Guest Post

HAVE A BOOK TO PROMOTE? Lyrical Pens welcomes guest posts. Answer a questionnaire or create your own post. FYI, up front: This site is a definite PG-13. For details, contact cjpetterson@gmail.com cj

Thursday, December 30, 2010

AFDOC 44-52: I Did It My Way

December 27, 2010 saw The End typed into AFDOC's final page.  The last few chapters were hard under any circumstances since they are the climax of the story and very emotional, but I had to wait a while before I could face them.  They are richer and more poi gnant due to the last month.  I also discovered it's very hard to type and cry at the same time, so I had to lock myself away to get it done.  I had the misfortune to lose three people who were precious to me this year.  My friend, Mac {a girl} who was in my wedding about a hundred years ago, my adorable and ever so kind Uncle Newman, and my dear friend, Tracy.  I thank God for all of them and the joys they brought to my life.  May you be lucky enough to have such people in your life.  cj and I see each other all the time and we know we're lucky to have each other as writing partners and good friends.  The same goes for Linda Busby-Parker, my writing mentor and good friend, who celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary with Don at their recent Christmas party.  I'm grateful for critique partners, Nolan and Wanda who keep me on track.

As I move forward into 2011, my resolution list is made and taped to all the places I frequent to keep me on target, at least that's what I hope they will do.  AFDOC will soon be going to my critique group, I have three new jobs on tap, and a new book is stewing, so what more could I ask for?  A job for my daughter, who has been on lay off for 16 months, my roof to last until I sell a book, and above all weight loss without trying! 

A peaceful year to you all.           Mahala

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

As 2010 ends . . .


Though the year 2010 was a difficult one for my family and circle of friends--the last quarter especially so . . .

I hold to the wonderful promise of Christmas and pray for God's blessings on you and yours in 2011.

cj

I do love the warmth of Christmas decorations in my family room.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Season of Giving

My family will miss sharing Christmas cookies and other goodies with Tracy along with her crazy Christmas hats and sweaters.  Secure in the knowledge that she is blessed to share her Christmas with the angels this year, we try to move forward to celebrate with our family and other friends.  A special Merry Christmas to Tracy's family.

I have one week left to finish off the last three chapters of AFDOC and I will have met my deadline for the first major revision.  I hope you and your writing have a blessed holiday and your families and your friends will share a cuppa and rejoice in the amazing blessings we as Americans enjoy.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from my house to yours.          Mahala



Tuesday, December 21, 2010

work in progress

Seemed an appropriate time to let our followers know that the blogspot decor is now a work in progress. Please stay patiently with us . . . we hope to get a final view as soon as we can figure out the software. Sigh.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Coda

Dear Tracy:

This little eulogy will take a long time to write for the tears that fall cannot wash away the sorrow I feel today.

You were such a rare find: a caring and genuine friend, and I sorely miss your dimpled smile. Quick to lend a helping hand and share your wealth of knowledge about writing genres and the quirks of publishing, I know I will not be able to write a single line without wondering what would Tracy think? Where would your marvelous critiques have sent me? You had an awesome grasp of the art of story. Who will tell me all I’ve written is a good character sketch when I thought I had created a crisp, short story?

Time and space will mute the loss and dim the pain, Tracy, but the golden threads of friendship you graciously shared with me are immutable and will always brighten my memories. I miss you, lady, but am comforted by the knowledge that you are now safe from harm.

cj

A Tribute

Tracy had a profound influence on my life. She was a loyal friend and an excellent writer and editor. I once told her I would never submit anything for publication without her critique. A Few Degrees Off Center started as a series of unnamed short stories, but as she read and critiqued them, then encouraged me to consider writing a novel. Without her inspiration and encouragement, the stories would probably still be under construction.

Founding Mobile Writers Guild was an adventure that often brought us to laughter and frustration—it was always a joint effort without rancor, unusual in today’s world. I will always be amazed and grateful for that wonderful working relationship.
Raising children almost the same age, we made the rounds of museums, movies, plays, McDonald’s, and oh so many others. My life has been greatly enriched for having known and worked and played together.

My strongest wish is that the young adult book she almost finished, her new mystery novel, and so many short stories that she had crafted and never submitted had made it to print. Tracy had a deep desire to touch the lives of young people in a positive way and that is another way she will be remembered.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf, Tracy carried almost one hundred packages from SCBWI to the children—flashlights, stuffed animals, and, of course, books. She donated over a hundred books to the Mobile Public Library in the few years she lived here.

Tracy, you are a part of my life forever. Save me a seat in the Great Library. Mahala

Sadly, it was too soon . . . much too soon


In the early morning hours of Wednesday, December 1, 2010, our dear friend and Lyrical Pens partner, Tracy Ann Hurley, passed away at the age of 53. There was no lengthy forewarning; the discovery of her illness was unexpected; and her death devastatingly sudden.

A lifetime learner and lover of literature, reading, and writing, Tracy was also an inspired and gifted teacher. Her talents for writing and editing led her to co-found the Mobile Writers Guild and to the publication of short stories. Tracy will be especially remembered for her kind and loving heart that she shared with all she met.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org. or to a school or public library of choice.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

AFDOC Week 42 & 43: Full

Full of turkey and full of enthusiasm for the season and best of all full of excitement because the first major revision of AFDOC is coming to a close.  Every day still brings surprises when I stumble on new ideas.  Flannery O'Connor, among many other writers, is quick to  remark that you don't know your characters until the initial draft of your book is done or for some about half-way through.  It's so true.  Caroline and I have been friends for years and yet this week new parts of her personality jumped out at me as I rewrote one of the most serious and poignant parts of the book.  Just goes to show you really never know anyone.

Hope your holidays were special and Black Friday didn't leave you and your wallet in agony.

Keep putting those words on the page.      Mahala

Football and holidays


Well, if you’re an Alabama or Auburn football fan, you are either weeping or rejoicing at the outcome of the Iron Bowl. Until I moved to Mobile, I didn’t follow those teams . . . actually still “almost” don’t, but in the State of Alabama, a marvelous rivalry exists. Virtually, no one can escape being drawn into it, except, maybe, this Yankee-fied Texan (born in Texas, spent most of my life in Detroit). Whatever the football team is, college or professional, I generally pick some player to empathize with and that’s the team I root for. This year I liked Alabama’s Coach Sabin so I wasn’t celebrating when the Auburn Tigers squeaked by the Alabama Tide 28-27. Sigh.

Because of a flurry of family health issues . . . and a huge dose of ennui . . . I’ve taken a writing hiatus for the Holidays (I started in September). Still, I continue to go on-line and scour agent and author blogsites for info to collect or review a book for little tidbits I can incorporate into my writing. Nothing goes to waste, and I’ve got the files to prove it! Every once in a while I decide I’m going to enter a contest or respond to a call for submissions—which I recently did for the Excalibur Press call. The requirements for that one ought to inspire all aspiring writers to submit. (See Mahala’s blog of Nov. 14 or go to our “Check it Out” sidebar.)

Okay, time to go Christmas shopping. You keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

cj

Jeff Johnston’s tiger picture is for all you Auburn fans out there.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

AFDOC Week 41: Imagination

Hey to all you writing turkeys!  That was too good to miss.

