concept, dream, dreamer, photography, poetry, quote

 

If you live firmly in the ‘real word’ how well can you write fiction?  Where does the poetry of it come from, when you’re feet are steadfastly on the ground? If you have a story idea and stick to the facts that brought the idea first to your mind, how free can you allow yourself to be, writing words, scenes, or dialog that will move folks? Writing that moves folks calls for more than just setting down bare factual lines, a bit of poetry is required.

As Walter Mosely wrote,

Poetry is the nexus for all writing, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, screenplays or plays. Maybe some poetry lives in a rarified atmosphere that leaves most readers a little dizzy. I don’t know, but I do know that a fiction writer must be able to breathe that air.

The mastery of language is our duty. We enter this world by placing one word after another in comprehensible and unique ways.

– W. Mosely, The Writing Life, Washington Post  11/20/05

It takes a moment of leaving yourself to really get a voice of your characters on the page. Being yourself, you’ll get a lot of ‘you’ in there until you let go enough to hear only them in their words. You have to allow yourself to not be there.

A lot of eye-rolling might have just happened with you reading those four paragraphs. Yes?

Of course.

You want to write good strong fiction – not poetical fluff. But think a moment of this example: a scene where a young woman, in the Navy, whose tried to hurt herself is now being moved from one Naval Psych facility to another one upstate. She’s been though a lot. She’s still confused and depressed and now the military is hustling her from one site to another. Can you get poetic with that scene?

Here’s one first draft attempt you might come up wtih:

Waiting, I know stand out from the other sailors. I’m smaller than the guys.  My four-day-old black eye makes the guys stare. Gauze on my wrists. Everyone in the row waiting all look the same in the same green hospital pajamas.

Here’s another: (this  bit is from my short story “Disappearance at High Noon’)

 If someone snapped our photo, I’d be the one who stood out from the other sailors; small and separate —the way your thumb does next to the rest of your fingers. My four-day-old black eye still draws looks. Gauze encircles both wrists. For once, my outsides are mirroring my insides.  That we all wear the same green pajamas makes the line seem like a row of fun-house mirrors reflecting one broken person again and again.

 

See the chance for poetry, even in non-poetical places?

Think about that poetry element after you’ve written your first draft. Take a long look at what you’ve got down, then leave the real world for that other place where poetry is found.  That’s what editing is for. Don’t be here with both feet on the ground.  Go.

Go there and bring back the gems you find.

Alright. I’m published now.

Mari Tellez, a reader I know who believes in me, waited very patiently on Saturday, checking Amazon again and again.

Till she e-mailed, a bit put out:

“I have been looking for it forever! Like an hour. 
By the way congratulations!
Aaahhh! I am so excited for you!”

Then,

“I bought it! I am so excited to start reading it tonight!!!”

 

And then, She sent me this photo of her and her sister’s iPads,

Two Reader' Downloads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

saying,

“Woo Hoo! My sister is going to start reading it too!”

To coin a phrase, I was Dead Chuffed  to get those emails.  US translation:  ~ it just means very very pleased ~

Mari and her sister seemed to be the first two US buyers, with Joanne Jordan, the first, to make a purchase in the UK!

I’ve told as many people as I know (and can email) about my book. In the two month run-up to Claiming One’s release date over 400 views have been racked up on this blog.  And as my contract and Publisher remind me often, I, as ‘the author’, am responsible for maintaining an internet presence.  But Mari’s excitement made my week. We spoke about writing when we connected on the phone. And how she and others are following this blog, I told her how excited I was, too.

But

 The idea of simply posting week after week, to say “Hey – look! My book!” would leave me decidedly not Dead Chuffed.   So while you will read about the upcoming Blog Tour, and if reading dates are in my future, I’ll be posting mostly about Writing.

Writing,

How to Write,

Why We Write.

Topics which the rest of my life will be dedicated to.  Oh, yes. And I’m certainly dead chuffed about that!

