This hell beats the alternative hell

Today as I do research for the work-for-hire book assignment I’ve accepted, I’m trying to keep this quote in mind:

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

Regret of neglected opportunity is the worst hell that a living soul can inhabit.
~
Rafael Sabatini

I hope ol’ Rafael was right, because I’m currently experiencing some hefty regret over taking this assignment. There’s a slight comfort in thinking the alternative may have resulted in an even worse hell.

Thankful Thursday: friendship + sunshine edition

Today I am thankful for my friend, mentor, and critique partner Claudia Mills who is spontaneous and responded in the affirmative to my last-minute invitation to get together. We spent an hour and a half this afternoon strolling around Viele Lake in Boulder. The sun shone brightly the entire time we walked and talked. Tanky-the-dog mostly listened, although he interjected a few yips at other mostly-larger dogs on the path.

Claudia and Tanky after our final lap around the lake.

It’s the last day of January (don’t let the door hit you on the way out!) and I’m grateful for the revitalization that comes from friendship and sunshine.

My January lifeboat

This afternoon I sat in the chair I’d situated just-so in a patch of sunshine and remained there until the sun dropped below the foothills. January is always a struggle for me and in anticipation of posting something here, I went to brainyquotes.com in search of a quote about the excruciating difficulty that is January. Instead, I found this:

I like starting projects in January.
That’s the best time to start something.
It’s so inward.
~ Carolyn Chute

That quotation feels right for today because as I struggled emotionally earlier this afternoon, I kept returning to the two opening sentences I’d jotted in my ideas notebook. There’s a story in those two sentences, I’m sure of it, and my mind keeps going back to them in an attempt to figure out what that story might be. Those two sentences are like a lifeboat to me now and I’m grabbing on tight.

Who knows? This cold and dark January might kickstart something truly wonderful.

Portrait of dignity


“Animals don’t behave like men,’ he said. ‘If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill, they kill. But they don’t sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures’ lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”  ~ Richard Adams, Watership Down

There in the sunshine

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations.
I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty,
believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.
~ Louisa May Alcott

Preparation for writing my own Damn Fine Story

So I’ve decided to do NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and am spending my time before November 1st figuring out characters and outline. It’s intimidating to think about 50k words in 30 days and I’m fully aware my success depends on the very best road map I can create.

I had a cold shock the other day with the realization that my outline was a series of “and then” scenes (one event following another, without an increase in tension). As written, my outline was worthless. I’m not gonna have the luxury of taking breaks to noodle on how to increase conflict in the NaNo draft. I must have built-in conflict before I begin which means I need to link my scenes with “but” and “therefore.” Note: there are many links out there regarding Trey Parker’s explanation regarding “but, therefore”).

Last night I couldn’t sleep and spent hours in the dark thinking about my protagonist and what he’ll be up against in my new book. Tons of ideas bounced around my head (none of which I wrote down) and then I remembered what I’d read in Damn Fine Story (written by Chuck Wendig, profane and big-hearted gift to the writing world). To paraphrase: it doesn’t work to cram a plot onto a character; the characters drive the story.

This morning I reread Damn Fine Story’s chapter two: “Soylent Story: It’s Made Out of People.” And guess what? I’m feeling much better about my upcoming NaNo experience.

Thank you, Chuck!

Revision tip: bind that manuscript

As I wait to hear back from my agent on the middle-grade manuscript I sent her way, I want to document a new approach in my revision process. For the first time ever in the history of me writing books, I paid to have a manuscript bound. Here it is:

I was inspired by this tweet from author-extraordinaire Laurel Snyder:

Intrigued by the idea of revising in that tidy format, I asked Laurel if she printed single or double-sided and she responded that she did single sides because then she could write on the backs of pages. She also said she requested extra blank pages bound in the back for notes. Genius!

