Monday, May 30, 2011
And yet, for me, one of my biggest heroes, Paul, was lost nearly 24 years ago--to cancer. We were always going to get married--when he got better. Time and time again, he would rally...but not for long. Things never got better long enough, I suppose...
He was a true soul mate, and once you know one, you are never the same after their loss. You long for another connection as complete, as unique and holy. I haven't found him yet, I haven't got the happy ending that I (usually) include in all of my novels...but I'm still hoping, still praying...
So,on this Memorial day, I remember Paul. And the bond that death has not nor will ever completely break. There will always be a little Paul-shaped hole in my heart, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I believe a happy ending can include that "hole,"and help make it both beautiful and bearable.
It's Memorial Day, and I remember.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Happy Memorial Day Weekend! If you have plans, be safe. If you don’t have plans, enjoy relaxing. And don’t forget to honor those who gave their lives to protect our country.
As for me, I can’t wait. I’ll start by catching up on sleep, picking up the house, and then spending a good amount of time writing. No longer under the spell of writer’s block, I’ve decided to start with small writing goals. However, I have several small projects.
If you have ever had to write wedding engagements and announcements, then it makes sense when saying there is a descent amount of work involved. Wedding engagements for a newspaper that involves filling out forms is pretty easy. Freestyle writing can be a little bit more difficult. And then writing the wedding announcements is another story. It is important to give thanks to everyone, document facts properly, and follow a standard writing style along with making sure there are pictures. Being creative and presenting the stories to magazines is just as challenging. This is my first time writing for a friend’s wedding. As difficult as it is I also have to say it is rewarding. I feel like the guy from 27 Dresses who wrote all the wedding stories; his stories were inspiring and moving, according to Katherine Heigl’s character.
Another project involves blogging. It is important to learn about upcoming events in Grand Rapids, stay healthy, note local news, and focus on the people in the community. As I dive into this project, there always seems to be something interesting to check out. However, it sometimes involves money, which I don’t always have to spend on extra activities-- to enjoy exploring new places—but I’ll keep telling you about what I learn. :)
My last writing project is re-looking at some of my short stories and movie scripts. Some of these stories were written five years ago. I have to say some are funny, some stories are good, and some of them have great ideas that need to be improved. Even if only writing short amounts each day, I’m noticing setting small goals is a good start to improvement. As for writing screenplays, if you are interested and struggling with this style, check out the book Screenwriting for Dummies. The book is great and explains everything in simple terms.
If writing is a passion, make sure to take a few minutes each day to document your thoughts. You never know what stories you will create and what greatness may come from your stories.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
We payed three games on Saturday and two on Sunday, the last game on Sunday was for the championship.
The sun was blaz'n hot. We all have sun burn even with sun screen on. They were long and exhausting days, but well worth it. In those five games they scored 67 runs while the others teams together only scored 9.
We have pointed out that they still have three other tournaments this summer, so just because they won this doesn't mean they don't have to practice any more.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Anyway, these are some of the things we saw on our trip!
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
But being excited about life, about things we love to do like the thankless job of writing, child rearing and house keeping, makes us find and give joy in unequaled measure. It’s easy to find that moment in a busy day, to experience that ray of elation at a toddler doing her work-out, at a husband’s kiss of appreciation, at a loved pet that crawls into your lap for a cuddle. It’s also easy to feel that sense of satisfaction when the dishes are done, the toilet doesn’t need your attention this very minute and a new, working refrigerator stands where the thirty year old traitor quite on you without warning!
One of the best moments in my life was years ago when I sold my first book. What elation! What joy! I had the validation I needed. I was a writer! No matter what happened in the future I knew I was now a writer. I remember hearing other writers express the same feelings. We all know it takes a special person to be a writer, to close yourself away from family and loved ones. I remember years ago, when my precious grand daughter was a chubby armed little two year old who stood in the shallow water making mud pies on the dock. ‘I busy,’ she used to say. My husband sat in a chair nearby watching her because I was upstairs in my office, writing. I used to feel such an urge to rush down the stairs and out to the lake to take her up in my arms and hug and kiss on her fat little cheeks, but something compelled me to stay in that chair in front of my typewriter! There was no excitement then. I was torn between knowing I was missing precious moments I could never get back and the need to sit and expression some inner part of myself, probably my liver!
What compelled me on is that moment, that flash of excitement that comes as a phrase unfolds itself in absolute clarity. The flare of excitement that makes us pause and wonder at our own brilliance. Is it ego that makes us write? I used to watch a paint show where Helen Van Wycke explained how a painter struggles to bend the paint to project her images. Well, a writer is doing the same thing and when we succeed, when the words are right and true on our paper, we pause, experiencing an excitement that we’ve done what we set out to do.
