apple cratesInspiration comes from the strangest places. I often have flashbacks throughout the day to random memories and times in my life that seem to come completely out of nowhere. I let myself ponder through the things I remember about that moment before I snap back to the present and wonder, “why am I thinking about this?”  Sometimes, it’s just the meanderings of memory that take me to that day in high school when I was put in charge of entering fruit orders into the computer for the FFA fund raiser.  Not that I was one of the “jacket wearing” FFA members, but I did participate in our “field day” demonstrations by churning butter in a series of jars with a sweet, sandy-haired farm boy who was almost too shy to talk to me.  What was his name?  I don’t know.  I only remember that he liked NASCAR and blushed when I teased him about being too handsome to not have a girlfriend.  See?  Why the heck was I thinking about entering fruit orders for the FFA fundraiser?

I’ve been working more regularly on a novel this summer, but I’ve been reluctant to share my progress with friends. I have the odd preference of writing in longhand for my first drafts, which means my “second draft” happens when I enter the writing into the computer.  I’ve started the second draft process, but I can tell the writing is missing something.  I need to add to it to make the situation believable, to make the character seem more like a real person, and to move the plot along without it feeling like it’s dragging.  I have the old pang of self-doubt that strikes when I start struggling with a project, but I’m dedicated to working through it.  But how?

My character is 18.  She’s in the summer between high school and college.  And she is in the middle of dealing with a moment of intense family turmoil.  How do I bring this girl to life?  How do I tell the reader who she is without banging them on the head with a list of likes and dislikes?  And how do I do this without making the long-form fiction feel like it’s crawling at a snail’s pace?

Then came the a-ha moment!  With a flashback, of course.  OF COURSE!  Why haven’t I thought of flashbacking (which may or may not be a “real” word) before now?  She is not far away from being in high school, so I have to tap into my own “yesteryear” memories to remember the angst of being that age again, being in the midst of a major life transition, and how to deal with complicated relationships between siblings and parents and grandparents.  But, she is not me, so I must invent a past for her.  I *can* use my own mental wanderings to populate her past, though.
I remember when I was a little kid, I really thought I was a badass.  It was a freer, more dangerous time, I guess, in retrospect.  I played in half-constructed homes as new portions of my neighborhood were developed.  One of those houses was a two-story house–a rarity in the land of one-story ranch-style homes.  During an intense game of chase with two boys who were older than me (boys who kept calling me a “baby” and a “girl” like it was a slur and not just a fact of genetics), I jumped from the second-story window of the newly framed house, daring them to follow me.  They did not.  I remember laughing at the looks on their faces.  They were looking down at me from the window, stunned that I had jumped from so high.  I was all of 5 and fearless and had legs made of rubber.  Ah, how sweet was that victory!  I decided to give my character the same sense of “I’ll show you” daring.



Take 10-15 minutes to write down one of your childhood memories.  Try to remember as much as you can, especially sensory memories and the way you felt, emotionally.  After you’ve captured the essence of that memory, use the same “feeling” to write a new scene for your character.  You can frame it as a flashback to your character’s childhood, or not.  Maybe you have a character who is a child, so it could happen in “real time.”  Maybe you’re character has a child.  It can be translated in so many ways.  Maybe it will inspire a piece of non-fiction.  Maybe you won’t want to change the scene at all–you know how us writers are–always stealing from real life to tell our stories.  That’s what they mean when they say, “write what you know,” right?

Happy writing!

Taking Your Art Seriously

I write. I am a “writer.” I am, however, not what I would call an “author.” The distinction in my mind is the difference between being published and not being published. Authors are published. Writers write.

I have a good many friends who are authors, though, and if I am being honest with myself…I am jealous of their success. I am truly, truly happy for them, but I confess that I am also covetous of their ability to win the acceptance and approval of whatever powers that be that decide: “YES! You! This work you have produced–it is publication worthy!” Huzzah for them. Sincerely.

AND I know I have no room for grousing about feeling jealous or depressed about my own lack of authorhood BECAUSE it’s my own fault. I haven’t *really* tried to become published in the traditional way since I left grad school. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I put a short story on Amazon (about a year ago) to be sold like a Kindle “single.” For 99 cents. And of all the people I know who know I did this…let’s say something like 100 people (a low estimate)…7 of them dared to spend less than $1 on a story I wrote. And these are people I know. It’s demoralizing.

So yeah. Boo hoo. Pity party for me. In all honesty, I wrote a supremely snarky “nobody loves me” blog about the whole debacle, but wisely decided not to post it. Although, in retrospect, it’s pretty damn funny. I mean, if you like snark.

But now that party is over. I am just done wallowing. Because I decided, “If I don’t take my own art seriously, who will?” Self-publishing is one route to take, but just plopping something down on Amazon isn’t going to turn me into an author because I wish it to be so. It’s time to go back to the basics of becoming an author and go about it in a different way.

