Posts Tagged ‘writing life’

The Craft Warehouse in Your Head

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

How or where do writers get their ideas? If you asked our loved ones, they might feel like they could swear the ideas were found somewhere just outside a window, or that somehow the idea stork drops another package for us after the appropriate incubation period, or as in The Hunger Games, some avid beneficiary will parachute it down to us in our hour of need. A gift from “your sponsors.”

So, really, where do we get our ideas? In case your loved ones didn’t know, the raw materials of fiction are available at your very own local craft warehouse. Yes, the craft warehouse…of fiction writing. The one in your mind. So, next time you’re found staring out the window, your friends and family can now picture you parking outside that “store,” and perusing for those fiction gems, up and down those mental aisles, pushing your “shopping cart,” checking the shelves for that perfect plot or hero or setting. There we’ll be, filling that “shopping cart” full of ideas, realizing that we might have to come back later for more, that we might have to in fact exchange some things. Or sometimes just wandering around looking and comparing. Now where was I stocking that one thriller plot?

That warehouse is an accumulation of all those things we’ve been exposed to, all our ideas, divided into two not-so-neat departments, nature and nurture. Not to say that we’re using “stock” characters or “stock” anything. For me—for any writer—that warehouse “stores” all the experiences I’ve had personally, all the people I’ve met and known, all the stories I’ve read, characters I’ve met, and more importantly, all the wonderful spaces and possibilities in-between where my ideas or the fragments of ideas to come may be found. And those departments are divided, of course, into other departments, other sections. Everyone’s is the same; yet everyone’s is so different.

So, there we are, trundling our shopping carts through those aisles, row upon row, shelves stacked. Signs overhead pointing to Department of  Plots & Subplots, and Department of Psychology (Character arcs) or Human Resources (heroes, heroines, secondary characters, villains). The World Market (world-building, settings).  Starter Kits (openings, themes, genres).  Department of Communications (dialogue, non-verbals). Research & Development. And in the back corner or perhaps the basement—isn’t it always—there’s… Bed Bath & Be-Erotic (with directions. Insert A into B—in infinitely (we hope) different ways). And so on. Oh, and don’t forget the Open Bin section, for those miscellaneous things—ideas returned or those we might use someday.

Obviously, some writers have more shelves stacked with particular things (in, for example, HR), like vampires and werewolves; others with action figures or hunky romance heroes, or hard-nosed detectives; and still others with female helicopter pilots and CIA operatives; beautiful suspense heroines, duchesses, teachers, wives and girlfriends.

But while you’re cruising those mental aisles, don’t forget about restocking those shelves. Yes, restocking. (Picturing myself struggling with a large box of dialogue, shelving it in Communications after a trip to the University? Or to uh…Craft Warehouse?) But restocking is the other fun part of writing. It’s refreshing your supply of …everything. Getting out and experiencing. Reading, researching. Then reorganizing. Sifting through. And restocking. And it’s all on the conveyor belt of Life.

Then it’s ready for you, the writer, to create something…with those elements of fiction. And like DNA—Recombinant. In this case, Dialogue, Narrative, Action and everything in-between.

The elements or molecules of fiction are the [writing sequences] that result from the use of the craft to bring together the writing material from multiple sources, creating sequences that would not otherwise be found in written “organisms.” Like Recombinant DNA, it is possible because those craft molecules share the same basic structure; they differ only in the sequence of elements within that “identical” overall structure. And of course, the writer’s creativity.

What’s on your list today?

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Note: (For the last paragraph on Recombinant DNA, I was paraphrasing from Wikipadia’s text on Recombinant DNA, but changing text to apply to writing, so I could “recombine” some metaphors.)

 

How is your Publishing sonar? Or Size matters?

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

Publishing and the future. Change is, of course the key word here. We’ve been seeing change, but not much of a response from the big 6 publishers.

Now some of the big publishers are merging or considering a merger–Random House & Penguin and possibly now Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins. One wonders if this is the best direction for them to go, but it certainly makes sense to want to combine resources to survive.  I enjoyed the November 3rd article on TechCrunch.com, the “Quick, Tie the Rafts Together” by Devin Coldewey (the link is here:  http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/03/quick-tie-the-rafts-together/ ) where he discusses the Random House/Penguin merger.

