The Stories Begun











Before I get into writing day, I want to talk a bit about leaving comfort zones.  Comfort zones are wonderful things if you like living the same life, never changing.  I, personally, am not a fan.  However, I have a feeling that I’ll have stretched my comfort zones to the max this week and will need a little extra “umph” to disembark from the boat today.  The boat is safe.  The boat is where I experience Sweden from afar, disconnected.  If this is what I do in real life (or even for a whole vacation) this is a problem.

Writing is best when it is real.  This state of being “real” cannot happen if the author lives disconnected from the world around them.  Connect.  Get off the boat.  Live.  You can’t do much of anything off shore except stare.

Now, onto writing day!  In light of June 14’s post, I’ve thought long and hard about what it is exactly that I want to do today.  I honestly don’t know.  I knew this would be an adjustment.  But I do feel that non-fiction is not where I want to be right now (though I have the beginnings of a non-fiction book laid out).  So, here’s my first attempt to write with others in mind. Excuse the clumsy.  In light of the fact that I’m crunching to get my blogs done in time for the vacation, I’m only going to be doing 500 words or so today.

The cat sat on the bed, cleaning itself in the sunshine.  The cat’s human, a vivacious auburn-haired girl, stood leaning against the doorway, just watching.  The calmness of watching the pink tongue lick in steady rhythm was just the sort of soothing feeling she needed.  Work had been terrifying today.  Sink or swim training is all well and good when every mistake you make doesn’t have the potential to cost the customer a thousand dollars.  Even though she knew better than to think of this job as anything other than a stepping stone, this was high-stress for her.  She hoped that one day she’d get used to it and be able to move on from the small company.  For now, she was just getting used to working a full-time job.

Eventually, the cat finished it’s washing and looked up at his human.  She could almost see his “eyebrow” cocked, seeming to say, “And what are you doing over there?”  She laughed, half at her silly cat and half at her silly thoughts.  She crawled over to the silver tabby and snuggled him.  A minute later, the cat removed himself from the loose circle of her arms and sneezed haughtily (as only cats can do).  He seemed to ask, “What were you thinking?  You make the bed warm.  you do not touch.”  She smiled at the thought.  If she allowed herself to be drawn into sleep, the cat would come cuddle.  She woke up with him curled into her back every morning.  Occasionally, she could force herself to sit still without falling asleep, but not often.  The cat would cuddle those times, too.

She had once read that cats worried if a human was too still for very long.  Even though they could sleep all day, when a human slept too long, the cats got nervous.  That was why the cat had slept on her chest when he was a kitten.  Supposedly.  Perhaps the small of her back allowed him to hear her breath or heart enough to know she was alive.  That at least made sense as to why he chose the small of her back.  Well, other than the reason that he needed to get off her chest due to size.  Oh how funny this cat was.  But the perfect companion.

She lay in the sunshine, trying to remain still for her cat.  She began to relax and breathe deeply.  Her mind wandered to a particularly horrific part of the day.  She let the horror seep out.  She thought about another mistake she had made–thank goodness her trainer had caught it!–and let the embarrassment seep out.  She felt like she was absorbing sunshine and pushing out the terrible feelings that had made up her day.  Eventually, the cat curled up next to her and began to purr.  It didn’t take long for her to pass out in her nice work clothes and without supper.  She would be hungry in the morning and frustrated with her inability to even change out of her clothing, but the relaxation that came from camping out with the cat and allowing herself to let go of her day would be worth it.  She would be refreshed.  She would feel confident.

And her cat would still love her if the day turned out badly again.

Thanks bunches!

~RJ



I cannot believe England went by so fast.

So, as of right now, I should be bumming it in the Göteborg (Yutuhboreee) Airport reading some Simon Winchester book (he is AMAZING) and waiting for my family to meet up with me.  But we’re going to pretend I’m still on the plane as that’s the major event of today!

There’s something to be said in finding wonder in every day life.  Now, I know that hopping on a plane in England and watching Hamlet’s castle ago by on my way to Sweden can hardly be called every day life, but work with me.  Please.

When I flew home from college, I always knew when I was approaching home because the turbulence would kick in.  It’s just a feature of living in Colorado.  Turbulence=home.  There were times when that was inspiring to write.  When that swelling of the feeling of home from freaking turbulence was so overwhelming that I had to open my computer as soon as I was able.

Then there was the time I was on the beach and the wave kicked up the sand just right and the sun hit that wave at the exact moment as to make it look as if I were swimming in champagne.  That image broke a months long block on a story.  These things can happen.

I have seven hours to wait in the Göteborg airport for my family.  I am hoping, perhaps madly, that the flight over here, will have given me some inspiration for the hours to come.  I fully expect the views to have been stunning, but also the views in these seven hours to come as well.  People watching can be some of the most effective writing inspiration I know.  “Banal” interactions are the best fodder for writing.

The view from the writer’s chair is always beautiful.

Remember that,

RJLouise



I’ve been thinking quite a lot about time the past few weeks, seeing as I’ve had so little of it and now that I leave for Europe tomorrow the previous statement is even more true.

