Write on Wednesday: “Aha” moments

As a former therapist I can tell you the “aha” moments in therapy are relatively easy. It’s changing beliefs and behaviors after the “aha” that’s the hard work.

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Writing is not so different. You start out with an idea. If you’re lucky you may know where the story begins and where it ends. My fiction writing always seems to have “aha” moments in which a character realizes something important. This is usually the beginning of a conflict for the character that will then be played out until a resolution is reached. It’s my job, as writer, to get the character to implement the “aha” realization into their everyday lives. And I have to make that interesting or my reader will put down the book.

But the kicker is that the “aha” moment is often something I didn’t plan on. It just showed up. And I may not know until the end of the book why it happened. In the novel I’m working on a main character gets a specific tattoo on her leg. I didn’t know why. It just wanted to be there.

It wasn’t until I was at the end of the book that I realized there was a reason for that tattoo. Once I knew the reason, I had to go back to into the middle and write scenes that supported the ending. It’s a giant puzzle and sometimes the pieces almost fit…but not quite. I’m still working on it. Getting it perfect is what I’m after.

Damn. Could it be that my own need for perfection is not totally sorted out. It is in most areas of my life, but I want my writing to be as good as I can make it. That doesn’t sound like perfection, so why does it feel like that’s the goal?

 

 

 

Six on Saturday: June 16, 2018 – still too much to do…

The to-do list keeps growing, but the good news is that the gardens have dried out enough to be able to do some work. I’m realizing that while sharing my gardens with other Six on Saturday gardeners, the real benefit is for me. The photos, often close-ups, make me stop and  take the time to look more closely at my plants. I see things I would otherwise miss.

  1. A friend gave me some  hydrangea stems. These are a week old. The trick is to dip the cut stems in alum before putting them in the water. They last much longer. Alum is used in canning and can be found in the spice section of your grocery store.

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2.  Three years ago I bought a package deal of six different clematis. This vine struggled and bloomed for the first time this year. I think it is Pink Mink. The bird netting behind it was an idea a took from another Six on Saturday posting. I stapled it to the fence to give the vine something to climb on when they overreached the trellis.

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3.  My Jackmani clematis has moved with me three times in the last fifty years.  It is glorious this year. This is the backside of the latice — right by one of my compost bins. Maybe that’s why this vine is so happy. The front of the lattice, which I see from the house, looks good too, but the backside is even better.IMG_6533

4.  Tomatoes in pots are blooming and the Sungold has small fruits. The blue tarp in the background covers 6 cubic yards of mulch yet to be spread. Currently the gardens remind me of my children’s bedrooms when they were kids. Dirty laundry on the floor and beds unmade. The gardens will finally look dressed when the mulching is done, but there still is weeding to do before that happens. I wanted to get mulch before the local landscaping supplier ran out. I like “pine fines” but can’t get it anymore. This mulch is triple shredded hardwood. I mulch beds every two to three years with perhaps a line of mulch along the edges in the more visible areas in the off years. We always seem to have piles of something in our drive. The neighbors don’t complain. They know they are welcome to wander in the garden.

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5.  The shasta daisies are getting ready to bloom. This is the first one this summer. When we moved to this house there was one clump. Over the last twelve years they have been divided and moved multiple times and survive in very inhospitable conditions. This clump is in partial shade and never gets watered or fertilized, but the white punches needed drama into the shade.

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6. Daylilies are starting to bloom. I was going to post a photo of the Stella d’Oros but this photo was too lovely not to share. I have no idea of the variety or where it came from. I doubt I bought it.

 

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I hope you’ve enjoyed my Six on Saturday for this week. The meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. It’s a great place for new ideas.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Wednesday: Keep the Headlights On

At one of my Working Writers Forum group, one of our members brought in this quote. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  — E. L. Doctorow

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I thought about that again this week. I am now polishing and rearranging scenes so the time line works in the first draft of the third novel in my Caribbean romantic suspense series. The novel takes place in the summer of 2004 on the island of St. Lucia in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. There is a beginning date and an end date.

Things were getting a little foggy so I googled a calendar for that year. I was also able to find out when the full moons happened. I had put full moons in several of the scenes and needed to find out if they fit in the timeline. If they didn’t it required a decision about putting the scene in a different place or not having the full moon be an important plot device.

It’s been eleven years since the last book (Circle of Dreams) and it often feels like I am writing in the fog. So it was heartening to hear a writer like E.L. Doctorow remind me that the whole book can be written that way.  I am hoping the sun will illuminate the final draft.

 

 

Write on Wednesday: Soul: the Stax Musical

Going to the theater is always a treat. For Laura Ambler and for me, it’s also educational. As playwrights we watch to see if there’s something to learn — and there always is.

