Blog

On the Way…

Sometimes life gets in the way and some things have to be dropped to add others. We’re all on the way to somewhere new. My blog has been one of the things that I had to give up to do other things, mainly being finishing my new novel and enjoy my newest great-grandchildren.

I’ve enjoyed sharing some thoughts on writing with you but now it is time to concentrate on my family as I continue to dream. I am hoping that your writing is going well and you are finding time to be productive, yet not forgetting to live fully while you do. Days pass so quickly, remember to make them count.

Please check out my newest book on Amazon Kindle.

God bless and best of luck.

Making Lemonade

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You’ve heard it said that if life throws you lemons sometimes, figure out how to make lemonade.Well, health problems, family issues, you name it, can become the lemons in your path. As a writer you can turn those events into learning experiences.  The late actor, Randolph Scott is quoted as saying, “ I’m a great believer in fate. I think things happen in spite of, and despite, yourself.”

If you are like me, just coming through the holiday season, you are pretty exhausted. There is no better time to sit down quietly with your note system, whether that is a notebook or file on your computer and write down the experiences of the last year, be they good or bad.

For me this last year included several funerals of people I’d known for years and the loss of one dear brother-in-law. It also included being at the hospital for the birth of a great-grandchild, and there again for a friend who was having surgery, then again when I had surgery. Each time there were situations and people I encountered that gave me new understanding and wider information. The trick is to remember those lessons and write them down for future reference.

Life is rich with opportunities for us  to grow as writers. We just need to take the bitter and make it better. Sharing information if you are a non-fiction writer or enriching stories based on real situations and the drama that every life faces can make our work so much more real. (Of course treading the fine line of reality  without making it directly tied to specific people or their lives,  without their permission.)

Whatever you write, may you find this coming year a wonderful experience. Best of luck in 2017.

The write time

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A couple things happened in my life this week. First I had lunch with some of my high school classmates. We’ve been getting together off and on for the past 57 years. Secondly one of my great-grandchildren had a fifth birthday. So many milestones, so many events. Those two events in the same week reminded me of something I’ve always known but don’t always remember: Time is a gift, but also how quickly time passes.

If you are a writer, waiting until the “time is right” will never happen. Write often, write now, write even if it is just for practice. If you don’t have a complete idea for a novel, write articles. Many community groups need writers for newsletters, news articles, various publications they produce, so volunteer and hone your writing skills.

If you need inspiration, find it. Read newspapers and practice building stories around an article you find, even though you do it for practice. Ideas will come to you and you’ll find your muse.

One way to write is to start a blog like this one. Blogs are public so it is something you have to consider. I’ve read some that are way too personal. I’ve also read many that share ideas and skills. Those are the best kind to help you along your writing path.

What ever your genre, don’t wait, write. It’s easy to get discouraged but don’t let critical comments stop you from growing in your craft. Draft after draft may be necessary but don’t give up. You’ll get there. Have faith!

Benefits of Observation

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Inspiration and description go hand in hand. If you are writing a mystery novel and you say something like “She stood next to the building waiting for the bus at midnight.” You get an image in your mind that gives you a few details. If on the other hand you say something like “As it neared midnight she found herself waiting for a bus next to an empty shell of a building. Shadows seemed to dance in eerie shapes created by the dim street lamp half-way down the block.” It changes the whole scene. You can probably write that scene in many ways.

So where do you get the images for your stories? As I mentioned in earlier posts, I keep a file of interesting things I see and photos if I can. I make notes when I see something unusual. Inspiration can happen anywhere. For instance the other day I went through a fair sized city an hour or two from home. There was a lot of traffic and each intersection took about two turns of the light to get through. As I was sitting there I noticed an unusual building. It had a corner stone of 1920 something but instead of traditional windows they had installed diamond shaped windows, lined with pretty stained glass. The exterior walls were of brick and the front of the building had a deeply recessed heavy wooden door. I tried to imagine all the things that building might have been used for. I will remember facade for some future story detail.

Today the Saturday markets were going strong. It was kind of fun to observe the various ways people shop. Some folks smell the produce, others squeeze the fruits or vegetables. In the arts and craft area people will pick up an item in a vendors stall and look at the details, while others just give everything a quick glance. Your observations can become mannerisms for your characters in your stories. Inspiration and illustration surround us every day if we are looking.

How ever you look at your world I pray you’ll find joy and creativity there.

Writing to the future…

 

railroad tracks - 1At the library that I volunteer at they do a purge of old, damaged, or unused books and give them away to library goers. This helps make room for the ever increasing numbers of new books.

There was one that sort of seemed interesting so I brought it home to read. What fascinated me was that the book was over forty years old and it was still a great story. I looked up the author on-line and found she is over a hundred and still alive as I write this. In her career she’s written over 50 novels.

Can you imagine your work being read forty years from now? What a delightful thought that somewhere in the foggy future what we write today may still be entertaining and dear to someone!

