Lose the Cape!

Lose the Cape

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My article, "Embracing the Mess," is featured on Lose The Cape!

http://losethecape.com/embracing-mess/ - Please check it out and give it a read- you may find something familiar in it! (For all you mothers, Lose the Cape! is a great resource for sanity and comrades through the journey of motherhood. :) )

Monday, July 17, 2017

Writing flow and creativity…

With some of the recent submissions I have made, I find myself varying my writing style... quite a bit. I have stepped outside the confines of comfortable and into the poetry of prose. Laying aside the grammar nazi, (deep breath, she is such a part of me!) I am playing with more freely structured sentences. I am a literary fiction fan - lover of the classics, so this is a big step outside my box. However, I am finding it to be very addicting, as well. I have written poems for longer than prose, so being able to incorporate a poetical element into my stories is exciting!

Regardless to the style, formatted to sentence perfection or chaotically creative, there is one rule that should always apply - flow! Have you ever read a book or story in which every sentence started with a noun? No? Of course not! They would never be published! Varied sentence structure adds to flow and creativity. For example:

Harriet likes to paint pictures. She uses both acrylics and oil paints. She usually paints with acrylics on weekdays and oils on weekends.


Let's switch it up some:

Harriet likes to paint pictures, using both acrylics and oil paints. Usually, she paints with acrylics on the weekdays and oils on the weekend.

A bit better - at least they don't all start with nouns.

Now, lets make it more creative - use more interesting words, something more colorful, bringing the writing alive. Using a thesauruses when stumped is fine, we won't tell. Also - using those similes, metaphors, and personification. (See the blog post, "The poetry of it all…" for further explanation.) Let's try again:

Harriet's enjoys creating images with brushstrokes of color. Using both acrylic and oil mediums, she paints pictures of the imagination. On weekdays, she sticks to her acrylics and, on weekends, she explores the world of oils.

Ok, still a bit like a biography on a painter, but at least more interesting, right? To try one more thing - a messy sentence structure that will change everything, but keep the vital information of the text's integrity.

Art strokes Harriet's heart passion, like the brushes she holds in her hands. Weekdays, the Monday through Friday of work and labor, leave less time. Just acrylics. Without the clocks clicking, reminders of duties to be done, oils. Blending hues of blues with shades of amber, her pictures come alive.

Play with it, even if you never use the words you pen. Step outside your confines of comfort and write something that borders poetry. Paint the words and make them come alive!

The tactile nature of painting is therapeutic for me. I like to play with textures, layering paints on patterns…rinse, repeat! Charcoal pulls those patterns from the top layers, creating something unintended and new. "Beauty with a broken wing."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Writing on war...

Happy belated 4th of July to you all!
Last night, as the house almost shook with the noise of fireworks, squealers, pop bombs, etc, I was thinking - this place sounds like a war zone! I went inside and closed my eyes. Why, you ask? I am in the middle of writing a piece for Consequence Magazine, which has an upcoming issue about women writing about war. In story form, I am telling the story about my Tetka Anka and Chicko Branko. (Tetka is aunt, Chicko is uncle, in Serbian) Anka's story is unique, in that she spent four years in a concentration camp (during World War II), and not because of her religious background. It was for her ethnicity, Serbian, and her lack of response to a demand to work in the mines. Her thought, 'I already have a job, why would I need another one?' The naivety of a nineteen year old girl landed her in a living hell, hundreds of miles from home, in Belsen-Bergen.
I am starting to stray from the topic a bit, though. How does our generation understand being in war. Not as the soldier, but the civilians in the war zones? Most likely, we cannot. I suppose we rely on our imaginations, as best as we can…but what can we pull from in order to help make these writings more real?
Sitting in the dark, eyes closed, I listened. The screeching sounds before the boom, the loud pops in rapid succession nearby - all of it. I imagined it was artillery nearby, the sounds of approaching battle fire and war. Even though I knew it all imagined, I must say that this take on July 4th fireworks was a bit unnerving! (An aside, those sounds much really bring back unwanted flashbacks to battlefields for our veterans! :( )
Using these noises of the fireworks to help better imagine the sounds and fear that citizens might have experienced…it makes me wonder what other sounds, smells, sights, etc. that might be utilized in my writer's toolbox. Any ideas?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Story boards...

Hello to all, on this rainy Monday - did I mention I love the rain? :)

Yesterday, after I spilled coffee on my beloved legal pad, its pages covered with thoughts, phrases, and stories, I was a wee bit upset! Now the pages look aged, antique even, and although I can still read the scribbles, I can't use the pad until it is completely dry. Not a bit deal - use other paper, right? But there is something about the tangible, the need to touch pencil to yellow page, that abets my mental process. 

