How Fiction Emerges from Synchronicity

I have mentioned that writers find story ideas all around them. All you have to do is keep your mind open to wonder.

Here  is an example culled from real life, something you might be prone to forget the moment it happened, unless you let your mind run with it. I volunteer at a local historical museum. Recently I was scanning newspaper obituaries into a computer and then entering them in Excel. I listed name, date of birth, date of death and a hyperlink to the scanned obituary. Then a strange thing happened. I had made an entry and moved on to the next obit and when I came to date of birth I noticed the previous entry date of birth was not aligned properly. By that I mean, as Excel users know, when you type in a date then tab to next cell the entry aligns to the right, but this entry was to the left. So I deleted and retyped, same thing. It would not align right. For some reason, perhaps a ghostly whisper in my hear, I looked at the newspaper article and saw I had the month wrong. It should have been a 3 not a 2, so I typed in the correct date and it aligned correctly.

I do not draw conclusions whether it was a coincidental glitch, or a supernatural whisper from beyond to the tune of  ‘hey, you got my birthdate wrong, please correct.’

As I said, the majority of people would say, ‘well that was weird,’ think nothing more and proceed. But writers must be alert and when weird things happen, jot it down, save it, run with it, let your imagination fly.

This happened the same week that a construction company was working on improving and repairing the sewer system; they have been outside my house for a couple of weeks. I was doing some research on my home computer about a baseball pitcher from the past whose last name I had never heard before. It took about 15 minutes before my brain clicked in. I went out to the kitchen, found the notice from the construction company. It was the same last name of the baseball pitcher. Synchronicity at its best.

One more example, I was visiting a local Native-American museum for the first time. During the tour there was a large picture of a long ago tribal member and the guide discussed who he was and his importance. Two days later at the museum I volunteer at, I picked up a book on sale I had not seen before. It was historical and was about a Native-American woman from the late 19th century. I flipped it open to the picture section in the middle of the book, and there was the same picture I saw two days earlier. Of course I had to buy the book. You do not fool with synchronicity.

What does all this mean? I don’t know, but when you find these things happening in your life YOU can make something out of it. A short Twilight Zone type of story or a horror novel, or anything. As a writer be alert for things little, weird, and odd, and put them to use. Remember, if you do nothing, nothing will happen.

How to Write when You are SICK!

You know the feeling. First you clear your throat, then a cough, but you feel fine. But the cough becomes more frequent, you feel tired you lose your appetite as the cough gets worse. Forgive me for using the V word, as in vomit, but we must. So you cough, you blech, cough and blech, and you can’t write because you no longer care.

I am sure you know the feeling when your body is about to blech, up chuck, throw up, puke, vomit, toss your Oreo cookies. Anyway that is the feeling I would get, but instead of the aforementioned I had a rasping, hacking cough coming from the pit of my soul.

I stayed in bed waiting for death. It never came.

Naturally in this condition I could not write. I had little to no energy. I lost five pounds in four days. Sadly I gained it back through vanilla ice cream, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, potato chips, and other healthy foods.

Once the body shuddering cough subsided a bit, downgraded to merely coughing without gut wrenching pain I could write. But not much.

I was able one day to finish a short story. I had only to write less than 700 words to finish. And I started another a couple days later, only about 500 words. A couple days later I start a novel, but only a couple hundred words.

That was all I could do. I still wasn’t eating and I was still tired, languishing in laziness, sickness, a foggy head, and a lack of ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

The problem as a writer with sickness that goes on for three weeks, an illness that saps your energy, your thought processes, and your creativity, is that you get out of the habit of writing and when you get out of your habit, stray from your discipline, it takes some time for you to get back into the swing.

So the best you can do when this befalls you is wait until you feel something resembling your previous humanness and then  write a blog about your sickness. Like I have just done. Now I know I am back into writing. And just as soon I down a huge bowl of vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate syrup, I will get back to my unfinished short story.

Thanks for reading and good health to you.

 

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Fun Quotes About Writing

Posterity-what you write for after being turned down by publishers-George Ade.

