Rejection number 421 came in the mail yesterday, but I don't feel too bad about it. Gerald Jones has over 14,000 rejections, and he's a self-proclaimed great writer. I'm something less. What do you do with your rejection letters? Wallpaper a room? Make them into expensive toilet paper? Burn them? Psychoanalyze every word? Post them? Someday, someday, the postman will bring something different. Until then, I'll do the only thing that matters in a writer's life. I write.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Monday, July 30, 2007
EXERCISE: Jason flies into the classroom on his Nimbus 2000. Curly loose brown hair dangles out of control beyond his collar and a well-worn copy of Harry Potter adheres to his hand. He lands wearing a hat with two coffee cups on either side and sucks on the double-tubes seeking the life of morning after a night of passion. He has been reading. He syphons the last drops from the cups like a Hoover, and the resounding gurgle echoes in the cathedral room like a restrained rocket ready to launch. The 3.14159 mega-watt smile indicates readiness. "Okay, let's get started." Writers grab pens, pencils, crayons, laptops, and chisels. "Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. For the next ten minutes, write from the protagonist's POV, 'I never thought I would see...'"
MUSINGS: I wrote a measly 3,791 words last week while tweaking the blog almost daily (Austin Carr thinks I'm a control freak), adding only those links that have strong writing merit or a dose of humor. On Monday, the NCDOT tore up the road leading to my house to replace a pipe under it. It's 31 days of detours. (Good thing I work from home.) The work disrupted my walking and interfered with my dieting regime, which affected my sleep, altered my dreams, and caused me to wake up the other morning mad at my sister-in-law for booking the next family vacation in Fallujah, Iraq, because she got a deal on the five scythe hotel. Hint--five scythe does not equal five star. Iraq's not funny, but the camel limousine ride from the airport was rollicking fun until the camels decided to have a spitting contest. Yech! We each had our own straw mattress and wooden box for storage along with hot and hotter running water. The bullet hole ventilation system kept the air moving, but at times, we wish it didn't. The local goat market opened for business at 6 a.m. next door. The dream lasted only until I recognized our bell hop, Dick Cheney. "The horror; the horror."
Everyone needs inspiration, stimulation, and perspiration to complete their novels. Jennifer Cruisie and Susan Goodwill's collages qualify on many levels. Need to jumpstart your writing, check out what these professionals are doing. It may not be for everyone, but it's impressive to look at nonetheless.
Really, I'm not a control freak. It's not my fault that I'm anal retentive with German roots born under the Capricorn sign and worked for years as a project manager.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Murder, most foul, the writer thought, shaken, but satisfied. He stood over the armchair critic who had talked for over an hour at lunch and had said nothing. His knowledge was an ocean wide and an inch deep, but he wouldn't say anything more. The writer plucked the jagged-edged turkey leg bone from the critic's chest and tossed it outside to the critic's beast. The dog bayed at nothing every night from two in the morning until six am and roamed the neighborhood as a part-time member of a small dog pack. The dog greedily crunched the bone, choked a bit, but kept on eating. It might die, and if not, some relative would soon whisk the dog away. Either way, the silenced critic and the dog would be gone.
Pleased, the writer washed his hands with a touch of bleach in the laundry room and headed for home on the path through the woods as he had done dozens of times before. He contemplated the vague description he'd give of a car that had never driven into their quiet cul-de-sac this morning. The burn pit, piled high with weeds and twigs, awaited his blood-splattered clothes from his perfectly planned murder.
"Murder, most fowl," he said in a gruff voice, hoarse from a night of arguing with himself about the critic and what to do about his nemesis. He laughed and a bug flew into his mouth. He gagged and stepped into a leaf-covered hole left by a memory of a pine tree. His leg snapped. He pulled his lips tight against the pain until they split against his teeth. The burning agony of his shattered leg nearly caused him to pass out. Blood trickled down his leg, and he saw the splinters of bone. When he looked up, his vision was blurred. His glasses had flown onto the forest floor. He couldn't see them and searched the immediate area with his hands, and then realized he couldn't pull his leg out of the hole. Something moved in the bushes behind him, startling him. Several somethings crunched leaves, but he couldn't make out what it or they were. He growled low a few times, conserving his voice. The rustling stopped. Yelling would attract no one. The only other person who stayed at home during the day had been the critic. Other neighbors wouldn't return until dark.
