Character (and human) Motivation

Learn How to Find the Motivation Within to Succeed | Inc.com

Recently someone did something for me. I did not ask, she volunteered. I was apathetic for a few reasons: I didn’t know her very well; when someone does something for us – there are usually invisible strings that will sway our way at some point.

Many of us operate on societal, cultural, and sometimes puritan programming that is mostly unconscious. Expectations seem ingrained in our very being.

What she expected in return was for me to behave a certain way given her grace. When I did not, she claimed to be hurt and upset, frustrated, why had she bothered?

She was entitled to a “Thank you,” which she received. But she was not entitled to control or to judge. She didn’t understand this. She didn’t realize (and denied) she was making judgements based on her own expectations. If her motivation was to “help,” she had accomplished her goal. But, then, why was she upset?

As writers, I think we see things more clearly. Maybe differently. We are observers of human behaviors. If we’re good, we’re looking for motivation.

This person, like our character, didn’t understand her own unconscious motivations and was, therefore, disappointed by the outcome. It is a rare character who can see their own faults, analyze their misguided or unclear motivations before they act. It’s only with reflection, and maybe help from their besties, that our characters grow to understand themselves and their own actions, motivations, and goals.

I like ’em short

I’ve been reading and writing novel length works lately. I belong to a few online book groups and people are always posting great reviews of this book or that. Sometimes I pick them up, sometimes I like them. It’s hard for me to find that book that hits the sweet spot – the perfect mix of good writing and a good story.

I love the exceptional use of language. That’s a talent.

In my literature and writing classes, I use Best American Short Stories. I chanced upon an old copy the other day. I read half of the first story and felt engaged, awakened!

Picking up the book of short stories immediately energized me with ideas for short fiction.

The joy of reading a short story happens because they’re tight, no nonsense needed, straight to the point, well written and excellently executed niblets of fiction.

The joy of writing a short story is the challenge. The point, the characters, the setting all expertly set up in concise wording in a small period of time. The use of language is easier to control, the beauty and rhythm easier to accomplish.

I once belonged to a short story group. It was so gratifying to read the short fiction. If you didn’t like what someone chose, you could still read the ten or twenty pages and talk about it. It’s not 300 pages of silently cursing your book group.

So… I’m going to recommend some books of short fiction. Of course, I recommend the Best American Short Story Series. Wonderful writing by newbies and scholars alike!

And mine: But also – I’m a huge fan of Jo Rousseau and Ron Terranova.

Jo Rousseau and Ron Terranova also have websites/blog. Stop by and check them out!

In Dreams

There is some magic that happens between midnight and three a.m. Words fall like rain, ideas bloom like tulips in the spring.

That state, somewhere between alpha and theta, when the mind is past meditation and drifting – freed.

Many nights, I wake filled with story. Sometimes I sit up and write, capturing those dream images and ideas. Other times, I hang on to the sweet theta mind and scratch notes to myself that I’ll decipher in the bright light of day.

There’s something quite lovely about theta, about that time of night. The world is soft and quiet. The world is ours and ours alone.

Writers are powerful in the dark, in the aloneness, capturing ideas that flutterby like butterflies.

Once, I fought a poem. The poem lay incomplete, begrudgingly sitting there refusing to become complete. I placed the notebook on the bed and fell asleep.

In a few hours, I sprang to wakefulness when the line in full form drifted by. I snatched it out of theta air and pushed it onto the page.

There, the poem complete.

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I woke up one morning with this story playing in the theta playground. I got out of bed and wrote until I had to go to work. When I got back from work, I finished it, edited it, and had it accepted to Pilcrow and Dagger almost immediately.

What’s a girl to do when her ex gives her a stray dog?

Of Strays and Exes – on Kindle

What Your Character Reads

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You’ll remember reading some great stories in which the character is reading or recommended a book to read to another.

Authors do not peel off the list carelessly, especially if it’s a single book, author, or scene. These are chosen carefully to reveal something specific about the character, to complicate the story, or to foreshadow what is to come.

There are numerous books which mention other books or authors; however, I’ll example Charity, a short story by Charles Baxter.

In one scene a drug dealer has Othello open to Act 3. It’s unclear if the dealer is actually reading – he’s sitting in a dimly lit bar, running his finger down the page; however, the main character offers, “the handkerchief. And Iago” to identify the scene and illuminate the foreshadowing.

The story of Othello, and more specifically the scene, involves Iago as the master of a manipulation using the handkerchief as evidence of a betrayal.

This is not by some accident that Baxter chose the story and the scene. He didn’t grab at something out of the blue because he needed the dealer to be reading at a bar. He chose to use a scene from another classic text to complicate and foreshadow what is to come. However, the question becomes how does it layer the story of Charity?

I won’t tell you, but I highly recommend reading the story.

In one story, I had a character reading a book by Betty White. The book is fictional, but I wanted the character to be seeking an idea of normalcy as far from herself as I could get.

