Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Story Ideas Spring From the Head of a Pin

I was listening to National Public Radio last Sunday, when an interview was being conducted with blues singer Robin Rogers, who is in the process of dying of liver cancer. It was a wonderful conversation and when they played some of her music I discovered a new CD I have to have. I received a greater gift though as she described the way she was trying to leave this earth as “a sweet departure.” The phrase sent my mind reeling with different story ideas.

One day I was reflecting on how when I first started dating my late husband I could not seem to form speech adequately anymore. I stuttered, flushed red, spat out something non-sensical if I could manage to say anything at all. I was so terribly smitten by him that I lost the power of speech. Remembering that led me my latest novel idea – which I’m working on now.

A sports commentator recently described a victorious moment as appropriate for “bumping knuckles.” What a great title, I thought. Bumping Knuckles, the great American novel by Kathy Hall. It sounds great. Now all I have to do is devote a year of my life to writing the book. Oh, and think of a story to go with the title.

It’s never about finding an idea for a story – short or long – for me. I believe that’s universally true for writers and storytellers. What’s difficult is sticking with that idea long enough to make it come to life. Now that’s tough! Unless you’re lucky enough to have that tiny little idea leap from the head of a pin, slap you in the face, grab you by the shirt collar and shove you into your writing space. Then, if you’re truly blessed, it smacks you around a little when you are slacking and stands over you with a riding crop in hand, urging you on.

Not all inspirations are so dominant. Some secretly seduce you in your sleep, suggesting the next chapter in a dream or perhaps tickling you awake to speak the main character’s backstory into your handheld recorder that lies awaiting your touch on your nightstand.

As a writer – and perhaps for any type of artist – the true discipline comes when you force yourself to corral and subdue the multitude of ideas long enough to cultivate just one. Incredible difficult. The mind (and sometimes the body) aches to move on, explore one of the other, defocus and frolic with the playful or dark thoughts that swim in the back of your mind endlessly.

Now that is temptation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Who I Love to Read

The list of authors I get enthralled with changes all the time, except for two permanent favorites; Agatha Christie and Mark Twain.

Christie I love for the sheer joy of only once being able to guess the ending, and that was only one chapter before the conclusion of the novel. I’ve read about 30 of her books and watched every PBS dramatization I could get my hands on at the libraries I’ve frequented. I’m determined to be like Miss Marple when I'm old; sharp and a bit of a busybody. Hercules Piorot stories I read for years without any particular fondness for him, until I saw David Suchet’s characterization on the small screen for the first time. Who could not love the vain little man’s twinkle in the eye, or his weakness for a pretty girl?

Mark Twain’s humor is timeless. When I read The Diary of Adam and Eve I realized that his description of the battle between the sexes was as current as if it was written this year. His incisive wit is a challenge, like a really great comedic movie where you have to watch it at least twice to get all the jokes;so goes Mr. Twain’s writing (as inane as it may seem to compare it to say “Blazing Saddles”).

However, for down and out belly-laughs there’s only one I’ve discovered who can really deliver and that’s Laurie Notaro. A former columnist for the Arizona Republic, she’s at her best when she’s describing her own foibles in life. Everyone’s been there, but few will admit it. While she goes for a simple nod to her hilarious escapades, somewhere along the way, her writings become an true ode to the modern female.

A mere couple of months ago I discovered Elizabeth Peters heroine, Amelia Peabody, a turn-of-the-last-century Egyptian archeologist with a hottie Professor for a husband, nerves of titanium and an incredible sense of self confidence. These adventures of Peabody’s aren't great literature but are incredibly fun, which I value as much as your basic literary masterpiece. I devoured seven of her novels in a two week period, enveloped in every spare moment in Eygptian excavations, murders, thefts and abductions and frankly was saddened when I ran out. I had stumbled on a stash of five at a library book sale! I’m on the look out for more with every visit to a Friends of the Library cubbyhole.

Then there’s Jodi Piccoulet, who presents a real-life dilemma like no other. Each novel is filled with a cast of characters who feel so familiar, so spot-on. They are always embroiled in situations that render the reader heartbroken, in part because they could be happening to any one of us.

Richard Russo tickles my intellectual underbelly with his well-defined and complex interactions between totally normal people. I often have trouble being truly engaged with a male hero, but not with Russo’s men. I feel I’m “let in” and given a special viewing of the inner workings of their mind. I go away thinking, “Oh, so that’s why they do that.”

I have no television, so I read two to three novels a week, depending on how successful I am at writing that week. So, chances are I’ll discover someone else soon.

When I do, I’ll pass their books on to friends and my sparkling insights, ahem, to you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Voice Hid For Years

For the longest time I had no idea what people were talking about when they said a writer needed to find their voice. Part of it was the fact that I was concentrating on screenwriting and most of a screenplay is dialog. So did that mean that everyone should sound like me?

