Tag Archive: Kathy

Halloween Treat – Edgar Allan Poe

poe_coverSo, we have crisp fall nights. We have costumes. We have buckets and pillowcases brimming with treats. We have pumpkins grinning and flashights swinging. We have screams, haunted houses, whisps of dry ice floating around ruby red slippers, cowboy boots, and superhero tights.

We have arrived at All Hallows’ Eve. Bwahaha.

I’m not a big fan of horror, but I have to admit the impact of writers like Anne Rice, Steven King, and other modern authors, even Lemony Snicket, who got kids reading and scared the bejesus out of them.

But I have to give props to the best of the best, the man who started it all, Edgar Allen Poe. Remember reading The Raven in English/Literature class in high school? That was SO COOL, and scary, and awesome. I didn’t sleep for weeks. I stayed away from Poe, but my brother got into him and read everything and used to tell me parts of the Telltale Heart and other scary stories to the point I’d put my hands over my ears and scream.

Mom said to stop scaring the little tyke.

Poe died before the Civil War, so his writing is somewhat formal, and it fits the genre, but he didn’t always write horror. He wrote about adventure on the high seas, buried pirate treasure, and a famous balloon ride. He virtually invented the detective story with tales like “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”. Sherlock Holmes and other fictional detectives would later be based on the characters that Poe created. Poe wrote love stories and even a few strange little comedies. But mostly, he indulged in gothic horror.

A few spooky quotes to get your Halloween on:

“It was night, and the rain fell; and falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood.” from “Silence – A Fable”

He pointed to garments;-they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand; –it was indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my attention to some object against the wall; –I looked at it for some minutes; –it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the table, and grasped the box that lay upon it. But I could not force it open; and in my tremor it slipped from my hands, and fell heavily, and burst into pieces; and from it, with a rattling sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor. From “Berenice

There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold, then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated. From “The House of Usher”

Poe was indeed a troubled man; some said he was insane, and his writing certainly may prove that. All his stories and poems point to death, alcoholism, and troubled souls. The Black Cat is narrated by what is described as an “unreliable narrator”. We question his sanity from the start, and by the end we are quite sure he is not altogether sane.

Poe was reviled for his day; some quotes tell us his writings were laughable and badly written

Your treat for tonight? Read The Raven. http://www.heise.de/ix/raven/Literature/Lore/TheRaven.html

indexSleep well.

You’re welcome.

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/halloween-treat-edgar-allan-poe/

Five Attitudes Toward Success

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As a business coach, I recently had occasion to research what makes people successful, and I found this great article that I’m going to steal and talk about writing – success is success no matter what business you are in, and, believe it or not, writing is a business. I’ve used his headings, but changed it to talk about writing.

1 – Successful People Go to Work to Prosper, Not Just to Work

Writing is an exercise, and we learn every day, good days and bad (“it’s all crap”). But what we don’t realize and need to embrace is that every single sentence, every phrase, or every expression you’ve managed to put down on paper is fodder for the next. Prospering on a daily basis seems a bit unrealistic, but you can move ahead every single day. Write. Just write. Not because you’re committed, but because you want to get better. It’s a circle.

The opposite of the successful person is someone we all know, with an attitude like: “Hey, it’s a job. I’ll do my job, collect my paycheck, and leave precisely at 5:00. I won’t think about the job at all over the weekend and on Monday morning I’ll just start over again.” Nice try. You can survive, but can you thrive? I think not.

2 – They Exercise Incredible Drive

Here’s where I have a bit of a problem when people talk about “natural writers” versus “writers who have learned their craft.” The perception is that some people have an innate talent to write; they sit down without any preamble, any preparation, any practice, and they succeed, like snapping their fingers. a God-given, once-in-a-lifetime-touched-by-an-angel miracle.

I say balderdash. These people knew early on that once you establish a habit, you will follow it daily and it becomes something, like going to the gym, that you absolutely have to do or you don’t feel like yourself. These are the people who had enough drive and determination to just do it. Natural talent to write? Maybe, but the daily reinforcement and daily habit of improving is enough to keep them going to become not just good but excellent.

Again, the other kind of person says, “I’m not talented. Why am I wasting my time? I’ll never get published.” That may very well be true, but successful people just don’t hear that tape playing. It’s not about the destination, to use a worn-out phrase, it’s about the journey. Writing every day, day in and day out, practicing your craft, is the journey.

