Saturday, September 13, 2014

I Just Want to Celebrate


By Keith N Fisher

This week, I finished the first draft of a book I started writing several years ago. It turned into a sweet tragedy, set in the mid-nineteenth century. It ends the way many Nicholas Sparks novels end. In my story, the character learned many great lessons, and became a better person, but there was a price.

Part of the reasons it took so long to write are the logistical and research problems I had. Each time a problem arose, I put the project on hold. Something, however, made me bring it out to finish. This time, I worked through the problems. Those solutions created historical problems. So, my, (on the fly) research helped me keep from writing myself into a corner. I think I talked about that process before, on this blog.


When I finished, I re-read the last chapter. Like when reading a novel by the author I mentioned, I cried about my characters. It’s hard to live through so much with them, without becoming emotionally attached. Each time I re-read, it had the same effect on me.

I’m elated to finish, but I’m dreading the next step. Have I told you of my hatred for the edit and fix process? To be honest, though, it’s not the editing. It’s the worry over getting it right. I think I will always have a dumb spot in my brain for English. In truth, I like reading and finding the missed words and disappearing point plots. It’s humbling, but it’s not that hard, and spelling has never been a big problem. Grammar, on the other hand . . .

I think the worst part of editing is explained in an old proverb: Familiarity breeds contempt. By the time you read through a manuscript several times, you begin to hate what you wrote. I don’t want to reach the point where reading my last chapter, no longer makes me cry. I want to read it in critique group and sit there blubbering.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Cat Concept



By Keith N Fisher

In an effort to move on with my writing career, I made up my mind to edit on Labor Day. I had a pile of work to do outside, so I sat in front of the Television to sort my red stained paperwork. I intended to do my outside work, when the sun came up.

Normally, I can edit in front of the TV, I used to be able to concentrate on both the TV and writing, but I’m getting old. I started to edit but found a problem.

When I asked my critique group to look at my cookbook, I got it back in sections. And those sections went on the pile of editing to be done right away. As you might’ve guessed, I didn’t get to it right away, and things got messed up.

If I were to give you one word of advice it would be, number your pages. You never know what could happen to the order you wrote them.

I had printed two copies of the cookbook, not numbered, so in the course of many days, they got shuffled. There I sat with two piles of manuscript, my computer screen, and frustration. I found several pages missing. Not sure where they went, but undaunted, I continued.

During the course of it, My daughter came in and turned on Netflicks. The next thing I knew we were watching a new version of Sherlock Holmes. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of Sir Arthur Connan Doyle’s work, but the casting, the sets, and the screenplay intrigued me. I fell in love with the new version, little did I know the episodes were made to play for about two hours each.

So, there I was, trying to edit, but losing my concentration to Sherlock. (Who, by the way can concentrate really well.) The sun came up, and I stayed there. It took an hour to sort my manuscript, but hours later, I tried to put Sherlock away. I went to another part of the house and tried to edit. Sherlock kept calling me back. I had to see what would happen next.

Finally, after dark, I turned it off. I left my manuscript in two piles, along with research notes for one of my current projects. There was a pile on the couch and two on the floor. Other notes were on the side table. I warned them. Yes I did. I told the cats to leave my stuff alone.

I see your broad grin. If you know anything about cats, you know where this is going. They didn’t do much but sleep on the papers the first day. On the morning of the next day, however. I came down stairs thinking I need to take care of those papers. It was like a Disney movie. Now, I not only have two copies of manuscript to sort, but there is other stuff mixed in.

You can learn two things from this story, never trust a cat, and make your editing changes as soon as you get them. I know. If you are like me, editing is boring. Discovery writing is fun. Still editing must be done. I might as well get to it.

That reminds me, I still have the pages I’ve been taking to critique group. I don’t think the cats can get to them, but I’d better get them done too. What I really need, is to get this stuff published.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

 

 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Holding Your Mouth Right

Catching tiny ones at Tibble Fork 2004
By Keith N Fisher

One of my childhood memories prevalently shines. My father was a sportsman. We went hunting and fishing a lot. We fished everywhere, but two places I remember most, were Schofield, and Strawberry Reservoirs. At Strawberry, everyone else caught big fish. I say, everyone else, because for some reason, I could never catch a fish in that place.

