Saturday, May 30, 2009
Angelica wiped the counter of the condiment area, and bent over to tie a garbage bag closed. She felt someone come into the café and looked up.
David stood at the doorway wearing sandals over bare feet, tan cargo pants, and a free flowing white linen shirt. Tendrils of long black hair protruded from under a painter’s hat. David couldn’t hide the bad boy stubble he wore on his face. Her heart beat faster at the sight of him. She had been raised to a higher standard, but this man held the key to the incessant pounding of her heart.
He leaned his head to one side, as if trying to see sideways. His eyes seemed to see right through into her soul. Her knees grew weak as he sauntered, catlike, almost like a dance toward her. Her hands trembled in anticipation. His outstretched arms seemed to indicate an unasked question.
She put one arm around him. After all, she was at work, and had to try and keep a standard but she knew she needed more. Angelica put her other arm around his waist and felt his spine as her hands glided up and down. David circled her shoulders and neck with his arms and he pulled her close.
His scent wafted into her soul and destroyed any self-control she ever had. She would’ve followed him anywhere, if he’d asked, but he didn’t ask. He pressed his lips to hers and the soft touch, almost silky, brought memories of imagination when she dreamed.
This scene although it needs lots of work, was inspired by an exchange I witnessed in a café. The girl’s face reflected surprise when she first saw him, happiness at seeing him, then passionate joy in his embrace. I was surprised, because they seemed to be from two different worlds.
I’ve preached about this before, but these kinds of exchanges happen in front of us everyday. All we need do is put on our writer’s glasses. Or see things through writer’s eyes. Look up from your notebook. Your next scene might be playing before you. Write your impressions. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination. Use the scene in your current work, or save it for later.
Good luck with your writing---see you next week.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I got to meet up with an old acquaintance yesterday. This was someone I haven't seen for almost 35 years. It was as if the cliche' "blast from the past" had taken root and everything felt surreal.
She had brought her father along because our father's had known each other very well, and I was always on the search for more information about him. He and my mother died when I was young and we know nothing about how they met, what they were like, etc.
As we sat at dinner and caught up on our lives, what we've done since then and stuff, she said that I should write a book.
My husband and I both laughed, because she has no idea what I do now, that I'm a writer and illustrator. I didn't elaborate at that point because she was talking about personal history, not fiction, but that conversation is still playing over in my mind.
How many times do we hear that from people we meet? We tell of our life's experiences and they admonish us to write them down. Perhaps we're a good story teller and those hearing our stories suggest the same thing -- write a book.
Usually it's followed up with "I'd buy it!" and you think, great, that's one copy....
As writers we have so many decisions and choices going on in our lives, it's hard to step back and take a look. Many of us have life histories that would be fascinating to others. Several of us have amazing story telling abilities and should already be published, if not for the vagarities of the publishing world.
The important thing is that we write. We read how to do it better, follow the examples of others and just do it.
Someday I'll write my personal history, when I've over come the mental blocks that prevent me from sharing personal things. Till then, I'll keep writing and hopefully someday soon there will be a book I can hand her. I'll say, "Here -- I wrote a book."
Wouldn't that be the best feeling ever?
Thursday, May 28, 2009
A long time ago, someone asked me why I worry so much about helping other authors with their writing. If I pay good money to go to a conference, why would I try to pass on what I’ve learned to my friends who didn’t go? Why do I allow so much of my valuable writing time for helping critique the work of others? Aren’t they my competition? Isn’t it to my detriment in the long run?
Um, no. Far from it.
Here’s the truth. I help others instinctively because it’s in my nature. But more than that, I remember when I started writing, and how lost I felt, and how much the direction of others helped to mold and shape my techniques. Still does, to be honest. I rely on the instructions and advice of my author friends—published and unpublished—to help me learn and grow. That’s how it works. I help them, and they help me. We all help each other. (We’re a happy family…)
I’d even go so far as to say it’s why we’re here on earth. We learn from each other, and help each other, and watch each other grow and succeed. Life is not a competition to be won, but more a journey where each of us has failures and successes to discover what it means to truly be compassionate people. Good people. Successful people.
If I should ever become the best selling author I hope to be, dare I call it karma? Some might say, “You worked so hard, you’ve earned it,” but I’m not so sure. Can success truly be earned? Certainly it’s not something to which any of us are automatically entitled. In the long run, will I look back and know that I’ve done everything I could to help my friends be successful too?
Call me crazy, but I want that. Really, truly want that for them. Strange as it might sound, I want these people to find success, to be published, and have their books be hugely popular. I want to go to conferences or big conventions and look around and see all my friends sitting at tables signing their books for enormous lines of adoring fans.
Last week, the winner of American Idol was announced. The winner’s face registered incredulity that proved him absolutely floored at the news that he’d won. He thanked the judges and the audience, but some of the first words out of his mouth were, “Adam deserved this.” (Adam being the other final contestant in the contest.) Not, “I deserved this,” but someone else. His friend.
The news reporters then went on for days about how the contestants had all become close friends, and how they wanted to help each other succeed, to see them do well. As I watched these stories I thought: Yes. That’s how I feel. I want to see my friends succeed as badly as I want to succeed myself.
Is that crazy? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe I’m kidding myself that life can actually work that way. But I want to believe it’s possible. I have to believe it. Because as much as my head wishes I would hurry up and get that big deal I’ve been waiting for—and that all my friends will get them too—my heart knows that it will all come in good time. I might shed a few tears in the process, but my time will come.