This couldn't have come at a worse time, being I had set aside time to work out story points for a new book. (Yes, amidst the chaos that is three kids home for the summer, I worked out an hour of calm!) As I was erasing the 2x3 foot white board that I use to teach my kids math, I thought of something and jotted it down on the board….a new tactile experience to writing thoughts, not a replacement of white, lined, notebook paper. Having a few different colored white board markers didn't hurt, either. Away I scribbled, erasing here and there, taking a picture before erasing the entirety, adding more. Don't inform my legal pad, but I may have found an even better way to story scheme - a story board! The additional plus is that the pictures are on my phone, which accompanies me almost everywhere; whereas, my legal pad…well, it doesn't quite fit in my purse!

So! There you go. If you are as OCD as I am and something happens to your beloved mind method, try something way outside the box. Grab a paper plate and scribble, get some sidewalk chalk and head outside, or whatever might break your mold. Step outside the usual, you might just find something better than before!
(The rain is gone, so outside I go - the lanai is such a wonderful writing venue!)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Passage of time...

So - today is my son's twelfth birthday! My boy-sandwiched-between-two-girls has reached his last tween year…already! Earlier, it dawned on me that next year, on this day, I will have two teenagers in the house…suddenly, I feel strands of silver appearing amidst the red hair and an extra dozen wrinkles on my forehead and face…yep - older. Why didn't time pass this quickly when we were children? From one birthday to the next, it seemed like decades of years passed…so…slowly. As adults, though - whoosh! Wasn't it his eleventh birthday last week?!
I was contemplating how I might write out his life - spin his story, so to speak, from conception up until this day. What parts would cover pages and which, mere paragraphs. Pregnancy would get at least a couple, being he was the second miracle baby - from a womb doctors thought infertile. Baby days fly by, especially when there is a 19 month old running around the house…little things, like hating his baths or giggling when he passed gas, my boy! Toddler years would get chapters (flooding the kitchen is in the blog about writing about children's antics)…and traumas, like "near drowning" and "could have died that night" stories, of course, would make pages. His life experiences have made him who he is, creates character…
What is the point of this rambling, when it comes to writing, you ask? It would be the stories, the traumas, the antics, the backgrounds - those things are the foundational building blocks. Much like the fiction we write, the grit of what makes our characters who they are - the choices they make and why - those fill the pages. If I was going to base a character around my son…and the setting was a lake, children swimming around, splashing, enjoying the sunshine…he would be the one still cautious, goggles on tight. Why? Because of that backstory, "near drowning." He would also be the kid who is patiently encouraging a five year old girl to wade into the water, assuring her that he understands her fears, but that it will be alright. Why? Again, the backstory.
All of your characters have a history - they have gone through the passage of time…and who they are, when you write them, is because of this. So, get creative with your characters - if they make a quirky decision, explain it to readers, either before, during, or afterwards…paint the picture of their past, what has made them who they are. If you want your characters to come alive on the pages for readers, then animate them with a colorful past!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Using journals and diaries as inspiration...

You are tapped out - your mind has left the ring, nothing new or fresh remains. It is more than writer's block - it is a vast partition separating coherent thoughts and imagination. The dead zone of creativity has arrived.
Ok, maybe that is a bit dramatic. (My drama queen of an eight year old has me in that frame of mind. A sore throat is ending her life - she clearly doesn't have my double G alleled red-headed gene!) But seriously - it is bound to happen to all of us - the creative pit of nothingness.
So - what is the cure? I have found that stepping away from conjuring characters and plot lines from the air and traveling back in time tends to do the trick. How, you ask? I open old journals - snippets of the past that are often forgotten. An antidote of a child, a skirmish between spouses, an odd dream penned to page - whatever it may be, it sparks the fire again. Sometimes it isn't that simple. Let's face it, interlacing the personal details of our lives into the fictitious characters we create can reveal more than we care - naked prose. But - how about non-fiction?
Yes, it is still a genre of writing and, better yet, narrative non-fiction is fed from both the imagination and true life. Presently, I have been pouring heart and soul into this often forgotten genre of writing. There have been opportunities to submit samples of creative non-fiction to magazines - ones that demand truths and savor literary grounding.
With a lifetime of experiences, where does one start? Again, the journals. If you aren't the type to adhere to the structure of keeping them, try closing your eyes and bringing yourself back to a place in time. Are they closed yet? (Bad joke - how do you read with shut eyes?!) You are a child again, maybe twelve or thirteen, detaching yourself from childish things and discovering a new world of prospects. How did you feel? Were you the kid who was counting down the minutes until you could drive a car or were you the one who hid in the closet with dolls, pretending you were still young? Imagine the time you were most excited or afraid. Go there in your mind and write out all that you remember. Don't sweat the small things, the dialogue can be created true to the times later.
Today, I submitted a piece for a literary travel magazine. The topic was a place revisited, holding sentiment of the heart. I wrote about my return to Sequoia National Park - twenty-eight years, two months, and twenty-six days between the two trips. How different our experiences are as we mature - from height perception to the feelings invoked.
Like Barbara Streisand says in her concerts, "Talk amongst yourselves - I'll give you a topic." But instead of butter (yes, she gave the topic of butter :O), how about memories?  The challenge is on!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Penning past the pain...

