Write on Wednesday – The Great Pivot -March13, 2019

I’m not the only writer in my family. My step-daughter has just published her first book. This is a big deal! There were some fraught moments at the end — as there always are, but when it’s your first book you don’t know that’s going to happen.  Now Justine is through to the other side and is a published author. Congratulations!

Great Pivot

Her blog describes the book better than I ever could.

“The new book The Great Pivot describes 30 sustainability projects in five areas – advanced energy communities, low-carbon mobility, the circular economy, food waste reduction, and nature restoration – that will create millions of meaningful jobs.

Building a sustainable future will not only restore climate stability and reverse mass species extinction, it will also address the crisis in the world of work. Current trends of outsourcing, automation, the gig economy, and low levels of employee engagement have left working Americans anxious about their jobs. Meanwhile, 37 million people of prime working age, 25-64, are not in the labor force, and the 626,000 people released from prison each year have a hard time finding work that will allow them to reintegrate into society.

The Great Pivot provides funding and program pivots for policymakers who want to help create green, meaningful jobs, as well as resources for those who want to switch over to sustainability work. Each sector — private, non-profit, and public sector — has an important role to play in realizing this vision.

With The Great Pivot we have a blueprint for building a sustainable future. Now we just need to find the courage to commit to it.”

I just got my Kindle copy and can’t wait to start reading.

If you buy the book and like it, don’t forget to post a review on Amazon.

Write on Wednesday – Recent Center Stage Baltimore Productions – February 13, 2019

I’ve seen two terrific plays at Center Stage Baltimore recently.

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A Wonder in My Soul

In late December I saw A Wonder in My Soul. I came out of the theater thinking this was one of the best plays I had ever seen at Center Stage. Written by Marcus Gardley and directed by Daniel Bryant, the play is about two black women who open a beauty shop in their neighborhood. Many years later the neighborhood has changed, and Pen Lucy and Swann Park are behind in their rent; the building where their salon is will be sold.

The playbook talks about the importance of beauty parlors in black communities. I remember when I was in school getting my Master of Social Work degree, we often talked about the fact that beauticians provide therapy for many of their clients.

This production was in the Pearlstone Theater at Center Stage. This is a proscenium theater although it doesn’t have a curtain. I’m always looking at staging. In this play the salon had two styling chairs, a loveseat in the reception area of the stage, a door which led to outside and a slightly lower apron area on which some “flashback” scenes were performed. The door was clearly the entrance to the salon and when people left the stage, they opened the door and walked through. It defined an action more clearly than just going off stage.

All the actors were wonderful, but Kalilah Black and Harriett D. Foy were exceptional.

Our tickets always seem to be the last performance in the runs. I need to try to change that. I would have gone to see this show twice – or more.

Fun Home

Then last Sunday I saw Fun Home, a musical memoir based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The book and lyrics were by Lisa Kron and the music was by Jeanine Tesori.

Billed as a play about a dysfunctional family, I wondered if I even wanted to see it. I get enough dysfunction these days watching the news.

It was another stellar show. A closeted gay father raising three children with his increasingly angry wife. One of the daughters is gay but only understands that when she goes to college. Oh, and the father teaches literature at a local college, but runs a funeral home on the side. Hence the title of the play, Fun Home.

In this show the gay daughter is depicted as a ten-year-old, a college student and a woman in her forties. It was the actress who played the ten-year-old who caught my eye. Molly Lyons is her name and she’s nine. Someday I’m going to see her on Broadway.

Fun Home was performed in the Head Theater which is a thrust theatre—a stage surrounded by audience on three sides. The fourth side serves as the background. Hydraulic lifts in the floor raised and lowered part of the sets. If only the community theaters that produce the play I wrote with Laura Ambler (The Santa Diaries) had those kinds of options. Another staging tool that could be translated to community theaters was a slightly raised platform with furniture that was rolled onto the stage when the scene took place in the living room. Faster than having stage hands carry furniture on and off stage. A similar platform on the other side of the stage was a kitchen area that rolled on and off. Of course this only works if you have off stage areas that will accomodate the platforms. Many community theaters don’t.

Watching live theater is enjoyable (I go with some girlfriends) and educational. I always come away with some ideas about improving the plays Laura Ambler and I write.

Write on Wednesday – Read Your Work Out Loud – February 6, 2019

I’m getting ready to send my novel manuscript out to an editor. I had been over the print copy, penned in revisions, deletions, changed the order of some scenes and then spent two weeks making all those changes on the computer file.

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But I knew there was something I still needed to do. I needed to read my manuscript out loud. All four hundred plus pages of it. I’d never done this before with a long manuscript, but I kept reading that this step was an important editing tool.