But with so many authors self-publishing and thus becoming entities that are both more nimble and faster in the new market–publishing in 2 months, thru ebooks, rather than in 2 years, thru print–I have to question this trend with publishers to want to go bigger. Normally, in the past, this would be the way to go in any industry that faces such change–to find ways to strengthen your company and maybe diversify a little.

It’s great that they’re finally really perceiving the need for change. As best-selling author and Cool Gus Publishing’s copublisher Bob Mayer said, back in April 2011 (and actually before that), the big publishers response to the epublishing trend was basically to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic–mostly they have been just protecting their turf (see his Write It Forward blog post, “I Don’t Know; I’m Guessing; I Know–the future of publishing for authors”). And in the industry itself, the rearranging has been in the percentage of books that are Indie vs Traditionally published, ebook vs print. Personally I like the combination–ebooks & print–and see the necessity for a combination of them in our society, but that’s another story.

I’ll take the analogy of the Titanic just a little further. The Titanic itself was so huge that it could not be turned in time to avoid that collision with the iceberg. And it didn’t help that it was also going too fast for the dangerous terrain.

So, while it’s good that these publishing houses are no longer just rearranging the deck chairs, are they becoming like the big ship itself? That is, a ship that’s too big to navigate through today’s uncertain waters, where the normal sonar may not register the shifting undercurrents and icebergs of change..or at least signal that a change of course could be needed quickly to avoid a disaster. And about the number of lifeboats…

As an aside, our government is facing the same issue. In the form of the Fiscal Cliff. Can we change course in time to avoid disaster? Congress seems to have its head in the sand.

On one final note, in the movie TITANIC directed by James Cameron, in the scene where most of the major characters are gathered around a table discussing the building of the huge ship, the heroine makes the comment about Freud’s theory on the male preoccupation with size. (In the context, it was funny.)

But it’s also interesting to note that one of the causes of the Titanic disaster was that the ship’s rudder…was built too small. A little irony.

In this case, maybe smaller would be better. The raft…

 

Halloween: spooky inspiration for writers

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

First, some background. Halloween comes to us from ancient New Year festivals. The church, in A.D. 800’s, established All Saints’ Day–continuing a festival that was pre-Christian–and the evening before was All Hallow e’en.

Storytelling Traditions have included tales of ghosts, fortunetelling, and jack-o’-lanterns, turning the paranoia of past times into the paranormal of current times.

According to Irish legend, jack-o’-lanterns were named for a miser called Jack who couldn’t enter heaven or hell, and had to roam the earth, carrying a lantern, until Judgment Day. In the past, people in England and Ireland have carved beets, potatoes and turnips as the lanterns, but when the custom reached the U.S., pumpkins became the norm. Inspired by this, Ray Bradbury wrote The Halloween Tree.

Fortunetelling was popular, using coins, cards, and yarrow stalks (I Ching). It also often took the form of hiding objects in a cake: a ring, coin and thimble. The person who “found” the coin would become rich. The one who found the ring would marry soon, but the one who found the thimble would not.

People once believed that ghosts roamed the earth on Halloween, as though a chink in the netherworld opened briefly to let them all come out to play or wreak havoc. They also thought that witches gathered on that night to worship the devil.

All this is great foddor for stories. Many stories have opened with someone telling a story that was related to ghosts. Excellent examples are Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier, or The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill.

Fortunetelling has been used in novels as well, such as A Wild Ride, by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, or  The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelmann.

Other books with ghosts and witches, etc. would be Regarding Avalon, by Dom Ossiah, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and Touched by Cyn Balog, and books by Gregory Maguire, Wicked, and Out of Oz. There is also, of course, the very famous Harry Potter series about witches and warlocks by J.K. Rowling.

And Halloween can’t pass by without mentioning Vampires, those mythological and folkloric beings that were popularized in the early 18th century, coming to Western Europe from the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Books about vampires, of course, have become very popular, but some unique tomes that come to mind are Dracula, by Bram Stoker, The Twilight Saga, by Stephenie Meyer, Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, and the series beginning with Soulless by Gail Carriger.

