Category Archives: Writing topics

Bless her heart

I was listening to the radio today after dropping off my kids at school and heard the DJs relating a celebrity blunder followed by a “bless her heart” filled commentary. If you live in Texas (or in lots of places in the South I imagine), you have probably heard this phrase more than a time or two. And you’ve probably said it. “Oh, bless her heart.”

“Bless her heart!” (or his heart, their hearts, etc) crops up a lot when someone has said or done something we think is kinda dumb, like that crazy friend who can’t resist saying every thought that comes into her head, however foolish. You might just shake your head and say, “She told that police officer she was only speeding because she was late, bless her heart.” Or you might hear what your brother told his wife during a fight and say “Bless his heart” since you know he isn’t getting out of that doghouse anytime soon.

Of course, saying “Oh, Bless Their Hearts” isn’t limited to doing or saying something not so smart. In truth it can be used to cover all manner of sins or to avoid revealing how you really feel. I’m not a hater, but there is plenty of hating over the Twilight star, Kristen Stewart. I’ve described to my oldest son a reason I have heard for why people don’t like her. She only has one expression, bless her heart. When Grandma tells the same story for the hundredth time, but you smile and nod anyway, you might tell you sister about it later. “She told the spaghetti and meatballs story again, bless her heart.” When I heard what happened to Jimmy Fallon (his ring evulsion accident – beware if you google that), I felt awful for him. “Bless His Heart” that he is having to go through that but also for having to explain that it happened tripping on his rug.

You get the point, blessing someone’s heart is a thing.  What does that have to do with writing you might ask?  I started thinking about how common the saying can be, but also why it comes up. We are all flawed. We are human so we all make mistakes. Our characters should have some “Bless his heart” moments.

Maybe our characters accidentally say or do something kinda stupid. Maybe they witness other characters having a “Bless Their Hearts” moment. Perhaps the blunder causes the conflict. Maybe a leading man’s “Bless his heart” moment makes him more relatable to the reader or to others in the story.

I would issue a word of caution in using these moments too often or in too big a way because we wouldn’t want to make our character “too dumb to live” as our fearless leader, Amanda, might say. We need to know the character has some sense enough to make it interesting and believable.

A fun writing prompt might be to create a scene where your main character or a side character or a new character experiences of “Bless his heart” moment. It should be fun to play around with and maybe will lead to something you can use!

Have you written a “Bless her heart” moment for one of your characters? What was the purpose? Plot? Humor? Relatability? Or do you just say this all the time and want to share a time you used it? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Thanks for reading & have a great week. 🙂

~CJS

Writing What You Would Want To Read

The most important thing is you can’t write what you wouldn’t read for pleasure. – Nora Roberts

 

Happy belated Labor Day. Hopefully everyone had a great holiday. I did really enjoy having a little time off, but I also made myself tackle a chore I had long been putting off. I began cleaning out my office. Sadly my office has become something like the junk drawer of rooms in my house. It was filled with boxes of random things we have no other place for and which we told ourselves we will get to sorting eventually.

“Eventually” happened to be most of my Saturday and Sunday. While sorting through the madness, I stumbled upon several of my old notebooks where I had brainstormed several stories and part of a book. It was very cool to look at some beginnings to work that now has become more fleshed out, but also to see others I had forgotten about years ago.

One thing I noticed was that almost all of them had the same basic theme. They all had a romantic storyline of some sort. For a minute I was thinking how unoriginal I seemed, but then considered how that is what I like to read, so why shouldn’t I be writing that?

The Nora Roberts quote at the beginning of this post about writing what you would enjoy reading may seem obvious, but I know I am not the only one who has had a friend try to write a book unlike something they read just because they think that genre will make money. While pushing yourself to try new things may be good at times, making sure that you not only read but respect the genre you are trying to write is essential to the success of writing in the genre.

I’ve know people to try to write YA (young adult) because that is what was selling or another person who wanted to write romance since that would make more money than the genre he was writing. I support taking advantage of a chance to expand your range and hey, we all would like a little extra money I assume, but to do so without respect for the type of book you say you want to write is a quick path to failure.

