Category Archives: Art & Craft

Winter

Winter, the season, officially started at 5:44 AM on Wednesday, December 21, 2016.

For me winter starts when it snows. then you can get a cosy fire going, enjoy the fascination of wood burning, and do nothing for hours whiling your time away feeling like a closet arsonist. And, it is a time to find your flannels, long-sleeved tees, and be appropriately dressed to never leave the house.

So, winter is perfect for writing, minus the whiling hours of staring. For me, it was the perfect time to edit. I don’t like to edit. It’s a thing. I don’t re-read books. I don’t memorize whole sentences/paragraphs, let alone phrases. Unless they are part of the vernacular, then no, they are not part of my lexicon. The whiling thing, however, feels so wasted and this year I printed off both my middle grade novels that are mostly done, but we all know, a novel is never really done, and I sat with pen and highlighter in hand to check all the spacing, spelling, paragraphs, consistencies, and chapters so that I could follow through on my 2017 #oneword resolution. Choose.

You know a submission is ready when you can’t think of another thing to do to it, when everyone who’s read it, beta readers, critique partners; all say, send, done. So, okay.

The snow that God gave is beginning to go away. It’s cool, but not cold. Winter is not over, but that feeling of quiet and alone time, of do not disturb time, of me time is now swiftly exiting stage right. This is a new time. #submittime #choosetime. Find the names, follow the rules. PRESS SEND!

PS. that sweet little voice is E, ‘no, thank you’ is the translation ūüôā

 

Needing Better Reasons

This is not something I normally do, but this past weekend, I watched all of Longmire on Netflix. I had been a fan of the show and with the¬†Netflix pick up I went ¬†back and watched from the pilot through to season five for two reasons: one, I wanted to make sure I had all my plot threads and character growth issues firmly in hand, and two, I was watching off the regular channels and there was no possibility of watching any political news–a decided plus. Yes, sigh. A win win.

So here’s the basic story: Longmire is a throw-back to the hard-bitten outside, well-educated inside, taciturn and nonjudgmental sheriff cowboy of myth. ¬†Yes, myth¬†because I was raised in the west. I have always been uneasy with this character because the west is hard and unforgiving. But to the series….

The series starts¬†a year after the murder of Longmire’s wife who was dying of cancer. There is a lot of misdirection in the beginning about who actually murdered the murderer of Martha Longmire. While the show centers on Walt Longmire, there are ongoing side threads–Vic Morretti and her husband, Branch Connolly and his dad, Jacob Nighthorse and his casino and there is Henry and his native american spirituality to name just a few.

I liked the ongoing mysteries-although, damn, a lot of people are murdered in a small county in Wyoming–but that is the nature of a series, so…. And, in truth, the scenery is amazing. As I watched the series unfold, I was okay with the handling of Longmire’s supposed guilt in the death of the murderer and the fact that the suspicion rocked back and forth between Walt and Henry. Detective Failes was a red-herring leading us to another clue and so was [is] Jacob Nighthorse. I think.

A lot of the initial storyline centers on the death of Martha and the fact that only Walt and Henry know. And therein is my problem. I don’t think I have ever understood¬†the idea of not telling someone something because it will protect them, but it seems to be a standard theme, especially on television. I think protecting is the absolute worse reason to lie or not tell. Lie because you can’t deal with the truth. Lie because you are ashamed of the truth. Lie because you don’t really know. But to tell yourself that you are lying to protect someone else, I’m going with just plain stupid. So when Walt doesn’t tell Cady about the murder to protect her I’m asking from what exactly is he protecting her? ¬†And, really, how very banal of the writers! What a cheap trick. It reminds me of Avatar, the movie. James Cameron? Seriously, the guy spends seven years developing the technology and the story line is almost not there…unobtanium? That’s the metal that is on this far off planet? Ah, but I digress….

And, on the flip side, I don’t really get the idea of someone being totally indignant because they were protected. Someone loved them. Don’t we all want to be protected, kept from harm, why are we not grateful that we are saved from the bad stuff?