3 – They Never Make Excuses

Making excuses may work with a boss (not really), but when writing, making excuses to yourself just doesn’t work. The words still have to appear on the page. The thoughts, plots, and feelings have to come across, and nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop them.

Saying “I don’t have time” is not a viable excuse. There are twenty-four hours in a day. You can steal an hour from TV, internet, texting, tweeting, and anything else you do that doesn’t really produce much. It’s there. Just find it – no excuses.

4 – They Focus on Their Goals Daily

New Years Eve resolutions are for amateurs. Make goals a daily habit. Every day write down what you want to accomplish. It can be as minute as “pick up dog poop” or as big as “write a book” because the act of writing it down brings it into focus. “Write a book”, if you work at it every day, becomes reality, unless at some point you decide to drop it off your list. Then it becomes dead and fades into the background. If you keep it front and center, you will continue to focus on it, if only in your subconscious.

Do you have word or page goals? Stephen King says he never gets up from his chair until he has at least 2,000 words done per day – every day, including Sunday. And that’s not counting extra words from the day before. He writes every day. That’s drive. That’s passion. That’s success.

5 – They Are Willing to Fail

Failure is definitely an option here. Not everyone is going to take to your project. Finding an agent is a crapshoot, it seems. Some may love what you’ve done, some may not; some may be in the perfect spot to take you on, some may be in the perfect storm and cranky about everything, so you’re rejected. Correction: not you, your manuscript. There’s a difference.

Let’s face it, some days just aren’t worth getting out of bed for (that’s why we have laptops). At the end of the day you can say either you did a good job or everything you did was junk. Your choice.

But every day you did it is a day you can call a success. Something happened in that day that will come back to you, pulled forward from your subconscious, that you can use.

Is every one of your manuscripts going to find success? Sorry, no. Accepting that rejection is part of the process. Move on. Start over with Tip #1.

Approach your project with these five tips from successful people – change your mindset and you are sure to find success, progress, and satisfaction every single day.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/five-attitudes-toward-success/

Emotional Writing – Going Deep

imagesEmotional Writing

One of our WOS sisters here just suffered the loss of her mother. I can’t imagine, although I know it’s coming. The woman who gave you life cannot and should not outlive yours. But it must be devastating.

I once had a critique partner tell me to “go deeper.” That she could tell I had a lot more to say and I had just skimmed the surface – I had begun to show and not tell, but she knew I could go a lot further and explore more. That comment was such a shock. It meant I had to go and feel something and somehow get that emotion down on the page. She likened it to a tunnel with a very small opening. You have to carve away at it so you can get in there. Start by crawling slowly, then at some point it becomes large enough to walk through. It’s still dark and scary, but bring a lamp – you’ll be fine.

I wrote a death scene in my book Stitches that I thought was done well, with respect, but told from a distance, like someone filming from above. I had, of necessity, killed off my protagonist’s husband, giving him a respectable and dignified end. When I finished it, I was pleased. Good job, writer!

But then I became uneasy. I crept around the house, restless and distracted. Unsatisfied. I puttered, moved things around, and then put them back, looking for perfection. I was becoming cranky. Why am I not a better writer? Why am I wasting my time? What the hell am I doing? It’s crap. It’s all crap.

Marching back into my office, I ordered myself to focus. Where do writers get their inspiration?

From life.

“Go deeper.” Her voice echoed. And then, as though we were speaking our own language, she said, “Use it.”

The lump in my throat threatened to choke me. I placed my hands on the keyboard and started to write about the day my father died – long, long ago. I was fifteen and didn’t quite know what was going on because in those days children were protected from the hard parts, and it had never occurred to me he might die.

So I wrote. I put down every minute detail I could remember of that day and opened my scarred-over heart to things I hadn’t thought about for years. By the time I finished I had thirty pages. I shook, I cried, I wailed, and I wrote. For hours.

I went deep. And it hurt. But what I came up with was not only cathartic to my personal life, it was an opening in my writing life, a permission slip to explore more deeply how humans work and the consequences of life itself. I had dug into the tunnel and opened it a little wider so I could crawl through, and I had survived.

I’m looking forward to walking upright, but I know it will take a while.

