Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy 2010!

It’s hard to believe that we are at the brink 2010, with one foot in yesterday, the other foot in tomorrow. Not long ago, we were waiting for 2000, with the Y2K crisis and the ending of the world. But, here it is ten years later and our world still lives on, just as it did thousands of years ago. Chances are the earth will continue to live on, even though human generations come and go.

I can remember being a teenager in the late seventies and looking into the future. What would the year 2000 be like? Every time I heard a mention of the millennium, a chill would run through me as I would think, in the year 2000, I will turn 39 years old. At seventeen, 39 seemed ancient. Well, here it is 2010, the year I will turn 49! My, how time flies!

As I peruse through these last ten years, I realize a lot has happened. I was deeply saddened by my grandmother’s death in 2006, but I am thrilled that my 93-year-old grandfather is alive and well. This decade, both of my nieces have had children, and one of my nieces has gotten married. Both of my brothers married early in the millennium. In 2005, I met the love of my life. A few months ago, one of my sister-in-laws died a tragic death, leaving behind the imprint of a kind and compassionate heart. My other sister-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia but, after treatment, went into remission. A few years back, my older brother was in an accident that changed his life, but he has overcome many obstacles and is stronger today than he has ever been. Finally, my dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer, only to be cancer free today.

Some things in life we have no control over. Life hands us triumphs and tragedies, gains and losses. I believe our job as human beings is to decide how we want to handle life on life’s terms.

Happy new year to all as we step foot into the second decade of the millennium!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To Join or Not to Join

I have been writing a lot lately. I am finally over 25,000 words into the second draft of my novel. Sometimes, I find myself writing like a madwoman with no control, eager to get the scenes onto paper. Other times, I write slowly, contemplating each word as if I were moving through fog . However, I always try to do my best work as I go.

Recently, the Writer’s Digest forum had an interesting discussion on critique groups. The viewpoints on whether or not to join a critique group varied. Some writers, specifically those who have been writing for pay for years, believe that critique groups can do more harm than good. Other writers believe that critique groups are all the rage, because others can catch spelling and grammar errors and teach them how to be better writers.

One seasoned writer/editor suggested that if a writer chooses a critique group, that their work must be written as well as if it were ready to go to an editor or publisher. In other words, the work must have been written, rewritten and edited to a professional level. I agree with this writer/editor one hundred percent.

I participate in a critique group for thriller writers. Sure, we catch each other’s spelling and grammar errors, but the purpose of the group is to give and receive feedback on the story itself, on what works and what does not. I am certain that we all present our very best writing at each group.

We have been together almost a year, and we are still going strong. I would encourage any writer to join a critique group once they have a well-polished draft.

In the meantime, happy writing!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Left Meets Right- Positive Thought and Action

As you may recall from my last entry, The Ant and the Elephant by Vincent Poscente played a large role in my research for my novella. Brio, the wise old owl, taught Adir, the ant, may lessons on being a leader. One of these lessons was as soon as you attach a specific, emotionally-charged thought to a gold dot, you will be sending clear, strong signals to your teammate (page 71)

Four years ago while writing Left Meets Right, I tried to create this principle of teamwork into my story in the form of character traits. On March 5, 2005, I wrote the following in my journal:

I am intrigued with the concept of imagining a gold dot, attaching positive thoughts to it, then sending it to my teammate(s)…does this imply that I am trying to manipulate my teammate into doing things the way I want them done, or does it mean that I am simply bringing my own positive light to the work situation? I guess that would depend upon what my true motivation is for sending a gold dot to anyone. I know that I will be working these antidotes into my story and create my protagonist with an attitude consisting of the above qualities (not all, but most, she can’t be perfect or else the reader will get bored; or, in the case of my presentation, the audience will get bored.)

I find that the gold dot principle is important in all aspects of my writing life as well. Teamwork includes participating in writing groups/clubs, creating conferences, volunteering and bringing my most positive self to the writer’s club meetings. I also see the gold dot as my creative project, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. When I put my own emotion, dedication, creativity, and hard work into my writing, I send the clear message to editors, publishers and readers that I am serious about my craft. I make sure my product is complete and polished before it makes it into the hands of the first reader, publisher or editor.