Another moment of excitement is when we began molding our stories and characters and they reveal themselves to us and help tell us what they’re thinking, what their goals are and in the telling, we find brilliant little snippets to add to our story. Excitement stirs within our breasts and we’re compelled, absolutely compelled to write it all down. I don’t know about you! To me, there’s excitement and then there’s EXCITEMENT. I’ve felt both and they’re fantastic.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I was reminded of this at our recent GRRWG meeting, when we teased a fellow member about how one of her character's clothes changed in the middle of a scene. We've all done the same - the hero's eyes started out blue but were green by the end of the book; he wore a winter coat at the beginning of the week but attended a summer picnic a week later. It's not inattention on our part. Writing a book takes a long time and we lose sight of details.
Shortly after the meeting, I finished reading a book by a major author. I'm sure she has an editor if not an agent who should have pointed out a couple of inconsistencies. Like her hero, while handcuffed, changed clothes several times during his incarceration. And one of the secondary characters lamenting that she didn't have time to release her pet panther from where it was boarded, but shows up in the next scene with it at her side.
All these errors should have been caught.
Whether you're a new or established writer, print or digitally published, hand your manuscript to someone else and let them check your work with a jaundiced eye. Fix, eliminate or explain the problems. Your work will be stronger and you won't jerk the reader from the story.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Monday, May 16, 2011
We'd been working on a variety of figure 8 movements earlier as I laughed at myself trying to do “roller coasters” and getting the hang of drawing a box with my right hip. What I can do on my left hip doesn't come so easily on my right hip. It's a bit like that with my writing; what comes easily for me with Jess (my first character/book) doesn't come so easily with Collie (my second character/book). Jess is a country girl and recovering alcoholic, who doesn't hold back, swears often, and has never been a “girly-girl”. In other words, someone I can relate to. Collie, on the other hand, rarely swears, works as a model and is an environmentalist. Someone I don't relate to. I'm thankful to have Merie (my surprising third character) who is grounded and makes me laugh at inappropriate times or to simply remind me that life is never what we plan it to be.
Which loops me right back around to Tanya's blog, just like the figure 8's we do in belly dance class. It had me wondering if different music affects other writer's characters the way mine are. If I'm working on Jess' stories, I generally find myself listening to country music (she's particularly fond of Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, and Josh Turner...I'm assuming it's those deep voices). Collie demands more Celtic-type music, with her preference being the Celtic Woman singers, while Merie is all about classical and tribal music.
I'm not sure how drinking would affect my characters, other than Jess who'd be disturbed by it. Those Mojitos do sound delicious though and may have to accompany me on my deck at some point this summer for a round of work on Merie's story. I think she'd really enjoy a Mojito.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
I’m currently sitting in San Chez, a restaurant in Grand Rapids that serves Spanish tapas. It’s 2:34PM on a Thursday and I’m drinking a mojito and feeling very Hemingway, except without the guns and chauvinism and all that. Basically, I feel very writerly.
I’ve just come from seeing a run-through of a short one-act play that I wrote for the Grand Rapids Art Museum. There’s something pretty incredible about seeing words you wrote performed by actors….especially when they make your words better. I even got a little teary over one part in the play, and I don’t think I’m being biased (though I probably am).
I’m now waiting for a friend to show up so I thought I’d take the time to blog. And what better time than when you’re a little buzzy from a mojito? I say, there’s no better time!
I can’t tell you how deliscious this drink is. It’s like summer and sex in a glass. On second thought, that doesn’t sound good. I’d like to drink summer, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to drink sex.
I thought I’d experiment and post a bog while under the influence and NOT correct my mistakes. (Though the fancy shmancy computer is self-correcting some.) This is an example of why you should nt write while under the influence, or feeling like your Hemingway. I tell you, people, mojitos can kill you if you’re not careful. Or get you pregnant.
Awkward pause here
Oh. Right. Feeling like awriter. So I just came from a performance of my little play and I have to say, I feel pretty good about that. I don’t know about you but so many times I’m chastising myself for not promotiong my work, or selling enough, or writing enough or whatever…rarely do I sit back and say “You know what. I’m a fucking writer.” (I swear when I drink.)
That’s right. I’m a writer. And one who...ahem…
Awkward pause again.
My point is…let this random blog be an encouragement to you to slow down, drink a mojito (or eat a piece of chocolate or have sex or whatver you do that makes you happy and is hopefully legal) and breathe and relish that you are doing exactly what you are meant to do.
