What Should Writers Steal?

I was sitting at a desk doing volunteer work for an organization I belong to, and sitting not far away were a group of six or seven middle age-or older-women at a long table holding a monthly meeting. I could not hear anything specific in their discussion, but since they were in my direct line of vision and since they were preoccupied with whatever they were discussing I was an unobtrusive observer.

And I could spy. And I could steal without being noticed.

One of the women had a hairstyle best described as worn-out Brillo pad. She chewed gum with intense fierceness, unlike a cow who enjoys her cud with gourmet bliss. At one point the woman got up and left the building, coming back about six minutes later. I believe she had gone out for a cigarette; she had that ‘air’ about her. And she had, what I assumed, was fresh cud-excuse me-gum in her mouth. She went back to her seat and resumed her chew. A short while later a man and woman came in.

The man wore a bright knit cap, knitted with the colors of the rainbow, plus colors that existed only on the cap, in a horizontal pattern that encircled his head. The man bent over to look in a display case. I noticed a perfect circle a few inches in diameter cut out of the top of the cap. He was bald-at least in that spot. I imagined that if he wore the cap in summer, he might have a cute little tan spot at the top of his head. I didn’t ask him about the strange circle at the top of the cap for I didn’t want to break my observation. A spy can’t make contact with his quarry. You understand right?

The point is not why he had cutout that small circle in his knit cap, nor is the point about what the woman was doing with her gum, but what you can steal from around you. What you can use in describing characters in your story.

When you observe people, what they wear, how they walk, anything that stands out, you make a mental note, or like me, write it down in my small pocket notebook-when nobody you are observing can see you of course. You are the spy, you are the thief, and you must be discreet.

Character traits, odd little tics and quirks, make your characters more believable and identifiable to your readers. When your reader sees the character in their minds they are more involved with your story.

My observations of people I have stolen from and transformed into fictional characters can be found in my e-Books on Amazon. The descriptions of the books can be found in my header.

 

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GUESS WHAT WRITERS NEED TO EXERCISE?

If you are like me, and I feel sorry if you are, then you may have a physical exercise plan like running, walking, something cardio or with weights, maybe all of the above. I have a written plan next to my desk for me to easily see. But again, if you are like me, you are well intentioned, but find excuses that you tell yourself are legitimate so you can do something else, like watching  reruns of Two and a Half Men, staring at the wall to make sure the paint is drying properly, or putting your books in alphabetical order by color.

But physical exercise is not what I mean to tell writers about, though it is good when you spend a lot of time sitting at the keyboard to keep your heart and body from degenerating into mush by exercising. Lack of exercise cause your muscles to atrophy, you gain weight, and friends tell you are getting grouchy. Where I live it rains December and January, the clouds are cloudy all day, and everyone is a grouch. I can feel muscles turning to mush as I write.

The same is true of writing. The brain may be an organ but, like the heart, which is a muscle, it must be exercised. Writers must either write or practice on a regular basis. The reason has less to do with keeping your grammar sharp or expanding your vocabulary. It has to do with keeping the creative part of your mind sharp.

The more frequent you write the more creative thoughts emigrate from your subconscious, settle into your creative consciousness and introduce themselves. But if you ignore the opportunity presented to you, it will retreat back into the deep cortex of the right side of your brain, and if it gets petulant with you it will hide out in the cold, analytical left side of the brain and will never be heard from again.

Being well intentioned with physical exercise will not get you into shape. Doing the work will. 30 minutes or an a hour a day.  Exercise your heart and body. And being a well intentioned writer will not spur your creativity. You must exercise your imagination, whether an hour a day or every other day, but do it frequently.

You can make your own writing schedule based on your time availability. But do it. Your brain will thank you.

You can click one or all of my e-book titles above to see the results of paying attention to the right side of the brain. They are available on Amazon.

 

 

I raise the curtain behind a writers madness in writing a sentence

Writing is rewriting. The following is based on a short story I am starting. I thought it might be fun and instructional to show what goes through a writers mind as he/she tries to get a sentence and paragraph.  So let’s peek into my madness.

 

THEY COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH SOME COULD GET IN.

I know who ‘they’ are, the reader doesn’t. ‘They’ could be humans, or ‘they’ could be animals. The sentence needs clarity.

THE PEOPLE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE DOOR COULD GET IN.

More specific, yet dull.

