Friday Feature: The Overlooked, The Forgotten, The Displaced: Unbridled Inspirations – By Dianna Brown

 

Close your eyes for a few seconds and think of the word ‘inspiration.’ inspirationWhat comes to mind? Are there images of magnificent places you’ve been, impressive people you’ve met, or extravagant stories that stimulates your soul, sparks your imagination and almost brings you to tears? These everyday inspirations lead me to be the best version of myself, however, this is not a source of inspiration for my writing.

What if I told you my writing inspiration is in the overlooked, the forgotten and the displaced? I see potential in the bleakness of a shadow. I take interest in peculiar sights. I notice the unnoticed. My desire to write stems from the stories that are cut short. Not just unrequited love stories, but stories attached to the abandoned—whether objects, people or places. I am intrigued by ghost towns, and the remnants of memories left behind.

Sometimes inspiration comes from one word. I have a fascination and love of words. Maybe it’s a name, a word I overhear in conversation, or one that stands out while I’m reading. To me, words hold weight and are springboards for the fine details of characters, setting and, sometimes, plot. I call these words, triggers. One word triggers a plethora of infinite possibilities. Couple this with an innate curiosity about the little things in life and inspiration calls out from every direction.

Inspiration also comes from pain. Writing is a resiliency of spirit. It provides an avenue to unleash hurt by navigating emotions through an alignment of fictitious stories. I also believe the act of writing is an acute desire to heal. This is true for reading as well, as there is nothing more enjoyable than being whisked away in the transfixation of a book.

I wonder sometimes if writing is a window into the subconscious. Much of what I write is not intentionally thought about, but comes out in a stream of consciousness that can surprise me. In dreams, I hear the music of the most haunting melodies and poetic lyrics. In the middle of the night you can find me scribbling what I remember by the light of my phone, blurry-eyed. Unfortunately, in the morning the indecipherable lines can never match the beauty of my dreams. Words that enter my mind are often ones I’ve never heard of before, and after I’ve written my word count goal, I will look up the definition of the word, to find it fits perfectly with the meaning of the sentence. Although it’s likely words stored in my subconscious, that I’ve encountered somewhere along the way, it shocks me nonetheless.

When I wrote the novel ‘Saltwater Joys’ I had inspirations from childhood memories of oral Newfoundland folktales and ghost stories—ones I still love to hear again and again. I explored these memories and extended the stories into what might have been, had the story taken a different turn. It is like a scavenger hunt in my mind. One idea gives me a clue to where I might go with the story or character next. Other inspirations for this literary fiction novel came from the works of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as many classic tales and poems that made me see the unimaginably intricate, and sometimes horrific, connections in life.

inspiration2I like to explore the darker sides of life, which is interesting to me because I am naturally a good humoured optimistic individual. There are an unbounding instances of inspirational dualities in life, the play between light and dark, life and death, vice and virtue, and I realize as a writer I am one of them.

Dianna Brown’s Website

 

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Thanks, Dianna.

noreen

Writer Wednesday: Life Awry

karmaSometimes, I wish I was the driver of the Karma truck. But, I suppose, being a writer is better. Still have the problem of sitting too long, but we get to exact revenge too. The best kind of revenge – in print.

Many years ago, sharing some big life altering event with a friend, she responded, “I guess these things happen to you because you’re a writer.”

Of course, life awry, I didn’t think this is the best response a friend could give – but, then again, maybe it was. Because it’s true.

What writer hasn’t written the demise of someone who’s wronged them? karma2

We writers have a way of writing life into our fiction. We work out our demons, our personal challenges, and by putting it out there in our fiction (or even in our creative nonfiction), we do one better than reap revenge, we are relieved and we are relatable to others who have gone through similar situations or similar emotional upheavals.

Recently, my life became vexed by a certain set of people and circumstances which caused great stress and loss (how’s that for vague?); and true to form, one of my writer friends said, “sounds like a great book!”

It damn well does.

karma4But, first, I had to roll my eyes and throw back my head. I just wanted some sympathy, some empathy. But she gave me more than that – she gave me purpose, building from ashes, and a way for me to transmit sympathy to another by relating to a scenario which many of us have experienced.  (I know, still too vague.)

However, the tragedy still fresh and the skin still tender, I’ve written on outline and will start on the book when the callous scars over and the sensitivity has dulled.

Food Crimes: Why Americans hate my scones…

To be clear – yes, I’m American (sometimes I feel I need to apologize for that these days) – but my tastes run to the less sweet side of what we consider sweets.

Scones… for instance.

