Category Archives: writing

Thinking Up the Future

Wow. Posting every week? Look at me! Wonder how long I can keep this up. Anyway. The topic today, kids, is predicting the future.

crystal ball

No, not like that. I mean actually, scientifically, with reason and logic.

Last night, Big Bopper and I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen. Now, the last time I saw this movie I was ten years old. Yes, I saw it in its original release in 1968. And what I remembered was SCARY KILLER MONKEYS! FUTURISTIC SPACE TRAVEL! PSYCHOPATH COMPUTER! And also, my mother and aunt sitting with their mouths open in disbelief as the house lights came up after the show. (“Was that a fetus? Floating in space?”)

Some of the assumptions the director made about the future were spot-on—using credit cards instead of cash-money, flexible space suits, video phone calls—but most of the predictions of how Things Will Be in 2001 are laughable.

For instance, in 2001 all the superpowers will have moon bases where we can continue to carry on the Cold War. Also, furniture design remains frozen in time with Eames chairs. And to transfer information between computers, you need a punch card.

IBM_Punch_Card

The point I’m making is this: The roots of the future are in the present, but if you’re a writer, you have to look beyond the obvious.

The USSR economy was unsustainable. It took decades to fall apart, but its ultimate demise was predictable, if you knew how to look at it. The integrated circuit, which would become the microchip of today, was invented in 1959. At the time, almost no one understood the implications. But now, microchips power everything from toilets to cars.

So if you’re writing science fiction or science fantasy, read science news. World politics. Business.

And let your mind wander.

Homer-Simpson-Zoned-Out

Character Comforts

It’s funny, what comforts a person.

For instance, Big Bopper loves napping on the couch to the sounds of cartoons.

Bottled Lightning loves silence.

BoyWonder likes to sit around the dining room table with his family and talk, after a big meal.

Freckles McYoungest loves a stormy afternoon, curled up with a book.

I like wind…

An unremitting sea breeze on the beach.

warp-dogThe relentless gale that whips through a car speeding down the highway with all the windows down.

i always want to say "and my other brother daryl". anyone else do that?

i always want to say “and my other brother daryl”. anyone else do that?

An afternoon gust that cools the porch and blasts away the mosquitoes on a summer evening.

catfanA floor fan, pointed just right, that puffs up your t-shirt and makes tendrils of hair dance around your face.

I wonder if it’s because the first house I lived in, situated in a coastal town, had no air conditioning. But every room had windows designed to catch a cross-breeze.

Or, could be I’m just weird.

As writers, though, it’s interesting to think about what would comfort the characters we invent. For instance, there are times that I get a whiff of stale oil and hot engine parts, and maybe a little pee, which reminds me of the Paris Metro. Would that be a comforting smell to someone raised there? Maybe a character loves raking leaves because it reminds him of New England and maple syrup and red flannel shirts—and home?

I dunno. I ponder these things, when I write characters.

Hope I’m not weird.

Outlining VS Pantsing, Again

I once heard a talk by a lovely Kansas SCBWI member—whose name I wish I could remember—about Walter Dean Myer’s process. It involved lengthy and detailed outlines.

At that moment, I wondered if I’d ever be a good writer.

Trouble is, I didn’t want to give up the freedom of pantsing. The interesting discoveries you make when you just let ‘er rip.

I’m starting a new story and this time, I’m making the effort to get the bones in place, first. With the caveat that I’m still free to run wild and crazy when belching out my first draft.

Two memes for the price of one.

Two memes for the price of one.

I hope the extra time spent pre-loading the manuscript makes me write faster. And still gives me room for those Aha! moments.

mickey

Because that’s what makes it fun.

Not Writing Is Still Writing

There’s more to writing than–well, writing.

This weekend, our group of long-time writing friends is on retreat. (And no, I’m not mentioning it here on the blog to document that fact for the IRS. Though that’s a pretty good idea.)

Sure, I brought my laptop. But this is the first day I’ve fired it up–because I’ve spent the first 48 hours in our cozy cabin paradise, pondering.

I’ve spent time trying on character names, drawing maps, diagramming plot points. To dig down deep. Find the truth in my story.

Don’t get so set on word count goals and outlines that you forget to dream.

adorable puppies sleeping. you're welcome.

adorable puppies sleeping. you’re welcome.

Get the Most Out of Your Ghost…Tour

It’s that time of year again, full of thrills and chills and things that go bump in the night.

black-and-white-gif-scaring-scary-Favim.com-238184

When many usually sane people decide to attend commercial haunted houses and ghost tours.