Sunday afternoon we saw the World Premier of Soul: the Stax Musical by playwright Matthew Benjamin. It was a great show. The narrative arc was the origins and life of Stax Records in Memphis. Stax began as Satellite Records in 1957, founded by Jim Stewart — a banker by day and a country fiddler by night. Stewart had a dream, but no knowledge of the recording industry. With the help of his older sister, Estelle Axton (who mortgaged her house to buy recording equipment for the studio) they set up shop in an abandoned movie theater in Memphis, Tennessee.

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These two white people (who didn’t know that what they were doing was impossible)  launched the careers of of iconic artists—Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MG’s, Rufus & Carla Thomas, David Porter, Wilson Pickett, Johnny Taylor, and Eddie Floyd—artists who made American Soul Music mainstream. What a great story!

This show had a large cast — twenty people were on stage at the standing ovation curtain call. We were interested to see how that many people were handled as our two plays also have large casts. Many of the performers in this production had multiple stage, tv and film  credits but were having their debut at Center Stage Baltimore. These actors had to be outstanding singers as well as great dancers. The show featured exceptional choreography by Chase Brook. I predict it will be a hit on Broadway and then tour. The music will keep you clapping. See it if you get a chance.

The two plays Laura and I have written were Christmas shows written with Community Theatre in mind. Community Theatre works with limited budgets and local (often exceptional) talent. But these theaters have constraints. Christmas shows are frequently fund raisers so in the case of our first play, The Santa Diaries, anybody who wanted a part got one.  Large casts are great for ticket sales to grandparents, aunts and uncles and next door neighbors, but large casts create staging problems and parts that were written originally for one theater may not work for another.

The idea for our next play has been germinating for a while. It will have just four cast members. We’ll start work on that soon. In the meantime we see as much theater as we can. We have a lot to learn.

 

Write on Wednesday: #Santa

Originally posted on September 22, 2014
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Yesterday afternoon writers from our critique group, local actors, and friends joined us at Laura’s house for a table read of our #Santa screenplay. Laura’s terrace was decorated with a crab pot Christmas tree, and a small tree graced the table. The weather was perfect with a light breeze off the Miles River.

Our Working Writers Forum members had read some of the screenplay over the last few months, but for others at the table, it was their first exposure. It was wonderful to see the expressions on their faces as the story unfolded. We were interested in which lines got laughs, and which got sighs. After the reading was finished, we had more critiques about the pacing, the characters, and the unexpected ending for a Christmas movie.

I was particularly pleased by the comments of Mike, a local actor (one of the fabulous leads in the recent Easton production of Kiss of the Spider Woman), who thought the lead character in our script, Scarlett Cross, was strong, independent and feisty. Would Laura and I write any other kind?

After the reading, we feasted on burgers and dogs on the grill, drank some wine and had good conversation. Then we cut the cake!

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If you are interested in a quick laugh-out-loud read, you can get the #Santa: The Naughty List script on Amazon, formatted for easy reading on your Kindle. If you like it, we’d appreciate a great revue.

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Write on Wednesday: Hiring a Script Consultant

When Laura Ambler and I finished our movie script for The Santa Diaries, we knew we wanted to hire Dara Marks to help us polish it. Laura had used her in the past on a couple of screen plays. We consulted our checkbooks, took a deep breath and called Dara. We booked an appointment and sent her a copy of the script which was ultimately called Santa, Flawed.

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Laura and I have used writing consultants in the past. We hired two different editors to look at Big Skye Ranch. It was a better book because of the money we spent and went on to be a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It won international awards at the London and Paris Book Festivals and an IPPY award.

A week ago we had our four hour telephone conference call with Dara. We were nervous. What would her reaction to the script be?  It was a somewhat fitful start because the email outline she sent us got hijacked by some virus scrubber on her computer which decided to scrub at precisely the moment she was emailing us. And her dogs went bananas when the UPS man came calling, but after a few minutes of sorting things out, we got to work.

By the end we were exhausted, but exhilarated. Dara told us our script was “highly marketable, it’s got everything, a really good piece, the writing is terrific, there is a strong structure in the script.”  She really said all those things. I took notes! …and then she told us the plot needed strengthening and we could be clearer about the theme. She said the first 25 pages needed to be totally rewritten. Well, that’s what we were paying her for – brutal honesty.

The theme thing is tricky. It’s the universal denominator and the theme drives the characters, the dialog, the setting. Theme should underscore everything in the script. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around because in the past our writing has been more character or plot driven. That’s not to say there wasn’t an underlying theme, but we didn’t spend time really trying to get that down to the bones.

