can fully-grown adults allow a branch of knowledge, or a particular belief, take over their whole lives? It happens, and it's in my fiction ... several times over.

The aspects of human affection and love fascinate not only authors, but a great number of readers - which makes romance a very popular genre. And while I do not write strictly within the romance genre, the love and affection of my characters tends to colour my stories. I have also noticed that I am intrigued, struck and rather interested in avuncular male characters who imbibe the story with experience and wisdom. It took me a while to notice this, especially when I was still rather fond of writing short fiction.

Courtesy health.msn
Nothing tells you more about an author than reading two or three of their novels. Sometimes, it's better than a biography. Aspects of love and hate, of irritation, of joy and disappointment - of the whole gamut of human emotions and relations pop up ... but some of these keep recurring, and one can relate to that author's preoccupations.

So am I preoccupied by ageing? By aspects of knowledge and belief? By relationships? By the way life's troubles and stresses get in the way of love?  By the way a particular place on the globe colours a traveller's whole life? I must be, because I write a lot about these tendencies. I give my protagonists problems of the kinds I would not like myself, and am slightly scared of, but have often wondered about. This is telling.

I have found out that it is possible to discover more about an author than they might be willing to reveal about themselves.

If you are a reader - have you ever wondered about your favourite authors' preoccupations, and whether they surface in their fiction?

If you are an author, how conscious are you of your concerns and obsessions filtering through into your stories ... which, after all, are supposed to be fictions?

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

The wisdom of others

Where would we be without the wisdom of others? They might not think they are wise, but they lend us their experience. Listening to those who talk about fiction gives me insights into novels I haven't even read, gives me introductions to authors I had not heard of until then. Listening to other parents gives me a view on teenagers I did not see before. Hearing and reading about friends' adventures in the kitchen makes me write shopping lists that are a bit different from the staple "Carrots, cranberries, cabbage."

Few of us think we are wise. When we are posed questions, or asked for advice, though, we bring our age and experience into play. Wisdom is not merely stuff found in books. Wisdom can be found in family anecdotes - of digging a "hidden" pair of sandals out of a sandpit, or mopping refused spaghetti off the front of a brand new t-shirt.

Wisdom can be found in commonplace opinions about books or movies, which can give a new slant to the terms "jealousy", "gluttony" or "joy". Ask someone you know, and whose opinions you think you have a handle on, what they think joy is, and you might have material for a new novel.

Leonard Bernstein
An off-the-cuff comment about a chance meeting, or a single word about a shared experience such as a concert, can give a creative person the whole basis for their next work. "Did you see how the only thing moving at a certain moment was the conductor's baton?" And the creative person goes home, stays up half the night, and produces a canvas of a hand, complete with cuff and baton, that is a sure masterpiece.

I am in the middle of writing my next novel. It would be practically impossible to do it without drawing on the depth of experience, the advice, the anecdotes, the opinions and the wisdom I have observed in people around me, strangers I meet, and acquaintances I make online.

One might think it would be impossible to produce anything at all without the input of a number of people: all works are the product of a team of some sort. Inspiration is nothing short of the wisdom we gain from others.
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