Be sure and check out http://www.excaliburpress.us/ in the very near future.  Linda Busby-Parker, publisher and editor of Excalibur Press has a call for submissions out to all writers for her newest anthology, Muse or Dark Angel: the Writing Life.  Her previous anthologies have sold out and gone to additional printings and are always filled with beautifully written stories by a widely divergent group of writers who converge to create books worth reading and giving as gifts.

As I write this, glitter sprinkles onto my keyboard from all the Christmas projects I've got underway.  If it stands still, it gets a healthy dose of glitter at my house during the holidays.  My friends always know when I'm crafting as I glow for weeks.  No matter how often I shower, I walk around like the Fairy Godmother of Far Far Away.   If you aren't a Shrek fan, you probably get the idea without too much trouble.  That's one of the joys of having a child in the house - I get to watch all the animated movies without a shred of guilt.

Movies on DVD are a wonderful way to stimulate your imagination and add a spark of creativity to your writing especially if you take the time to watch the extras on so many of the DVDs.  They often interview the characters/actors/directors/writers and give tremendous insights into the creative process.  The last Indiana Jones movie has super ones worth taking the time to check out - the movie is great too!

Here's another flash from the past in AFDOC:
Thrilled with her gray flannel, poodle skirt and starched red and white crinolines, Caroline can't  wait to get to her first dance.  As she whirls in front of her mirror, she's pleased with her perfectly matched red sweater set.

Get your turkey before the craziness hits the grocery stores.

Mahala

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

AFDOC Week 40: Challenges



With less than three weeks till Thanksgiving, cool weather finally made it to the Gulf Coast.  I often kidded my mother in her last years as she became enamored with the weather channel on television and now I'm following in her footsteps.  Those of you in the farther reaches north would have cracked up last Sunday when everyone was decked out in wool and heavy coats, scarves and gloves for  church.  It was a chilly 60 so what do you expect?


Somerset Maugham is often quoted as saying there are three rules for writing a novel but unfortunately no one knows what they are.  He was most certainly right.  I have read and read and re-read on the process of first writing a novel and second revising it, and every writer seems to have their own take on it.  Of one thing I'm now sure - there is no right or wrong way to go about this.  And, for sure, if you don't write something, you have nothing to revise.  How's that for wisdom?

In challenging every word I've written in AFDOC, I am constantly amazed how the addition, deletion, or change of only one word can make all the difference in clarity and purpose.  I spent last week arranging and arranging words again, working carefully to see how many words I could eliminate and maintain the integrity of the scenes.  Efficient use of words is so important in helping the reader to go with the author as we take them through our novel ride.


This novel has already been worth the ride for me and I hope it will be worth the trip for my readers,  Here is another tidbit to whet your appetite {got Thanksgiving on my mind.}

Caroline continues to mature and gets the honor of helping her aunts forage for pigpen stainless while stumbling on a few facts of life.


Go forth and write.     Mahala

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Edits and revisions


I've been working on a novel for several years, and it's now in its nth revision/edit cycle. But hey, putting that in perspective, it takes eons to create a diamond. As if! (Sigh)

Kind of like Mahala, this time around, I'm using a graph to chart each character's progress within each chapter, right down to mentioning at least one of the five senses--especially for the protagonist. The graphs remind me to set up place, conflict, and hooks.

Hint: Create an Excel file; down the left side, list all of the attributes/questions you want to address; across the top columns put in the chapter numbers. I print it off, three-hole punch it, and put the pages in a binder. [This, of course, is not necessary if you can keep two computer documents open at the same time.] Then all you have to do while your editing is put a checkmark under the chapter if the row item is in the chapter.

Teed-jus, but worth it. I use the same process to develop character studies before they're inserted into the story. That way I know enough about their backgrounds/speech/habits/temperment to have their actions and reactions appear totally in character.

These graphs give me the feedback I need to make sure the characters have dissimilar speech patterns and actions. They also help me track when I "disappear" one of them from the plot.

I have more than one work-in-progress and often get turned around on the different personalities. It's amazing how many times I have to refer to the character studies to keep me straight as I write.

By the way, I didn't know that Mahala was using this same method when I started mine. Great minds and all that, I guess.

I have another revision process going on as well--my recipes and Thanksgiving menu so I can accommodate the various special diet needs that have arisen in 2010 among my family and friends. This year, it won't be my traditional foods, but I'm pretty sure I can put together a Smorgasbord table without ruining taste or presentation.

You keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.

cj

The Jeff Johnston picture is of a wolf singing among the golden aspens of Colorado.

Monday, November 1, 2010

AFDOC Weeks 37-39 Committed

Grab your hat and get ready!  The season is upon us when we hit the ground running and never take the time to look to see where we're going or where we've been-the mad dash to the finish is on -sixty-one days left.

After a raucous weekend, the goblins moved on to other points of haunt and left me to write in relative peace.  They hissed at my seemingly impossible task.  I have, after all, set 12/31/10 as the deadline for the first complete revision of AFDOC.

This morning I committed to my critique group to have the first chapters to them on January 3, 2011.  Can't cut it much closer than that!  I'm excited.  One can only work in a vacuum so long without growing worried that it's all a hoax.  That's the primary reason I enjoy reading letters of famous authors-Welty, O'Connor, Wolfe, Faulkner, Hemingway.  They give me hope that all is not lost as they often lament about the quality of their work and the printable value of their latest offering.  Helps me know I'm not alone in my madness.

I never miss a day writing now to keep me focused and in Caroline's world lest I lose sight of her dilemmas.   She is a busy twelve year old with complex insights as they play out over the everyday lives of friends and family in her sleepy Southern town.

See you At the Hop!   Mahala

Saturday, October 23, 2010

AFDOC 34-36: Revisions Creep




In homage to the season ghosts and goblins wandered into my office and took a seat this week. They booed and rattled chains as I slogged through the vile task of reviewing and rewriting my words once again. This time, however, each syllable is measured against five specific criteria, and naturally given my penchant for detail, each criterion got sub-criteria. But {never start a sentence with but according to today's witch and warlock editors} it's a must at this point to lend validity to the story telling.


I don't mind sharing the criteria although the werewolf howled at the full moon last night when I made this decision. He grows more cantankerous with caution about telling this tale to any and everyone. I howled right back certain in my conviction that writers are all about sharing.


Each chapter takes one to two hours to do in this fashion - some a little longer - so it's not for the faint of heart. I apply the criteria to each scene separately and record my findings in my handy-dandy notebook. I admit that I have to stop more frequently to clear my head of cobwebs, stretch my Frankenstein-like neck muscles, and flex the skeletal portions of my hands.


Number or letter each criterion to make this easier. Do the scenes?

1. Support the plot?

2. Support subplots? Which one(s)?

3. Move the story forward? This seems like a crisp, candied apple if the first two are in place, but try it and see how many questions you ask - becomes more like a sticky popcorn ball.

4. Support a throughline? Which one(s)?

5. Ripe for deletion?



May your goblins treat you right to get it written! Mahala

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Here's to state fairs and harvest moons


The local and state fairs are up and running in many states. There are some celebrations that are no longer in operation, as is true of the Michigan State Fair, but I hope that's a temporary condition. Autumn brings a wonderful feeling of fulfillment to the hopeful labor of spring planting and summer's tending. The September sun drops lower in the sky, and October's harvest moon hangs like a yellow-gold pumpkin in the sky. Autumn is a time to enjoy and build special memories.

