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.

 

Maximum Flow

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Photo by Ian Turnell on Pexels.comlow

I had a professor who hated the word “flow.” We were not allowed to say it in class and when someone new to this prof or class would say it, we would all turn to the instructor as she launched into a near spasm of “O”ing her lips, rolling her eyes, and throwing her head back in dramatic fashion.

Sometimes she wouldn’t verbalize to the newbie, so they would glance around wondering if she needed a medic, then someone would lean over and explain to the student, “we don’t use that word.”

BUT WHY NOT?

Well, I don’t know what her issues were; she had A LOT of them.

As I launched into my own new flow of the week, I thought there is no better word for it.

A river flows, it twists and bends and moves around boulders, tree trunks, rolls over rocks or sticks and, when it hits a new blockage, it flows around or under or over. That’s what writing feels like when it’s going well. You’re in a rhythm and you’re moving and it feels like nothing can stop you!

I feel like when you’re in the flow – other ideas come; you’re all juiced up, moving at maximum speed, and it paves way for and welcomes fresh and new streams of thought.

It’s important not to lose that feeling. Write until you can write no more and then you can’t wait to come back to it. And the sooner you jump right in again, the sooner the flow resumes.

When you stop, the longer you stop for, you risk becoming stagnant. Just like a river. It takes more effort to get restarted, to push away the junk that has gathered and blocked the movement.

 

Your Journal is Important, Especially Now

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Journaling allows us to process our daily lives. It helps us see patterns that we are taking part in physically and mentally, and most importantly it allows release.

 

Don’t hold back in journaling. These are your private thoughts and they need voicing and validation. No one ever needs to read them – or you can turn them into a creative efforts.  Some of my students have begun painting, writing, or even baking to express their creative outlets.

 

During this time, my writer friends and I are journaling to keep track of an important time in history. Maybe these will be records of human thoughts and feelings during a very difficult time in our society – much like The Diary of Anne Frank.

 

Some are doing dream journals as well.

 

In a few years, this will be forgotten, swept under the rug, or rebranded. Our society, our children, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will need real life, first person examples of what was happening internally and externally.

 

I teach topics that deal with slavery, suffrage, native American relocation stories. We read first person accounts. These allow my students to understand critical happenings in our society not from our history books who are written by the victors or the historians recording political acts, but by the people who went through and dealt with racism, oppression, and death our history has reaped on individuals.

 

Journaling seems more important now than it ever has before.

 

It can be anything you want it to be, look like anything you want it to look like. Let it be private and burn it later. Or share it.

What Did You Do?

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I read an article which stated, there’s no need to feel you have to be productive at this time.

WHAT? Then wtf are we going to do?

I heartily disagree. I think during this time we need to set goals. We need to focus on something to keep us sane!

When this is over, I want to have something to show for it.

When this is over, in another month? another two months? giving us a total of 3 months or more alone in our homes, do we walk out with nothing to show but our muffin tops the size of three tiered wedding cakes?

I’m not telling you not to feel stress. I’m not telling you not to stress eat. I am saying – set a goal and focus on something positive while we’re doing the best we can to survive the pandemic.

This is hard. I get it. We’re scared. If you want to stuff your face full of maple bacon donuts, I’m totally with you. If you have a bad day and want to curl yourself into a ball under your flannel sheets and cuddle your cat – that was my Saturday. I’m not superwoman. I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not doing myself.

When someone asks me, what did you do during the pandemic? I want to say I accomplished something.

I’m setting goals.insi

I’m in the process of another draft – hopefully the final – of my novel. I want to finish that.

I have two fully drafted novellas that need work – those are next.

I signed up to take two classes. I may take more.

I painted my patio. No shit. It’s nearly finished.

I’m going to have a hell of a lot of rooted clippings – plant speak.

My yard will look amazing – well, for a week or so after the pandemic ends, then the weeds will be back.

I’ve written two new poems. I think I’ll start reading poetry live.

I have a live online reading scheduled for April 24th, if you’re interested.