On Sunday, I was privileged to go to a gathering that’s main purpose was to hear a singer of quite some talent.  He’s a friend of a friend and was willing to do an informal performance for a small group of us.  It was a lovely time.  He also opened the floor for questions and in that time the question was brought up, how does one balance talent verses work?  I think, in this case, talent being the inborn ability and work being that which improves the raw material.  I really liked the answer the singer gave.

He said that all creative people are a bit selfish and have that need for accolade and therefore naturally seek out the path in which they can get the most credit for the talent (and work) they possess.  He said that when the creative being makes the decision to give that talent to other people and stick with it no matter what, that’s when the artist can find true happiness.  I couldn’t agree more.

I was talking with one of my brothers earlier that day about a book I recently read that bothered me quite a bit because it was a Bi-Polar author’s view of life with Bi-Polar and her view was SO bleak.  It was the most depressing piece of literature I have read, not because of tone, but because I could sense that the author really did think that the two options of insanity or heavily-drugged “reality” were the only options available to someone with Bi-Polar.  I felt ill.  If any of you follow my personal blog, you know that I don’t shy away from talking about my experiences with Bi-Polar.  Furthermore, many of you know that I even rejoice in them, because of the broad spectrum of emotions and life that has been brought to me because of my experiences with this disease.  However, it has taken almost a full thirteen years with this disease to get to that point.  As I was talking about this with my brother, he repeated the advice that my father had given me when I mentioned my almost physical reaction to the book and its sad message: write about your experiences.  Do it in such a way that people know that this is not the only option.

I’ve always planned on doing just that to some degree, but this experience with the book, my father, my brother, and some random singer from England who I barely know, has solidified my conviction.  And it’s not something to do eventually, it’s something to do every day from today.

So, today I make the decision to share my creativity, to make use of it.  I’ve already tried to do that to some extent and I don’t suppose I’ll be perfect at it right away, but I know that I’ll be happiest in my writing when it’s for others and not for myself.



It’s writing Tuesday again!!  I cannot tell you how glad I am for this!  Usually I have at least one idea running around in my head, but not this time.  So, it’s time for another thousand or so words of creative something.  Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been re-reading a TON of my old stuff and determining what I want to do with it.  Some of it is still in that scary writer’s limbo: I know I want to do something with it, I just have no idea what that something might be.  Some of it has moved up into the “work on it soon, you dip” file (this is a slightly more urgent file than the “to be worked on” file mentioned in the last writing Tuesday post, just to be clear).  None of it has been tabled.  But, because of the nostalgia trip, I decided this week’s one shot (and next week’s) will be from images in as yet undeveloped scenes from these stories that have been flitting around in my conscious for a while.  This week’s scene is at least three years old (I began saving the ideas for it in April of ’08) and it’s about time I started writing parts of it down.  It’s from the rodeo family series I’m developing, the third book called Life on the Edge of the Grand Canyon.  The series is currently named after the first book because I’m too lazy to figure out what I want to call it.  Mostly, I’m working on this because it involves one of my favorite characters.  If I could marry this man, I would (Is that weird, creating a character you’d marry? NAAAAHHHHHHH!!).  You’re welcome, Celeste (That’s right, I so know you would, too!).

Addison hated to call Jason with something this huge.  Well, she hated to call anyone with something so monumental, but Jason Stern especially.  She wasn’t a fool.  She knew how he felt, she knew that whatever she asked of him–unreasonable or no–would be done.  It felt like she was using him.  Then again, shouldn’t thirty years be enough time to get over someone?  It wasn’t as if she hadn’t given him his space.  He had come to her after thirteen years of silence.   That should have meant he was over her.  That should have meant that calling in a favor wasn’t a big deal, that they were just friends and that was that.  That should have meant she didn’t have to feel guilty.

But she did.  Addison could spend all day with the wouldacouldashouldas, but it didn’t stop the truth of how she felt.  Or the fact that she knew that thirteen years had been enough time for Jason to become a good man, but not enough for him to “get over” her.  Thirty years had been enough for that, maybe, but not enough for him to want somebody else.  Jason was a problem, a good friend, but a problem.  So, Addison hated to call him with anything, but especially something this huge.  Who was she kidding?  This wasn’t just calling in a favor.  Besides, she knew that it hurt her husband, Levi, that Jason might be able to do something that Levi couldn’t.

However, despite all this, Addison needed Jason.  Or, more correctly, her daughter, Coreen, needed him.  So, Addison called.  Three seconds, two rings, one deep breath.

“Hello?”

“Stern!”

“Ad!”

“That’s me.  Please tell me you’re home.”

“I am.  What’s wrong?”

“Who says–”

“Don’t play with me Ad,” Jason snapped at his long-time friend.  “Let’s be honest, you call me for two reasons: good news and bad news.  You never call just to say hey.  Besides, who on this green earth cares if someone’s home if the news is good?”

“You’ve got me there.  On all counts,” Addison said tiredly.  “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Never you mind.  At least, not right now.  Tell me what’s wrong and we’ll figure out you bein’ a lousy friend later.”