If I had to give young writers advice about writing, I’d say don’t listen to writers talking about writing-Lillian Hellman

What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working even when he is staring out the window-Burton Rascoe

Literature is an occupation in which you keep having to prove your talent to people who have noneJules Renard

An essayist is a lucky person who has found a way to discourse without being interrupted-Charles Poore

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft-H.G. Wells

Read over your compositions and when you meet a passage that you think is particular fine, strike it out-Samuel Johnson

No One can write decently who is distrustful of the readers intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing-E. B. White.

Words are but pictures of our thoughtsJohn Dryden

Words are used to express meaning; when you understand the meaning, you can forget the words-Chuang-Tzu

Asking a writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs-John Osborne

Reading reviews of your book is a . . . no win game. It the review is flattering one tends to feel and vain and uneasy. If it is bad, one tends to feel exposed, found out. neither feeling does you any good-Walker Percy

During WW2 the Civil Defense authorities had posters which read “illumination must be extinguished when  premises are vacated.” When President Franklin Roosevelt saw the signs he exclaimed, “Damn, why can’t they just say ‘Put out the lights when you leave?’-President Franklin Roosevelt

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How Handwriting Kills Creativity in the Digital World

If you are a writer you know ideas, thoughts, and dialogue scenes pop into your head whenever, and at times whenever arrives like unwelcome gas when in bed with a significant other or significant same, in other words, at inopportune moments. You either have to let it go, or suck it up and multitask.

Often I get random thoughts when I go to bed. To sleep. So I keep a memo pad on a small table next to my bed. The other night something came to mind and I had to write it down. This was good. What was bad was waiting three days before I looked at it.

My handwriting is so bad even doctors can’t read it. It looks like a cross between Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sanskrit, Japanese, and ancient Martian. It does not help that my glasses were elsewhere when I wrote on the pad.

I finally got around to translating my handwriting into digital words on Word.doc. I was pleasantly surprised that only one word could not be translated out of three chicken scrawled pages, remembering of course that that is three small pages in a small memo pad.

One partial sentence reads like this, “. . .  not as vital as the heart, but vital to a (not legible), and then continues “to the future.” The word in question looks like h’fel’n, but that is a guess and based in part on two archeologists who are friends that specialize in ancient scripts.

The point is for a writer to strike while the iron of creativity is stirring. Do not have a memo pad by your desk. If you have an idea, get out of bed with the urgency of one who believes the roof is caving in during an earthquake, leaving your partner to fend for themselves because they are not writers and don’t understand you to begin with, shoving the cat out of your chair, and using the device of choice, write everything in the digital format and never, ever write anything with your hand. They are for holding a spoon to get ice cream to your mouth. If the cat meows too much throw her out of the room and let the dog take care of it.

As I was writing this post I had an idea for the last line. I made the mistake of writing-in hand-and doing so hurriedly. It looks like this, “Writing is important, nt Big otes on nets.”

I think otes could be notes, and nets could be pets or pads. I have no idea about nt. My archeologists gave up and went home.

Okay, I have no archeologist friends, but the two examples of my note taking are true.  The sad thing is that the last line beginning “writing is important . . .” is something I wrote about ten minutes ago and still don’t know what I meant.

So strike while the iron is hot and make sure the iron is stored in a digital device. Either that or have great handwriting.

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Why a Writer Should Work Like an Actor

Before I answer the question posed I want to set the scene before two characters talk.
In a short story I am working on, a man is walking down a hallway, stops in front of a door with a security window, punches a code into a keypad, and enters into another hallway.