 

Claiming One cover art

Claiming One cover art

Claiming One on AmazonAmazon UK, Amazon US

 

Role and Models

January 14, 2012

A little girl from East L.A.

A little girl from East L.A.

 

Two of the stories from Claiming One, Secrets of the Days and Nights’ and  ‘Dead For Awhile’ are culled from one of my in-progress novels. The small main character is Duffy, and I like her little universe.  Writing Duffy’s world is easy for me. I’ve seen models for her life and watched roles like hers, in neighborhoods I’ve grown up in, in families I’ve known.

The physical models for the kids in these stories come from two places.

On one East Los Angeles block, down from our house, there lived a family of kids, their mother was from Tennessee or South Carolina I think; a red-harried, freckled lady, set down there in L.A. with a family whose last name was Martinez or maybe Garcia, I forget. Even at age seven, I saw a story to tell there. The two oldest daughters, Maybelline and Tammy where freckled red-heads like their mother, and the smallest, a boy, Danny-Ray was a tow-head. But the second to youngest, Wendy – she had dark brown hair and Mexican skin like their father, Windy– who she was kind-of-named after.

Then, in a city to the East, two or three years later, there lived another family of blondes; a girl and boy. I can’t remember her name, but her little brother was named Chance.

And these children stayed with me.

When it comes to writing, we fiction people seem to soak up so much around us that the sense memories, the models and the roles are just waiting within us, to be plucked, like fruit from a low hanging branch, and mixed into the confections we whip up.

These children. Their faces and colorings and dynamics stayed with me and in the intervening years have morphed into story-children in my work of fiction.

I’m not writing Chance or Wendy’s lives – the two have never met.  And I never saw them beyond the one or two  years they lived on the same blocks I did.

I’m creating something out of my writer’s mind, the one that is constantly asking me to detail and sketch in the what if’s — that mind that asks and asks and asks; until I find an answer and put it to the page.

As a novice writer, let yourself observe and gather. Let yourself move the echoes of the people you’ve come across around a chessboard only you can see.  Populate the playhouse in your writer’s mind. Tell a new story from old remembered shapes.

Ask ‘What if?

And when you get an answer to that – capture it, expand on it, and turn a remembered reality into fiction.

Just remember, at some point you might need to add:

 This is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents are

the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to

actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

BOOK NEWS UPDATE:

Claiming One‘s upload happens today, it can take anywhere from 4 to 36 hours to show up on Amazon.
And the Paperback version following will show up in 3 to 7 days.

Notes:
Paperback version will have The Book Club notes included and a ‘look inside’ display from Amazon on the page.
e-book – no book notes, because feedback from users of Kindle and other readers show it’s too unwieldy,trying to flip to the same page when everyone is on a different resolution/font size display.
To make up for that, when the Publishers (Inspired Quill) get their refurbished website up, my ‘Author Page’ will have the Book Notes there for readers to download.

Writing: My First Book

January 12, 2012

I'm Published!!! WOOT!

My first book is coming out this Saturday, and I’m freaking out.  The phrase “Be careful what you wish for young lady. You may well get it” is thrumming though my cranium, showing up in dreams in the guise of noisy, obliterating car crashes.

I’ve been headed toward writing for a living all my life, but I’ve only been aimed there in a semi-active way since 1992—writing daily and editing ruthlessly. But not seeking publication. Attending writer’s workshops and conferences but not year in, year out.  Coaching others since 1997. The periphery.

I’m a late bloomer. But at least I am blooming.

I got semi-serious about my own work in 2006, quitting a very well-paying career in Software Project Management, selling my house – luckily at the height of the market – to fund a return to community college to get my General Education credits out of the way, so I could continue on at University for a Bachelors in English—the Creative Writing track. Lost too much $$$ when the US economy tanked in 2007, that ate up much of my stocks.

Earned the BA in 2010. Built a Website for my creativity coaching and moved onto Graduate work in Online Teaching and Learning.

