Category Archives: Writing

Drowning in Change

“There’s a ship arriving too late to save a drowning witch…” Frank Zappa

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Frank Zappa released the album “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch in the early 1980’s. It’s most notable song was “Valley Girl” which was a parody of a stereotype during that time period.  “Like totally” as well as “Gag me with a spoon” were heard so frequently it was almost nauseating.  I’m pretty sure my parental units were grateful when those phrases went out of vogue.  But on the album’s flip-side was the title track “Drowning Witch” which the past six months has felt on and off like my theme song.

The lyrics that especially speak to me are: “As the light goes dim and she’s trying to swim… will she make it? (Boy we sure hope so.)”

The upside of life: I’ve finally settled in to my Metroplex apartment and have been working on getting a routine settled into place. I can actually drive around the area (thanks to the GPS on my phone and in the vehicle) and I am learning to be more independent as it’s just me and Yoda here. I’m still learning about the area and it doesn’t yet feel like home, but I’m homesick for my peeps, not so much the city where I used to live.

But a few things have happened over the past two months that have really started putting life into perspective. I took a writing hiatus to clear the head and really start thinking about what I’m writing, how I’m writing it and most importantly, WHY I am doing it.  I’m doing it because I love the written word and the power behind language. When I am writing, I create entire universes on a blank page and while I’m not yet in league with the best of the best, I feel I can take you to another place. Writing is the air I breathe and the time off has given me a much needed perspective on taking those deep, deep breaths.

I also realized that the job I got when I moved down here is not the stellar expectation I built up in my mind. (Haven’t we all done that a time or two?)  I had plenty of time to contemplate this fact after an on-the-job injury and spending time in bed at home.  I figured out while recovering when you get up out of bed each day and dread going to work and then come home too exhausted to even be human, there is a problem. Seriously, some days I felt like the anti-christ as my mood and behavior changed so dramatically.

What was I doing?  Why was I doing it?  Who was I doing it for?

Since the accident these little life questions have been haunting me and it all came to a head one day when someone at work called into question my character and integrity with such venom it took me aback. This person doesn’t know me and what little interaction we have had has been tense even prior to this.  It brought out feelings of anger, resentment and frankly, despair. (Basically my middle school years all wrapped up into a couple of days.)

WHAT was I doing? I’m a grown woman and I don’t need or deserve to be treated like I’m worthless by someone who doesn’t know me or want to know me.  WHY was I still working there after a couple of months of progressive misery? The grass was literally greener on the other side, but laying underneath the grass was a cold, dark place.  I was working there for the wrong reasons and there are no right ones to really keep me there.  WHO was I doing this for?  The epic question of the day wore on my heart and I realized I was doing it JUST for the money and not for anyone.

Money is an evil task-master.  The Beatles were right. It can’t buy you love and at the end of the day, it only buys a fleeting happiness.

So as I write this, I’m a little more than 24 hours out of the epic showdown that will occur on Monday.  I can’t look back on this time with regret like those who consistently say, “if I knew then what I know now.” I have learned a lot about me, what I believe in and where I’m going in the future.

The ship is arriving and I’m swimming to shore, but it’s not too late. Not too late at all.

6 Degrees of Seperation?

Nine million terrorists in the world and I gotta kill one with feet smaller than my sister.”

~John McClane~

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My most humble and sincere apologies to everyone.  It’s been hard (literally and figuratively) to sit my butt at the keyboard and converse with you about one of my true loves… writing. I have been ill for a little bit and with the fairly frequent weekend visits to Dallas, TX, I’ve just been pretty wiped out.  The upside to this is I have been watching movie after movie after movie because laying in bed, there’s not much else to do. In the past couple of weeks, I have seen over thirty on DVD. I thought I would take a moment to share a couple of finer moments with you.

Becoming Jane must be seen with Pride and Prejudice – back to back and in that order.  I have also decided to add Jane Austen’s residence to my bucket list of places to visit.