As for the death scene in Stitches, I kept it. It was appropriate for the vehicle. But I was able to return to scenes where my protagonist’s pain showed up and I was now equipped to more clearly and much more powerfully display it.

Emotional writing is hard. You can’t make it up. You have to feel it. You have to express it, and you have to share it. Your readers will connect with that kind of honesty.

Go deeper.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/going-deep/

So Many Books, So Little Time

 

libraryI love books. The covers, the flypapers, the feel of the paper, the enticement on the book jacket. I can get captured inside of thirty seconds.

I used to spend my life in Borders surrounded by books and magazines and literary types in the café that had the world’s best coffee and pastries. I’d sit with friends or sit alone with a silly grin, eavesdropping at people sitting at neighboring tables. I was in heaven.

Then they closed.

It’s not that I bought tons of books, but I have to admit just being in the bookstore made me whip out my credit card faster than Quick Draw McGraw.

Being a realist, I understood that Amazon had pushed Borders out of business, and, if you believe the rumors, they are very close to decimating Barnes and Noble as well. Now I use Amazon all the time, and not just for books. It’s easy, convenient, and you get it fairly quickly. And I hate shopping, except, of course, for bookstores. If there were a kitchen in the back and a cot I’d live in one.

So when Amazon announced they were starting a lending library for ten bucks a month, I had a confusing split personality reaction. Yay because now I can keep reading really good stuff without leaving my chair. Boo because I won’t leave my chair and therefore will not get any exercise. Yay because I can hole up with the cat and leave the world, and boo because, well, I’ll miss the rest of my world.

But here’s a question – what happens to the libraries now? I would hate to see them go away. I’m sure they won’t, I believe books are here to stay, but as a city or county resource, their hours may be impacted if they are not getting as much traffic as expected. (It happened during the recession.) But my library, attempting to keep up with the times, has six Sony e-readers to loan out to patrons. Too late: the Sony e-reader is gone; their website closed last month. Bureaucratic entities that they are, they remain two steps behind.

It may depend on your library district – I understand some are keeping up and ordering books in hard and soft editions in equal measure. Yes, libraries offer ebooks you can download straight from your computer, easy. Your membership entitles you to that and I use it often. But a lot of the newer books aren’t on my library list now in ebook format, and if they are you are person number 371 on their “hold” list because they only bought three ebooks of that title.  Plus, while the library’s ebook category is growing, for now, choices are slim.

And then there’s that pesky question: which formula to use/convert: epub, Kindle, ibooks, etc. to be able to read the pages on your particular reader? Amazon has the free Kindle Reader – et voila – problem solved.

My tablet is full of ebooks I haven’t gotten to yet, books that have been suggested to me, books that came from bookbub, ibooks, kobo and kindle that intrigued me at the time, but at this point I think I have ninety one books lined up. They can be surprisingly cheap, as well, through some email notices like BookBub (not a paid advertiser), and easy to transport.

I still go to the library to get the real thing. I love turning the page, but, sadly, not the library experience any more.

Aren’t libraries supposed to be quiet zones? Plus, I’m personally offended when I see that someone has written in library books. I don’t want to read someone’s interpretation of a passage or an exclamation mark or a section higlighted in a library book. That’s just heresy. But on the tablet they can mark things up as much as they want and when it’s returned, all that disappears.

So Amazon is, once again, at the forefront of books and book lending. They will have whatever you want in unlimited quantity without the wait that the most popular books will have in your library. Again, easy, convenient, and, frankly, the ten bucks they are charging won’t break the bank (although I might have to forego a Starbucks or two).

But the libraries. Quickly becoming the stepchildren of the literary world, they exist now as old-fashioned relics with noisy children and ringing cell phones. It used to be a place to go and study in peace and quiet with others in the same pursuit.

In my research on the opinion of the future of libraries, I was struck by a quote from Jimmy Thomas, Executive Director of Colorado’s Marmot Library Network, who stated:

“I’m enough of a realist to assume that consumers will gravitate to the cheapest, most convenient source of content … Amazon continues to set a high standard of convenience libraries should attend to. And every time this huge corporation does something on a massive scale, libraries should be reminded to approach services differently. Competing with Amazon on its own terms is not a good direction for libraries. But thinking about how to complement Amazon is worthwhile.”

