Monday, January 31, 2011
But I didn't get it.
I did all the exercises, and learned lines, did the dance steps, hit the marks and made every cue. But I never quite got to the point where I considered myself acting. I knew how the lines were supposed to be said, but there was always something missing from my performances. Except in children's theater, where I could be as outrageous as possible, really let myself go, and make those kids LOVE me. After one such performance, one of the main marquee actors of the company walked up to me and said "You are SO talented, damn it. I hate you." (It was said with a great deal of affection.) He was jealous that I could allow myself such freedom to act like a complete and total idiot. When it came to 'straight' roles, 'deep' roles however, I would freeze up.
After many many years, I have finally figured out why my acting career never went anywhere. I was afraid. I had taken the classes, read the work of the great Saint Uta Hagen, repeated the mantra: Acting is believing. And here's what it comes down to: I could never believe myself in any of those deep roles, because I was afraid to open myself up and show that stuff - pain, heartache, embarrassment - to the world.
Look, I lived a great portion of my childhood being told to just let it roll off of me, to NOT let my heart show, because it always ended in tears. I learned in a rather painful way that people, especially children, are cruel, and letting them in was a surefire way to let them knock me down. So I armored myself. Put it all away beneath a thick layer of laughing it off. I had thought, for the longest time, that stepping into other people's shoes was a good way of shielding myself from the cruelty of the world. Make-believe was so much better than my real life.
I was wrong.
What I failed to realize is that playacting is the ultimate in NOT shielding yourself. Except for children's theater, but children are much more accepting of pretty much everything on stage; there you are a like a god, even if you act ridiculous. Especially if you act ridiculous. When you're acting, you put on someone else, like a coat, but the feelings below HAVE to belong to you, and that is pretty much exposing yourself for the whole world to see. Which is what I had a problem with.
The same goes for writing. When I first started telling myself stories, I always imagined them to be much more perfect than my real life, that my main characters always won and did it well. But that's not what writing is. To be a writer, you have to be brave enough to take those emotions, those feelings that you - that most people, for that matter - hide away, and pour them all out onto the page. The characters are someone else, but the feelings have to belong to you, and you can't worry what people will think of YOU because of what you write.
Acting is believing. Writing is believing. So many writers use events and people from their own lives, bravely putting it all on display for the world to see and judge. Judgment is what I was always afraid of, and still am, a little bit. But I get it now. I kind of wish I could go back to the theater, knowing what I know now, because I think I could completely rock it. (I've been looking up that old community theater company online, and if I get really crazy I might find something to audition for. I don't know if my body can handle the stress of musicals anymore, but maybe a play.)
Does that mean if you're not ready to open a vein and pour life's blood into the words that you can't be a writer? No. There is still plenty to learn. Eventually, though, if you want that next step, you will probably have to suck it up and be brave.
If I can do it, you can too.
Friday, January 28, 2011
I've been doing this challenge called Photo A Day. As it implies you take a photo of something every day. I've only missed Jan 1 so far. In looking back over my photos, I see that a number of them involve weather. From ice crystals on the grass, to a frozen pond the ducks were carefully treading, to early cherry blossoms.
It got me to wondering about how often I mention weather in my writing. I don't think enough, to be honest. I have talked of rain on occasion and of blinding snow because it was a plot point. But rarely do I consider the weather my characters are enduring while they go about their business.
And, I'm not sure I, personally, really consider the weather all that much unless it conflicts with what I want to do on that particular day. At the moment, the fog is lifting and there is a promise of sunshine and record high temps for this day in January. Nice. On the news, they are talking of the horrible floods in Australia and yet another snowstorm on the east coast of the states. Even seeing those pictures, it's hard to actually comprehend what the people there are enduring.
Recently, we experienced torrential rainfall and flooding in the area. Not where I am, thank goodness, but in areas around me. I went up to Snoqualmie Falls and took some pictures. The falls were running fast and furious, yet even the picture fails to show the power and danger of all of that water. I mean, I personally saw it and felt it and heard it, but how to convey that in a photo or in words. There was so much mist coming off the falls that the people viewing were actually dripping, just as if they had stepped out of the shower. And that was just the mist.