Yep, been there, done that, ENJOYED IT immensely. The Writers' Police Academy in Greensboro, NC, was a neat experience, and a definitely-worth-it conference. If you write anything, even a romance, that even briefly touches on a cop or a firefighter or a medical examiner or an undercover cop or Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco action, this is the place you need to go. I know I had a great learning experience and all-around good time, and I think Tracy did, too. In case you wondered, this event follows no CSI script. The correct vocabulary and procedures are coupled with practical experience, as in Firearms Training. (FYI, by the third or fourth shot, the Glock 40 didn't feel as heavy.) This year's special guest was Jeffery Deaver--a genuinely congenial guy. Also met some very nice folks who just happened to be fellow writers.

'Course my writing has suffered because my head is spinning with so much information that needs to be included in my WIPs, but I need to be "authentic" if the stories are to ring true.

Well, y'all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to the same.

cj

The Jeff Johnston photo is a kaleidoscope of rides at the Fair in Mobile, Alabama.

Monday, October 18, 2010

AFDOC 31 - 33: Weedy Patches

As the weeks passed this summer, I set myself the goal to have AFDOC polished and ready to go to readers by January 1, 2011. To that end, I sequestered myself in my office and wrote six or more hours a day seven days a week, which isn't as hard as it sounds since the temperature every day in Mobile was 100+ degrees with 85% humidity. I turned on my fifties music and wrote like a mad woman. I tend to do things all or nothing. The result has been a completed manuscript with way more words than I need. Cutting is easier than adding - right? Try telling that to my writing ego.

I have cut a lot. I really have. But alas I still hover at the 600 page level. Since this isn't an epic saga but a fifties retrospective, obviously a lot of words have to go. I cut several thousand words and add several thousand with the hope that eventually the deletions will override the additions. One touchstone I use is the axiom that everything in the middle of the book should lead back to the beginning. {It takes a lot of words to do that kind of loop!} That's logical but verbose writers {as I tend to be} can meander off the beaten path faster than you can say peanut butter cookies.


Last week when the temperature in Mobile plummeted to the low eighties with a low, low of sixty-nine in the mornings, I cut back my writing to work in my flower garden. Pulling literal weeds gave me time to consider my literary ones. After mulling over pacing and plot points, this week I am focusing on specific patches of weedy writing in AFDOC, but I'm saving my precious words {weeds} to use in another story some day. Tomorrow is another day and all that.

According to Madden's Revising Fiction which I love, after Virginia Woolf spent five years and completed nine revisions, her first book was finally published - The Voyage Out. She sat down to read it and recorded her feelings in her diary. "...such an assortment of patches...here simple and severe...here frivolous and shallow....The failures are ghastly enough to make my cheeks burn...and then a turn of sentence...makes them burn in a different way."

And that sums up where I am. In today's vernacular, Did I do that?

Write to get it right. Mahala

Friday, October 8, 2010

AFDOC 30: Risk Taking



One of the big surprises to my revision process was the decision to take more risks in structuring my book. For the past year I have focused on seeking out first time novelists and looking at what and why a publisher chose to print their work. Over and over again I found that taking calculated risks with the work seemed to make the difference. So as I carefully revised from front to back with a close eye to my throughlines and overall plot, I decided tothrow caution to the wind {not hurricane strength you understand}. I’ve reinstated original ideas and added ideas I’ve tossed around for a long time. I had avoided these with the thought that as a first time novelist I needed to follow a traditional structure to give me a fighting chance at publication.

Now, first I have to tell you that my critique group has only seen a bit and a piece here and there of these changes and not all met them with the excitement I felt, but I have forged ahead because the changes feel right and accomplish many of my goals in telling the story.

AFDOC now sports more than one point of view {first person present and omniscient past} and a series of letters that help me build suspense, foreshadow the drama, deliver backstory, and motivate my protagonist to step on the other side of childhood. I love the deliciously, intimate information that personal letters {in other books both fiction and non-fiction} share—a voyeuristic glance into character’s thoughts and feelings—and wanted to engage that closeness. While the book is full of drama and humor, it is truly a character study of several people.

So many of the books on the creative process of writing that I’ve revisited recently reminded me that an author doesn’t truly know their own book until they have finished it and started a complete revision process to polish it. While that idea at first blush seems absurd, I can tell you it is an idea I fully embrace.
Write to get it Right! Mahala

Friday, October 1, 2010

AFDOC Lives! #29

It’s been a long time coming and I’m so glad to be back on line with Lyrical Pens. Thank you cj for keeping the home fires burning. Even though I have been in electronic purgatory I have been writing up a storm and revising till my eyes burn. I rarely miss a day of writing and completed the book weeks ago. That’s when the fun {totally tongue in cheek} began.

The first thing I did was read the book from beginning to end and tightened, corrected, and moved things around for the 11th millionth time. The result of that effort was an increase in word count of 75,000 words or so—a book in itself and the addition of roughly 15 chapters. One could never say I’m not verbose. Since I have a proclivity for words ending in ing, cj suggested I seek them out and work on changing Ha! them. I labored over that as I waded back through on a mission to tighten the book. When I was done I had on 6,621 words ending in ing left. What an eye-opener!

In case all of this sounds like I’ve been on a fun excursion, let me set you straight up front. This has been weeks and weeks of hard work, not the least of which was finding Ha!that the written summary of my plot and sub-plots were mediocre at best and needed a more active voice.

So as I bring you up to speed with where AFDOC is over the next few weeks, keep me on your straight arrow prayer list as Haywood Smith writes in her novels. The good news is I still LOVE my book and hope you will too.

Mahala

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Halted


I was researching agents' sites the other day and read the opinion of one that said readers in today's world are turning away from thrillers, particularly political ones, and mysteries--which are the directions I'm headed with two of my WIPs and the possible expansion of that haiku story I wrote about previously. Now what? Do I continue or do I put it all aside? The conundrum has halted me in my editorial shoes. I'm not one who ordinarily runs with a single opinion, but when the opinionator is a New York agent, I do have to think twice. I guess my WIPs will sit quietly for a time while I make up my mind, as in do more research into what agents are looking for.

I really, really, really don't like to write angst-laden literary prose. I've worked hard to get beyond my own conflicts and sorrows and have no desire to resurrect them or explore anyone else's. I also avoid movies/stories that might make me cry. My friends assure me not every story is heavy with the emotional trauma and pain of, say, A DOG OF FLANDERS, but I remain an agnostic. Sigh.

Perhaps the Writers' Police Academy conference in Greensboro next weekend will persuade me that the agent didn't quite know the reader audience as well as he thought. Perhaps.

Speaking of angst-laden prose, nine years ago, I did a fifteen-minute writing exercise as part of my journal. Just a rapid-fire, get-it-on-paper thing. The result--excerpted below--was part of the inspiration for a personal essay that was published in CHRISTMAS IS A SEASON 2008. I made sure the published story ended on an up-note and offer it now as evidence that our journals are perfect muses.