I began this diatribe by bemoaning the fact that Amazon is taking over. But it occurs to me that that may not be such a bad thing after all. Libraries can complement Amazon by going back to what libraries were originally intended for – serious study, research, and resources. A quiet place where one can find others of a similar ilk and nod their hellos in a civilized manner. Leave the cell phones at home, pull out a book or two, make your notes, and become immersed in the quiet peace of a library.

Having a separate wing for children’s books, a reading room, and a computer room with closed doors would just add to the perfection – the perfection of what a library should be.

Just a thought.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/so-many-books-so-little-time/

Failure Is An Option

movie_posterBiographies have always fascinated me. I love to read and hear how others become successful, what motivates them, yadda yadda yadda. It’s the human interest part of me that wants to scoop this stuff up, not from People or OK Magazine, or, God forbid, the National Enquirer (not that there’s anything wrong with them), but real factual, historical stories that form the basis of the personalities of people who have Made It Big.

Truman Capote fascinated me. I had read In Cold Blood as a teenager, and was interested enough to find out about him. I delved in with everything I had, followed by learning about other writers: Hemingway, Wilde, Vidal, Austen, and my favorite, Angelou.

I just finished watching a PBS documentary on George Plimpton, a name I had heard throughout my life from time to time, but was never quite sure who he was.

Plimpton had escaped my research. What’s so interesting about Plimpton is he was an author, yes, but more especially a journalist, famous for what he called “participatory journalism” that he felt gave him the edge he needed to thoroughly experience what he was writing about. This included competing in professional sporting events, acting in a western, performing a comedy act at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and playing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra – and then recording the experience from the point of view of an amateur.

He had the resources, I guess, to totally immerse himself into a project. If he had been assigned an article about football, he played for the Detroit Lions – as the quarterback – and got beat up pretty badly; his book based on that experience is called Paper Lion (clever, no?). He pitched on Mickey Mantle’s All-Star team, resulting in the book Out of My League. He played golf, tennis, and bridge on highly-competitive levels, even though he knew he wasn’t very good or accomplished. He sparred with Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson. He played ice hockey with the Boston Bruins as a goalie, danced a ballet, and performed a flying trapeze act in a circus. A small notebook and a pencil was always tucked away in a helmet or in his knee guards (maybe the tutu?), prepared to make notes.

All this makes me exhausted. He not only did these things for his articles for Sports Illustrated, he wrote books about it. When in the world did he have time?

And then, of course, he was asked to join the Paris Review, the venerable publication for emerging writers, as its literary editor. The documentary said the Paris Review never made a dime. Plimpton contributed his own funds to keep it going.

Plimpton, in the interviews shown on the PBS show, took away this lesson: to fail spectacularly is the only way to fail. He was not good at any of the sports he played, but he immersed himself in it for his art, and he was willing to put his physical self in harm’s way to get it just right.

And he risked criticism. There was plenty of that, and he reveled in it because he needed to immerse himself – and more than likely fail – and most likely make a fool of himself to get the material. He was called a dilettante.

We writers, probably as much as the professional athlete, maybe more so (on a different level), put ourselves out there more than any other profession. We take risks. We put our thoughts and feelings and decisions and hunches and guts on the line for our art. We risk hurting those we love by writing about them (or thinly veiled characters of them), because it is so necessary for the story. We put our true feelings down to be judged for all eternity.

That takes guts. That takes risk. Plimpton took “participatory journalism” to another level, but we all do it. While Plimpton risked life and limb, those of us not willing to take it to the physical level risk relationships, feelings, and, sometimes, the truth.

Failure is always an option in our world. To fail utterly means you tried utterly.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/friday-inspiration/failure-is-an-option/

Play Your Hunches

It’s the one lesson I remember from my father, who died when I was young: play your hunches.

Three years ago I went to a writing workshop in San Francisco. I had just been forcibly retired and thought I might look into another profession – one that didn’t involve Boards of Directors, staff, agendas, emails and endless meetings that resulted in nothing but a string of follow-ups and not much productivity.

So I tried watercolor, pottery, sewing, knitting, all sorts of creative endeavors that might make a few bucks to support my Starbucks habit. I even tried teaching a college course on Psychology and one in Sociology.

Loved them all.