I recently watched a video about Frazil Ice. I would love to use that in a book somewhere, but it would be a little difficult to "show it" in words. It's like a huge slushie moving like a slow lava flow, only it's icy and cold and changes course on a whim. It looks like snow, but it isn't. Sorta hard to explain unless you see it. And I can't use the word "slushie" either because I write medieval fantasy and they have no idea what a "slushie" is.
How about you? How often do you include weather in your writing? Is it only when it's necessary for a plot point? Only when it is something catastrophic? Or do you causally mention it on a regular basis?
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
But since one can't simply head to the idea store to get a new story idea, I had to look someplace else.
Monday, January 24, 2011
To help celebrate my birthday I thought it would be fun to have a giveaway. Now who doesn't like giving a party gift?
I have an interview and contest going on here:
Check it out!
Here's just a teaser from the interview:
Skittles or M&Ms?
Totally M&Ms. I love the pretzel ones the best
Speed Racer. When I was young I crushed big time on Speed.
How do you react to a bad review?
I try to find something from the review that might help me later on. At first though I put it aside for awhile and try not to dwell on it.
What is your dream cast for your book?
Here’s a post I did on that a while ago:
I'm giving away a signed copy of CROSSED OUT and a t-shirt:
Here's the link to the t-shirt:
Friday, January 21, 2011
Where books are concerned, with regards to dialect, less is often more. A few key words or usage can give just the right amount of flavor to the dialogue. But if overused, one can make the recipe too overwhelming, the flavor so overpowering the reader will no longer want to partake of it.
We don't want the reader to have to work too hard to understand what a character is saying. Being too true to life can work against us.
So how do we do it? Well, we think of the dialect or accent we're wanting to convey and pick key words to use or change so the dialogue conforms to what we need thus changing the flavor to the slant we want, but not too much.
Let's play with the following sentence - "You shouldn't do that!"
Now to spice it up. Read the minor changes or word additions and see if it doesn't bring to mind different types of people.
"Ya'll shouldn't do that!"
"You bloody well shouldn't do that!"
"Ay Dios mio. You shouldn't do that!"
"Dude, you shouldn't do that."
"You, how do you say, should not do that!"
"Yah shouldn't do that, mate!"
"Bambino, you shouldn't do that!"
Though it was basically the same sentence each time, did you hear the different dialects in your head as you read them? Did your brain leap to certain conclusions about the characters who were saying them?
While any and all of the above could be said with a lot more of the words and styles of the different cultures, we don't need to. The author gave information with just a word or two which a reader could easily pick up and it didn't have to be overdone to get across.
As authors we're always trying to suggest flavors, paint pictures, but seamlessly, to draw the readers in deeper. And only sprinkling, rather than laying the dialect to thick will help do just that!
Have you ever read anything you felt was over spiced with the dialect?
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
And I agree. I don't know that I set out to write stories about the paranormal, particularly ghosts and ESP-type phenomena, but I do know that even when I try to write something that is mainstream, down-to-earth, and, well, normal, it isn't very long before a ghost pops up or a character develops psychic abilities that I had never planned.
I remember being in a workshop with a very nice young man who was trying to write a best seller. The workshop was called "How to Get Your Romance Novel Published." I don't write romance, either, it was the "Published" part of the workshop that brought me to it. But this particular student told the group that he was working on a romance, really slaving away at it, and on page 40, "the terrorists broke in." The instructors smiled at him and told that perhaps romance was not really his natural genre.
Does this always happen? Is Danielle Steele forever slated to write romance, and Jerry Spinelli books for the young? Can Neil Gaimann abandon his fantastic and shimmering worlds for a novel that doesn't involve gods, magic, or disembodied entities? I wonder.
I know that successful authors have found ways to buck their own trends. Judy Blume went on to write adult books, although I never met anyone who read any of them. I know one horror writer who occasionally writes YA books but I've never seen any of those, either.
