Author Archives: CJ Stuart

Oops!

I am sorry this post is late today. Life has gotten in the way, but in a good way. ūüôā I had a fantastically lazy and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t worry about very much (for a change) except reading my book and getting caught up on some chilled out family time. With all that laid back time, I just didn’t get my post done this weekend.

Then last night I went to see a production of Shakespeare’s¬†The Winter’s Tale, starring Sir Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench, broadcast from the Garrick theatre in London’s West End through a Fathom Events Live special showing at a local movie theater. It¬†is a treat to see¬†something like this, or NT Live’s Coriolanus, which I¬†have seen a few times in¬†local movie theaters. I¬†have seen a few others and am also thinking I will HAVE to check out the¬†Fathom Events Live broadcast of Sherlock – The Abominable Bride that will be here in the US in January.¬†¬†With all the excitement of seeing the play, I didn’t manage to get anything written by the time the play was over at almost 10:30.

So even though this is late, I wanted to share a story with you from my super relaxing long weekend. Before we go to sleep at night, we take turns reading to the kids. They can read on their own, but there is something about having that time, reading aloud to the kids to get them to sleep. I have one book I’m reading to the twins and I had another I was reading for quite awhile to my oldest. He had gotten the book, The One and Only Ivan,¬†on his school librarian’s recommendation, at the last book fair at school. We always end up spending a boatload at those book fairs by the way. ūüôā

We read this book for a little while, though it is a children’s book with very short chapters. (I love short chapters for night time reading sessions!) The story is basically about this gorilla, Ivan, who has lived his life in a small cage, not in a zoo or in the wild, but doesn’t seem to mind too much until he meets a baby elephant named Ruby who needs his help. He makes a promise to his friend Stella the elephant to help save Ruby.

It’s a sweet and easy read, which I’d recommend reading, regardless of your age. What I wanted to share with you, though, was that I had one of those ugly cry moments (as Oprah might say) reading it to my son. I thought he was asleep so I’m just all choked up and unable to get any words out, then I look over and see he is waiting patiently for me to continue. It took me a few minutes to get myself under control enough to finish reading it to him.

I admire writers who can tell a story that makes a reader feel so strongly as to break into an ugly cry. I admire writers who can make a reader feel sad, or happy, or¬†even angry reading their stories. The book I was reading myself over the weekend wasn’t the Great American Novel, but rather a feel good¬†romance novel I knew exactly what to expect from the author as soon as I checked it out from the library.¬†¬†This author may not give me much that is unexpected, but she manages to stir the emotions up from time to time in each book of hers I read.

I like reading books that make me feel and hope to be the writer that manages that for my readers someday.

Thanks for stopping by and for your forgiveness for the lateness.

Have a great week!

~CJS

Thankful

As impossible as it seems to me, it’s already that time of year to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Christmas will be soon around the corner, but as my children actually like to point out whenever they see Christmas displays already showing up at stores and on the street – you can’t just skip right over Thanksgiving. And for me, taking the time to be thankful is just as important as the turkey and dressing and time off work and school with family and friends.

I am blessed with a great many things in my life, family being at the top of my list, but since this is a blog that always comes back to writing (and reading sometimes too), I’d like to share some things I am thankful for in my writing life. Maybe some of these things are shared by others as well? Please feel free to share with me in the comments which ones we share and also the ones I may have missed. And since I won’t be posting on Thursday, let me take this chance to wish you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings. ūüôā

In My Writing Life I Am Thankful For:

1) Fellow Writers – Meeting other writers, whether through writer’s groups or online, has helped me tremendously. I have learned from others through their stories and blogs and critique of my work. I have enjoyed sharing the twisted writer side of myself that thinks of new characters watching people at the park or dreams up new dialogue while waiting in line at the grocery store. It helps to know I am not alone in in getting lost in thought that way. It is also comforting knowing that I’m not alone in my doubts and second-guessing myself. Fellow writers help in so many ways and I am thankful.

2) Office Supplies – Am I the only writer nerd who loves to pick up new notebooks or pens or pencils or Post-its or dry erase boards or who knows what else because I know I may fill those notebooks or Post-its or whatever it may be with ideas or even snippets of my next work in progress? There’s so much potential in an empty notebook. There’s so much possibility in a blank page or new ink or a stack of index cards. It may be silly, but I am thankful for office supplies.

3) Time to Write – It doesn’t always come easily or often, but when I am lucky enough to make the time to write, it is something for which I am always tremendously grateful.