For anyone who has not read Poscente’s book, I highly recommend it. Along with On Writing by Stephen King and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. And do not forget to attach positive messages to your creative process. Keep writing!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Left Meets Right- Journey of the Ant and the Elephant

While researching for my novella, one of my favorite books was The Ant and the Elephant by Vincent Poscente © 2004. This fable is about an ant (Adir) learning skills to lead the elephant (Elgo) to a place of Oasis. The wise old owl teaches Adir to look within himself for answers and to change his negative thinking to positive. As Adir begins his journey, he takes notes on how to become the best leader possible (Adir’s Notes to Self, Lesson No. 1, page 47):

  • Make fear your friend, not you master;
  • You don’t know what you don’t know. Open your mind to discover possibilities that may not be obvious at the time;
  • Zero in on a goal that has a depth of meaning. The journey has to be worth taking:
  • Action Step No. 1: Find the elephant buzz, i.e. the emotion that ignites the vision. Inspire your team through emotion. Never underestimate the power of emotion.

I believe that the above principles can be applied to our writing journey. For example, at some point or another, most writers fear rejection. Who wants to spend hours writing a short story or article or novel only to receive a rejection slip? However, rejection is probably the one thing that any writer can count on. Even the best writers receive rejections simply because there are fewer markets than there are writers.

I am certain that fear of rejection centers around a basic belief that once rejected, always rejected. Perhaps we feel our writing is not good enough, or that we do not have what it takes to succeed. However, my belief on fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. Do not give into it.

In writing, it is always important to open our minds to the many changes in the writing world. While devising your plan for publication, whether you choose the traditional or self-publishing avenue, never close your mind to other possibilities. Listen to other writers. Learn from what works and what does not. Always keep an open mind.

While keeping an open mind, find out what your goals are for publication. Create a plan. Build a network of writers—join a writer’s club, hook up with other writers online. Make it a point to learn from those who are more experienced, and share what you learn with other writers. Do whatever it takes to make your journey worthwhile!

Finally, I really love taking the action of using emotion to inspire. When working with a team, shared emotion is important in reaching a goal. However, as writers know, the actual act of creating a written work is a lonely job. Even if you form a group and write together, you must put the words onto paper. However, I think that igniting that emotion within oneself is what drives us as writers. If we do not feel that drive to write, treat our creation as if we are already succeeding, then we are selling ourselves short. I believe success means sitting down and writing whether we feel like it or not.

Happy writing all!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Left Meets Right- The Journey Begins

When I was working on my B.A. in Liberal Studies a few years back, we chose our senior projects. We were to research a subject and present it in both oral and written form. I decided my research would be on workplace spirituality, my written presentation a Novella. I did not know how I would present this to my group of cohorts.

My mentor advised that my presentation be on my creative process. I was instructed to keep a journal as well. I had approximately sixteen weeks to research my subject, keep a substantive journal of my research and write a novella. I started writing my novella about twelve weeks before the final project was due.

As I look over my journal on this creative process, I cannot believe how much I did in so little time. At the time, I was trying to find a way to bring my best self into an unhealthy work environment. I did not realize how much of my own self worth I put into my work. It was an interesting experience to see how my creative writing during this time helped me to work through some of my own work issues.

On March 6, 2005, I wrote this in my journal regarding my creative process:

I have written six pages and 1531 words on my story since last night- and it is not coming out at all the way I planned. My synopsis and character profiles are specific enough to where I thought I had a pretty good plot: arrogant associate attorney comes on the scene and doesn't want to be a team player but Ms. Spirituality-at-work-paralegal teaches him about looking within for work validation instead of grasping outside of himself. Ha! As I wrote, the story began to take on a life of its own, as if I, the writer, were not in control! How can this be? Well, it is what it is, and my protagonist is still Lana the paralegal but she is the corporate money hungry monger who does not realize she is walking into a spiritual environment. We will experience through her eyes what it is like to come from a corporate mindset to just the opposite. Thus, my title Left (corporate left-brain thinker) Meets Right (spiritual right brain thinker). Does this make sense? Yes Left Meets Right.