"You have to know that Swedes are filled with angst even on their best days. We are a staid but loving people. I remember a childhood filled with family love, not demonstrated with hugs and kisses, but in doing for each other. As it was in the winter of 1943 when two of my uncles were on their last furlough before shipping out. There was no money for gifts. Ours was a family of tenant farmers, working for the Hargrove family, but Mama gathered the family and fed them fresh baked bread and crispy fried chicken and vegetables canned from the summer garden. Mama outdid herself for her beloved brothers. To keep the kids occupied while the women got the table ready, my uncle Steve pulled a toy out of a paper bag. He had cut notches into the edges of a wooden spool that Gramma had emptied of cotton thread. And then, somehow, and very magically, he used a rubber band and a twig to make a kind of clackety toy tractor that skittered across the linoleum. I thought it looked like a jumping spider and screamed every time it moved. My uncles were so handsome in their uniforms; I thought Steve looked like a movie star. He chased me down a wet caliche road, taking care not to slip and mess up his uniform pants in the narrow tire tracks left in melting snow. It was a perfect day—a house full of uncles and aunts … and snow, the first this Texan had ever seen. It was going to be the last perfect day in a long time."

That's all for now. You keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.

cj

The picture from Jeff Johnston's collection is called The Apparition.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

haiku story


Back in June, I whined about learning to write a short story, well . . . I have just finished what I have to call a haiku story.

Backstory: On my schedule for late September is the Writers' Police Academy in North Carolina. Lots of Ex's will be there. Ex-cops, Ex-CIA, Ex-FBI, writer Jeffery Deaver as keynote speaker, et al. And these experts will offer sessions in forensics, investigation, and firearms training. Yep, I'll be handling a Glock. Woohoo. Anyway, all of this info is a prelude to the one contest I entered.

Contest Story Requirements: A beginning, middle, and surprise ending--a regular mystery story with all the rules attendant to writing a mystery. The kicker was that the story could be no longer than 200 words, and that included the title. Plus hyphenated words counted as two words. So, in order to get the word count function to accurately report the number, you had to delete the hyphens then put them back in. Two hundred words total. Now THAT's what I call a haiku story and I loved the task! The winner gets the Academy's Golden Donut Award--named in honor of the LEOs I presume. (Not presuming that I would win. Only thinking about the donut, one of my favorite food groups.)

The neat thing is that when I finished my haiku story, I sent it to a poet friend in Georgia and his comment was that he thought I was off to a fast start to my new novel.

He may have missed the rules of the contest, but come to think of it, he just might be right.

You keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.

cj

The Jeff Johnston photo is of Jenne's Farm in New England. Looks like a perfect fall day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

End of the story . . .


I can't believe I've left the blog idle for two weeks. My excuse? The house repair/remodel is just about overwhelming.

I also can't believe we're less than a month away from autumn, not that the weather here in Mobile is any indicator. It's been raining and in the high 90s for two weeks now, and everything is green . . . including the first three bricks high on my house. Sigh.

Now, the conclusion (thus far) of my writing life:

After I moved to Mobile, AL, my desire to write bubbled to the surface. Retirement, it seemed, was not simply the start of a new chapter in my life, rather it is where a yet unwritten book began. A class in creative writing at the University of South Alabama sent me on my way.

I write because I like the rhythm, the music of the words. I write because I like my characters--they are not complete fabrications. I know them personally--or at least some part of them. I see them in my mind's eye. I watch them walk. I see their gestures as they speak, hear the tone and timbre of their voices, understand their meaning. All of this visualization is a result of the screenwriting course. Though I have to admit there are scenes that tell my own story . . . I'm the one who has been there, done that, said that.

Sometimes the words flow across the page like the broad strokes of a house painter's brush. Sometimes each page comes to life slowly, as if it were a rendering of a copse of Alabama's long needle pine trees being completed by single strokes of a pen and ink artist.

When I write, I turn on the television to the Weather Channel. I need a voice other than the one in my head to keep me tethered to the real world that I abandon to create my own version of some protagonist's reality.

And when dark and stormy nights keep me awake, it is only the strobe of a lightning bolt followed by thundering applause that keeps me in bed, lest I plug in my computer and risk again its electrical annihilation as I wend my way through the night hours on a flight of fiction. On those clich├ęd nights, the pen and notepad on my bedside table are generic substitutes for electronic keys because I cannot wait to write--the morning is too far away.
***
That's it for now, but I'll keep on keeping and hope you do the same.

cj

The Jeff Johnston photo is called "End of the Road." 'Nuff said.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The journey continues


Part IV

That phase of my career that required reporting the statistics of corporate research (i.e., making numbers talk) also honed my writing skills. I learned how to analyze data in a way that revealed meaningful information then write the report as succinctly as a journalist would report facts. (I took a night class in journalism at Michigan State.) I created the report layout in PageMaker software to produce a USA Today-style newsletter. Space and page constraints made each report a sort of short story with a plot (would the new product entice our target buyers), a beginning (the research plan), middle (the three-day event with a cast of hundreds), and a conclusion.

But numbers and I were often at odds so I thought about a new career. It was during this time that I flew to San Francisco to take a course in screenwriting. I learned about characterization and conflict, and how place and scenes move the plot forward as well. I also learned that the field wasn’t all that open to newcomers. Sigh.

When I retired from corporate life and decided to relocate close to my family--leaving Michigan for the coastal clime on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico--I destroyed all the sodden pages of angst-laden poetry and journals I’d accumulated over the years. They comprised the mournful scenes of a memoir that I am not brave enough to write nor let be discovered, lest my frailties be laid raw and exposed to my family. I am, after all, Superwoman.

That's all for this time. Keep on keeping on, folks, and I'll try to do the same.

cj

Note: If you ever have a chance to get some pointers on screenwriting, do it. The scenes become alive, smooth, and complete as you visualize your character moving through your story.

The Jeff Johnston photo is of the reflections of birch trees in a small pond in New England. It's call Pond as Prism.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My writer's journey continues . . .


Part III.

I was well into my 30s when I switched gears and began to climb a corporate ladder in the automotive industry.

Engineers may know their nuts, bolts, and hydraulic processes but a significant number of them paid little attention in their English classes. I corrected grammar, punctuation, and syntax. I edited the technical writing of product launch books. During this time, I also finished the requirements for my master’s degree and worked part-time for another auto company. Eventually, I moved up enough rungs to become a market research project manager where I made numbers "talk" in the show-and-tell presentations that I shuttled up the elevator shafts to senior management. But it was the few years that I spent at the employee newspaper that stoked my love of creative writing. (Let’s see, journalism . . . creative writing . . . I guess there’s a correlation there.)

One particular event while working for the newspaper stirred the writing embers. I begged, pleaded, was assigned to participate in an off-road, four-wheeling, rock-climbing adventure on the Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains—a 10 on a difficulty scale of 1 to 10—and then write about the experience. I slept atop a granite outcropping, saw a vehicle slide off the trail and end its roll with all four wheels in the air, a high-level manager encountered a black bear in his tent, and the sponsors of the event brought in entertainment that included a grand piano flown in by helicopter. The article occupied the entirety of page two in the weekly employee newspaper and earned me a credible "atta-girl" from the director of corporate communications. (A former Navy seal with a marvelous handlebar mustache, he wore his full dress kilt for his son’s wedding--a perfect model for a characterization in a future story.) He urged me to send off the story to automotive off-road magazines. I did not have the courage to seek that level of professional status, but the need to write had begun to smolder.