I do not tell what the facility is, but through describing what the man sees in the hallway, like the color of the walls and what type of pictures or posters are hanging on the wall and using phrases like ‘institutional carpet’ and what he observes by watching people, some of whom are looking at a TV, though few seem to be comprehending, the reader should get the idea that the man is in a nursing home.
The man walks into a room where a woman is sitting and looking out the window. He pulls up a chair and begins to talk. So now we have a setting. And now they must talk.
When faced with a conversation, especially an emotional one and one with a twist, and a conversation that must reveal character, a lot of thought must go into the dialogue.
You must know your character, know how he talks, and know his personality. What you need not know is how the conversation will end. If you choose to think of how it will end and write towards that end that works too. For me, I like to make it up as I go along. Like an improve actor.
If I know my character, then I can imagine the conversation. As I write I know the man is going to reminisce about two things. One is about how happy he was when he got married and the other is the worst day of his life when his two children, home from college, are killed in an auto accident.
So, like an actor, I go with the scene. A writer must get into the character’s head and pretend to be the character. Writing fiction requires you, not to think, but to feel. A good actor feels the words, understands the emotion. Once you feel the emotion of the words, the dialogue flows. It did for me, usually does. And in this moment where the man says more than the woman he is conversing with I come up with something that makes it all work, including the twist.
You see, the man thought he was talking to his wife. The woman said that she was not his wife, that her children were not dead. She made short interjections, then asked him to call a nurse; three of four times she would break in and ask for the nurse.
When the nurse does come she sees the man and an empty chair.
The man was not in the right room, his wife is dead, the woman who lives in the room was watching TV in the activity area, and the man had dementia.
But you never say what the facility is. You never give the background like a reporter giving news. You reveal through descriptive imagery and through dialogue, imagining you are an actor, not on the stage, but on the page.
Finished imaginings of mine are found at the top of my web page and the e-books are available on Amazon.
Thanks for reading.

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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To Publish or Not to Publish; that is the question-and of course How

If Moses were alive today he’d come down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and spend the next five years trying to get them published.
– Anonymous

I have published three e-novels and two collections of short stories on Amazon because getting an agent who may find a publisher who may publish the book would be like beating the odds of winning the lottery. The odds are against anyone for too many reasons to go into in this blog.

But . . .

Having just finished my fourth novel I am faced with a choice based on new information about e-books and hard copy (book) by a publisher (who puts book in bookstores).

First, Amazon has something new that might make it easier for me and anyone else to publish. In the past I outsourced my word.doc to LiberWriter who changes my word doc. to the specifications of Amazon, something I do not feel qualified to do. LiberWriter sends me a file that I can upload on Amazon. Of course that costs me money, but I am willing as it saves me time and because I have no idea how to do it anyway.

Bu now Amazon has something called Kindle Create that lets me send my Word Doc to a software program they have and it recognizes everything, lets me play with it a bit, edit and so on before I publish, thus bypassing my paid formatter. I have done a cursory review of the how to and it seems easy enough for me to accomplish.

Or . . .

I subscribe to Authors Publish, a free weekly e-mail about smaller publishing houses that are likely to accept your manuscript. They do research on the company and also remind you to check out the publisher yourself through websites like Predators and Editors, which, alas, is no more. It is looking for a caretaker. But there is Writers Beware, that is supported by Science  Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America with support from Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and American Society of Journalists and Authors (links below). Authors Publish also has leads on magazines, online zines, journals, and they tell who pays and who doesn’t and provide links.

So . . .

Among the emails from them I have found book publishers that I may be able to work with. I have yet to fully research them as these e-mails have come during my writing and proofreading, so I saved the ones I read that looked promising. I have had a couple short stories published in hardcover, but a novel would be nice.

Therefore . . .

I must research both Kindle Create and a possible publisher. And do so now. But we have more options today then did Moses and he was more of an agent.

Horror Writers Association

Mystery Writers of America

American Society of Journalists and Authors

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Why rewrites-Take a Peek

To give some insight into rewrites I will show the original opening paragraph to a short story that is due in two weeks. Then I will show the revision and indicate reasons for change.

The original opening:

On a white park bench near a cobblestone footpath in Queen’s Park, London, sat Mayda Engel waiting for the American writer, Gordon Manton, renowned for his mystery novels and of being suspected in his wife’s death eight years ago. No body was found; no hint of a crime scene, but of course the rumors, the suspicions. It’s always the spouse isn’t it?

