WIP: Unmasked (Working Title)

This is the prologue to one of the two pieces I’m working on at present. Because I’m feeling somewhat nerdish, I thought I would share. I hope you enjoy this snippet as much as I did writing it. 

Celeste

July 1978

            Funerals were always dark and somber occasions filled with useless chatter about how good a person was, all the good things they did and comforting words void of real depth or feeling.  Today Hillsborough’s one hundred and two year old church was again packed with a menagerie of visitors mourning the death of a beloved friend, colleague, and family member.

Sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows and streaked the church with a multihued display of light. A bounty of floral sprays and bouquets lined the orchestra’s small section to the right of the altar. In the center, the dark, oak casket stood closed, draped in daffodils. Too bad the recipient couldn’t see how beautiful they rested against the dark, polished wood.

Brianna observed the proceedings from the front pew. If she moved forward, she could reach out and touch the polished surface of the coffin, but she didn’t. She sat hidden behind a veil of ebony tulle and a broad-brimmed hat. Her hands folded uncomfortably, yet properly, in her lap.  Her blue eyes betrayed nothing. No tears, nor fears, not even remorse.

“It’s a beautiful day for a funeral isn’t it?” A voice broke the silence.

“At least the Lord spared us rain,” said a plump blond woman bumping into a pew behind her. “We didn’t need any more rain. My poor begonias are plum drenched from all that we got last week. And the hail. Couldn’t believe any survived.”

“I know what you mean. Insurance company is probably going to go up on the premiums again. This makes a second new roof and a third windshield in my suburban in the past two years.”

It was enough. She turned and glared at the two women behind her. “Do you mind?” she hissed. “This is hardly the time or place to be carrying on about such matters,” she said in her best grown up voice.

The pair had the good sense to look apologetic. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry ma’am,” said the blonde. “Were you close?

Close? Yes, Brianna thought. Very close. But the women didn’t need to know that. She scarcely nodded and resumed staring at the daffodils. They looked especially jaunty today. Her father would have been pleased. There were forty four laid lengthwise across the casket and another bouquet of forty four in a large copper urn near the podium where people read things from the Book.

Slowly, people rose to their feet as a morose sounding pipe organ bid family members entrance. Great Uncle Douglas, Aunt Cheryl, Aunt Amanda and Mother slid in the pew next to Brianna. She chose not to be in the processional. She didn’t want to face a sea of faces. Turning her back to the pity was how she coped.

“Brianna? Are you okay?” her mother asked, pulling her close.

She nodded stiffly. “Yes ma’am. Just fine.”

But she didn’t feel fine. She felt worse after realizing she just lied to her mother in church. She looked around. Bolts of lightning didn’t thrust through the air at her nor did the ground open up and swallow her. Maybe God wasn’t listening. Maybe God wasn’t even there.

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Pick a View – Any View

There is no absolute point of view from which real and ideal can be finally separated and labelled.  

~T. S. Eliot~

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I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is “stuck” with where she’s at on her novel.  She read me what she’s written and it occurred to me the voice may be horribly wrong. Yes, I used a little more tact when I told her that and she took my criticism with aplomb.

When you are settling in to write, what you first put down on the page may be glaringly obvious whose voice the story is in – needs to be in. But then, there are the other times when the voice may change, the story doesn’t work as well the way you have it or the impact you want changes. That’s the time it helps to revisit the point of view. This isn’t a piece I’m currently working on; however, I wanted to show an example of first person POV versus 3rd person.

I started writing this in 3rd person omniscient and thought it was “okay.”  Keep in mind, these are just the scenes from a draft…

            At 6:33 in the morning, the table was set for three with her great-grandmother’s Haviland China and a pair of the Waterford toasting flutes she received for a wedding present ten years earlier. In the third spot, she tenderly positioned a silver child’s cup and flatware for the child she finally carried. The test showed positive last night.

Meredith was ecstatic and she took the stairs two at a time as she went to wake her husband. Her plan was to wake him with kisses and then give him the good news as soon as he came down for breakfast and saw the third place setting in the dining room.

Her husband, Dr. Jason Brooks, was already in the shower when Meredith reached her bedroom. It was unusual for him to wake before the alarm at seven o’clock, but she reasoned that he must have an early consultation or possibly even a surgery scheduled. She picked up his Blackberry to check his calendar. Nothing appeared on the schedule.

As she was about to set the phone down, the phone chirped for an incoming text message.  She read it, put the device back down where she found it and then slipped unnoticed from the room. He had an early morning consultation that wasn’t on the schedule and she didn’t think it had anything to do with plastic surgery either.

