Monday, March 14, 2011

Guest Blog: Writer, Traveler, Seeker, Deborah Provenzale

I haven't known Deborah Provenzale for very long. In fact, I don't really know her at all, having only spent some fun time with her and some mutual buds at The Boise Book Expo this past Fall. What I do know is that she is an intelligent, if not uber-intelligent, young woman who writes beautiful stories as much as she subscribes to La Dolce Vita, as is only fitting for a woman who loves Italy as much as I do...and that's a lot. Not only is she the author of the forthcoming novel, Enigma, and an explorer, but this Fall she will travel to China in hopes of teaching English as a second language. In preparation for this adventure she is learning Mandarin.


I've been to China and getting around for 20 odd days was hard enough. I can't imagine what it will be like to teach there. But I'm sure Deborah will do just fine. She will flourish, become more beautiful, and no doubt discover subject matter for some more great stories and novels. Like me, she has a lust for adventure, travel, and writing stories that provide as much fuel for the wandering soul as they do entertainment for her readers. Such individuals, while difficult to maintain long lasting relationships with (Ha, had to get that in, didn't I?), are not concerned with moving from point A to point B just for the sheer hell of it, but are searching for that all illusive "meaning of life."

For all of our sakes, let's hope that Deborah "the eternal seeker" Provenzale never finds it.

Deborah, the podium is yours:

Why Pandora Didn’t Need a Parachute

As a new and budding author, I have had the distinct pleasure of exploring the most creative caverns and peaks and abysses of my mind while continually pushing the limits of my new-found freedom of the written word. New characters have been introduced to our world, situations and scenarios have been played out, undone, rewritten, embellished or scrapped altogether, and the world of the mind has forever been expanded by a new idea, a new existence that was never there before. As Oliver Wendell Holmes so astutely pointed out, “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” And I can certainly say that this has rung true for me.

What an exciting endeavor it is to be an author. In the world I have created, I can be anyone, do anything, and just as the reader dives into a good book to escape for a time, so does the author, at the very moment his or her words are coming alive on the page, in the very moment of creation. Oh, but to completely disengage from reality and climb right into the story, were it possible to stay there, how truly magnificent that would be. And for a time, it can be so.

Beginning in grade school, and carried on throughout all of my schooling, I was taught the value of the outline. “Before beginning any writing endeavor,” my teachers would say, “it is important that you know where you are going with the story; that it has a sensible beginning, a gradual rise in action to an eventful climax, and that it is tied up neatly in the end.” Thesis, body, conclusion, thesis, body, conclusion – whether it was a non-fiction short story, the outline of a speech, or a creative fiction writing assignment, this was the format, and the outline was mandatory.

So now, equipped with my quietly humming laptop, my best-selling story idea neatly plotted out in an outline and my hot cup of tea that is sure to bring the greatest of inspiration, I stare blankly at my computer screen. And as if to answer, the cursor on the page blinks rhythmically, filled with the expectation and anticipation of a child at Christmas time, or the mother in the delivery room who has not yet held her new baby in her arms. Blink, blink… short short short looong looong looong short short short… wait, did I see that correctly? Is the cursor blinking SOS? Wait a minute! This isn’t what I signed up for!

Writer’s block. Phooey. I thought it was a myth, the thing that happens when a writer is too lazy to take the time to make an outline and actually plan the plot line and characterization ahead of time. Once the outline is done, the rest is a breeze… right? It’s formulaic. You have your protagonist, your antagonist, some extra people to create some good dialog, the big event that triggers the rise in the plot and the inevitable climax, sprinkle in some flowery descriptions and something paranormal that could never happen in reality, and then you drop it into neutral and coast down the hill. It’s like a calculator – you punch in the numbers and it spits out the answer – easy, neat, no dirt under the nails and barely break a sweat. (Excuse me a moment, while I pull myself off the floor and regain my composure from laughing so hard I could barely breathe.) Ahem, okay, where was I?

If only it were so neat and tidy, the unwrapping of gifts at Christmas, the delivery of that baby in the hospital, the putting of pen to paper. Who cuts the tape seams and saves the used paper and ribbon anymore? Who… nevermind, I’m not going there with the delivery room… and who thinks they can be so formulaic with a purely creative feat like writing?

Here’s what I know. You give me a stack of presents, and I’ll show you a shredded path of destruction that leads to my pile of loot. There is no process or formula whatsoever. I want to know what’s in that box, and I don’t want to be slow and procedural about it. I’m glad to say I’ve never seen what goes on in a delivery room, but from what I hear, it “ain’t pretty neetha.” So why should the creative adventure of writing be any different?