Then a new love entered my life, and I happily returned to syncopated rhyme. When the heat of the affair dissipated into cold realities, I spent countless more hours documenting my loss in poetry and journals. This time I banked the writing fires.

You keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.

cj

Note: The subject of the Jeff Johnston picture is a 100-plus-year-old water mill just outside of Crystal, Colorado. Abandoned years before, it was still hanging on.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My writer's journey continues . . .


Part II.

Not long after that wintry night in Detroit when the angst of puberty, among other things, destroyed my childhood innocence, I started writing poetry. I used words to release my pent-up emotion, whether it was anxiety, happiness, remorse, fear, or the intensity of a desire that couldn’t possibly be puppy love.

I married while still a teenager and invested all my energy and emotions into my husband, my sons, and a career as a secretary. My secretarial life incorporated the jargon of many disciplines, and I spent years as a professional scrivener of one kind or another. While employed as a civil court clerk for a local judge, I typed legal briefs and constructed divorces. A job change: As a real estate agent, I learned the legalese of leases, purchase agreements, and deeds. Another job change: As a medical secretary/office manager, I transcribed operating room reports, diagnostic X-rays, created nuclear isotope purchase agreements, and job descriptions. I felt no need to write creatively.

Twenty years later came despair and divorce, and the writing started again. I enrolled as a part-time student at a community college and exhausted my grief in rhymes and journals. It was five years before I strengthened my resolve and laid aside the pen. Motivated by the divorce and a need to earn enough money to help support my sons and widowed mother, I refocused my energies on finding another line of work. . . . (To be continued.)

On a more current note, Mahala is without a computer for a while so we'll be temporarily deprived of her posts.

That's all for today, folks. You keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.

cj

The Jeff Johnston photo is called "Subterranean Sunlight." Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon (thirty feet underground at this point) in Page, AZ, and accessible only with permission of the Navajo Nation. It proves to me that the sun can find a way through the narrowest of spaces to illuminate beauty in what should be the darkest of places.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My writer's journey


First, let me ditto Mahala's praise of Tracy. She is never hesitant to share her writerly skills and talent. I, too, will miss her. She greatly enriched my writer's journey--a lifetime of learning.

Today, I started a search through my files for a thread to use in a new short story I want to write and stumbled across a personal essay I wrote circa 2007. I want to share those memories over the next two or three weeks.

Here is My Writer's Journey: Part I

I'm prone to study. Because I have a short, little attention span, I'm prone to study a variety of things in a haphazard way. I gather how-to books of one craft or another, be it PowerPoint presentation, stained glass art, Photoshop techniques, or the craft of writing novels and how to get an agent. I've taken classes in journalism, painting, acrylics and oil, and immersed myself in creative writing workshops. I once flew cross-country to San Francisco to attend Robert McKee's three-day session on screenwriting. Of all these forays into arts and crafts, the thing I've been the least successful at is the thing I've stuck with the longest: writing.

The writing seed was planted in my unconscious when a younger, more naive me lived in a colder clime and gentler time. I can remember when I was about ten or eleven walking home on a winter night from the now-closed Mark Twain Library in Detroit, Michigan. I had spent a few hours re-reading chapters of my favorite book, James Fenimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans." I remember the crispness of the zero-temperature air that pricked my nostrils and turned my breath frosty white, the crunch of hard-packed snow under my boots, and the opalescent colors of the aurora borealis streaking across the blue velvet sky--yes, the northern lights were once visible in Detroit. Everything conspired to create an evening I would never forget.

Even so, as I grew older, I didn't often read for pleasure. Life overtook me.

cj

Note: The Jeff Johnston award-winning picture is called "Best Buds" -- which the ladies of Lyrical Pens are to me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

AFDOC 27 and 28 And a Sad Day

This week Mobile lost a wonderful writer and editor and a major asset to the writing community. You would never know it on-line because she will continue as part of our Lyrical Pens consortium, but those of us who live in Mobile are sad to see Tracy Hurley move away. Tracy and I founded the Mobile Writers Guild in 2004 and through that enormous effort we met and became friends with many excellent writers and community members interested in promoting the arts in Mobile. Tracy, alone, was responsible for bringing many well-known authors to speak and work with local writers.

I am happy for Tracy that she is moving closer to her family but I am deeply saddened to be losing her electric smile and bubbling giggle in our midst. cj, Tracy, Linda Busby-Parker, and I have worried our way through many a manuscript in critique sessions and were all the wiser for Tracy's input. Thrilled with my first published personal essay that she had read over and over again with the patience of a saint, I bought her dinner when it was published. She went with me to my first signing and I'll cherish that magical evening forever. Thanks for never losing sight, Tracy.

Tracy was the regional representative for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and helped numerous new authors in Alabama to write and promote their children and young adult material. She took the lead in gathering and hand delivering care packages for SCBWI in the midst of Katrina's catastrophic legacy - books, flashlights, etc. to almost 100 needy children.

Maryland, you are indeed fortunate to have this proactive and dynamic writer and editor headed your way and we hope you treat her kindly. Tracy, keep us updated on your new life and Maryland's writing activities.

AFDOC has been buried under a stack of manuscript reviews that were due and other writers waiting for feedback and helping out with my daughter's store and Tracy's move. Yet, I did make a good deal of progress with adjectives and adverbs and fleshing out almost all of the characters that needed work. 110 degree heat with 90% humidity does not bode well for leaving the house, so any time between projects was spent with the novel and making improvements. Never fear, I tell myself, you are almost at the end {and that's a joke as all writers know} so I forge ahead and every day spend at least one hour in the fictional world of Glance, Georgia where Caroline once had a Tiny Tears doll.

Shedding tears for Tracy. Mahala

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pay attention


Okay, so that second contractor I was waiting for on June 25 . . . I’m still waiting. Sigh.

In the meantime . . . I’ve been reading my in-edit-cycle novel aloud. Amazing what I find when I do that. Adjectives, adverbs, and breathlessly long sentences stand out, but even more interesting is my (over)use of the same words. Face, lips, mouth, fingers, hand or some version thereof. And how many times can a character eye, smile, and grin? Present tense(s) and past tense.

Some of these edits are easy; others require deletes, total re-writes or at the minimum, re-casting the sentence. I need to pay better attention when I write.

FYI: To check how many times a word is used--in the Edit menu, do a "find" for a suspected word, then turn on "highlight" and "find all," and the computer will give a count. To turn off the highlighted words, just click off at an empty space in the document.

I’m a couple of homework lessons behind in the on-line middle-grade and YA writing course. It’s a month-long course, and I can either lurk or participate. I’ll probably just lurk but am still learning a lot from the discussions as well as from the lessons and homework. I was never a passionate childhood reader, and I need guidance on what young’uns like to read, especially today’s Now Generation.

Okay, time for a break from the computer. You keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

cj

I call Jeff Johnston’s eagle picture “Attitude.” I love that face. Reminds me of a bad hair day.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4 Surprise


What a wonderful way to celebrate the Fourth of July. Welcome back, Tracy!