4) Inspiration – I find inspiration in many places, at odd times and sometimes even in dreams, but always I am grateful that inspiration has been found. It is a gift to stumble upon an idea or feel a story start to take on a life. I am thankful to see with a writer’s eye all the possibilities that lie beyond what is on the surface.

5) The Work – I am thankful for the feeling of having written. I feel grateful for the creative outlet that sitting down to write allows in my life. I like having the need to put words down on the page. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to pursue a dream of writing and I am grateful each time I work to make that dream reality.

 

Falling Flat

My husband and I are fans of an interesting TV show called Project Greenlight which is a behind the scenes series about getting a movie made from executive producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. We watched several seasons of the show years ago, but then there was a long hiatus between the previous seasons and this season. This season’s show on HBO ended earlier this month.

In addition to the seasons of Project Greenlight, we have seen a few of the movies that were made during the show. We have never really been overwhelmed with the results. It’s not unusual to have a more enjoyable behind the scenes adventure to watch on the TV show than a good movie as the result.

While this season of Project Greenlight, with the contest winning first time director Jason Mann assisted by Project Greenlight producer Effie Brown, had a lot of drama over the direction of the film that made the show a lot of fun to follow, the movie never really seemed like it would turn out well.

HBO premiered the movie, The Leisure Class, earlier this month to pretty poor reviews. Despite the bad reviews, we watched it On Demand just to see the end result. Unsurprisingly we found out it just was not good.

What was good about watching it, for me, though was finding lessons in what not to do when developing my own stories and characters.

The Leisure Class was Mann’s own script developed out from a 3 minute short film. The story takes place over the course of about 24 hours and is supposed to be a comedy. I think. Or a dark comedy perhaps. ¬†Perhaps it is meant as satire? The issue is that it hits none of those marks. There is little that is funny and a lot that just falls flat because you just don’t get who the characters are or why we should care about them. Who are these people? Why are they doing the things they do? Why would anyone possibly say some of the things they say or respond the way they respond?

Ed Weeks plays Charles, a supposedly charming Englishman (who just comes off as a bit of a slimeball honestly, not at all charming) who is supposed to marry Fiona (Bridget Regan), a stiff upper class daughter of a wealthy Senator who is running for some sort of office apparently herself. They have an engagement dinner where Charles’s brother unexpectedly drops in causing the scheming Charles some difficulty. Tom Bell plays the screwball brother, Leonard, that shakes the family up.

It could be funny. Instead it’s just awkward. He doesn’t really cause that much trouble. The trouble is rather unbelievable. The aftermath is really unbelievable. The characters’ reactions are frequently the most unbelievable. Several scenes are just painfully bad with characters saying the most awful things to each other and for what purpose? Big meltdowns and confrontations should serve the story somehow but these seem to be confrontation for confrontations sake. Shock for shock value only.

Tell me a story! Not a rushed compilation of stilted scenes pieced together that can almost be blended together into a chunky mess of a story.

Make me care about the characters! If the character’s actions don’t make sense the story doesn’t make sense. If what the characters say doesn’t fit who that character is supposed to be, the story doesn’t make sense. The characters have to make sense for the story to make sense.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter how fine the details are if the overall story doesn’t work.¬†The biggest lesson seems to be to just make sure there is actually a good story there. If there isn’t a solid story, no one is going to care how pretty it all turns out. Tell me a solid story and make me care about the characters or there’s just no point.

Truth strange and beautiful as fiction

But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking” ¬†-Mitch Albom

I recently stumbled upon an interesting Facebook page that some had “liked” and I keep having show up in my Facebook feed. Sometimes it’s extremely annoying when Facebook throws a post into your feed just because one of your many friends “liked” it and thus you have to look at it to whether you choose to or not, whether you like it or not. In this case, however, the unsought out post was a bit of a gift.

Humans of New York¬†Facebook page posts random pictures and brief stories of¬†people’s lives ranging through a wide variety of experiences and perspectives. There is a collection of books associated with the page, the one I am most interested in checking out being one published last month, Humans of New York – Stories. This collection gives stories along with the pictures that seem simple but can be powerful. One of the starred reviews reads, “There’s no judgement, just observation, and in many cases, reverence, making for an inspiring reading and visual experience” – Publishers Weekly

The Facebook posts caught my attention for the little flashes into a person’s life. Many stories have the feel of a confession. Not perhaps confessing something they did wrong necessarily, but an unburderning of themselves by sharing the story. Many I have read have left me thinking about them afterwards.