Meanwhile, I continue to work very hard on writing my novel. I have reached the 17,000 mile mark, which means I am approximately a quarter of the way into my story. My protagonist is acting and reacting in ways I never imagined. The story truly seems to have taken on a life of its own. Who is in control—my characters or me?

Over the next several weeks, or however long it takes, I plan to post journal entries on my creative process while writing my novella. Next time, I may share some insights about The Ant and the Elephant by Vincent Poscente, and how to apply those principles to writing!

Happy writing!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Trends in Publishing

I have heard it said that a writer should never include chapters of their novel on the web, especially at their website. I have also heard that self-publishing is the kiss of death for a novel. Many old school editors and writers profess that agents and editors will not consider that which has been published online or is self-published. Worse yet, self-published novels do not sell. Perhaps sometimes these things are true, but I am sure they are not true in all situations.

Seth Harwood recently spoke at the Redwood Writer’s Club on how to podcast your novel before it had reached publication. In other words, produce a chapter each week for others to download and listen to on their MP3 players. This way, your writing gets out there and you get an idea on how well your work is received. Mr. Harwood said that he actually sold his book by giving it away. You can read all about Seth here: http://sethharwood.com

J.A. Joshi is a self-published writer who I greatly admire. She participates in the Writer’s Digest online forum. Ms. Joshi also self-published Follow the Cowherd Boy through Trafford. In her mid twenties, she followed her own intuition about how to publish her book, went on a marketing spree across the country, and has shared many of her adventures with the writing forum. She now has a wonderful blog: http://jaijoshiz.blogspot.com/

As a writer, I think many of the rules to selling your work are timeless. Spelling and grammar should be impeccable, story should be well crafted and in line with what sells today. Read writer's guidelines and follow them to a tee. Read the type of stories we like to write. However, I think that the acceptable manner of publication is changing as the internet becomes more predominant in our lives. Change is important, and it is even more important to move with the changing times.

In my own writing life, I am proud to say I am working hard on my novel. I am on chapter 11 (no, it is not about bankruptcy). While I was on vacation a few weeks back, I wrote anywhere from two to four hours a day. My goals are to write one to two hours a day on my novel, as well as write and sell more short stories.

What are your writing goals?

Happy writing to all!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Writing and Critique Group

Writing is my life right now. Meeting with the critique group every two weeks helps me to establish a deadline. We made an agreement to submit the work at the current meeting to be critiqued at the next meeting. For example, while we talk about our critiques on Chapter 2 at the group (because we have all taken them home and critiqued them), we also have Chapter 3 for the group to take home and do their critiques. This all gives us plenty of time to critique and do our own writing. For the most part, this has been working well. However, we are all open and flexible to this rule for when a member cannot provide their piece at the meeting.

Sometimes I write like crazy, other times I make excuses about low motivation. The truth is that I like this system of writing a lot and then taking a day or two off. It seems to work for me, especially since I am revising right now. I have draft one completed of my novel, but it feels very disconnected and weak when it comes to characterization. This revision, along with the help of my critique cohorts, is bringing some depth to my characters and the story itself.

In my last entry, I touched upon my thirty-year class reunion. It is only a week away on September 5. I am excited, but also a little nervous. While I have gotten in touch with some classmates via Facebook, the truth is that I do not remember a whole lot from high school. I remember many of my classmates, especially those I went to grade school and high school with, but others I would not recognize if I passed them on the street. Thirty years is a long time! However, I find the class reunion to be a great opportunity to make some new friends and catch up on what others have been doing, and to share myself as well!

Well, time to write on my novel. Happy writing all!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Last week was the first time in my life that I have been home sick for an entire five days. In fact, I rarely get sick other than a cold or flu. Monday morning, I woke, fed the cats and dressed to go on my usual run. I pushed myself out the door, just as I had been doing for the last couple of weeks. Well, about halfway through my run, I started getting nauseated and ran out of energy. I ended up walking the rest of the way home. By 8:30, I was still feeling nauseated and not very well and called in ill to work. To make a long story short, I had a fever and nausea for most of the week, had no appetite whatsoever and slept a lot. On Tuesday, the doctor told me to try to fight off whatever it was with my own resources, but to pick up antibiotics if I was not remarkably better toward the end of the week. About six hours after taking my first dose of antibiotics on Thursday, I finally began to feel better. Now, I am not 100%, but I am on the mend.