First, obviously, is writing.

Second, just as obviously, is attempting to become published by TRYING to become published. There is no wishing in publishing, dear self.

Third, is to return to my old methods that allowed me to gain insight and growth as a writer…by reaching out to my friends who are/were writers and get them to share work with me. And if they won’t/can’t, then it’s time to find a new group of writers to bounce ideas off of, and to serve as a voice of reason when I want to put a sasquatch in my short story. Or maybe they will say that sasquatch should stay. You just never know.

And I’m going to take this little gem from my cousin. She is a painter, and recently she quoted a friend of hers who said, “art is an equation; the more you put in, the more you get out.” Such a simple adage, but a good one to remember.

So. Here goes. Taking my art seriously.

“Nesting” for a New Story or Gathering Parts?

I can’t be 100% sure if other writers do this…but I feel like they must on some level, at least.  Once a story/article/book is finished, I begin to think about writing a new story.  Much like an expectant mother, I start getting ready for the delivery.  I do this in a variety of ways, but it helps me get excited about this hard thing that I know is coming.  I buy new pens.  I buy new notebooks.  I scrutinize both, because I want to make sure I am getting exactly what I want, because I am really going to be using these things to produce something.  Something magical and messy and of my own creation.  I like to write in longhand on paper (lined OR unlined OR quadrille…it all depends), because it feels more real to me…like I’m getting my hands dirty while I’m making this thing come to life. 

Now that I think about it, maybe I’m more like Frankenstein.

When it’s a big project, I necessarily have (likely) been writing snippets here and there…I gather these together and will often try to type them up.  The typing process is the first editing pass for me.  I add a lot of detail or new paragraphs, cobbling sentences together in a different ways, changing words here and there so it flows better, adjusting names, creating new characters…this is where I may become more like a mad scientist…trying to sew things together that don’t necessarily *go* together or adding ingredients in a random alchemy, hoping for a speck of gold, a grain of a gem.   Then again, if things are already taking some sort of shape as far as format or chronology, I start blocking those things together into convenient packages known as…chapters!  And characters formerly intended to be mere background become main characters or even…(gasp)…the protagonist!  Bwahahahahaha!  It’s ALIVE!

Ahem.  Sorry…probably taking that metaphor a little too far. 

If I really get into creating this new world, I draw pictures of scenes, characters, their cars, their pets, their family members, maybe jewelry if it is important.  I used to cut pictures out of magazines, but those images almost never match what is in my head.  Sure my sketches are a tad bit cartoonish, but if I can glean the “feeling” of what I have in my mind, it helps to keep it solidified–another way to make it all seem more real.  It can also be an exercise in just creating that world on a different level…it helps me identify details I hadn’t thought of before and to simplify overly complicated ideas.  It also helps me realize that my strength is writing and definitely NOT drawing. 

And then, when I feel like I am ready, I start carving out more and more time to let my ideas get on to paper.  If I have a lot to get out, the biggest challenge is to just allow myself to write and write and write, with as little on-going editing as possible.  If I get stuck, as you have witnessed with my previous blog-posts, I make myself use writing prompts or exercises to get the thoughts flowing again.  These exercises are like Lamaze classes, making me get through the writing process with intent and focus.  Or maybe it’s more like opening a new grave, scavenging for anything that will work to fit in that empty socket.

As I consider this next project, I find myself growing anxious about it, because it is going to be my first book-length undertaking since before going to grad school (I wrote a romance novel when I was 18…it was BEYOND terrible.  Then I wrote a slightly more interesting (historic!) romance novel when I was like…24?  I didn’t finish the second one and I lost the first one, so it is time to try it again).  Part of me thinks I should wait until NaNoWriMo rolls around again, but…that wouldn’t be fair to the story I am trying to bring to light, nor would it be fair to my own self in my attempt to get my hands on that writer’s life I want to forge for myself.  And waiting around for the right time is…such a ridiculously lame procrastination ploy.  Especially when I am in the middle of trying to write like my life depends on it.

And then days like this come along…

I have finished my stripper story (THANK GOD!)…first draft, anyway.  Now that I have it out of my system, I am not all that interested in doing much else to it.  At least not for right now.  I probably need a break from those characters anyway.  I *have* sent it to friends for review, and I may need to tap a few more for some first-hand fact checking (since I really don’t know all that much about strippers, strip clubs, etc.), but once I feel it is “finished,” I am thinking I will probably try to post it to a “download to your Kindle/iPad” kind of place and offer it for sale for $0.99.  I mean, what could it hurt?  Maybe I’ll make a buck or two.  I will share that whole process when I get there.