And isn’t it interesting that the NANOWRIMO starts the day after Halloween.

So much to read. So much that could be written…

 

Your eBook Public Library

Friday, June 1st, 2012

If you haven’t tried the ebooks at your local library, it’s a marvelous option. And you don’t have to have a Kindle or a Nook to take advantage of it. Keep reading…

Here’s a trip through one online ebook system at a local library.

First, you don’t have to log in to scan the books they offer.

The link to the ebooks is on the Home page and once you log in–of course, you do have to have a library card–then the first page you will see offers the following  list of options.

My Cart
Lending Period
My Bookshelf
My Holds
Wish List
Rated Titles: titles you have rated and allows you to change ratings.
 

The basic rules are that you can check out 5 ebooks at a time, and have 5 ebook holds at a time. Any number of ebooks may be added to the Wish List–as you might assume. Ebooks may be checked out for 21 days, and when due, they just disappear from your device or computer. When ebooks placed on hold become available, the system emails you and then you have 5 days to check them out.  The formats available are Kindle and ePub & epub/PDF, and from 1 to 6 of each title is available for check out–for each title, the screen shows how many copies are available and how many total library copies there are. If you don’t have a Nook or a Kindle for reading ebooks, there is  also Adobe Digital Editions for use on your PC, as well as Apps for reading on Mobile devices–all available for download, right there.

Beginning on the browsing pages, there are several windows: fiction, nonfiction and teen/kids sections. There are also sections to browse, such as:

New ebook Additions
Most Popular
Suggested Titles
Recently Returned
All Subjects
All ebooks 

For the almost 3,000 titles of fiction, the categories are Classical Literature, Historical Fiction, Literature, Mystery & Suspense, Romance, Sci Fi & Fantasy, and View All Fiction. 

The categories for the approximately 1,000 nonfiction titles are Bio & Autobio, Cooking & Food, Health & Wellness, History, Humor, Family & Relationships, Religion & Spirituality, Self-Improvement, and Travel.  For Kids, there are about 250 titles; for teens, about 100 titles.

Once you have your titles in My Cart, you have 30 minutes to check them out. Checking them out requires that you log in to your Amazon account, where they will be available for download to your account and then to your ereading device.  The books you have checked out will then be listed in the My BookShelf of your ebook library account.

Some of the fiction authors available on the system include:

Lisa Jackson, James Patterson, Janet Evanovitch, Heather Graham, Karen Robards, George R.R. Martin, Danielle Steel, Terry Brooks, Nicholas Sparks, John Grisham, Anne Perry, Nora Roberts, Alexander McCall Smith, Tami Hoag, Barbara Freethy, Rita Mae Brown, Toni Morrison, John Case, James Lee Burke, Ted Dexter, Tess Gerritson, Lisa Unger, Suzanne Brockmann, Robert Crais, Lee Child, Iris Johansen, Linda Howard, and Michael Connelly, Jonathan Kellerman, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, Agatha Christie, Susan Mallery,  Fern Michaels, and so on….

So, what’s on your wish list?

National Writers Union – benefits for writers

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

This organization of writers is an activist group For writers, working together to share information, to speak out collectively, to improve the working and economic lives of all writers, in all genres. I am a member.

Some of the benefits of NWU membership:

1.) Organizing and Advocacy. With 16 chapters nationwide, they advocate for writers through legislative action for things like: copyright, unfair publisher practices, rights to free expression (both here in the U.S. and elsewhere).

2.) Member education. This includes the Grievance & Contract Division, but also events and trainings held nationwide, and Publications and resources online.  Some of the publications that are available to members are:

  • Freelance Writers Guide;
  • Copyright: A Guide for Freelancers;
  • Guide to Book Contracts;
  • Authors Network: making book promotion tours easier with 100 hosts and a list of reading venues and reviewers;
  • On the Road: A guide to book promotion & touring that was written by NWU members, with tips on pitching to the media, organizing local tour, and so on.
  • Standard Contracts & Guides (for Journalists);
  • Tips for Better Work-For-Hire Contracts;
  • And so on.