Just like it will come for my friends. And I hope to be there, jumping up and down and cheering for all of them, knowing they’ve worked every bit as hard as me. And they deserve it too.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
What would happen if you treated your writing the same way you do your cell phone?
Many times, I’ve tried to remember what I did before I had a cell phone. It’s not that I can’t live without it, because I can. The other people are the problem. If I leave it home, or if I turn it off, my family and friends are yelling, “Why didn’t you answer your phone?” Some days I think it would be great to go back in time to the era before cell phones, and sometimes I leave my phone home on purpose.
Maybe we writers should carry paper around with us everywhere we go. If we forget to grab paper and pen before we leave home, we should go back for them. After all, no good writer is caught without their writing tools. Of course, you need to have them within reach every time you stop for a red light. A good idea might pop into your head, so you have to be prepared. No matter where you go throughout the day, you need to carry it with you. During lunch, someone might say something funny and if you don’t write it down, you soon forget. If you’re waiting to pick up the kids, maybe you’ll see someone do something funny and so you have to put it on paper. Whatever you do, don’t leave the paper and pen home because in reality it's an important tool for every writer.
So many people today act as if they can’t live without their cell phone. Writers need to live as though we can’t live without our paper and pens. We would finish our stories so much faster if we used it as a lifeline the same as we do our cell phones. Therefore,, my advice is, don’t leave home without your paper and pen. They may come in handy.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Several years ago, our government set aside one day a year, specifically designed to remember those who died in the service to their country. Since then, Memorial Day has evolved into so much more.
Now, it’s a day to remember all our loved ones who’ve passed away. It’s a day off from work, a three-day weekend. The first real warm day to get outside.
In my family, we used to set aside part of the weekend to visit all the dead ancestors and place flowers on their grave. When my Grandfather died, my mother inherited his list. Grandpa visited every grave he knew about and since he raised peonies to sell, he gave the extras to his ancestors and placed color on their graves.
A few years ago, we started a tradition in my father’s family. After placing flowers on Grandpa’s grave, We’d go to the family home and visit. A picnic would ensue on Grandma’s front lawn.
There were times over the years, when camping and fishing were the order of the day, and vacations were sometimes planned during that time, but we always migrated back to family members and the comforting feeling of being connected.
This year will be different for me. It’s the first Memorial Day since my father died. His headstone has been placed, waiting for the onslaught of those who miss him. I took a picture last year of Mom and Dad at his father’s grave. Who knew that we would be visiting him this year?
I’ve witnessed some interesting traditions practiced in cemeteries over the years including big family picnics on the grave. I’ve seen "super sized" fast food left on graves. Candy, letters, pictures, and solar walkway lights. The latter gave me cause to wonder for awhile when I passed the cemetery on the way home from my writers critique group.
I stopped one day, and discovered the lights. What a great idea, I thought. It was a nightlight in case the deceased woke in the middle of the night in unfamiliar surroundings. I guess it could be interpreted as an eternal flame?
Whatever your tradition, for a writer, there’s a plethora of new material in cemeteries at this time of year. Almost always, I field the question: "Where do you get ideas to write about?" Here’s a great source. I recommend you go alone, unless you have kids who can entertain themselves and stay out of trouble. Take a lawn chair along and set it up on Grandpa’s grave.
Look around you. Humanity is unfolding before your eyes. Watch people from the time they get out of their car. We tend to show our hidden personality traits when we grieve. Some traditions are as individual as the people who perpetrate them. My uncle told a joke once, at my grandfather’s grave. It hadn’t been long since Grandpa died and the tree was still small.
The story is told that an American visited Japan and witnessed the tradition of leaving food on the grave. The American callously asked, "When do you expect your dead loved one to sit up in their grave and eat all that food?" The answer came succinctly, "Oh, I don’t know, about the time your ancestors come up and smell the flowers I guess."
There are millions of stories in the cemetery. Take along a voice recorder or a notebook. My friend, Kim Thompson, recently told a story about watching a young couple bury their child. She told of the feelings she felt. And several scenarios came into her writer’s mind.
I watched a man come to the cemetery once. He parked his motorcycle under a tree and made his way across the lawn. He looked at the ground at all the headstones. Then sat down in front of one. I watched his conversation proceed. It was obvious to me that he’s been having a hard time dealing with his loss. He missed his loved one, and I suspect coping with life was getting harder every day.
As a writer, I imagined the tragic death of a young wife, the end of a dream. The promises broken and hopes crushed. I imagined the death of a best friend. The broken promise to attend college with him.
I’ve heard stories of people actually dancing on graves, pouring the contents of a bottle of whiskey on the grass, and one true story of a man taking a sledge hammer to a headstone. The police didn’t arrest him because he promised to replace it. Can you see the drama? Are the stories percolating in your head?
When you get tired of sitting. Walk around a bit. Look at what people leave on headstones. Look at the headstones themselves. Sometimes there is a life story carved in that rock.
Good luck with your writing---see you next week.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
My husband is taking college courses online. He is determined to finish his bachelors degree, and I'm really proud of his efforts. One of his classes involves writing an essay about a subject and presenting both sides of a position.
He's finding it to be a challenging assignment, and it started me thinking about writing. In our books we aren't always writing about things we enjoy, like, or even would want to do. It all depends on what the plot involves and the subject. If we are drawn to writing a story that involves the use of guns and we are personally an anti-guns person, it's going to be challenging to do the research so we can write it realistically.
