Friday, April 29, 2011

Love is in the Air!

I still haven't seen my recording of the Royal Wedding yet, but maybe this weekend, I will. All this hype and all this talk of commoners marrying princes has me thinking about romance. I look at how blatantly it's been on display the past couple of weeks, leading up to the wedding. And how much people -- women, especially -- eat it up. Women like me!

And it reminds me again that, thankfully, there's a pretty solid market for romance in commercial fiction.

I actually write women's fiction (such a vague term, embodying MANY different genres -- chick lit, literary fiction (aka, "Oprah" books), romance, erotica). Mine are the "cozy" type, a la Debbie Macomber or Rosamunde Pilcher. I like to think of them as relationship books with a little romance sprinkled in.

So, back to William and Kate -- watching the world embrace their love story reminds me how much people love a good romance. It's apparent, from all the hype (some would say it's gone quite overboard, in fact) that fairytales still live on in our collective consciousness, whether American or English (or otherwise). And there's nothing wrong with that! I love that I write about love. That it still has a place in this jaded, modern, fast-paced world.

And mostly, I love that somewhere there's a corner, a little niche inside people's hearts, that holds room for an old-fashioned love story. One that can still capture the attention of the world, the way that Kate and William's story has.

Cheers to the happy couple! *raises cyberglass high*

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sound Your Barbaric YAWP

I showed this scene (link here) from Dead Poets' Society to my Creative Writing class today. I'd forgotten what a brilliant scene it is, wow. It focuses on the idea that we should stop being SO worried about what other people think (a good tip for writers!) and just.....YAWP. There's a time to be unafraid and unreserved and not overthink things.

Honestly, I believe that's where our best writing comes. Mine seems to flow the best when I'm thinking about it the least -- when I'm not aching over every. little. word. that comes. When I'm relaxed and when I fire the little editor-dictator on my shoulder who wants to censor every single word before it hits the keyboard.

In her brilliant book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about taking all the little "voices" (the sounds of people in your life who would want you to write a "certain way," or who might criticize what you do, or might even disapprove or make certain suggestions) and turning those voices into mice. Then, she suggests taking those mice, one-by-one by the tail, and dropping them into a big jar. Then, she says, seal the lid (poke holes in it first, of course). Essentially, metaphorically, lock the voices away so that you can have room to be YOU. Room to create without anyone else in the room.

That's basically what Robin Williams did in this scene. He covered the eyes of the painfully-shy Ethan Hawke - because only then could he tune out the other students - their giggles, their jeers, their opinions. And the result was brilliant.

So today, take a moment to relax your creative mind, to shut out all the other distracting voices (even your own!), and sound your barbaric YAWP!

Monday, April 25, 2011


So, today, I had the great surprise of speaking with a student whose mother wrote this screenplay -- "Man in the Moon." I saw the movie ages ago (it's Reece Witherspoon's first-ever movie - dang, was she young!!). It's a lovely coming-of-age story about first love. Very sweet.

Well, today, when I heard about this student's mother being THE writer, I got so starstruck! I know he thought I was nuts, lol, but I started barraging him with all these questions about his mom - Did she have an agent? (yes) How did she come up with the story? (it's based on HER life!) What's she up to now? (is publishing her first novel in July - link here).

He even told me that his grandfather was a pastor (a little different from in the film), and that a country church in a certain scene was THE church his grandfather preached in...

How cool!!

Just wanted to share. I figured other writers would totally "get" my being starstruck today!

I'm curious - do y'all have any author/celebrity stories to tell? People you've met where you've picked their brain about the process or their experience? I'd love to hear it!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Weekend!

Though I try to avoid overly-spiritual posts here (since this is a writing blog), I thought this was rather fitting today:

I looked out my window this morning, to see the most beautiful picture: the contrast of dark grey clouds in the distance, punctuated by a burst of bright sunlight. I thought it was such a poetic representation of this weekend -- the somber, dark reflection of Good Friday and Jesus' brutal death on a cross, combined with the hope and joy of an Easter morning to follow, the resurrection. It could even be an example of pathetic fallacy.

Also, I came across a great quote by C.S. Lewis I'd never read before, that was extremely thought-provoking. He's a fantastic writer. Just felt like sharing it today:

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them....If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be, that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

What an ultimate “good” this {the cross} must have been...But it wasn’t a good designed for God; there is no good to be added, or deficit to be addressed in His being.

It was a good for us.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Importance of POV

1st person, 3rd person, and even that almost-impossible-to-pull-off 2nd person.

Limited 3rd person, omniscient, alternating.

So many choices!! But whatever choice you make about point of view for your story, one thing is extremely important--that the voice of the character shines through. Always.

I found a GREAT quote tonight about this idea, from the blog, Murder She Writes (link here). I couldn't agree more, and love the wording of this...

The soul of the character needs to bleed through every word choice you make while in their point of view.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Should Characters Text?

It's obvious that technology in the last 10 years or so has changed our daily lives to an extreme. Cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, texting...on and on the list goes, and it's growing every day. The way we communicate has changed, because of it. Face-to-face interactions have decreased, while phone-to-phone, computer-to-computer interactions have increased.