Do we have to love everything about the genre? No. I love romance but do not always love the cliches that can crop up at times. Of course there are examples where few, if any, of these cliches occur, just as there are others that are so full of them you couldn’t possibly finish reading them. But there are still so many other things about the genre that I truly enjoy so I will always find myself drifting back for fun reading.

On the other hand, I am a big chicken who loves Stephen King for his book On Writing and for fun pop culture commentary, but cannot possibly bring myself to read his horror novels. I don’t go to horror movies ( though there is one I am going to give a try because it has my fangirl favorite as the lead actor ). I don’t like scary TV shows or video games. So basically just no scary anything, right? Right! I could challenge myself to write horror, but I would have to make myself read some in the genre and learn what horror usually offers before I could do a credible job writing a true horror novel/story. Knowing me, I would write a romantic story line with a scary moment and try to call it horror. My attempt at horror might be the true horror. 😉

We’ve all heard the advice to write what you know, but I would also add in that we should write what we have read and enjoy reading.  The reader will know. Readers are smart and they have more than enough to choose from out there to stick with a book that doesn’t seem to be written by someone who likes what they are writing.

What do you think? Have you ever tried to write something outside of what you would read for fun? How did it go? Was it difficult? Was it successful? Or do you, like me, seem to keep going back to what you would read? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by! Have a great week. 🙂

~CJS

Back to School

Today in Texas was that day, both dreaded and anticipated by many a parent: Back to School. I am a mother of three elementary kids so I made the mad scramble to get them all to school on time and (mostly) awake. As I watched them all head off to their classrooms, I remembered the excitement I always had for first day back at school when I was growing up.  Sometimes I miss being in a classroom. Fortunately though I don’t have to miss learning, because you never stop learning.

As adults we don’t always have that structured learning, but it isn’t hard to seek out new ways to learn. For a writer like myself there are certainly classes available both online and in person. Jesi “schooled us” a little for free in yesterday’s post (compared with the “James Patterson Master Class Weiting Course”).

What is great about being as a writer though, is that I am not required to take a certain number of classes before I can write. While I love being in a classroom, writing can be learned in lots of ways. I enjoy reading books about improving my writing craft. I like to read my fellow writers talk about their craft in this and other blogs. I like seeing posts on Facebook and Twitter. I find it is easy enough to find ways to learn, even without the benefit of a traditional classroom.

There is still a part of me that wants to sit in the front of the class (yes, I was that girl) with my sharpened pencils, my new spiral notebook and a perfect pink eraser. Instead I will be content with the many opportunities I have to be “back to school” myself – without the fear of being sent to detention.

What about you? Do Back to Schools days make you nostalgic? Are they just annoying and fill your Facebook feed with all the first day pictures? What do you do to keep learning? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Thabks for reading & have a great week!

~CJS

6 Things Every Booklover Knows

Since Jesi wrote yesterday’s post on how you have to write to be a writer, and my writing life hasn’t been at it’s strongest these last few weeks, I chose to make today’s post about another vital component in the life of a writer. Yep, you guessed from the title, it’s reading.

Stephen King has one of my favorite quotes on the interconnectedness of being a good writer and being a committed reader.

Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life…you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.

– Stephen King

Of course I was a booklover long before I became a writer. I loved books for as long as I can remember. I can remember wanting to run away and live in a museum when I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in elementary school. I can remember my favorite part of the day when my fifth grade teacher would sit and read to us from Shel Silverstein’s collections of poems. I can remember sitting in my sophomore English class, reading silently with all the others, but forgetting where I was as I cried reading the end of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. I remember the all the joys of discovering new favorite authors and series along the way and the accompanying thrill of falling into new worlds and lives of interesting characters.

So what does every true booklover know about themselves and the greatness that is being a bibliophile?

1) There is NO SUCH THING as too many books.

