Wednesday, March 4, 2015

You Might Be A Writer...

If changing the placement of adverbs in a sentence can occupy hours of your time ... you might be a writer.

If you love naming town, characters, teddy bears, sofas ... you might be a writer.

If you find typos and POV errors in books ... you might be a writer.

If you narrate the mundane duties of your daily life ... you might be a writer.

If you describe a sunset, rainbow, or storm in metaphors and similes ... you might be a writer.

If you wear a tiar when you sit at your computer - to help the 'flow of thoughts' .. you might be a writer.

If you get twitchy if you don't phrase a paragraph for 24 hours ... you might be a writer.

If you write in a journal, diary, blog, bathroom wall ... you might be a writer.

Ink on your fingers or keyboard impressions on your palms? Yup. You're a writer.

If you feel that Writer's Block is an actual, diagnosable disease ... you might be a writer.

If your to-read pile of books is taller than your fridge ... you might be a writer.

If you believe you are the next Shakespeare, Austen, or Poe ... you might be a writer.

If you love telling anecdotes. Again and again. And sometimes change the ending for a better response ... you might be a writer.

Jenna Greene

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Two Important Words

I have rediscovered the thrill of typing two special words. Those words, to those of you who haven't had the pleasure or who have forgotten, are The End.

I have been working on numerous manuscripts over the past year and they typically don't cause me any stress. That is, they don't cause stress until the deadline approaches. Then stress levels grow and sleep levels drop.

I HATE missing deadlines, especially if they are commitments I've made to others (especially my publisher). That being the case, I see one coming and I will do whatever I can to meet it. In this case, the commitment was to get my novel into the hands of my publisher for the end-of-March. That meant I had to have the draft finished by end-of-February.

I was writing the novel at a decent pace. I knew the end was coming and that I should be able to hit the deadlines.

I need to step back and take a moment to explain why this particular book is so important to me and maybe adds more anxiety than normal. The book is the third in my Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero series. I have had fans of the first two books asking me when the next is coming (the last was August 2014 - not too long ago - they were asking within days of the second's release) which adds to the urgency. I have also had a large number of other writers, publishers, etc. tell me how it is with the third book in the series that things really begin to take off.

Being the impatient fellow I am, that underscores, bolds and italicizes the urgency even more (yes, possibly even applies a bright yellow highlighter to it all).

There were a few outline changes that needed to be made so the story flowed better. I made those and continued writing. But the movement of words threw me off just a little and started to put my deadlines in jeopardy.

I made some decisions on how to proceed and plowed forward still stressing over finishing on time as well as other approaching project deadlines. If I missed these two deadlines, other projects that must be ready might also be missed so the fun of sleepless nights was growing.

So, I hit the final week of February with several chapters left to write. I buckled down and wrote a chapter a night, the pace I needed to accomplish my objective. The final day of the month was looming and I had one chapter left. I also had a book signing and several different weekend jobs to complete.

Would I make it or would I be late?

I got home from my signing, grabbed a cup of coffee to re-energize and began typing. I knew what I wanted the last chapter to be and it flowed from my fingers to the keyboard quickly.

Then came the magic moment. I typed the words I had been waiting for: "The End".

I hit save and sat back, savouring what I saw. I think it took almost fifteen minutes before the reality set in.

I was done! The first draft was complete. I could take the week I had planned to fulfill a couple other deadlines I had on other projects.

I allowed myself a brief whoop of celebration and took the night off to reward myself.

Is the book done? No, not by a long shot. Lots of polishing and editing will happen over the next four weeks. Regardless, the written word can be edited. The stuff in my head cannot. "The End" is a major milestone that moves me toward a printed book. As such, they are as important as any words in the entire manuscript.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Did you ever have to make up your mind?



Recently, I came across a blog post by writer Mindy Klasky, concerned with what a writer might choose to share on social media. Should we treat posts like the traditional holiday letter consisting of a list of triumphs, sharing all the good news and none of the worries? Or, do we share too much and come off as drama queens? What's the middle ground? 