Even in the woods, the afternoon sun found a path through the leaves and baked him in spring's first heat wave. His moaning lessened as the hours passed. His tee-shirt draped over his head only trapped the heat. He whined when dizziness overcame him, and he passed out several times. As night settled around him, something moved again in the bushes. The dog. It must be the dog. He froze as something approached stealthily from behind while the sun's last rays slipped under night's cloak. The headlights of a car swept into the cul-de-sac. Through the fog of his delirium, he needed to yell, attract attention. He hesitated. Someone rescuing him would undo his perfectly planned murder. A single sharp peck at the base his head froze his thoughts. He waved an arm in defense like a twig in a dying breeze. More strikes. He slumped forward. He had become one of the characters the critic had complained about: dead to the world around him.
A flock of turkeys pecked, ate, and gobbled collectively--murder, most foul.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
Don't lose the reader. Avoid unattributed pronouns at the start of a scene or chapter unless it is a story device. Do the who, what, where, when, and why check at the beginning of transitions so the reader isn't lost. This doesn't mean the five W's must be there, but don't assume anything about the reader's retention rate. And don't forget to set the scene goal. The novel may have put down for days or weeks. When a reader picks it up, some or all of the five W's can pull them back into the story.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
By five o'clock, the back-half of the mulch pile lay in the shade. Despite the ninety-five degree heat and a stench from whatever had died in the pile, I loaded up the wheel barrel several times to clear away the mulch from the small gardenia bushes it was smothering. I had also changed the rules with regard to air conditioning, and even in the cooling house, Roscoe wouldn't stop his howling. I finally put him on leash and let him tell me where to dig out the rotting animal corpse.
He headed straight for a lumpy area of the mulch pile in the sun, and I'm sure he had visions of rolling around in some dead animal's guts. Snake, opossum, or rabbit, it didn't matter. Something satisfied him to roll around on any dead animal he found, but he wouldn't dig a t-bone from under a dusting of dirt. I should ask Don about the contradiction. He'd probably know why. Rosoce sniffed, yelped, and then let out a howl. I swore I saw a smile on his face when he finally faced me.
"Good boy." I played right along with his game. Now all he wanted was back in the house having accomplished his mission.
A sharp clap of thunder overhead convinced me I was done. I opened the garage door and tied up Roscoe. He plopped onto the relatively cool floor, as I pushed the wheel barrel filled with my tools into the garage. The rain splashed down as if someone had overturned nature's water bucket. The amazing torrent obscured my neighbor's house, only three hundred feet away.
A wry smile crept across my face. "All hail's gonna break loose." Roscoe whined, rolled over onto his back, and blew out his cheeks, flapping them like sails in a changing breeze.
The temperature dropped thirty degrees in two minutes. Goose bumps erupted like pimples the night before a big date. Lightning lit the sky; the thunder rattled the jars of last year's pickled okra in the garage refrigerator as a burst of wind pressed down like an invisible giant's foot. It tore off pine tree limbs and an oak branch flew by. A brief moment passed when the exhilaration of the event matched my safety concerns. But just as fast, the spigot was turned off, the sun came out, and the ominous ground hugging fog bank returned just like this morning.
I checked my rain gauge. An astonishing two inches of rain fell in ten minutes. The temperature ascended. Water gushed from downspouts and some mulch leached away in the run-off streaming into the woods.
That's when I noticed the hand sticking out of the mulch.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I've figured out how to make the links in the webpage elements (those categories on the right-hand side) go to new pages; however, I can't figure out how to do it from the posts themselves. I know it has to do with target ='_blank', but I can't locate in the HTML code where to put it. If'n you know the answer, there's a batch of Christmas caramels in it for you. Email me.
I hit the American Tobacco Trail yesterday for my morning walk, to plot my book, and think about some financial issues. When I got there, I thought I was alone, but as I entered the trail head, an elderly woman--pink sunglasses, pink skirt, white blouse, and pink walking shoes--greeted me with a chirpy, "Hello." Because I work alone in the house and see few people, anyone who even nods in my direction is libel to end up on the listening end of a ten minute conversation. She recognized that in me and started commenting on the beautiful weather we've been having lately, that she's a second cousin to Will Rogers, about her drive up from Naples, Florida where she's retired, and about someone who just built a $106M estate across the street from her.