As a writer whose job it is to create characters that feel authentic in situations that are not only believable but that also capture hearts and imaginations, these glimpses into people’s lives are fuel for the fire.

I’ve always loved the idea of each of us being a collector of stories. We have our own stories, we have our family stories and we have other shared stories with those around us that all help to define us. When we create our characters, it’s important that they too have their own collection of stories that have shaped and helped to define them.

What about you? What would you say our stories say about us? Have you built your characters with a collection of stories? Would you ever consider putting together your own collection of stories to share with others like Humans of New York? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Feel free to share a story if you’d like.

Thanks and have a great week!

~CJS

 

Are You Ready For Some Motivation?

In my house full of guys (a husband and three boys), you can imagine I watch my fair share of football. There’s a tagline for football broadcasts, “Are you ready for some football?” We always are. Today I ask though, “Are you ready for some motivation?”

Many¬†writers this week are beginning their NaNoWriMo challenges, but whatever challenge you¬†may be¬†facing today, I’m guessing a little motivation can’t hurt. I know I can use a little, so I’ve compiled some favorite motivational quotes here that can help us get started or keep going with whatever we’re working to accomplish. All of these quotes were taken from 365 Days of Wonder – Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts, a book full of lovely thoughts that came out as a follow up to one of my favorite’s,a¬†RJ Palacio’s Wonder.

 

Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. – Lloyd Jones

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. – Christopher Robin (A.A. Milne)

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. -Henry Van Dyke

Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are absolutely right. -Henry Ford

Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance. – Samuel Johnson

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. -Wayne Gretzky

Far away in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead. – Louisa May Alcott

You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. – Andre Gide

Nothing will work unless you do. – Maya Angelou

 

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

As I’ve been working on my October¬†NaNoPrep I’ve discovered¬†I¬†may be facing a tough break up. If I am going to be successful with a NaNoWriMo¬†commitment, I’m going to have to¬†stop spending so much time with my iPhone.

I admit to having a borderline unhealthy relationship with my phone. I wake up and check all my Twitter and Facebook notifications. I read any new text messages. I check my email. I read some favorite blogs.

Throughout the day¬†when I have a¬†free moment, I’m looking at my phone.¬†When I wait in line at the grocery store, I check my phone. When I am at the doctor’s office, I check my phone. When¬†I’m at football practice, I check my phone. When I get the kids to bed, I¬†check my phone. When I’m cooking dinner and the kids are playing Xbox, I¬†check my phone.¬†My phone¬†is a constant go to for info and entertainment to fill the free moments.

The problem with having that constant go to for any type of distraction is that those free moments are all suddenly filled. By filling my open moments away from work and family obligations with a phone in front of my face, I remove the opportunity to just be still and think.

If I can take a break from my iPhone addiction, at least for the month of November, I can use the time I might otherwise be drifting through Facebook with no real purpose to get in my word count for the day, or at least make a start on it.¬†I can work out a difficult plot point while sitting in the doctor’s office instead of shopping¬†around for stuff for the house on a¬†favorite website. ¬†I can think through¬†how the¬†next scene I’m writing may develop¬†while I wait in the grocery line instead of poring through the latest pictures of a favorite actor on Twitter.

By removing, or severely limiting, the smart phone distractions, I can open myself up for a healthier relationship with my own creativity. After November’s writing challenge comes to an end, I may drift back into that relationship over time, but perhaps I’ll see how well I can do on my own.

For all the good the break may bring, I have to admit that breaking up will be hard to do. ūüôā

What about you? Do you have a smart phone addiction? Do Twitter and Facebook notifications call for your attention? Are you perpetually connected to your phone? Do you think you, or someone you know, could do well with a break up? I’d be happy to hear about it the comments.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

~CJS

You’re Not Alone

November is quickly approaching and for some brave souls that means NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in 30 days). Perhaps I will include myself in that group, if I can muster up a bit more bravery.

For many, October has therefore been all about NaNo Prep work. For those out there who are giving this a go and perhaps having a little trouble, I’ll tell you this much: you are not alone.

You are not alone if you have spent more time coming up with reasons why you can’t do NaNoWriMo than reasons why you can.

I fight off the instinct to list the many obstacles to actually getting 50,000 words written in the month of November. It is easy to see the difficulty of committing to such a significant word count goal. Sticking to a commitment to write with a specific goal in mind truly will be worth the difficulty however so I have to move past the excuses and keep looking at the reasons.

You are not alone if you’ve spent more time reading articles on the best way to prep for NaNoWriMo than actually prepping for NaNo.

