Saturday, June 28, 2008

DOUBT, SELF-DEPRIVATION, & CREATIVITY

I've been reading my favourite blogs this weekend; aside from admiring the weather outside my window. As I read, I'm stuck by the similarities between writers. So many of us share strong commonalities. We'd rather write than go to a party, attend a banquet, or shop with a friend. And I've forgotten how many times I've heard a gifted, talented writer say, "I terrified they'll discover I'm a fraud." Or another state: "I don't know why I think I can write -- I can't." And yet another: "If I don't publish, I'm nothing." Or the equally terrifying declaration: "Maybe I'm just a One-Book author."

Sad statements from creative, inspiring human beings.

Do these doubts and self-deprivation go hand in hand with creativity?

I've made my share of sad statements. And just as quickly, I have read a piece of composition and thought: Wow, I wrote that. And then four paragraphs later I've wanted to crawl under a rock because of my inadequate concept of comma and semi-colon placement. How can I call myself a writer and not retain the difference between a coordinating conjunction and introductory fragments? Or independent clause and disruptive thoughts?

There are those who would argue that to write effectively you must first master the mechanics of writing. My dear husband often refers to me as his Word Mechanic. That's because to him what I do is remarkable. He would never think to stick me along side the likes of Stephen King, Eric Lustbader, or Margaret Laurence for comparison. To him, if I have a problem with commas, I should ask a friend who knows about commas.


I've seen the sales reports for Roberts, Patterson, and Evanovich and wondered what ever possessed me to pick up a pen. What can I offer that hasn't been explored a zillions time before? How can I compete with these legends? What ever made me believe I should try?


While I'm waiting for the answers, it occurs to me that self-doubt may be a motivating factor. I, like so many of the writers I admire, am profoundly curious about the human psyche. Particularly mine. Every time someone asks me why I write, I'm reminded that I'm a driven creature. I'm motivated by an unexplainable need to tell a story. But not just any story. Characters, for no apparent reason, pop into my head and refuse to leave until I discern what they want, why they want it, and what will happened if they fail. In the same instance, I'm the first one to snap at my friend: "Don't be stupid. You're the most gifted writer I know," yet, retaliate when told the same thing with: "Yeah--right. You're just saying that because you don't want to hurt my feelings." My delicate, easily crushed feelings.

I've questioned everything since I was a kid. In fact, my mother said I used to drive them nuts by all my questions. I needed to know why the guy on TV said what he said in the manner he said it. Consequently, nobody could ruin a good movie faster than I.

It was the same way around adults. I couldn't tell you how many times after interrupting their conversation my dad would say to me: "Go play outside." Whereas I would reply, "Yeah, but what happened to the man? How come his wife left him? Is he going to be okay? Why did he ram that car? How come he can't see his kids? Doesn't he love his wife anymore?"


When I told my parents that I wanted to be a writer, they smiled and nodded as if they'd known all along.

I don't know why I write. And I don't know why so many talented writers are full of self-doubt. But this I do know: actors act, singers sing, artists draw, dancers dance, and writers write. All for the sake of an unquenchable urge: What if ...?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Are You Overwhelmed by the Information Highway?


Even if you aren't a writer, the amount of knowledge available online is -- daunting. Or for want of a better word: frightening-intimidating-overwhelming-mind-boggling, and let's not forget head-spinning.

How can we possibly read everything? Or ever hope to remember a faction of what we do manage to read? 

There are days when I literally feel like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, minus the green puke ejecting from my throat. I'm glued to my chair, wandering from page to page, never quite finished reading but moving onward and upward because something catches my eye--and I'm unwittingly drawn/forced to click on the next link--until I faintly remember I was searching for something that was supposedly back 128 links ago! And what's with this History-list-thingy, anyway? They tell you to click on History and you'll find your way back to your original page. Ha! More often than not I end up having to start over. Then another another day is gone. Forever. Never to return again. And the page I originally found? Forget it.

But I'm okay with that. Or at least most of it. I live on the Information Highway. I'm a fingertip away from any place in the world. I'm privy to any tidbit of information available on any number of interesting tidbitty things. There is no end to what I can read, learn, or drool over. Unless my dial up quits, or my internet connection fails, or the power goes out, or my Uncle Manny visits and I'm forced to sit through another episode of bowel hiccups and hard stool disorder. Or for want of a better term: Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Yeah, I hate the internet all right. Take it away from me for a week, heck a day--an afternoon without my web and I'm about ready for the loony bin.


That's why I've come to the conclusion I need a bigger brain. Or a hookup to some external hard drive where I can store all these valuable morsels on those days when my brain's full.... Okay, bad idea. But hey, wait a minute. I might have some ideas for the middle-aged-shortage-on-memory problem.