I try to be matter of fact about my life, for good or bad – the facts are the facts. Some events carry intrinsic emotional weight, whether losses – of loved ones, homes, jobs – or wins, like accomplishing goals achieved after long struggles.

Other events are subject to a lot of interpretation. Whatever the facts of a situation, however we feel as an initial response, our choices and attitudes can play a huge role in how the events ultimately affect our lives.

We can make conscious choices to look for positive interpretations. For instance, I recently started a new job that I could have chosen to consider a step down in life. After all, I have six years of post-secondary education; I have years of training and experience as a graphic designer and I'm now working as a security guard.

On the other hand, I'm working second shift, and slow periods allow me time and opportunity to write. And also, the work involves a lot more walking than I'd ever do if left to my own devices. A recent visit to the doctor shows some weight loss and my blood pressure improving from borderline to normal. My pride may suffer, but my health is improving and I'm practical-minded enough to prefer it that way.

After the initial discomfort fades, we can turn distressing events into entertainment. Arriving at my bus stop following a long day at work, near midnight on an icy winter night, I hated being barred by a police barricade from my apartment building. But the story of the manhunt for a gunman in my apartment complex made for a good story to share with coworkers the next day.

The point is not to play Miss Mary Sunshine. A lot of things in life hurt. Some losses can never be healed, and it's important to acknowledge those realities. But we can make things a little better than they might otherwise be by choosing to appreciate what advantages we can find in whatever situations life hands us. 

We can make the effort to avoid buying into the kind of defensive thinking that makes negative assumptions about the character and motivations of others. We can look beyond ego-based reactions at not getting exactly what we want when we want it, and gain a broader perspective on our own lives and on life in general – the kind of perspective a writer should have on the lives of her characters.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Grasshopper


Illustration by Milo Winter
Courtesy of Wikimedia  
In the fable of the ant and the grasshopper, the ant does all the work while the grasshopper plays his fiddle. When winter comes, poor old grasshopper, having not prepared, is left out shivering in the cold while ant sits inside his warm house. As with most fables, this one is designed to teach us a lesson: work hard and be prepared.
                I am, by nature, a grasshopper. Like all grasshoppers, my motto is don't do today what you can put off until tomorrow. This blog is case in point. I could write six or seven posts, schedule them all and be done for the year. But, no, I wait until the last minute, type furiously, and hope for the best.  With this terrible work ethic, it's a wonder I get anything done at all.
                There is, however, something to be said for grasshoppers. As a writer, it's good to take a minute (or two or three) to stare out the window. Currently, the snow is piled so high on my front lawn that it nearly touches the windowsill outside my office; the sky is so impossibly blue I'd think it was photo shopped if I didn't know better. A shadow of tree branches stains the snow and dances with a wind gust. I move from the scene in the window to the one playing in my mind, the high plains of Colorado are part of my work in progress—and there's a sky that stretches endlessly, littered with stars, a ranch house dotting the landscape. Just beyond, a horse snorts and whinnies.   I begin to write.
                I am not efficient and my methods would drive most ants crazy. That's okay. They can keep to their busy work. You'll find me here tuning my fiddle and playing the day away.



'Til next time
Ute


Saturday, February 28, 2015

On the Loss of an Icon


Leonard Nimoy died yesterday after a lengthy illness he acknowledged was likely the result of decades of cigarette smoking. He became a cultural icon in the role of Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series beginning with the very awkward pilot in 1965. Nerds and geeks around the world are in mourning, including yours truly.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10204054271620454&set
I was a Trekkie--yes, in the original context of the word, basically a fan geek--from the very first episode. I was nine years old and the show affected me in ways I can only now fathom. First, it showed me that all sorts of people could not only work together but live peaceably in a tin can for five years at a time. Secondly, Uhura was a goddess of control--over herself and especially over the sometimes idiotic actions of the males with whom she worked. At nine, I wanted to be her. Hell, I still want to be her.  Thirdly, Doctor McCoy embodied the kind of caring but gruff physician who put up with a load of crap yet got in some excellent zingers now and then. His "bedside manner" is, to this day, the model for my own dealings with patients and bureaucrats. Checkov was Russian, cute, and funny while Sulu was his friend who happened to also be a genius, like the older brothers I wished I had. To my mind Captain Kirk was actually the least appealing of all the characters, a blowhard cowboy who undervalued everyone around him and only "got it" when he nearly lost them.