What does all this mean for the writer? For our characters, and the way they communicate with each other inside our stories?

To let our characters use technology or not use it -- that is the question.

First, I think writers have to learn to walk the tightrope of not letting technology interfere too greatly with characters/plot -- while at the same time being realistic with it (for instance, it would be almost unthinkable not to have a single mention of a character using a cell phone in a modern story).

Two main points worth considering, when it comes to characters and technology:

1) Character interaction.

In real life: Let's face it. Technology has created a new level of social rudeness. People flipping open phones in movie theaters or libraries, talking as loudly as they please, ignoring the scowls around them. I went out to dinner with an old friend recently, and she spent 90% of the meal texting someone else!! I was too nice to call her out, but honestly, it was just plain rude. She was having about five different conversations with people, and I was the last one on the totem pole, even though I was right there in front of her, live, and in person! Hrumph.

In fiction: When I have two characters out to dinner, I'm probably going to forgo the reality (people texting at the table!!) and allow my characters an actual conversation, face-to-face. (The exception, of course, is if I WANT to show that a character is rude, and therefore, might have him/her texting the entire time, lol. But unless there's a purpose to technology being at that table, I'm going to push technology aside, to favor actual character interaction).

2) Plot choices.

In real life: Looking up a long-lost friend or sweetheart is as quick and easy as spending five minutes on an internet search or hopping on Facebook. Wanna find that old boyfriend? Search for that long lost best friend you quit talking to in 1988? Just get online, do some quick searching, and voila!

In fiction: What if I want a character's search for someone to be slow? What if I want to let it simmer over 200 pages, have a character wonder and wait and second-guess herself as she tries - in vain - to find that lost love? It's not realistic, in a modern story, to have her be out of touch with technology, to the point that she doesn't even try an internet search. So, I have to get creative. Draw out the search. Have her look for that person online, but come up empty (that still happens, so it's in the realm of realism). In order to create tension, to have the reader wonder if/when a reunion will ever occur, I might have that lost love be untraceable. At least for awhile...

Funny thing is, the inspiration for this blog post came from an old episode of Seinfeld. I watched an entire episode devoted to a movie theater fiasco. Elaine, Jerry, George, and Kramer were supposed to meet at the movies, but things got in the way. In a comedy of errors, cabs got stuck in traffic, movies sold out, and everyone ended up missing each other (and the movie!).

Of course, it took place in the early 90's, when cell phones weren't attached to everyone's hip. And as I watched the episode, what cracked me up more than the episode itself was that I kept thinking, "If the characters could just whip out a cell phone and call each other, they could've all met up at the right time and the episode would be over in about 30 seconds." In that case, a cell phone would've changed the course of the plot entirely!

Bottom line - using technology or not using it in your novels is completely up to you. There's definitely a time and place for it in modern fiction (and, if it's ignored completely, it can make the story feel unrealistic). Even better, writers can use technology to their advantage, to make a plot more compelling and suspenseful (but that's a blog entry for another day....).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Carpe Diem

Yesterday, I asked my Creative Writing class what carpe diem meant. I received a variety of definitions, all accurate: "seize the day," "live life to the fullest," "time is short."

Then, I showed a clip from Dead Poets' Society (here's the link). Robin Williams at his best. The profession of teaching at its very best. The love of poetry at its best.

I was surprised how many of my 20-year-old students had seen the movie. They LOVED it and giggled along at all the right places.

Next, I had the students write a poem using carpe diem as the theme. Some of the students read them aloud, and the poems were beautiful. They were aching and raw and regretful and hopeful. Even at 20, students seem to have a sense that time is short. That they don't have as much time as they think they do.

I love to see young people take life seriously, take writing seriously. And to realize that none of us has all the time in the world. A powerful truth that does, hopefully, urge us to seize the day!

"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may..."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Great Advice

Y'all know how I love a good quote. Well, here's one I just found.

Such a great analogy. Wanted to pass it along...

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up. ~Jane Yolen, Merlin

Monday, April 11, 2011


So, I just learned that April is National Poetry Month. What a great coincidence! This is THE month I just so happen to be teaching poetry in ALL my classes (in my literature class, we're analyzing it; in my Creative Writing class, they're writing it).

In honor of this, I'll post one of my (rare) poems here. It was the only poem I've ever had published (in a university journal, years ago). It's about a miscarriage I had back in 1998. Sorry about the sad tone/theme, but I find I only write poetry when I'm sad. Or frustrated. So, here goes:

A Changing Tide

A definite pink line,

An ecstatic squeal as I prepare to tell the world.

I am pregnant.

A delirious rush, adjusting to the thought

That something is growing inside.

Books bought, names considered,

A future planned.

But a grievous flicker in the doctor's eyes

Frightens me.

Two days spent not thinking about

What I know is happening, a changing tide.

We wait.

Finally, mercifully, the tragic truth is told.

I am numb.

Pregnant, then suddenly unpregnant.