When faced with the "head-spinning" syndrome: you've inadvertently stumbled across an awesome site and you've only got two hours before you have to move on: BOOKMARK. Yes, ladies and gents, Bookmark is your friend. Ah, but how to remember that? It's like remembering to brush your teeth. You bookmark. Then, at the beginning of each week, you houseclean. Delete ALL your bookmarks. I mean really, after a few days who looks in their BOOKMARK list, anyway? If you really want something, you'll do the google or yahoo or whatever search. It's faster, more convenient, and besides, it works better with my plan.

It's all in the "scanning objectively" mind frame. The secret is to create a reason for the information to stay in long-term memory verses short-term memory. Who forgets where they keep their underwear and socks? Okay, except for Uncle Manny. But it's not really his fault; it's in the jeans--I mean genes. Who forgets to do up their seatbelt, or pull their hand away before slamming the car door shut? If it isn't worth your time to remember, you won't. If it's a subject you find fascinating, you'll make a reason to remember. And as silly as this sounds, you'll use the ole internal monologue to do this.

Say you're reading a nifty piece on promotional techniques for selling your first novel, after firing your 4th agent. You ask yourself, Why is this information important to me? Duh. You've been a Red Baron fan since early childhood, and you stumble across a site dedicated to Manfred von Richthofen. Why is this information important to you? Your brother-in-law's 4-day visit has extended past 14 days, and you discover an engrossing article on Leeches, Worms and Planaria...

You get my drift.

The Wide World Web has much to offer. Some relevant, some not so. The secret is to shake off that daunting, overwhelming sense of dread. Give yourself allowances. Be kind to yourself. Reading and remembering everything is not a prerequisite. And if you are a writer, don't for one moment believe you need to know every facet of writing to be gifted. Learning doesn't stop just because you're middle-aged. Or feeling old. The greatest tool our generation will ever know isn't going anywhere.

Yay Internet!

And the best part? What you do need to know is out there in spades.

Take the POV issue.

I've seen so many articles on the subject that require a degree in sociology to discern. It doesn't need to be that way. Sometimes grasping complicated issues means thinking in the simplest terms. The POV of any scene is the narrator, the character telling the story. And there are 4 choices: Omni -- God/Author/Character, 3rd person -- She/He, 2nd -- You, and 1st -- I/Me.

For the sake of argument, let's agree that nobody wants to read a story in Second person, "You verbed".
The thing to remember is: First person is the most intimate and Omni is the least. Third falls in the middle.

Third person limited means one protagonist throughout the story, and unlimited means sometimes several protagonists exist within one story. In my novel, DEAD WITNESS, I told the story through the eyes of three characters, Valerie, Canaday, and DeOlmos. I even snuck in a few openings by using Omni to set up the scene. I trust, or hope that the narrator was brief enough that the average reader was unaware. What I didn't do was switch from Valerie, Canaday or DeOlmos in the SAME scene. If I started off in Omni, using the all-knowing narrator to show the reader the setting, stuff that my protagonist couldn't experience, (see, touch, hear, taste, or smell), as quickly as possible, I jumped into the protagonist's head and stayed there for the rest of that scene. Not once did I show the reader anything that my protagonist didn't experience. That's not to say it's an unspeakable crime, it would have lessened the intimacy.

In my 5th manuscript, OMATIWAK: WOMAN WHO CRIES, I stretched my wings and shared the story with Third person, Danny Killian, and First person, Sally Warner. I chose First for Sally because I hope an intimate relationship would develop between reader and Sally. Third worked for Danny because it enabled me more versatility.

You've no doubt heard the story of Fitzgerald, after writing The Great Gatsby in Gatsby's POV, realizes the story needed to be told through Nick Carraway's POV because of Nick's naivety and fascinating for Gatsby. Imagine if Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, or an all knowing character had told the story? Nick's first person narration worked. Like a tight focus or camera lens, Nick shows us everything his senses experience. If he doesn't see it, smell it, hear it, taste or touch it, then neither do we.

One thing to remember: Omni can also be an unique, formidable, and intriguing character. Another thing: as the author, you need to choose your POV wisely. But that's a subject for another day.

 Every time a newbie jumps from one protagonist in a scene into the head of another, they risk disrupting the intimate relationship forming between reader and character. And in a world of quick access and unlimited volume, the risk is too great.

If you haven't seen The Exorcist, I highly recommend it. I'm not a horror fan, but the film is a masterpiece. Maybe it's the struggle between good and evil. Or maybe it was because I was twenty and the mother of a brand new baby boy. Even now when I watch it, I'm reminded of that vulnerable little baby and how terrified I felt.
--
joylene

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Are you a slave to your computer?

Three blogs does not a blogger make

I’ll get to the reason for that in a moment.

Early April my desktop computer crashed. It was just a few days after my good buddy bought one of those nifty new laptops with the built-in camera. I was neither envious nor frazzled. In fact, I wasn’t sweating a thing. I had my trusty old laptop. A Celeron almost seven years old and still running like a charm.