But when I went to the writing workshop (a five-day intensive pitch workshop, which I didn’t realize was to pitch a book I hadn’t written yet) something clicked. I settled on a concept and went wild building a pitch, a tag line, a synopsis, and all the goodies necessary to query a book. I didn’t even know what a query was, but I learned fast.

So this man, this pied piper of the group, told me my concept was excellent and helped me craft my pitch. On the last day he had five agents come in and I pitched to them. He told me all five of them wanted to see more. I hadn’t written a line of dialogue yet.

So we worked together, through a strict formulaic program, to get the book “where it needed to be”. The story is that of a fifty-seven-year-old widow rebuilding her life. She is asked to hand-knit a wedding dress for her niece, and an eclectic group forms at her new knitting shop, friendships are born, the dress comes together, has to be ripped out, and rebuilt; a clear allegory to her life. I didn’t like it from the start; it was too cozy, too done, too…chick lit. To me, the story was about growth and challenges by a menopausal woman, not a dress. I expressed my doubts.

In reaction, what I got from him was: “It’s about the dress, the dress, the dress. Somebody in the group has to mess up the dress; that’s where the conflict comes in. It has to be all about the dress.”

I tried. I really did. But who’s going to mess with a wedding dress? I’m not built that way. I’m deeper than that. The conflict, to me, came from my protagonist’s challenges of finding and fitting into a new life, not some stupid dress that in the end won’t matter a great deal. It wasn’t enough of a downfall (the “stake”) for the protagonist if the dress wasn’t completed. Again, I expressed my doubts.

“No, no, no. It has to be all about the dress. The antagonist has to be strong and has to destroy the dress somehow.” I couldn’t make it work. But as a newbie, I followed his direction, beating my head against the wall and even having minor meltdowns trying to be a good girl and follow directions from an expert. All the while I knew what I wanted the book to be, and this wasn’t it. “But all the agents are waiting. This is what we pitched to them. The book is sold. Make it so.”

I finally cut the apron strings and followed my own heart. The day I severed the relationship, which was, I admit, painful, was the day my muse took over. I rewrote the whole thing and doors started to open for me. When I finished, I had very encouraging rejection letters from agents, some with requests for my next book because they liked my writing, but for some reason or another this one wasn’t for them at the time.

I landed with a publisher, and this morning I received an email from my editor revising my original pitch and synopsis, the one I had created with Mr. Wonderful, and they have taken out all references to the dress and the shop because “it’s not about the dress, it’s about Jen’s growth, which is the real story.” I confess I snickered a little.

Almost three years was spent trying to make it work his way. But in the end, the time was not wasted. I revised and revised, added a lot in, took masses out, and refined it to be what I wanted it to be.

It was my first book, and I’m being published by a reputable publisher, not a vanity or self-publisher, but a small press who has an excellent reputation. This is not chick lit, romance, or a cozy. This is a novel in the womens’ fiction genre. It is finished, it is polished, and it is good because I stopped listening to him and started listening to myself.

Trust your intuition, your gut, your own innate knowledge of what is good, of what will work. It won’t let you down. Play your hunches.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/play-your-hunches/

What We’re Reading: Women’s Fiction

Women’s fiction is our category this month. Just what is women’s fiction? Literature with women protagonists appear along a continuum of literary fiction to erotica. Quite a spread! Women’s fiction is closer to the literary fiction end but without the self-consciousness and pretension of literary fiction. By the same token, while there may be a love interest in women’s fiction, it differs from chicklit in the amount and focus of the love interest. Women’s fiction is between those two points.

Additionally, women’s fiction keeps focus on the heroine’s character arc as she seeks to learn more about herself and her role in life. In women’s fiction, she takes full responsibility for that development without needing the intervention of a male to define her. Women’s fiction confronts broader issues of societal value and not just the personal issues of the heroine.