So there is the insipid reason for lying and then, there is a new thing for me, character growth.¬†This has¬†been coming slowly, very, ¬†as I’ve been writing. It’s strange that I say that because that’s not what I think expected as a kid. My hero character was one who solved the mystery. Or went on ¬†an adventure. I didn’t expect the character to be a better person or a changed person and I don’t really remember if they did or they didn’t–that wasn’t the point. The point was the plot.

So, ¬†between the on-going stoic behavior, the lying issue and the lack of change, and while I liked Walt in the beginning of the series, by the end of season five I was getting very tired of how we saw Robert Taylor’s square jawed face in some kind of agony. Add to that, ¬†I find I have little sympathy for a character who makes his own misery. And it seems we get a lot of that in television. Is that the only kind of drama writers can come up with? Seriously?

So, now we are done with season five. Walt has decided, finally, that he wants to resolve all his issues and just move on. He’s let go of Martha’s ashes, he’s in a new-sort of- relationship. Cady is doing her own thing and he recognizes he’s spun out of control and he needs to get balance. He wants to put the lawsuit behind him. So, what do the writers do? They give us the supposed reason for the lawsuit from Barlow Connolly’s estate–that Barlow wants to turn Walt’s spread into a premier golf course. Yep, that’s right…oh, the indignity.

The only problem is, at no time that I can find in the first five seasons, do we get any clue as to the reasons for Barlow’s loathing of Walt, nowhere. Which leaves me, with all of this emoting, asking do I really care enough to stay around and find out.

procrastination

Does any writing count? I means if I am writing email invitations to possible presenters? Or answering a friend about an issue? Or completing a post, like this one?

If I were truthful, which I want to be, the answer would be no. Because I have been a world-class, olympic gold medalist procrastinator for a long time. In the past my procrastination technique has included ironing–amazing yes?–reading, mostly mysteries but anything that I could put in front of me. Procrastination never really included television, but today it includes reading on line anything from social media, yes Facebook since I really don’t see the point in reading tweets one after the other, to online blogs and newsletters.

I tell myself that in the back of my brain I am writing. And sometimes I am, but not usually. What I am doing is putting off what I can’t get to, waiting until something drifts apart and then comes together so that I can ‘see’ the end result. Sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes hours, sometimes days, but it takes. And that what procrastination does, takes. I should put that as a sign above my desk!

Judgment…

I preach about critiques. I do. You can find my thoughts and comments on the SCBWI Carolinas¬†conference information pages. In the What Happens in Critique…¬†section I write about preparing, relaxing, listening. In truth, I think critiques can be scary, heartening, frightening, illuminating and mostly cause some amount of distress. After all you are putting out for some brand new eyes, for some relevant industry professional, work you have invested your time and what talent you have. And there is no doubt about it, you are asking for judgment!¬†¬†Yes, it is just one person. Yes, this is the whole reason why you are there. This is a review of what’s good and what’s not so good. You want to know about ¬†your voice, your character, your plot, the language, and the marketability and how the reviewer sees them based on the experiences they have had. WowZer!

And even more, we pay to receive this judgment! Double WowZer!

Let’s admit there are good critiques and bad critiques. A bad critique is where there is no information. I’ve had one of those with an agent who stated at the beginning of the session that this genre was not something the agency represented. This was my first critique at SCBWI LA. ¬†I blanched. But I had paid for a critique. And thirty plus years of HR management, of interviewing prospective employees for jobs clicked in and I began to ask questions: was the dialogue realistic? what about the main character’s voice? was my language appropriate for the age group? And eventually I pulled out information that helped me go back and review what I had written and what I needed to do to make this story better.

Interestingly enough, it was the same story, about seven years later, that I submitted this year to SCBWI LA. I have tinkered with the story over time–back and forth about whether it is sustainable as a middle grade novel, written two middle grade mysteries that are about [about being the most abused and least valuable word in the English language] as good as I can make them and I’ve sent them out, but I keep coming back to this story, because I love the basis of the story. I love that I can’t seem to find that same basis out there in the market place. And I love that this story gives me an opportunity to have an unreliable narrator tell a story that will have a satisfying yet unhappy ending.