Maybe we really are slated to express the stories and the magic that we have within us in a particular way. Dan Fogelberg, one of my favorite Illinois songwriters/musicians, always wanted to do heavy metal. The thought of that is nearly too strange to wrap my head around. When he made music things like "Part of the Plan" and "Longer" were what came out. His tunes didn't invite head-banging so much as soul-searching and he accepted that, although he still yearned for a screaming guitar.
I'd love to write an adult murder mystery and have been playing with something along those lines. Of course, when I gave my hero a love interest, she turned out to be psychic.
I guess paranormal is wired somewhere into my writing DNA and that's just how I define my writing world. And maybe that's just part of the magic that I call writing.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Currently, I am assembling files for a first draft manuscript that I began in the early-mid-1980s, tentatively titled, “The Gryphon and the Basilisk”. It’s a huge Young Adult fantasy series, and large parts of it haven’t been touched since I originally wrote them out in longhand. (I began writing fantasy in 1979.)
As I’ve been slogging through this preliminary work preparatory to first revision, I’ve been struck repeatedly by lame brain errors that I used to make, way back when I first began writing. Some involve placing commas in the wrong place or just plain using too many of them. I’ve improved my punctuation. Really. However, other errors that I didn’t even know I was making back then, I still make today. And by now I should know better. So here are my Writing Confessions of 2011, in lieu of a New Year’s Resolution.
What? You thought that I would end this by resolving never to make these errors again? Sorry, but I have a more realistic view of myself than that. I just hope I catch most of my errors in subsequent revisions of G&B and future books.
1. To begin, we need look no further than the first paragraph of this blog entry. Look at it there—an adverb and beginning the sentence to boot, as if in defiance of editorial protocol everywhere. Frankly, I’ve never understood why we have adverbs if we’re not supposed to use them. But, I guess that’s just me, being logical. I used to use adverbs all over the place, but I am trying to get better. “I’m Sherry Thompson, and I’ve been off adverbs for /f/i/v/e one minutes.” (See the ‘Frankly” above?)
2. Using versions of “to be” like “was” and “were” instead of strong verbs. Poor “to be”—it’s evidently weak. Maybe that’s because no writer is allowed to exercise it. It’s so weak that even when I write about its weakness, I use “is” to describe its situation—cleverly hidden in the “it’s” above. (Oops! More adverbs.)
When I found out that “is”, “was”, “were”, etc were no-no’s, I began searching for them in my documents. I instructed WORD’s software to replace each “is” for example with “IS”. This can be problematic when you have a recurring character named AlphesIS.
I/n/s/p/i/t/e In spite of the inherent difficulties in attacking manuscript revision with all of those errors hanging out on each page, I eventually expanded the practice to help me zero in on adverbs. In that case, I told WORD to replace all examples of “ly” with “LY”. This worked fine! AssembLY, alLY, and such don’t turn up that frequentLY in my writing, so I was finalLY able to zero in on the actual errors.
3. Having conquered adverbs and versions of “to be”, I moved on to POV. Though I didn’t then know the name for it, when I first began write I was evidently using the Omniscient POV, which fell out of favor a hundred years ago. Well, I’ve always been a bit behind my time.
I’m proud to say that I’ve cut down the numbers of times I switch point of view from a half dozen times per scene to about two. I’m still working very hard on this, encouraged by a friend who wrote that my less frequent POV switches remind him of switching gears on a manual gearshift. After a while, he wrote, he got used to it! Awesome!
4. Next up was learning what goes into each paragraph and what doesn’t. Back in the 80’s, I was convinced that all dialogue was sequestered in its own paragraphs, cut off for reasons unknown from the POV paragraph of the speaker. I know better now intellectually but I still have trouble convincing my fingers to follow through and do this with the keyboard.
5. Which brings me to anatomical parts. Sorry! Not as you think. I’ve discovered that I permit parts of the body to stroll off and do their own thing—especially eyes and hands. Example: “Bill’s eyes studied her face, looking for a clue to her thoughts.” Or: “Her hand grasped his hand and gave it a squeeze.” (All the while her brain was screaming through her mouth to her hand to stop doing that!) This gets weird very quickly. Sometimes in revision, I feel like I was writing horror in my first draft.