 

Kathy’s Pick: THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tratt

Goldfinch webThere are some books you just want to crawl into and live in for a bit. This started out that way, and I was pleased the book was so long (771 pages) so that I could enjoy this for a while. I settled in for the ride. Theo is a young man who is with his beloved mother in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City when a terrorist bomb goes off. Tratt’s prose is excellent, so beautiful describing the love, the horror, and the destruction of the moment when to bomb goes off. He loses his mother, but gains a portrait of a Goldfinch he hides for the rest of his life. The relationship he forms with his best friend’s family in their posh upper Manhattan penthouse apartment is complicated and fun to be with for a while. Then his father comes and takes him away to Las Vegas. That’s where the book lost all of its charm for me. The tough, hard-drinking dad, the evil stepmom and the scary loan sharks hanging around were a bit too clichéd for me. You could almost sense the story before you read it, no surprises. The only friend he made in Las Vegas was Boris, a druggie who entices Theo to join him in illegal adventures and a life less structured, smoking joints, popping pills, and ditching school. I ached for Theo and this turn of his life. He was so much better than that. But that’s okay, I thought, I’ll wait for the redemption. But it never came. His drug use escalated and he lost his way. The last third of the book was a major disappointment, and I was left completely unsatisfied. Tratt fast-forwarded his life after picking it apart almost day by day, only to find no resolution to his relationship with his then-fiancee (for whom I had absolutely no sympathy). He lied and stole money from the shop he ran with his mentor, who, inexplicably, was not angry his entire life savings, his shop, and his reputation was on the line. The man threatening him with exposure, who knew of Theo’s subterfuge, disappeared into thin air. Several threads were left loose. But what offended me most were the last thirty pages when Tratt began to prostheletize about life – the meaning of, the lessons for, and the reasons being – of life. She became very philosophical and preachy. I found myself skipping over most of the last third of the book just to find out what happened to the characters and find the wrap-up. There was none to speak of. A bit disappointing; it started out so well and then flopped.

 

Sharon’s Pick: ON THE ISLAND: A NOVEL, by Tracy Garvis Graves

on-the-island-penguin-cover

On the Island: A Novel is one of those books that keeps popping into your head at odd moments. Perhaps the book is haunting because of the taboo subject matter. Perhaps I keep thinking about it because the characters and the situation were so authentic despite the desert island circumstances. Perhaps it’s just because it is so well-written. On the Island: A Novel isn’t pure women’s fiction, however, because chapters are told in the point of view of the two main characters, rather than only from the woman’s perspective.

High School teacher Anna Emerson agrees to a summer tutoring gig that is unusual and glamorous. T.J., 16 years old, fought and won a long battle with a disease that resulted in missed school and a young man very behind in his studies. His parents offer Anna a tutoring job on an Indonesian island for the summer. Due to a series of circumstances, she and T.J. have to fly separately from the parents who go ahead to their posh island home.

It is no spoiler, since the plane crash happens within the first few pages and from the title, to say that Anna and T.J. wash up on a desert island and have to figure out a way to survive. Anna, knowing that T.J.’s health could still be fragile, worries about a recurrence almost as much as the struggle for daily survival.

Graves also does settings really well. Her island descriptions put you right there along with T.J. and Anna. You felt the ever-present grit and smelled the sea.

Neither Anna nor T.J. has outdoorsy skill sets. Life is very tough as they discover, often the hard way, what it means to provide shelter, food, and protection. As each day of non-rescue passes, Anna and T.J. learn to accept the inevitability of this new life. That they fall in love is no surprise either. Years alone together create a mutual respect that deepens into love despite the considerable age difference.

The surprise is what happens after they leave the island. Should they, could they, must they conceal their relationship? Society certainly would disapprove. And maybe the bond they forged wasn’t really love, but a relationship of circumstance and necessity. Once back to normalcy, how can they maintain a taboo lifestyle.

I enjoyed the first part of the book on the island more than the second when they were back in civilization. While the hard questions of what their relationship meant were dealt with, I felt the ramifications could have been explored more deeply. Still, the issues were compelling and the emotions raw.

As a former educator, I should have been shocked and appalled at the story line of On the Island: A Novel. But it is a testament to Graves’ writing chops that when the 30-something teacher and her teen pupil fall in love, one is not repelled. It appears to be the natural consequence of their isolation and fate.

Both sympathy and empathy are invoked in this unusual and provocative love story. I highly suggest it as a great summer read, memories of which you will carry into the fall.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-womens-fiction/

Things are Getting Drafty

MS editFollowing up and adding to Caryn’s post yesterday:

What exactly is a “draft”? If you go from beginning to end without any revisions, that could reasonably be called a draft. But do we really? I work on a scene forever before I move on, maybe I skip around a bit to feel out other characters, go back and take out scenes because now it doesn’t work, maybe revise a bit before moving on.