If you’ve gotten this far, I’m planning on offering a free writing class to whoever wants to share some writing. I may recruit other writers to offer their opinions. I think we should workshop too.

So – speaking from the future – what did you do during the pandemic?

 

 

KUDOS and LOVE

to those who are serving,

police, fire, grocery clerks, doctors, nurses, volunteers.

You are my HEROES!

 

Strangers in My Homeland

Every morning, the teapot whistles as dawn breaks over the apricot tree.

I’m not a troglodyte by any means, but broken laid the the coffee pot in a pile on the porcelain.

I open the curtains, then my laptop and set to work. I gaze off. The cat jumps on the table. I’m in her space, in the roundabout of her alone time; she lies her body on my keyboard.

The dog barks and a shadow falls in the driveway. I stretch to see. The dog rages in a riotous rendition of woofs and whines. I unseat myself and lean to see the stranger.

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Perhaps an unknown neighbor walking his dog.

And five minutes later, the same.

Five minutes later, the same.

 

I’ve bragged I know my neighbors. I can name them all, along with their occupations, breed of dog, or children’s ages.

But who are these strangers sauntering across my sidewalk? From another street, another block? Newly homed workers, students, families.

We are sudden friends when I’m outside, a wave and polite hello, and how are you?

 

The neighborhood decided to put stuffed bears in windows for the children.

The neighborhood decided to go on sign hunts.

The neighborhood decided to share extra fruit from their trees, oranges, lemons, apricots.

 

What will happen after? When we all go back to work? Will the strangers now friends become estranged once again? Or will we then, having walked the tightrope together, come and gather, share, and wish each other well from less than six feet, without our masks and our gloves?

 

Old Disasters, New Meaning.

The night was black; there was no moon to guide us when we woke up to sound of the earth roaring, the feel of concrete slamming up then down.

Dogs barked and whimpered, car alarms bleated and died out. Then there was silence.

It’d been my first major earthquake.

We pawed our way through the dark hall over broken glass picture frames to find our children, our shoes, the doorway.

In the 1994 earthquake, I lost almost everything. We lived on the second floor of a nice apartment about a mile away from the Reseda Boulevard epicenter where (I believe) 23 people lost their lives.

Everyone in our building got out alive. But the building was destroyed, gas hissed into the alley and we had to flee.

I walked away from that disaster with my daughters. At the time, I didn’t care about all the material things.

All of the “stuff” we had seemed so worthless. And as we rebuilt, I didn’t replace all the junk we had. I didn’t have a mixer or a microwave. I didn’t fill the kitchen with “good plates” and every day plates. My cabinets remained near empty for many years. Slowly, they have been filled with occasionally used items nestled next to the well used necessities. I have things I don’t need. Pretties collected that I’d resisted for so long fill small places here and there.

And here we are again – on the brink of another disaster. And I say – I do not care about all of these things I have collected. I care about my family, my friends, students, neighbors.

My first year psych teacher said to me – before that 1994 Northridge earthquake – “The only real thing of value is meaningful human relationships.” I have always held that close.

We should dismiss our first world concerns of malls, cars, and money. We can put aside our overly independent natures and our me first attitudes. We can do what it takes to make certain that those we love, families and strangers, survive this.

We know what we need to do. We’ve done it before.

Hold on to those you love, even if they are far away right now. Nothing else matters.

 

1994 Earthquake

Plagues and Pandemics throughout History

 

Writing in the Time of Cholera

journalA number of people have mentioned the book Love in the time of Cholera to me lately. Ron Terranova, fellow writer and Poe lover, reminded me Shakespeare had a very fertile writing period during The Black Plague.

My writer and critique friend, Jo Rousseau, said she’s keeping a journal and thought many people should. It would be interesting, she said, to see the pandemic from different points of view.

There are people who are having trouble focusing on writing. I have to admit, I was one of them.

While others are saying they’ve never gotten more done. Perhaps they are in the minority? Or maybe they write well under pressure?