Sometimes we have to find out about things we don't like and paint them in a positive light in order to have a successful story line. Explaining why a psycho is the way he/she is so that we can somewhat sympathize with them as a character, for example. Or, showing how someone does something a certain way (perhaps not the usual way) and how it shapes their characters' development.
Writing is a challenge, be it fiction, non fiction, fantasy, contemporary, whatever. I used to think that writing fiction was the easiest course because I wouldn't have to do so much research. It didn't take me long to find out that I was wrong -- many fiction stories I've written required research.
What is it you would least want to write about? Abuse? Rape? Bankruptcy? There are lots of subjects that are difficult and I would have a hard time showing in any kind of a positive light, but that is the mark of a true writer. It would be a good exercise -- practice writing about something you hate and seeing the value of it. I think newspaper writers have to do this a lot. They have to delve into stories that would make most people turn and run screaming into the night.
What is your least favorite subject? Explore it and find out why. I would say it's a little like playing devils advocate -- but staying on the side with angels.
The other day I met a good friend for lunch. We went to this wonderful, restored historic village that has delis, restaurants and shops. After we ate, we wandered around the shops, chatting and enjoying the afternoon. Eventually, we ended up in this fabulous little place packed to overflowing with fantastical wares. I soaked it all in, immediately falling in love with the fairy section, then wandering into the dragon one, then the pirate, and…well, you get the idea.
This shop had a little bit of everything—books, music, fairy traps, statuary, trinkets, smells, jewelry, fantasy style clothing—really, truly a taste of a fantasy world. Upon entering, a woman even offered us a sprinkling of fairy dust—at which point she stamped a silver star in glitter and pressed it on my cheek.
The woman I was with is the one person from my non-writing life who actually believes in fantastical things (well, not including my kids) like fairies and dragons and magic. But she isn’t a writer, and thus, not associated with so many fantasy believers as me. As we left the store, she asked, “Do you think the people in that store actually believe in those things they’re selling? Because most people don’t, you know? To them it’s just fun to make believe.”
I thought for a minute before answering, but when I did, my answer was honest. “I think they must. One thing I’ve learned from writing is that people truly believe in the things they write, including these fantastical creatures and made-up worlds. An author has to believe in the world they’ve created, because if they don’t, their readers won’t either. So, in order to run a store like that—one that sells fairy catchers, fabulously embroidered velvet capes, and pirate maps—they’d have to.”
I’ve thought more about our conversation since then, and I realize how lucky I am to know so many people who believe in things they can’t see. Things that others might laugh at or consider childish. How boring my life would be without these things or these people. And how nice it is to know others understand what’s going through my head.
We’re taught to write what we know, and so we do, and look at what comes out of us. Time-travel, and other dimensions, worlds of magical creatures, magic, wizards, witches, and other things that have yet to be discovered or invented. Have we ever experienced these things? Not likely. But somewhere deep down inside ourselves, we know, and that’s how we’re able to write them.
Okay, I get that not every author writes fantasy, and that’s perfectly okay. Romance writers know romance—the ins and outs and importance of the process. And life wouldn’t be the same without romance in it—romance in itself is a fantasy for some people. Historical fiction authors know history, and how to make it interesting through fiction. How to put us into a time other than our own (something similar to time travel). Humor authors know how to make us laugh—even when it includes creating images that stretch the truth beyond belief.
There are lots of other genres that I won’t even try to list. The bottom line is that at some point, in some way, all writing is fantastic and includes the unseen, unheard, and unbelieved. Does that mean we can’t write about something that lives in our hearts? No way. That’s why those things are there. To write and be shared with the world. Through our words and our writing, the rest of the world will have the opportunity to know what’s in our hearts and feel the truth of it beating inside them as well.
That’s why we write. It’s what we know.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Last week in the David Wolverton newsletter there was a quote, “Any idiot can criticize my work--and most of them will." This made me think about the five critiques I recently received for a contest I entered. I’m not saying that the judges were idiots, but it surprised me how different all of their comments were. In fact, they were so different that I went on my own quest.
I took a trip to the library to check out seven of the Magic Treehouse books. Because a couple of judges said my book was too similar to that series, I had to see for myself. From this experience, I learned that you don’t ever take someone’s word for everything. I was able to decide they were wrong. I wrote my book for a different age group. The only similarity I found was my story also involved a brother and sister who went back in time. The way they accomplished this is entirely different. In my novel, the boy and girl have to solve all their own problems. They don’t have a magical book telling them what is happening, or giving them hints along the way. Everything they did while away from home could have happened to any other child.
I learned that you don’t let the comments of other people stop you from doing what you love to do. Another thing David said was, “No matter how well you write, you’re going to find plenty of people who hate what you do.”
People criticize for many reasons, but don’t let any of them stand in your way of accomplishing something that might someday be great. David also said, “When you’re new as a writer, the fear of criticism can be one of your greatest stumbling blocks.” Please, don’t let this happen to you. Don’t be afraid – keep writing.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I hate clichés like “Expect the unexpected.” What does that even mean? If it’s really unexpected, how can you expect it?
I imagine this phrase was considered clever at one point. The contradiction is probably what makes it so popular. It's ironic. And moronic. I suggest that we get rid of the cliché phrase and replace it with what we really mean.
How about this: expect surprises. I like that better. Simple and to the point.
David Copperfield, the famous magician, was full of surprises in his show near the University of Utah last Saturday night. My Dad bought my boys and me tickets for the show. I’m sure he would have enjoyed the show, but he did “the unexpected” and performed a bit of a disappearing act himself shortly after he bought the tickets. His death came as a surprise to all of us.