I was lucky enough to meet Ray Bradbury in the last year of his life. I asked him for advice for a newbie, and he said, “Honey, just sit down, get your story out, and have a ball, because it’s sheer hell after that.” He went on to say the work starts after you’ve played, after you’ve gotten the story down. The revising and the editing is where the actual work comes in.

My book took two years to get to the point where I thought it might get some bites, and I can’t say I went straight through from beginning to end.

“How many drafts did you do before you felt comfortable letting other people see it?” A question from a stranger at a party that made my eyebrows knit together. As usual, I didn’t want to disappoint with my answers. I thought about pulling a respectable number out of a hat, only to impress with all the hard word I put into the missive. “Twelve,” I would answer firmly. “Twelve long, hard, tough drafts where I killed all my darlings and created new ones.” That would certainly impress them.

But no. I said I didn’t count drafts, only to have the questioner turn away in disappointment. I can’t lie in real life. In stories, sure, but not to someone who seemed so deeply interested in my process.

Drafts? I don’t know. I messed, fussed, picked at, read, adjusted, moved, clipped, expanded, dumped, re-wrote, and massaged words all through the two-year episode.

But drafts? I didn’t start at the beginning and go all the way through to the end, if that’s what is meant by the word draft.

Which segues nicely into my next meander: are you a pantser or a plotter? See, if I were a plotter, I might have a better answer. I could go from the beginning, looking over at my outline of beginning, middle, and end, and breeze right through to the end.

But no. I’m a pantser. I write from the seat of my pants, my gut, my instinct as to what a character might do. What I think might happen seldom happens. As I get into my characters and start conversations (my husband hates it when I make that statement) with them, it becomes clear to me that they might do exactly the opposite of what I had thought the direction of the story might go. “Aha! She’s not going there – she’s going there and doing that, which makes the antagonist mad, and therefore leads us to X.” But when it comes to writing the “X” scene, what I think might happen may or may not happen. And so it goes.

I once had a mentor tell me that letting the characters dictate what happens when you’re writing is the wrong way to go and you’ll go off course and get muddled.

I call BS on that. “Stick to the outline,” he said. He even had us write out what each scene meant, where the conflict was, and what the motivation was for the character to do whatever it was that they did, and how it affected other characters. It ended up being an eighteen-page document that I resented for the time and effort I put into it, because I just wanted to write my story. I tried going by an outline, but didn’t feel at all creative and my characters were champing at the bit to do something different and surprise me, but I forced myself to stick to the script. I had no fun, and neither did my characters. They came out moody and dark, like bad actors on the stage. There was no heart, nothing to give them any dimension. I threw it all away and went with my gut.

That’s not to say I didn’t know the ending. I knew exactly where my characters would end up, it’s what happened in between the beginning and the ending that surprised me, and that’s where the creativity comes in.

Drafts? In my book (pardon the pun), it’s not a finite thing. What I start with in the beginning days of a new project I know will never appear in final form. It will be tweaked many, many times before it’s deemed ready to be seen by others’ eyes. And when I look back on the first keystrokes I blush at the audacity I had to even begin this journey, but with a lot of massaging and thinking, adjusting, and tossing, it can become something that rises from a humble beginning into something I am proud of. It came from me, pulled out line by line from my psyche, my heart, and my life.

You can’t get that from an outline. Just one woman’s humble opinion.

Just don’t ask me how many drafts I’ve done. I don’t have a respectable answer.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/things-are-getting-drafty/

Peace

 Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

I cannot help but post about Maya Angelou today. My sense of loss is profound. My sense of humor sits quietly, taking a back seat to reflection.

As a child, I had a teacher who, when talking about poetry, managed to make me feel less than intelligent because I never understood the point of poetry. Especially poetry that didn’t rhyme.

I just didn’t get it. Still don’t.

So Maya Angelou as a poet didn’t appeal to me and I came to the party late. Oprah introduced me to the Maya Angelou the world knew, and I fell head over heels for the woman who spoke and wrote so exceptionally well through her heart, through her being, through her love.

I read her books and was awestruck by her story, her life, and her courage. A humble woman, she still managed to stand tall and be proud of who she was without grandstanding. The truth, as she knew it, was open to all.

