All Aboard the A!

Illuminated A

I love a good illuminated letter.

The Blogging from A to Z Challenge begins today! I’ve contemplated themes, toyed with the idea of guest bloggers…and have decided to let this endeavor happen organically. As a former librarian, I’m no stranger to the alphabetical and chronological. Hell, I can even sing the entire alphabet backwards, thanks to Ralph Covert! I’m absolutely amused by alliteration, and I love to play with words. So I thought I’d start out my ABC Adventure by writing about writing. A is for AUTHOR.

And they don’t call it “authorship” for nothing.

Writing is a craft, and it is a writers’ job to steer that craft. This concept is not new; in fact, the amazing Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a very helpful book on the subject: Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.

I think every fiction author has had someone ask them “Where do you get your ideas from?” or “Did you write that because it happened to you?” Sure, truth is often stranger than fiction, and it’s often said you ‘write what you know’. But most writers will be happy to tell you: the ideas just come. The characters just speak. And no, that character is not based on me, because I’ve never gone to wizarding school/dated a vampire/owned a car with an evil mind of its own named Christine, etc.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the South Ferry Terminal in Manhattan. Visions of it often pop into my head at odd times while I’m writing or just thinking about writing. Not sure why; perhaps it’s due to all the years I spent commuting between boroughs in my young adulthood. I have been crafting a particularly tough scene that takes place on the Staten Island ferry, but I don’t think that is the only reason my brain keeps drifting back to it. It may be a stretch to try and offer it as an allusion or allegory for anything remotely literary, but here goes:

Picture yourself if you can, walking into the ferry terminal. Don’t worry if you’ve never been to this particular terminal. Its a bright expanse of glass and chrome; clean and modern. This is a beautiful panorama of an author’s brain. The sky’s the limit if you’re looking up. But if you’re looking down, you might notice a bit of grime on the floor. Some stubborn dirt, or the sticky remnants of someone’s sick regret the janitor missed while mopping up. Oh, and pigeon poop. It’s all there. The good and the bad.

New Whitehall terminal

New ferry terminal, Manhattan

The ferry boats docking and departing are the ideas – plots, scenes, arcs – coming and going. Some are small and only come at night (like the Alice Austin, the smallest ferry of the fleet and the only one named after a woman). Others are grandiose, majestic…the Guy V. Molinari, three thousand-ton kind of ideas.

Staten Island Ferry

Guy V Molinari ferry

So we’ve got the terminal and we’ve got the boats. How about all the commuters? A regular person looks and sees a crowd. A writer looks and sees a crowd…and wonders what everyone had for breakfast.

Striding quickly through or plunking themselves heavily down in your brain, in your plots and scenes, are characters. Why have they come? What are they thinking? Where are they going? These are all questions a writer will ask repeatedly. A writer will scour the terminal, sail back and forth on the boats until seasick and shaky, and search the face of each and every commuter discretely. Some are laughing, some are sleeping, some are yelling at their children in a foreign language. Eating, kissing, reading, staring into space. Some show up like clockwork every day. Others show up unexpectedly. Many disappear into the landscape. The best kind catch your eye. Smile. Open up to you.


The crowd - a cast of characters

If my title led you to believe we were taking a train today…APRIL FOOL! We took a ride on the SS Authorship. Hope you enjoyed the ride! Tomorrow’s journey: B…