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Briefly Going AWOL

I apologize for missing the last few Monday posts. I’ve had some personal emergencies to take care of among all the holiday goings-on. I will be back soon. Please feel free to consider today an open forum on writing topics. And any of my Twisted Writer inmates, please consider this your space today.

Thanks,

Jesi

Can’t Get Motivated!

So I’m sitting here trying to come up with something to post about and….nuthin.’ I keep leaving Word and start doing something else, coming back hoping that an idea would hit me. Nope.

Florida has been a great place for the whole family. It’s been great for everything but my writing. Terrific weather and plenty to do. But it hasn’t been great for my writing. Look up there on top. I can’t even come up with a cartoon idea. Yeah…I’ve hit the block. Just can’t seem to get into it. I was going hot and heavy there for a while but I now I can’t seem to get myself motivated to write. I find myself blaming it on being busy, but I seem to find time to do other things. Just not writing.

Part of it, I think, is not having my group around me, anymore. I seem to need that for some reason. That’s not good, of course. A writer needs to be able to motivate himself, not depend on others to do it for him. I’m even starting to wonder if this might have been a “passing phase” and that I’m ready to move on. Or could it be that I just need to step away from my present book and work on something else for a while?

So what do some of you do when you hit that block? Ride it out? Force it? The bad part is that it’s worse than simply having writers block. That’s when you want to write but just can’t. This, I’m afraid is a lack of interest. I just don’t want to. How can I call myself a writer if I don’t feel like writing? I’m hoping it’ll go away. Maybe I do need to start writing something new to get those creative juices flowing again.

Hopefully, it’s only temporary. But if it’s not, hey…I actually finished a novel

Oops!

I am sorry this post is late today. Life has gotten in the way, but in a good way. 🙂 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. 🙂

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

Happy Turkey Day!

 

thanksgiving turkeyEat ’til you drop and then go take a nap. That’s my plan, anyway.

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. 🙂

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.

Here Lies An Old Friend

dead short story

There he is, lying in his little coffin. Not much of a turnout, either. You would think that he would have had more friends considering how long he’s been around. Hard to believe he’s gone. He had such an important influence on literature. Some of the most famous writers were known for their short stories.

But is he really dead, as some people seem to think? Could he just be in a coma and will soon come out of it to find himself in a dark lonely grave? Ewww…what a gruesome thought. I think I read a short story about that once.

I like short stories. I enjoy reading them and writing them. But, considering how poorly the sales are on anthologies, I must be in the minority. I can’t help finding it interesting that in these days of short attention spans people don’t read short stories. They can’t even take the time to spell out words when they text. And everyone is running around always busy, always in a hurry. You’d think we’d be a society of short story readers.

Really, though, he’s not dead. Just not as healthy as he once was. There are still magazines that publish short stories. Thing is, though, if you’re trying to make money as a writer then short stories are not going to pay the mortgage. Maybe, if you have a couple of them published they might pay the electric bill. If you don’t have a really big house. Or a pool. And you don’t run the air-conditioning much. And make sure you turn the lights out when you leave a room.

I like writing them, though. In some ways, more than writing novels. I like getting to the point, quickly. Not having to write filler or fluff to lengthen the word count. And it’s a challenge to write characters that the reader can identify with and care about in such a short time. I think I’m really a short story writer at heart and not a novelist.

I’ve taken that love of short story writing and adapted it to penning my next novel. In last week’s blog I wrote about jumping ahead in your book and not writing it in sequence. I was only talking about small scenes but now I’ve gone and finished an entire chapter that happens later in the book. And I wrote it in a different folder just so I could separate the writing from the rest of the novel. It’s purely psychological. I treated it a though I was writing a short story using my characters but not worrying about what needed to happen in the following chapters. I like it. This might help me move along a bit quicker. Like I said, it’s purely psychological. But, hey, whatever works to keep things moving!

So, maybe that’s not him up there, in the cartoon. Just somebody with the same name. Hopefully he’s alive and well and sitting quietly, somewhere, planning his come-back.