Addison winced.  When she had met Jason, he hadn’t been nearly so honest or straight-forward.  She had taught him that.  Some days she appreciated it.  Some days she regretted it.  Most days, she couldn’t decide.  This was one of them.

“Coreen’s pregnant.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, that’s about all we can figure to say ourselves.”

“Is the boy in the picture?”

“No, and we don’t want him to be.  Lousy son of a buck, that one.”  Ad smiled through the tears that started to fall.  Jason had been the one to teach her that phrase.  When she was new to college rodeo, Jason had been her gateway to it all for a while.  During this tough time, these were the small things that she had to hold onto.

“What can I do?”

“I hate to do this to you, I really do,” Addison paused for a long moment, gathering the courage it would take to make this request, “but is it possible for you to let Coreen live at your place for a while?  She can’t do school and be a mom at the same time.  We’d come out and pick her up if we could, but she won’t let us.  We’d feel so much better if she were taken care of by someone we know and not in a dingy apartment paid by some waitressing job.  We’ll pay you rent, we’ll help out with any unexpected expenses of any sort, you won’t be responsible for her much at all, she’ll just be a really quiet roommate.  You won’t even see her that much, seeing as you’re on the road so much!” Addison rushed through the last part of her proposal as fast as she could, part from nervousness, part from guilt.  Was there even a justification for her request or was she completely out of line here?

“Ad, don’t be stupid.  When does she move out of the dorms?  She’s at U of A, right?  I’ll make sure I’m there to pick her up.”  Jason didn’t even bother to say yes.  As if there had been any doubt he would do what Addison asked him to do.  She called and he jumped.  There was a disturbing pattern to it all, but in many ways it was the least he could do.  He owed so much to her after the way he treated her when they were together that he had a lifetime of paying her back before he could call it even.

“She has until the end of this week.”

“Good, I’m in town until next week.  I’ll be able to help her get settled.  And don’t you even think about payin’ me rent.  D’you still have my e-mail, hon?”

“Yeah, Stern, I do.” Addison sighed.

“Send me hers and her phone number.  Make sure she knows to expect to hear from me.  We’ll arrange a time for me to help her move out.  I assume you want to be kept in the loop without her knowing?”

“You always were a quick study, Jason.”

“Maybe.  I don’t know about that.  Does she know you’re callin’ me about this?”

“Not yet she doesn’t,” Addison admitted.  “I didn’t want to get her hopes up.  I’ll only send you her info if she agrees that moving in with you’s the smart choice.  Frankly, I think it’s her only healthy choice, but what do I know?  I’m her mother, I haven’t known anything since she was fourteen.”

“You can’t beat yourself up about that, Ad,” Stern objected.  “Every teen is like that.”

“You’d think that, but not every teen runs off to college and gets pregnant their Freshman year.”  Addison wished she could take the judgmental words back as soon as she said them.  She was so glad her daughter hadn’t been there to hear them.  This was one of the reasons Addison secretly thought it was a really good idea her daughter wasn’t letting Levi and Addison come pick her up.  Things were just too volatile right now and were liable to blow up in their faces.  Perhaps in a few months, but right now there would likely be some unforgivable words said that wouldn’t just damage the parent-child relationship, but the grandparent-grandchild relationship to come.  It was time, hard as it was, to back off.  “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know you didn’t.”  Addison was grateful that, no matter how awful she could be, she had a friend like Jason, a friend who always saw the best in her.

“Just keep her safe, Jason.  Do what I can’t.”

“You bet, Ad.”

Jason was glad of the silence as he hung up his cell phone and tossed it on the couch in his sparse living room.  Well that’s going to have to change, he thought at no one in particular.  This was no atmosphere for a teen, much less an expecting mother, much less a child.  He was lucky, though, he had the means to change that.  It was time for a change anyhow.

See you next week with something else inspired by the archives!

~RJLouise



{May 10, 2011}   For the sake of continuity,

And because I can think of nothing else, I want to talk about goals.

Last week I talked about making (and a little bit about breaking) deadlines, especially those that we impose upon ourselves.  These deadlines are the direct results of goals we make.

This week, my goal is to write two blogs a day.  If I manage to do that, I’ll be on schedule!  Not just for my blogs as usual, but also for all the ridiculous behind-the-scenes blogging I’m doing before my trip to Europe (I fly out five weeks from tomorrow!!!).   So far (as in, the one day of the week that has completed), I have kept that goal.  It was a near thing, not because I posted at nine minutes to midnight like last week, but because I almost convinced myself that three posts today wouldn’t be so bad.  This may yet be true.  I might decide to get ahead of myself and do three today so that I’ve done fifteen posts by the end of the week.  However, a goal is not about averaging out.  That is one of the best ways to get almost helplessly behind in a goal, trust me.

Goals are about making the goal.  Extra is bonus.  Extra should not be done until the original goal is made.  I know this sounds intuitive, but say that you have three papers due by the end of the week, one is due in two days, the others in three.  You decide it best to do two pages of all three papers, then use the extra time to devote to the paper you connect best with.  This is a great plan.  You may end up getting the paper that’s due in two days done a day early, or one of the others two days early and out of the way.