I am surprised, delighted, happy, thrilled, ecstatic to see Tracy’s writing again. It’s been a long dry spell, and her voice was missed.

‘Nuff said.

cj

Jeff Johnston calls his picture “Field of Dreams.” Taken just outside Dallas, it’s unusual in that blue bonnets aren’t usually in bloom at the same time as Indian blanket. Since I am a native Texan, I call it (with a nod and wink to Andrew Wyeth) “My World.”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lost . . .

. . . my voice, that is.

Unique voice is that elusive quality that all editors and agents say they want in a manuscript. However, when asked to pin it down, you get that frustrating “I know it when I read it” answer.

I have no pearls of wisdom on defining voice, but you do know it when you see it. It’s a stew of syntax and grammar, sentence structure, word usage, phrases, tone, and much more. It’s the secret blend of spices that each author sprinkles throughout his or her work.

Without looking at the book jacket, you only have to sample a few lines (take a few bites?) to tell Hemingway from Faulkner from Welty from O’Connor from Frazen from Morrison from King from Evanovich. Give me one taste from my critique buddies’ work, and I’ll know immediately which one is Mahala’s, Marilyn’s, Wanda’s, and Linda’s. Those women have voice!

After years of working on craft, I felt I was finally finding my own unique voice. More of a peep maybe, but definitely something that was mine alone. Then my life fell apart. Everything I thought I knew was wrong; everything I thought was true was false. My world turned upside down, then inside out. *I* turned upside down and inside out—vulnerable, scared, sick, my bloody insides exposed for all the world to see.

But that wasn’t the worst. I discovered that when you’ve turned inside out, it’s impossible to speak. My voice has been gone a long time. I thought it was gone forever. But as days turned to weeks and weeks to months, I’ve realized that my voice wasn’t really lost. Just hiding.

After 9 months (and I can’t help be aware of the significance of that number), my voice is emerging again. Even more surprising is that I think it’s changed. It’s too soon to tell exactly how, but it tastes different. Richer. Stronger. Less edited. More like me. Just me. Perhaps after months of hibernation, I’ve found my own secret ingredient that sets my voice stew apart from the rest.

Does that mean I’ll be writing horror or erotica (or recipe books???) instead of mysteries and YA? Too soon to tell, but probably not. I am hoping it means that whatever I write—or do—will shine with a voice that can only be mine.



Tracy





Saturday, July 3, 2010

AFDOC 26: God Bless America

My mother, Mary Church Bagwell, was in the WAVES during WWII {which is honored in AFDOC.} She was a strong and professional woman well ahead of her time. This post is dedicated to her and to all the women and men who protect the United States of America.



The year I gave myself to bring A Few Degrees Off Center through the revision processes and get ready to seek an agent is half over! As with any good critique, first I'm going to congratulate myself on finishing the first revision which was a bear! Second, I'm going to congratulate myself for sticking with it. And finally, I'm going to congratulate myself for beginning the last half of the revision process before I hit the 26th week - just made it at 25. See anything wrong with these statements?


Now the weakness: My good writing friend and colleague, Wanda Wood, told me this week - after she looked over some of my ideas for revision - that I had used way too many being verbs and adverbs and slipped into the passive voice when transitioning some sections to past tense. So I started to work changing all the transposed sections before I go any further. A big thanks to Wanda!


Now for the other side of the sandwich - all good critiquers should know what I'm talking about. The last round of revisions is started. Wanda liked some of my new ideas and praised the lushness of my edited scenes. What a way to start the last half.
My mother, an intellegient and well read woman, would have been pround of me for hanging in there.

Happy 4th to all of you. Mahala

Saturday, June 26, 2010

AFDOC 25: Second Revision

Mobile's 100+ temperatures weren't the only thing on fire this week. I got over 50 hours of revisions into AFDOC. I'm trying out a new idea I've been mulling over for months. Keeping it all in first person, I'm fooling around {a great Southern expression that says so much} with new tenses and chapter grounding ideas. I'm constantly amazed at how much freedom I'm giving myself to cut and rearrange, which hopefully means I'm on the right path to bringing this baby on home in the next six months.

A creative writing class I took some time ago - and much I've read since - strongly advises that at this critical juncture in novel revision I should be able to write four succinct statements that define the book. It took me eight pages of handwritten notes to get it done, but it's right on target I hope. Note the decisiveness in that strong statement. It's a clear outline for me to follow to make sure every scene in every chapter speaks directly to one of the four statements and should be helpful as I take the revision process one or two or a hundred steps deeper into analysis - which I may need years of when this over.

As I ponder the Deep South in the post World War II period and finalize {an hilarious word when it comes to writing} the novel, I send you wishes for a Fourth of July replete with fried chicken, potato salad, boiled corn, butter beans, sliced tomatoes, onion & cucumbers marinated in vinegar, deviled eggs, and watermelon for dessert.

Mahala

Friday, June 25, 2010

Make the most of waiting


Don’t you just love it when contractors tell you they’ll be at your home on Friday but can’t give you a time? So you wait. And wait. And wait. If you’re lucky they will appear sometime during the day. Well, as I wait my turn (I have two different contractors supposed to arrive today), I have found my silver lining . . . write something!

The good thing about that is, because I don’t know exactly when someone will ring the doorbell, I have to collect my thoughts for this column and write fast. Kind of like a ten-minute writing exercise without a prompt.

I am in the throes of editing a novel, and my marvelous critique group has taken a summer hiatus for various valid reasons but the silver lining on that bit of waiting is the time it gives me to more thoroughly develop my characters’ personalities. I tend to have them run breathlessly from one conflict to the next because I have a very hard time with narrative. It’s a learning curve I need to master.

On another note, I borrowed (from the library) an ACT study guide for essays (to help my granddaughter brush up), and there are some very good cues in there. Good enough for me to order the book for my personal library. One principle tells the student-writer that the first and last sentence of a paragraph are what the reader--in Johanna's case, the grader--remembers, and the last word can be the most important. Reminds me to remember the hook.

Okay, one contractor just called and said he was on his way, so I’ll quit for today.

You keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

cj

Jeff Johnston’s eagle picture is called “The Chase."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

AFDOC 24 Shameless Self Promotion

Been snowed all week helping my daughter open her new shop for consignment of school uniforms and medical scrubs. Officially opened the doors Thursday and got a nice response. I'm still in my two week hiatus from AFDOC - self imposed to let the words dry on the page so to speak before diving back in for the next round of revisions. I found out I didn't get a grant I really, really wanted but after a day or so of beating myself up, I filed it under "you'll be sorry" and went on my way.


I was fortunate to be a guest blogger on http://www.lindabusyparker.typepad.com/ this week. Linda ran the first few paragraphs of AFDOC, so if you want to take a peek, go for it. Naturally as I read it on-line, I saw a few changes I wanted to make, which puts me in the company of many famous writers {my fame is still under consideration} who made/make changes with each new run. I hope you enjoy and get a feel for the setting and some of the main characters.


Have to agree with cj that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has an intriguing plotting sequence and I won't say more so that I don't spoil all the surprises cj is still to find before she gets to the ending.