I don't know about you, but life can really smack me down. Hard. Whether it is personal…health issues, relationship dramas, an unwanted diagnosis in a child… or someone close to us who is dealing with a hailstorm of trials - blind-siding pain and the butt hits the floor. While we are digging the gravel from our knee caps, frantically finding the right-sized bandaids to cover the bleeding, and trying desperately to get back up again…How do we write through that? (I suppose that might even be helpful if you are writing about something similar, but a comedic dialogue? A poignant scene between a mother and young daughter? Hmm, not so much!)

That has been me, for the past few weeks. Personal and someone(s) close - double whammies. I haven't stopped writing, but I do find the pain of life to be very distracting, to say the least. For example, I have started to blog no less than 5 times in the past few days and…yep, not happening. So, when I opened up the post page today, I just decided to write about this - penning past the pain. Maybe it should be penning past life, but me and my darn love of alliteration, right? ;)

Sitting on the lanai today, staring at the sand around the lake - sand I didn't even know was there until the water dried over it - I found myself checking my weather app, hoping for rain. With so many wildfires in FL, we truly need it right now! Upon closer inspection, however, I also discovered large rock formations under the water, right beside the sand. Shaped smooth from the lake's moisture, they formed what almost appears to be a stairway leading into the depths. I would have never known this hidden beauty if there wasn't a drought. Hmm. It doesn't take a large leap to link that metaphor of writing in pain or struggling distractions. When life knocks us flat on the ground, extinguishing our energy…if we open our eyes and look around, what might we discover from that perspective that we wouldn't see standing up-right? Every uncomfortable moment, unwanted drama, unwelcome chaos - all of it - is an opportunity to expand our portfolio of life experiences. To actually experience something is better than imagining it (albeit, we might prefer to just conjure, instead). There is truth…a raw reality that makes us acutely aware of what it is to feel something - how it affects all the senses in such a tangible way!

Although I may be still digging gravel from my knee caps today, I am taking new notice of it's texture, the colors it leaves, how it smells, the small ridges it leaves on the skin…I will be standing again, soon enough.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Rainy Days...

I live in the Sunshine State - Florida. True to it's name, when the snow is falling, blanketing the North/West, we have sunshine and warmth. Usually, the the rain we experience arrives on summer afternoons - just enough to lower humidity and temperature to that "not too hot" level of enjoying the back lanai and lake views. (Lanai - I laugh at the fact that I am officially used to the term. It is, what I refer to, as the pretentious name for a screened-in porch!) Needless to say - waking to a May morning of dark clouds, followed by a rapid down pouring, is not usual! (I am penning this a couple hours later, with the sun shining again - so much for the "rainy days" title of this post - but, at least, it did start as one.)

As long as I didn't have to drive or run in and out of the storms, I have always enjoyed them. It is like a heavenly stamp of peace, rest, and reprieve for me. Yes, even if the lightning flashes wild and the thunder sends shivers down the walls of our home, I enjoy it. Although it might not be some people's ideal of peace, it is mine. It is the "stay inside and watch the wonder," the inspiration of the pen…there is something about the chaos of wind whipping leaves and branches around, waves glistening on the lake, birds scurrying around to find retreat - all of it - that I see stories. Actually, for writing, my most ideal "weather" is a storm. Maybe it is because it keeps me at home (if I can help it). With eyes glued to the horizon, the imagination runs as wild as the clouds outside.

My mom (I must give her credit for this phrase and did request permission to use it) texted me something this morning. "I can almost hear the gulps and sighs of the earth giving thanks to God." What a poetic line, Mom! It is true, there has been a need for rain here. Rocks, those we didn't know existed, have been exposed in our lake - it has been too shallow. Perhaps the lack of rain and storms have caused a similar draught to my imagination…as I have trudged through the dry sand of creativity these past couple of weeks?