6. Other writing errors to which I succumb regularly? I got a million of’em when it comes to regularly misspelled words.
I seem to be convinced
that “amongst” should be spelled “amoungst” (making me more British than the British),
that “about” doesn’t really need that “o” (which is a real problem since WORD doesn’t flag “abut”, and
that “inspite” really isn’t one word. (I still can’t get over this one, for some reason.)
I do this with character names sometimes too. When I was assembling the various chapters of “The Gryphon and the Basilisk”, I noticed my character “Medea” devolved later into “Media” which in turn devolved into “Melia”. Fortunately, a WORD Replace command really did work out fine for fixing this.
7. Two more and then I’ll stop. G&B is full of angst and strong emotions. However, that’s no excuse for having everyone getting teary-eyed and even outright crying at the drop of a line of dialogue. And when the characters aren’t crying, they’re sighing.
I used to work with someone who was a part-time freelance editor. After reading something of mine maybe 15 years ago, she commented that she was putting me on a diet—I was allowed no more than one sigh per chapter or story. In this much older manuscript, written decades before I knew her, I laughed at such restrictions. Or maybe I sighed over them. One of my favorite type of “dialogue tags” consisted of “Luisa sighed and commented…”
Yes, before you ask, I realize that I’d better fire up that WORD Replace once more and input, “sigh”, “abut” and numerous other no-nos.
Oh yes. I used to write “once more” frequently. I’m not sure what the attraction was.
Well, those are some of the forbidden writing choices I used to indulge in back in the early 80’s—and still do on occasion. Now it’s your turn. Don’t leave me dangling out here with all of my composition short-comings hanging out all by themselves. What typical writing errors have you overcome or are still battling?
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Thursday, January 13, 2011
Why is writing the end difficult? Tying up all the loose ends is the main problem. I feel like I have all these balloons on strings that I must weave together so they'll lift me from the ground. Since this is the fourth book in the series and with each one there have been surprises and new problems entered. What started as a single book grew and grew. Rather like Alice when she ate the cookie.
How do you feel about writing the end when you've written a series? Do you regret leaving these people who have become real to you between the pages of a book? Are you able to write the end with no feeling of loss? Let me know.
Monday, January 10, 2011
And certainly not two-thousand-AND-eleven.
We all have our pet peeves. Nails on chalkboard kind of stuff — like Glenn Beck;
or how Walmart never sells the right replacement mophead, even though I bought the mop there;
or calling customer service – any customer service.
The list goes on and on.
My #1 pet peeve has lasted over a decade. It goes something like this: someone – anyone – says, “Two thousand AND [fill in the year here].”
Whoever you are – and you know who you are – you need to stop it right now. During that whole exasperating decade nearly everyone stuffed an “and” in there. I cringed my way through the aughts.
In 1999, as we approached the 21st century I looked to the previous turn of the century for guidance. Back then they said nineteen hundred for 1900, then they said nineteen-o-one for 1901, nineteen-o-two for 1902, and so on. Therefore I assumed we would say two thousand for 2000 and twenty-o-one for 2001, etc. I figured the folks at CNN – after consulting the experts – would lead the way on that front. Weren’t they, after all, the ones who taught us how to say Qatar? BTW, it’s “cut-ter” – not “kuh-TAR” or “KUH-tar”. But nobody pronounces Qatar right either. So there you go.
Instead the aughts turned into a pronunciation free-for-all. How did they ever come up with the cursed (that’s CUR-sed to you) two thousand AND one for 2001, anyway?
Turns out this was all Stanley Kubrick’s fault.
According to The Stanley Kubrick archives, in the press release for his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, film director Stanley Kubrick included specific instructions for journalists to refer to the movie as “two thousand and one” instead of the commonplace pronunciation of “twenty-oh-one”. Kubrick said he did this in the hope that if the film became popular, it would influence the pronunciation of that year.That’s right. We handed over the most significant dictum of the 21st century to a filmmaker. Not just any filmmaker, but a filmmaker who said, “I never learned anything at all in school and didn’t read a book for pleasure until I was 19 years old.” What does it say about our society when the great historical grammarians of our time conceded to the whim of a man who dreamed up HAL, a creepy jihadist computer?