As I've mentioned before I mix up my reading to keep me interested, keep me on top of new material on the market, keep me comfortable with some of my favorite authors who write series, and keep me educated by (re)reading the classics. This week I read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. It is the first detective story ever written - 1869 - and in the style of the period, namely Dickens and Poe. What a good read! The pacing is slow if you don't like literary classics as I happen to, although I have to divulge that I skipped over some of what my granddaughter calls the mushy stuff. The protagonist and his lushly overwritten view of his lady love was a bit much, but the plotting is wonderful and the book is jam-packed with twists and turns. Just as I thought I had it figured out, Collins kills off my idea and is on to a new possibility. It was a special treat to read where all the millions of detective books got their start.


AFDOC and I are scheduled to meet and greet first thing Monday morning. Mahala

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Multi-tasking


In between sanding, staining, varnishing, waiting for that coat to dry and then sanding, varnishing, waiting, ad infinitum over the next three days, I’m spending my down time reading Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” And (drum roll, please) I am enjoying it.

Yeah, I know. It starts slow and is a little harsh for my tastes in spots. It also has a LOT of backstory narrative but that doesn’t throw me far out of the story because much of it is incorporated into dialogue.

The thing that has happened, though, is that I have bought into the well-drawn characters. I’ve agreed to go along for the ride. And, for me, that’s what a good story does. Even when I can pick apart the book technically—it is, after all, Larsson’s first and an English translation at that—the plot lines remain and I want to see how they evolve. I was laugh-out-loud thrilled when I identified where he tied together what I had thought were several disparate stories.

I keep wondering if he outlined all three books in the series before he wrote the first one. I can’t outline one before I start writing.

I have to get back to work on the new front door and sidelight before the paint brush dries board-stiff, but you keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

cj

Note: The Jeff Johnston picture (taken in Homer, Alaska) is called “Hit & Miss” – kind of like how my brain works when I’m writing. Click on it to enlarge the view. The darker bird hanging on to his catch is the younger one. Mr. Experienced American Bald-Head is the adult who’s lost his lunch. FYI, the picture is not a computerized composite. The young one flew into the frame just as Jeff snapped the picture of the adult.

Friday, June 11, 2010

AFDOC 23

Took some down time from my writing this week to reflect on the completion of my first novel revision. Tossed out notes I knew I had entered into the story and kept those I haven't just-in-case. Read a lot on how to write and revise a novel. Critiqued the opening of a novel for a friend and a short story for another and worked on a book review for a new client. All in all a profitable writing week although the novel has no new revisions other than in my mind. It's ever present in my heart and mind. Spent some quality time with my granddaughter who is on summer break and loving it. And spent a lot of time helping my daughter get her new business ready to open next week. As my friend, Linda Busby-Parker wrote on her blog yesterday, life is all about relationships. http://www.lindabusyparker.typepad.com/.
Sarah & McKenzie - 2 of our rescues


Check out cj's comments about Stieg Larsson below under Books to Read. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an intelligently written book full of twists and unexpected surprises. Starts very slow to me, but so worth the effort to keep reading as it gets better and better with every page. I too am on the waiting list at the library.


Enjoy your friends and spend some time smiling this week just because you can.

Mahala

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Short story struggles


I’m still trying to write that combination of a plot- and character-driven story, and now I’m stuck on the last few pages of a short/short story. I’ve got the formula (per Ann Lamont’s “Bird by Bird”), but the last few pages . . .

I find the task of writing a “literary” story is a huge challenge because I am less than enthralled with paragraphs and paragraphs of narrative and internal monologue. Elmore Leonard’s penchant for dialogue is what appeals to me. The styles are, I think, polar opposites, and I’m really struggling.

Actually, Tracy tells me that she needs to see more struggling from my protagonist. She also tells me that I have, so far, “A wonderful character sketch.” Sigh.

Since Tracy is one of the best writing analysts I know, I also know she is drop dead-on about what’s wrong with the story and why I haven’t finished the thing. But, I am determined to finish.

The picture, one of Jeff Johnston's, is called Glade Creek Mill, and I mentally dangle my feet in the water at the foot of the falls when I need a break from summer heat in Mobile . . . and from writing.

You keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

cj

Sunday, June 6, 2010

AFDOC 22: FINISHED

The first revision of many, many to come is finished! I feel like I gave birth to triplets this past week - exhausted, exhilirated, exposed. I guess the downtime I had last week was a subsconscious time of rest for the final push. Never have I been more determined to get something to its conclusion. But least I get caught with my rose-colored glasses growing to my face, I know the REAL work is just beginning - lots to cut, polish, add, and clarify - but I have 547 pages of novel with my name on it!!!!! No one - not the most evil editor in the world - can take that away. Remind me I wrote that last sentence when I'm mired in disillusionment a year from now trying to find an agent and a publisher.


I have taken many creative classes in the university setting, on-line, in small mentoring groups, etc. but absolutely nothing prepared me for the actual work. No teacher or class or group or whatever could possibly have shown me what I was too naive to learn. You have got to do it, and as Darnell Arnoult, author of Sufficient Grace, taught in a workshop: once you finish writing your book, it's time to study writing in earnest and read as many how-to-write books as you can get your hands on. All the classes and notes and excercises come together after you've written the book. It finally begins to make sense.


Now, don't misunderstand me. You need to study the craft of writing, so you have a meaningful plot {mine came to me five years into the writing of the book which also happened to Faulkner, V. Wolfe, and R. P. Warren, so I'm in good company.} Add to that knowing POV, the King's English, grammar and punctuation, how to cast your characters, and so forth which are must knows before you start, or your revisions will take longer than writing the book. I recently read that S. King writes a 150 page or so outline before he starts a book, then just fills in the blanks. I wondered if he started that way. That would have been impossible for me this first go around.


I did some outlining, defined character traits for the main characters {thanks Tracy for a cheat sheet of an easy way to do that,} did an enormous amount of research on the fifties, and did a chronological outline since I knew the story would cover one year, but otherwise I followed my Writing Angel and wrote what she told me and always {well almost} always in Caroline's voice. That's pronounced Caro - line (as in a line of diagolue), and I wrote some days like a madwoman {cj's term.} I'm pretty sure I've graduated from Tinker Toys to an Erector Set.


So right now I'm feeling cocky on the outside and a little squeamish on the inside, but I know, absolutely know, I can do this.

Now, if someone will publish it. Have a producive week writing. Mahala

Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering

Memorial Day is the day I must remember the heroes who gave up everything that I might live with the most unique and wonderful array of freedoms in the world. Thank you.

cj

What follows came to me in a chain E-mail, but the words are truths I want to share . . . lest we forget . . .

It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

AFDOC 21: Finally Happened

Well, it finally happened. I haven't written one word in AFDOC this week. And guess what? I was busy, but not THAT busy. No explanation. Scheduled my time for next week. Hope I haven't hit some kind of wall.

Mahala

Monday, May 24, 2010

Little tidbit

Yes, I'm hard at work on the Nth revision of a story that started out as "What Doesn't Kill You," was changed to "Embedded" and is now "XXX." I know I shouldn't worry about the title at this point, but it's hanging around in the recesses of my mind as unfinished business. Not that I don't recognize that an agent or publisher will change it anyway. sigh.