Speaking of The Bucket List, I don’t know if I recommend watching it while sick in bed. It’s a tremendous movie. I love Jack Nicholson’s movies overall and realistically I should have paired the Bucket with another of his I enjoy, As Good as It Gets with Helen Hunt. Of course, this reminds me, if you haven’t seen Prizzi’s Honor co-starring Kathleen Turner, do so. You will thank me later. (It’s much snappier and crisper than the more modern / similar Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

There was also the “tear-fest” that ensued when watching Fried Green Tomatoes, Beaches, The Time Traveller’s Wife, and The Lake House in a marathon session one afternoon. Gads. I’m such a girl sometimes. Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my favorite performances by Kathy Bates. I got a first taste of her acting abilities in Stephen King’s Misery and in it’s own 6-Degrees of Separation, she also starred with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. But Bates’ diversity of characterization is amazing. If you haven’t seen her in The Blind Side, it’s a total turn-around from Misery and her role as Mama in The Water Boy still has me rolling after all these years.

Ah… the Water Boy. Adam Sandler. I did take in a double-feature one night when I couldn’t sleep. I had to watch Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, a hero story all in its own. I’ll admit it. I’m not a huge Sandler fan. But there is no denying the comedic timing and talent he possesses.

But the heroism didn’t end there. O.M.G. Fantastic 4, The Green Hornet, X-Men, Daredevil and Elektra came into play. I know. I know. A lot of people weren’t at all impressed with the last two, but I have a thing for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner (remember Alias???) And because I’m a huge fan of action movies… those led into a Lethal Weapon marathon that just makes me smile. I mean, forget the weirdness of Mel Gibson as he’s aged and the divorce settlement with his ex. At the end of the day, the man is a hell of an Oscar-winning actor, producer and director. Plus, he has those blue, blue eyes.

Another actor with some pretty blue eyes (and also a fellow Texan) is Matthew McConaughey. Yeah. I did it. I watched four of his movies as well. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch and Fool’s Gold. I haven’t had a chance to see his fairy-dust, chest-beating performance yet in The Wolf of Wall Street, but I’m sure that’s coming soon.

A couple of other movies that bear seeing for too many reasons to list here are The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Water for Elephants and Eat, Pray, Love.  Each of these is based on an amazing book and the screenwriters did a fabulous job of transferring the critical elements of each story to the screen. (And yes, I finally watched EPL because of the number of references to it “Raj” makes in the hit TV show “The Big Bang Theory.”

So tonight… I shall sit and devour yet another movie. I’m torn as my choices are becoming fewer and further between. Most of my DVD collection is in Dallas so I’m making due with what’s left here in town for now. On another trip down there, I will have to pick up another 50 or so.

I shall leave you to your own devices while I snuggle up in bed with Bruce Willis. It’s a Die Hard kind of night. Yippie-ki-yay, mother…….

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.

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.

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.

More Than You Think… The Writer

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For years I hid the fact I’m a writer. It was too difficult to explain what it is I actually do. Most people seem to think I sit down at my desk, type a few pages and go about my day. But like many others, my life isn’t like that. My life is rather exhausting. I have a full time job, a family and some  dogs who, for lack of a better description, bother the hell out of me while I’m concentrating. I don’t have the luxury of secreting myself away for days on end until a piece is done. I try to carve out chunks of time to get done what needs to be done. Sometimes that ends in success – others are epic failure.

So what is this “being a writer” thing?

It is first and foremost being a goal-setter. It doesn’t matter if you are writing for newspapers / magazines or writing a novel. You have goals in mind that must be met. Whether it’s writing four articles a month or if it’s writing two pages a day, it’s still a goal.  I have found I have a better shot at achieving my goals if I am held accountable by letting my critique group know what I plan to do. Others have success by writing them down in a prominent place. A sticky note on the bathroom mirror is great for this.

So how do you set writing goals? You need to remember the SMART mnemonic often attributed to Peter Drucker.

  • Specific – how many words, pages, what kind of writing (Fiction/Non-fiction)
  • Measurable – find a way to show you are making progress whether it be word count, number of pages or chapters.
  • Assignable – who is responsible for what? As the writer, you are assigning the goals to yourself.
  • Realistic – this is where most goals fail. If I’m writing a 120k word novel, there is no way I can do this in 30 days while taking care of a family. Keep your goals within reach.
  • Time-related – deadlines are important. Give yourself one. Someday your publisher will and you need to know how to work under deadlines and the associated pressures if you have never done so before.

 A writer is also a thief of sorts.

Yes. I just said that. I seriously doubt any of us will be convicted in a court of law (unless we are plagerizing); however, we steal all the time. We filch bits of conversation from unsuspecting people around us. We gleen ideas from news articles, other books, names, places, and events. We take inspiration from the tales told to us from others and someone else’s moment in time becomes our own.