Of course Kubrick died in 1999, so he didn’t have to live through the havoc he hath wrought. Computers have continued to terrorize human beings and we got stuck with “two-thousand-and- one: a grammatical oddity”.
I always knew in my gut it should be 20-0-1, etc. The problem was, saying “twenty-o-one” elicited blank stares. Like I’d written a French 7 or something. It never caught on. It wasn’t so much that the experts didn’t agree. They just didn’t care.
They had forgotten what the true prophets – 1960s pop duo Zager and Evans – taught us “In the Year 2525”. A simple song title. We had it all figured out back then. We didn’t sing, “In the year two-thousand-five-hundred-AND-twenty-five.” That never would have hit the Top 40.
Maybe we were all just smarter back then.
By 20-0-2, I acquiesced and said two thousand two. But I never said two thousand AND two, like the rest of those rubes.
Last year – TWENTY TEN – I thought for sure was my year. Everyone would wake up on January 1, 2010, and realize their decade-long slight of tongues. They would instantly reform. They would say, “twenty ten” – and embrace it.
Well this year I have help. There’s a movement afloat – well actually just a blog – and a Facebook page– to encourage people to Say Twenty Eleven, please. Maybe I should adopt a lighter approach. Instead of name calling and demanding people correctly pronounce 20-11, I should encourage people to change their idiotic ways – er – old habits.
So here goes …
We can do it. We can change. I know we can.
That wasn’t so hard, now was it?
Practice saying it once or twice a day– in public. Instead of “Happy New Year”, say, “Happy Twenty Eleven.” It will catch on and before you know it, everyone will be saying, “Twenty eleven.”
Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
It begins one person at a time.
Happy Twenty Eleven!
Coming in 2011 –
LETTERS TO JUNIPER
Advice from a Caterpillar
From the Styx
Friday, January 7, 2011
There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. A BBC report pointed out that not everyone who is alone feels sad about it. A true loner likes being alone.
The assumption that people who are alone are not alone by choice is usually made by extroverts. Extroverts love being the center of attention; they thrive on being around people. But too much attention can frustrate an introvert. Introverts need time alone to recharge after being around people.
I am definitely an introvert. I enjoy visiting with my friends at conventions, but then I need time alone. When I found Jonathan Rauch’s article in The Atlantic “Caring for Your Introvert”, my primary reaction was relief. Someone else understood.
It takes time though, for young introverts to realize that it’s okay to be an introvert. Parents and friends will tell them that they want to be popular, that they need to be social. They’re told ‘Don’t be shy, talk to people’ (even when they actually enjoy listening and can’t think of anything to say). The message passed along is that there is something wrong with you if you don’t like being the center of attention.
It’s not always easy to remember the introvert when writing YA. Even introverts are indoctrinated to write a character as wanting to be popular, to be the center of attention, and to consider many friends as good things for their characters. But what about the character that wants to be alone at times, who has a few good friends, who likes to listen and observe? Who enjoys quiet walks along the beach or in the countryside? Why is being alone or being a loner and liking it not celebrated more often?
Jonathan Rauch’s 2006 followup article “Introverts of the World Unite” pointed out that various cultural times will better suit one type over the other. In the agricultural time period, loners were more appreciated. That is definitely apparent in westerns and fantasy stories where the main character often is required to work alone. Science fiction stories with the lone explorer will need an introvert personality in order to function well, but ships with large crews can have a mixture of introverts and extroverts. And those characters who save the day by striving on their own to conquer a computer code? Usually loners, unless that particular code needs a group to work together on it.
What personality type are you? Do you enjoy reading about extroverts or introverts?
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Needless to say I was thrilled. Then I decided to submit something from a different book of mine. I picked Harpies, Book 3 of the Seraphym Wars Series. I received the following badges depending on where in the book I pulled a paragraph from:
By this time I was completely amused and hooked. If I could really write like any of these awesome authors I would be ecstatic. Lastly I decided to check out Odessa, Book 1 of the Seraphym Wars Series, coming out in April. Here are the badges for paragraphs from the beginning, middle and end of the novel.