She ran her fingers through her hair as she went back downstairs. Meredith silently removed the Haviland and the Waterford and the silver cup she bought for the occasion. She wished she’d never given the maid the day off.

It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t really do anything for me.  I thought it needed a little bit more zip so kicking back at the keyboard, I changed the point of view and as a result, the voice… and with it the tone changed in a way I believe is more powerful.

At 6:33 in the morning, I set the table for three with my great-grandmother’s Haviland China and the pair of the Waterford toasting flutes from our wedding ten years prior.  In the third spot, I had positioned a silver child’s cup and flatware. The test showed positive last night.

Unable to contain my excitement, I took the stairs two at a time as I went to wake Jason.  My plan was to smother him with kisses and then give him the good news as soon as he came down for breakfast and saw the third place setting in the dining room.

He was already in the shower when I reached the master bedroom.  Unusual.  He never gets up before the alarm at seven o’clock.  He must have an early consultation or possibly even a surgery scheduled, I thought. So I did what any wife would do, I picked up his Blackberry to check his calendar. No. Nothing on the schedule. This wasn’t so unusual as Jason could be quite forgetful, but his office secretary wasn’t.

I was about to set the phone down as it chirped for an incoming text message. I read it, put the device back down on the bureau with shaking hands and then slipped unnoticed from the room. He did indeed have an early morning consultation that wasn’t on the schedule.

I trodded slowly downstairs then silently removed the Haviland, the Waterford and the silver cup I bought for the occasion. As I threw them in the trash,  I suddenly wished I hadn’t given the maid the day off.

 

This is only an example of how voice changes a piece. If you are “stuck” on what you are writing, try using a different point of view. Make the trek from first to third or third to first person. It might create a new door where there was once only a wall.

For Love, Money or Both (A Question & A Rant)

“Some people don’t like competition because it makes them work harder, better.”

~ Drew Carey~

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I love to write. It’s like the air I breathe. I cannot live without setting in front of the blank page and putting down my thoughts, ideas, conversations and what have you.  I cannot say I’m the best of the best (yet), but I write from the heart and that counts for something on the page.

For the past “little bit,” I’ve been toying with the idea of entering a writer’s competition. There’s one held around here annually and as my piece is coming along, I thought, “Why not rip off a little piece of me and let it be judged.”  Then I looked in the 2014 Writing Contest submission guidelines and I was appalled.  My dismay has carried on for the past week so I thought I would vent / share and see what you thought about the way this is set up. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m not.

  1. The “Book” Category.  This consists of two. Count them TWO subgroups of a) ANY GENRE of full-length novel and b) non-fiction book.

Oh for the love of all that is good, pure and holy in the universe. Excuse me? This is reality speaking. Your door is ajar.  Can someone explain to me how you lump ALL full-length novels into one category?  How does a judge compare a synopsis of no more than 6K words theoretically giving the judge a feel for the story and how the characters impact the plot and final resolution along with a “portion of your novel” with the indication of where it falls in your book.

I know some of these authors. They are powerhouses in their respective genres. One of these delightful women has won numerous awards and has been inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame.

I don’t write romances. I’ve published other things, but never a novel.  How does a “novice” go up against someone like that in a completely different genre? My fantasy against a western, inspirational, horror or (gasp) erotica piece? Interesting jousting match you have created.

For example: If you were to compare James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Steven King, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, Nicholas Sparks… (the random list off the top of my head) who wins that competition? The reason I bring this up is how does a small panel of judges or a judge (depending on the number of entries) legitimately choose between genres as to who is a better writer. Is it all based on grammar, punctuation, syntax and the like? Or does the judge actually delve into the creative abilites of the author to make the reader feel something? How does a judge compare a romance to a western to a thriller to a mystery to science fiction to fantasy…?

2. Poetry.  The subcategories are rhymed and free-verse. Yep. That’s it. Nothing more to see there. Move along.

Yes there is rhymed and free-verse poetry, but many people believe categorically speaking some poetry should be placed into lyric, narrative and dramatic subgenres. You can’t lump it all together. Poetry has genres just as books do.

Lyric is poetry that is written in a song-like way, but deals with emotions. These are generally broken down into “odes” and “sonnets”  Think “Ode to a Grecian Urn” or Shakespeare’s “Sonnet Number 18”, arugably the most famous of all the sonnets as seen below:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Narrative poetry falls within the lines of the “epics.” (Think Homer’s “The Odyssey”)  These are VERY long and cover an extended period of time.  Also included in this subgenre are ballads. The “Bridal Ballad” by Edgar Allan Poe.

