Monday Motivation

A writing exercise to get your rusty writing pipes lubricated.

Write the same scene from three different points of view.  I know this doesn’t sound new and groundbreaking, but when is the last time you did it? And what types of characters did you choose?dad-shining-cover

Let’s lighten it up for you – stretch your skills. If you’ve never written from the opposite gender point of view – try it. This is an exercise I did with Dad Shining. This story could not have been narrated by a woman, it had to be chronicled by a man. And that man, it turns out, had to be the son. Dad Shining was published by Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal – so I must have done something right.

But don’t stop there – go further. Write it from a pet’s point of view. The Art of Racing in the Rain is an adult novel narrated in total by the dog. And it is a GREAT novel! Imagine a story from outside of the human point of view.

Or write it from a child’s point of view.  Because my children are older, and I’m presently writing a story which involves a nine year old girl, I’ve had to call my friends. I was fortunate enough to spend time with a delightful little girl and found the time and the young woman inspiring. I have even more ideas than I can handle.

Let me know how it goes – share in our Writing 365 Group.

 

The Comma Coma – a deadly disease

Do you go into a coma when someone starts talking about commas?

Don’t get bit by the deadly comma coma bug! Figure out how to make the comma work for you, not against you!

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The purpose of all punctuation is to clarify your thoughts and ideas so readers can enjoy and understand the book!

Did you have a teacher that told you, “whenever you feel the need to pause, insert a comma”?

WORST ADVICE EVER!

When we are writing, we naturally pause to think. That is not necessarily where a legal-grammar-rules-keep-calm-and-use-commas-e1490740001283comma needs to be.

Commas have a number of rules. My favorite site to use – and to introduce to my students – is the Owl at Purdue. Their comma usage explanations are clear and detailed.

One of my editor-friends believes the comma used for introductory words, phrases, and clauses is “going the way of the dinosaur.” While I agree that some people and publications seem to think so, I think it’s still a valid and needed use. [I’ve used introductory commas in this blog – one was in the previous sentence, “While I agree…]

The Fanboys rules is the easiest to remember; however, because of the number of teachers giving the pause advice, I get sentences that look like this:

The Rams won but, not everyone was happy.

We sometimes punctuate our speech this way for emphasis, but you can’t hear tone in these words, and it’s just wrong.  < this sentence contains correct use of the fanboys rule.

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My students often ask me to explain the whole “Oxford Comma” disagreement. Well, it goes like this: There are people who use the oxford comma and then there are monsters!

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Commas are confusing, but they’re not impossible to learn. Any editor is going to appreciate the correct use of commas regardless of how much they appreciate or introductory comma. 🙂

 

 

Infused Writing

365day5Hobbies can reinforce our writing. I like hiking, being out in the natural world absorbing scents and sounds as well as images. I use hiking and nature to recharge my soul and in my writing by way of description.

Everyone needs something to recharge their soul. And adding authenticity to writing is always a benefit.

365day5aSome writers have hobbies, such as fencing, they use in their story. The descriptions of actual movements, aches, pains, body benefits, makes the story feel authentic.

Do you have any hobbies which feeds your creativity?

Friday Feature: Valerie Cooper and Finding Writing Time

I’m more familiar with Valerie Cooper’s poetry, as we’ve both appeared in Delphinium Literary Magazine. So when she contacted me about writing a piece about finding time, I thought she’d have something important to say. We’re both single parents, except mine are now grown, which gives me more time. Hers is still quite young – and as I once did – she searches for little bits of time to write.

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vcooper1As a single parent, writing can be difficult. I’m required to be creative and write around my daughter’s schedule. I find time in the mornings, for twenty or thirty minutes, before I get her up for pre-school. At work, I take five minutes here and there when I can to make notes or outline an idea or twElise Climbing Rocks in Central Park NYCo. I get another hour, if I’m not too tired, after I read her stories and put her to sleep.

I know my friends who don’t have kids have more time than I. But, also, my friends who don’t have kids aren’t as focused as I am on being successful. Children take a lot of your time, much of your energy, but what you receive in return is far more satisfying than much else life has to offer. My daughter inspires me to work harder, to be successful. Before her, I thought, “I’ll get there some day.” But after she was born and I looked into those big, beautiful eyes, it lit a fire under me!

Many writers complain about not enough writing time. Life is busy and messy. We need to work around it. So sometimes I get up early. Other times, I stay up late. I get creative and grab what might be otherwise wasted moments.

vcooper3I write poetry in the park on warm Saturday afternoons while the children are screaming with joy on the climbing gym. I write lyrics in the parking lot, in the chilled air of my car, waiting for pre-school to end. I outline a story over the humid stove, while my daughter waits impatiently at the dining room table, chomping on carrots.

There is time, it just comes in increments, joyfully swinging around everything else in your life. It’s there. You just have to grasp it.

Valerie Cooper

Delphinium

The Kiss

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Thanks, Valerie. Much Luck!

For everyone else, I suggest one of these!

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Friday Feature: Writing as Courtship – Timothy Savage

When Timothy Savage speaks of Davey’s Savior, his novel about a father and son, it’s with a passion which encourages the reader to pick it up. He uses that same passion in almost everything he does from caring for his own son to detailing the journey of Davy and his father.

I knew when I asked Timothy to write something, he’d present something marvelous…. and so he has.

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Revision as Courtship

courtshipCourtship is romance taken form. It’s where those thoughts and fantasies translate into actions, from the ordinary chocolates and flowers to those thoughtful gestures, everything from a caress of the hand to simple time spent in conversation, all taking place behind a barrier of uncertainty. You spend time with that special someone, you share meals and thoughts and feelings, you enjoy those little tingles that come from being in their presence, but you don’t yet cross into intimacy. Perhaps you’re old-fashioned, or imagine yourself as gentlemanly or ladylike; you save something for later. In any case, you’re not quite at that point of leaping into their arms with wild abandon.