That lack of success carries on today and every time we fish there, I resign myself to not catching any. Schofield on the other hand, was a boon for me. They were mostly little ones, but I always caught my limit. Of course, some of that success might’ve been because of the spot on the bank we always fished from.

In those days in Utah, the fishing season closed at the end of Summer. Then, it reopened in the spring. That meant fighting the crowd on opening weekend. We camped at the end of the road, and got up before daylight, so we could hike to our spot. It wasn’t a short hike either, but it was worth it. Fish lined up to take our bait.

Of course there were times when others beat us to our spot but it wasn’t uncommon for fisher/people, to line themselves up on the bank, much closer to each other, than was comfortable. I remember getting tangled with somebody else’s drifting line, while I had a fish on.

Still, it was worth the time. Even the carnival atmosphere was fun. It was man VS fish, but I’m sure the fish used to sit in their schools and laugh and laugh. "Look at all those idiot humans."

I’m sure Dad understood, but I never figured out, why the fish were so prevalent in our spot. I discovered the secret, as a young adult, when the water had drastically receded, during a drought. I found out our spot was actually a rock outcropping above a cliff. When the water came up, the spot became like a long pier. The depths right off shore were like fishing from a boat.

As an adult, I have fished from many holes. I proved my metal once, by pulling a fish from a stream, no bigger than an irrigation ditch. I have found dozens of favorite holes. I don’t fish as much as I used to, but I always go back to those holes. Fishing is year round in Utah, and the carnival days are past.

In my early adult years, the time between high school and life, I had a friend who used to say, "You aren’t holding your mouth right." Similar to the old lady at the bingo game who kisses and rubs her various charms for luck, the concept of making it happen through ritual, comes out in fishing. When we didn’t catch fish it was because we weren’t holding our mouth right.

I went back to our spot a few years ago, but I didn’t know I was there. My father took us in his boat and we used his sonar fish finder. After catching several fish, Dad told me where we were. The old place didn’t look the same. Of course I was looking at it from a different angle. I’d never been there in a boat. The number of fish on the sonar astounded me.

Recently, I stood in the shower, contemplating where I would go to write. As you know, I like to find other places to write. I love writing in my car, with the computer propped between my chest and the steering wheel. As I said, I had a few hours to write and I contemplated where to go.

During my session the week before, I struck gold. My writing went so well, I didn’t want to stop. "Maybe I should go there," I said, in the shower. Like a good fisherman, I should return to the hole where I caught a lot of fish.

In like manner, I’ve gone to places where I just couldn’t get into writing. Needless to say that, like Strawberry, I don’t go back there very often. Now days, the Kokanee Salmon population, and the size of the Rainbows make Strawberry worth it, but I still have trouble catching anything. Maybe it’s a mental thing?

Even if all your writing is done at your desk, in your study, you have fishing/writing holes you return to. There are rituals and times of day. Some of you channel your character to get into the mood. Whatever you do, even if you rub a voodoo doll, keep going back there. Try holding your mouth right.

There have been times when I write beyond my capacity, and if I’m holding my mouth right, the place is of no consequence. One time I wrote several golden chapters while listening to my father’s breathing, as he died in a hospital room.

I cannot return to that particular fishing/writing hole, and I really don’t know how to hold my mouth. The words either come together, or they don’t, but when I read what I wrote, I remember the writing/fishing holes.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Losing Direction



By Keith N Fisher

While in the zone, the other day, my writing was going well. Sentences were coming to mind as I wrote the ones before. Suddenly, I wrote a word that wasn’t right. It expressed the thought but not quite what I wanted to say. I went back, checked the thesaurus and the dictionary to find the word I wanted. By the time I found the perfect word, the next sentence I’d plan to write was gone from my mind.

I’d forgotten the direction I planned to go. I mentally kicked myself, because that happens a lot lately. I sometimes pause in the middle of a real time conversation trying to think of a word but just can’t remember. I’m sure my broken conversation drives people crazy. To use a cliché, If I could have a dollar for all the words that have slipped from vocabulary, I’d be a wealthy man.