"It's some guy name David Levy(?) , she said. "I think he's in the cable industry." She took off her sunglasses. "My family use to own this land." She waved her hand at the trail head grounds. "It was in my family since 1804. I still have the original deed to the first 100 acres. It's just up the road apiece. I come up for the summers. Florida's too warm."
I get along great with women under six and over sixty. She'd seen eighty "...many years ago...", she said and laughed. We talked for twenty minutes about the area. She knew where my house was. She commented on the incredible development going on (6000 housing units on 1400 acres just over the hill--less than two miles--from my house). She dissed the developers who pester her. "They even send me Christmas cards, but they aren't seeing a square inch while I'm alive." She said I was wise to buy my five acres in 1992 at $9K per acre.
"The last lot on my street sold two years ago for $45K per acre," I told her.
She smiled. "What a wonderful bargain," she commented. Her face got serious for a moment. "If those developers offer you $100K per acre, call the sheriff. You're being robbed."
All things financial clarified, my morning walk focused on plotting my current book.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Kathy W. put her baby in the mail yesterday. Then, the real worrying started. "Did I cut enough? Is the writing smooth enough? Did I change that scene enough?"
I've been there. It's like sending a child off to his first day of school and hoping he returns in one piece, accepted by others. How do you cope with sending your baby out? Do you move on to the next project? Take a break? Head down to Luis's Mexican Grill and have drinks with Austin Carr? What saith you?
Reveal something (move it forward) in each sentence. Reveal through character development (D), background information (B), foreshadowing (F), tension (T), conflict (C), surprise (S), or resolution (R). Take a page of your story. Mark it up using these identifiers. If your page isn't marked up like a kid with chicken pox, it's probably not moving the story forward. Whether genre or literary fiction, you don't want the story to lie there on the page like a three-week-old flounder stinking things up.
Monday, July 23, 2007
EXERCISE: Lorin roller blades into the classroom. Rows of writers await her words, as she grasps the podium to stop before gliding out the exit. She clears the frog grasping her throat. An umbrella appears. She ignores it. Some guy in the front row with a devilish grin and twinkling eyes giggles. "Clear your mind," Lorin says. Writers without coffee comply effortlessly. Their drooling blank faces stare back at her. "Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. For the next ten minutes, write from the antagonists POV, 'The first time ever I murdered...'"
MUSINGS: I only wrote 8,201 words last week. The effort to set up the blog took some wind out of the sails, and my count is short of the 11,669 words I promised myself and a cadre of other writers I would do for our mid-season self-imposed NANOWRIMO . It is an effort to inspire each other, string words together, create our diverse and individual masterpieces, and overcome the loneliness of the solitary writer, that is, except for fictional characters who argue with us. (Not now, please!) For if the writer doesn't do it, it doesn't get done. There is no assistant writer to paint a scene, secretary to create dialogue, or foreman to hammer out the action.
It struck me how I'm attracted to enterprises where I'm responsible for the ultimate success or failure: running, writing, gardening, alligator wrestling, designing and building my house, fishing, etc. Sure, you could partner for some of these activities, be on a team, higher help, but in truth, the foundation for your success lies on your shoulders alone. Writing success, however, has been elusive, but failure is not an option...a suit and tie in a cubicle with recycled air now seems a condemning environment no matter how exciting the actual work might be. I will prevail, even if I whine a bit on occasion. But I find our little nano experiment somewhat odd at times. If we're writers, what else would we be doing with our time but try to murder someone creatively, worldbuild for fairy godmothers, understand why women do violent crimes, search for truths in Vietnamese jungles, and tip a port-a-john downhill with our ex-significant other in it?
But the camaraderie is important, and I'm grateful for it. We can vent like John McEnroe or stay positively focused like Mother Theresa safe in the knowledge that we may be alone in our rooms, but we are never alone in the experience. By the way, I really don't wrestling alligators, only weeds (millions), squirrels (694), voles (12), raccoons (6), opossums (5), cats (4), rabbits (4), mourning doves (3), moles (2), and deer (1) that have gotten into my garden traps. It's time to do my alternate nose breathing exercises, and then write.