That’s okay. Sometimes saving something for later is a good thing, even as you relish those moments together without quite sharing everything. It’s all driven by a simple truth: Courtship is a time for getting to know each other, and to be blunt, for sizing each other up.

In a long-term romance meant to last, you need to see them — and they need to see you — exactly as you both are. You need to see them happy, angry, confounded, upset, blissful. courtship2To see into their soul. To see whether it’s safe to make yourself vulnerable before blending your soul with theirs. To see your own flaws and those of your partner in clear focus, to get beneath the layers of what someone might project, and instead look for and grab onto those glimpses of truth beneath the veneer of attraction…

Wait a minute. If this is a column about writing for writers, why do I have romance on the mind? Easy. For writers, it’s like this when you’re about to embark on the process of revision. Many writers – myself included – feel a kind of anxiety, a hesitation, before diving into the process of editing and revision. You stare at your draft without moving, afraid to press a key or redline that sentence for fear of screwing everything up. It’s the same anxiety one feels before dialing that special someone for the very first time.

Writing — especially the art of crafting a book — can be thought of as a long-term romance with your story. And that sizing-up process, the very beginning of courtship, is an important first step in editing and revisions, too.

As an author, you need to make yourself vulnerable to your manuscript, to see it exactly as it is. To seek out those “warts and all” glimpses of its true nature. It’s the moment and author and manuscript test each other through presence, seeing whether they enjoy each other’s company after spending long periods of time together, or seeing whether they’d rather hide in the washroom and phone a friend for rescue.

But if you enjoy the experience together, if you enjoy spending that time and look forward to the next conversation, maybe it’s time to dig back in and read that manuscript as a reader would, as someone who’s not quite made themselves vulnerable to possibility of intimacy.

Personally, I’ve made a practice of revising “big to small.” What I mean by that is the act of seeing my story as a whole, of taking in the work-in-progress with all its flaws and foibles, sizing up its true essence, and determining what changes are necessary in a structural way to bring that story I’d envisioned into reality. Eventually I focus on smaller and smaller details; not story structure or overall plots, but the little touches that keep the reader enthralled. It’s a little like going from that first casual dinner to the first moment “alone together”; reach that level and it’s just the two of you in a dance, in the hopes of making it all work.

Revising “big to small” meant courting my other characters all over again. Looking at each of those peripheral stories in my manuscript with a critical eye, deciding whether they added to the central relationship in my book or distracted from it. Deciding which of those scenes were necessary, what worked and what did not. Deciding what should remain, and what could be safely relegated to a “cuts” folder for later consideration or swipe-left deletion.

courtship2In the end, after many dates with my manuscript that ranged through blind and awkward, rushed and too quick, exciting and anticipatory, intimate and ecstatic, the story evolved into better forms than ever taken before. I saw it for what it was, working through the small details, caressing each sentence and nuance until the story as envisioned came across as “meant to be.”

Revision is courtship. And courtship, despite the nerves and uncertainties and awkward moments, is fun. So don’t be afraid to dive right in. Swipe right on that revision. Hold that car door open, and bring along the flowers and candy for both of you. In the end, whether your revision succeeds or fails — whether the relationship with your manuscript lasts or fizzles during the courtship of revision — you’ll be a better author for having the courage to experience it.

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Noreen, thank you for the invitation to contribute to your ‘Friday Feature!’ Dashing off a blog post about writing is always great fun, and if it helps to inspire another writer or two, excellent!

Speaking of inspiration, I want to give a little credit where credit is due. The idea of ‘Revision as Courtship’ came out of discussions and collaborations with my dear, dear friend, writing partner across the pond, editor, and author of the 17th Century Midwives series of historical fiction novels, Annelisa Christensen. Her insights helped me to view revisions with something other than anxiety, and for that I am forever grateful.

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Thank you, Timothy.

You can find Davey’s Savior on Amazon

Tim’s Website – where you might find a little inspiration or even some help!

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Writer Wednesday: Say Yes to the Edit….

When I’ve mentioned, within a writer’s group, an editor asked for changes the room heats with disagreement.

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“You’re not going to do it, are you?”

“Why would you sell yourself like that?”

“How dare they?!”

 

They dare because they are willing to publish my work; and while it does matter what they ask, I’m willing to listen and consider their ideas and advice. Usually, it is merely for clarifications or changes in simple sentence structure or the like.

My story, $1.00 Stories, was originally published by the Chicano Tribune’s Printers Row Journal. When that editor called me and hesitantly said, “we’re requesting changes;” I think he was quite surprised with my, “certainly.” The only requested was a few clarifications between the character’s name, Chris, and his nickname, C.C.

writerblog3It would be foolhardy and, even, unprofessional for me to say no without hearing them out.

While I suppose many writers believe the editor might ask for major changes in ideas or plot, I haven’t had any ask me for such things. As writers, we need to be open to consider what is said.

By request, I critiqued another writer’s work. I offered my point of view, and they became offended, tried to explain what they meant in this scene or that narration. My response, “there are all great ideas, but they are not in there.” The young person huffed off, I believe, without hearing me. Writers, we cannot be that sensitive.

We are not perfect human beings. We make errors. Some things are clear to us, but not to others. We can improve our work for the better by listening to others’ opinions. Of course, not all are worth considering. But an editor’s opinion, one who is willing to publish your work, is valuable.

 

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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.