During the week, writing was the last thing on my mind. I seriously thought I was going to die. Well, on Friday night, I could not get to sleep- I tossed and turned, read, had a small bowl of cereal. Nothing would lead me into that sweet slumber. Finally, I brought my laptop into my room and wrote on my novel. Once I let my characters come out and live their lives, I was finally able to get to sleep.

Now that I have made changed in the plot of my story, it is moving along quite well. My critique group likes it thus far. I no longer feel like I am trying to force the story, but that the story is now coming together on its own. My job is to make sure I sit down and write, and to write to the best of my ability. All I can say is that it is coming along.

The other thing on my plate is my upcoming class reunion. Thirty years. I told the reunion head that I would love to help find missing students. To be honest, I could not recall how many kids I graduated with and expected there might be 15 or 20 missing students. Well, there was around one hundred! (I now know our graduating class must have been over 200!) I did not know how I was going to do this, but I truly believe where there is a will, there is a way. The glass is always half full in any given circumstance. Finally, I discovered USSearch, an extensive public records database, was offering a seven-day free trial. I found addresses for 88 missing kids! Some addresses I'm sure of, others are as sure as I can get right now.

I feel well and blessed today. Happy writing all!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Writing Experience

These last few weeks, I've been having some strange experiences that seem perfect for scenes in my writing. For example, a few weeks ago, I was taking a walk in my neighborhood when a little girl carrying a doll walked toward me and asked, "have you seen my mommy?"

I thought I heard wrong and said, "what did you say, honey?"

"Have you seen my mommy?"

I stood there looking down at this darling little six year old, not knowing what to do. I had never come across a lost child before. I didn't have my cell phone with me. Seconds later, the little girl walked past me. I turned to see her walking toward a young man who had just parked and gotten out of this truck. Luckily, the young man turned out to be her brother and the one she had been speaking too!

However, this experience was eerie for me, because my novel is about an adult male who finds out he was abducted when he was six , and his journey to finding himself. My protagonist also works as a missing children's investigator and is on the hunt for a little girl who has been abducted. Even though I have not gotten this scene on to paper yet, I know how it will be perfect for my novel.

Speaking of my novel, it is progressing well. Since becoming part of a critique group with others who are writing similar type novels, I have felt supported in my writing endeavors. I would encourage all writers to join a critique group.

Well, time to get back to work on my novel. Happy writing all!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Muse

If there is any truth to the existence of a muse, then he/she has made a sudden appearance. The first draft of my novel has been completed for quite awhile now, but is not ready to be presented to an agent. The characters don't have enough bones, blood and definition, and the plot is disconnected with holes that look like a children's snowflake cutout.

I began working on my revision about three or four months ago, when I decided to sign up for a thriller critique group. With the deadlines of meeting every other week, I have been writing like crazy. Recently, my writing cohorts asked me in the kindest way they could, "What does the murder have to do with what is going on with your main character?" I did not know what to say, probably because I did not know the answer!

Over the next few weeks, their question rolled through my mind like a gentle flowing river. I stopped and thought about my main character and asked him to share his story. Every time his voice came into my head, I listened. Finally, I realized that the murder is not important. However, the type of work he does is central to the story (in case you are wondering, he investigates missing children). The murder went, the work stayed.

I have rewritten chapters one and two and look forward to three. My story feels alive, real (well not real real) and my fingers are on fire. Speaking of, it's time to write now.

Happy Writing!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Creating Character

In my writing, I often question whether I create my characters or whether they create themselves. I have a more difficult time writing about characters in a longer piece of work such as a novella or novel, and I find it easier to portray my characters in short stories.