Then, when you get down to the work, you find you really connect to paper number two.  And, thinking it couldn’t possibly hurt, you decide to move on past the second page to the third and fourth and fifth and before you know it the paper is done, you’re exhausted, and the third paper has yet to be touched.  That’s a terrible plan execution.  Now, you’ll have to rush through the end of the first paper to give yourself semi-adequate time on the third paper.  However, had the hypothetical you gone on to the third paper, you may have found some interesting connections for paper two when you weren’t concentrating so hard on it (seriously, project blinkers can be such a problem).  Or, you could have discovered that paper three was the one you connected best with!  Or, you could have given yourself a small break and gotten the second paper done faster once you came back to it with no harm to your timing for papers one and three.

This is just a hypothetical illustration (based on many years of finals in college) of why goals are important to fulfill exactly.  Averaging out will end up with average results.  There is a temptation to justify doing the extra first with the excuse “It keeps a rhythm going.”  Non-hypothetical example: the possible third blog I want to work on today is one of the blogs for The Stories Begun while I am on vacation.  Yes, keeping the mindset of “author” verses “reviewer” (which is the planned second blog today) would be easier.  But I doubt it would be better.  I really do need to get that review done, if only to free me up to read this week’s book without feeling guilty and dwelling on last week’s book.  Also, if I do two posts for this blog, I can almost guarantee I’ll not be able to get into the mode I need to be in for Awake in the Pages of an Endless Library.  And, as I said earlier, it might be beneficial for the second The Stories Begun post to take a break.

You may have noticed that I keep harping on jumping between projects being a good thing, yet I titled this post, “For the sake of continuity.”  Good get.  I wholeheartedly believe that continuity is best maintained by taking these breaks.  If, as writers, we lose ourselves in projects so singularly that we forget about any other creative outlets–what I called “project blinkers” earlier–we find ourselves stagnating more often than not.  Some problems can only be solved by taking several steps away and turning our backs for a time.  This is why having several projects running at once is healthy.  If we have nothing to turn to, our minds will stay on the project even if our fingers do not.

Of course, this method, while maintaining its own kind of continuity, will bring in other continuity flaws.  I maintain that it will bring in less.  And, for those that it does bring in, that’s what’s editing is for.  Don’t worry about it.

And now, bringing this back to goals: have them.  Jumping around is no good if there isn’t a solid goal in mind.  Without the goal the switching back and forth will be purposeless and, worst of all, the flaws of both methods (singular-minded concentration and multiple projects) will combine.  I would not recommend this course of action.

Now go find something you want to do and DO IT!

~RJLouise



Can you believe that I forgot it was Tuesday until 11:24 at night and that I had a blog due out in 36 (now 30) minutes?  How do I forget it’s a day FOR AN ENTIRE DAY, excepting the last half hour?  College students will easily be able to answer this.  We’ve done it time and again with assignments.  As someone with a full-time job now that college is temporarily over (yay Masters!), I was enjoying having this not happen.  The date I would forget, but that’s always been a problem.  The day?  Not so much . . . usually.

So, in honor of my awesome biff, we get to talk about deadlines (26 minutes).

The deadlines I find I most often miss are the self-imposed deadlines.  I mean, does anyone really care about those?  (The answer is YES, I cared enough to put it on, pay attention, dolt!)  These are the deadlines I regret missing the most.  Not because the repercussions are that significant–often the self-imposed deadlines are just deadlines I have moved up an hour, day, week, etc.–but because I feel like I’m not doing myself justice.  I’m allowing myself to be lazy with myself.  This is not a good habit for a writer, especially a writer who is not employed as such.  I write because I want to and therefore I need to write to my deadlines because no one else is going to give me one (24 minutes)!

Then again, sometimes, deadlines are INCREDIBLY fun to miss.  To flat-out ignore a deadline can be incredibly freeing (don’t you dare tell your teacher/editor I said that–they will kill me).  It allows you to do work the way you want to instead of the way someone else thinks you should.  Go for it!  Don’t blame me if there’s a sudden uprising and you end up dead.  Just saying (20 minutes).

I suppose it all depends on your outlook on what is important and what isn’t.  Is your writing important?  Yes?  Quit missing your deadlines–especially the ones you put on yourself (19 minutes).  No?  Have fun (18 minutes)!  Is your art important?   Yes?  Use the deadline to motivate you, not scare you (still 18 minutes).  No?  What are you doing with deadlines anyway (17 minutes)!?  Are you doing this for a job?  Yes? HELLO!?! (16 minutes).  No? Consider the other questions before deciding what to do with your deadline (still 16 minutes).

Oh, and silly as this may seem after all this fuss, stop watching the clock!!!  It’s distracting, demotivating, doesn’t help you or your writing, and–above all–it SHOWS.  Perhaps not as clearly as what I’ve done here, but watching the clock shows in your writing.  If you’re under a deadline, push through.  Get rid of every clock you can, put a piece of tape over the one on your computer if needs be, and just type.  Keep going.  You’ll get so much more done that way and things will flow much better.

I appreciate that this will be more difficult than actually making your deadline.  But, once again, I encourage you to miss it if you have to the first few times.  Learn how to write under pressure without clock-watching.  Take time out of the equation.  The pressure you put on yourself should be only from yourself to be better.