The ring is on my hand,
And the wreath is on my brow;
Satin and jewels grand
Are all at my command,
And I am happy now.
And my lord he loves me well;
But, when first he breathed his vow,
I felt my bosom swell-
For the words rang as a knell,
And the voice seemed his who fell
In the battle down the dell,
And who is happy now.

But he spoke to re-assure me,
And he kissed my pallid brow,
While a reverie came o’er me,
And to the church-yard bore me,
And I sighed to him before me,
Thinking him dead D’Elormie,
“Oh, I am happy now!”

And thus the words were spoken,
And this the plighted vow,
And, though my faith be broken,
And, though my heart be broken,
Here is a ring, as token
That I am happy now!

Would God I could awaken!
For I dream I know not how!
And my soul is sorely shaken
Lest an evil step be taken,-
Lest the dead who is forsaken
May not be happy now.

A different type of poem is the dramatic verse. These are meant to be read aloud as a general rule. I like to refer to them as the “dramatic monologue.” You will often see this in the middle of a play.  Poe was excellent at this as was Robert Frost.  From Frost’s  “Out-Out”:

Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart
He saw all spoiled. “Don’t let him cut my hand off
The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!”
So. But the hand was gone already.

And if that’s not enough book learnin’ for you, what if someone wanted to enter limericks (ala Edward Lear), Pastorals, Haiku / Senryu (there is a difference), Terza Rima (lines are arranged in tercets)… Oh… I can go on, but need I really? These are not necessarily “rhymed” nor “free verse.”

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is by the organization telling me in the “General Guidelines” all I can submit is rhymed or free verse poetry, someone doesn’t appear to have a clue how poetry is categorized. The differences between each of them is based on the format, rhyme scheme and subject matter – not whether or not they rhyme. Do I want them judging my work if they don’t appear to adequately understand the dynamics of the content they are requesting?  It’s an interesting conundrum.

How Do You Write….

… when the words don’t come?

I’m not talking writer’s block. I’m talking about when life circumstances throw steaming piles of dog excrement in your general direction and you are bogged down in the muck and mire of the depths of emotion. I know I should channel this… “this”… into something creative or useful.

This year has been one big mess after another. My spousal unit was transferred to another city in the state, we sold our house, I have a family member who’s going through yet ANOTHER big round of big chemo for cancer and the news I got last night has left me scrambling – no starved – for oxygen. I feel like I’m at the top of a cloud enshrouded mountain and cannot inhale deeply enough. At this moment, I can’t see past the billowing nebula storming around me.

It’s one thing to write with emotion. It’s another to be unable to write because of it.  Poop.

Make Me Feel… Something.

” Feelings are not supposed to be logical. Dangerous is the man who has rationalized his emotions.” ~David Borenstein~

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I love books and movies that make me seethe in anger, weep with tears and belly laugh. The fact of the matter is all of us want to feel this way and at the end of the day – emotional writing is what sells books and screenplays. The question most of us have is “how?”

Some of the basic emotions we all read about (or have experienced) are some of the ones people expect in our works. Being in love, fear, surprise, envy, sadness and anger are just a few of the basic emotions a person goes through. This might happen to a person all in one day. Our characters need to experience these feelings as well. When they do, our readers feel connected with them and as a result, they connect with us, the writers, as well.

Pick an emotion. Any emotion. Then add the sensory experience. If you wonder what I mean by that, let me give you an example. I’ll take sadness. When you experience an extreme emotion your other senses heighten. So when your character is sad, let them taste the salt of their tears. Let them squint at the sunlight, which further depresses them. The the merry laughter of others in the room echo around them and overwhelm them. Maybe they will feel the bond of a piece of paper they are rubbing together with their fingers, a piece of paper with the words “good-bye” written on it. Who knows? The sky is the limit.  Allow yourself the time to let the emotion wash over not only your character, but YOU. It’s okay to get emotional while writing. Once you’ve written what you want, let it simmer and come back to it later. Then maybe you will have a new perspective on both your character and yourself you wouldn’t have achieved otherwise.

When I’m writing emotional scenes, I usually set the scene to music. Most of the scenes in my book have a corresponding song that goes with them. One of my favorites is Gary Jules “Mad World.” The haunting tone of that song (originally done by Tears for Fears, but this one is better) is great for a sad scene. This is one of the reasons why music scores / soundtracks are so powerful in movies. If you haven’t tried it before, give it a shot. Be the music director and set the scene with a song.

Finally, you’ve probably heard the advice before, but I’m telling you, no – urging you, again. If you do not keep a journal, do so. You will find tidbits of emotion that come out on journal pages like nowhere else. If nothing else, those entries can help “get you in the mood” when writing what can be a terribly hard thing to do.