For example, in my short story The Softball Crush (Vintage Voices Four Part Harmony, 2008), creating the situation and characters was easy, because the characters were based on children I went to grade school with. The story situation was based on two truths I had as a child: I could not play softball to save my life, and in eighth grade the most popular boy in school asked me to be his girlfriend.

My story The Bicycle will be published in the Vintage Voices anthology to come out this year. The only truths in that story were that my father really would not let me have a bike, and I grew up in a small town in California. The rest is fictional.

However, my novel-in-progress is not based on any part of my life. Through a series of circumstances, my protagonist finds out a truth about his past that literally sends him into a another world (we are not talking science fiction here). Thus, he finds himself embarking on a life changing journey that brings him in touch with parts of himself that he never knew existed.

We have all encountered finding missing parts of ourselves and learning how to integrate them into who we are today. I have never dealt with the depth of what has been missing in my protagonist for most of his life, and I have no real person to base his life on. Therefore, I am having to work harder on creating this character.

Writing is hard work not matter how you look at it. While my short stories might seem easier to write, I still have to put a lot of work into them to make sure they are what people might want to read. Sometimes I feel like throwing the pages of my novel across the room, other times I want to keep it close to me as I would a child. No matter how I feel, I won't give up on writing my novel. Feelings are fleeting, they just are. The written word is permanent.

Happy writing to all.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Writing

It's been awhile. I have been spending a lot of time on Facebook, my main source of networking with other writers. So far, I have connected with most members in the Redwood Branch of the California Writer's Club, as well as hooked up with many local friends, friends from long ago, and family members. I have been having a great time!

I also helped create a critique group for thriller writers through the auspices of our writer's club. We meet twice a month and critique each other's work. For me, it is an invaluable experience to hear from other writers what they like about my work, what they don't like and any suggestions they might have. I also enjoy reading the work of my writer cohorts in the group. All the stories are different, but contain thriller aspects in them. In this type of situation, I have learned there is no room for hurt feelings. It's a matter of taking what I like and leaving the rest.

I enjoy writing on my novel as much as I can. However, as usual, I can find many distractions. It's not writer's block, just my own shortcoming of not being able to discipline myself. The deadlines with my writer's group helps keep me on track. It would be embarrassing to tell my group I have nothing for them to critique!

It's time for me to unhook my computer from the dsl modem, take my laptop into the living room and sit down and write.

Happy writing all!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Lesson About Balking

If there is one thing I have learned in life, it is that every time I balk at someone’s new adventure, I generally end up following not far behind. Take a popular eating plan as an example. Somewhere around fifteen years ago, numerous people started following this plan, a vegetarian no dairy eat all you want and still lose weight diet. Being overweight and trying to shed pounds, I knew that it was impossible to eat all I wanted and still loose weight. No, experience told me I needed to exercise, eat three healthy meals a day within a certain calorie range, and forget the Ben and Jerry’s. I knew without a doubt that these people were not living in reality.

Over a span of several months, I watched my friends become healthier- they shed the pounds, their skin began to glow and they swore it was indeed that they were eating what they wanted and still losing weight. I was eating all I wanted, when I wanted and gaining weight, had stomach problems and headaches galore. The more I watched my friends flourish with health, and the less healthy I began to feel, the more I decided it was time to see what they were talking about.

So, I tried the same eating plan. I ate as much as I wanted within the confines of the diet. I didn’t lose weight, but I stopped gaining weight too. Other amazing things began to happen as well- my stomach problems cleared up and, by not eating dairy products and sugar anymore, I realized that they were both sources of my headaches and stomach discomfort.

While I did not reap the benefits that my friends did, I certainly reaped my own rewards. My headaches went away, my stomach began to feel better, and I learned how to eat properly. Eight years later, I did lose all my excess weight and have been able to keep it off for the last seven years. I learned a lot from that experience.

Now, it’s about an interactive site on the internet. I heard how several friends signed up for this service, but I balked and formed my own opinion that was not favorable. However, this time, it took me less time to realize that I balked because I was afraid to try it. Well, a few weeks ago, my Writer’s Club announced they were now a member of this website. I went and signed up because I wanted to see what they were doing. As it turns out, this wonderful interactive website has become a networking opportunity with other writers that I never thought possible. Now, even a few personal friends are on there, and I have even contacted two friends who I have not seen in years.