It took me a week, and lots of glasses of lemon water, but I was glad I’d done the work.

  1. I found multiple errors that I’d missed when I marked up the manuscript pages.
  2. I found I could better assess the pacing of scenes.
  3. I found places where characters said something they couldn’t have known because it hadn’t happened yet.
  4. I found spelling errors that Word had overlooked.
  5. I found inconsistencies in dialogue for characters.
  6. I found character “tells.”
  7. I found that I still liked my story.

My advice: Read your work outloud. It’s an editing tool worth the time and effort.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – When I Have Nothing to Say, Someone Else Does – January 9, 2019

I follow a number of blogs. One of the ones I actually read when it comes into my email box is The Passive Voice. The tag line for this blog is “A Lawyer’s Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing.”  The Passive Voice finds interesting articles and blog posts that bear on publishing. They are usually short but have links if you want to read the original.

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Today when I am immersed in revisions to my novel, and have nothing thoughtful to say, I suggest you check out The Passive Voice. There’s always something interesting  and thoughtful there.

 

Write on Wednesday – Gratitude – November 21, 2018

This week I finished the first revision of my novel. I am full of gratitude to Mary Ann who read and commented on all the things that needed to be fixed. The plot points that never went anywhere, the parts where I was writing in “screenplay” and forgetting that my reader can’t see what’s in my head, and, especially, for letting me know what worked. If you’re a writer, you know the importance of that last thing.

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The stack is almost two inches tall. Four hundred and twelve pages in fifty-two chapters.  It is going to be set aside for a time while a do an editing project for my husband. And travel with Laura Ambler to our Christmas shows in Indiana, Minnesota and Maine. And bake Christmas cookies. Then I will dig back in and read the manuscript with fresh eyes for changes, deletions and polishes before it goes to Mary Ann again for another pass.

Tomorrow I will be taking appetizers and two apple pies to our family Thanksgiving get-together.

I wish everyone safe travels and a lovely holiday. Hug those you love and even the ones you don’t because of what they post on FaceBook. Remember the ones not at the table this year and be grateful for family — even when that’s hard.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – What You See Is What You Get – October 24, 2018

An establishing shot in a movie or teleplay script tells where the subsequent action takes place. What you see is what you get. The New York City skyline shown at the beginning of Blue Bloods lets the viewer know the action takes place in New York City. Because I watch this show, I also know that when I see a shot of the brick facade of a traditional style home in an upscale neighborhood, the subsequent action is taking place inside Frank Reagan’s home in an unnamed suburb of the city.

NYC skyline

In a novel, if there is a Welcome mat and a wreath on the front door, you must tell the reader. Is the door painted an unusual color? Is the mat clean and new or ready for the trash bin? Is the wreath on the door seasonal, letting the reader know it’s Christmas or Halloween or Spring?  Does the shrubbery outside the front door indicate Spring while the wreath on the door says Christmas?

In narrative fiction you tell or show the reader where the action is taking place. If you don’t the reader gets confused and readers don’t like that. If they get confused too many times they’ll give you a bad review on Amazon.

In the revisions of my novel this is coming up over and over again. Apparently when I wrote the novel draft I was in screen play mode. I knew where the action was taking place — in my head. But sometimes I forgot to tell the reader.

In a screen play or teleplay you write in the words Establishing Shot: New York City and you’re all set. The viewer will get visual cues.

In narrative fiction you establish the setting with words. The visual cues are in the authors mind and must be put into words. This also provides an opportunity to expand information about your characters. Here’s an example:

“Martie wrestled a bag of groceries from the back seat of her vintage Candy Apple red Beetle–an expensive custom paint job she had come to regret. As she headed for the suburban home’s front door she noted the weeds in the flower beds along the brick walkway and realized she needed to call the gardening service in her sister’s address book. She opened the door with the key Julie gave her six months ago. Just three days before her sister disappeared.”

In a screen play the director figures out how to show the information in this paragraph or the writer puts it in dialogue. Phone dialogue between Martie and the detective assigned to her sister’s case could fill in some details. There could be a close-up shot of a calendar with the date of Julie’s disapearance circled in red.

As I revise my novel I have to keep reminding myself that what the reader reads is what the reader gets. It’s my job to make sure they have enough, but not too much. Enough so they can be in the scene, but not so much that it makes the writing ponderous.