Photo courtesy of wikimedia.com
But Spock...Spock captured the imagination of what it would be like to avoid the entanglements of emotion, yet in the end, he exhibited above all else what it truly meant to be human and humane. He suffered the ultimate conflict of self, divided between the logical dictates of an incredible intellect and the caring (which he had to keep hidden at all costs) of a heart larger than the universe. I practiced for hours before a mirror just to be able to raise one eyebrow as he did. It is a wonderful way to comment when words are too dangerous to utter.

Perhaps the most important outcome of my Star Trek fandom was the introduction of science fiction into my reading world. I devoured Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury and Vonnegut like M&Ms. My family considered me a freak, not only because girls weren't supposed to read that stuff but because I ran through the entire sci-fi collection in our school district library system in about four months.

Then I discovered the Star Trek novels! Oh. Mah. Gawd. Nerdvana, indeed. Novel #61, entitled Sanctuary, was one of my early favorites. Fast forward a decade or two and who do I meet at a local writing conference but the author of that novel, John Vornholt. John lives here in Tucson and has gone on to write one of the Next Generation movie scripts as well as many other books. He is a kind man I'm glad to still have opportunities to chat with now and then.

Just as the character Spock grew ever more humane and wise with the years, Leonard Nimoy shared insight, humor, and wisdom with multiple generations during his life. His LLAP (Live Long And Prosper) signoff on Twitter was delightful. His final Tweet was just four days before he died:

GrowingBolder.com 

There is nothing else I could say, except maybe -- Fascinating.

Happy writing,

~Jude
http://jude-johnson.com

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ya Gotta Have Faith For That To Work

A Saint, a musician, and an alien walk into a church...  Sure, a great lead-in to somebody's joke, but it's not so funny when this very scene is coming up in my current work. In my Dancer series I talked about friendships, family, and the hazards of power.  In "Tracks", I looked at the long road to redemption. As I near the end of "Siren's Song"'s first draft, I'm preparing to tackle a more touchy subject. Faith. The novel didn't start out with this intent, but I'm seeing the theme clearer with each new page written.

So what is faith, anyway? There are several aspects, but luckily I have several characters (grin) to explore some of those facets with. The shattered faith of the disillusioned. The emptiness of having no faith at all. And at the other end, the bitter anger toward an unjust god. In every case there is a reason why the person arrived there. In each instance, there is a genuine opportunity for rediscovery.

For me, and for these characters, finding faith, and personifying such faith in a god, is all about the journey and not the resolution. The worn phrase "God is all around you" takes on new meaning when you see a divine hand in what's taking place rather than being dunked in a pond. A soul's search for meaning in their lives may not even start with a religious intent. How faith is restored, be it in the discovery of self, others, or an over-arching deity, is the real story for me.

So lets talk about that trio I mentioned at the start. The Saint finds that the church titling her is a sham. The musician was so wrapped up in his own struggles that when he finally frees himself, he has...nothing. The alien rejects her gods, hating them for the infliction visited on her people. These deep issues simmer in the background, but they guide both the characters and the story along the journey. As a writer, I cannot afford to lean on a lectern and preach toward any given religion we have today. Great way to lose readers. What I will do, however, is study this powerful undercurrent in our society called "faith". There was a line out of a favorite SF movie of mine ("Serenity") where a preacher implores the main character that it wasn't important what he believed in, just that he believed. Powerful stuff when you dwell on it a tad.