I probably should have titled this blog, "Weather of Creativity," or something of the likes. It is the point of today's ramblings. It also raises an interesting question: Does weather affect your writing? Do you thrive in the sunshine or rain? Cold or heat? Waves or calm seas? I suppose that what you are writing would be affected, as well. It is easier to write catastrophe in chaotic weather and pen happiness in the sunshine. However, if you had to pick a climate that most inspires you, what would it be? For me, I realize this day, it is a storm.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Making use of useless moments...

This past week. It was one of those well-planned, fine-tuned, sequence of days that ended up in a flat, chaotic chord. Meals were planned, lists were made - even lists for each list! Groceries purchased, laundry done, bulk of cleaning complete…all ready for a week of company, arriving Monday evening. The only things left on the lists were setting up rooms - you know, fresh sheets on the beds, candles burning (to cover any unwelcome scents), newly laundered towels hung in a clean guest bathroom…Instead of greeting my company, playing hostess-with-the-mostest, on Monday night, though - I was laying on a very uncomfortable hospital bed with an IV in my arm, admitted, and ready to roll to my "room." Although I did get out of the hospital while our company was still visiting, beach and pool trips were replaced by doctor's and diagnostic appointments.

Lovely, huh?

Company plans aside, it felt like the entire week was a series of useless moments - a waste of time and energy where I could get absolutely nothing productive accomplished. (Unless you count racking up medical bills, steady strides to hitting that out-of-pocket insurance max, and reading the first page of "War and Peace" at least 10 times as being productive? (By the way - "War and Peace"doesn't mix well with anti-nausea and pain medications, especially being the first page does have a decent amount of French mixed into the English!)

But…were they really useless moments? Every life experience, each new venue visited, all of the new faces gracing the characters around us…all of it can be used in writing. Although I would never attempt to include this past week in personal memoirs (the memories are too hazy and laced with emotion to be accurate), I can make use of the setting, the personalities, smells/sounds/tastes, the emotions - all of it, in any scene that a character might be hospital bound. I suppose I have entirely too many hospital memories, with all the above accompanying them. However, no two were ever alike. (Unless you count the three times in the hospital while having babies - those were fairly similar, only the players looked different as the years passed.)

I penned this today, before beginning a self-made writing assignment. I do this - write out what may only be useless words, strung together…but, occasionally, they end up gracing the pages of a story, as well. :)

           Blinking in and out of a hazy consciousness, she could hear the syncopated screeching of the monitors attached to her chest. The scratchy fabric of the hospital gown fell loosely around her frame, an open-back reminding her that modesty was not a commodity where she now lay. Nausea mixed with hunger as she reached towards her aching stomach.
            “Try to hold still,” an unseen voice instructed.

            She felt a pinch in her arm and the taste of stale saline entering the veins of her right arm. As warmth encompassed her body, she shut her eyes again, pretending to be anywhere but there. Hospitals were like prisons to her. Locked behind the key-card doors, strapped down by IV poles and heart monitors, incessant noise and lights bombarding the senses.

It says "Beauty", pulled through the white with charcoal, accompanied by a dead dragon-fly. I suppose it my "artistic" way of making use of what might be useless - a re-used canvas and bug that my daughter found outside on the ground.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A journey into the writing world...

So - here it is - nearly a month since my last posting! To say life has been crazy would be a gross understatement. Some of it has been my choosing, but mostly - not so much.

This sums it up - head in the dinosaur's mouth?!

I have been waiting for one day, ONE day, to pass without some sort of drama - whether injury, sickness, trauma, or emotional upheaval - ONE day to come and go without something derailing life. Today is already shot - but maybe Thursday will break the 29 day streak? 

Enough complaining - onto the crazy of my choosing! Writing. Deadlines. There were many. Honestly, though, what should have been a foreboding forging of words, finger strokes on the keyboard, ended up being a much needed refuge from reality. Leaving the chaos around me, I could slip into another world, alive with characters requiring creation and settings to observe. For those hours (or moments - unfortunately motherhood doesn't come with a "pause" button, rendering children independent and without some constant need), I could travel far away from the disaster bombs exploding around me. 