Next I submitted most of a short horror story, just for kicks. It is the Free Read on my website Charles Creevey Chops His Sweetie. And the badge I was awarded was:
How exciting! I LOVE Stephen King's work. Go to http://rryalsrussell.com and read it for yourself, see if you think I Write Like is close to being right. Even if it’s not, it’s something to strive toward. By the time I'd run all of this through the site I had been compared to JK Rowling three times and JRR Tolkien four times. Since they were the two authors' works I held in my head while writing, maybe I came close after all. There was only one author I would have enjoyed seeing and didn't. Ernest Hemingway. I try hard to write in a sparse style with short sentences and well-chosen words, like he did. Apparently, I'm not there yet. See what you think.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Once upon a time, when I was teaching, I was pretty good at keeping up with books, lesson plans, and even my students, unless they were on the playground which is a whole nother story. Now, when it's just me to keep track of and not a class of fifth graders, I can find nothing and waste a lot of time looking for files both on the computer and in my file cabinets. So, here are my plans to become Ms. Fantastically Organized Writer Who Knows Where Everything is and Can Find It On the First Search.
1. Make new folders for each WIP. I'm working on two stories now with two more waiting their turn.
2. Keep a record on my computer of places I've sent my MG ghost story with dates, agent/publisher, and responses.
3. Clean out file cabinets (I have two), throw away old, half written stories and articles to give me more space. My cabinets like my bookshelves overfloweth.
4. Clean the desktop and discover which stack of paper the mouse is hiding under.
5. Delete old files on my computer and put each story in its own folder. Have a separate folder for reviews, author interviews, tours, crit groups, etc.
6. Straighten bookshelves so I can find a book when I want it.
7. I'm sure other ideas will occur to me as I'm organizing my life.
8. Oh, one more to add. Take down the Christmas tree, bows, and greenery. Yes, they're still up.
I wonder how long it will take to accomplish all of the above. Guess I'd better get started. A Happy 2011 to You All.
Also, tiips on how you are organized will be greatly appreciated.
Monday, January 3, 2011
2010 for me wasn't ALL bad - there were bits that were quite enjoyable, and some that were less so, but I guess you can't have a year of all up, right? Compared to others, the last year wasn't really that bad at all.
I was sitting and wondering what I should write for this month - what pearls of wisdom should I impart to all of you on my first post of 2011 (wow, I have to start remembering to write that new year on stuff!). I haven't written much of late, been kind of stalled on the inspiration front, add in a healthy dose of real life distractions, and blammo! here I am faced with another month's blogging and no real idea what to write about.
So I picked up my shiny new Kindle that my hubby so kindly got me for Christmas (which I LOVE, by the way, and my bookshelves are going to thank me), and that got me thinking about writing and reading. You've heard it a million times - if you want to be a writer, you need, MUST be a reader. It's like trying to be a painter without ever going to an art gallery or museum, or a musician without ever listening to music. You can't do it, or at least, not well.
But there's a great debate among writers. Do you read WHILE you're writing? Or rather, do you read in the genre you're writing?
Some say no, never, because they feel it saps their inspiration or they're afraid of accidentally stealing an idea or something from a book they're reading, having it seep into their work. Some say they read, but not the genre they're writing, for similar reasons.
Some, like me, read voraciously and definitely IN the genre I'm writing. For me, I find it amazingly stimulating to my creative center, pulling me into that space where I MUST write. Maybe it's some kind of neural trigger. I also love to read different voices, because I'm a person who hates stagnation. So I like to try and find different tones and voices for my work. My tween modern day series needs to read differently than my YA historical. So when I was writing SMOKE & MIRRORS (may 2011 find it a home), I was reading a lot of historicals set in the time period of the late 1800's, to put myself in that frame of mind, to get the cadence and speech, of terminology and colloquialisms. While I'm writing the Library series, I read a lot of Rick Riordan and other tween fantasy authors, because it sets that kind of voice in my head.
What do you think? Could you or do you read while you're writing? And if you do, what are you reading?