Any true booklover knows that it’s impossible to have too many books. Our TBR list (to be read list) is always overflowing. Our bookshelves are always crammed full and double stacked. Our storage spaces frequently have more books that couldn’t fit on the bookshelves. Our friends don’t like to help us move because we are “book people” – thus we have many boxes that are super heavy. We download books on our kindles. We carry books around with us when we go to the doctor or the mechanic or the Sunday morning breakfast place that always has a wait. We ask our friends for book recommendations. We get books for our birthday or Christmas presents because our friend’s know we will love them. We love to spend time at the bookstore looking for something new, even when we have a hundred other books we still have yet to read. We can just never have too many books. 🙂

2) Just one more chapter almost NEVER means just one more chapter.

We stay up way too late, way too often because we just have to see what happens next. We tell ourselves just one more chapter, but we know this is a lie. We read one more chapter and then we know we need another and another and when the writer is really good we have to finish it all. Being swept away, as King says, is one of the joys of reading because even if we can’t literally escape our lives, we can disappear into another life whenever we want to pick up a good book.

3) Emotional trauma at the end of a good book or series is REAL.

When we find a good book or series, we have the inevitable conflict where we both want to finish it, but also really don’t want to finish it. We can’t wait to find a new favorite book or series but then when it is over, we wish we could find it again for the first time. We are reluctant to leave a world or a character so much so that we frequently have to return, sometimes again and again, but still the sadness of no new material like it can be heartbreaking.

4) The book is ALWAYS better.

We booklovers know that the book is always better than a movie or TV adaptation. We know it is hard to let go of the sheer volume of detail in the books, the ideas we have about those details, and the attachment we have to all the details. A movie cuts a major character. Unforgiveable. A TV show takes the series in a whole different direction that the books have taken you. Not unexpected but frequently disappointing. However faithful the movie/TV/whatever is to the books, the books are always better.

5) A good book can come in ALL shapes and sizes and formats.

Booklovers know that it doesn’t really matter if the book is traditionally printed, independently printed, electronically printed, 1000 pages, 5o pages, paperback, trade paperback, hard cover or coffee table sized, we love them all. Sure we may have our preference, maybe we even hold strong opinions about which are better than the other, but we book lovers will always come together on that big thing we can all agree upon, a lifelong love of books.

6) A good book CAN change your life.

We booklovers know the power that books have had in our lives. We have seen the impact books have had on those around us. We find truth in books that we may not be able to find in other places. We seek comfort in the books we read. We laugh, we cry, we get angry, and we get scared. We get new information, we get new ideas, and we get inspiration from the pages of good books. We find others who share the same love. We find places we want to explore, foods we would like to taste, and things we’d like try. We learn about ourselves and others. And sometimes we find a book has changed our life.

Are you a booklover? Any of these sound like you? Is there something I’ve left off the list? Please tell me about it in the comments. Thanks for reading and have a good week!

~CJS

An age old question

When you meet a writer, one of the first questions is, “what do you write?” or, “what are you working on?”

 
This past weekend, while some of our fellow Twisted Writers were running the library book sale, I met another local writer. And sure enough, these were her first two questions, “what do you write?” and, “what are you working on?”

 
I struggle with these questions. I am not sure why, but I always have. It is almost like I guard these tidbits of knowledge as my own precious jewels needing to be locked away from prying eyes. Mine!

 
But being a writer is opening up and sharing your bits of treasured words with others. So I guess I should start handing out my treasure maps…

 
What do I write?

 
I write contemporary fiction, usually in the YA (Young Adult) or NA (New Adult) genre. I write flash fiction on the side, but it’s not something I really think much about in the long haul. My love is for novel writing and that is where I want my future to be.

 
What am I working on?

 
At the moment I am working on several different pieces.
My biggest project is writing the Storyteller’s point of view in my novel. (Synopsis: The synopsis for this one is; One family. One hour. One Action. Several Reactions. They say blood is thicker than water, but what do you do if that blood is slowly choking the life out of you? We delve into the lives of six family members, three generations; each dealing with a situation that could make or break them.) It is a big project for me because there are so many POV’s that if I do not get this done correctly then it will become a confusing mess of words. I have written out the stories from everyone else in the book, but now I am left with the most important one, the one who created the mess in the first place. My goal is to have her side written by the end of the year so that I can start on edits and rewrites by January.