Just the day before Jo mentioned the journal, I started keeping my own. I’ve been plagued by disturbing dreams.

Our lives are changing, but not forever. We will come out of this, we will get through this, and I, personally, want to have something to show for it.

I started listing the things I’m accomplishing every day. I’ve added some other things, pandemic jokes and memes. Someone else is writing down the use of language, such as “social distancing”, and how those words are changing and shaping our understanding of society. It’ll be interesting how this comes to use after the pandemic.

Beyond all the free things being offered to keep us safe and sane, free yoga classes, free workouts, free virtual tours of national parks and art museums, there are a number of other things to keep us busy.

It’ll help us all to accept that, for a little while, we need to stay home and find alternative ways to sail through our days. 90186249_1912526478878981_330678285262389248_o

I urge all writers to keep a journal. Not to focus on writing to publish, but a personal historical account for your children, your grandchildren, or for the future. How will this time be remembered? Consider how we think of the Plague and The Flu Epidemic of 1918. What do you know about it? Do you know any people, any stories, any personal or family accounts of the day to day life? Encourage your children to keep journals too – in the future, compare them.

Journaling has helped me get back to writing.

Stay well. Stay healthy. Be safe.

Much love and appreciation.

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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The Likability of Unlikable Characters

I wonder if the new fad to make unlikable characters because people like them a myth.

I like detective stories, mysteries, among the other things I read. But in the last six months, I think I’ve read far too many stories with these types of characters:

The bad guy who kills other bad guys. Hasn’t this become a cliche? Or have I stumbled upon a pile of similar motifs?

The good guy spends his nights in cheap motels with young prostitutes doing blow. But, you know, he has a heart of gold because he doesn’t actually sleep with the ho; he just talks to them. At one point, it seems, he’s up for three days strung out on coke and coffee and is still able to critically analyze a scene and glean more than the other officers.

My suspension of disbelief has been suspended.

Why am I reading this book?

It’s richly detailed – in parts. It had a good enough beginning to get me interested. Also, I like to finish a book.

But I’m at the point, now, that I’m considering abandoning it. Too many issues for me to keep reading.

The characters names are similar or the same to well known famous book-to-movie characters. It makes it hard for me to picture anyone else but Tom Hanks.

Writing is hard. Originality is challenging.

Some people believe there are only so many stories. They are just told in different ways. But they have to be told in fresh, believable, even likeable ways.

I will read some books with unlikeable characters. But I have to like someone!

Opinions welcomed, please.

 

 

 

 

 

The Idea Farm

The idea farm is a creation – where we keep all of our ideas planted, waiting for the spring.

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PLANT:

There’s a time for the planting – every day, every minute, every conversation, every silence. But pick and choose. My favorite place to get ideas is from overheard snippets of conversations, words and lines heard in passing or overheard in a coffee shop. Sometimes, it’s just a word someone throws out that sticks. It might be an image. Someone posted a photo and it was eerie, strangely haunting to my strange little perception. I have notebooks, torn papers, lists of ideas. And the ideas do come to live when they’re ready.

FERTILIZE:

To keep the idea farm going, we need to keep it fresh. New ideas coming, water flowing, fertilizer tossed around. Water is connected, according to Freud, to our unconscious. Taking a bath before bed is a great way to feed your muse. Fertilize – remember to go back, reread, add a word or two, subtract a word or two, think about it before you go to bed, when you first wake up. Something will bloom. Sometimes it blooms prematurely and I’m up at 3am writing like a madwoman. But it works. I wrote a number of poems and short stories struck by a fever of words and rhythm.  Of Strays and Exes and The Gold Tooth were written under one of those spells.

HARVEST:

When the time is right, you write. You’ll pluck that idea out of the ground and start massaging it into what it was meant to be. Eddy was on a list. It sat there for quite some time waiting for me to be brave enough to pull it out, confident enough to put the words to paper, and strong enough to show it to others. So many more stories came like that – waiting for just the right time, ripe from the time and the fertilizer and ready to burst forth.

 

Much love and luck.