Ha!

Three days into my publishing forte it betrayed me by waking up with the dreaded “blue screen”. I’m no slouch when it comes to computers, so when I say I tried everything I tried everything. Five days passed. I was desperate. I was frantic. My blood count was out of whack. I swear my entire body was leaning to the left.

Day 5, I vowed enough was enough and announced I was off to town. Out of habit, I simply pressed the on-button on my laptop in passing. Nobody was more shocked but thrilled when the dang thing opened Windows.

Yay!

I whipped off my coat (it’s still winter here), sat down, and embraced the ole thing. “I love my laptop. I love my laptop!”

That was Friday. By Tuesday the friggin blue screen was back. So on Wednesday I went to town and bought an IMAC!

There was only one problem. The store was out of modems. I had to wait until Friday.

Oh my Lord!

But hey, I’m survivor. And I’ve worked with computers for 21 years. How difficult can switching to a MAC be?


The nice lady who sold me my brand new MAC thought for sure there was a trial Office-Mac installed.

Wrong.

I spent that day and the next downloading music because I was too embarrassed to call the tech guys at London Drugs AGAIN. At one point I did have a mini nervous breakdown when I came back to my awesome new IMAC and it wouldn’t eject my cd! I was scouting through the house for a thin pair of tweezers when I heard this "whooshing"sound. Suffice to say it did eject my music cd, and the two days sped past. Friday I was so excited. I was up and dressed by 6:30.

Only they didn’t call until 12:35 to say my modem was in. Then there was the hour drive to town. I remember vaguely someone saying I looked a bit pale. Anyway, I was back home by 15:00. Strangely, nobody asked, "What's for supper?" Or if they did, I can’t remember. I was online! After only one call to the tech guy who actually knew me by name at this point….

Okay, now back to the “does not a blogger make"

Try coming up with a nifty theme for your blog after all this! I was dumbfounded as to what I could write. I stared at a blank screen (between watching Tiger Woods play awesome golf!) all day yesterday and today. I’m only now ready for bed and feeling oh so apologetic. Maybe after a good night’s sleep I’ll come up with a blog idea for tomorrow.


If you're a fan of Mac, repeat after me: Yay Mac!

The rest of you: Yay Internet!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Do you do what you love for success?

This morning I had the pleasure of reading The Ultimate Reward by Aaron Paul Lazar. It's a lovely piece about the rewards a writer sometimes fails to discover. It made me question my own reasons for writing. Did I too have dreams of being on Oprah and Larry King? Being on the top of the NY Times bestseller's list? Or gracing the cover of The New Yorker?

Not in the beginning; I still had images of Margaret Laurence, author of
The Stone Angel being interviewed in her kitchen with a countertop of homemade jams in the background. I was reeling from the seventies, so my dreams consisted of rubbing elbows with the likes of Stephen King, Marilyn French, and Eric Lustbader. I wanted to sip wine and have long existential conversations with Bob Dylan. I wanted to fly to NYC on a moment's notice; something about my agent having to discuss movie rights with Cheryl Ladd's people. I wanted a villa in France where I could lounge on the terrace with Dire Straits and discuss writing their autobiography.

In truth, I began writing because my father had just died. I was thirty, still full of faith and optimism, and I thought if I could write his story, he would live forever.

Do we ever really know our parent? Can we even imagine them as kids? Separate from us? Real people? I didn't. And it wasn't long into my quest that I realized that. He was my dad. My knight in shining armour. My protector. My hero. And that's about all I knew of him. Three months of banging away on an old IBM typewriter, struggling over what to write, I stopped. I didn't know him well enough to write his story. And I was forced to grieve. Not just for him, but because I had discovered a secret. I had the capabilites to truly give him life, only I knew nothing about his life.

And then one day I realized something. What I did know was
my story.

Always Father's Child took seven years of pain-staking work. When I finally typed THE END, I knew AFC would never see the light of day, but I also knew I was hooked on the process. I'd never felt as alive as when I was struggling over every word in every sentence. It felt so good to be stacking page after page on the table in front of me. 500 sheets of the written word held new meaning.

My family thought I was nuts. But how could I vocalize what was happening?

I have no idea why there are those of us who need to write and there are those of us who are satisified simply reading what those of us who need to write, write about.
Ooh, if my grammar teacher could only see me now. Whether it's a need or a gift, the jury's still out. One thing for sure, a writer is someone who writes because they can't NOT write.

You'll never hear a writer say "One of these days I'm going to write a book." Instead you're hearing them saying stuff like, "I'm still working on that dang book I started in '93." Or: "Valerie did something really strange today, and now my outline is screwed." Or: "I don't want to type
The End because I don't think I can say goodbye to these people." She means characters.