That’s the only “deadline” I can think of that will NEVER be fully met.  But it’s something to keep reaching for.

Luck!

~RJL

P.S. 9 minutes



Okay, today’s a writing day.  I have NOTHING to talk about by way of craft and I’ve been dying to work on something other than blogs for weeks.  Seeing as I won’t really have time to write anything outside my blogs for the next six and a half weeks, you best bet I’m taking the time NOW to do it.  Also, if I don’t do this now, the right side of my brain will do a hostile take-over of my motor functions and bang my head against my desk in protest (mostly likely the left side in an attempt to dull its reactions).

Now, what is a writing day, you may ask?  I will answer: It’s a day where I take an idea (preexisting or totally new) and develop it into a one-shot.  It may be a snap shot of a scene I want to write, it may be an image I want to develop.  No serial one-shots allowed!  It’s been a disgustingly long time since I put up a writing sample.  This is a writing blog, for crying out loud!  Where’s the writing?!?

Well, it’s finally here (and I think I’m going to make this a fourth and fifth week tradition from now on–the prospect of that hostile take-over really frightens me).  But first, as always, some rules (I love me some rules):

  • As I already mentioned, NO SERIAL ONE-SHOTS!!!!  If I fall in love with something I’ve done (which is not likely first time around), it gets put in the “to be worked on” file.  NOT the “blogging” file.
  • One thousand two hundred fifty words, +/- 10%.  This is the rule of thumb one of my college profs used for “big” essays and it works well (for those of you out there screeching, “That’s nowhere near the length for a big essay,” please keep in mind that we did a paragraph essay per class and weekly essays–he was being kind).
  • If I so chose, I can do a brief blog post beforehand.  No more than three paragraphs.
I believe that’s all that needs to be done.  Now, for the writing!
  The girl had made her peace with the dip.  Past this point in the road, there was no easy place to turn around excepting the loop that ran by her parents’ house.  That was no good option and the neighbors knew her beater well enough to know who the crazy person was pulling a K-turn in the middle of the out-of-the-way residential area she had lived in her whole life.  Someone would mention seeing the car to her mother and father and ask how the visit went (the neighbors were horribly nosy, and the last visit had been such a debacle they were dying for more gossip).  The girl would then get a miles long lecture about neglect and love and how she had a funny way of showing it.  No, she knew better than to try that.  So she made her peace with the dip, despite the fact that this was the point of no return.  The dip meant she was coming home.
It had always been that way, when she thought about it.  With her strict upbringing and her parents antiquated ideas about an appropriate curfew for a high school student (most study groups didn’t end until eleven–where in heavens name did ten o’clock make sense for a curfew?!), the girl was often isolated from her friends.  Even when they did go out, this was the point where the conversation began to wind down.  There was no sitting and talking  in the car in the dim pool of the porch lights allowed.  And there would certainly be no inviting the friends in the house.  If the girl took longer than her parents deemed appropriate for a goodbye, they would come out and collect her from the car.  It was mortifying for both parties, the driver and the passenger, so even the girl’s friends had learned to respect the curfew.  Only the newest ever challenged it.  Unconsciously, the conversation would begin to peter out at the dip so that by the time the house was reached, the girl was safely inside before too long.  The girl had come to hate the dip for the role it played in her isolation.
It was only when she moved out for college (and never again came back to live under the same roof as her parents) that she began to look back on those memories fondly.  Her friends, after all, had loved her enough to put up with the daily shenanigans of her misguided parents.  They had never pushed to come to her house, knowing it would cause her pain–pain if she didn’t ask on behalf of her friends and pain if she did.  Those small comments between the dip and her house were treasures, the things that her friends had to tell her before the night ended.  This was when her peace was made and she was able to look at the dip as a place to go beyond, not a place to run from.
And here she was, crossing it again.  Physically more than intellectually, she knew just how much to slow down and just when to punch the gas to prevent scraping the bottom of her car, but not lose too much speed.  After all, however claustrophobic and frightening home could be, it was still home.  Once she passed the dip, she might as well get there fast.
The parents cordially greeted their daughter with about as much love and tenderness one might expect from a couple who felt all their hard work and care in raising their child had been thrown back in their faces.  It was a stiff meeting–clearly neither party had forgotten the words said (or the particularly well aimed projectiles thrown) at their last encounter.  Franky, though, this stiffness was barely worse than their usual stilted version of family life.  At least there was an agreed upon reason for this.  As far as the girl could recollect, that had never happened before.
Still, the uneasy agreement on what caused the issue made the conversation no easier.  In fact, in many ways, it made the conversation harder.  The girl would not apologize for refusing her parents’ offer to move back in with them and be–for all intents and purposes–a slave with the “benefit” of living with the masters.  The parents would not apologize for their expectations for their daughter, nor the frequently expressed disappointments when they failed to be met.  Neither party was willing to apologize for the items thrown and destroyed.
It was not long before the silences were unbearable and the conversations intolerable.  The girl was reasonably confident nothing else would be thrown and that no words could make her feel worse.  Unfortunately, she was also confident that no words would make her feel better.  Perhaps indicative of a bitter soul, but true nonetheless.  Too many opportunities for the right words had come and gone–some hers, some theirs.
There was some purpose to today’s visit.  Perhaps not an apology, but a peace offering.  A grandchild.  Surely no parent could deny the child of their own!  There was no boy or girl to raise the child with, just the girl.  She had seen no relationship on the horizon and had decided to have the child on her own.  Perhaps not the wisest of decisions, but if she delayed getting a new car she really didn’t need (the beater was still going strong) and worked from home a bit more often, there was no reason this couldn’t work.
The parents brusquely pushed her out of the house when the announcement was made.  Two minutes later, they followed.  The parents had made their peace with the dip, too, you see.  It was a different point of no return.  They knew that if they had sufficiently shamed their daughter, she would turn around before the dip and come back with apologies to make it better.  But if not, she would blast by the dip without a second thought and do whatever she pleased.  The parents realized it had been years since they had been able to shame her into doing their bidding (her choice of college had proven that) and this was too important to leave to chance.  They didn’t catch up in time.  Just as the father lay on the horn to alert the girl of their presence, she crossed the dip.  She turned back, though, and for a moment the parents hoped.  But she stopped before the nose of her car touched the dip.  She got out, and waited.
Such a simple thing, this dip.  Unassuming in it’s presence, worn but well-kept, it never stood out to anyone so much as it stood out to these three.  For something meant to bridge an otherwise difficult point in the road, it certainly acted as an uncrossable chasm for this family.  They stood across it, staring.  Cars parked on either side, silently confronting each other.
It was too much.  The girl knew it was time to go.  She had passed the point of no return.  The beater’s door gave off rust as she slammed closed, turned the key in the ignition and reversed into the nearest driveway.  Without a backwards glance, she drove away.  For a single, short moment, it looked as if the father might follow–not out of love, but spite.  But the dip’s strange power over this household asserted itself once more, and the much more pristine car pulled the K-turn the girl had studiously avoided for so long.
A lone neighbor had noted the strange happenings outside her window and had watched the wordless exchange.  Before the parents’ car had passed out of her view, she was on the phone.  The rumor mill was running once more.
And the dip sat in the middle of the road, blissfully unaware.
Oooh, that was fun!  See you next week!
~RJL