And now the revised opening:

Mayda Engel looked left, then right, before glancing behind her. She was sitting on a white wooden bench near a cobblestone footpath. Her heart pounding, her breath laboring, her mind wavering back and forth; yes she was meeting a murderer at his request, but no she told herself, he was never arrested, only suspected. His wife’s body was never found, no crime scene, nothing to indicate murder, only malicious gossip eight year ago when the wife of writer Gordon Manton disappeared. Mayda didn’t believe he was a killer, but still, one can’t assume, or at least, should not assume.

Reasons for the revision:

The original is bare bones, giving the facts as to who (Mayda), where (Queen’s Park, London), what (waiting) and though it indicates who she is waiting for, there is not enough hook.

But in the revision, she is clearly apprehensive, looking left, looking right, looking behind her. Her heart is pounding, her breath labored, her mind wavering. Is she meeting a killer? It better engages the reader.

The original is passive, the revision more active. I also dropped the location of London because I revised the entire story, making cuts about why Gordon bought the house which resembled the Keats house in Hampstead, therefore location was no longer important. The cuts were done because it added little to nothing and was not needed. When in doubt delete.

A writer always wants to get things right and because of that there is a tendency to spend a lot of time on each paragraph. This is something Goethe did. He said he wrote one page per day and never looked at it again. But he said, he would rewrite that page over and over, and over and over. And again and again.

Everyone is different in their approach. But maybe it is best to write down the bare bones, keep writing with an active mind, getting down as much as you can before your mind shuts down. Then let it sit, get back to it with a fresh mind and see what is missing and fill in the details.

No matter your approach the key to writing is the rewriting. And the rewriting. And maybe I will give it another look tomorrow.

Here are two collection of e-book short stories available on Amazon.

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What Did Picasso Mean About Inspiration

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

-Pablo Picasso

It seems on first reading that unless you sit down to work you will not find inspiration. There is something to that, for when you are involved in a creative endeavor the more focused you are on your work inspiration does occur, taking you in directions you had not thought of. That is one of the joys of creating.

My mind will be writing with a certain intent, but then inspiration swoops down, sneaks through my ear, seeps into my brain, where it whispers a strikingly singular thought that ignites a bursting light, giving me an ‘aha’ moment. Now I am heading into another direction. And I love it.

But . . .

Inspiration does not have to find you working. Inspiration can come through dreams. Many of my short stories have come to me through dreams, or just letting my mind wander where it chooses as I sit in a chair, TV and radio off, just me waiting for something to creep into my thoughts. It never fails (almost never). Or it can strike you as it did when I was walking in a cemetery, saw a well dressed old man, carrying a shovel among the graves with intent and purpose in his walk. I turned away and let inspiration strike me and it did. The result was Flowers for Martha Clemens.

I may be confusing inspiration with imagination. My Roget’s offers for inspiration: animate, invigorate, energize, vitalize, exhilarate, awaken, stir, thrill, and exalt, among other words. Imagination in my Roget’s says: dreaming, creative, visualize, idealize, vision, reflection, whim, fancy, among other words and phrases.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary I found this about inspiration: “The sense evolution seems to be from “breathe into” to “infuse animation or influence,” thus “affect, rouse, guide or control,” especially by divine influence. Inspire (v.) in Middle English also was used to mean “breath or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to a human soul.” Literal sense “act of inhaling” attested in English from 1560s. Meaning “one who inspires others” is attested by 1867.”

For imagine I found this: “mid-14c., “to form a mental image of,” from Old French imaginer “sculpt, carve, paint; decorate, embellish” (13c.), from Latin imaginari “to form a mental picture, picture to oneself, imagine” (also, in Late Latin imaginare “to form an image of, represent”), from imago “an image, a likeness” (see image (n.)). Sense of “suppose, assume” is first recorded late 14c. Related: Imagined; imagining.”

It seems that inspiration and imagination are connected in the creative process. When inspired something ‘breathes’ something into your soul and it infuses your imagination.

I don’t like that Picasso appears insistent that inspiration only finds you when working, because nobody likes to be working. I will take revelry, dreams, and lazing about. But I was inspired to imagine the following e-Books available on Amazon. And now back to work as my revelry is over. For now.

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