Presently, I’m working on a novel. One of the characters is rather shallow and cares about the appearance of things more than anything else. Another character is describing the home and I needed a coffee table book to reflect the first. I felt he would choose a book which matched the decor, but also shows him as worldly. I chose National Geographic’s Stunning Photography. He’s never even cracked the spine, he just wanted something beautiful to match the blue of his curtains and make him look good to his guests. I may change it, but right now I think it works.

Give thought to the choices in your work, even if it’s a book sitting on a table, passing from one character or another, or in a window. It’ll layer your work, giving more depth to your characters and the story.

 

Crying

People feel all sorts of ways about crying. I feel it’s cathartic, sometimes needed. Sometimes I worry our world is headed in a different direction. My new story explores a world that feels differently.

Let me know what you think. The Crier on Kindle.

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Successful Writing

Okay, so not bragging, but….. I’ve been hard at work….

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The Healer’s Daughter in The Ear

The Healer’s Daughter is a departure for me. It marks a turns in my writing that came about just this year. It’s more mystical. Risky, maybe. A woman’s daughter describes her mother’s gift and discovers she has her very own gift, but will she actually use it?

The Healer’s Daughter will be featured in my summer release of How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party. It’s a book of short stories, all of which have a special or surprising twist.

 

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Friends, Lovers, and Liars in Home Renovation

Originally titled Deception, it didn’t find a home. In fact, the topic of lies and cheating offended one editor. I think it may have hit too close to home.  It, too, will be released in the summer release of How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party.

 

 

 

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How to Throw a Psychic Surprise Party in The Electric Press Magazine

The title story for the book of short stories. Inspired by a show in which I saw a television host throw a “surprise” party for a psychic. It struck me – How do you throw a psychic a surprise party?

This story may answer that question. Maybe not. How much empathy can you muster?

 

 

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Hunger and other poems as well as some photography in Voices of Eve

 

Not in the book of short stories. But well worth the read. Hunger is one of my favorite poems.

 

 

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Also in the book of short stories –

The Crier: In a time when emotions are unheard of, people need a release.

The Mirror People: Ever wondered what’s inside the mirror? You know there’s something, right? Here’s a woman who collects them – she knows.

Bowie and the Basket Case: Anna’s things keep disappearing and reappearing. At first she thinks she’s misplaced them, but then she’s sure she hasn’t!

How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party is available for Pre-order!

 

 

Interruptions…

I’m going to interrupt the flow of this blog , but windex1.jpge really should talk about how we deal with interruptions to our work.

I try not to take phone calls during my work time; however, sometimes I have to. A doctor appointment, a work call – all important, can’t wait until later. At least with those, you know you won’t be on the phone long.

The other day a friend called me. I hadn’t talked to him in over a month, so I wanted to see how he was. We live in different times zone, which makes scheduling time for a chat rather challenging. I told myself, even upon answering, that I wouldn’t talk long. But we did get carried away in catching up.

Set boundaries. I finally did tell him I needed to get back to my writing. He understands. Many people don’t, so I don’t regularly say that. I do tell them I can talk to them later or that I’m in the middle of something – both of which are true.

Phone calls and text messages are easier to put on hold – put the phone in the other room or turn it off. It really is not that hard.  Having children or spouses is a whole different topic, which I’m going to talk about during another blog.

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Right now, as I said, I need to interrupt the flow of this the gold tooth.jpgblog with an announcement.

You can win my short story, The Gold Tooth! Click here. This is only for a limited time.

Long lost sisters are reunited at the reading of their mother’s will. Celeste who has cared for their mother in her declining years is awarded a small, broken music box. The force of nature, Nancy, who hasn’t been seen they were teenagers, is awarded the entire estate. Before they leave the office, Nancy is given the option to exchange the estate for the box. Nancy laughs off the incredible offer and moves into the estate. What’s discovered in the music box could cost one sister her freedom and the other her life.

Interviewed by Anda Stan….

Interview-Time-Guest-Author-Noreen-Lace-1280x480Hi, all.  I wanted to give you the link for the interview:  Check out AndaStan.com for almost the whole truth, a few little secrets, and some tips.

 

laughtIt was a very thorough interview – she poked me with a stick until I gave it all up!

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy!

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West End – the opening chapter

Hi, All.  I was feeling West End today. I wanted to share a little portion, but couldn’t decide, so I give you all the opening selection for West End.  Enjoy.

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BEFORE MY MOTHER drank herself to death, I knew her as a gentle creature who fed wild squirrels from her hand.  On the back patio at mid-day, she’d stand very still, calm, peanuts laced in the fingertips of her outstretched hand. The squirrel, a female, her babies came later, approached with caution, across the railing, onto the windowsill, grab the nut, run to the other side of the patio where the squirrel peeled back the shell, ate the meat, then returned for another and another. For a while, the squirrels became my mother’s greatest pleasure.

When the female squirrel stopped coming, my mother worried, but the baby squirrels continued to visit. Then, the cubs must have grown, left the nest, because one by one they disappeared until only a single squirrel came to the daily meeting.