The things you get at Starbucks are not really “scones” per se. breakfast_sweets_decoden_by_thepocketkawaii-d6z14ooThey are more like pastries, tarts, danishes, if you will.

True Scones are not made with a cup of sugar and jam already added.

The once Scottish, British usurped, Americanized scone became desirable as a more plain version of what we see in America. Although they’ve always been a touch sweeter and less flakier than biscuits, this pastry was more the base for slathering things on and siding  with coffee or tea. The topping to the taste of the person, balanced with drink (sweetened or not) of choice.

The British scone, lightly brushed with egg, usually contains very little sugar, sconesoccasionally a few currents or raisins. But the point of a good scone is to have a choice of cream, lemon curd, or jam, not a mystery filled fun fest for which consumers risk diabetes.

I discovered the lovely less sweet version in England. As I rarely eat pastries for breakfast, I found this a nice, healthier alternative to what is usually served at the continental breakfast.

I developed a love of scones when I did time at Cal State Chico in pursuit of my MFA. There was a little cafe, no longer there, which served warm scones made with fresh fruit. My jaunt over in the morning became a regular stop as I picked up a black tea and fresh out of the oven mango or apricot scone. (Even these were more biscuit-like, but still less sweet).

I won’t bother you with my own experiments with scones. I’ve won some, I’ve lost some. But I will tell you the ones I made this past weekend, part traditional, part Americanized, were the bomb!

Pistachio fig scones:42803096_2309289422433704_8343625948515532800_o

Less flour,

no sugar,

a brush of honey,

a teaspoon of coconut oil.

Friday Feature: Chris Pellizzari and the Unattainable

granada 3.pngI started writing when I was a freshman in high school. My very first writing efforts were poems filled with rhymes and cliches. During my sophomore year of high school I took a creative writing class, the only creative writing class I’ve ever taken. I hated it. I especially hated the teacher. She liked this weird, semi-beatnik/hippie style of writing, poems filled with “crazy” images like “throwing batteries at dead cows” and things that tasted like “copper pastries”. She liked short stories with bizarre characters and situations, things that were weird for the sake of being weird; weird that did not move the story in any direction.

The class was a nightmare and I rebelled against it and her standards of “good writing”. I received a C+ and vowed I would never take another creative writing class again, a promise I kept. But I kept writing in my spare time and was finally rewarded my senior year of high school when a short story I wrote about my grandfather, the one person who encouraged me through my early years as a writer, was a winner in a national writing contest. I won $500, had my story published in a magazine, and was presented a plaque by former president George H W Bush at a ceremony in Chicago. My high school newspaper published an article about it and I found a level of redemption concerning the creative writing teacher from hell.granada 2

Throughout college and journalism grad school, I continued to write fiction but never tried to publish any of it. The only things I published during this time were articles for small local papers like the Elmhurst Press and Villa Park Argus as a stringer, covering board meetings and stories about preserving mansions from the 19th century and such. I also covered high school sports for the Daily Herald. I didn’t start submitting short stories to literary magazines until I was thirty, and even then, I only submitted a handful. It wasn’t until I was 35 that my first short story was accepted for publication. The story was titled “Granada”, a story about Spain that was published in The Awakenings Review. I’ve been writing and submitting short stories and novellas like crazy ever since.

granada coverI studied abroad in Granada, Spain during my junior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2003. I fell in love with the country and with a young woman in my study abroad group. Today, Spain represents the unattainable in my life. I have since developed an anxiety/claustrophobic disorder and refuse to fly. I can no longer physically travel to Spain. I can only travel to Spain through my mind, through memories. The young woman I fell in love with in Granada was also the first woman I ever truly loved. It was an experience of first-time, authentic love, love for a person and place. I know I can never recapture that kind of intensity in regards to love. One can only feel that kind of love when young. Everything after that is fine, marriage and such, but it will never be as pure or intense. And that’s what Last Night in Granada is about. It is a story about the unattainable.

Chris Pellizzari, author of Last Night In Granada 

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Thanks, Chris. Best of Luck to you!

noreen

Writer Wednesday: Ode to Professor King

king1

 

 

“Most of what writers write about their work is ill-informed bullshit.”

 

 

 

You gotta love Stephen King, if not for his fiction, for the way he sets things straight and to the point.

This is the line that begins King’s rewrite for his novel The Gunslingerking4, originally released in 1970, rewritten and rereleased in 2003.

He rewrote and released the novel – only Stephen King could do that.

In any case, I found his forward notably valuable. His words are not only ever for his readers, but for writers as well.

His approach to revision he says, “hasn’t changed much,” and it is “to plunge in and go as fast as I can, keeping the edge of my narrative blade as sharp as possible through constant use…. Looking back,” he says, “prompts too many questions.”