{April 19, 2011}   Why I love what I hate.

Remember when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out?  The fans had been waiting for three years (the longest Rowling ever made the fans wait) for this book.  Many of us who had been growing up with Harry (as I had) were all of a sudden older than him.  We were salivating in anticipation.  And then we read OotP.  This boy who had been our hero and classmate and everything good about someone who had to overcome a bad situation quite suddenly turned into a world-class (heck, multiple worlds-class) jerk.  He mistreated his friends, he was a boor and lost his girlfriend before he even really had her, he was terrible to the one man who consistently tried to help him through everything, he insisted on acting misunderstood when–in all reality–many people tried to understand him and he refused to let them.  Harry shut people out.

And yet . . .

After all that, after the whining and the screaming and the fighting and the bs teenage shenanigans that I hated every minute of, I was still rooting for Harry, as were a lot of other readers.  Yeah, Harry was terrible.  He turned into everything I hated about being a teenager and the teenagers who I was around.  But he was still my hero, not because he had many (or any) redeeming qualities in this book, but because Rowling had written him so believably that I still cared about this whiny teen after an 800+ page book of his bull.  I’ve written before that I’m kind of tired of Harry Potter & Co., and I’ll go so far as to admit that I don’t love Rowling’s writing.  I think it’s good, but I’m not one of those who think it’s lasting.  Except in this book.  In book five Rowling took a much loved character and turned him into the least lovable version possible and still came out with a huge (if not bigger) fan base.  In OotP, I feel like Rowling created something I can not only like, but respect.

Something similar happened just this morning in the webcomic I mentioned last week.  I know I just posted about All New Issues, but I have good reason for bringing them up again, so please forgive me.  This time, I wish to talk about the writing.  Dani O’Brien is the other half of the ANI team.  She’s the main writer (though the artist, Bill Ellis, started the comic by himself and still contributes to the plot and characters).  She’s phenomenal at making the right decisions for her characters.  They are not always popular.  About a week and a half ago, after one of the characters went on a truly horrific date, she kept in line with his character and had him sleep with his date anyway.  I did not like the character for making the decision, but I loved that he made it.  It was exactly what I expected him to do, and I would have been disappointed had he not.

Today’s comic (the one linked above) he made another decision in keeping with his character that did surprise me.  I guess it hadn’t hit me just how much of a dick this character was.  Due to reader reactions from a couple weeks ago, Ms. O’Brien knew that today’s strip would not be popular (the character not only slept with his shallow and terrible date, they’re now dating).  According to her twitter account (what?  I follow my favorite webcomic artists on twitter–they’re clever and make my day brighter . . . don’t judge), she expected hate mail.  I’ll admit, I was displeased enough to comment on the comic, but at the same time that I expressed my displeasure, I also expressed how awesome it was that Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Ellis had created a situation that elicited these responses.