 
My second smaller project isn’t really a project at all. Yet. I had an idea come to my head a few weeks ago and I am working on getting the bits and pieces out on paper to see if I want to take it further into a story later on. Right now, I have a bunch of random scenes and dialogue scrawled out in a notebook. Oh and a time line. It’s always good to have a time line.

 
For my mini project, I am working on a short story for a Twisted deadline. (I say mini project, this is the one giving me the most grief at the moment.)

 
Human nature is to always be working on something, towards something, or doing something. It’s what we do. Keep our minds busy, our hands working, our imaginations rolling or we become stagnant.

 
And no one wants that.

 
What are you working on at the moment? Share with us down in the comments, we’d love to hear what you have to say.

 
Till next time,
~AJP

How Much Should We Listen to the Critics

The only impeccable writers are the ones who never wrote. – William Hazlitt

Opening yourself up for criticism is never easy. Publishing and promoting your work knowing that reviews are not only inevitable but essential is a real challenge. Submitting work for critique, even knowing that those you’ve submitted your work to have your improvement as a writer in mind, is still close to standing naked in a crowd on the vulnerability scale.  Sometimes even admitting to people that you write can be difficult.

Despite the risk of bad reviews, harsh critiques or out and out ridicule, we can never get to where we want to be, accomplish what we want to accomplish or be the people we want to be if we don’t give it a try. By trying we will always open ourselves for criticism.

When I think about criticism though, I love to look at some of the success stories. I like them partly because it’s encouraging to see someone succeed, but also because usually those successes come after being met with resistance or flat out failures.

I recently watched the movie, Walk the Line, with Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. The movie takes us along his early years, showing some of his early success and struggles. Watching the beginning, where he could have given up and taken an every day job instead of pursuing his singing career, I wondered what might have happened if he hadn’t pushed for an audition? Or what if he just took the first negative feedback as the truth about his ability? Or worse, what if he never tried in the first place? We could have missed out on a lot of great music.

There’re tons of these stories, but I can’t help seeing what a loss it would be if we never had work from authors who accepted negative reviews or literary rejections.

  •  Dr. Suess was told in one rejection letter that his work was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
  • Beatrix Potter met with a great deal of rejection before becoming one of the best selling children’s authors of all time.
  • Louis L’Amour  was said to have received around 200 rejection letters before a publisher was willing to publish his work.
  • F Scott Fitzgerald was told his The Great Gatsby was “an absurd story as romance, melodrama, or record of New York high life”
  • Louisa May Alcott was told to “stick to teaching”.

Now it is true all of these authors then went on to great success, but you do have to wonder what would have happened if the would have let the words of others hold them back. Also what if, like so many of us, they became their own worst critic and let that self doubt defeat them? Given their ultimate success, you have to believe they had a strong belief in themselves that helped them keep trying.

Looking at these stories we can remind ourselves that no matter what level of success (or failure) we might ultimately achieve, we can never have a possibility of success without believing in ourselves. Whatever feedback we get can be accepted and considered in order to make us better, but our foundation should be built on a belief in our abilities and commitment to success.

What do you think? How do you deal with criticism and/or rejection? What do you think is required to keep pushing on to success? Please do share in the comments.

Thanks and have a great week!

~CJS

 

Leave Well Enough Alone

Have you read To Set a Watchman yet? I haven’t read it yet, and the more I read about it the less I think I’d like to read it. I was excited when I first heard the possibility that Harper Lee would be releasing another book. I was To Kill A Mockingbird fangirling out, for a moment, until suspicions of possible irresponsibility of those who should be protecting the author began to arise.