But today, with the early morning drenched in a constant pattering of rain, waking up in the arms of my love, listening to my dogs softly snoring in the next room…and then realizing I have to leave them to come to a desk job…It is exactly the kind of thing that inspires me to recapture that writing vigor that makes my palms itch for an artist’s life.  One where I can sleep through the rain in a cozy bed, make myself a whole pot of coffee and drink it at my leisure, stay in my pajamas, crack open a new (or old) notebook and put pen to paper.  If I can really get something going, I could work into the wee hours of the night when my brain is best at conjuring stories and poetry and visions of grand landscapes.

And somehow I will sneak writing into my day today, and somehow I will make it my life, instead of the thing that is constantly singing to me…a siren on some distant shore, incessantly calling my name.

So Close, I Can Taste It

Given the fact that I am calling out my near-completion of a short story about a stripper, the title of this blog is probably too suggestive.  But, oh well.

So, I am nearly done with that dang story, Church of the Palomino.  I only have one small “setting the scene” for transition, a few small details to add about Shannon’s family, and the grand finale of the ending.  I at least know where I want to take it, but I keep tip-toeing around that ending.  Man, it’s so hard for me!

I am trying to come up with a writing exercise that is going to help me write that “setting the scene” part and the ending.  I think, when I really get to the editing phase, I will sprinkle in those crumbs of family info. 

So, to sort of borrow a suggestion from a friend–I’m going to twist the exercise to serve my own purposes–since I know where I want to go with this, I am going to visualize a “photo” of the ending.  For the exercise, I am going to first, write what happened right before this picture was taken, then I am going to write the moment captured by the “photo,” and then I am going to write “what happened next,” right after the picture was taken.  Of course, no one is going to be in my story taking a photo of my characters, so it is going to require a vivid imagination, but whatevs…I’ve got one of THOSE.  For yourself, you might try this with a literal photo or painting.  Good luck!

Thanks, Kristen, for the idea!

From Rolling Stone to Touchstones

Man, a million ideas have occurred to me in the past few days.  Nothing related to the story at hand, though.  Of course. 

So this is why I do writing exercises…trying to force my way back into the story I am trying to finish.  I also have a lot of terrible “in a minute” habits to ramp myself up into a night of writing.  This, unfortunately, when I am serious and when I have the funds, means I gravitate toward the stereotypical vices of writers…smokes and drinks.  I don’t know why.  I’ve never been a “smoker,” but I do enjoy a good cigar every now and then.  So, last night was cigar night, followed by a cocktail.  It seemed especially appropo, considering my story takes place at a strip club.

Anyway, while I puffed away under the almost full moon, I couldn’t help but notice the stones (rocks, pebbles, whatever you want to call them), shining in the moonlight.  And I thought about picking up one or two for keeping.  And I thought about how many of us, across all sorts of cultures, probably collected rocks at some point in our life.  A friend once gave me a book called “The Finding Stone” about the sacred specialness of finding a particular stone.  I have moved with boxes of rocks.  I have a rock on my window sill right now that I kept as a memento from where I buried one of my dogs. 

I imagine that we overlook something as simple as a rock perhaps twenty times a day.  Sometimes you might absently kick one along for a while as you walk down the street or in a parking lot somewhere.   Should you find yourself at the edge of some water, you might find yourself skipping stones on the water, or just chunking them in to hear the kerplunk or test your throwing distance.  Maybe you have cursed a stone for cracking your windshield.  Or maybe like me, you have thanked that mystery stone you feared might hit your windshield, but by avoiding it, you avoided certain catastrophe.  I even wrote a story entitled “Pretty Stones” for my Master’s thesis.

So, I figured it might be a decent excercise to have an exercise featuring a stone.  You could have a character pick one up for whatever reason.  You could have a stone become a plot point ( a la windshield cracker).  You could have a character go in search of a particular kind of stone, or merely find one in the pocket of an old coat.  The options are limitless.  All you have to do is place the stone…

Exercise: Write on Anything!

Have you ever found yourself at a restaurant or sitting in a meeting room or on the bus or wherever and had the urge to write but had nothing to write upon.  Or maybe you only have old bills in your purse/briefcase.  Maybe you just bought lunch and you have this paperbag, but no paper.

My challenge to you is to select one of these things:  an envelope, one piece of paper from a bill you have already paid, a “mostly not writing” ad in a magazine or newspaper (about the size of a standard piece of paper), or a paper bag of any size.  If you choose an envelope, carefully unfold all the flaps and edges so you have more surface area to write on.

Once you have made your selection, write until you run out of space.  If you really get going, find another spare scrap, rip the bag so you can write on the inside, find another “mostly not writing” ad, or heck, write across the print, if you can read your own writing over it.  Start with “I can’t believe…”

See where a piece of trash can take you.

My own exercise to follow…I need to work on the rest of Max’s story, anyway.