Writers are expected to be excellent story-tellers.

Strangely enough, this is not always the case.  One may be able to write brilliant and earth-shattering prose, but cannot tell a story to a group of friends in order to save a life. However, as long as they can deliver on the page, that’s all that really matters, eh?

Writers are notoriously private.

I tell people all the time I’m “anti-social.” Their eyes widen and mouths open in shock. Maybe it’s because I’m fairly friendly and outgoing, which sounds like an oxymoron to being private. But many writers don’t open up to people unless they are really close to them.  When you start talking about being reserved or dare I say clandestine, many people may think about authors such as the hermitic Orwell, Woolf and Plath who suffered from madness, or Nietzsche who preferred solitude and was also a bit mental.

Today, writers/authors have to have a “public face” if they are to be successful. Their writing will speak for itself, but marketing & book promotion will include book signings and interviews. Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets are becoming more expected from authors. The public wants to connect with you. This does not mean that you have to detail every thread in the fabric of your life. But you do have to make accommodations you might not want to.

A writer is so many different things to so many different people. I describe what I do as: I’m an analyst, researcher, creator and wordsmith wrapped in a cloak of thievery and mystery out to transform the universe for but a moment in time.  But… maybe that’s the madness speaking.

7 Things Writers Need to Know

This is NOT a game of Solitaire

Unless you just feel like being an anti-social boob, there is no need to think you are in the writing game alone. By joining critique groups (with constructive criticism), online writers’ communities and forums and writer’s organizations, you will develop connections who will help you develop your craft and make your piece the best it can be. Plus networking with other writers helps you in the publishing game as well. Every career path has an “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know” aspect to it.”

 

Skill vs. Talent

Only a small minority of writers are naturally born with the ability to spin tales of intrigue and fantasy without so much as a backward glance. They weave convoluted tales with the single stroke of a pen and leave us breathless and begging for more. Then there are the rest of us who labor for hours and finally give birth to our creation – an often bloody mess in dire need of editing. The good news is that even if you don’t have so-called talent, you can develop the skill you need to be a successful writer.

 

We Just Don’t Care… about your creative writing degree.

I was first published in a literary magazine as a teenager and have published articles, poetry and the like since then. At no time has ANYONE ever asked me where I got my creative writing degree from or even if I had one. What people want to know – can I write and write well? Can I provide them with writing samples? Can I show them I know how to produce what I say I can? 

 

Turtles travel at the speed of light compared to how quickly your novel will get to publication.

The movie “Limitless” shows the main character completing his promised novel in four days after a lengthy period of writer’s block. My word… if wishes were horses. But alas… the rest of us mere mortal men and women spend what feels like an eternity on our work. It then goes through editing and re-editing, galleys, proofreading, pre-publication marketing and research, publication and finally you have something tangible in your hands.

 

G-Sharp – It’s YOUR Voice. Use it.

There are so many other authors and writers who pen their work in a voice that is unique and inspiring. I couldn’t write like them if my life depended on it. If you try to write like someone else, your work will ring false and people will put the book down wondering “why” you would do such a thing. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but your voice is your own. Find it. Use it.

 

Starter, Quitter or Published?

There is nothing so scary or exciting as sitting down and staring at an empty screen or blank sheet of paper. Then comes the reality that I actually have to write something. Gah! Please not THAT! Ah, but yes. Indeed.

There are three categories of writers.

  • The starters are the ones who start project after project, but for whatever reason can’t seem to finish one.
  • The quitter stops before he even starts. He’s the wanna-be. With grandiose goals and statements like, “If I only had the time…” He quits before he even begins.
  • The published ones are the rare breed. Fewer than 1% of works submitted are actually published. As a general rule of 1,000 manuscripts a publishing house receives, 10 are actually published. The odds are not in your favor, but you can do a lot of things right to increase your chance of getting in the top 10%.

It’s NOT about the writing…

Don’t look a me like I’ve become a Chimera. I swear I’m right on this. It’s not about the writing. It’s about the emotion and what an individual feels when they pick up your piece and read it. It’s about the genuine, deep-in-the-dark-reaches-of-the-mind emotion. If you can make them FEEL, then you will have done your job and they may put you on a best sellers list. N’est-ce pas? Just some food for thought.