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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.


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.


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.


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.