All that (finally) leads me into the topic titling this blog entry - A journey into the writing world. I have plans to discuss publishing in an upcoming blog, so the journey I speak of isn't about that. It is the oftentimes slow process of getting to that point. I have discussed editing, extra readers' eyes and ears, and a plethora of other things concerning writing - but this is about "putting it out there." Blogging, for instance. It is a bare display of our thoughts and words - the way we say things. I have been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil and poorly spell words, but I rarely showed anything I wrote to others. I suspect some of that was due to privacy and the desire to freely put pen to paper, without fear of who might read or judge. As a child, poor topics and designs can be chalked up to being, well, childish. But for the adult? Not so much. I had no problem with sharing thesis papers in college - they were topical, focused, with a purpose. There were criteria that had to be met, specifications. Creative writing is very different, though. It is what comes from the soul - all mistakes, misconceptions, quirks, and the likes included. Again, bare. Blogging was my first attempt to step outside my comfort zone, revealing words and thoughts to an unknown audience.

Next, the world of writing competitions and submissions to magazines. Those were the deadlines I mentioned. Two poems, two short stories, one narrative non-fiction, and one novel, to be exact. Being these only accept unpublished stories, I decided to submit something different to each one. I truly enjoyed the challenge and flexing my mental muscles of creativity!  
If you are interested in finding out more about upcoming competitions, the Poets & Writers website is a great place to start. Their calendar link is: https://www.pw.org/submission_calendar

Blogging, competitions (with obvious hope for catching the eye of some readers), and publications in magazines, even small ones, all create a writing portfolio - more importantly, a public one - something that will be a useful tool for publishing!

So - are YOU ready to step outside your comfort zone?
(Sorry, Shane, but this was the best picture with a skeptical challenge look that I could find! :) )

Friday, March 10, 2017

Getting stumped on the title...

I had planned about blogging about something else today, but titles are on my mind.
Whether penning a short story, poem, or novel, giving a title to the piece you have just poured your heart and time into can turn into more of a creative cramp than writing itself! Sometimes, they are easy - simple, on the nose, clearly there…but sometimes, well, they just aren't. In all honesty, it is the latter that ends up being the case for me.
Take today. I am submitting a short story for a literary magazine. The piece is complete - grammatically dissected, other pairs of eyes have read, edits are finished - but the title? Nope. My original title just doesn't seem to fit the piece, so now I am back at square one. You wouldn't think coming up with a title  wouldn't be that complicated, right?
But titles are important. They can be that "something" that jumps out at you, making you want to pick a book off a shelf. I must admit - a captivating title either inspires me to take a look or pass right by, especially if I am not looking for anything specific.
I had a great title for my first novel…but ended up ditching it. Although the title "A Life Undone" is part of a line that the protagonist utters during the climax of the story, it felt too obscure. Instead, I ended up titling the book after the novel's catalyst - "The Last Journal." If perusing the shelves of a store, I don't know which you would select, but the first insinuates things coming apart (which they do) and the second suggests a type of mystery (which there is). I opted for the second, even though I did like the idea of the title coming from the climax, unbeknownst to readers, of course.
So, here I am…procrastinating putting the final touch to hours of work - the title. Although, as I write this, more ideas come to mind, I am no closer to the completion…so, I better get to it!
Have a wonderful weekend and don't forget to turn those clocks forward Saturday night! :)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Introducing the Grammar Nazi...

First off - to anyone who might be offended by the title of this blog post, my apologies! It was a nickname given to me in college, which is why I use it here. Also, albeit this post is about grammar, my blog-writing style is far from "academically and grammatically correct,"- it is informal. :)

While in college, at Appalachian State University, I was an English major, with a minor in history. (That later was reversed, when I transferred to NC State, but that is a whole other story. While in those beautiful Boone, NC, mountains, I was an English major.) I have racked my brain, trying to remember how it all started, but twenty-years is a long time ago for this mommy-fogged brain to conjure up those memories. However it happened, within two months of my freshman year, I earned the reputation as "the person to edit your paper if you want an A." It started on my dorm floor, but random strangers asked, as well. Sometime, during that first year, someone must have referred to me as "The Grammar Nazi," because one of these random strangers approached me in the lobby of my dorm and asked, "Are you the grammar Nazi?" What?? "You know, the girl who edits papers that get As?" Oooook! I told him that I would only red-line what needed correcting and could give suggestions to make it better, but I didn't guarantee anything. (An aside, my roomie suggested I charge for these edits - $10 a paper went a long way to support my coffee addiction!)