In this telephone consultation we spent at least half an hour sorting out the theme. Turns out the theme is more elemental than Christmas, finding your inner Santa, nostalgia for small town life, or reconnecting with a lost love. The theme of The Santa Diaries script is “we’re all in this together.” We had not known that! Of course, the flip side of that theme is “we are alone” and that is Will’s fatal flaw. If he doesn’t change, he will be alone.

Will is isolated because he has sold out to Hollywood. He has lots of people around him, but they all want a piece of him. His business manager, Josh, whom Will calls his best friend, is a suck-up. Even his girlfriend has her own career agenda. If Will doesn’t find his authentic self (as opposed to his inner Santa) he will never be happy or fulfilled.

There were a couple of times when Dara pointed out that we were still thinking play, not movie. She was right. In the play we couldn’t have Sandy in the hospital with a broken leg. Heck, we couldn’t even get him staged in a bed in traction which is the way we wrote the original script. Sandy in a wheel chair with his leg propped up on a stool had to do. In the movie script he gets to be in a hospital.

Dara suggested that we start with a clean slate for the rewrite and we did. We are now 22 pages into the first 25 (Act 1 up to the First Turning Point). After that it will be more tweaking than a total rewrite as we make sure any changes in the beginning are reflected in rest of the script. All the characters are slightly different than they were in the original play and the script we sent Dara. We hope that gives them more depth.

Will Hawes is a little softer, more redeemable. His father, Sandy, is no longer the paragon of virtue. We’ve roughed up his edges a bit. Brandeee is smarter and shrewder. We haven’t decided if Brandeee and Will are engaged anymore. It always bothered me that Will broke up with Brandeee and moved on to Jessica so quickly.

The point is, do these changes drive the theme to its logical conclusion? We hope to have that figured out in the next month. Then the script will go back to Dara for notes. After that it should be ready to pitch. We think/hope the investment in using a script consultant will be well worth the cost.

Note: This blog was first published June 14, 2013. Gosh, almost five years ago. The script was eventually titled Santa, Flawed. No one bought it, but you can buy it on Amazon formatted for Kindle for $3.99. Using a script consultant was a great learning experience. In reading this post again, I am struck by the importance of theme. Whatever kind of fiction you are writing, figuring out your theme is paramount.

Write on Wednesday: Association of Writers & Writing Programs

Last year, in February, I attended the American Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. AWP. People had been telling me about this conference for years – that if it ever came close to my geographic area, I had to go. Last year it was in DC. I could stay with my brother in Georgetown, so I registered. The conference welcomed between 12K and 14K people in the Washington Convention Center and the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Just a few more than the 200 plus at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College, in Wye Mills, Maryland that I attended in March.

You have to be a member of AWP to attend the conference. One of the benefits of membership is their bi-monthly magazine, The Writers Chronicle. It’s an excellent writing resource.

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All the sessions I attended were panels  with four to six participants. These folks had impeccable credentials, MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degrees and multiple publications. MFA’s seem to acquire a special language with that degree. I had to think hard about fictive culture, breaking the fourth wall, distant third and character maps. Most of the authors who spoke about fiction, wrote literary fiction. A couple of sessions I attended had authors who wrote Middle-grade and Young Adult fiction, but there was not a Paranormal Romance (or any kind of romance genre for that matter) session to be found.

I did think I was going to get close with the session titled “Writing Female Desire.” But my notes only indicate the title of that session, not that I got anything helpful from it. A week later, I couldn’t remember anything about it. Maybe I bailed and went to lunch.

For the most part the presenters were accessible and self-deprecating and regardless of the topic listed in the program, they talked a lot about their writing process.

Here are some of my favorite take-aways about process:

  1. Write for good friends first and, then, the rest of the world.
  2. Write “your” book, not what is currently in vogue.
  3. “I have a turtle tattooed on my back” was what one writer said about the pace of her process.
  4. If the door is stuck [in the plot of your book], don’t bang your head on it, go around and jimmy a window.
  5. What is the “river” that is pulling your book forward? In other words what is the book really about.
  6. Failure is part of the process!
  7. Be prepared for multiple rewrites of drafts. Not three or four but sometimes as many as forty. (That made me want to take a nap!)
  8. Several presenters had taken 10 years to complete a book, although they may have had other things published along the way.
  9. On the panel about women publishing after age fifty, one of the presenters said the pub date of her first novel was a week before she was eligible for Medicare. The room erupted in applause. This session was packed, standing room only and part of the discussion was how women find time to write with career, kids, family, aging parents, etc. #womenwritingafter50

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All in all, I’m glad I went to AWP last year. It won’t be close to me again until 2022 when it will be in Philadelphia. But truthfully, I get more that is helpful to me in terms of writing craft from the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College. And that’s just half an hour away. And at that conference no one turns down their nose at those of us who write romance.