So what makes a story last? Think about the books and movies you’ve seen and followed. What makes them worth “another sequel?” I’m a die-hard Trekkie. I loved the first series, hokey as it seems now with all the tech stuff we expect. I couldn’t wait for the movies, all of them right to the latest ones. Why? There was such a clever mix of action, humor and science that you could love it for that, but beyond that the characters blended and interacted in such an endearing way that they became people (or critters) you wanted to know. I’m hoping there is something beyond “Beyond.”

In a world that is changing in between heartbeats, it’s hard to write timeless things. Disney writers do it well with their children’s stories because in the world of fantasy there is room for imagination. That is a little of why I wrote my science fiction trilogy. It is set sort of in the past and current time and future. It worked pretty well by not actually naming a specific date. I gave hints but not like I do when I’m writing historical fiction. In writing historical fiction you have to be clear about the timelines.

Here’s hoping that what ever you and I write in the future, we’re able to make our work last. Maybe in forty years someone will pick up our book and wonder enough about usto look us up on-line. Fingers crossed!

Beginning the end…

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As you can tell from my previous posts I’m quite a movie fan. Especially the older ones. There is nothing that I like better than a movie with a good ending. Unfortunately, not all films end well, at least to me.

In the Lord of the Rings-Return of the King, it seemed like there were about four places that it could of ended. Did you see that? The final ending was a little sad but okay. Other movies I’ve seen just seem to stop, like they looked at a clock and said, “Oh it’s five. We’re done.”

Call me a romantic, but I like films where the final few scenes give you a proper conclusion and yeah, like I like a happy(ish) ending. Dave is one of my favorite movies for that reason.

I also like shows that start out with kind of iffy characters and by the end they’ve proven themselves and are much better for the experience. One my favorite movies that demonstrates that was “Maid to Order.” Actress Ally Sheedy plays a spoiled heiress whose fairy godmother takes the good life away from her, forcing her to become a maid. As she learns to live in the real world she begins to change and the story ends in a fun, sweet way.

When you’re writing it is difficult to know when to stop sometimes. If you are planning a sequel you want to leave enough questions to keep your readers wanting more but at the same time have your work stand on its own. There are external constraints of course, some fiction publishers have a limit of words they want to read, sometimes not more than 100,000 words. With the costs associated with getting a book to print you can see why they’ve been more on the cautious side. Even some ebooks publishers have preferred lengths of work. Almost all agents and publishers now want queries by email and have on line forms to use to submit your requests, just check their websites for details.

I guess the important thing about ending your story is did you tell the story. Sometimes just having a long book isn’t enough if the story wasn’t told in a compelling way.

Occasionally I use an epilog because I kind of like to tell a little about how things turned out. You might be satisfied with how your book ended, i.e. everyone rode off into the sunset happily or they survived the end of the world, but maybe you can see “down the road” and want to say just a little about what they found when they got to that future place. There was an old commentator on the radio who used to say “And now for the rest of the story.” I always think of an epilog as sort of that.

How ever you come to the end of your work, reread it as if you were reading for the first time and see if you like how you finished. If you’re satisfied, you’re done.

Names

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That names for your characters in your novels  is much like picking a name for your baby. Your people are your voice in the story. Choose wisely, my friends. As a person who grew up with a name that is 90% of the time pronounced differently than I do, names are important.

The internet is a wonderful thing for writers. If you need to know something all you have to do is ask a question. That really comes in handy if you are trying to write a novel and come up with names for your characters.

For example, say you’re writing a mystery novel set in the late1940s. Your characters might have born in 1920. By asking the net what the most common names in that era was you will get a great list, starting with Robert, John, James as you might expect. For women when you ask that question you’d get Mary, Dorothy and Helen. If you go to the middle of that list you get into less used names like Chester, Alvin, Harry and for women Marion, Wilma and Bertha. Those last names would be more likely to have a nickname, which is handy for giving a character more dimension.

If you are writing about a family history you usually don’t have to make up names. The only time is if you’re trying to write the history in a novel style under the heading of “based on a true story,” type thing.

If you are writing about a living person and naming them, please get their permission to do so. I emailed the author of that novel I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs and got his permission to mention his name and his book. (Hope you read it–was very interesting style of writing and a good read.) It’s so easy to contact each other now with the social media we have.

We can’t help but write about situations we know of. For example, we may of known of a nasty divorce between our friends, Mary and John Smith, and we want to add some of the elements of that situation to intensify our novel. We sure wouldn’t want to name our characters Marion and Jack Smithson, way too close.  And we wouldn’t want to make known to the whole world explicit details that only the Smiths would know. That’s a fine line to follow and needs to be done with care, thought and kindness.

Sometimes you run across a novel and the author has chosen names that are hard to pronounce, at least in our western culture. As an example something like Javoszia Baranauskas would take most of us who are not Lithuanian a few seconds to figure out. It makes you kind of stop reading the work. I find that anything that stops the flow of the reading takes a little time for me to refocus on the story. It’s enough to make some people lose interest at that point.

Whatever you write, best of luck with making your work fun and creative!

BLANK PAGES…

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What do you do on a day when you stare at a blank page? Is an empty file a road block or an opportunity to you?