Now, I haven’t attended a haunted house and I never will, based on this:

 

flashight gif

And this:

 

blink

 

And this:

 

giddyup

But I have gone on a bunch of ghost tours, and I’ve got a few tips for writers and others about…

 

HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF A WALKING GHOST TOUR

  1. Stay in the front–sounds obvious. But if you trail the group you will miss things. Even if the Ghost Walk Conductor uses a bullhorn, you’re gonna miss stuff. Random people walking down the street will ask you what’s going on. Other ghost tour customers will buttonhole you with their own personal ghost stories. Which are almost never any good. And the tour leader will often talk to the people in the front, off-mike.
  2. Laugh, gasp and generally encourage the guide–even if it makes you feel like a bit player in a melodrama. An engaged audience is a lot more fun for everybody–including the speaker. If he enjoys delivering his spiel, he’ll ham it up. Throw in extra tidbits of information that he might skip if he’s in a hurry to ditch a surly group.
  3. Ask questions–figure out whether your speaker is more interested in the ghosty or historical part of his job. If he’s working for a ghost tour company, he’s enthusiastic about at least one. And usually knows a lot more about his subject than he’s telling you. If you’ve got a question, ask it. But dear God, please don’t tell the group about the time your great-grandmother heard the Banshee cry. Nobody cares. Sorry.
  4. Interrupt–honest to Murgatroyd, I have become intolerant of fools in my middle age. As far as I’m concerned, a chatty audience member gets one it’s-all-about-me comment per situation. If a fellow ghost tourist feels the need to continually take the speaker’s presentation off track, interrupt with a question that will help the him get back to business. (“Did George Washington sleep here?”) Or simply repeat the last thing the tour guide said. (“You said he had a wooden leg named ‘Smith’. Go on.”) 99.999999% of the time, he will be grateful.
  5. Tip–come on, cheapskate. You flattered and cajoled your host into giving you the ghost tour of a lifetime, now tip him. And while you’re at it, ask him to recommend historical and paranormal sources you can check out. After all, this is book research, right? RIGHT?

 

My Writing Process in a Shell of a Nut

toddOne of the best things about having writerly friends, is celebrating with them when they cross the finish line.  One of my talented friends in such a position is LOUISE GALVESTON, author of By the Grace of Todd.

 

Louise tagged me in the #myworkprocess blog thinga-do. Here’s her post on her work and how she produces it, and below, mine.

 

 

A. What am I working on?

Currently, I’m revising a perky little YA manuscript that involves cellular memory, serial killing and sex. And also, bad words.  Although this story is quite dark, it’s a lot of fun for me. It’s set in my home state of Texas, and recreating the rhythm of Texan speech patterns, as well as idioms peculiar to the state, is like wrapping myself in a warm serape.

serape

B. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write books for guys that girls like to read too. If it’s a subject that’s usually discussed in whispers, I wave it like bunting on the Fourth of July. My stories are gritty and realistic, but always with a small twist that makes the world skew a bit toward the weird.

horse

 C. Why do I write what I do?

You’d have to ask my psychiatrist.

D. How does your writing process work?

I believe in vomiting out your first draft–just GET IT DOWN.  As I write,  characters’ names change,  the plot careens wildly and I might try on different tenses and  points of view. DOESN’T MATTER. Then, I choose which tense and point of view I like, and rewrite for plot and story elements. Then a third draft concentrating on character, setting and cleaning up plot holes. Then a last pass to clean up anything I missed. I. Am. Thorough.

demon

NEXT WEEK, MAY 5TH (may already) GO SEE MY PALS’ POSTS ON THIS VERY SUBJECT:

Heather Trent Beers’ blog, I’M JUST SAYIN’:

Heather is my adorable friend who writes articles for magazines and periodicals, local and national, for kids and parents. She also writes charming picture books, as well as edits for cash money. We like to travel together under aliases.   http://heathertrentbeers.blogspot.com/

Tessa Elwood’s blog, INK & ANGST:

Tessa is my cool friend who writes YA novels and designs websites and also is a photographer extraordinaire. This gal’s got her fingers in so many pies *CORN ALERT CORN ALERT* we call her Marie Callendar. She also lets me post on her blog sometimes. Is that a pal, or what? http://inkandangst.com/

Heather Ayris Burnell’s blog, FROLICKING THROUGH CYBERSPACE:

Heather is my cyberfriend. We met on Twitter and have yet to coordinate a meeting IRL. BUT I HAVE FAITH. She’s lives on a mountain and raises things–crops, critters and kids. And writes picture books, as well as a YA here and there. I love her madly, and am so curious to get together in person so I can hear her voice. I imagine it is smooth as a lamb’s ear and fresh as goat’s milk.  http://frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com/

 

KOWS: Keep On Writing, Silly

You may have noticed my absence from social media for the past several months.

invisible smoker

 

Or maybe you haven’t.