A writer would be wise, in my opinion, not to foster a new religion (that's happened before with disastrous results) or force-feed an existing one. There's no middle ground for the hapless author as they will be assailed by believers and non-believers alike. Especially these days. Running through a shooting gallery would be preferable, and many writers simply drop faith of any kind from their stories altogether. That's too bad. Love, hatred, and survival tend to be the prime motivators for stories, but what about belief? Faith is so powerful that it can transcend all three of those previous categories. The trick is to understand that there are many types of faith springing from multiple sources. One doesn't have to settle on a religion. Or hide from one.

Kerry
www.kmtolan.com

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chasing The Sweet Spot With An Unreliable Narrator



I love unreliable narrators, love not knowing when they're lying or faking an emotion, just love the whole gotcha thing going on. The problem with so many novels centered on the unreliable narrator is that not only is the narrator not to be trusted he or she is also extremely unlikeable, and, to me at least, that is an unsurmountable problem. An antagonist needs to be either likable, vulnerable, or just plain compelling enough for readers to want him or her to succeed no matter how nefarious their deed. (Don't you love the word nefarious?) And, as Shakespeare would say, therein lies the tub. (Yes, I realize others probably have used the term, but come on do you know anyone that used it like this:
To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. 
 No, didn't think you did.) 

You want to hear someone good recite those lines, don't you? Well here you go. 
Hamlet is one of my favorite unreliable narrators, he's confused and vulnerable and extremely appealing as he shares his growing madness with us. As usual, Shakespeare got it right. There are many other's not so successful, a recent one that many of you will disagree with me about is Gone Girl. I just finished reading the mega hit starring the unreliable narrator and have to confess to being disappointed, in fact, I had to force myself to slog through to the bitter end in the hopes the ending was worthwhile and I have to admit that it was in a strangely unsettling way. 


The problem I had with the novel was that the two main characters were totally unlikeable, with nary a redeeming quality between them so at the end I simply did not care what happened to either of them. I didn't care if she never reappeared and he went to prison or if she returned or if she was really dead. The writing is okay and in some parts, lovely, and the story would have been a four star if either of the characters had something about them that made me want to cheer for them. It didn't. 
Poe, another master of the unreliable narrator

Obviously I am in the minority and don't begrudge the author's success, I say good for her. I'm happy when any book does well, a sort of rising tide lifts all boats kind of thing. However, despite her selling zillions of books, I still think it's best to create an unreliable narrator that is, if not like-able, at least vulnerable, a character readers care about. Of course, I still don't understand why people enjoy watching movies that slice and dice humans for fun, so maybe I'm just out of touch with what audiences want. Despite that, I continue to encourage my creative writings students and strive in my own writing to create compelling, vulnerable, flawed characters that are also unreliable and therein lies the rub for all writers. Finding that sweet spot that combines some good with some bad and creating something wonderful. 
Check out my blogs at Gabriella Austen and my Alter Ego

Monday, February 23, 2015

COMPOSING VERSUS CRAFTING

If you are a writer, you can compose a letter, but crafting, that’s a whole other matter. Writers of publishable works craft books, blogs, and stories. Crafting is not needed in a loving letter to Granma.

Crafting involves bringing the story alive for the reader and hooking their interest to make clear the intent of the piece regardless of length. It encapsulates the characters’ motivations and winds up the action for a satisfying and informative conclusion.

 My favorite journalists who do this well include Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg, and Leonard Pitts. My favorite authors over time who do an excellent and subliminal job of crafting include Margaret Mitchell. (Yes, she was a journalist first). Has anyone read the short story, “Lost Laysen”? Checking  990 Peachtree Street Northeast, Atlanta, GA 30309, Phone:(404) 249-7015. Or amazon.com
Google, two sources popped up on the first page, and you might also be able to order “Lost Laysen” from the Margaret Mitchell Museum in Atlanta,

 Margaret Mitchell’s will instructed that her unpublished works be destroyed at her death, but “Lost laysen” escaped unnoticed for years. This gem was found in the attic of Margaret’s former boyfriend by his grandson. She was sixteen when she wrote it and gave it to him for his sixteenth birthday. It shows her as a budding journalist and fiction writer with wonderful potential. It’s a typical teen point of view of life in exotic locales, which she had only experienced through research. See her museum home:


 Nora Roberts, John Grisham, and Jodi Picoult are some other favorite authors on my list who have crafting down to an artful art. Many more readers prove trustworthy to both surprise and satisfy us. Some leave us hungry for more, but not because anything has been left out.