A CODE ON THE DOOR WAS NEEDED TO GET IN. THREE NUMBERS TO PUSH, THEN A CLICK WAS HEARD, THEN ONE PUSHED THE DOOR OPEN, LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOW TO MAKE SURE SOMEONE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, OR RATHER SHOULDN’T GET OUT.

Better, but awkward, does not say how the code is used. Does someone say “Alexa, please open door” or say three numbers, or are buttons pushed on a security pad. Also grammar is bad.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE CARPETED HALLWAY, THE WALLS HUNG WITH INOFFENSIVE CHEERFUL POSTERS LEADING TO THE DOOR.

Problem is the walls are not hung, the posters (framed-should have used framed posters) are hung, and that is not what leads to the door.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE INSTITUTIONAL CARPETED HALLWAY TOWARDS A THICK METAL DOOR WHICH HAD A REINFORCED WINDOW. FEW USED THIS HALLWAY, ONLY VISITORS AND STAFF AND THERE WAS ALWAYS MORE STAFF INSIDE THAN VISTORS. NEXT TO THE DOOR WAS A SECURITY PAD. THE MAN PUSHED THREE BUTTONS ON THE PAD, HEARD THE CLICK OF THE DOOR, BUT BEFORE PUSHING THE DOOR OPEN, THE MAN BRIEFLY PAUSED TO LOOK THROUGH THE WINDOW IN THE DOOR TO MAKE SURE IT WAS SAFE TO OPEN. THERE WERE PEOPLE WAITING TO GET OUT AND THEY MUST REMAIN. IT WAS CLEAR.

I like this. I used institutional carpeted to give the reader a hint of the type of building. I used ‘few used this hallway’ to make the reader wonder why (part of the hook if you will). And for the same reason wrote ‘more staff than visitors’ so that the reader will wonder what kind of place has more staff than visitors along with ‘few used this hallway.” The hallway and the building I hope arouse the reader’s curiosity. Then we have some action the man ‘pushed,’ ‘heard,’ and ‘paused.’ And finish with people inside must remain. And why.

If your first reaction is this is a jail, it is not. My intent is to describe what is inside the door through the actions or inactions of the people inside, doing so without telling you what the building is, but by describing what is going on it will become clear to the reader. Always better to show, not tell. I am not sure I am done with the opening paragraph. But it is time to move on to the second, to move forward, then go through it all over again.

 
The point for writers is to just write a simple sentence no matter how bad it looks, and then expand. Just starting gets the creative juices going. It may be slow for a bit, but then it picks up and you get on a roll. And as every writer knows, that is when magic happens.

My e-books are found on Amazon.

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Shakespeare and R L Stevenson altered our minds without drugs

Myth can be created by folklore like Paul Bunyon, a tall tale to be sure, but myths can also arise, inadvertently by an author, from popular fiction that takes on a life of it’s own.

Two cases in point.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The popular conception of pirates is that they buried their treasure because that is what happened in the novel. But there is only one known pirate to do that and it was Captain Kidd, who was more a privateer than pirate. It depended on whether his contemporaries liked him or not. More disliked him than liked him, so to us he is a pirate. Winners write history.

Think of it logically. Why would pirates bury their treasure and return later to dig it up. The entire crew knows where it is, so each larcenous crew member now looks at each other with distrust and paranoia. And don’t think the captain was the boss. A pirate captain was elected by the crew and he did nothing without a vote from the crew. And the crew wants the loot and they want it now. They have been at sea a long time and they want rum and women.

In truth pirates took ships, their cargo, and most of the crew of the captured ship. At one point, Kidd had three captured ships in tow. They would go to a friendly pirate port and sell everything they could, keeping supplies they needed.

The only reason Kidd buried nearly a million dollars in jewels and goods is that he was headed back to New York to answer charges of his piracy so he had to bury the evidence. Didn’t help. Most of his treasure has been found. But other pirates and ‘X’ marks the spot maps are pure fiction, not history. Thank to Long John Silver and R.L. Stevenson.

Another example comes from Shakespeare’s play Anthony and Cleopatra. Everyone believes Cleo was bitten by an asp while she was a prisoner of the Romans. That is what happens in Old Will’s play, but whether Will was passing on the lore he knew or he made it up, the asp is now our truth. Check any crossword puzzle.

The Romans found her dead. There were two puncture marks. From an asp? Well, according to other records she committed suicide by a poisoned hairpin, not an asp. Poison was a big seller in Egypt. Cleo was found in her private chambers. As a prisoner she would not have access to snakes, nor would she keep them in her rooms. But a snake is more dramatic because the audience would be more fearful of a dangerous snake than poison. Poison being more passive. 