Fortunately there are some excellent resources available, both through the NaNoWriMo site and through all sorts of other sites as well. However it is very easy to spend much more time reading about prepping than in actual prep work. I’ve begun limiting the exploration of ideas and just applying what I’ve already found.

You’re not alone if you struggle against the plotting nature of NaNo Prep since you tend to be a full time “pantser”.

I have never done an outline prior to writing, so this is a big step for me. I’ve played with completing character sketches that are much more detailed than I’ve tried in the past. I’ve also worked on a plot summary more detailed than previously done on work I let come freely (but a bit more haphazardly).

You’re not alone if you are not nearly as ready as you should be.

I am quite sure I could be doing more to get ready and if I do this again next year (heck if I make it through this year! Haha), I will definitely learn other things I coulda, shoulda, woulda done differently. Live and learn is, I suppose, the only way to handle it at this point.

How is your writing or writing prep (or thinking about writing or prepping for writing) going? Do you feel alone in your struggles sometimes? Does it help to know we all have our struggles? Feel free to share with me about NaNoPrep struggles/victories or any of your current challenges. I would guess whatever it is you may be struggling with (or succeeding at), you are not alone. ūüôā

Thanks for reading and have a good week!

~CJS

 

A New Twilight?

This past week, Stephanie Meyer, the best-selling author of the teen vampire series, Twilight, upon which the blockbuster movies were based, made a big announcement.

With the 10 year anniversary of the first Twilight books’ publication, Meyer has announced a new Twilight book, Life and Death – A Twilight Re-Imagining sold in conjunction with the 10th anniversary edition . Well, it’s not really *new*, it’s a new version of the first book.

This release is not like her unreleased and incomplete version that was leaked and then given for free on her site at one point, Midnight Sun, which was told from Edward’s POV. The new re-telling is the same story with – wait for it- gender swapped characters! (Cue eye roll).

In this new book, Meyer now has the teenage vampire as a female character and the love struck human as a male. Instead of Bella, we have a Beau. Instead of Edward, we have Edythe. Other characters are also gender swapped, like Carlyle, but the story is the same.

Meyer has said that this “new book” is not really a new book and she views it as more like “bonus material”, however new book or not, it will get a lot of sales I would imagine, given the series success.

Here I will admit I enjoyed the Twilight books. I know, the writing wasn’t good. I know she totally ignored the vampire tropes and gave the world the sparkling vegatarian vampire. (Cringe) I know the female lead isn’t the strong character I prefer to read about and see portrayed in film. I know. But I enjoyed them. Yes, part of this had to do with liking the British actor who portrayed Edward in the movies. (I love the Brits okay?) It absolutely had to do with the fun of the first movie and the great soundtrack. For all of the books’ (and movies’) faults, I enjoyed them. Chalk it up to guilty pleasures if you must. I’m coming clean here. I liked Twilight. Judge me all you want. ūüėČ

Having admitted to that, I can tell you I think it is absolutely ludicrous to re-tell the same story with changes. I’ve seen her defense that it’s a response to the harsh critisism she’s faced with her ‘damsel in distress’ main character. I think the flaws with Bella go beyond a simple gender swap to play with the weakness not being female. If she wants to respond to giving us a weak female character, she should write something entirely new with a kick-ass female lead.

If she wanted to capitalize on her well-loved existing series, she could take one of her other characters in the world she has already created and explore her story. Alice was a cool and capable character that she could make the heroine in a new series. It could still be in the same world people are already plugged into and could be either before Bella or after Bella.

She hasn’t done that with this new “book/bonus material”, so I have no interest in reading it. I hope for her that she gives her audience a better option in the future. Better yet, perhaps all the readers who fell in love with Twilight can continue enjoying all the great books that have been published since in the same young adult category that are really worth the read. Susanne Collins’ Hunger Games series is fantastic and has a kick-ass female lead. Marie Lu’s Legend series is a great read. Ally Condie’s Matched series is also great and her prose is beautiful. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices Series are both captivating. (The Infernal Devices series was my personal favorite between those two series, by far.) I also enjoyed the very popular¬†Divergent series¬†but didn’t like the writing as much as others. The YA audience has a wealth of strong options to choose from, so I would say, let’s just skip this “new” Twilight book and look nearby on the shelves for another instead. ūüėÄ

What do you think? (Amanda and AJ you don’t get to chide me for my Twilight guilty pleasure! ūüėČ ) Is a re-tooling of an existing story ever a good idea? Does her gender swap accomplish anything? Should successful series ever be re-visited? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. (No, Amanda, nothing about the Twi-Hatred you may have haha).