 If their books make us eager to stay with the characters and follow their progress they might be fodder for series sequels. Who can deny wanting more from Jamie and Claire of the Outlander series. That couple has touched hearts like none since Romeo and Juliet. They are always compelling in modern times or historical settings.

Most good crafters are both pansters and outliners. The writer might start off with an inspiration and even an ending in mind, but the human nature the character created takes off in other directions. Then the crafter will decide what is viable and what in selfish author intrusion. Crafting takes discipline and forethought. 

In many of my books my women get strong the hard way. They are attracted to the wrong man before understanding their own needs and finding the right life partner. In Tangled Web, Catherine is intelligent and ambitious. But in 1935 opportunity, not just for women but for emerging males, was not knocking at their doors. Hitching one’s wagon to a star was the most acceptable way for a woman to reach her goals. 


In Tangled Web, Catherine falls for a Lothario, Jack O’Brien, whose ambitions know no bounds, and for whom, a girl like Catherine: beautiful, sensitive, and eager to learn the ways of the upper classes, he has no patience. Jack has just overcome his own indignity, emerging from a second generation Irishman to a man of power with ownership of a successful silk throwing mill. (Catherine makes thread.) He no longer carries the stigma of being an unwelcome immigrant. He is not about to be brought down by a Welsh lass with her own needs and agendas.

 These two characters drew themselves on the pages. Writers can allow the characters to write their story, but a “crafty” writer is not easily lead.

Find Julie at:


Twitter: @JulieEPainter

or Amazon

http://amzn.to/1sBpDU8

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Digging Out

Our friends and family back east know what it means to have to dig out - snowstorms and frigid weather have hit them hard this season. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we're ending one of the mildest winters on record. Back east, they need help getting rid of snow; out here, we're worried our mountain snow pack is too skimpy to get us through the dry season.

Mother Nature is inscrutable.

Much like our writing muses, who tend to extremes. Blizzards of ideas and inspiration almost too much to manage alternate with dry periods when we search the horizon for signs of anything headed our way.

Whether you are digging out from under piles of snow, or digging out of your own dry period, remember the only constant is change. No matter what phase of the creative weather cycle you're in, sooner or later, the cycle will turn and you'll realize the blizzard or drought has passed.

Spring is nearly here. As for me, I'm about to head into the garden to see if the bulbs I planted last fall are ready to dig their way out into our mild, sunny days. And to see if they provide any inspiration for a new blizzard of writing.

Elizabeth Fountain is the author of An Alien's Guide to World Domination and You, Jane. Find more of her work at her author blog, Point No Point. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

The wonder of POV diversity







Michael W. Davis





No, I’m not talking about when your editor screams through the screen, “Stop switching Point Of View!” I refer to the remarkable diversity of views and perspective provided by the posts published on our TWV blog. In any month we have 28 different authors sharing their perception of topics related to life, love, oh yeah, and on writing too. Sure sometimes you see similar topics discussed. But that’s natural. Certain concepts rattle around in the writer community like support groups, critique readers, story research, self-promotion, POV (yeah, the one we all get yelled at about). After all, we just passed 1300 posts, almost 100,000 views and a five year life span (roughly 70% of blogs die off the first year). Yet, if you scan back in time, it’s amazing the diversity of topics, angles, shaped experiences of the posts provided by our cadre of authors.

I doubt anyone would ever make it all the way back to the very beginning of our blog with 1300+ posts. Many of the original 28 have dropped out of writing for a multitude of reasons, yet we always have new blood waiting in the wings to share their unique POV. Even the core old timers that continue their writing career with all the bumps and bruises of authorship, they still offer new seeds, new venues, new “I never thought of that.” Indeed we are lucky to have such diversity. Well done team.