Before having my manuscript printed I switched it from the manuscript default (Times New Roman 12-point) to Garamond 12-point. I did that so my brain would see and read the pages differently. It came out to about 200 pages and cost me $22.

I applied my usual revision approach of reading the entire manuscript in one sitting. I always set the goal of reading without revising or making notes, but this time around was not at all successful. I tweaked sentences here and there early on and then forced myself to merely mark troublesome passages with CLUNKY. I made other general notes in the margins and then after finishing the manuscript wrote out big-picture thoughts/questions on a blank page in back.

Verdict? I loved working with a bound manuscript. All my notes and thoughts were in one place. I transferred my edits to my Word doc that was also color-coded with revision threads (green for anything dealing with X and yellow for Y and blue for Z and fuschia for wording still in need of tweaking). It was so easy to follow a plot/characterization thread from beginning to end.

I can’t wait to use this process again.

Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!

Apparently, today is #WinnieThePoohDay. I just pulled my Winnie-the-Pooh collection off the shelf in search of a passage to quote. After getting lost in the pages/memories, I chose the following:

Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
I don’t much mind if it rains or snows,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice new nose,
I don’t much care if it snows or thaws,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice clean paws!
Sing Ho! for a Bear!
Sing Ho! for a Pooh!
And I’ll have a little something in an hour or two!
(from In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole)

I can’t help but feel a kinship with Winnie-the-Pooh. He finds great happiness in composing silly little songs, and the next smackeral is always on his radar.

Thank you, A. A. Milne for all the smiles and fun-to-sing songs.
Happy Birthday to you.
Tiddly pom.

The shape of one-dimensional characters

Zippy and I just returned from our weekly date. It was his turn to choose and he chose Guillermo del Toro’s THE SHAPE OF WATER. I would not recommend the film. However, Sally Hawkins’s performance was lovely and the movie was so visually pleasing that I debated whether to recommend watching it without sound. Alas, I believe the heavy-handed characterization and plot line would still sledgehammer their way into your consciousness even without audio.

As a writer, I’m kinda pissed. The characters were lazy stereotypes, including Michael Shannon’s character who was so  over-the-top I nearly burst out laughing. That character didn’t have one shred of decency. Not one. Plus, there wasn’t a whole lot of nuance in the film and absolutely zero question as to justice vs injustice. Zero question.

And you know that quote from Chekhov about the gun? (“One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”)  Yep, THE SHAPE OF WATER committed that sin when a hard-boiled egg didn’t go off.

 

 

 

 

I’m out.

Listen up

Tonight Zippy, Wildebeest, Zebu, and I are going to watch the Nuggets play the 76ers. I’m excited because one of my favorite former Michigan State players, Gary Harris, plays for the Nuggets. Also, I love basketball.

However, that excitement doesn’t mean I won’t be packing a pen and notebook. Yes, I’m a basketball fan. But I’m also a writer who likes to be prepared, and as Tom Waits says: Any place is good for eavesdropping, if you know how to eavesdrop.

Even a basketball arena.

Me and Theda Bara

It was a productive day in the revision cave
and I’m feeling a bit like this:

Theda Bara in “Cleopatra,” 1917

Focused and just a wee bit crazed.
(Hey, it’s a better look than pasty-faced Tom Wolfe in his white suit.)

Souvenir of the day

My writing often contains souvenirs of the day
– a song I heard, a bird I saw –
which I then put into the novel.
~ Amy Tan

Thinking back on my writing day, I didn’t include a snippet of song or any bird images. Instead, I referenced a heartbreaking news item about a ten-year-old girl with serious health issues who has been caught up in this administration’s xenophobia-on-steroids policies. Tomorrow, I’ll try hard for a bird.

I am me and you are you

The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you.
Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.
So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
~ Neil Gaiman

Started my day with some hoop dancing, and now it’s off to write.
Today feels like a wonderful day to be me.

Thanks for reading this. Now go be you.

Artist or criminal?