For me when I hit one of those walls where all my energy and creativeness seems to have run out, there is usually a reason. Sometimes it’s the rejection from publishers, critical feedback, could be something personal or physical that seems to put a damper on wanting to do the work. It is very hard to separate our writing from our personal lives. We’ve all been there. So what do we do at those times?

Rejection on many levels is just part of life, no matter what you do. Teenagers reject their parents at some point, bosses reject ideas sometimes, publishers reject your proposals, employers reject your application, you name it, it happens. If you’ve always written westerns and then want to write some other genre might mean a new fan base. I ran into that when after writing several well received local history fiction books, then wrote a series of science fiction books.

There are very successful writers who only write one thing after they find their audience, i.e. Tom Clancy who wrote thrillers like Hunt for Red October and a few others who write thrillers, political or crime or one type of work. Gotta say they make big $$$+ doing that, pretty good motivation to do what works.

For me I need a push from myself, from a time when I was in a better working place. When I’m running at high energy I usually have more ideas than I can handle so over the years I’ve started a file I call simply “ideas for stories.” When I’m not very up I dig something out of that file and just start to write. Often it will help me out of the slump and when I’m really involved with the writing I find my energy and creativity coming back.

There’s a radio station near my home that plays classic pop music and as I was driving between towns they were playing Ricky Nelson’s Garden Party. The story behind that was he went to a rock and roll concert at Madison Square Garden in 1971. He didn’t look like the clean-cut kid he had been when he first started making hit records. When he tried to sing some more hard edge rock and roll music he was nearly booed off the stage. There is a part of a line in that song that goes “- I’ve learned my lesson well. You see, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” He certainly got that one right.

Here’s the bottom line though, if you write what makes you happy or accomplishes your goals-go for it.

The words we use…

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A friend of mine is fond of learning new and challenging words. He finds it fun to look up these words and their meanings to challenge the rest of us to pronounce them.While that’s amusing and interesting, sometimes words get in the way if they are not common words.

I ran into that when writing my historical novel, Into the Dust. I used the word “found” which in the 1800s meant the same thing as room and board basically.The problem was that it was not a term people of our time were familiar with and so there were a couple of people who questioned me, thinking I’d made a mistake and used the wrong word. Of course, on the flip side of that I’ve seen movies and plays where they’ve got people in 15th century costumes running around  speaking almost hip-hop. We have to balance our words with our settings.

When anyone reading our work stumbles over a word and/or has to look it up the flow of the work is stopped. So we have to be careful in what words we choose. Sure some people are well educated and can use multi-syllable words easily, but the majority of people who read for pleasure like well known words, even if they are technical. For instance, the word “adscititous” (which even my spell checker questions) instead of the word “additional” is hard to use in everyday speech or reading. Imagine reading a sentence like, “She knew it was going to be a bad afternoon since she was already experiencing borborygmus.” You might guess what that meant but for 90% or more of us we’d have to go to the dictionary to find out she had gas and rumbling in her intestines, which all of us know can signal a bad afternoon. There are lots of descriptive ways to say that without obscure words.

Words can be powerful and dramatic. We all know a well crafted paragraph or even sentence might become something quoted for a lifetime. Will Rogers once said “A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.” Circa 322 B.C. Aristotle said, “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Simple statements using common words, yet we remember them today.  Think about your favorite quotes–aren’t they the same?

Writers who blog….

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As I have read what others have posted in their blogs I’ve been very humbled and impressed. There are some amazing and creative folks out in cyberspace!

Whether or not they realize it, all bloggers are also writers. They may be writing poetry, short stories, telling others of their observations of the world around them or just trying to communicate their ideas, sell something or share expertise. It really doesn’t matter what the blog is about, the underlining skill is their writing. Some write about beautiful things, some write about painful things, some teach, some share what they have learned but all write. Even if the site is mostly art or photography there is usually a wonderful narrative that goes with the posting.

We can communicate with our fellow bloggers, i.e. writing our feelings or opinions to them about a post. What an awesome thing to “like” someone’s work who is in a far distant land, yet via the blog, is a neighbor.

In a way I envy most blogging writers I’ve read, I can tell that many of them are young adults, which to me means between eighteen and perhaps forty. There is so much ahead of them in a world that has changed so drastically since I was that age. There is so much room to dream of what might be, ways to talk to each other and to publish their writing.

The thing a writer wants most in the world is for their work to be read. Today’s blog writers/writers of anything are starting at the place that I’m winding up. I so wish all writers the best of luck and God’s blessings.

It’s a marvelous world that these folks are so willing to put themselves into it. My hope is that they will continue to explore the varieties of media and share what they know. Just taking the chance and doing it is the hard part. We always think that someday I’ll get around to it. Time is something we can’t hold back and each day is a new opportunity to grow and learn, even if you’re a great-grandma like me.

Doesn’t matter what type of work you write, but it does matter that you use it to build others up and/or to share knowledge to enrich the future. Think about it, we’ve all had the benefit of what others have learned and shared through writing. To twist a phrase, “Write it forward.”