3.) Grievance Resolution & Contract Advice. Is the publisher refusing to pay you? Delaying the publication of timely work? Misreporting your royalties?  Or,  perhaps you don’t know how to negotiate — the NWU nationwide network of contract advisors assists members by reviewing contracts of all genres.  Contact the GCD at advice@nwu.org for FREE assistance.

4.) A Community of Writers.

5.) Journalism, Book and BizTech Division Activities & Resources.

6.) Union Plus. Go to www.unionprivilege.org directly to see how this program can save you money.

7.) Health Insurance.

8.) Press passes.

To read about NWU recent initiatives and advocacy on behalf of writers or to join, visit www.nwu.org. You can join online or download an application form.

Thoughts on rebirth at Easter

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Whatever one’s religion, and whether one celebrates it or not,  Easter is about rebirth and, I think, has something for everyone.

First,  I want to explore the holiday’s origins, to be inclusive. It’s interesting always that for most or all of what we believe, there are the threads of these stories–some version–through all of our cultures, a commonality that serves to unite all of us.  Its origins date back before the Christian form of the holiday, though the Christian holiday obviously stands on its own—-possible planning, to have the holiday be a part of the spring and the idea of renewal.. 

I’ve included some information about the origins of the holiday (from Wikipedia) in the next few paragraphs (but if you want to skip all of that, just scroll down 6 small paragraphs)**.

The origins of the holiday are linked to the Jewish Passover by its symbolism (See WikiPedia: Easter), and by its position on the calendar.

It’s also a secular holiday with the Easter bunny, egg decoration  and egg hunting. The Easter bunny is a kind of Santa Claus of the holiday, and the egg is a symbol of birth. Egg decorating symbolizes the ability to change and our uniqueness. There’s also the quandary or conundrum of which was first, the egg or the chicken–again implying change (Make of that what you will).

But further than that … before the Christian form of Easter, scholars propose there was a Germanic form, a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, Hausos. ((1) See Wikipedia: Hausos) “The dawn goddess was also the goddess of spring, involved in the mythology of the Indo-European new year, where the dawn goddess is liberated from imprisonment by a god (reflected in the Rigveda as Indra, in Greek mythology as Dionysus and Cronus).” (1)  

References to a dawn goddess also come from “the Sanskrit vanas “loveliness; desire,” in the Rigveda, and from the Latin name Venus and the Norse Vanir. “(1)

“The name indicates that the goddess was imagined as a beautiful nubile woman, who also had aspects of a love goddess. As a consequence, the love goddess aspect was separated from the personification of dawn in a number of traditions, including Roman Venus vs. Aurora, and Greek Aphrodite vs. Eos. ” (1)

“The Italic goddess Mater Matuta “Mother Morning” has been connected to Aurora by Roman authors (Lucretius, Priscianus)”; and the “abduction and imprisonment of the dawn goddess, and her liberation by a heroic god slaying the dragon who imprisons her, is a central myth of Indo-European religion, reflected in numerous traditions. Most notably, it is the central myth of the Rigveda, a collection of hymns surrounding the Soma rituals dedicated to Indra in the new year celebrations of the early Indo-Aryans.”(1)

**So, the common threads in most of the stories are a time of change, the season of spring, represented in previous times by a kind of Dawn Goddess, who is imprisoned but freed, a kind of rebirth. The dawn and spring are times of rebirth, of change, of things that were hidden coming to light, of seeing things that were of yesterday in a new light, of a brief time of fallowness but then new seeds taking root with new life. Of a new day and a new chance. (Some of you may remember Anne of Green Gables (Anne with an “e”  😉  ) who was taught that every new day was a new beginning.)

Change is the thing most stable in life. It is one of those rhythms of life. Easter is a holiday of change–among other things, it symbolizes dying and being reborn, which of course, applies to the creative process and to growing as a writer, as an artist. When we become, we kind of shed a part of our old self and embrace the new–the new as an expression of the potential self, our potential self. And the potential self is a well that never runs dry.

Have a very Happy Easter.