Here's the thing - a type of irony, one might say - the papers I edited would get higher grades than my own! What?! I started reading what I wrote out-loud, which helped quite a bit. I find that I still have to do it for any writing that adheres to the academic world. My words of caution to even the best of the Grammar Nazi's out there: when writing your own book, short stories, etc. - chances are high that you will miss some of your own grammatical errors. When we read what we have penned, we read what we meant to say, which means our eyes can glaze right past the obvious comma errors! This is why it is all the more important to have that other pair of eyes to read your drafts. (All about these "other pairs of eyes" is in a previous posting, by the way.)

So - how do we know when we should employ those grammatically superior people? First of all, identify your purpose. Is it informal, like these blog conversations? Then, no. If you write a novel in a very personal or free-flowing manner? Not really. (By that, I mean sentences consisting of one word. One. Word. That's it.) If you are sticking to more formal writing, then it really should be edited as such. Simple slips, like putting the comma outside the quotation marks, are easily missed when reading one's own work.

How about tenses? While homeschooling three kids, something that I have noted lacking in many of the language arts classes (that they take virtually) are the basics, like keeping verbs in the same tense. If you are writing all in the past tense, don't accidentally insert a sentence like: The melody that she sings caresses my ears. Flipping tenses is not just a grammatical car wreck, but also confusing to readers!

Homonyms. For a brush up - words that sound exactly the same, but their varied spellings give them different meanings. They're/Their/There, your/you're, too/two/to, sea/see, and the likes are all homonyms. In writing, I think the biggest two are they're/their and your/you're. All little details that we hope our other pair of eyes will catch, but we should first. When in doubt, write out the contraction and see if it makes sense. (I will go to they're party. I will go to they are party. Nope! I will go to their party. Perfect, even if it is a boring sentence.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

The poetry of it all….

Most of my posts have been about fiction - but this one is a shot out to all the poets out there!

I have written many poems - MANY. I have a drawer full of them. Some are handwritten, some typed, some in cd and thumb drive forms. There's my thick portfolio from my college "creative poetry" class, a notebook that was started when I was about 10 or 11, another from what I label "the darker days" in high school. Again. Many!

I don't write as many poems these days, mostly because my head is lost in the clouds of fiction flying from the recesses of my mind. However, I still do write them - sometimes even to practice figurative language in a more free form environment.

(As for those who passed their literature classes years ago - figurative language uses figures of speech for impact and color. Alliterations simulate similar sounds in the sentence. (See what I did there, with the "s" sound?) Similes use the words "like" or "as" to compare things. (Ex: His breath smelled like the ocean had spit out its dead.) Metaphors serve a similar purpose, but without the use of "like" or "as." (Ex: He was a breath of fresh air.) Personification gives human qualities to something that isn't. (Ex: The tree reached towards the heavens, holding its leaves for the sky.) There are many more types of figurative language, but I will stop there.)

The use of poetry is an excellent tool for any writer to utilize when stuck in the muck and mire of the mundane. (Sorry, I just can't stop myself!) It helps remind us to bring color to our pages - even the most technical of dialogue can be spruced up with a touch of figurative language.

The Boy

Little tuff of light blonde hair,
He's only four years old,
But leaves his tired mother's side,
Ignoring what he's told.
Shamelessly and there to shock,
He wanders to the street,
And right before our very eyes,
Lets his pants fall to his feet!
The embarrassed mother runs to him,
As the crowd all laughs inside,
Her naughty little boy just runs,
With butt bare, he tries to hide.
But when she caught him in her arms,
Of that I won't forget,
She covered him with kisses,
Not saying what she might regret.

(An example of what popped onto a page when I had a writers block, years ago…this ties in, a bit, to writing the antics of children (previous blog post), I just imagined what an observer may have thought about a scene with my son and I. It worked, too - wrote me right into novel land!)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Writing what we know, and don't know...

"Write what you know." I can't remember how many people have said that - teachers in classes, authors, and the likes. I really did try to stay true to that…at least when I began writing.  (I suppose that is obvious from the previous post?) However, if we only "write what we know" - aren't we limited to characters that only do/say what we would (or those who we know personally enough to write as another voice)? What about subject matter? Also, to add another wrench into this pitiful pot, we would only be able to write how WE perceive life. So, how about the reactions and responses of other points of view? A left brain vs. right brain? An extrovert vs. introvert's take on a situation? Man vs. women? Let's face it - no two people are going to act or respond in the same way…most of the time.