I’m getting old, tis true, but I refuse to accept it without fighting. Besides I hate losing my thought in the middle of a paragraph. Luckily, the thought usually comes back and I can proceed, although I’m sure it’s not as good as it would’ve been.

I know what you’re thinking. And you would advise me to mark the word and move on. Don’t edit while your writing, is good counsel, but I often forget to come back and fix the words I let go. Sometimes, I discover those forgotten words while reading my chapter in critique group. Then, I drive my critique group crazy while I pause to think of the right word.

Usually, I end up circling the offending the word. Then I come back to it while editing, but I can’t remember my original thought. I end up rewriting the whole sentence. Of course it’s never as good as the first version would’ve been if only I hadn’t forgotten the right word.

To my aggravation, those words are there, right on the tip of my tongue, ready to drive me clear out of mind. I want to reach in and rip them out of my mouth. But alas I am condemned. Am I alone in this? Do you have the same affliction? Can you imagine how much better writers we would be if our minds actually functioned?

I wonder if crossword addicts ever have my problem. Maybe I should add crosswords to my list of writing exercises. I think the old cliché is true that I’ve forgotten more words than I’ll ever know, but my vocabulary is something I’ve always been proud of.

Yes, writing was never easy, although with the increase of self-published authors, you wouldn’t think so. Writing is my chosen occupation and avocation. I will continue to muddle through. Now if I could just remember what I intended to write in the next sentence.

Good luck in your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Bard Knew



By Keith N Fisher

In one of my current works, my character learns a lesson from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of
Venice. My story is set between 1848 and 1860 and I wanted him to realize he made the wrong choice by leaving home and hearth to find gold in California.

Like everybody, my mind is a treasure trove of clichés, metaphors, and pieces of information. I knew the quote, or part of it anyway. I wasn’t sure where the reference came from, but I remembered, all that glitters is not gold. The title of my book is ALL That Glitters, but I admit, I’d never seen or read the play.

Consequently I did some research and read the quote in its entirety. I learned that Portia’s father left instructions in his will, and devised a test for those who would marry his daughter. Portia swore to honor his wishes, even though she hated the whole idea.

He left three caskets, (or locked chests) one, gold, one silver, one made of lead. The test was to choose the right chest. One of them held Portia’s likeness and her betrothal, the other two were counterfeits. In the play, the suitor must choose wisely. When the prince of Morroco chose the gold casket, he found a poem.

All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old
Your answer had not been inscroll'd
Fare you well, your suit is cold.

The Prince chose wrongly, and of course you know that glister is an old English word. By one dictionary account it means shine. Anyway, without going through the whole play, suffice it to say, I wanted to see it, and get a feel for what my character goes through during his epiphany. I checked out three video versions of the play from the library and took them home to do research.

I never knew The Merchant of Venice was the source of so much wisdom. Besides the glitters quote, I found others, like, If you prick us do we not bleed? And, The quality of mercy is not strained. There are more object lessons than I can use in one story, although my character can relate to them all. The examples of friendship, loyalty, true love, even the covenant of giving a ring to your loved one. I wish I could use the illustrations in other books, but I would be called a plagiarist, or a Shakespeare imitator.

While doing my research, I fell in love with the 2004 movie version. Al Pacino did a wonderful job of playing the Shylock character. I was blown away. Lynn Collins version of Portia was fantastic. I almost believed she was a boy while her character pretended to be a doctor of law. Earlier, as Portia proclaimed her love to Bassario, I believed that too. Later, the burning desire of a woman teaching her husband about commitment, touched me.

In the special features on the DVD, Pacino said he’d been approached for years to play Shylock, but, because of the anti-semitic over tones of the play, he never wanted to. The director of the 2004 version convinced him, and what a wonderful job they did together. If you haven’t seen the play, you should see that DVD first.

Anyway, now I must craft ways of quoting parts of the play without really quoting the words. My character will go through myriad emotions during the performance he saw in San Francisco. Thanks to Shakespeare, my plot unfolds in a natural way.

I love research, don’t you?

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Characters Are like Children


By Keith N Fisher

Have you ever watched a parent call their children? Those with large families often get the names mixed up. As a child, I laughed at my mother and had to answer as she recited the list. My name invariably came last on the list.