I love what I hate because it draws me in.  Rowling, ANI, Nicholas Evans (The Loop, Buck Calder), Suzanne Collins (The Underland Chronicles, Ripred; The Hunger Games, Haymitch), A Girl and Her Fed (Agent 146: Clarice), and too many more to list create characters that I cannot stand, but have to read more of because they create the tension that drives the situation.  Sometimes these are the main characters, sometimes these are side characters driving the main characters to action.  Half the time, these characters aren’t even antagonists, which is so many kinds of awesome!  Writing that inspires passion in the reader is exceptional.  Writing that inspires negative passion that–against all expectations–engages the reader even deeper is astounding.

This is a skill I am working on.  A good antagonistic situation (whether or not there is an actual antagonist) is hard to create.  It means making tough decisions with your characters, putting them in situations you (and most likely your readers) dislike or with characters you hate, even though you created them.  Sometimes it even means having your best and most loved character making a hellacious decision.  Sometimes it means hurting your characters, which can be akin to hurting yourself.

At best, I’m writing antagonists now.  Eventually, I’d like to get to the point where I’m writing antagonistic situations where the surroundings or the protagonist themselves are the “antagonist.”  I have the greatest respect for these authors who manage this balancing act.  They’re inspirational as well as entertaining.  I love that, as an author, I never lack for examples and enjoyment.

Go write someone (or something) horrid,

~RJLouise



{April 12, 2011}   Excising the artiste.

When Kitty Burns Florey graduated from high school, there were Great Expectations for her future.  She had Potential.  She could become a true WRITER.

When she arrived at college, a kind and wise professor sat her down and explained why the writing style she had learned in high school was not the kind of writing the college professors or any editor was looking for.  Florey credits this as an hour that truly changed her life. (Story adapted from Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey.)

I think many artists do this.  They make life more complicated.  Recently, on one of my favorite webcomics, the artist tried something new with his art.  I thought it was awesome.  A lot of the readers, though, felt like the story was unclear.  So, in a nod to “the consumer/customer is always correct,” the artist changed the last panel.   He said on his twitter that he “outsmarted” himself.

I think that’s a perfect description, across all arts.  We who create outsmart ourselves, trying so hard to be of a certain caliber that we ruin our art.  In writing the fault is often found in sentence construction and convoluted plot.  Of course, there are all kinds of other faults.  Painfully obvious symbolism, forced metaphors, and ridiculous epic cycles are problems that are easy to pick out and common enough.  I believe this happens when we try to be, or what we perceive to be, a true artist or, as I like to spell it (as it avoids excessive italicizing), artiste.

This is not to say we cannot challenge ourselves in our art.  The artist of All New Issues, Bill Ellis, was trying something new.  For a few of us readers, it worked.  For many, it did not.  It was good that he tried.  It is good that all artists try to expand and grow.  Sometimes that attempt ends up in round file.  Sometimes it’s wildly successful.  Most times, that attempt at something new ends up right in the middle, requiring many separate occasions of practice to get the new skill good enough, much less perfect.

In the mean time, I think writers need to become comfortable with “normal” writing.  This is not to say banal writing, but the writing that comes out without thought or effort.  My “normal” writing is extremely conversational.  I naturally assume an audience, and begin a conversation with them.  Of course, it’s very one-sided and occasionally becomes a lecture.  These are problems I need to fix.  However, I am at the point where I’m comfortable “talking” with my audience.  Is my writing informal?  Yes, very much so.  Is it better for it?  I like to think so.

Now, please don’t mistake that last sentence to mean informal = better.  That is not necessarily the case.  It is the case for me because my natural writing style is informal.  There are some people who naturally fall into a formal rhythm that is so beautiful and effortless that I turn green.  For those, I would encourage them to become comfortable with the formality of their writing.  Yes, it will alienate some readers, but artists will never please even a majority of the people a minority of the time.  Accept that fact.  While you do write for others, make sure you are also writing for yourself.  Don’t lose the artist to the possible critic.

Some writers will tell you that we put on and off writing styles like clothing.  I think that’s a bad comparison.  I think it’s more like haircuts.  Even in the shortest of cuts, under the surface there are roots still left.  Those roots are what we, as artists, need to discover and find a style that shows them to their best effect.  Simple as that.  Change can happen, does happen, and is a good thing, but it takes some time to accomplish, just as it takes a bit of time for a haircut to settle and look like it really is supposed to, or to grow out if it’s horrific.

I caution against trying to make sudden changes.  Like firing a gun too large, there will be kickback too strong if you try to take on an unwise, too sudden change.  Focus on small things.  Focus on what needs to be done, and eventually what you want to be done will happen without you knowing it.  That’s the beauty of making small changes over time.

And, of course, don’t let your artiste stifle your inner artist.  The second one is so much more important.  The first tries to make everything oh-so-impressive, the second tries to make the art genuine–true to the artist, true to audience, true to itself.  I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of art I want to be creating.

Remember: artist, not artiste.  Until next week,

~RJL



{April 5, 2011}   I really hate mirrors.