Of course it is easier voicing off personal experiences, but what about writing a scene or subject matter in which you have no personal experience - nothing to pull from while penning?
Let's say you are a twenty-something year old writer who wants to base a novel during the Great Depression. Well, obviously, you didn't live it and neither did your parents. Maybe your grandparents did, though? So, how do  you go about making a believable story, set in a time in which you have no personal experience? Research! If one of those grandparents did live during that time period, talk to them about it. (Two for one with this - find out more about your family as a whole, that specific family member, and be inspired by the way the tell it- their voice. I guess that is a four for one when you add in getting the information that you need.) Biographies, primary sources (like newspapers from the time, interviews, etc.), and other sources (like government sites with statistics and information - on-line sites that end with  .edu, .gov, etc.), are all great places to start and gather more. Avoid movies and Hollywood glorified fiction - those are great at romancing eras, but not necessarily telling raw truths.

Bottom line - when writing what you don't know - be INTERESTED and INVESTED in it. If you don't do your homework, you can lose your credibility. There will always be a historian out there, picking apart the frayed edges of your fiction. Of course, that concerns the setting. When it comes to topics - subject matters that your book might hit on, but you know little about, do the same. Does one of your characters have a mother with Alzheimers and you know nothing about the disease? Find medical websites, forums where children of Alzhiemers patients discuss issues, etc. - KNOW it, don't guess it. Please, please, please don't guess! (An aside - I will not name the tv show, but I was watching a series once and one of the character's donated bone marrow for his son. Great dad! However, the same day the father donates, the kid gets the transplant and they both leave the hospital the next day. What?! Ooook - first off - donation/transplant usually don't happen at the same time. Secondly, pediatric bone marrow transplant patients are generally in the hospital a minimum of 45 days - sometimes as long as 6-8 months! The first 13 days before transplant are all about massive doses of chemotherapy and radiation to kill the patient's bone marrow before the transplant can even occur. So - I could keep preaching from this proverbial soap box, but will stop there. Obviously, this subject is more personal to me, so trivializing a bone marrow transplant got under my skin. But it wasn't just that - not with this specific situation or when I reading - it is that a writer clearly was not invested in being credible in their writing!)

A warning to writing what you don't know, though - it will take longer to complete a project, assuming that you want to be credible. In fact,  you may spend more time in research and digging than you do writing your book! I have an ongoing project that I am writing that covers the Western, Pacific, and Home fronts of WWII. The characters are based off combined individuals, most of which I am related to by either blood or love. However, since some of these people are no longer with us, I have had to spend hours combing through military logs, databases, translations, records, etc. I want to honor these people 100% by getting every possible detail correct. I spent 4 hours one afternoon locating which prisons and camps housed prisoners of war from the lower ranks of the Royal Yugoslavian Army, who also came from the Serbian area of the country. I wanted to discover which were near to Belsen Bergen the year that it was liberated and who liberated them. Needless to say, it took a lot of time to translate Serbian and Yugoslavian documents to finally find what I was looking for! BUT - it was worth it! I discovered where my beloved Chicko Bronko had been held, the unit he was with, and conditions that he suffered - all details that will be readily employed in that section of the book!

So - there you have it! Write what you know and research what you don't! You've got this!

Friday, February 17, 2017

The spark of creativity...

Back in the day, when bangs were sprayed two inches high, anything neon was the color of choice, faded blue jeans graced most lower bodies, and fanny packs weren't only for the elderly, I was hiding in my closet - pen and floral patterned journal in hand, writing out my deepest secrets. For a nine year old, these weren't exactly dark, more like how I snuck a call to my friend without asking my Mom or what boy I thought was a little cute. Pretty deep, huh? When I was ten, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocitic Leukemia while on vacation in Southern California. A month later, back in our hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, I was writing even more. Prednisone cheeks, a rapidly balding head, and poor immune system (not to mention many trips to Vanderbilt clinic for treatments and procedures) freed up lots of time to read and write. It was then that I penned my first short stories. Understandably, many of these had to do with kids who had cancer.

One of my longer short stories, Hope, was completed around the time that my Mom's best friend's father came for a visit - published author, Joseph Gilmore. I came to him one evening, hands trembling, holding my story's manuscript. He graciously read it and critiqued it for me that very night. I came across that copy while unpacking some boxes recently and the memories that evening came flooding back again. I highly doubt he ever knew the impact that our conversation had on me or how it would encourage me to keep writing. He told me I had talent! Whether or not he was just being nice to that bald little girl or truly meant it, I will never know. Still - I believed him and continued to pen things onto paper for all the years that followed.

One of my favorite "cancer" books was Erma Bomback's book: I want to grow hair, I want to grow up, and I want to go to Boise." It holds many stories and antics shared by kids with cancer of all kinds. It also inspired me to start writing some of my memories. I never knew what I would do with them, but they were therapeutic to write.