© Document Driven 2012

(1) Wikipedia: Hausos

Spring & the Writer’s Quarterly–a time for review, renewal, growth

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

With Spring here and the end of March approaching, it also means that the first quarter of the New Year is over. It seems a good time to review goals, to take the measure of how we’re doing  and then to renew those goals. The New Year offers a unique opportunity for self-renewal, for setting goals, for setting oneself to achieving old goals and new ones, for hope. With the first quarter of the year coming to an end, let’s reinvest in that opportunity, in what we are, what we want, what we love. And Big Congratulations to all those who have met most or some of their goals!! It takes not only talent but also effort, persistence and focus.

As artists, writers, let’s look at what could be referred to as–what I’m going to refer to as–our writer’s Quarterly Report, of goals & achievements. Remembering that part of what a Quarterly measures is not just whether we’ve met a projected goal, but also growth. Growth. Let’s look at what we’ve done and what we haven’t, but also how we’ve grown as writers. It’s a snapshot of how we are doing so far, of how we’re doing in each “department” of publishing–writing, marketing, ebooks, social networking–and then a reinvestment in those goals.

First congratulate yourselves on having met the goals that you did. In any part of our lives though, there are goals and desires that can be frustrated, for which that Quarterly doesn’t show much growth. For those goals, we don’t want to be like the dieter who eats one brownie, loses perspective because of not winning this one battle, and proceeds to eat 5 more–losing the whole war. While this is just an analogy–eating 5 more brownies may not mean losing the whole war–it illustrates a perspective that is so needed in our writing–the perspective of persistence. And revisiting that saying in publishing, that persistence–in any goal–often counts more than talent.

So, let’s take that Writer’s Quarterly Report and review it, and then renew our commitment to those New Year’s goals. Spring is a time for renewal.

You are your own creation–apply you, your talents to becoming the person/author that you envision, to becoming the writer, the author that you have dreamed about. To make that dream, a reality.

A Spring poem for inspiration: “And it’s Oh the wild Spring and his chances and dreams. There’s a lift in the blood. Oh this gracious and thirsting and aching unrest; all life’s at the bud, and my heart, full of April, is breaking my breast.” — Henley.

The Artist Date–creative renewal

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Julie Cameron wrote a book called The Artist’s Way.  In the book, she advocates for what she calls “The Artist Date.”  This is something I’ve tried to incorporate into my weeks. Her idea: a 2-hour (or so) block of time that an artist–writer, designer, painter, musician–sets aside to spend time alone for nurturing their creativity, their inner creative child. (See the book for more information.) Julie Cameron talks about “replenishing our creative resources.”  She also writes that resistance to one’s artist dates is “a fear of intimacy–self-intimacy.”

(Note: According to psychologists, the self is made up of 3 entities: the adult, the parent, and the child. And of course the conscious and subconscious.)

As a past (and present) student of psychology (literally having taken a lot of coursework), I believe these are the kinds of things that help keep an artist fresh, keep the creative wheels turning, and each person is different as to what will be their creative fountain of renewal and ideas. But this need for renewal–for living life so that you as an artist have a full reservoir of creative raw material, and thus more to apply in your creative field–is nothing new. It also helps with writer’s block.

Here are some of my artist’s dates ( which can also serve as research for a book):

A new experience, a new possibility for a setting in a novel.

A walk or run on the beach or along the river, in the woods or mountains.

A visit to the bookstore (or library), to gather magazines (at least some that I don’t usually read) and books for perusal, with hot tea at hand

A visit to the local Art Museum, gallery, historical landmark, or other interesting places.

A drive into the country or elsewhere to visit somewhere that’s loved, somewhere that’s new.

Playing music or doing something else that exercises another talent or creative activity.

                                       *    *     *

Do you like the idea of artist dates? Do you use artist dates in your life? What kinds of things renew you as an artist/writer?

“The most potent muse of all is our own inner child.” — Stephen Nachmanovitch.

Focusing your story, your writing life

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Something on focus–or “framing”–today…in fiction, in life.

When we’re talking about having a great opening, preventing a sagging middle, and jazzing the readers with a terrific ending, we talking about focusing that story, about keeping it moving, keeping it intriguing–and keeping the readers turning those pages. I wanted to touch on that today, and on ourselves as writers, focusing our writing lives–so that our writing careers have a great opening, middle and “ending.”  When we hold up a frame, like an artist might, to look at different aspects of our fiction and our lives, what do we want to include within that frame?