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

~CJS

The Write Stuff

If you’ve tuned in lately to all our Twisted Writer posts, you may have noticed an inadvertent recurring theme cropping up in some of our posts. We all seem to be touching on challenges writers including ourselves can be (or are) battling against. You’ve seen “Writer’s Angst” from Joe; “Getting Back into the Swing of Things” by Amanda; “The Hardest Part of Being a Writer” by Jesi and now you have me chiming in here with this post which touches a bit on all of those topics.

This week I posted on my personal blog about how in the last few months I have really been out of it with my writing, my blogging, my Twitter, my writing group attendance and well, pretty much anything besides work, back to school, and the new football season for my oldest. Despite getting off track, I am fortunate to have people around me who can help remind me of where I want to be and/or kick me in the behind to help me get back on track.

At this week’s critique group, our Fearless Leader prompted all of us to share our goals. I haven’t really been thinking about or following any real goals for my writing lately. No wonder I am so off my game! Without setting some clear goals and then following through with achieving them, how do I expect to ever have any success with my writing? Have I just been thinking if I kept ignoring the writing that I would just magically have a finished novel?

Sadly there is no  magic shortcut to getting to something I am proud to have written. To get where I want to go, I need to force myself to set some solid goals along with an action plans go with them.

I imagine I am not the only one out there who has reached a snag like this before. Maybe you are there too. Maybe you got mired down in the muck of a difficult work in progress and let things slide like I have. Maybe you have been busy and overwhelmed like I have been. Maybe you just fell out of the good habits like I have done. Whatever the case may be, the good news is that it isn’t too late to get back on track. It’s not too late to get back in the swing of things. It’s not too late to tackle our writer’s angst. It’s not too late to do that hardest thing about writing and just show up. It’s not too late to show that we have the “write stuff”. ūüėČ

I will keep you posted on my progress. Please feel free to let me know where you are at, if you are struggling too, or how you have managed to get past the times you get off track. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks and have a great week!

~CJS

Brings Back Memories

My family and I just recently tried a local restaurant, Babes, famous in the area for down-home fried chicken and all the fixins served family style in a really homey setting. As soon as we walked in, the smell alone brought back memories of meals shared at my grandmother and grandfather’s house. The food was pretty yummy, but couldn’t quite compare of course to what I had growing up.

It is just remarkable how the smell or taste or sound or sight or feel of something can carry such a powerful memory.¬†The smell of the food took me back to sitting in the kitchen while my grandmother fried chicken. I could have been sitting at the small table¬†next to my Paw-Paw cutting up small bites of potatoes to boil and cream to go with the chicken, which by the way we always snuck a few bites of the raw potato when my grandmother wasn’t looking.¬† Did anyone else ever do that? ¬†I could see the tomatoes fresh from the¬†garden sitting on the shelf behind the kitchen sink¬†that we might cut up to go with dinner or just sneak a bite of¬†as a snack while we were waiting. I could hear the pop of the grease as my grandmother would put a new piece of chicken into the pan. I was back in those moments with just the little smell of the food at the restaurant.

When I write I have to be careful to remember details like the tomatoes on the shelf, or the kitchen sink facing a window that looks out to the garden, or the process of cutting up the potatoes. I don’t want to get lost in the details, but those type of little sensory details can help paint a much larger picture in a simple way that the reader may later color in with their own memories.

I could also fill in a character’s backstory with what he/she may remember based on a certain taste or smell or other sensory detail. Does the character deal with grief by listening to a song that he used to listen to with his wife? Does the character buy the house that is the setting for our story because the yard makes him think of the one he had growing up? Does the character hate the taste of beans because that’s all she ate growing up since beans and rice was all they could afford? Sensory triggers could be a starting point for a whole character sketch.

A solid go-to writing prompt can be taking one of the five senses and throwing it at your character. What is my character smelling in this scene? How does that smell affect her? Does the smell make her think of anything? It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it could be. How might your character react to the taste of a dish offered to him? And why? Does your villain try to torment your character with the sound of a certain song? Why might that impact your character?

For me, I am going to think some more about the beauty of the simple moments like sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen and wish I could somehow take a time travel moment back in time to be with them again. Perhaps someday I will write about that. ūüėČ

What sensory details always trigger memories for you? Is there a certain smell or taste that takes you back? Have you ever read something that really did a good job capturing a sensory detail? Do you try to include these details in your writing? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. ūüôā

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week!

 

~CJ