Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Writing, Change and Feelings

I don’t mind change. Though it’s easy to get complacent and wallow in the comfort of sameness, I truly enjoy when things get shaken up. I like the energy. I like the newness. Most times.
But not this time. They’re changing things at church. The “powers that be,” in their infinite misinterpretation of the word wisdom, are taking a step backward. We’re back to sackcloth and ashes, focusing on sin again, on how awful we are, instead of on love, self-worth and growth. It’s bringing up all sorts of emotional issues for me. I do not want this in my life. I do not want to deal with it.
But I have to. My latest book, coincidentally, carries the same theme: Sin, and its repercussions. To add the depth the story needs, I have to dig inside myself to where feelings of inadequacy still reside, tiny worms that wriggle in the dark of night: I’m worthless. I’m slime. Worse still, I'm unlovable. Bad things happen to me because I deserve it.
But I hadn’t intended to dig that deep. Now, the changes at church are forcing me to delve into places I don’t want to go. Feelings I can’t control keep bubbling to the surface, forcing me to really look at my core, at who and what I truly am. What I really believe. It’s making me angry. It’s making me cry.

But my book will be all the better for it. Beneath the mystery and suspense will lie a message of hope. Of worthiness. We don’t have to punish ourselves for our mistakes. We can learn from them, become better people, and find happiness.
My God is loving and kind, no matter what my church teaches. And my book will be all the better for having to deal with these long-buried issues. I have until Advent to decide what to do about the church. But I have my stories every day. I thank my caring God that I’m a writer. And I thank God I, too, am the better for it.
Post total: 344 words
Week total: 1,000 words
Still Needed: 0
Running Blog Total: 4,561 words

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Submissions And Expectations

A couple of months ago, SLO NightWriters gave a poetry presentation during the monthly meeting. Heading the panel was the Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo County, Bonnie Young, who happens to also be a NW member. She was accompanied by two other NW members, Anne Candelaria, a former Poet Laureate for SLO County, and poet/novelist Evy Cole, leader of one of our poetry critique groups. It was an inspiring evening, centered around the poetry contest that was part of the Arroyo Grande Centennial Celebration. After the poets talked about poetry and read selections of their work, Bonnie showed slides of Arroyo Grande at the turn of the last century (AG was incorporated as a city in 1911), then gave the audience a window of time to craft the beginnings of their own poems.
I started a poem of my own, based on the feelings the slides evoked in me. After the meeting, I finished it, and then decided to submit it to the poetry contest. I’m a novelist. I don’t consider myself a poet. But sometimes good things happen when the mood is right and the muse cooperates. That appeared to happen here. I liked the finished product enough to support Bonnie’s effort to promote poetry for the celebration by submitting it, so I sent it in with that thought in mind. I did it to support a fellow writer and NightWriter member, not to enter and win a contest.
Then I forgot all about it. After all, winning wasn’t on my agenda, so I didn’t expect or anticipate that outcome. Still, a few weeks later I got a call telling me I was one of the top three winners in the adult age group (they had young kids, teens and adult). Off I went this past Sunday (July 10) to the awards ceremony, ready to cheer for the top winner, whose poem would be buried in the time capsule, dug up and read 100 years from now. Immortality, of a sort. An exciting prospect that, again, wasn’t on my radar. I was just happy for the unknown winner.
It was a lovely ceremony, starting with grade school winners. Each grade’s 1st place winner read his or her poem and I was amazed by the wonderful writing, the expressiveness of even 3rd grade writers. The poets had gone into the schools to work with the kids, and truly inspired them. The teen winner blew me away with not only her work but also her stage presence as she read. Then the adult winners were announced. 

I expected to take 3rd place. But I didn't.
I won. First place. A beautiful engraved medal, gift certificates to local businesses, and a place in the time capsule. And an audience who listened in rapt silence as I read my 28 lines. Now I carry the medal with me to show everyone. I've used up all my minutes calling everyone I know. I’m still walking on air. I can’t believe it’s real, though that medal hanging on the wall is working hard to convince me.
In 2111 the time capsule will be opened. My poem will be taken out and read. My name will be proclaimed once again as winner of the poetry competition, adult category. That much of me will live on, no matter what else happens to my other writing, the novels I slave over, the song lyrics I pen, the spiritual meditations I create. It’s exciting and humbling all at once. And proves to me once again that you never know where what you do will take you. 