That winter, mother’s heart sucked itself dry. Familiar faces appeared, distant relatives, long-ago friends, who talked our concerns away with assurances for tomorrow and beyond.

“Little honeys, it will be okay.”

“I brought the eggplant casserole, green dish.”

“She was a wonderful woman.”

“Call if you need anything.”

Sarah and I stood at the door where someone’s aunt told us to stand. We pointed people who carried in food to the kitchen, guided people with flowers to the dining room, pointed the rest to Daddy who sat on the couch, gaze glued to the floor. We didn’t have to say anything, and no one asked.

The familiar strangers came and went and with them, our mother, our hopeless youth, our language.

The house became quiet. I couldn’t remember the last complete sentence I spoke or heard, couldn’t remember the last partial sentence I’d said to my father or he to me. My sister and I exchanged words, hushed, sometimes soundless breaths only we knew the meanings for. We lived our lives in half-words, pale sounds that sunk into the silence, in ideas of what we had to do next: breakfast, school, homework, laundry, dinner, dishes, bed. This soundless process became our lives; a strange off-balance way to live, but we did it for some months content not to break that pattern.

One cold February morning, a descending snowstorm blocked the roads, locked us indoors, kept us from going to school, our father from his work. Our first full day alone together in the house. Sarah and I sat at the painted brown kitchen nook picking at our cold Raisin Bran; the milk just tangy enough for us to question the freshness. A tapping noise brought our eyes to each other’s. Then silence.

“Wind.” Sarah exhaled with barely enough voice to make a sound much beyond the breath itself.

“Yeah.” My voice not much stronger. We returned to the cereal.

Tap…Tap…Tap…

Her gaze followed the floor to the sink, the counter, the back door.

“The door?”

I shook my head. “Nah.” Not today, at mid-day, in this storm. “Wind.”

I slipped from the nook; she followed. We stood, somewhat unnerved when the tapping came again. We could see through the glass in the door; no one stood there. I moved to the windows to get another view of the patio, leaned over, heard shuffling, then rattling against the window. We jumped. A squirrel clattered against the window, caused us both a momentary and laughable fright. Sarah touched my arm. We each took a deep breath. Our first that winter. The squirrel, the female or one of the children, we didn’t know and could never tell anyway, gave us a quizzical look, stretched up against the window; her little paws stretched against the glass. Tears welled. Quiet, unmoving, we held our breath, each other, tried not to let out the flow of emotions the winter built up.

Father’s footsteps, heavy on the linoleum, came toward us. We straightened.

“What’s going–”

“Shhh,” we both hushed him; his rough, dry voice might drive the squirrel away.

“It’s the squirrel,” Sarah said.

He looked puzzled.

She motioned toward the window. “The squirrels Mom used to feed. She used to give them nuts.”

“Well, give it some.” He waved his hands at us.

“Where are they?” Sarah pulled open random cabinet doors.

“I don’t know.” I opened the opposite cabinet doors.

“Well, look, look. They have to be here.” Father took to the drawers.

The three of us searched for a bag of peanuts Mother bought for the squirrels, hid from us to deter our snacking.

“He must be hungry.” Father gazed out the window at the back yard covered in snow. The porch railings, the powerlines, all draped in sheets of white; the squirrel, nervous, waited at the end of the banister. “Peanut butter. Get the peanut butter.”

“Will he eat that?” Sarah reached for the jar.

“Certainly,” Father assured us. “It’s peanuts, isn’t it?”

I grabbed for the bread.

“Just spread it on,” he said, more animated than I’d ever seen him.

We did.

“Wait, he can’t eat it like that Break it up.” He put his hands in the mess with ours.

Of course, we knew, but at the moment, that strange, unsettling, yet somehow comforting moment, we all needed to take part.

Sarah set the plate on the patio just outside the backdoor. The squirrel chattered, juddered its head from her to the door, the windows, its tail jerking back and forth as if with nervous jitters, then approached the plate, took a piece, and skittered back to the railing to eat it.

Dad ordered us away from the window. The little squirrel tittered, danced delicately, tail flitting, to take more food. We backed out of the kitchen.

Something shifted inside the house. The rooms warmed. The silence faded. The house took on old noises; the refrigerator hummed; the kitchen light buzzed; switches flicked with their old sticky clicks.

Our voices returned. We spoke more than mere sounds. We’d broached full sentences. But I don’t know if we ever surpassed that. We’d never been a family of paragraphs or stories. Laughter rarely rose to the ceiling. Now, with one of the speakers forever hushed, we were destined to be something less than complete.

Winter dissolved into spring; the strawberries mother planted last summer grew green, red, wild. We left nuts out all the time. Sometimes squirrels ate them; sometimes they’d sit until the birds got them or the ants swarmed them.

Sunrise reopened in summer, but never again did we hear our names called from the front patio as we walked up the street, never again did the light intonation of words follow us through the night, “not too late,” never again, upon our return, would we be met with a drunk asleep on the table with just enough consciousness to whisper “too late” when we passed through the kitchen to go to bed.

 

*West End is available on Amazon, Kindle, and Audible.