If Hemingway had done that, maybe the dude would’ve been a bit happier. I don’t know. I’m a writer. Im’ not a therapist.
And I need another mojito. Bring it.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
As I started training for the race, I read a book called Run Like A Mother. Now you are probably wondering what this has to do with writing or a writing group or 'anything at all that I'm interested in because I hate exercise in general and running in particular.' Don't worry I'll get there. I don't write fast either.
I've always run. Sometimes more consistently than others, but more consistently in training for the race. I've never really thought about why. To get in shape or to be faster. I didn't think about how it defined me.
As I read this book one thing really stood out to me. Not just as it related to running, but also as it related to writing. One of the authors focused on running as the thing she devoted time to for herself and a way to define herself. 'I'm a runner.'
For me, this clicked with how I thought about writing. As a stay at home mom, writing is what I do for me. To keep my brain active and developing and as a way to define myself besides chief-diaper-changer and tantrum-tolerator.
Even as young as they are, my kids can identify these things. They see a picture of someone running and they say, 'they're running fast like you, Mom.' Or they see my book cover and say, 'there's your book, Mom.'
It doesn't matter how fast you run to be a runner, just that you do.
It doesn't matter how much you write to be a writer, just that you do.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
I’ve never understood the desire to write without the desire to share the end result, with the exception, perhaps of writing in my private journal. My writing, whether my first not-yet-published novel, Talking to Strangers, my new in-process novel, Thicker Than Water, or my many Penandplow blogs, is meant to be shared. From time to time, I need to remind myself of this fact. For as much as I feel a deep need to share my words, I don’t always have the thick skin I need to let differing opinions and criticism leave me unbruised.
A writer knows how characters spring to life, creating their own paths, sometimes going completely away from the original plot outline. Yet, I’ll defend their actions and point of view like they are my own children.
But to stray from what I know is right is to stray from my integrity. As an author, if I believe in my writing, where it’s headed and where it’s been, I need to trust myself. If, on the other hand, I’m nervous about writing the real story, or I’m keeping my characters from coming alive, I’m creating a counterfeit. Naked writing is real – no holds barred.
Yes, we will all be vulnerable. We’ll be exposed to the caprice of opinion, whether right or wrong. Knowing when to accept constructive criticism and/or ask for assistance is like walking a tightrope. It takes some practice. Maybe we even fall to the net below. But the lesson is to climb the ladder again, grab the pole and balance it across our shoulders, and put one foot in front of the other. Again and again.
I’ve been in my critique group amidst opposing opinions and freely-given criticism directed at my work. Even though I know where the story is headed, and even though there are those who appreciate my characters and like the plot, afterward I want to sit in my car and cry. A little bit, anyway.
In the end, I remind myself that I believe in the integrity of my writing. I appreciate constructive criticism from writers I trust and I need to let the rest of it go. It sounds like it will be a lot like being published. If so, then this is good practice.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Saturday, May 7, 2011
I'm a History Channel and National Geographic Channel junkie and the DVR feature is one of my favorites - my recorded shows are always on those - well with the exception of Criminal Minds and CSI: NY. It was on a show on History Channel where I learned of a tribe in the Amazon Jungle that when a person dies that person's name is no longer allowed to be said, and while it is most certainly a death ritual, it is also a naming tradition. Because the name can no longer be said they may choose names like middle nail on a three-toed sloth in the rainy season, because it's a word not commonly used and will therefore not be missed as much.
Conversely, in Western Europe, Great Britain, and Ireland for the more recent past - I did not dig really far back, but it works through a good portion of the history after the Renaissance period so far - use a very similar naming system. Names are meant to honor people, so the first born son is named for the baby's paternal grandfather, the second son is named for his maternal grandfather, the third son is named for his father, the fourth son could be named for a close brother or friend. Daughters are named in a similar tradition - the first daughter is named for her paternal grandmother, the second one is named for her maternal grandmother, the third for her mother, and then a close sister or aunt or friend. Now, it gets more complicated when say the first son dies, because the next son born will be named the same name as the first son. Same with daughters. Which may not seem like a big deal until you realize that families were huge. If a couple (lets say John and Mary Smith) had 5 sons and 3 daughters that all got married and had children, the first son from each of the boys would be named John Smith. Now, if the first John Smith was named for either his father or paternal grandfather there are potential for several dozen John Smith's to be running around the same village at about the same time. A bit complicated.
However, in China it is considered disrespectful to speak the name of an older parent or grandparent and therefore children are never named after family members. In Japan, girls are often named for virtues their parents wish for them to have, similar to early American History, and boys are given names that are inventive or reflective of their position. In some Asian countries the first name is actually the family name or surname.