So, without further ado - here is one that I penned right after I turned twelve. (Note - I did clean up the spelling and grammar a bit and my writing style has changed a LOT since then, but I was twelve! :) )

 You Want Me to Swallow That??

After living a sheltered life of liquid antibiotics, liquid Tylenol, liquid decongestants, and basically liquid everything, one can only imagine how my eyes about popped out of their sockets when nurses brought in my first set of pills. All I could think of to say was, "You want me to swallow that?" I figured that either they were playing a really mean trick on me or else my sheltered liquid existence had presently come to a screeching halt. Sadly, it was the latter.

Apparently the extent of knowledge that nurses acquire goes beyond basic medicine, and includes dabbling in the art of creative pill-taking. When it became evident that I wasn't going to be able to swallow those pills, a nice solution was presented - ice cream! Actually, it was sherbet, to be exact. Slip those annoying little suckers into a spoon full of lime flavored goodness and down they glide. This concept worked great until Prednisone.

My dad called it the "pregnant zone," sort of like the twilight zone, only involving an unnaturally massive appetite. Prednisone causes one to become a regular eating machine. All I wanted to do was eat everything in sight! I suppose that was a good thing since we were told that if I didn't eat whenever I was hungry, I could have developed an ulcer. Our doctor told my family about a two-year old who had polished off a dozen hard boiled eggs and still wanted more! The flustered, and somewhat worried, mother called the doctor, wondering what to do. The doctor, completely not alarmed, asked if she had any more eggs. Since she did not, he suggested she make a run to the store!

Back to the sherbet...one of the many downsides of Prednisone (the drastic mood swings and weight gain wont be discussed here) was that it tasted terrible!!! Even if I swallowed it in one gulp, the taste of the pill merely touching my tongue was unbearable! My dear aunt, we will call her "Aunt L", provided a wonderful tip. She suggested coating the pill in butter, so it would glide down easier and not taste so bad. So, I bet you can guess what I did everyday at pill-taking-time. I would sit down with my glass of 7-up, a butter tub, and a handful of pills.

One day, I was doing my daily ritual of pill taking. I had buttered my pills and taken all of them, except the Prednisone. Well, unfortunately it was one of those dreaded days that I didn't swallow it fast enough. Gross! I made a fast run to the refrigerator and grabbed the first thing that I saw, the sweet pickle jar. I opened it up and took a big swig of the juice. As disgusting as it may sound, it took away the taste instantly! From then on, along with my glass of 7-up, butter tub, and pills, was a jar of pickle juice.

Chemotherapy experts know that not all pills are as small as others. Take Methotrexite, for instance - even though I had to take twelve of them in one sitting, they were so small that it didn't really matter. (I did, however, sing the chorus of "Mary had a little lamb" and other such juvenile tunes in between pills to "clear my passageway" for the next one. It was, of course, only pointless stalling.)

The first "big" pill that I had to take, which really wasn't all that large, I took in my initial hospital stay. It was the Colase pill - one of those red, gel-capped ones that are supposed to easily slide down. Well, in my pill-phobic mind, that pill was going to get in my mouth, turn sideways, block my throat, and make me choke to death! It didn't occur to me that I was in the hospital, the best place to choke. So, starting at 8pm, I held that pill, rolling it and squishing it, trying desperately to make it smaller. My dad was with me that night and was being extremely patient, waiting sitcom after sitcom for me to take it. After three hours, I still couldn't take that scary red gelcap. Eventually, I just wimped out, so they brought me in the liquid. "It has comes in liquid?" I wondered why they didn't just start with that option! You may think that would be a miniature glimpse of heaven to me, which is what I thought, as well - until I had a drop or two. Those drops of blue fire burned everything they touched. (One of my friends in the "clinic gang," which I will tell more about later, called it hot juice. No kidding!) The nurses improvised with a plan C. They poked a hole in the pill and drained its inside liquid into a large cup of chocolate ice cream with whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and chocolate chips. Although it might sound tasty, it was awful!! A tip: Never put these types of medication into chocolate, it just isn't an efficient cover for the bad taste.

The saga of the Colase pill didn't end with that night. The following night, my grandmother stayed with me in the hospital and she helped talk me through taking it. It was a much easier task, since, for once, the liquid solutions were definitely not options! When I finally swallowed the monster, I was so excited that I nearly ripped my IV out in my plunge for the telephone. I had to tell mom and dad that I had swallowed that dang pill!