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

 

Jigsaw Writing

I just wrote this:

 “He spied the train coming out of the tunnel seconds before his right engine would have hid it from him. It wiggled out on the winding tracks like a huge dark worm leaving the safety of its cool hole in the ground for the warmth and brightness of the sun. He banked hard into a tight right turn and watched as the tail left the tunnel portal and the train hurried along as though its speed could somehow keep it from being seen. The black locomotive threw out a long thick ribbon of smoke as the engineer pushed it to its limits but it was too late. George circled the A-20 back around and turned towards the train, lowering the bomber’s gun filled nose. As he got closer George could see an anti-aircraft weapon mounted on a flatcar and orange golf ball like tracers began to rise up from it but slowly drifted back down and out of sight. The crew was possibly new and firing too far out of range from excitement and fear. Or maybe, thought George, they are old hands, purposely firing from a long distance to frighten the pilot of the diving airplane and keep him from attacking. George continued his dive and the orange golf balls came nearer.

The gunsight showed that the target was now in range of his battery of fifty-caliber machine guns. George placed the flatcar mounted anti-aircraft gun squarely in the sight’s center and pressed the button on the control yoke. The entire airplane shuddered and smoke from the guns wafted back from the plane’s nose and drifted passed the windshield. Yellow tracers showed George’s aim to be true and dust and smoke and pieces of both the flatcar and the AA gun flew into the air and dropped behind the fast moving train. A body was thrown from the gun and bounced alongside until finally disappearing into the dense brush that grew on either side of the tracks. The gun was still and silent as George roared over it. He glanced back at the still speeding locomotive and freight cars and could see that they would soon be entering another tunnel. George was determined that they would not make it. He kicked the left rudder hard and gripped the yoke tightly in both hands as he wheeled the twin engine attack bomber into a hard left turn and dove once again, this time placing the A-20’s reflector gun-sight reticle onto the black and heavily smoking locomotive. He pressed the firing button and the ground around the locomotive erupted into a cloud of dirt and dust and then the bullets found their target. Bright flashes appeared as metal struck metal and white vapor poured from the loco’s puncture wounds. Then, bright and sun-like against the dark green jungle, an explosion that ripped apart iron and steel and the blazing wreck flew from the tracks. The wooden freight cars dutifully followed it, crashing and splintering. George saw, as if in a dream, two of them flying through the air along with dirt, dust, palm trees and human bodies.”

 I think it’s pretty good. I’m happy with it. It’s a scene from my second novel. The thing is, though, it’s not happening until a long ways into the book.

I write like that, sometimes. Scenes keep coming into my head and I rush to get them down before I forget them. But it may be a scene, like this, that happens far into the book while I am still on the third chapter. I have another that involves my main female character, an Army nurse, in a heated argument with one of her Japanese captors. It also occurs much farther into the novel than I am, but it’s ready to go when I get there.

I had a lot of these disjointed scenes when I wrote my first novel, ‘Jenny.’ I keep it all in a folder I’ve labeled, “Vignettes.” When I’d get to the part of the story where those scenes are needed, I go in and copy and paste them. Sometimes they need a little work, of course. Often, things change while you’re writing the book, but the gist of it is there. Just lift it out and stick it in the right place. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle. I think I’ll call it, “Jigsaw Writing.”

It works for me for a couple of reasons. First, as I’ve mentioned, I need to get these scenes down while they are still fresh in my mind. But also because it keeps things from getting too boring. Sometimes there are scenes that are not particularly exciting to write, but they are important to the story none the less. It helps to leave them for a bit and jump into a more exciting part of the story. Once you’ve gotten that out of your system it’s easier to go back and write that less exciting part of your book. Or maybe you’re stuck. Jump ahead and write a scene that might happen ten more chapters into the story. The great thing is, you’ll still be making progress on the book.

There aren’t any rules on how you should write a novel. Who says you have to be linear? Try Jigsaw Writing.

P.S.

I’m starting to get lazy about the cartoons! I’ll make sure I think of one for next week. I promise.

 

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