Congratulations to Joann K. for one more chapter. Christina C-R for finishing her novel. Terry B for mailing his out. Sally S. for getting her book off to her targeted agent. Kathy G. for getting hers off to her agent. Kimberley for a two book deal from Berkley Group. Progress...that's what I'm writing about. There's a lot of inspiration out there.
For the "hip" in crowd (dating myself), dates for the 2008 Writer's Retreat Workshop are May 23 - June 1, 2008.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Unclear grammar confuses readers. Learn your grammar, practice, and improve before breaking convention. Spell checkers help, but they are only the first step to the editing process. Keep the holy trinity of reference books nearby--dictionary, thesaurus, and "Chicago Manual of Style"--and use them. "The Elements of Style" is a classic useful for tightening your writing. Then there are other entertaining grammar books like "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" that can help clarify the messy and ever evolving English language.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Use the five senses, plus two, to fill out the scenes. Richness of the scene is managed by what your POV character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches. Plus, don't forget to pepper lightly your senses with intuition (experience based) and premonition (the anticipation of an event without conscious reason). Jessica Page Morrell's book "Between the Lines" highlights the five senses succinctly.
Friday, July 20, 2007
If real estate can be boiled down to three words: location, location, location, then writing can too: tighten, tighten, tighten. With tightening, look for plot or character tension on each page (see Maass' "Writing the Breakout Novel"). Avoid unnecessary details and wordiness. Remember the rule of three--most people only remember up to three things in a list. Watch for redundancy. Ensure your dialogue moves the story forward.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
"Time's up." Manny thrust a cherry lollipop into his mouth. The wrapper fluttered to the ground like an exhausted butterfly.
"Give me one more week. Please. Just one more week."
The pleading irritated Manny. "No. You've had your chance. It'll cost me, but I'll take care of it myself." Manny pulled a second lollipop from his coat pocket and tossed it to his wannabe partner who plucked it from mid-air.
"I'm maxed out. I need time to arrange more financing."
Manny shook his head. "No. Big Mama comes next Tuesday. The planning commission meets Wednesday. They'll pass the new zoning plan. It's all arranged. We break ground at the end of next month. Once the revised plans are made public, it'll be a land rush. Everything needs to be in place beforehand or I'll be out millions. I wouldn't like that, and neither would Big Mama."
"But at the information session--."
"The only purpose in attending yesterday's information session was the public relations value. I don't really give a rat's ass about anyone's issues and concerns. Every move I've made to appease them has increased my potential profit. I'm moving forward, and I'm not going to be hamstrung by an uptight, tree-hugging, hippie chick, a bunch of local hicks, or an uptight town bureaucrat." Manny leaned forward and squeezed out his words. "Not by anyone."
"Your changes have rendered my land useless. Your proposed Greenspace concession to the town makes me vulnerable to their eminent domain initiative. I won't get my purchase prices. I'll be ruined."
"Your problem. Not mine. You knew the risks." Manny swiped a handkerchief across his brow. The night had not cooled, and the muggy air soaked him like a turn in a Turkish bath.
"You didn't deliver." Manny checked his anger and lowered his raised voice. "I'll squeeze him myself. If you pop like a pimple, so be it. My contingency plan is being executed as we speak."
"That was my plan you bastard. Without me you would never have made the connection. I ought to--."
"Don't even threaten me." The desperate caterwauling made Manny nervous, and he didn't spook easily. He didn't let his concern show, but the long day had exhausted him. The late hour and isolated location made him rethink the harshness of his position. He took a deep breath and continued in a more congenial manner.
"Calm down. Call me in the morning. We'll talk, and I'll see what I can do." Manny pivoted and headed for his car. Something hit him on the back of the head and a lollipop plopped at the edge of a mulch pile. He laughed, guttural and deep, and then said with more sinister intent, "I don't tolerate wasting a perfectly good lollipop."
Fast approaching footsteps crunched the loose gravel behind him. "Don't even think about it," Manny growled, pulling out his revolver. He spun around to face his hard-charging aggressor.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
This is a test. This is a test of the Emergency Blogging System. If this had been an actual emergency, you would have been told to put down your pen, kiss your novel goodbye, and read the first chapter of "Briga-DOOM". This test concludes on Monday, July 23, with the first nontest blog. For now, resume your writing. Rumor has it, I've created the 25,000,000th blog on the Internet. Where's my prize? Where's my sanity? Where's my advance?