As a writer, it can be difficult to create a good balance between expected surprises and confusing plot twists. A good story has an unpredictable plot, but must make sense afterwards. That’s not always an easy thing to do, especially when you hope to create as large a target audience as possible.
I’m currently reading book #3 in the Twilight series. I’m finding the writing much better in quality than in the first two books, but, to my satisfaction, the storytelling is also better. Even so, though it has a few unexpected surprises, I have anticipated every major plot twist so far, at least a chapter in advance, and I’m almost done with the book.
On the other hand, last Friday night, my wife rented the latest James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. I don’t know if I’m getting too old to enjoy 007 movies, but halfway through the film, I still had no idea what the movie was about—except that I recognized the familiar speeding car chases and rooftop footraces. There were so many unanticipated surprises that I no longer had any interest in what was going to happen next. The scenes just seemed so random. Whatever happened to the good ol’ days of James Bond?
Unexpected is one thing, but incomprehensible is another. Sheesh.
Anyhow, my dad dying between purchasing tickets for the magic show and the date of the performance is a good example of an unexpected surprise. I never considered it might happen, and even though the experience was jarring, that’s the way life works. People die unexpectedly. The inevitability of death makes it believable when it happens, no matter how surprising the timing ends up being.
Consider the following series of unexpected events involving a death:
Your neighbor’s cat jumps off your house and onto your windshield as you start to pull from your garage, startling you and causing you to slam your foot on the gas pedal into reverse. Much to your horror, your reverse movement causes you to run over your 80-year-old neighbor and the dog she’s walking on the sidewalk behind your car. Since you know that cats hate dogs, you can’t help yourself from believing that the neighbor’s cat conspired with you (without your permission!) to kill the neighbor’s dog.
Now, would this event come as a surprise to you? Certainly. But, bizarre as it is, is it believable? I wrote this little fiction piece assuming it was beyond belief, but when I submitted it our blogging staff here at LDS Writers Blogck for critiquing, many of my co-bloggers asked me if it really happened (minus the part about believing the cat killed the dog).
So my attempt at stretching the truth beyond belief apparently was unsuccessful, which leads me back to James Bond and Twilight. How do you know if your story is predictable or too complex such that the reader will not understand it?
To answer this question, I would like to use another cliché penned by Justice Potter Stewart, regarding pornography, of all things. The matter of obscenity was before the Supreme Court in 1964, and Justice Stewart said that he could not specifically define what was obscene, but he said, “I know it when I see it.”
Creating the balance between predictability and believability is, in itself, a magic trick that many of us do not fully understand. On Saturday night, David Copperfield made a dozen members of the audience disappear before our eyes while they sat in chairs on a platform suspended above the stage. I don’t know how he did it, but it was certainly an amazing performance. Unexpected? Sure. But believable?
Well, I did see it happen right before my eyes. To use another used-too-often cliché, seeing is believing.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Until recently, (long story), I did a lot of multitasking at work. I work in document preservation, digitizing records, and I kept facebook open in a small window on my desktop. Staying in touch with my world at 3 a.m. is not difficult. Most of my facebook friends sign off around midnight.
Occasionally a friend or two will be up because they can’t sleep, or they’re burning the midnight oil. I’ve been meeting writers who are part of my network but I didn’t know them very well.
I talked to Susan Corpany Curtis one night, because she lives in Hawaii and there’s a time difference. Anyway we chatted about our books, and she pointed out something I’d thought of, but never really paid attention to.
When you’re plotting a story, How do you come up with names? If you’re like me, you start at an arbitrary point in the alphabet, and begin listing names in your mind. When you come up with one, you compare it to what’s already been written. You determine if the name matches your character and you make changes if it doesn’t.
Character names are tricky. It’s almost as important as when you chose a name for your children. Someone read from a book of funny baby names at work the other day, and I can’t believe some of the cruel jokes perpetrated by attention starved parents who probably shouldn’t have been given the keys to a new baby anyway.
Of course, you can write myriad situations, caused by an unusual name. Just like Johnny Cash did in his song A Boy Named Sue. Naming a boy, Sue, or a girl, Henry would help you write new plots.
Often, when we pick a name for a child we think about the generations who’ve passed and sometimes we honor them by giving our child a namesake, sometimes we give them pieces of our own names. My brother has the same first name as my father but we always called him by his middle name. It caused problems, though, whenever someone official, or legal, would call and ask for the name, we always assumed they wanted Dad.
When we pick names for our characters the considerations are different. If we name a son after the dad, it’s confusing for the reader. So, we think of vastly different names for each character, and we often try to find gallant or sexy names, something that stands out. We want the reader to fall in love with the name. We pick Trent, and violet. Brady, and Bambi. There are many websites with baby names that will help for the other genres, but writing fantasy is different. It’s not easier in fact it’s probably harder because you have to invent.
I have a problem with using names that almost rhyme. Like in my WIP (work in progress), I have characters named Debbie, Leslie, Jenny, Brady, and Ruthie. Just to name a few. Do you see the problem? They all end with the EE sound.
The thing that Susan pointed out, however, was when authors pick names they like, but they don’t consider the era. Would you give a name like Ethan, or Olivia, to a character born in 1908? You might, but while those names were ranked three and six in 2008, they didn’t make the top one hundred in 1908. These facts are from the social security website.