We want the story to be compelling from beginning to end.  When we hold up that frame, what is our focus? Here are a few questions to consider:  Is there too much backstory in the first few chapters? Are the first few chapters seamlessly leading readers through your opening–introducing your characters, your Central question, your plot, voice, genre–and then into Act Two? Where are the turning points? Does the conflict build, scene by scene,  to a satisfying climax? Are there too many subplots, which don’t support the main plot, so that the plot and conflict are diluted and fizzle? Or are there too many characters or too many scenes that don’t go anywhere, that don’t support the main story, that don’t add to characterization or conflict? 

In the same way, is your writing life focused? Are you building your brand? Are there too many distractions and your efforts are diluted–they’re not focused on your goals. Are you supporting your main goal, your greatest desire and dream, with how you spend your time, your energy?

For inspiration, here’s an excerpt from my Plein-Air writing, The Harvest from Earth’s Palette:

“…Art captures those moments, those stories. The Earth whispers into our bones the age-old ways of storytelling, of capturing life in art. But the Earth captures who we are. We are the art; our lives and selves are the medium. We paint the world with who we are. We are the figures in our own paintings, the heroes in our own stories, the decisions we make about life and others–decisions that may be truth, or what we need or want to believe.

The courtyard of the land awaits, with empty tables, to be filled with players. We carry around a frame, holding it up much like an artist, seeing sections of that courtyard, like a photo album, spread across the landscape, a scene here, a grouping there: visitors on covered porches; painters with canvases, on balconies, near orchards; writers sitting in gardens, gazing at mountains. Each group, each person creates their own story. While Life frames us into what or who we are, we frame ourselves by what we do, how we live our lives, by the choices we make. So we paint ourselves into the landscape, surrounding ourselves with our own frames. …”

Our fiction tells the stories of people,  but your own life is your own story, one you are telling right now, right here, with how you choose to spend your time, your energy. With how you express your passion…or don’t.

For the full text of The Harvest From Earth’s Palette, here’s the link:

http://www.columbiaarts.org/anthology/2010/pages/gorgeWhitehouse/janiceHussein.html

What to write… ?

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Coming up with a “novel” idea…but more than that…

Someone(s) once said that what you write is more important that how you write it.  But also what kind of books and what kinds of themes do you *want* to write. What themes truly resonate with you?

Here are some questions that might be worth exploring in pursuit of that answer:

First, when I wrote personal statements to apply to grad school, I was asked who had influenced me the most during my life and how had they influenced me?  Applying that to publishing…

Since what you write and your career in publishing is as important as getting into grad school, let’s apply that to writing — your writing percolates up from your life, from what you’ve experienced, from who you’ve become and therefore who and how you’ve been influenced, what you’re interested in, and how you’ve come to think about things.

So, in the interests of discovering what you should be writing, or more about what you should be writing–a game of nines:

What 9 people have influenced you the most during your life–not just the writing years or your adult years–and how did they influence you?

On those same lines, what are the 9 key things that have happened in your life that have influenced you…the most?

What are the 9 top books that you *absolutely* love (or scenes), and why? And movies, the same.

What 9 books or plots or kinds of stories or scenes would you like to see written or made into a film or have always wanted to write?

What are your top 9 interests and, of those, which are the interests that you devote the most time to?

What are your top 9 favorite characters in fiction and/or in history, and why? What do you like about them? Strong personality or character, place in history, approach to life, romantic adventures, ability to do the right thing, part of a legend, wisdom, and so on…

What are your  top 9 favorite TV shows in the past and currently, and why?

And finally, the last question (no nines), What do you like to read and what do you actually spend time reading? This is always a good question, except that many people love to read some kinds of books, say romance, but love to write and are best at writing, a different type of book, say mainstream, or thrillers, or young adult.

This is kind of a journey in self-discovery, of yourself and of you as a writer. So, I’d suggest letting the answers percolate, and then just see where this takes you. ;-D