Anyhoo.

I’ve been madly revising my current manuscript to the detriment of all other aspects of my life.  Especially housework. Of course, it doesn’t take much to get me to give up on housework.

But Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, this blog, the other blog, Sub It Club…etc., etc.  Regretfully, they have been mostly on hiatus while I finish my WIP.

So I would like to offer this situation as a shining example of the role of Social Media in a writer’s career. It is incredibly important, but all things stem from THE WRITING.

When necessary, we should be willing to let all other things go to hell in a handbasket.

 

cat in a handbasket

 

Oh, were you looking for cows?

 

 

 

 

Who Helped Kill the Mockingbird?

I watched a documentary the other night about Harper Lee, called “Hey Boo“.

I’d been thinking about her upcoming court battle with her current agent. Imagine. Stealing the rights to one of the most beloved American novels of all time. Allegedly.

And I wondered why Miss Lee hadn’t written another book since To Kill a Mockingbird. I mean, nearly every page of that masterpiece has one quotable passage. Or two. Or even three.

The documentary indirectly answered the Mystery of Harper Lee’s Retirement for me:

It took her eight years of bumming around in odd jobs before she had a manuscript. She gave it to Tay Hohoff at Lippincott, who described it as a string of stories rather than a novel with a beginning, middle and end. But she saw something in Miss Lee’s writing, and guided her through several rewrites for two and a half years.

No. Kidding.

How often do editors do that sort of thing anymore? How would they have time? And how many brilliant novels have we lost, because there was no editor to guide the writer?

There have been a lot of conspiracy theories floated, claiming Harper Lee did not write To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the suspected authors being her childhood friend, Truman Capote. But I think we know now who helped Miss Lee write her book.

Her editor.

Oh. And she loved Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch.

harper lee and gregory peck

stories of ghosts and us

I’ve been everywhere, man. (Cue music.)

Across the deserts bare, man.

geez. anybody got a power bar?

Breathed that mountain air, man.

IMG_3642

You get the idea.

One of the things we did last week, was go on a ghost tour in Old Town, in Albuquerque.

Now, there’s some fun.

Two guides and only seven people in the group. Excellent stories, videos, pictures, EVPs, (electric voice phenomena) and history lessons.

Yes, history lessons.

It occurred to me that really, the tour boiled down to one gigantic history lesson.

Because where does a ghost come from, but the past? Whether it’s 1998 or 1698, ghosts are reminders of what came before us.

When Great Aunt Melba rattles around in the attic, we communicate with our ancestors. Union soldiers at Shiloh allow us to affirm the continuity of our country.  Incan ghosts at Machu Picchu let us know that even if the glory of our civilization dies, we will not.

I’m thinking about writing a ghost story for my next novel. Of course, in order for a ghost story to be interesting it has to be more than haints floating around a dilapidated house. There has to be some sort of psychosis involved.

mocinha

I’m wondering if the more the main character connects with the ghost, the more frightening it is. The better the ghost can infiltrate his psyche, and therefore, the reader’s, the more the ghost can play him like a fiddle.

I mean, aren’t we all so OVER monsters?

82167

I dunno. Still puzzling this out. Tell me what you think.

write, wrote, have written

Writers live in the past.

We have to.

If our dialogue is going to ring true we must listen to hours of conversations between real people, then recall those words later, at the keyboard.

To put a reader in a setting we must know that place, even if it is a place we’ve never visited, or a place we’ve created in the clouds.  Either way, the sensory clues will be the same. Sights, smells, sounds—all things the writer experiences and files away to call upon when she opens her work-in-progress.

The plot springs from something that happened to the writer, or happened to someone he knew, or it’s something he read about. The finished story might not resemble the original spark in any way, but it certainly didn’t pop out of nowhere, unattached to the human condition.

Emotion.  The hardest thing to put into our manuscripts, the shadows of our past we don’t want to examine. Even if the reason for the character’s emotion is vastly different than the circumstances the writer faced, it’s painful to put ourselves in that space. To be that raw. And then spill it on the page.

People cherish truth.

The best writers will time-travel to get it for them.

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