When Susan reminded me of the problem, I took all the names from my current work in progress and ran them through the website. First I had to determine how old I wanted them to be and I gave them birth years. Of course, because of the EE sound, I planned to change most of the names anyway, but I discovered from their birth dates, I’d misnamed some of them. I have the luxury of living for more than fifty years so I remember most of the eras I write about, but even with personal knowledge, I still falter.
As I said above, there are many websites that provide baby names, but I recommend the Social Security site. It’s easy to use, and the data is from government records. I would wait until you’ve written the book then go back and find the names that need to be changed. You might find a name that fits your character better than the one you chose originally and it will be from the right year.
Good luck with your writing—see you next week.
Oh! and don't forget today's the day for the Launch party of Tristi Pinkston's new book Agent in Old Lace. scroll down to my last post for time and place.
Friday, May 15, 2009
A couple of months ago (okay, almost a year) I borrowed a book from one of my critique group members called Stephen King on Writing. I was intrigued by the stories of his youth. His history, and how he got to where he is now, was fascinating. Once he started in on his advice though -- I began to loose interest and ended up not finishing the book.
What I did glean from his pearls of wisdom, was that our equipment as writers could be compared to a tool box. Our tool boxes should contain the things that are going to help us the most in getting the writing done.
King went through various techniques, but what I took from it was that reference books are a great asset to have within reach. I have three books; A Grammar Book for You and I (Me), a Thesaurus (although I look up most of my stuff online now) and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. The group could be bigger, had I funds to purchase more. As it is, I use these and go to friends, past writing conferences and the library for my education.
I have to admit, I have rarely looked at the grammar book, and my critique group will tell you that grammar is definitely something I struggle with. I also haven't finished the self editing book -- it's just a bit too dry for me.
What is in your writing tool box? What would you recommend? I'd like to know.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
This week, my computer had to spend some time in the computer emergency room. I took it in for a power malfunction, expecting it to need minor surgery that would first make it turn on, and then run better.
When the doctor called to tell me my baby might not make it, I was crushed. Not my computer! No, it couldn’t be.
“I’m very sorry,” the doctor said. “Your motherboard has gone bad. There’s nothing more we can do.”
“My motherboard?” I said. “That can’t be right. It was working yesterday.”
The man sighed. “But it’s true. We can’t even get it to power on.”
Well, I wasn’t about to allow my poor, sad computer die all alone, and so I got in my car and drove across two towns to be with her in her hour of need. I walked in the door, hesitant to hear what I knew they would tell me, and said, “How is she?” “Not good,” the man said, a grave tone to his voice. “I’m sorry.”
I took a deep breath, preparing myself for the worst. “Show me.”
They pulled out my cord—first problem, since that was one of the major reasons I brought my laptop to the doctor in the first place.
“Wait,” I said. “It doesn’t recognize that cord. That’s why she’s here.”
“Yes,” the man said. “The cord is definitely bad.” I bit my tongue, having been told by two other people that the problem was a connection inside the computer.
Then they pulled out another cord and plugged it in. I pushed the power button, and lights came on, the screen flickered to life, and my computer smiled at me. (Yes, smiled—though it was weak.) “You see?” I said. “The motherboard is fine. It’s the power source—like I told you.”
The doctor frowned. “That’s odd, it wouldn’t power up at all earlier.”
I could’ve told him that. Duh. They plugged in a useless cord. Plus, maybe she was waiting for me.
“Anyway,” he continued, “there’s still something not right about this machine.” And he proceeded to list several things it should be doing but wasn’t. I shrugged, paid the $20 fee for their failed attempt at turning it on, and took my baby with me. On the way home, we stopped for a new universal cord, and I fixed her myself. However temporarily.
Now, I’m no computer doctor, and I do realize my machine can’t last forever—especially as much as I use her. Considering the problems I’ve been having, I know it’s only a matter of time. I’m backing up everything, and taking this time to make sure my poor baby knows how much I love her, and that I’ll miss her when she’s gone.
This experience taught me that it’s important to listen to your intuition when your computer is having issues, very much the same way a mother listens to her intuition when she has a sick child. I learned the hard way with one of my children that medical doctors aren’t always right. And now I’ve learned the same thing with computer doctors. Sometimes, even when they think the problem is terrible and grave, it’s a minor issue that can be fixed with a little ingenuity and clear-thinking
I think the same lesson could apply to some of our manuscripts. We see issues that need fixing and worry that we’ll have to rewrite the entire book when in reality, most of the time a few sentences or maybe a paragraph are all the story needs. Think about it.
Back to writing.
By the way, do you have a laptop you love? Tell me all about it—literally. I may be in the market soon. My baby’s disease is progressing—it may be terminal.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
There is no better time than now to learn, to do, to develop, to work, and to improve. It’s time to stop drifting along, and time to take control. If you don’t have power over your writing time, who does? Of course, sometimes things do happen to change your course, but you still need to be in charge of what you are doing each day. Don’t continue along on autopilot – take control. Be your own pilot.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I have a few vices in my life, which include Diet Coke, late-night crime shows, and my writing—and not necessarily in that order.
I’ve quit doing all of the above, but writing probably the most. Being a writer is frustrating at times, and I have asked, like I’m sure many of you have, why oh why do I keep doing it?
I feel like a smoker who cannot stop, despite every attempt to break the habit. Lucky for me, I haven’t had to deal with quitting smoking, but I have had to deal with writing. Every time I quit writing, I have returned because I could not resist the urge. But you know, quitting and restarting numerous times seems to have strengthened my resolve to continue—it’s harder to stop the next time.