Back in North America, American Indians can have multiple names in addition to the American one that is listed on their birth certificate and other official documents. Those names and how they are given and earned will vary by tribe and nation. Where as African-Americans create a name for their child, Latin-Americans name children for special relatives.
In Iceland, they still don't use last names, but are the child of their father. They can trace their families back 13+ generations. In some Scandinavian countries it was typical that the child's surname was their father's name plus gender. So if Erik had two kids a girl and a boy you would get Jan Eriksen and Mary Eriksdatter.
Also among naming traditions is not naming a child until between 7 and 10 days after birth, receiving a different name at puberty, public and private names. Humans name everything, and the names given to children/people reflect on the values of the culture.
So, aside from genealogical importance what difference does it make?
If you are building a world or just a sub culture in the contemporary one, names will help characters identify the people they meet and not only let the reader know who belongs where, but also makes the culture more vibrant and believable. It also can add another layer of intrigue to the story. If an entire village has their first name starting with s' and one person doesn't, that tells the reader immediately that something is wrong. Names can be given or stripped from characters depending on what is important in their culture. A name can be an integral part of the plot or just part of the hidden back story, known fully to the author, but picked up on by readers.
Humans name pretty much everything, which makes the character's name possibly more than just a name from a baby book.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
So, the books have a gritty feel and it has a touch of humor. The stories are told in first person from Mitch’s view point which is looking on the dark side of life and a bit of the noir. Think trench-coated detective of the 1930s. Mitch’s social skills are from that era and he is a bit rough around the edges. The humor is more Pink Panther-ish and the problems created when Mitch does things for the wrong reason or thinks he has the answer when he really doesn’t. Have you ever heard of a humorous noir?
On other days, I think the mysteries could be “cozies.” No overt sex, violence off stage and an amateur sleuth. However, cozies usually have a theme like gardening, cooking or crafting and I don’t have that. So what do I do? I obviously don’t have an answer. I need readers to help me out.
Let me know how you would characterize them. I’ll even sweeten the pot. My next book, A Case of Hometown Blues, comes out June 30. I will give away three copies of the books from anyone who comments here, facebook, my blog (http://wsgager.blogspot.com) and my publisher’s blog (http://otpblog.blogspot.com). I will be talking about this for the next week or two because I’m really curious. Sometimes you are just too close to see the big picture.
(Only one comment is necessary for an entry. The more comments, the more entries/chances to win.)
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
There was one piece of advice that every author needs to hear at some point in her career. Cindy referred to it as The River.
She said that we are all standing on the banks of a river. At our feet, our life experiences flow past us. We dip into the river of experiences as we write. Days later when we return to our writing, the river of experiences has changed. We have changed, and our writing will reflect that. The direction of the story, what we feel for our characters will have changed. Therefore, it is important to start and finish a story in a timely matter, and stop the endless revisions.
Your story will never be perfect. A week, a month, a year from now, your experiences will have changed you, and you'll look on your story with new eyes. Don't do it! Put it down and write the book for where you are now.
As a new writer, this is a hard lesson to learn. I remember revising my first manuscript over and over and over because I was so sure that the story was publishable if I could just get the writing right. After mentioning to an author friend that I was up to the 20th version, she firmly urged me to put it down! And let the poor story rest comfortably under the bed for the rest of time.
To each new manuscript, I bring new experiences both from my life and lessons I've learned as a writer. Hopefully, each new story I write is better than the one before.
Sometimes it's hard to let go of those first stories, but if we don't, then we block ourselves from creating the next story that will be better than the last one.
Here's your permission to let it go!
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
A trip to the bookstore can sometimes be intimidating for a writer. Sure it's inspiring to see all those neatly shelved books and dream of your own work being there one day, too.
But it's just as easy to look at the shelves and wonder where on earth the authors came up with such great titles? How on earth did Sara Gruen come up with Water for Elephants or Steig Larsen come up with his Girl Who.. series? Then you start to compare the title of your own work in progress and worry that it will fall short of the same impact that those titles have.
Oh oh! There's that inner demon at work again, whispering in your ear and trying to trip you up by saying "You're not worthy to stand in such esteemed company."
Well, here's a news flash for you, my friends! That inner demon is full of it.
You simply can not compare a multiple-edited, finished book on the shelf with a manuscript that's still in the process of "becoming." That's like trying to compare apples to oranges or a caterpillar to a butterfly. It's just not possible. Don't let yourself buy into the demon's whispering or it will cause a monstrous case of writers' block.