I’m not a stupid person, but it was a lot like all those times I tried to see the image in those magic pictures. I would go cross-eyed, tilt my head, and tip the cursed thing at every imaginable angle, to no avail. Finally, one day, probably two years after I first encountered one, I casually picked a magic print at a shop and without my trying at all, the hidden object came into view. It was a kangaroo. A kangaroo nestled within a geometric swirl of colored shapes. I was instantly delighted and laughed out loud.

When I finally found my voice for the first time, it stunned me a bit, but I also felt the joy of discovery. I had written a short story for Woman’s World in 45 minutes. The romantic tale was based on something that had actually happened to me, but was so morphed that no one would have known that but me. I took one swipe at it for typos and sent it off. About four months later I got a check for $1,100 from the magazine and a couple of months later the pleasure of seeing my voice in print for the first time.

When I later became a community newspaper editor and had to do a weekly editorial, I found my voice thundering out at me from my computer screen. I suddenly saw that my expressions were folksy and straight forward. I earned an award for my editorials and because of that reinforcement began to believe in my voice.

Then recently, I had the most pleasurable writing experience ever when I found myself creating a novel in first person. Oh, the rapture of slipping into character and allowing my heroine to say the things that float around in my head, but never cross my lips. Here was my voice in its truest form.

So, like any child will tell you, when you see or hear something you tend to believe it. I now know that everyone does indeed have their own voice and it’s as precious to writers as the definition of self everyone craves. Listen to the rhythms of how you speak and the waves in which your thoughts come to you. Perhaps, try writing something in first person or fictionalizing an event that you lived through. Mostly, believe that you are unique and eventually that will appear in your writing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Waiting Game

My novel, “Red Mojo Mama”, which I finished in July under a different title, “Full Circle”, is now out to three different agents. Two have the full manuscript; one has the first thirty pages. In the meantime, it had been out to another agent, who, after two months, rejected it. However, this was actually the best rejection I’ve ever received in my entire life. She wrote:

“There was so much to love about this story. Your characters were heart-breaking, magical, and comedic all at the same time, a difficult balance to pull off. But ultimately, we didn't feel the project was quite a right fit for our agency. We have no doubt another agent will scoop this up and we will be seeing your work on the shelves before too long.”

How could you not love that? Still, it was a rejection and I’m looking for someone who just loves the story and my heroine, Lydia “Red” Talbot, so much she (or he) just has to represent them and me.

Waiting is a tough game. I find myself wallowing in self-pity every so often. When I’m not wallowing, I seem mired in the waiting and can’t seem to progress at all in other aspects of my life and especially in writing. I’ve had such a hard time getting started again. The ideas are flowing like crazy. I’ve even managed to write the first few pages of the next one. But that’s it. I’m a writer. I need to write.

Expressing all of this is really just a way to shove myself out of the waiting cycle. I’m sure you knew this already. Now, with any luck, I’ll be able to push my alter ego into creating!

Thanks for listening…reading.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thank the Universe for Blogs!

Blogs! I now have four going and I’m truly thankful for whoever invented the idea of blogging.

When I first moved to Sacramento in my RV Wanda, where I’ve continued to live for 2 ½ years, I was newly unemployed from a job as a community newspaper editor. That sounds a bit glamorous, but the truth of it was I was also the reporter for the majority of the stories I ran and the weekly paginator. The point, however, is that when I quit I also left behind my weekly fix for a ready-made audience for my writing.

That’s when I discovered the joys of blogging as I chronicled my move, the search for a new job and my exploration of the area in my first blog, “Sacramento and Beyond.” I also developed a taste for the freedom of expression not allowed a journalist. I didn’t have to be so confoundedly careful.

At one time, I had amassed 650 visitors to that blog. I haven’t checked in a long time, so I don’t really know how many read it now, but I get nudges from some readers to get back on it.

It amazes me that I didn’t think of blogging about writing until just recently. How could that be? This is the subject I would go on and on about if anyone would listen. So, of course, I plan to exercise my freedom of speech on the subject ad nauseum.

Just you wait and see!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Passion

There’s a natural high that comes when I’m writing “in the zone.” This has happened to me often over the years, and I’ve become addicted to it.

I remember the first time this happened. I was working on a screenplay, before I ever had a computer, typing away on an IBM Selectric, which was pushed up against a white wall. As I typed the scene I was working on I could see it coming to life on the wall in front of me. That was so exciting. The following morning, when I went to read over what I’d written it was completely foreign to me. I didn’t remember writing it.

In fact, the best writing I do is stuff that I don’t recognize after the fact. When I’ve gone back into my novel or short story and find a section that sings along, it is pure heaven for me as well as a lovely surprise.

I don’t think of myself as the author of these passages. I believe there is some force at work within me that connects on a universal level. The subjects that flow so well are often more lofty portions of what I’m working on. It’s as if there’s a message to be communicated and I’ve been tagged to deliver it.

So, I find that I can go only for short periods without writing, like taking a mental breather, but ultimately I always return, after progressively briefer periods of respite, seeking the thrill of my passion.