If the paragraph above was the beginning of a novel I’d better make sure that a Candy Apple red beetle is important to the story. As I reread what I wrote I immediately began spinning off into another story. Focus your squirrel brain, Mala. Focus! You have a Caribbean novel to finish.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – Wattpad – October 3, 2018

I’ve been seeing references to Wattpad as I look for ways to plan marketing for my upcoming book. Here’s information I pulled together from Google and Wikipedia. It sounds interesting.

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“Wattpad is a community for readers and writers to publish new user-generated stories in different genres, including classics, general fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, poetry, fanfiction, spiritual, humor, and teen fiction.  It aims to create social communities around stories for both amateur and established writers.”

“The platform claims to have an audience of more than 65 million users, who can directly interact with the writers and share their opinions with fellow readers. Although available in over 50 languages, 77% of its content is written in English. A number of Wattpad users are translating stories to continue to build the platform.”

“Founded with Ivan Yuen in 2006, Wattpad is removing traditional barriers between readers and writers and building social communities around stories. Wattpad asserts it is the world’s largest community of readers and writers.”

“All the stories on Wattpad are free. Readers don’t have to pay to join the site (or download the app), or to read any of those 3 million stories (which can also be read on any computer, laptop, or tablet). But they’re not just reading, they are writing too.”

“Wattpad Premium is a subscription-based version of Wattpad. It’s the same Wattpad you know and love, without the ads. Premium users will also unlock a fresh new theme within the app.”

“As per the Terms of Service, Wattpad is only available for people who are 13 years of age or older.”

“Through the Wattpad Futures program, interested writers can supplement their income with little effort. The program helps writers earn money by inserting ads between chapters of their Wattpad story.”

I also found a blog post about how one writer decided Wattpad was not a good idea for him.

Wattpad may be a good tool for some writers, so check it out to see if it might work for you. I’m on the fence.

Write on Wednesday – My Brain Is a Many Storied Thing – September 26, 2018

Lately I’ve been thinking about my brain as a department store with multiple stories. It has an elevator with an operator who takes me to different floors.  If you’re not old enough to remember elevator operators in their perky uniforms, you’ve probably seen them in movies. Second floor – Ladies apparel. Third Floor – Men’s Haberdashery. Fourth floor – Home Furnishings. The elevator operator knew what was on all the floors and was happy to answer questions. Something was lost when escalators and self-guided elevators became the norm.

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I’ve realized that while I am doing all the other things I do during the course of my life, my brain is navigating the department store that is my novel revision. The store has a lot of floors, one for each of the many characters in my book, and the elevator is whizzing up and down trying to keep details straight. It’s best if that happens when I’m at my computer. If I’m not and I wonder if what Yvie said in Chapter Two is consistent with what she tells her twin sister three scenes later, I have to stop what I’m doing – like folding laundry – and go to my computer to find the two relevant places in the text.

Folding laundry is easy to stop and restart. Searing scallops for dinner is another matter.  That requires me to hold a thought until I can write it down. Scallops do not wait. And my brain elevator may get stuck between floors.

Those niggly details pop up at unexpected times and demand attention.  Sometimes the scribbled notes I made don’t make any sense. Why can’t my  elevator operator take notes? Which makes me wonder — is this the sort of thing I could tell Alexa, if I had one?

My department store brain also has a basement, but the elevator operator – his name is Bob – doesn’t like to go down there. Bob says sometimes the elevator goes there all on its own and weird stuff gets on. I have known that to happen.

Write on Wednesday – Full Steam Ahead – September 12, 2018

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For the past two weeks I have been purging my office, culling old files and crawling under the furniture to dust. I brought in a new filing cabinet, removed a piece of furniture and repostioned a ceiling tall bookcase. All in anticipation of getting back the first full critique of the third book of my Caribbean series —  the whole thing. I’ve had helpful critiques on chapters by my Working Writers Forum group, but this was the whole manuscript and I wanted the decks cleared.

That happened on Saturday morning. I have to admit I was anxious. I knew this editor, who is also a friend, would give me her unvarnished opinion. And she did. Some parts she liked and she had some excellent suggestions for how to fix some things I knew just didn’t work. She brought to my attention story threads that had been left hanging.

There were a number of places where she noted that what I knew in my head about the characters had never made it onto the pages. I suppose all of us who write long fiction struggle, at some point in the process, of being too close to the story to know what is missing. She also made a detailed spreadsheet for me which included (among other things) the timeline, where and when characters appeared, and thematic issues. I printed it out on legal size paper and taped pages together.  This will be easier for me to work with than referring to the computer screen.

My next step is to read through all the notes in the manuscript. There are some plot and character arcs that need attention. I need to think about those and make some fix-it notes before I start the rewrite. My goal is to be ready to begin by the end of the weekend.

Full steam ahead.