And this critique was a good critique. ‘Gripping opening.’ ‘Engaging action.’ ‘Compelling mystery.’ ‘I liked the way you established the dynamic between family members.’ ¬†There was also, ‘develop Erin’s personality’, ‘punch up tactile details’, ‘beware of too much internal/self reflection’, ‘ let readers¬†decode the mystery themselves.’ So lots of positive to sustain me, but lots of suggestions as to why this is not yet done.

And, that’s how I took it.

When I shared with peers the ‘good’ critique’, the first question was ‘did the agent ask for it?’ And my response was ‘thank god, no.’ ¬†It’s not ready. I know that. This story, from the time of the not-so-good critique to this one, had not only had multiple drafts and POV changes including a move from a male main character to a female one, but it has several incarnations in setting, plot, motivation and execution. I am pretty sure-especially with the feed back from this critique- that I may FINALLY be on the right track with voice, POV, plot and setting.

For me this was a great critique. I have all of the agent’s notes, written liberally on the SCBWI Critique Notes & Talking Points as well as scattered throughout my submission and synopsis. I have the time and the freedom to think more about this story. The time and the freedom to explore our discussion and see if that is where Erin’s story takes me and if I can execute the unreliable narrator with a satisfying but unhappy ending. And, if, at that point in time, I am still agent-less, well then I have the opportunity to submit via the agency’s guidelines, reference this critique and all the positives and how I have worked with the negatives.

So, ‘did the agent ask for it?’ ¬†Thank god, no!

 

Kickstart the Process

I’ve slept in until nine am each morning for no other reason but I can. I am not a late sleeper, I am usually up and about, but I think my mind is processing. There is so much thrown at us at a conference, okay, not thrown, served up in delicious bites and set before us until we are so sated with inspiration, promise, hope, joy, guilt, process and objectives that we can barely move.

From first keynote with Drew Daywalt to last with the extraordinary Richard Peck, the keynotes and breakouts were amazingly full, there was the opportunity to take of at least one nugget from each. From nonfiction/fiction mashups to educational landscape¬†to voice as structure to sourdough starter as a metaphor for creativity to market trends and opportunities. My conference notes are a mish-mash of words, phrases, dictums, adages, recommendations, suggestions, and other writer’s and illustrator’s struggles with exactly what I am going through.

Is this a good idea? ¬†What is the basic premise? Can I find it? Can I sustain this thread/premise/throughline for fifty thousand words?¬† Is this salable? Really?¬†What makes my story standout? Is my character’s voice believable?¬†Realistic? True?

There you go! True!  Out of all of the presentations and conversations both engaged and overheard, what I heard was we must be true. Unsaid but there is that we exist around so much spin, in the news, in the papers, on blogs, on social media.

SPIN¬†is the¬†explanation what happened by distorting¬†reality. ¬†SPIN¬†is the trying to make what occurred palatable.¬†SPIN¬†is the reality¬†of¬†a ‘little white lie’ or a grievous mortal sin that becomes that dark spot in the middle of your soul. We have come to accept¬†spin as a part of our daily lives. Our children are growing up with spin as a overlay– of life, politics, culture, economics, religion, ethics–EVERYTHING. SPIN¬†cripples fact. SPIN interferes with paradigms. SPIN validates confirmation bias. SPIN distorts our conversations and SPIN devastatingly mars the truth.

The question is can we strip away that SPIN? Are we as creative content providers [yuck, what a term] required to find that center, that place where there is no spin, where there is no lie, where there is only what is?

When I was in college we used to sit around and philosophize about truth. We were young. We thought that our truths were accessible and realistic. We believed in universal truths. It is a different world. And so I wonder about that now. I wonder if truth is a commodity, a perception or another spin.

I think what we need, what we crave,¬†like a perfectly seasoned steak, or wonderfully roasted asparagus, or the delicate sensation of dark chocolate, is the search for¬†TRUTH. ¬†We need to accept¬†that our¬†character’s emotions, wants, needs, desires are nothing but propaganda¬†IF the character is not always searching for the way to come out of the story whole, intact emotionally, not necessarily with their wants/desires satisfied, but accessible to the reader–a good ending, a finish to the story.

It was a great conference. It made me think. It made me worry more about my characters. It made me want to be the best storyteller of truth I could possibly be!