I’m sifting through the feedback I received from my critique group. Most everything offered either resonated with me right away (YES! That change is a must!) or fell flat on delivery (NOPE! That misses the point and/or is unnecesssary and/or etc). Those are the easy critique points. However, I’ve also got some tough calls to make, and those are now simmering in my middle mind.  Should I expand the mystery element of the story? Does X, Y, Z happen?  I’m hoping my middle mind has answers for me in the very near future.

In the meanwhile, I’m reveling in some of the truly messed-up things that happen in this book. Lest you think I’m alone in this kind of thinking:

Personally, I see little distinction between an artistic mentality and criminality.
You couldn’t possibly create a compelling story without some wickedness
or some fascination with the disgusting.
Being good is a hindrance to a writer.
~ Russell Smith

cremation ashes

Can I get an amen?

An ode to “Rectify”

Last night, Zippy and I watched the final episode of the four-season series “Rectify.” (Logline: A former death row inmate named Daniel Holden, who may have been wrongly convicted as a teen, comes home after nearly 20 years away.)

Zippy and I discovered the show on Netflix last year and were blown away by the first three seasons. At the time, the fourth was still in production and then it eventually became available. For months, I put off watching it because I knew that the story and characters deserved my absolute emotional attention. The show is quietly, beautifully, stunningly intense. There isn’t an empty calorie in those 30 episodes. Each episode must be savored and slowly digested, and I needed to be ready.

Today, I’m digesting. I’m thinking about all those characters and their stories. I’m ruminating on the complexities of justice and the legal system, and the horrors faced by people in prison and the dificulties ex-cons face once they get out. I’m missing Daniel’s sister, Amantha, and wishing we could be friends.

I can’t stop thinking about “Rectify.”

It’s the real deal. The writing is magnificent (and taught me much about storytelling and the power of character arcs), and the performances are extraordinary. Many scenes had me laughing and crying, and always, always thinking and feeling. The show is so damned good and creator Ray McKinnon deserves to have a star or tree or satellite dish named after him.

I’ll stop here. Please, if you haven’t yet seen it, make time in your life for “Rectify.”

So much more to a book

This photo hangs on the wall at my brother’s house. Here he is with the smiling Wildebeest and Zebu, many years ago. I’m not sure any of them remember the exact moment the picture was taken, but love and happiness are written all over this image. It’s no coincidence that a book’s involved.

There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.
~  Maurice Sendak

The male muse: an unaccountably rare thing

The male muse is an unaccountably rare thing in art.
Where does that leave female artists looking for inspiration?

~ Kate Christensen

Well, I’m a female artist currently working in close proximity to my male muse who is apparently lost in thoughts inspired by his whiteboard-muse. Inspiration comes in many forms.

Gotta respect the process.

Poking and prying with a purpose

The synopsis for my work-in-progress includes a plot point in which my protagonist has an accident that results in medical costs her family can’t afford. When I wrote it, I didn’t think much beyond that general idea. For the last couple days, I’ve been working on those scenes. And it’s slow-going. Why?

BECAUSE I’VE FALLEN DOWN A RABBIT HOLE.

How are federal poverty levels determined?
How much Medicaid coverage is available if the state declined federal funding?
What are hospital costs vs urgent care costs?
What happens if you miss an insurance payment?

It’s interesting (and infuriating) to do this kind of research in the shadow of the Repugnicans’ efforts to deny health care to millions of people for the sole purpose of giving the obscenely rich more tax breaks. If I’m not careful, my story could easily turn into a one-issue manifesto. (Universal health care, yo!)

I’m trying to keep this quote from Zora Neale Hurston in mind:

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

I’m down this rabbit hole to better serve my plot and story.

The accumulation of detail

All fiction relies on the real world
in the sense that we all take in the world through our five senses
and we accumulate details, consciously or subconsciously.
This accumulation of detail can be drawn on when you write fiction.

~  Rohinton Mistry