And history is the worst one.  Thankfully, it seems that this time, the reflection of my past has actually taught me something.  My past pattern has been to be faithful in blogging for a little while, maybe even a good while, and then miss for about a month (for a myriad of reasons, perhaps some of them are even good).  At a month, I get too intimidated/ashamed to start up again until I am too sick at heart from lack of writing to not start up again . . . about six months later.

Vicious cycle.

Thankfully, as I said, the mirror of my blogging history has at last come through.  When I realized that this week would make the dreaded month, I figured I should probably get back on the blogging horse before my shame became too enormous.  Still, since my shame is still decently large, I decided to use it to examine my writing practices in general, to see if what other patterns of fault that mirror could illuminate.

But first!  A few rules:

  • No castigating!  Recognizing faults and areas for improvement is one thing.  Beating myself up will help nothing.
  • Related to rule one is rule two: minimum name calling.  I am only allowed one “I am/This is stupid.”  That’s it.  To be used wisely.  Other names also to be used sparingly.
  • Focus on the general today.  Descending into minutia can wait for another careful scrutiny of self/post.
  • After determining the faults, come up with some simple solutions, preferably ones that address multiple problems.
  • Last but not least: Understand that these problems are not unique.  Many people struggle with their own craft.  You help nothing by assuming that you are alone.

Okay, the rules are set!  On with the task!

Fault one:  Good intentions.

You know that saying about the pathway to Hell?  Well, the pathway to a dead manuscript (the dreaded xms) is paved with the same materials and do I ever have a lot of them.

Fault two: Distractions.

Thankfully, I have the ability to be single-minded when I need to or to multi-task when called upon.  However, when I’m between needs, I seem to set up my own distractions (have the internet browser up and running behind my word processing application as well as a card game I can switch back and forth between when a sentence is taking “too much” work to form).  Beyond just those distractions, there are personal “distractions” (family and friends) that, rather than work around them, I allow them to displace the work entirely.  This is not okay.

Fault three: Project jumping.

This is really stupid. I know better than to do this and I do it anyway.  Rather than sit down with a project and get a clear idea of it, I often get just far enough to establish shallow roots in my brain before jumping ship for the next interesting project.  I know that variety is the soul of creativity and am not silly enough to think that I can start one project and finish it while never working on another, but I am smart enough to know that there should be one main project I am working on and that there better be a darn good reason for me to put it aside.  At this point, there rarely ever is.

Fault four: consistency.

Ah, I’ve talked about this one before!  I’m not sure there’s much else to say about it, either.  inconsistent = sub-par writing.

Fault five: Getting bored.

I don’t get bored with the story.  I get bored with the work. It’s much easier to imagine the end than it is to work towards it.  Bad, lazy me! (That wasn’t castigating . . . that was a gentle scolding . . . yeah.)

Fault six:  Minutia.

I’ve always liked the details of things: the brushstrokes of a painting, the stitches in an afghan, each shave and thrust of the knife in a carving.  In fact, it was something of a revelation when I was told that one of the main reasons I struggled in school was directly due to the fact that I saw details better than the big picture.  Unfortunately, it is easy to drown oneself or one’s ms in said details. Especially since, as the author, it is my job to know them all.

Okay, I think those are the main faults that my history can show me today.  Solutions go along these lines:

Solution one:  Find time where there is time.

Consistency is one thing, writing the same time for the same amount of time is another.  I may one day get there, but it’s not going to happen right now.  So, when I find the time, I need to utilize it!    For example, this blog goes out on Tuesdays, but I had time on Monday to write it, so I did!  Then it was just a matter of scheduling the post to publish on Tuesday.  (Addresses faults 1 and 4.)

Solution two: Learn to say no.

Eliminating distractions includes saying no to myself and to others.  I need to be able to say no to that silly game on Facebook (although shutting down my account at the end of the month will help with that) as much as I need to occasionally say no to watching NCIS with the family or watching a movie with the boyfriend.  My writing may not be my job right now, but it is still part of me as well as eventually being a career goal.  Also, saying no to the lazy/ship-jumping instincts will help specific project progress greatly. (Addresses faults 2, 3, 4, and 5.)

Solution three: Take good notes.

Ideas strike all the time. I know this.  I love this.  In fact, this has helped me get back on track before.  However, this also causes problems.  So it’s time to start taking the same sort of fastidious notes that I did in college classes, this time with my ideas as the subject.  This way I’ll be less afraid of losing things, as well as less enticed by the thought of starting something new. (Addresses faults 2, 3, and 6.)

Solution four:  Set up a regular time each month to review projects.

Once a month, look at the work I’ve done.  If I’ve done one page of work, maybe this “main project” isn’t the right main project for the moment.  Maybe it is, but I’m not doing something right (should be editing some older parts of it rather than trying to add new material).   Just spend the time to make sure that I’m setting myself up to succeed, not merely not fail.  (Addresses faults 1, 3, 4, and 5.)

And there you have it!  I’ve held myself up to the mirror and come out fairly unscathed!  Sure, I have things to work on, but none of these are particular news.  And the solutions are, thankfully, simple.  Funny how being determined to be simple makes it easier to be simple.

Off to put the plan into action!

~RJLouise



et cetera