In the writing world, as in life, you need to seize opportunities as they arise. You need to step out of your comfort zone, do a favor for a friend, support the people who support you. Amazing things can happen when you stop trying to make them happen and just do what you do best. Just because you can.
Post total: 656 words
Week total: 656 words
Still needed: 344 words
Running Blog Total: 3,561 words

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Your Life As Plot

It rained here on the Central Coast last month. In June.  And it rained here just this week. In July. It hasn’t rained in June or July for twenty years, not since 1991. 
I was stunned. Twenty years? What was California like back then? I wondered. Then I started thinking about what I was doing twenty years ago.
I was married, with a fifteen-year-old computer genius son. A husband who worked long corporate hours. And I was a part-time test examiner for the state. A fairly normal, fairly unremarkable life. Not much to write home about. Or was it?
Then I asked myself: What if...
What if I met a man on the bus and had an affair? What if my son hacked into the Federal Reserve and set up bogus accounts in our names? What if terrorists invaded the state office building where I worked and took our room hostage? What if one day my husband went to work and never came home again?
My mind began spinning with possibilities. Some pretty far-fetched, yes, but others viable, even interesting. I’d never before looked at my life as being worthwhile fodder for my writing. It was too normal, too dull. But suddenly whole new vistas opened up. Like rain after twenty years.
Consider this: If all the world’s a stage, then all your life’s a plot.
Post total: 230 words
Week total: 1,000 words
Running Blog Total: 2,905 words

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Who's In Charge?

Well, here I am again, after a long hiatus. Way longer than I wanted it to be, due to events that spiraled away from my grasp once I left my son’s home, where I was visiting and started this blog. Half of it is because I just don’t understand technology, and couldn’t figure out on my own how to log back in to post. The other half is because I’d rather hide my head in the sand instead of facing the unknown and learning how to log in to the dashboard. Mea culpa.
No more. Tonight I’m fired up. From now on, now that I know how to get into my blog (Thank You, Debra!), I will do my darndest to set forth my 1,000 words of semi-wisdom each week. After all, I do have a rep to live up to, right?
It hasn’t been all lilacs and roses, bonbons and relaxation. I now have three (count ‘em, three) suspense books ready to start peddling, plus another that’s beginning to go through the critique process. And a fantasy novel that’s in major rewrite, since a new character popped up after I’d finished it, wouldn’t you know? And I’ve entered and won in a couple of writing contests, too. So, I’ve at least been busy while being silent. But there’s fly in the ointment—or is it a rub? (Thanks, Willie S.) To get my books out I’ve more technology to learn. Rats!
I’ve also been teaching writing classes each week to eight very talented SLO NightWriters members, a group mixed in both sexes and ages. The topic today was, “Who’s In charge?” which is, I suppose, what started this train of thought—and this need to post again. I realized that I haven’t allowed myself to be in charge of my own blog for months!
There are two schools of thought on who is in charge of a story. The first says it’s the writer who is in charge. It’s your story, you are the author. You are the one who decides what happens when, to whom. You devise the plot, you throw in the twists. A good outline will keep you on the right track to the end. 
We’ve all read advice like this from published authors and writing teachers, or taken classes where this view is expounded. It sounds logical. And right. I mean, if the author is the one who has the idea and is doing the writing, he/she has to be in charge, right?
Then what about those writers—like me—whose characters “take over” the story and dictate events? What about writers—like me—who start with the mere inkling of an idea and let the story flow where it will, merely following with pen in hand, a scribe taking dictation along the journey? That’s the second school of thought on who is in charge of a story. It’s the way I work best. I rarely outline more than a chapter or two ahead, because by the time I get there, the characters have taken over and veered the story in another direction.
It happened especially at the end of my novel, Tangled Webs. I wanted a different ending. My female protagonist refused to go there. And I was stuck until I bowed to her wishes.
So, who is in charge of your story? Simple answer: No matter how you work, by outline or instinct, you are in charge. The difference is in the way our brains work. Some need the structure of an outline, a linear progression that takes in all the highlights (and even some semi-lights) along the way. Structure opens their creativity. Others thrive on unexpected twists and surprising turns, allowing their instincts room to find the right path. Unlimited possibilities opens their creativity.
But know this: even when your characters take over a story and tell you what they will and won’t do, you are still in charge. In fact, it’s actually your subconscious taking over and directing the flow, in the guise of the characters. That is why it’s imperative to know your characters thoroughly, even better than you know yourself. When you know your characters to the core, it allows your conscious to step aside and lets the story flow through your subconscious. Instinctive writing.
So, next time you’re stuck, or the words seem to be made of molasses and they just won’t flow, take a step back and ask your characters (your subconscious) what they want to do and see what happens. Trust your instincts. It might be scary at times, but it’s always exciting.