At first, I admit it, I started out doing what I was told. I wrote out an outline, listed out my main characters, added some supporting characters, pretended to crack my knuckles with the fake cracking sound and all, and set to work making the cursor stop sending SOS signals with the smoke coming out of my brain. What happened? By chapter four, I was bored, lost and wore out. There was no excitement, no unexplored caves, no uncharted territory, no bear to climb over the mountain to see what he could see… even if it was only the other side of the mountain.

It had already been done. The story had already played out in my head scene by scene in that blasted outline. I already knew the ending. I already knew who died, who won, who got the girl (or guy), who killed Colonel Mustard in the conservatory, and how everyone was going to get out of every pickle I put them in. How boring is that? I thought being an author was fun and exciting, an adventure all in itself! Boy was I wrong.

Or was I? Thankfully, I have this little character flaw that seems to come to my rescue from time to time. You see, I have always paid close attention to the rules, and for a time, I would follow them to the letter. However, what many people don’t know about me is that I have wonderfully nice horns that hold up my halo, and all the while that I’m following the rules, I’m testing the fence like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park looking for the weak points. Oh yes, I’m “one of those” people. I like to know the rules so I can push them, bend them – oh heck, who am I kidding – snap the suckers right in two.

And so, just like little Pandora, eagerly tearing the neatly-tied bow off the mysterious Christmas package from her secret Santa, or Rosemary, with all the expectation of a mother waiting to meet the child she brought into this world, I too, have reconnected with my own sense of wonder. I have found a new appreciation and anticipation for the unexplored crags and hidden tunnels with who-knows-what lurking in the dark recesses of my creative brain. “Go in there without a map?” you say. “Why, aren’t you afraid?” “Oh, I’m afraid,” I say. “I’m very afraid.” And with that, I click on my head lamp and plunge headlong into a freefall down the shaft of an abandoned well that they say has no bottom. And as I’m falling, it occurs to me, “Oh crap, I forgot to strap on my parachute.”

Yes, as a new and budding author, my pleasure and sense of wonder in exploring the unknown has been truly distinct. There is nothing else like it, creating new worlds, being introduced to new characters, letting them surprise you when you put them in a pickle. As for that partially-written best-selling story idea and its illustrious outline? Well, the outline is back at the top of the well, neatly folded and marking page 63 of the rule book that is sitting next to my parachute.

And the story? The story is sort of writing itself now. Whether it’s a best-seller will remain to be seen, but boring it certainly is not. With a new scenario around every corner and no certainty as to what will happen next, I feel every bit like the reader who has escaped from reality to witness the unfolding of events right before her eyes. There’s no map in this world, no blinking SOS beacon. It’s just the spirit of adventure and that driving need to keep going up the hill and around the bend because I have to know what’s on the other side. Why did Pandora open that box? Because she had to… and you would, too.

So what are you waiting for? Ditch the outline and the rule book, leave the parachute at home, and cannonball off the edge. Let wonder be your flashlight and the need to know be your guide. Whoever said that writing has to follow a set of rules has never played chess with a minotaur or saved their best friend from almost getting devoured by a bunch of hungry cheechums (a particularly ferocious breed of capugians). It’s your world; explore it, paint it, build it. Don’t try to contain it or confine it. The fun part about being an author is that, just like your reader, you are an adventurer, an explorer, and it’s okay to not know what happens next or how the story ends. If there’s no end in sight, make it a series and keep going, keep asking, keep exploring. But just know, once you’ve set out, there’s no turning back. Your mind will never return to its former dimensions, your eyes will never unsee, and you will never uncreate. And as for the well? I haven’t found the bottom yet… and I’m okay with it.

Deborah Provenzale lives in Boise, Idaho and has always considered travelling and writing to be her top passions. Being half Italian, she has a special love for Italy, especially Rome, where her debut novel, Enigma, is based. Deborah speaks Italian and is now learning Mandarin in preparation for her plan to move to China in the fall of 2011. Deborah’s burning passion is to live in other countries, immersed in their cultures, learn other languages, travel the world and write full-time. Deborah is also the author of the short thriller Deadline.

Follow Deborah on Twitter: debprovenzale

On Facebook: Deborah Provenzale

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  1. This post from Deborah breathed inspiration into my swamped-from-outlining brain. I am ready to explore. Maybe, it's about time for me to try the pantser approach. :)

  2. I agree....There are times I attack a new novel like an engineer creating blueprints and contract documents, and other times, like an explorer flying uncharted territory without a compass....Watch out for her stuff, she's the real deal!