I agree. I’m one to power through and not consider edits until I’m completely finished. This way I don’t get hung up wondering if this is right, if that flows, should I change this word here? Nothing is finished until the end is on paper, then comes the time for change; however, King puts his work away for a time. I, personally, give it an edit or two or ten. I give it to my friends, I reread, fawn over every word, sentence and…. it still has errors I don’t catch for six months or a year.

king2For the original writing of The Gunslinger, King has this to say about his younger self, “too many writing seminars, and had grown used to the idea those writing seminars promulgate: that one is writing for other people rather than oneself; that language is more important than story; that ambiguity is preferred over clarity and simplicity…”

I was once in one of those very seminars when someone brought up Stephen King, “don’t worry,” the professor announced, “he’ll never be remembered in the annals of history.”

The same professor, the same class, a few sessions later, eyed me after my story had been workshopped and discussed. “I’m still trying to figure out the reason for writing the story.”

“I think,” braved another student, “she wrote it for pleasure, for publication.”

The Professor’s eyes narrowed, her lips thinned, and she sat forward in the old wooden desk, “we don’t do that in this class,” she hissed.

My nervous smile slipped away as silence rose from our feet up. No one moved. No one breathed. One girl had already run out crying, perhaps they were waiting for me. I didn’t want to cry, nor run out, but I’d felt everything I’d done up til that point undeniably wrong.

I learned to write, over the next few year, the way of the MFA, ambiguous, language king5heavy, story slipping under the covers of darkness of words and rhythm.

Stephen King, I thought then and now, by sheer volume and honesty of craft, will not be forgotten. And I’m not sure he cares one way or the other.

I think we can all learn a thing or two from Professor King.

Food Crimes: Ohhh… Honey…… I like it raw…

That is, my preference for honey is unprocessed, unadulterated, and in other words raw.

honey

Raw honey appears opaque, thick, yellow. I feel like I’m getting the real thing. The thinner honey is questionable to me because many companies mix their honey with high fructose corn syrup and do not disclose it on the label.

I’m not sure how that happens, but it’s true. It’s true of other sweeteners as well; take honey1note agave lovers and brown syrup believers, your alternative all-natural sweetener may contain some Karo.

The secrets of honey are muddled in hives of misunderstandings, half truths, and changing laws.

Raw honey should be opaque and thick; it’s supposed to contain more enzymes which heat and processing destroys. However, it comes straight from the hive and will contain honeycomb, royal jelly, and possibly some bee parts. One article suggests any black spots may be a leg or joint – fun stuff!

honey2Manuka Honey, which sells for $20-$40 per 8oz is said to have significant antibiotic effects.

But honey, overall, says most articles, is not any healthier. The fructose in honey has the same effects on your body as any other sweetener.

 

 

Friday Feature: Snowflakes in a Blizzard, Darrel Laurant’s Project to Assist Writers

Darrel Laurant contacted me some time ago about featuring my book, West End, on his project website. I’m only happy to now have him talk about that project here.

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Completing and publishing a book — any book — is a noble accomplishment. Unfortunately, it’s only half the battle.

Writing, publishing and marketing used to be co-joined triplets, or at least close cousins. Now, though, they have drifted apart into separate entities. As a consequence, the new mantra from publishers turning down a manuscript has become: “We really like your book, but we don’t think we can sell it.”

What you realize, as you skim over the Top 100 best-selling offerings on Amazon or even the hallowed New York Times list, is that “marketability” now has very little to do with what we used to perceive as “quality.” Not that a well-written book can’t be successful, but writing well is no longer a crucial requirement, writing not-so-well no longer a deal-breaker.

The good news is, thanks to current technology and increased self publishing options, almost anyone who really wants to get a book published can now do so. The bad news is, almost anyone who really wants to get a book published can now do so.

The fact that 30 million or so books are now listed on Amazon has drastically changed the rules of engagement. The issue is no longer getting published, but getting noticed.

Writers are obviously the losers in this not-so-brave new world, but so are readers. Books go surging past us like flotsam on a flood-swollen river, never to be seen again. If it was published in 2016, it has already become a relic.

The idea of Snowflakes in a Blizzard, which started three years ago, is to become just one small voice shouting: “Whoa!”

I spent more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and columnist, wrote a lot for magazines and Websites on the side, published two books that sold over 3,000 copies each locally, and won a lot of writing awards from the Virginia Press Association.

In some occupations, all that would have helped ease my transition when I retired from journalism to write books full-time. In the publishing field, I had to check it all at the door.