Lee famously only wrote the one book (before this one) and had said she wouldn’t publish another.  The new book, Go Set a Watchman, was released on July 14th to massive sales but the reviews have been largely disappointing. One review I read in Entertainment Weekly suggested that if you love To Kill A Mockingbird, you may want to do yourself a favor by not reading this new book. The Atticus Finch we loved in Mockingbird is not the Atticus we see in Watchman.

Beyond the bad reviews though, there have been accusations of a blatant disregard for the author.  In a recent NY Times column, The Harper Lee ‘Go Set a Watchman’ fraud  Joe Nocera claims this publication “constitutes one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.” He goes on to detail examples of how those responsible may have taken an early draft of what turned into the beloved To Kill A Mockingbird and have published it as a lost gem.

One review from the Wall Street Journal by Sam Sacks said, “For millions who hold [Mockingbird] dear, Go Set A Watchman will be a test of their tolerance and capacity for forgiveness. At the peak of her outgrage, Jean Louise (adult Scout Finch) tells her father, “You’ve cheated me in a way that’s inexpressible.” I don’t doubt that many who read this novel are going to feel the same way.”

Whatever the reason for the publication of this novel, it seems a disappointing legacy for an author whose novel has meant so much to so many. I’ve chosen not to read it both because I wouldn’t want to add to the publisher’s bottom line if it is indeed a manipulation of the aging author, but mainly because I would like to keep my love of Mockingbird untainted by the new book.

What about you? Have you read it? Do you plan to read it? What are your thoughts on this new book? How do you feel about sequels in general? Are there ever any good ones? Please share with us in the comments.

Have a great week.

~CJS

Just The Tip of The Iceberg

I write on the principle of the iceberg… 7/8ths of it underwater for every part that shows. – Ernest Hemingway

This past weekend my family and I went to an arts fest held at a local museum that included free admission to a lovely new exhibit travelling from the National Galleries of Scotland. We listened to music, saw some dancing and watched a battle with swords and shields that was probably my three boys’ favorite part. I was most excited for the exhibit so I brought the boys while I was able to walk through and look at the art. My oldest made more of an attempt to seem interested than most of the boys we had with us, and though he wasn’t that impressed, he asked me what I liked so much about looking at the paintings. I had to think about how to answer.

How to you explain art appreciation simply and quickly while in a crowded exhibit full of people huddled up in front of a Picasso? I told him there’s a lot that can be studied, the color, the brush strokes, the mood created, but what I love is how the picture makes me feel. There may be layers of things going on in the painting in front of me, but inevitably I’ll be drawn to small details, or will just be moved by the overall impact of the painting.  I think his response was “Hmmm” and then he drifted off back to his friend. Such a parenting win – haha!

I left, though, thinking more about it, and of course thinking more about it as a writer.

When we read we do the same thing as when we look at art. Usually we don’t read to appreciate the word choice or the writer’s ability to plot, we read for the impact the story or essay or poem has upon us. As a writer, it’s our job to lay the groundwork, as artfully as we are able, for the reader to fill in the blanks and carry it away to another place.

I submitted the beginning of a short story to my critique group this week, and what I loved to hear from one of the group was that she could see her own experience in the story. While it wouldn’t be exactly like what the reader had experienced, it was enough to pull up her own experience to color in where the writing stops.

So how much do we give? I like Hemingway’s quote above about the iceberg, and how what we show in the story is only a piece of what is going on, so that the reader can find or provide the rest of  the “iceberg”. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is a classic example of his particular style of showing us a story that has hidden depths beneath. What seems to be a simple conversation tackles the much bigger concept of abortion.

I’m still learning how to build a story that gives you just enough to make you go a little further, thinking more about it, or that has an emotional impact that takes you somewhere else.

Hawthorne tells us “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It’ll take a lot of writing with effort to get something that manages to show a little but give a lot, but it’s definitely something I’m aiming toward.

What about you? Do you agree with Hemingway – show a bit of the iceberg? What stories or poems do you think do this well? Or do you think there’s the danger of not giving enough? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.

Thanks for dropping by. Have a great week!