True writers have to write. We are compelled to do so. There are many so-called writers who have quit for good, and that’s fine—for them. I can’t seem to kick the habit, myself—and I’m glad for that. This endeavor of mine might be frustrating, but the rewards outweigh the costs.
I am a writer. If you are too, I both congratulate you and console you.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
by Karen Hoover
My mother was a writer. When she was young she wrote poems and stories and dreamed of being a journalist when she grew up. Unfortunately her dream never became a reality. She married at eighteen, had four children in five years, and a husband in the navy during the Korean War who didn't understand her desire to write.
After a while that need burned so brightly within her she started writing family histories; first about the grandmother she never knew, later about her father, her husband, and her mother. She started her own history many, many times, but that was the biggest challenge of all. She told me once, "If I don't finish my history, you have to promise me you'll do it for me." Of course, I always told her she needed to do it herself, that no one could tell her story like she could, but she died before she had the chance to finish.
So now it is up to me. My mother, who was my best friend, my hero, left her story for me to tell.
This is the point where it's probably good I'm a fiction writer with the ability to climb into someone else's shoes, because the task she set before me is more daunting than I'd ever imagined it to be. I can write fiction. I'm great at coming up with ideas, but how do I tell the story of the person I admire most in the world without embellishing it . . . just a bit? She set my feet on a path that is completely foreign to me. I don't write non-fiction. I never have and never thought I would, but now I find myself grasping at an understanding I never desired to have because it was the dying wish of my mother.
Where do we turn when the need to know is bigger than our own understanding?
Well, that lesson too comes from my mother, because there's only one person who has all the knowledge we lack. We point our eyes heavenward and plead for understanding and guidance. The Lord says, "Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you," and that applies to all of us in our writing, whether it be memoir, non-fiction, or fiction. Heavenly Father knows what Mom's intent was in writing her life story. He can still speak to her where I cannot and it is through the whisperings of His spirit that I can know how to write something that seems impossible to me.
What an honor to have been given her life's task to finish. It's time to start asking the questions and finish her story. It's time to get on my knees.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Even though my fellow blogckers seem to be evaluating why they write, I want to add my few words. I am a writer, because I can think of no other way to satisfy this need I have. To fulfill the mission, and polish the talent my Heavenly Father gave me.
I attended two job interviews this week. In one, My boss asked how my writing is going. He knows I write fiction and he was being courteous. Of course I said fine, and told him of some of my triumphs.
With those successes, my mind began to dwell on the failures, and like many of my peers, I began to doubt. Then I remembered the other interview. Earlier in the week, that interview went pretty well. I was asked how fast I type. I answered that if I copy from a sheet of printed words, then not very fast. If, however, I type what’s in my head, then I’m pretty good.
I added, that I’m a freelance writer so I type a lot. I don’t think he heard my comment, or if he did, it didn’t matter to him. When the interview ended, I began to think about the rich rewards I’ve received from writing.
Sure, I get discouraged, who doesn’t? A while ago, after receiving a rejection, I left a message with my critique group and asked them to remind me why I do this. A few days later on face book, I wrote, "Keith is writing this morning. Its so quiet he can hear the incessant beating of his heart. It pounds the rhythm of his typing fingers and testifies of unfulfilled dreams. It shouts the marching orders. He must write, he must tell the story or die trying."
I got a few comments about that, but two struck me. Danyelle said, "Wow. You’re in a very inspirational mood this morning." Tristi, who’s in my group said, "And that right there is why you keep writing!!!" Yes, believe it or not, she used three exclamation marks.
Okay, Tristi was right. When things are going good, and the words just seem to fall together. Or, when the nature of one of my characters spurs me on to write the story before it flees from my feeble mind. When I can’t write fast enough, for fear the wonderful idea will be gone, Those are the moments I look to, and remember there must be something good about my writing, and that makes it all worthwhile.
I had a great experience at critique group Last week, and I’d like to share it. Now, if you’ve been reading my blog. You know I’m constantly battling with the wonderful ladies of my group. I’m writing a romance and doing a mediocre job of it. But when I read my chapter last time, I knew I’d hit the mark. I began to feel some of the same feelings I feel from reading the scriptures.
More than that, I’ve written two characters that touch me. I’m not sure why, but these two speak to me in ways that make it so easy to write their story. When I finished reading, I was told it was the best chapter I’d read from that book. Don’t let me brag. There were many things wrong with my writing, but I told the story in a way that people can relate to. That’s hard to do, by the way, when you’re a man, writing women’s fiction and you’re audience are women.
There is another reason I write, however,
On my other blog, I told two stories; one was the story of how my father was saved from death at Christmas, twenty-three years ago, and the other was about the feelings I had for him when he died recently.
At a Dutch oven convention, a man came to me and thanked me for writing that. Apparently I had expressed his feelings for his dad. We both were touched, and that, my friends is why I’m a writer.
Good luck with your writing---see you next week.
Come to the launch party for Tristi’s new book, Saturday May 16th, 3-5 p.m. at Provident Book in Pleasant Grove (661 W State Street) Refreshments, door prizes, sales ... you'll have a wonderful time! And bring a friend!
Friday, May 08, 2009
While at work the other day, I came to the realization of something that I've known off and on, yet often forget. I like to listen to background music when I'm doing something that requires thought.
The kind of music I like varies, depending on what I'm doing. There's a difference in the music though. If I'm writing, or at work, I can't have music with lyrics. Enya is about as lyrical as I can handle, otherwise it's usually classical or guitar.