When my first novel, “The Kudzu Kid,” went up on Amazon, I was excited. I now had my own little niche, exposed to the world. I had a publisher who, at least in theory, was prepared to spread the word. I had a distributor to transport my books to the far corners of the nation. Smiling contentedly, I sat back and waited for the orders to pour in.

And waited. And waited. Eventually, it dawned on me that since nobody outside of Central Virginia had ever heard of me, the odds of anyone randomly clicking on my Amazon page were infinitesimal. Why would they?

At some point during the mini-funk that followed, aggravated by the winter blahs, I was standing in front of my living room widow in Lake George, NY, watching it snow, when this thought occurred to me: “Getting noticed for a new writer these days is like a snowflake trying to stand out in a blizzard.”

A few months later, I started the Snowflakes in a Blizzard blog.

Each week, Snowflakes highlights three books. They could be novels, poetry, short stories, non-fiction, memoirs or a hybrid. What they have in common are that they are a) unique in some way and b) could use more attention. The “template” for every book is filled out by the author and goes individually to each of our 3,000-plus followers, complete with a few reviews and a sample chapter. It’s a way of getting one-on-one attention.

Also, it’s completely free. I like that for several reasons:

First, it takes the pressure off. Charging for a service is all about making a promise — in this case, pay me and I’ll sell books for you.  I can’t do that, because I have no way of tracking who might have purchased a book because of a Snowflakes post they received.

Second, it makes for a better vibe between me and other writers. They are colleagues, not customers.

Finally, I don’t feel competitive with any other writer-friendly blogs or Websites. In fact, I’d be delighted if a thousand other sites sprang up just like Snowflakes in a Blizzard, because that would still not take care of all the writers who need such a service.

You may have heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. In the case of the book-buying public, the enemy is our very human tendency to stick with what we know. Early in our lives, most of us have settled in on what food, music, movies and, yes, books we like.

This fact unquestionably drives the book publishing business. It has become a lot like politics — survey the public to find out what they think they want, then give it to them. It accounts for the focus on genres, the reliance on best-seller lists and the dicotomy of wealth between the top one percent of authors and everybody else.

I don’t like to point fingers at the publishing industry, because they need sales to survive. So do agents. I do, however, think that the current glut of books has contributed in many cases to tunnel vision and laziness. What used to be “Wow, this is a great book — we need to tell people about this talented new author,” has morphed into “Oh, too bad — it doesn’t have the right genre for our demographic.”

This genre fixation is one of my major gripes about the book business today. Instead of offering unique work that only they could produce, some authors are “writing to genre,” following a list of pre-prescribed rules in an effort to “fit.” Yet so many of the books that made a big impact upon arrival — think “In Cold Blood,” “The Color Purple,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Roots” — probably would have flunked the genre test.

To their credit, a lot of small “indie” publishers do seek out and nurture talented new writers. Sometimes, they are richly rewarded for it.

My other gripe is the attitude held by some gatekeepers that they are doing writers a huge favor by publishing them. I growl, internally, every time I see this on a Website: “If you don’t hear from us in two months, it means we’re not interested.”

How much time and trouble would it take to type “Thanks, but not for us,” and hit “send”? Or maybe, “We’re thinking about it.”

This lack of communication shows a naked disrespect to authors who, after all, just want to enter into a business deal with them. Think of how you’d feel if you walked into a restaurant, sat down at a table, and were then ignored for an hour before you finally got up and left.

OK, so the creative universe is awash with other books. Publishers and agents can be uncaring, potential book buyers unlikely to try something new, both realities especially hard on new writers who haven’t yet accumulated prior publications, lots of good reviews or a book club fan base.

So what can we do? I make no claims of being an expert (I’ve never had a best selling book, so what do I know?), but I do have some suggestions.

  1. Look at the myriad niches that might be hidden beneath the main thrust of your book. These could include the setting, the occupation of main characters, a societal issue that is addressed, etc. Find some on-line clusters of people who reflect those nooks and crannies and send them a sample chapter. Do everything you can to show a publisher or agent that your book will, indeed, have a ready-made audience.
  2. Don’t forget the local connection. After your book is published (or even before), show up at your local newspaper office, meet the book editor, and suggest a review of your book. Don’t forget the little free papers than have mushroomed everywhere.
  3. Arrange similar meetings with small bookstore owners in your area.
  4. Set up as many book signings as you can handle, including businesses other than bookstores.

I invite you to check out the Snowflakes in a Blizzard site, and perhaps even follow it. Or, you may have a book you’d like to have featured, or know someone else who does.

My e-mail address is writersbridge@hotmail.com, and I love to talk about writing, any time.

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Much luck, Darrell. Thanks!
noreen