But back to the little tidbit . . . it's always been my habit (since my Chrysler Corp days) to print off a few pages of what I write in order to recognize those little mistakes that seem to be hidden within the pixels of a computer screen. I also frequently read the pages out loud. A visit to the Guppy blog this morning reminded me of a trick I had forgotten. Don't just print the pages, change the font as well. If you're using 12 point Courier for your work, temporarily change it to 14 point Times New Roman. Or vice versa. You'll be surprised at how different the text looks and what you'll identify.

Okay, that's my tidbit. You all keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.

cj

Sunday, May 23, 2010

AFDOC 20: Major Change to the Story Climax

As I've worked my way through the climax of the story for the 700th time, it still doesn't feel right. It isn't what I wanted to say and the idea I wanted to leave with the reader. I've known it all along somewhere underneath the layers and layers of ideas that have swirled around me over the past two years, but the process of revision brought it all to a climax {yes, I know it's a hopeless pun, but too good to ignore} in a big way this week. But you need a little background to help you see where it's been and where it is now without giving away the "big to-do." After all, you are planning to buy the book when all is said and done and I don't want to spoil the fun.


When I started this book for real about six years ago, I had in mind a feel good experience, a retrospective look at the 50s and what life for a young girl and her slightly peculiar family was like in the deep South when Elvis and Tammy were hitting the scene. As I progressed through the Good-Lord-Himself knows how many critique groups and classes and submitted material, I kept getting back there's no plot, no tension, funny but not going anywhere, etc. etc. In abundance I got critique notes on ways to throw in some dirt and make the story grittier. Now, keep in mind that I did have a few gritty surprises under my hat, but I hadn't shared any of those yet. When I did reveal where I was going what I got was it's not enough, let us see the pain, let us see some drama, and so forth. So I relented and ramped things up with grousing and arguing, a little more grit, and I've had trouble feeling attached to most of those scenes from the get-go. What I wanted to share was a family somewhere between the Adams family and the Beaver. Apparently America has become too jaded to accept that a lot of families really lived like that. I, for example, would never have seriously questioned my father to his face much less my mother. When they said be home by 10 pm, I was. I raced a few cars, smoked a few cigarettes, sneaked on eyeliner on the bus on the way to ballgames, but believe you me, my friends and I were not the Pink Ladies. If I had been caught dressing like Rizzo, I'd probably still be doing time in my room.






But this week as I labored {and it was} to write some wrongs in my story, my writing angel whispered an idea in my ear. She was more subtle than usual. This particular angel has the same personality characteristics as the ghost of Christmas Present, Carol Kane, in Scrooged with Bill Murray, and she keeps me on my toes. The change means rewriting the last third of the book in a major way and I'll need to start weaving some new foreshadowing along the way. I'll finish the first major rewrite this week and sometime in the next six months my two current critique groups will see it. It may be too sappy for them. We'll see. But, you know what, it bears a startling similarity to something I got involved in when I was 15 - 16, so I know it's possible.


Have a good one. Mahala











Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Return to the fold

Yep, my eyes are with me this time. Two surgeries and several weeks without glasses later, here I am. I certainly plan for this to be a continuing visit.

During my absence, I did read a couple of books on writing -- very slowly. My eyes get tired fast, so it was read three or four pages, put the book down for a while, insert eye drops, then start again. Rather than put what follows in our book advisory column, here's my take on what I learned:

Mysteries, suspense, action/adventure genres rely heavily on plot--the idea--to move the story along. In his book, "The Plot Thickens," Noah Lukeman alerts the reader/writer to another facet of fiction writing, the character-driven plot. The author details how to craft a dynamite story with life-like characters with whom readers can identify, or at least recognize. He shows novice and experienced writers alike the way to build story using all the elements of writing. Through the use of examples, he leads the reader/writer through development of exquisite characterization, place, journey, and conflict. The book is an easy read and should be a fast one but I found myself stopping, bookmarking a page, and excitedly going back into all of my works-in-progress to incorporate his editorial insights. Lukeman also authored “The First 5 Pages.”

I am now persuaded that I should try to integrate character-driven plots into my plot-driven stories. Now for the hard part . . . doing it effectively. Well, I'm off now to give it a try.

Keep on keeping on and I'll try to do the same.

cj

Saturday, May 15, 2010

AFDOC 18 & 19

Been off line for a week or so with the flu of all things! Finished the costumes for Wonderland and made it to opening night. It was wonderful! The rose was exceptional! If you're in the Mobile area, check out Drama Camp Productions/Sunnyside Theater for an exciting experience for your children. Summer camp will be starting soon and they would love it. Christopher Paragone is the owner and director and has an excellent ability to motivate the children. http://www.sunnysidedrama.com/. Most of the plays are based on children's books.


As for writing, the last two weeks haven't produced many pages of revision, but I discovered that a fever can fuel the thought process quite effectively. While I filled up my wastebasket with tissues, I also filled up my bedside table with notes as new ideas for revisions kept popping and ways to handle several places that needed a new approach to more aptly express what my characters are feeling came through. I got all the notes typed in this morning and am feeling rejuvenated.


Although I still sound like I have my head in a bucket, I'm feeling much better and ready to get back into the game.

Anybody remember what the commercial for headaches is that sang this little ditty?

Pop Pop Fizz Fizz

May this week get thousands of words on the page for us all. Mahala









Monday, May 3, 2010

AFDOC 17

Buried under an avalanche of fabric making costumes for my granddaughter's play Alice in Wonderland. She's the Rose if you're interested. Did get in two contest entries and added another chapter to AFDOC by dividing several. Made substantial changes to a dramatic/thriller scene. Keeping on keeping on. Once I'm out of Wonderland I'll go back to the imaginary world of AFDOC. Seeing a pattern here? Mahala





Sunday, April 25, 2010

AFDOC 16

Thirty-two chapters and counting. Backstory and I have become the best of friends because I think I've figured out what to do with a lot of what I want to keep, how to express it and weave it and ignore it to make it work. I probably could have woven a rug with the amount of time I spent this week with backstory. I put aside the direct line to the end and went backwards, forwards and sideways - well you get the idea. I scanned the book from front to back with a somewhat jaded eye and found out the pacing and plot are moving forward in a somewhat logical manner. I've been so bogged down in the words and phrases and ideas of my critique buddies, I got lost.

High on my list of "thank my lucky stars" is Wanda, a member of my Wednesday Writers critique group. Wanda and I commiserated over being lost 3/4 of the way through the revisions of our novels, and I was reminded once again, that I'm normal {as normal as I get} and right on target with feeling frustration at this point. Thanks, Wanda. I was able to get in about eight hours of revisions after we talked. Up till then, I was ready to shove the whole thing under the bed, in the drawer, or maybe through the shredder, but I'm back on track now - a little wobbly but on the track headed towards the end of the first revision. Did I say FIRST?

David Madden's book on revising is chock full of examples of revisions made by some of the greats - Welty, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Wolfe. It's so helpful to read what they orginally wrote and how they changed it and some of them kept making changes through the printing after printing. At least there's hope for me - if rewrites are what make you famous, I'm a shoo-in.






Everything I've said today makes about as much sense as this did, but what can I say? I'm living in the 50s for the time being. I've cautioned my family to watch me if I go into a carpet store. I might buy avocado shag carpet in this frame of mind.


Mahala