If you have a writer in the family, you have my deepest condolances. They're a strange bunch. But strange as they might be, I bet they're not consumed by the need to write because of dreams of fame and fortune. They're probably just doing what needs to be done. And if they're lucky, they might end up like Mr. Lazar, giving peace and a little diversion to another human being.


Please do check out Margaret Laurence's books. After 44 years, her books are as powerful and beautifully written as the day they were published.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

In the beginning, God created the storyteller.

I used up the entire morning trying to figure out how to add links to my blog, but--Enough already! I'm on a roll with this: "A day in the Life of a Writer" stuff.

DEAD WITNESS isn't my first novel. I started with
Alway's Father's Child, a coming-of-age story about the complicated relationship between a woman and her dad. Suffice to say, it was a 7-year learning tool. The book's on a shelf somewhere amongst my clutter, collecting dust.

DEAD WITNESS was my true beginning as a storyteller. The spark of its conception came to me one morning back in '91 while my brother was visiting from Whitehorse, Yukon. He was on the phone talking shop to one of his employees, (my bro's a PI/Security Consultant)--when this question popped into my mind:

If I disappeared and was presumed dead, would my big brother leave it at that?

And as easy as that the story began playing through my mind like a video; Dvds didn't exist yet. I saw Valerie McCormick, who just happened to look exactly like Cheryl Ladd when she was 38, scouting Lake Union for a Bayliner. I saw her witness a horrific crime. And then through circumstances she couldn't control, I saw Valerie forced to give up the most precious gift a woman could ever give away: her children.

I've always been a strange fish, but honestly I felt her pain. I was devastated for her. Three months later, I typed THE END.

Wow.

I mean it took 7 years to write AFC. And then 3 months for DW! I was definitely on a roll. Of course, then I joined an online writer's group called Novelpro
, whereupon the late author and wonderful storyteller, Jan Holloway critiqued my manuscript.

Ouch.

I learned a great deal from Jan, bless her heart. And as for NovelPro founder, J.R.Lankford, I'm forever in her debt. With the help of many gifted writer/critiquers, like Keith Pyeatt, Art Tirrell, Alan Jackson, Dave Shields, JoAnn Hernandez, to name a few, I fine-tuned Dead Witness into the well-crafted, well-written suspense thriller it is today. Several years later, I joined Novels-L, and then DeadlyProse.

If you've written a novel and are ready to take the next step, Novelpro, Novels-L, or DeadlyProse are vital to your nuturing as an inspiring writer. They're all worth their weight in gold.

But enough with the cliches...

When I was a kid, my dad nicknamed me Josephina, the laughing hyena, with the long wind--
So--enough with the history. Tomorrow I'll try and come up with something brilliant and original. Like the time I wrestled an audience member to the floor so I could get a better look at Bruce Springsteen.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hot Air...

Blogging has become the norm. Everyone has one. It's the in-thing to do.

I resisted for years, believing no one would want to hear what I have to say. And that in itself is a strange thought considering I'm a writer.

Only I'm more of a storyteller. My compositions are derived from my imagination. Not my often mundane life. I sit at a computer for hours, days, something months without contributing to the world around me. What could I say that was worth your time to read?

And then it struck me that I am experiencing something worth mentioning. I've recently published one of 5 old manuscripts. This one I'd started in 1991. Gads, that's 17 years ago!

Because I was convinced that after all these years I couldn't possibly make it any better, I had only decided to print one copy for myself. Something to hold in my hands, call my own. And I would have been satisfied with that if my family hadn't gotten so excited.

I never considered what they must have thought with me stuck at the computer for so many years. I told them I was writing books, but what does that mean to a non-writer, really?

When that first copy of Dead Witness arrived in the mail, my husband was more excited than I was. He told everyone. And then requests started coming in: "Where can I get my copy?" One thing led to another and viola,
I went the route I never suspected I would go: I've self-published.

Self-published?

I
t almost sounds pornographic.

What does it mean exactly?

It means my manuscript wasn't grabbed up by a big publishing house, or even a small publishing house. It means I have enough rejection letters in my file to wallpaper my ensuite. It means the business of publishing said that I wasn't good enough, that my book wasn't good enough.

T
o date, I've sold 5 copies.

ha ha ha

Kidding aside, Self-publishing really means I believe in myself. The heck with what publishers believe. Or agents for that matter; I've had 3 , & I'm here to say they're fickle.

Anyway, it's a beginning.

The next step is exactly what I'm doing now, blogging. Apparently, blogging is the way to go if I want to be successful. I haven't figured out what blogging has to do with selling my book, but I'm not tempting fate & arguing about it.

Hopefully my blogs will be interesting, informative, & maybe a bit entertaining. My mandate is to share with you the ins & outs of being an author. What's it all about: this strange obsession to tell stories? Then force them on the public?

Guess we'll have to wait & see.

Maybe we can figure it out together.