And now you know the truth of the matter. Until it changes once again. You never know. It just shows the power of the written word, the power of story telling, and how we believe what we read, even if it is fiction.

Here are two of my fictional e-novels at Amazon. Both based on true stories. Perhaps another myth will arise from one of them. With your help of course.

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The dilemma of telling people you’re a writer

A few days ago I received my online newsletter from Authors Publish.  It contains two leads for publishing houses, but what caught my interest was a short piece about what happens when you tell people you are a writer.

Number one of the five is the imposter syndrome. I have always been hesitant telling people I am a writer. The reactions I have gotten have not been positive, leaving me at times, feeling like an imposter. To this point, other than a brief memoir in a book published in 2012 and two short stories published locally in an annual book, I have published three e-novels and two short-story collections on Amazon. I also wrote film reviews for a newspaper for eleven years and did a few freelance stories. I received positive feedback during that period.

Yet I still hesitate.

I told a woman the other day about my short story published in an edition of the locally published book and she told me she wrote a piece for them a few years ago-and then made sure she deflated me my saying -“They publish anything sent to them.” I don’t know why she blew it off, and I question whether everything send is published.

Another woman said she only reads ‘real books’ and e-books are not real. Perhaps she fears the digital world. Then there are relatives. My closest cousins don’t read much, if at all, and though one wanted one of the annuals where my short story was published, he has never read, to my knowledge, the story. He had said he would tell me how he liked it, but that was about seven months ago. No phone call, no email, no smoke signals, not a wisp of contact. My other cousin said she still has not read the story. She never reads.

Is there any doubt why I sometimes feel like an imposter and any doubt why I hesitate to tell people I am a writer.

My best experience was reading my latest short story at the kickoff for the last annual collection of local writers. One woman said she read the story three times, and the man who puts the writings together for publication told the group how much he liked the story, why he liked it, and pushed me to read the opening page of my short story.

Though I hesitate, I am getting better at it. I have learned that detractors often have insecurities as I noted about the woman who said they publish anything. Like the Taylor Swift line ” haters are going to hate” so stay away from the haters and the negative nellies. They are not worth your time. I have found a positive group of local writers to share writing and experiences with, so am moving forward.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the great make you feel, that you too, can become great.-Mark Twain.

I am coming out of  the “I am a writer” closet.

I am a writer, like it or not, take it or leave it.

“Peanuts” Character Reveals Writing Secret

A classic Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz appeared in a recent Sunday newspaper and the punchline exemplifies what some writing gurus have advised.

Linus is at his school desk writing on the theme of returning to school after summer vacation. Over three captions we see he has written this: ” No one can deny the joys of a summer vacation with its days of warmth and freedom. It must be admitted, however, that the true joy lies in returning to our halls of learning. Is not life itself a learning process? Do we not mature according to our learning. Do not each of us desire that he…”

And there it stops.

The next three panels show him taking the paper to the teacher’s desk, handing in the paper, and returning to his desk.

Then you see him saying “Yes, Ma’am? Oh . . Why, thank you . . I’m glad you liked it . . ”

The final panel shows him sitting sideways, one elbow on the desk behind him where Charlie Brown is sitting. Linus says, “As the years go by, you learn what sells!”

Linus knew his audience; it was the teacher. And he also knew what she wanted, in essence, to hear, so he wrote what she wanted, hoping to ingratiate himself, of course, and get a good grade.

If there is a hot market that readers are feasting on, you can jump on that bandwagon and if the bandwagon is not crowded and the market has yet to be devoured, you have a shot of finding an audience. But what is hot now can soon fade away.

Or you can write what you want to write and hope you find an audience. If you write in the genre that most appeals to you, I belive your writing will be better.

Each approach has its drawbacks, nothing is guaranteed, but you must chart your writing course through tricky waters no matter which direction you go. Write well, edit even better, and write a little everyday. And be cool like Linus.

I turned in my e-books to Amazon

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The Cricket and the Butterfly; a life story

I wish I had wrote this, but I read it in a book, details following. Enjoy.