~CJS

Hand Delivered Story Ideas

NYSE

Wow, what a blinding great story we had this week with a simultaneous triad of crises on a single day! At the same time that trading on the New York Stock Exchange came to a screeching halt Wednesday, the jet fleet of a major airline was grounded by a computer glitch and the website of a major national newspaper was disabled. Although not the first time, it certainly is a rare occasion for an event of such economic significance to occur, especially at the largest stock exchange in the world. But, it is even more notable when, at the same time, the system-wide operations at United Airlines was halted and the Wall Street Journal’s website was taken offline.

The official reasons provided for the temporary shut-downs were stated as technical issues and had nothing to do with hackers or terrorism. Okay, I suppose I believe that – well, more or less. I suppose I have to, since I don’t have much of a choice. After all, in the scheme of things, who really cares whether I believe it or not?

But, without knowing for sure –without positive proof in my hand – my mind quickly began racing with conspiracy plot lines. What a great opportunity this is for a mystery story or a novel of international intrigue and economic upheaval. And for credibility, I could even base the central premise on Wednesday’s real-life event. Isn’t it great when story ideas are hand delivered; when “truth is stranger than fiction?”!

If I wasn’t already working on another story and I had the time, I would have been spending the past day or two developing that plot. What first came to mind involved a group of hackers, starting with the Chinese or ISIS terrorists. However, it could also have been a rising Mexican drug cartel or a European billionaire investor causing upheaval in the NYSE toward global economic and political domination.

But, that’s all too easy. I think I would rather dig deeper and make the reason more subtle and shrewd. I think I would want to sit down for a few days and really think it through so I could add a few twists and turns beyond the obvious for a more original read before revealing the twisted truth. Of course, the reason would still have to be earth-shattering to justify all the cunning work of shutting down a major stock exchange, airline and newspaper. But, it would also have to be something realistic that people can generally relate to and not some wild, out-of-this-world storyline.

I would want to start it offshore, in an exotic location. For me, that would likely be Europe, since I have some familiarity with the continent. I would look for secondary news events that have the potential to lead to such a dramatic climax, but don’t usually make the international headlines. It would be something that people could look back on and say, “Yes, I never thought of that, but should have seen it as a possibility.”

So, while I stash this idea in my files for possible use in the future, where would you want to take this story?

 

Keep it Simple

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac

Keeping things short, sweet and to the point has not always been my strong suit. I was the one who always wrote the novel length email or card or essay answer. I was the one who needed extra room to write on the group birthday card.

Recent jobs have cured me of this (almost) in favor of the super effective, and easy to browse through when busy, bullet point version. You may know what I am talking about here, your co-worker writes the dreaded super long email when you are busy, so all you really wanna do is cut them off and ask them to just give the bullet points. What do you really need me to get so I can move along to the next task?

It’s not always easy to break it down simply but it can usually be done. The same is true of our non-business related writing. It’s not easy to make our prose tight or our poetry lean, but the writing is usually better for the time spent making it cleaner.

This last week on my personal blog post, I accepted a 99 word flash fiction challenge. I knew 99 words (no more, no less) sounded challenging, but after a few tries I realized just how few words that meant. The resulting flash fiction was an interesting first attempt, but the lesson I got from having to cut down my words was a helpful one.

Words, lines and paragraphs began dropping away as I tried to pare down what I had written so that I could get my story within the constraints of the word  count limit. It felt much like a puzzle toward the end – what pieces needed to be there and which just didn’t fit? What if I were try it this way instead? The result wasn’t perfect, but it did finally work, and it read far easier than the original versions. It was cleaner and less bulky.

Keeping it simple will be something I will have to work toward. I have to remind myself that simple doesn’t have to mean ordinary or plain. It does mean I need to avoid letting things get unnecessarily overdone.

Do you struggle with making your writing (or your life 😉 ) too complicated? Ever think it may be time to keep it simple? Please feel free to share in the comments. I always love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading! Have a great week!

~CJS