Instead, you need to remember that a published book is not just the work of the author who wrote it. Once the manuscript has been accepted by a publisher, it has usually been written, edited and re-edited by the author. The author then often has to rewrite at least some portions at the urging of an agent or editor. The story is tweaked again at the insistence of a FLE (Final Line Editor). All these people have a hand in the finished story you see on the shelf. Remember the caterpillar has to go through a metamorphosis to become a butterfly.
And as for that title? Well, there's a whole creative and marketing team at most publishing housing that critiques titles, suggest new ones, and engineers the cover art. Ask any of our published GRRWG writers. Most of them have stories about how their titles were sliced and diced until they became what the publisher wanted. Try to think of your title as a "working title." And don't get too attached to it, because there's a good probability it will be changed.
Try to remember that when you see all those finished works on the bookshelves. Instead of listening to your inner demon, tell yourself that Water for Elephants probably started out as Jacob Jankowski Joins the Circus or some other prosaic title.
Monday, May 2, 2011
In the Merry, Merry Month of May we’ll merrily blog along. I’m just proud that I remembered it’s my blogging day tomorrow, so tonight, a quiet Sunday evening after a long and busy week-end, I’m feeling merrily superior to my previous self.
Now the question is what to blog about? What will blow the socks off my fellow bloggers or if I take my ego out of the equation what pearls of wisdom can I give my sister writers? I could talk on procrastinations because I’m the best procrastinator there ever was, but I don’t think anyone needs any lessons in that. It seems to be as natural as rolling off a log for most of us. I could talk about building convoluted characters. I’m reading Margaret Atwood’s THE ROBBER BRIDE and I’m amazed at how she builds her characters and what insight she shows for them.
But I need to talk about getting back to work after a long eventful week-end when you really don’t want to put the old nose to the grindstone or finger to the keyboard. That’s where my worst procrastination comes in. I like my life very much and enjoy every minute of it, well, not every minute. If I could have someone permanent to scrub my toilets and dust the living room, then I’d enjoy every minute of it. But all together, life is good and I say a lot of thank you in my prayers to God.
But I digress, a favorite ploy of a procrastinator. Tonight as I lay in my comfy, deeply cushioned chair with my feet propped up watching the telly between my bare toes, I wondered what I’d have to do to get myself motivated again and the surprising thought came to me. It won’t be hard, because my characters have been waiting patiently for me to finish my gallivanting around and tell their story. I was so startled. They’ve become real to me, well as real as any princess I know. So that made me think about characters again. We can’t all possess the genius of Margaret Atwood, but we can come to feel close to our characters. Most of us are social creatures, we like meeting new people, we hug our friends with renewed appreciation of their kindnesses, we know who they are and what they’ve been through, we know their strengths and bravery and their weaknesses and need for friendship and love from us.
Hey, light-bulb moment. I think my characters are like flesh and blood friends. Instead of being afraid of our characters, wondering if we’re fleshing them out enough and understanding their motivations, we have to first make them our best friends and embrace them for all their strengths and love and support them in spite of their weaknesses. We have to love our characters or at least, like them. And we have to protect them. We put them through an awful lot physically and mentally and sometimes we're a little fiendish about it. We forget they have limits too, especially our poor heroines. It’s easy to love a hot hunk of hero, but it’s the heroine I’m talking about. She becomes us at our finest and we are made finer in exploring her world. Well, having ferreted out that little nugget of wisdom, I’m excited.
I can hardly wait until first light so I can embrace my dear friend, Treasa and find out what she’s dealing with today!
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Last month I wrote about April Showers - meaning the dark and dreary moments we have in our lives. So today I thought I'd follow up with May Flowers - the blessings, the good times.
I've been told I'm an optimist. I tend to not dwell on negatives, but look for positives. I'm not sure if that's my nature, or if I've been brought up that way. But I truly feel I am blessed - I have a good home, a great family, good health, and have never known hungry or deprivation. So it's difficult for me to write dark, sad things. And I've never enjoyed reading thrillers, or watching them at the movies. I'm drawn to the happily-ever-afters.
So I was really taken aback when one of my characters, coming home from a date, experiences a near rape at the hands of one of her relatives. Where did that come from? I was so upset after writing the scene that I had trouble sleeping that night. I had to get her out of that situation quickly, yet convincingly. Whew! But then I realized that this character, having had this awful experience, could react in one of two ways. She could either internalize it to the point where she couldn't respond positively to men ever again, or she could learn to appreciate a good man even more.
As the eternal optimist, I'm going for the second one. Here's hoping your April showers produce the most beautiful May flowers ever.