She said her favorite word was “love”. I watched a video this morning of her speaking of love and how she discovered God loved her, and was humbled by it. His love “made the fleas and the leaves, the flowers and…you.”

Then she lowered her head to her lap, took a deep breath, rose, and said, “And I am humbled by that. And grateful.” She had tears in her eyes and her voice was thick.

Personally, I have never had such a moment, a discovery so profound it humbled me – at least not one that big – and I found myself grateful for those two minutes to learn what it’s all about.

Somebody sent the Christmas Poem “Amazing Peace” to me for Christmas one year. A small book, it’s a poem written by Dr. Angelou and it made such a strong impact on me I bought ten copies and gave them as gifts.

And it made me want to write. I picked up a pen and wrote out my thoughts on the words within that tiny book. That was the beginning of my writing career.

And so today I cry for a woman I’ve never met, and I think about how my actions and my words reflect on the world, and I know I am a better person for her being here.

Amazon has the book “Amazing Peace.” My copy, sitting next to me as I write this, has a different cover, cream colored with bright red letters. My fingerprints and maybe some melted chocolate bless the front as I have browsed through it many times looking for inspiration. I’ve always found it there in this tiny book full of optimism, hope, and a prayer for peace.

I believe your soul, Sister Maya, achieved that peace long ago. May it continue as an example to us all.

Peace.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/friday-inspiration/peace/

Fraidy Cat

More from our favorite regular contributor Kathy Weyer. Please, welcome her as she shares more thoughts about the bumpy road of a newly signed writer.

I’ve decided I’m just a ’fraidy cat.Cute cat cartoon screaming

In my last post, First Book Angst, I talked about having my book Stitches signed by a publisher – and I had the unmitigated gall to be ambivalent about it. The book was finished, polished, submitted, and signed. It’s out of my hands, like a child being sent away to boarding school. So now I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about my mental health. After all, I wrote a book and someone wants to publish it. Why am I not over the moon? What is wrong with me?

I drew on my education and experience as a therapist. I dove deep into my own psyche (not easy to do, but, then again, only we curious writers and wacko therapists will boldly go where no one dares) and discovered a history of fear dressed up as indecision and procrastination.

It’s scary in here. Lots of cobwebs and memories. But I digress.

We humans like homeostasis, the genetic need to keep things the same – our bodies work hard to keep things on an even keel (when blood pressure rises, the heart slows down, for example). Our psyches tend to do the same thing. We hold ourselves back because of the “what if…” game. What if it’s over-the-top successful? What if I fail? What if nobody likes it? What if the reviews come in, and they stink? Hmmm…notice the proportion of good result projection vs. bad result projection. Have to work on that.

We don’t like change, even though we crave it. We may want to be famous authors, but do we really want the success? Maybe not. It means our lives will be impacted, our income will change, our identity may be that of a famous author on talk shows and in magazines, and our friends may treat us differently. Maybe they will be jealous or resent our success.

On the other hand, do we want to tolerate failure? Absolutely not. Yet another project gone awry, all that time, all that energy, all that planning and work? People will be sad for you. Maybe you see pity or disappointment – shame, even.

Either way, it’s scary. Our lives may change as a result of publication and getting the baby out into the world. We can’t know how much, and that’s scary. We need to learn to embrace failure as well as success. Failure is only a sign that we tried, and success is a sign that we maybe did it well – or were at the right place at the right time – luck has a lot to do with it.

So here’s what I’ve come to:

An editor on the other end of this umbilical cord is looking over my words, my story, my plot line, and my characters, making suggestions and tracking changes, massaging this work of art from a professional point of view. Somebody who knows what they are doing, and what the public wants, is working on this so that I have a better chance of being successful. I am proud of that, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it. I can learn a lot through this process about the craft of writing. How cool is that? I now acknowledge that I have successfully finished my part in this process. I happily release it to this expert to turn it into something better. And if it doesn’t sell well, I will leave a sign that I went at it with everything I had.

If, and I say if rather than when (there I go again) the book becomes a best seller and I am interviewed by Oprah (wait, she doesn’t do that any more) I will have fun. I will meet new people, have new experiences, and enjoy my time out in the world, and let the chips fall where they may as far as the rest of my life. Bring it on!

Either way, I’m good with it all. And I could use a change anyway, the cobwebs in here are getting thicker.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/fraidy-cat/

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