Have you noticed what kind of music you tend to listen to while writing? I discovered that if I'm listening to rowdy or bouncy music with words, I can't focus on what I'm writing -- I want to dance, not type.
The music that I really love to listen to is the soundtrack to Pride and Prejudice, the newer one. It has a flowing, smooth feel to it that calms the nerves and makes me think of the country. When I'm relaxed like that, the ideas flow better and faster. It makes a big difference.
I thought it was pretty funny the first time I participated in Nation Novel Writing Month and they had a forum for "music that you write to." I hadn't really thought of it before then. Now I know it helps me focus.
Try an experiment. Listen to different types of music and see which one helps you at the keyboard. You might be surprised.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Every once in a while, I find myself wondering why I try so hard. Why do I kill myself to find writing time when whatever I’m working on may never get published? Why do I neglect my house, and my kids, and my yard, and my dogs to sit in front of a computer visiting with fictional characters and flitting around in a fantasy world?
Why do I stare outside at the sun and ignore it so I can stay inside and finish a few more pages?
Whenever I find myself asking these questions, the same answer inevitably follows. I love writing. Really, truly love it. Writing is part of who I am, part of my heart, enough that it has become my chosen life path. (Yes, life path.) This is not just the attempt of a mommy whose kids are all in school and who now wants to find a career to fill the gaps. This is something that has lived inside me for years—in my heart, but also in my very soul. And because this is a life path, rather than a possible career, it is not possible to quit.
I can’t quit being a mother (though the desire has occasionally cropped up when my kids are a bit tough to take). I can’t quit being a woman (nope, never had that particular desire—I’m a girl, through and through). I can’t just quit loving the important people in my life (even when they hurt me or make me angry or sad). How could I ever quit writing?
This is my life. I couldn’t stop the flow of voices and stories and descriptions from spinning inside my head anymore than I could stop the pumping of my own heart. So, I suppose it’s a redundant question to wonder why I write. I write because I have to. Because there is no other thing for me to do—even though I look around me right this minute and see dirty laundry, dust, a sink-full of dishes, dust, sticky kitchen floors, dust, icky bathrooms, and…did I mention dust? So I think a more appropriate question for me to ask myself might be more along the lines of: how could I ever stop writing? Words by themselves are such beautiful things, and when bunched together by a true craftsman—someone who uses them well—they can move mountains. Wait, that’s a total cliché. Let me rephrase that…they can part a body of water. No, that’s not right either. Um, how about, words can stir the soul of the cynic whose heart is carved from onyx, breaking through the hard exterior to find the heat, the soft flowing lava within. Yes. That’s better.
Lava has so many properties, it works because…oops. Are you still here? Sorry. The voices distracted me again. Anyway, happy writing!
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
The end of last month many writers attended the annual LDS StoryMakers Writers Conference. This was the fifth time I had attended and it was as good as ever. The theme this year was Success Is Within You. This tells me what I accomplish or achieve in my writing depends on what I’m willing to give. It’s all up to me.
They presented so much material the first time I attended, that I was overwhelmed. I honestly didn’t know where to start. Since then, I’ve learned a little bit and the bewildered and puzzled feelings have left. Now, I know that not every workshop is for me. Every person needs something different. All of us have distinct goals in our writing, and are at various stages in life. What I’m looking to get out of a writing conference will not be what someone else needs.
In five years, I’ve acquired many acquaintances, and I have to admit that one of the reasons I wanted to attend was to see these friends. Networking is a good thing when you are trying to break into the field of writing. You never know which friend might have a good idea for you.
I thoroughly enjoyed the class taught by Julie Wright titled, Frankenstein: Using All the Parts to Create Something that Breathes. I had no idea what I was getting into, but the title was intriguing, and I knew I would learn something worthwhile.
I went away from that class knowing that things written from my heart are not wasted, and I don’t have to be like every other writer. In fact, different is good. Thank you, Julie, for teaching
such an excellent class.
We wannabe authors who attended this writer’s conference are grateful for those who took the time to prepare and teach us. I, for one, certainly appreciate their hard work and look forward to attending this event again.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed listening to Thomas S. Monson speak. If I could describe the tone of his voice, his demeanor, and the content of almost every one of his talks, it would have to be thus: Master Storyteller.
I had the pleasure of hearing President Monson speak again last Friday at the Utah Valley University graduation commencement ceremony, where he and his wife both received honorary doctorate degrees from the new university. I didn’t known he was the speaker when my sister invited me to her graduation services.
Once again, I found his voice and his message mesmerizing. It reminded me of a more intimate meeting with him in 1983 in the mountains outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where he stood and spoke on a grassy field with LDS scouts, who were attending the World Scout Jamboree, sitting all around him. I don’t remember what he said that day, but he made an impression upon me. He was close enough to us scouts to hear him without voice amplification, but it was the same story-telling voice I had heard in conference and that same voice has kept me captivated for years.
I mention hearing President Monson last week, not for his stories this time, but because of the advice he gave graduating college students—advice that I consider great for writers as well. He suggested three points that would help graduates succeed in this economically-challenged word, and I think they will help me and any other writer who chooses to take heed.
Here are his three points:
1. Glance Backward.
2. Reach Outward.
3. Press Forward.
We write who we are and what we have experienced, we reach out to our readers and other writers for support, encouragement, and help with our craft, and we must never stop trying and never stop learning.