Then, one day last August, I decided to gather up 17 good stories and submit them for consideration.

Of the 17 stories that make up the collection Claiming One, six of the stories are culled from novel length work I’ve either finished or am editing.  The six novels, plus three others were all written during the event called National Novel Writing Month.  I stumbled onto the event back in 2001, and nearly every year since I’ve attempted a novel in November. In seven of the eleven years I’ve managed to reach 50,000+ words in a 30-day span of time. One year, even writing a How-to-Write Fiction book, instead of going the novel route.

 

As a novice writer, I offer you this look at my small writing life and ask that you remember, to Carry On Writing.

Writing: Going to Emergency

January 10, 2012

Word cloud for the story 'Going to Emergency'

Word cloud for the story 'Going to Emergency'

Going to Emergency, is a brutal story, in the collection of 17 that make up Claiming One.  It doesn’t begin brutally.  But it gets there in the end. Like some lives do from time to time.

The genus of the story came from an anecdote I used to tell about having a spinal tap done and no one telling me I couldn’t move after it. In real life I left the hospital on foot, got on the first of three bumpy busses and rode on home. Ouch.

What I love about writing strong fiction is the beauty of telling something with a tinge of truth in it and bringing that small truth into something totally new. Into places I’ve not been myself, but where I can allow my characters to explore as far as they can go. And in this story Rikki goes very, very far:

 What Rikki remembers is jumping up off the couch for a Diet Cherry Pepsi as the commercial started. That and a wobble-feeling that strobed behind her eyes, just before the TV’s volume rose up to a crashing level and she dropped like a corpse onto the rough carpet, face first.

The walls shook from the BAM of her contact. For a slip of a girl, 103 lbs. max, she made a big noise going down.   

 As a new writer, consider writing a story by lying though your teeth about some small thing that was true. Whip up a story from one small grain of fact. Try your chops at blowing up and taking off from a place you really know.  Jump start a story idea by asking yourself ‘what if?’ Let most of your ‘facts’ fall away; replace those facts with something you’d never do—except on the page.  Take any writing you’ve done that began as biography and find one solo fact in it. Then try removing everything else you’ve written and build a big new lie around your found fact.  The places you may be able to take your story might surprise you.

Fiction! Don’t you just love writing (and reading) fiction?

Four more days ’till Claiming One‘s release date!

Writing: Straight and Solid

January 10, 2012

Straight and Solid, is a flash fiction story in the collection of 17 that make up Claiming One.  What’s flash fiction? This one is a story told in under 530 words.

In a writing workshop, in Berkeley, circa 2000, we were given a photo to use as a writing prompt. A black and white picture to spark imagination. I saw it and this story came to me all in a flash. Though the photo itself had little to do with what I wrote. Prompts should work that way. If you’re too literal, you’re no more than reporting. I wrote it in a sitting. Not changing more than ten words since, from its original draft.

What I love about writing flash fiction is the beauty of telling something strong in such a small space. Bringing in the visual, physical, and visceral in a single scene. There’s a joy in being able to do that. You try not to rely on narration; it’s all in images. All in the now, beginning mid-scene. Every word carrying its weight. Spare, lean and strong:

What I remember most from that day was his nails. Thin bands of bone white, curt in length, clipped like the words he had for my mother. 

Characters, drawn for you by their actions, not by description.  Characters outlined in what they say and how they say it; not with dialog tags, fancy ways to replace ‘said.’ And an ending that turns things around. Brings up all that might be coming after the last line.

As a new writer, consider this form of story. Try your chops at the small and strong.  To jump start a flash fiction story idea, take any writing you’ve done that packs some type of punch in a single scene. Then try whittling it into a piece of flash fiction.

The places you may be able to take your story might surprise you.

gorilla_wordle

Giant Rubber Gorilla

The Giant Rubber Gorilla, the opening story in the collection of 17 that make up Claiming One is one I’m most proud to have written.