My lesson is this: when I start balking about something someone else is doing (sometimes the balking is internal, other times I have to voice my opinion), it’s time for me to step back and look at my own fears.

As for the writing- I’m writing this moment. I was stumped on my novel for quite some time and had to go on to writing other things. I finally figured out the problem was telling the story rather than showing. Now, that I have started showing, the story line seems to be flowing well.

Happy writing all!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vanity v. Self Publishing

Today at my writer’s online forum, an interesting discussion ensued on Vanity vs. Print on Demand Publishing. I have since learned that Print on Demand is the method by which books are published, and that the real issue is between Vanity and Self Publishing. Many people believe they are one in the same because books are not published by traditional means. However, I have come to believe that Vanity and Self Publishing are not the same.

Vanity Publishers are often masked as a traditional publishing avenue. For example, we have all heard about markets where your poetry is accepted, but only if you buy the book. If you don’t buy the book, your poem is thrown into the garbage. My friend once wrote the worst poem possible, which got accepted only if she purchased the book. Her point proven, she did not buy the book. These vanity publishers really know how to talk an author up and, if you are not in careful check of your own need to be immediately published, they will reel you in.

On the other hand, I believe that a legitimate self publishing company is straight forward. An internet search of Self Publishers brought up many companies. From what I see, most Self Publishers are up front that the writer will pay to have their work published. They often list out their packages and costs. Others ask that you tell them about your book first. I believe the honesty of what they offer is what separates them from Vanity Publishers.

Of course, this all seems black and white, but I’m sure there are some grey areas in between. I suppose that Vanity Publishers can indeed be legitimate and honest about their services, just as Self Publishers can be sneaky and underhanded. I would say that, whatever avenue you choose, whether it be an adventure in vanity or a journey in self, be sure to keep your eyes open and explore all the avenues and alleys. Ask yourself why you are choosing your particular path and be completely honest.

I have had some poetry and two short stories published. I am nowhere ready to publish my novel. So, all of what I have written is based on a little experience, lots of research and some introspection. I guess that does not make me an expert in the publishing business, but it does show how well I can reason this all out.

When it's time to publish my novel, I have decided I will…..

Never mind. No time to think about it now.

Happy writing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Changes in the New Year

I am excited about living in the year 2009, especially with our New President, Barack Obama. I heard on CNN this week that the White House website has been revamped and is now an open and interactive venue for all interested in politics and reading about our leader’s plans and policies. They even have a blog, and yesterday’s entry is a video and print copy of the President’s inaugural address. If our president runs our country anything like he ran his campaign, all I can say, “Look out America! Change is in the here and now!” Stop by and check it out for yourself! http://www.whitehouse.gov/.

On the writing end, I have just finished a short story that I plan to submit to a few magazines soon. I have started another short story, perhaps a novel, which is loosely based on a current personal experience. I have found that I write best when drawing from the deep emotions of my life events.

Last year I wrote a short story based upon two childhood experiences: when I was in eigth grade, the most popular boy in school asked me to be his girlfriend, and when I was a kid, I could never catch a baseball. Once the story was published in an anthology, I was asked to read before the group. A few people afterward asked me if my character was actually me. All I can ever say is that there is a little bit of me in all of my characters.

Saturday while Don is at the Fiddle Contest in Cloverdale, I will be at a writer’s workshop in Petaluma entitled Where Does a Fictional Story Start? After an hour introduction, participants choose between Point of View or Character Development. I have already made up my mind to attend the session on character development, since point of view is basic to me. I know I need to learn to flesh out my characters more, give them more depth, and realism.

On a final note, life has been delivering some interesting gifts these last few weeks. I have been running into old friends I have not seen in years. Recently, someone gave me a spiritual gift without her knowing that it was exactly what I needed. No matter what life delivers, the glass is always half full, never half empty.

Until next time…happy writing!

To Go Oxford....or Not

Do you use the Oxford comma or do you omit it? Some grammar sages say to either keep it or omit it, unless omitting the Oxford comma will...