Swept away, no time to adjust to either.

A death no one could see.

No funeral, no casket,

Only the somber reflection

Of a mother

No longer a mother.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Snip, Snip

So, I've been working hard on a scene today--only about two-and-a-half pages long--and it's felt a bit agonizing. I just want to get it right. I see it in my head, know exactly what I want to happen, what I want the reader to feel--but translating that to the page can sometimes be a real challenge.

Sure, I did all the stuff we're told to do: plant your seat in the seat and work; go for a walk to clear your head; re-read it (out loud), make changes; walk away again and watch a t.v. show; return to it and keep chipping away.

And, in the end, I think I'm pleased with the result. Interestingly, the initial spark of creativity came quickly, and in a rush, I wrote the scene. That only took about ten minutes. But the snip, snip of editing had to be done, in order to refine it. At first, it was SO close to what I wanted, but not close enough. Snip, snip. Trim a word here, add a word there. Take this sentence out, move it up here.

It reminds me very much of this advice: A word or sentence must EARN the right to live. ~Unknown

So true. And though it can be painstaking to make sure that advice is followed, in the end, it's really worth it.

*fingers crossed* I think the scene is "ready." At least, until I look at it again tomorrow with fresh eyes. ;-)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Failure, the Greatest Teacher

I just watched a fabulous interview of Tavis Smiley with Larry King (link here). Tavis has written a new book that sounds fascinating -- Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure. It details 20 failures in his life, and how those failures made him a better man.

I've always believed that failure is a better teacher than success. We learn so much about ourselves, the world, other people through our failures. Failures can humble us and bring us to our knees, sometimes. But it's only on our knees (through humility) that we're open to learning the greatest lessons about ourselves, I think. When we're arrogant, on top of the world, that's when we're the least open to learning.

Back to Tavis -- he gave a great quote from Babe Ruth (this is Tavis's paraphrase): "Every strike gets me closer to the next home run."

What a wonderful quote for writers! Every rejection, every "no," gets me that much closer to the "yes." I think the failures - the "no's" - are MUCH easier to handle when we realize that they move us one step closer to success.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Losing Time

I always love hearing new and different ways to describe someone's passion: passion for the arts, for music, for writing.

Yesterday on a t.v. program, I listened to Kristian Bush, one half of the country duo, Sugarland, talk about his passion for music and songwriting. He described his passion - and, any passion - as "losing time." So true! How many times have you just gotten lost when you're writing? Looked up and realized the day has passed, that you've forgotten to eat, to make that important phone call, or even to pay that important bill? Because during those hours, nothing feels as important as those sentences getting down on the page.

Kristian also compared that high -- that adrenaline we experience -- to those "first love" feelings. Those times in high school or college, when you stayed up late into the night with a new love, just talking. Absorbing everything about that other person. Every gesture, every nuance, every word. It's when we feel most alive, being in love. Happy things seem happier, sad things seem sadder. And yes, I think at the height of writing, we can experience some of that same euphoria. It can lift us out of this life we're in, if for a little while.

And then Kristian said something else. He said it so well, in fact, that instead of summing it up in my own words, I actually took the time to type it out on my i-Pad, word-for-word (not easy on that digital keyboard, lol). He said that passion "is where your brain bends time and space, and it says, 'This matters.' And your heart is alive."

It does matter, writing. And sometimes, when we're "in the zone," where clocks stop and time stands still, it seems to matter more than anything else.

Hey -- Did You See That Unicorn?

I've been making my way through the "Ally McBeal" DVD set lately. (Now, before you Ally-haters roll your eyes and click on something else, just bear with me, lol...).

It's gotten a bad rap, that show (too-skinny lead, quirky fantasy sequences, controversial storylines), but I love it. The characters (John Cage, especially - tee-hee) are odd and endearing, and the storylines always make me think. The series writer/creator, David E. Kelley, is a genius.

In yesterday's episode, Ally saw a unicorn (she has fantasies quite often) and it was noted that only "special" people see unicorns. Unicorns have quite a fascinating literary and religious history, by the way - link here.

And it got me thinking about writers. How, yes, I think we are "special" people. Not better than anyone else, just, unique. Because to be writers, we have to be brave enough to immerse ourselves in a fantasy world. To pretend. To go beyond what's real and explore the un-real.

We have to be able to see unicorns. Not literally, of course. But there are writers who have audible conversations with their characters, in order to flesh them out more. Writers who travel the ends of the earth to research settings in which to place fictional people. And, of course, writers who do write about things that don't exist: orcs, trolls, elves, vampires, werewolves.

In order to do that, to write outside the realms of what's real, writers have to be willing to look for unicorns. To tap into that creative part of ourselves that, for most people, vanishes with childhood. Santa Claus, fairies, invisible friends, unicorns. I think writers must maintain the spirit of a child, that eternal sense of whimsy and creativity.

And, like with Ally McBeal, the average outsider (the non-unicorn-seeing person) probably views the writer as an oddity. And so we are. But I embrace that uniqueness.

Why be like everyone else? I'd rather see unicorns. ;-)