I have always looked to President Monson for spiritual guidance—and yes, for entertainment—but now I plan to use his advice to maintain the courage, drive, and strength to work on my writing until I reach success—whatever that may be—and then go beyond that and do a little more. I will glance backward, reach outward, and press forward—and never stop as long as I have breath.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Last Weekend's LDStorymakers Writing Conference was one of epiphany and change for me that began with a clip from a movie Jeff Savage showed us. In it a coach blindfolded one of his players and had him carry the weight of another player on his back while crossing the entire length of the football field doing a "deathcrawl." The boy thought he was going half-way, but the coach urged him on until he discovered he was in the end zone.
What made this so powerful to me was that I almost failed in my writing "deathcrawl" this year.
I love the LDStorymakers Conference. It has brought me some significant validation and the people I have met there have welcomed me into their group and made me feel like a real writer. The first chapter contest they sponsor is the only contest I've ever placed in, let alone placed high.
In 2007 I won first and second place in Fantasy. In 2008 I won first in Fantasy. This year I thought, "I've won enough. It's time to give someone else a chance to get that validation." I was okay with that until I asked some of my published friends what they thought about that and one of them in particular said I needed to enter. This wasn't the kind of thing to bow out and be selfless with. Awards went to those who deserved them for their effort and talent and if I didn't enter she was going to kick my butt.
So, I decided, what the heck? But I told myself if I was going to enter, this year it was going to be my best work. No more winning on first drafts I was too lazy to polish. This year I worked hard to make my submissions as perfect as they could be. I sent it out to critique friends. I listened to their suggestions. I even took my story and read it to the Jr. High Writing Club my friend Shanna asked me to co-teach with her and they were some of my best critics. After all that, I wrapped up my babies and sent them off.
When the contest winners were announced Saturday afternoon I thought I was going to have a heart attack before they got to the end. Of course the two categories that got the most submissions were the Youth and Speculative Fiction categoies, both of which held one of my submissions. I won nothing in the Youth category so held my breath through Speculative and fought disappointment when they reached the end and my name was not read.
So many times since losing my mom I've asked myself why I write. Did I do it for her? Was it her encouragement that made me reach for that goal? Eventually I realized that my desire to write had little to do with her and everything to do with me. But it was a long, arduous journey that made me finally realize this path is one I'm supposed to be on. As we neared the end of the contest announcements, I doubted myself again. Was this really what I was supposed to do with my life? Was I going to be satisfied if I ended up living out my publishing career as an "almost?"
And then the end of the announcements came. "The grand prize winner is . . . 'Newtimber' by Karen Hoover!" I buried my face in my hands for a moment, absolutely shocked. For that moment I reached the end zone. I had done my best work and it paid off. As a result I have opportunities to publish and a referral to an agent. I do not know where my path will go from here, and I am sure I will find myself crossing that football field many more times in this career I have chosen. But for today, I succeeded and have the knowledge that I endured to the end. For the moment I can rest in the end zone.
Saturday, May 02, 2009
Friday, May 01, 2009
Sometimes just going to the gym and working out isn't enough -- when that happens, a personal trainer usually enters the picture. A personal trainer helps identify where the problems are and offers solutions, both dietary and exercise.
My husband had a co-worker that had always been overweight, and decided to hire a personal trainer. He lost so much weight he was a different person! I was totally shocked the first time I saw him afterward. My hubby didn't think it was healthy, because the weight came off pretty quickly, but I sure saw the benefit.
It occurred to me the other day that sometimes it would be nice to have a writing coach. Sometimes when we sit at the computer and have a hard time putting fingers on the keys, or the words we had flowing the day before don't want to come out now, or even if we're starting a whole new book -- we could use someone to get us going.
Just think! They would give us word drills every morning to limber up the fingers and get the juices flowing. We'd have to do a couple of mad writes or flash fiction lines, to get the creative ideas going, and then they'd make us sit at the computer until we met our goal for the day, be it word count or chapter goal. The personal trainer would be there at our side, prodding us on when we stalled, encouraging our progress and keeping us on track.
While most of us may not have the income to afford that kind of help, (and I'm not sure such a thing actually exists) we have the next best thing. We have friends, family and can find people who understand what we're going through. There are critique groups that help influence the direction we're going with a piece of work.
Writing coaches are out there, we just have to find a way to use them properly and decide we're going to accept their help. There are three aspects that I think a writing coach would start with: commitment, determination and goals. Once those three are determined, the rest fall into line.
Commitment would detail how much you are willing to put into this. If you had a real personal trainer, he/she would want to know how much time you wanted to commit to the project. How many times a week did you want to see them? What were your expectations from the relationship? In writing, we have to decide if we are serious writers or not. Are we committed to seeing our words on paper or on the screen?
Commitment is a start, but determination pulls us through the times when we don't want to write -- are too tired, too sore, or too busy. That goal is still fixed and not going away. Having that drive is what makes us actually do what we have committed to do.
And finally the goal. What is it you really want to accomplish? In a physical sense, it's usually how much weight to loose, or muscle to be built. In writing, it's simple: How many pages per day, or words or chapters? How much of each day is going to be spent writing to meet that goal? Is it going to be a set time every day? Don't be hesitant or shy -- these are your goals. No one else is going to make them and then follow through, this is about your talent and life's work.
While we can't each have a personal writing coach to encourage us each day as we approach our goals or be there through the beginning stages, we do have blogs, conferences, online communities (such as Authors Incognito) and writing groups to help us when they can.
The rest of it is up to us.