The Cricket

A poor little cricket
Hidden in the flowery grass,
Observes a butterfly
Fluttering in the meadow. The winged insect shines with the liveliest colors:
Azure, purple, and gold glitter on his wings;
Young, handsome, foppish, he hastens from flower to flower,
Taking from the best ones.
Ah! says the cricket, how his lot and mine
Are dissimilar! Lady Nature
For him did everything, and for me nothing.
I have no talent, even less beauty;
No one takes notice of me, they know me not here below;
Might as well not exist.
As he was speaking, in the meadow
Arrives a troop of children.
Immediately they are running
After this butterfly, for which they all have a longing.
Hats, handkerchiefs, caps serve to catch him.
The insect in vain tries to escape. He becomes soon their conquest.
One seizes him by the wing, another by the body;
A third arrives, and takes him by the head.
It should not be so much effort
To tear to pieces the poor creature.
Oh! Oh! says the cricket, I am no more sorry;
It costs too dear to shine in this world.
How much I am going to love my deep retreat!
To live happily, live hidden.

Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian

Dedman, Bill; Newell, Paul Clark. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune (pp. 358-360). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

How writers should handle critiques

I woke up in the morning the day after publishing my first e-Novel with anxiety and dread my bed companions. They were not who I wanted to wake up with.

Every writer, every artist, has within them a lurking virus ready to infect the artistic insecurity with paranoia; imagination running amok seeing brutal judgements from unseen readers.

But the reviews over time were fair and more positive than I expected. Of course there was one review that upset me, but I realized he/she missed the point. Others got it, and that is one thing to remember. Whatever you write will be liked and disliked because some people, like my brother, does not like cheese, and others, like myself, love cheese. We have different tastes, different biases, and different views. Nothing is written in stone except the 10 Commandments and they disappeared..

Something just as unnerving is the anticipation of reading judge’s critiques from writing contests, like the one I recently entered, for these are professionals with stern judgement, so anxiety peaks, dread blackens, insecurity sinks, and paranoia makes you cower in the corner, so do not open the envelope like a six year-old at Christmas, ripping open paper to get at the goodies, for there are no goodies here; instead place it on a table, let it sit while you circle it for a few days, building up your immunity enough to open the envelope. You must be in command.

Here is what I found:

One judge did not like my opening paragraph and my hook. The other judge did. The judge who disliked my hook did not like my tension/pacing, but the other judge did. One liked my grammar, the other didn’t. There were some things they agreed on, so what did I learn and what can you learn?

Here is what I learned:

You must read a critique with a critical eye. If two judges disagree you must strive for objectivity-not easy when it comes to your creation-but again, I let it sit before going back my story. Your story must be read as if it was written by somebody else. If I thought one of the judges was correct, I changed something because I saw their point and agreed, but if I believed one of the judges was wrong I left it alone. Case in point, one of the judges who did not like my hook, thought one passage should be cut, but the action to me tied in with the end of the story and since the other judge had no problem with the opening and after numerous reading of the opening I left it as is.

Finally, one must realize that each judge has an opinion, but that is all it is. We all see things differently and we writers must critique the critique and not take other’s judgements at face value.

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Author Paul Auster; what writing is and who writers are, part one

One of my favorite writers-and I have many-is Paul Auster and in his novel Brooklyn Follies the following passage considers what writing is and who writers are:

“Take a close look at the lives of poets and novelists, and what you wound up with was unalloyed chaos, an infinite jumble of exceptions. That was because writing was a disease, Tom continued, what you might call an infection or influenza of the spirit, and therefore it could strike anyone at any time. The young and old, the strong and the weak, the drunk and the sober, the sane and the insane. Scan the roster of the giants and semi-giants, and you would discover writers who embraced every sexual proclivity, every political bent, and every human attribute-from the loftiest idealism to the most insidious corruption. They were criminals and lawyers, spies and doctors, soldiers and spinsters, travelers and shut-ins. If no one could be excluded, and what prevented an almost sixty-year-old ex-life insurance agent from joining their ranks? What law declared that Nathan Glass had not been infected by the disease?”

Writing was always something I wanted to do, but early rejection dissuaded me. Later in life when the regrets of unfinished desires in life weighed heavily on my spirit, I became infected with a ravenous hunger to finish what I started.

I had doubts, I had fears, and like Nathan Glass, felt I was too old. The doubts and fears, however, were no match for the fear of not writing, of not moving forward, of having that monstrous ogre of life regrets go unquenched.

I have written two collection of horror/twilight zone type of e-short stories and three e-novels and a fourth to be published soon. Success does not matter, movie deals do not matter, for feeding this wonderful infection is life giving.

If you feel you are infected, do not wait. Start writing.

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