The story revolves around a Cousin and Aunt who grudgingly perform their weekend duty of taking a mute cousin for her weekly drive around town.  A Board and Care facility is mentioned.  They speak over her head, referring to her as ‘this one’, and ‘her’. And the unreliable narrator herself, the unspeaking, un-named cousin in the backseat, brings us both a rational view of these two in the front seat, while also giving us off-kilter observations like this:

… then they both start giggling, high, tinkly —like trembling nerves when you’ve sprinkled glitter on them so they’ll show to the light. 

Who’s right in this tale? Who’s to blame? Does anyone hold the truth?

As a new writer, how do you decide how a story idea will be fleshed out?  For me, I happened to be in the backseat of a car when both the driver and the front passenger got out to pump gas and go get snacks at the same time. Leaving me there, with the ringing of the car doors in my ears. Once they got back into the car I joked, What am I, your crazy cousin you can ignore when you take her out for Sunday drives? And Boom – I had a story idea.

But the places I was able to take that story once I started scribbling (on the back of envelopes and paper bags I begged from the passenger’s handbag, and when we stopped for lunch – the backs of our paper place mats in the coffee shop) were far from anything in my life. I really let my imagination fill the motivations, reactions, and actions of this trio of characters.

Think of that when you have an idea, and feel ready to write. Ask yourself how far from your initial brainstorm you can take your work. Even if you take the work far afield of its original spark, you don’t need to stay where it takes you. But consider how shallow your imagination might remain if you’ve never experienced having ventured there.

RITUALS WHEN YOU WRITE

January 1, 2012

It’s New Years and so the talk turns to rituals and fresh beginnings.

“This year I’ll write more.” “This year I’ll read more.”

“I’ll finish that short story.” “I’ll send in my poetry.” “Edit more.”

“Share my work.” 

I’ll write.

In order to write, some folks need rituals. They can’t do without. Some folks, largely the newer of us writers, think that they need rituals. Maybe they do, maybe not. Here’s a group of writers I follow out of Austin TX who talk about their own writing rituals: American Short Fiction, contributors talk about rituals.

J.K. Rowling lore reminds us all about how she spent time in cafes writing away, as her baby slept in the pram. When in reality – JK herself says it was just too cold in her flat, so she went where it was warm.

A very wise poet, Taylor Mali has this to say when asked “Where is your favorite place to write?”

(should have been an embedded YT video, but I’m still learning about things)

TAYLOR MALI answers the question “Where is your favorite place to write?”

 

Me?

Yes, I do have a ritual.

Step one: music on an infinite loop, usually this one, with these Lyrics soaring around over me as I dig deep and hold tight to what it is I see and hear in my head.

But really, that first one is more a comfy pillow I lean against as I write. The ritual itself really is within these next three things:

Verbs:

I highlight every instance of these words: Was, Had, & Were.

I do this just to see how many times those bland verbs occur per page. Not to make any changes yet, but to learn about my own writing peculiarities. To see how pervasive those quirks really are.  I’ll work on remedying that later on.

I use MS Word, so the Replace & Highlight tool is the fastest way to go about this ritual.

Repetition:

The next ritual involves reading what pages I feel are done. I go over the printed-out pages with a pen. And I read it like it belongs to someone else. I guess you can say I read it with a blind eye to my own feelings. Pride gets locked in a desk drawer. Because, this ritual is a bit ouchy. I look for places where I’ve spotted the same word too close to itself. And I make notes that call out those repetitions (x1, x2, x3) – your page will end up with notes like this:

Her face came into view and he wondered again at that look(1x). It looked(x2) to him like he would always be looking(x3) for a face like that. That look(x4), so like his own.

Those, along with Hopper Painting on an infinite loop, are two of my rituals. If you feel you are a writer who is really in need of a ritual go ahead — try these two.

And if you have a writing ritual our your own you want to share for 2012 – please feel free to post in the comments.

 

Happy New Yer, and Happy Writing.