Post total: 770 words
Week total: 770 words
Still needed: 230 words

Running Total: 2,675 Words

Friday, October 8, 2010

To Smash Or Not to Smash

I’ve been looking into Smashwords about getting my suspense novel, Tangled Webs, into ebook format. I thought it would be easy — just hand over my manuscript and plug in my iPad. Not quite so.
Each ebook “reader” (Kindle, iPad, B&N Nook, Sony Reader, iPhone) has its own set of parameters that must be met. And if you don’t format your manuscript properly, it won’t translate into one of the many formats in use today — with more coming down the pike!
The amazing thing is that someone (thank you, Mark Coker!) has been able to take all these disparate protocols and create a program that takes your manuscript and puts it into these different formats so that authors can reach the widest possible audience. And he gives us an amusing ride along the way with his ingenious program names: Meatgrinder (such a reassuring name) grinds up and spits out your baby in a multitude of unrecognizable formats (that magically become recognizable when you turn on your reader device); the Autovetter vets your manuscript for inclusion in The Premium Catalog, no human input necessary (another reassuring concept) Just reading the Smashwords style guide is great good fun — and understandable (mostly), too.
There is no cost to the author. And you don’t have to be a computer genius to figure out how to format your manuscript, though it does help to have either a Computer or Word Guru on call if you’re technologically challenged like me. Or just like your hand held along the way, never a bad idea when mixing technology with anything. Follow the step-by-step instructions and they’ll format your masterpiece eight different ways, and list vetted works in their Premium catalog. It’s a writer’s distribution paradise.
It’s not hard, but it’s not all that easy, either. It’s a fairly steep learning curve to switch gears from traditional print format to e formatting; a whole new way of thinking about publishing. It throws one from college back to kindergarten — not necessarily a bad thing, because learning keeps us young and knowledge is power. However I, for one, am glad it’s kindergarten. After a few hours of e formatting research, I’m ready for some milk and cookies. And a nap. Anyone seen my blankie?
Post total: 375 words
Week 2 Running Total: 905 words
1,000 - 905 = 95 words still needed

Running Blog Totas: 1,905 Words

Monday, October 4, 2010

Anne R. Allen's Blog: Getting Energized at a Writers’ Conference

Don't miss Anne's great post on this year's Central Coast Writer's Conference, voted the most friendly conference in CA by AAA's Westways Magazine. See you there next year! Anne R. Allen's Blog: Getting Energized at a Writers’ Conference

A Writer's Strengths

Here I am, still in Buffalo, NY, and it’s raining. Again. I’ve been here almost two full weeks and have seen the sun only four times. I’d forgotten what the rainy season is like here, how leaden the skies can be, how bone-chillingly cold and damp the air. What a turnaround from the first three days of high temperatures and humidity. So far, Buffalo has presented three of its four major weather conditions to remind me why I left, snow being the only holdout.
All this rain has made me wonder about those writing abilities that we’ve either forgotten about or become so inured to that we no longer see them. I believe that once we “forget” (ie, start to take for granted) anything about our writing, we begin to lose touch with our inner essence, that raw voice inside that lends our writing the aura of freshness and authority it needs to rise above all the rest. It’s that part of us — the spirit of who we are as human beings — that keeps readers clamoring for more of what we do best: storytelling.
What is your major strength as a writer? Perhaps it’s the ability to create compelling characters; to devise devilishly twisted plots; to spread open and explain the motivations and desires of humanity; to create vivid, entrancing settings that become characters themselves; to manipulate language in ways that tug at heartstrings or change obstinate minds; to craft witty, dynamic dialogue that captivates readers. If you’re not sure what yours is, think about this: Our greatest strength usually is what comes naturally to us. We do it without thinking, while other aspects of our writing take work and angst to pull off successfully.
The danger is we often don’t value what we do easily, that which comes naturally. It’s just something we do, and so we shrug it off and turn our attention to those aspects of our writing we have to work at. We take classes, go to conferences, join critique groups. We experiment with different writing styles and techniques, seek out the latest trends, chase the elusive dream of publication. And in the learning and critiquing and experimenting, we often work against our greatest writing strength because we have forgotten what it is. In doing so, we lose the essence of who we are as a writer. We dilute our voice.
I urge you now to journey inward to find your strength. Pull it out of you and set it in plain sight, where it can remind you of who you are, where it can inform and infuse every piece of writing you do. Let it become the platform from which you declare to the world, “Here I am. This is me, and I am worth listening to.” Don’t lose your greatest strength to the mists of forgetfulness, like I lost the memory of the gloom and rain that covers my hometown at certain times of the year. To write from the heart, from your core essence, you must know who you are, believe in what you have to say, and trust your voice. 
That voice is mirrored in your greatest strength. Celebrate the view.
Post Total: 530 words
Week 2 Running Total: 530 words