In truth, I am grateful to not be called, hey you. Even today, Mom goes through the list, and it’s still funny. The not so funny part is, now I find myself doing the same thing. Yes, I still only have one child, but I often recite lists with her and many other people.

The lists are also grouped. I call my daughter by a pet name I have for her mother. Sometimes I call my brothers by my other brother’s names. I eve use lists with people at work.

Whether this failing is a sign of old age, or insanity, I don’t know. I hope it’s not the latter, because I already see indications. Speaking of the latter, however, I noticed an incident of it, several times while writing this week. Let me explain.

I’m currently writing two books at the same time. The way I do it is, sit down and wait for Jack or Sam to tell me who wants to be written about. Jack and Sam are main characters in two different stories and I go with whoever has the strongest desire. The one with the best plot idea gets written about.

This often creates a problem, because each character is completely different from the other. Their life stories are vastly different. Sam was written for the national market and he says and does things, Jack would never dream of. Jack lived in the nineteenth century, and was written for the LDS market, and that only adds problems.

Like my mother, I sometimes use the wrong name when I’m writing. The images the mistake conjures are usually from the wrong time and a different lifestyle. It takes me out of the story and I have trouble wrapping my head around the change. That’s when I have to stop, and shift dimensions. It usually takes a little time.

You know, If I really believed my characters were real, I’d think they were laughing at me. I’d think they were jealous and trying to steal my attention.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Way Point



By Keith N Fisher

Do you outline, or not. Do you follow a plan? Or do you sit down and see where the muse will take you? There are many advantages and detriments to both methods of writing. An outline can restrict the plot, but it helps when you get half way into the story and don’t know where to go next. A draft will allow you to rob from that which you wrote before, Like when you rewrite.

As a rule, I never outline anything. Some books are planned out from beginning to end, but I leave room for the characters to speak to me. I’ve also written by hand in a notebook and transposed it later. Most of these blog posts are written from a concept that I want to share. Then, I fill in the details that support my concept. Okay, I guess in a way that is outlining.

Discovery writing can be thrilling because you never know from which recesses of you mind, it comes from. You see the words appear on paper and compliment yourself for being so talented and resourceful. The drawbacks are sometimes tough, however, like when you write the first word and wait, and wait, and wait. The story never gets written.

Another of the obstacles can be getting to the halfway point and realizing you wrote a different scenario in the first part, and the back story changed. Such is the case in one of my current works.

A problem that sometimes rears it’s ugly head, can be the most difficult, because it makes a writer look stupid. Often times, while writing articles and blogs, even in fiction, I belabor a point and end up repeating it several times. Or, I put ideas in the wrong order on the page. If you go back and read some of my rambling blog posts, you will see good examples of this. Especially when I didn’t have time to edit.

The concept I want to share today, is don’t be afraid of discovery. Yes, there are drawbacks in that kind of writing, but the detriments can also make the story better.

I’m currently writing a book with no outline, except a vague idea of how it will end. While working on it this week, I discovered a problem. In the first chapter, a married couple celebrated their anniversary. The kids were at the babysitter’s.

Two days later, in the story, the parents were having problems at home, but where were the kids? It was as if they disappeared. I had three choices. Either I had to lose the children, grow them up and away at college, or send them to Grandmas for an extended visit out of state. I decided on the latter, and I had to fix it over several chapters. Now the plot works better.

Yes, discovery writing keeps me on my toes. I have to develop back-story on the fly, but it usually makes a better plot. Another example from the same book shows the problems characters can cause. In the first chapters I wrote about Sam’s brothers and a little about his father. Later on, I expanded his father’s character and methods. The siblings were gone. Sam only had one brother, and he died in Iraq. Going back to correct the technicality made the story richer. Yes there are times when a character suggests changes that won’t work. Just delete the suggestion and move forward.

Yes, there are challenges in discovery writing. Like when you come to the end of a chapter or the way point and you freeze. You can’t decide whether to keep or discard the changes. The writer’s block of indecision is crippling. Don’t panic—Write something else for awhile. Then come back to it fresh, and ready to whip your characters into submission. (Perhaps, that’s the subject of another blog post).

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.