Emotion. You cannot fake it. You will destroy your readers confidence in you as a writer if you do.

(Photo courtesy NYTimes)

What Inspires You?

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.”
~Edgar Allen Poe~

ImageWhat inspires you?

Such an innocent looking question, isn’t it?

Does inspiration come from something our soul touches? Does it come from a place of understanding and acceptance or maybe the search thereof? Is inspiration born of emotion or found in the depths of apathy? Is it divine intervention? The reason we are inspired to do the things we do, to write the things we write or to be who we are is unique to each of us. What illuminates my universe and prods me forward may give you hesitation.

I was reading a news article this morning about a woman in Chicago who was charged $787.33 for two-mile cab ride. I love stories like this for a couple of reasons.

  1. Stories like this I tuck away in case I need a character whether it be a cab driver, a college student or even a worker at a credit card company. The truth in a story like this gives better depth to a character, even if a minor one.
  2. The comments in the story from others who were overcharged were sometimes ridiculously funny. Some offered helpful hints as to how to avoid overpaying for cabbie services. Others made me cringe. All spoke of the universality of human nature.

I’ve taken my fair share of taxi’s, though not in Chicago. Almost all of them have been in New York City. Only once have I gotten into it with the driver, who claimed the credit card machine didn’t work. As I didn’t want to be late for my flight home, I just shelled out cash and got on with it. Yes. I’m an idiot. But we learn from our mistakes, eh? Will I use that experience at some point in my writing? Probably so.

You see, the piece I’m working on has much of it taking place in the Big Apple and it would be easy enough to wind in a scene with a NY cabbie and a main character. If done right, it would provide quite a comedic moment as I wasn’t familiar at the time with how hacks operate and this individual would be just as clueless.

So back to the original question. What inspires you?

My inspiration is drawn from everything around me, but mostly things I have experienced. From the experience I ask the question “what if…?” and see where it takes me. (I’m hoping it takes me back to New York. I love that town.)

(Photo courtsey WFLD)

Give Them the Axe?

“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
~E.E. Cummings~

I was chatting with my friend, TD, about one of the characters in the novel I am working on.  We were discussing the killing off of said character and at this time, I have no plans to annihilate this being. I’m quite fond of him and he’s essential to the well-being of another major individual in the book. This leads me to a couple of other conversations I would like to share with you.

My oldest daughter is trying her wings at writing. She had a character who, for all practical purposes, was a red shirt and she didn’t know what to do with her.  When it comes to characters, one of the most vital things you have to ask yourself is, “What purpose do they serve?” I asked her that to help her figure out how to “get rid of her.”

If they are just there to take up space and don’t help to push the story along, they are a red shirt. If they have have a bearing on another character, provide insight into a situation, but don’t have a major contribution to the plot/story, then they are a minor charactor. These individuals need to have some depth to them, but you don’t have to know everything about them. Your major characters are central to the story and need to be fully flushed out. You need to know them and know them well. You need to know what makes them tick, what makes their hearts go bump in the middle of the night and why they do the things they do. My daughter was trying to make her red shirt into a minor character, who didn’t really serve a purpose other than die. Seriously. By rewriting the scene and leaving this individual as a red shirt, the emotional response by the main character rang authentic. Boom! That’s how it’s done.

Another friend of mine is a fabulous writer. She has the art of paring down characters to an art form. She’s on her second novel and I sometimes howl in delight with the way she is able to craft things. After she got rid of a lot of the unessential cast. As a result, her writing is much tighter and many scenes are either 1) much funnier or 2) more poignant. Isn’t that what we all strive for?

There are many, many works where characters are killed off – whether on the page, the stage or screen. I think Shakespeare actually ENJOYED killing off his characters – it seemed as though someone always died in his plays.  Television has had it’s own share of characters who have bitten the big one, moves that have stunned audiences around the globe. (Thinking back now to who shot JR…)  These deaths can sometimes feel forced and contrived so care must be taken when eradicating a beloved character – especially a major character.

<SPOILER> One of my favorite characters who was obilterated was Professor Snape in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Love him or hate him, his demise was masterfully crafted.  Unlike a redshirt, he was a major player and without him, Harry Potter wouldn’t have achieved what he did or become who he did.  (And also using Rowling’s Potter Series… she did her own fair share of killing off of characters, but over seven books, I think she was allowed.)

Before cancelling your character’s life-check, ask yourself what purpose he/she serves – Major, minor or red shirt? Once you have that figured out, the rest should be a little easier to write.