Weekend Workshop Sunday Edition

To recap:  I am starting a new feature on the blog, the weekend workshop. Yesterday I summerized Chapter One of Story Sense by Paul Lucey. Now for the exercises at the end of that chapter.

1. Find news items that might someday be developed into a story idea. These are three I found in less than five minutes.


This is an article about bibliotherapists. ie, they assign you a reading list based on your issues to help you cope or change or grow. I love the idea. And I can imagine an entire beach read about a 20 something who wants to be a bibliotherapist and is an intern, the hilarity she endures, etc.


It has potential. What about a sociopath who wants to be a film maker so he commits crimes in a grandiose way and films them for his reel?


This is just a video of two black holes merging, but what if? What if your planet was in the middle of those two holes merging, could you stop it, or would you have to evacuate? What if those black holes were actually worm holes to other dimensions and now hundreds of dimensions are being merged when the black holes merge. Shrug. I’m not a sci fi girl but I could be.

2. Select your four favorite books and summarize the idea you feel organizes each of them.

I can’t do my favorite, it just paralyzes me, four FAVORITE, oh no. So I’ll  just do four books I like.

Size 12 Isn’t Fat, Meg Cabot. Heather Wells is an ex-pop star who only wants to get a college degree so she can support herself after her record label drops her and her mother runs off with all the money she earned singing. Fortunately, her job as an assistant dorm manager comes with free tuition, unfortunately, people keep dying in her dorm, and rather than go to class, she solves the crime.

Star Wars Jedi Academy, Jeffrey Brown. Roan wants to go to the pilot academy so he can be a pilot like his dad and brother but he gets accepted to the Jedi Academy instead. Part cartoon and part diary, Roan explores the complications of growing up and learning to use the force.

Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie. A man is murdered on a train buried in a snow drift. The killer must be among the exclusive passengers. Hercule Poirot must solve the crime without the benefit of any outside information.

Title Withheld, T.A. Henry. In post WWII London, an ex-military nurse must find a way back to the soldier who stole her heart. The ensuing adventure leads her to find herself.

3. How do these novels display dramatic contrast, humanism, and writerly perspective?

Size 12, forces a pop star to become a dorm manager. She goes from a pamper and insulated life to one of no prestige and little power. She is struggling to function in society when she was never given the skills to do so. This makes her lovable.

Jedi, Roan is extremely late to the academy, most children starting years before him. He is behind in all the skills he needs to excel. He makes all the mistakes young adults do. It reminds us of our own adolescent foibles.

Murder, Catch the killer. I tend to feel more for the suspects in this novel. They are all so desperate.

Withheld, Rich, upper crust young woman thrust into the movie industry. She is frequently blind to the reality that you as a reader see.

4. Select two novels and note how the locations add to the effectiveness of the stories.

Murder, without the train this could be any other Agatha Christie. LOL. But in reality the train draws a net around the situation. You know it must be one of these people because they are trapped. It heightens the psychological aspect of the work.

Withheld, Based in London post WWII, the location adds that level of reserve one wouldn’t find if it was based in say, new york in the present.

5. To which audiences do the books appeals?

Size 12, women age 16-45, looking for a light read.

Jedi, young adult 8-18, or anyone who likes star wars and can relax into the youthful ambiance.

Murder, adults who like complicated plots.

Withheld, women 25-45 looking for a beach read.

6. Are the stories done in a real, unreal, or surreal style?

Size 12, real.

Jedi, unreal.

Murder, surreal.

Withheld, real.

7. Briefly describe two characters from each novel selected. Explain why they are interesting.

Size 12. Heather Wells, overweight ex pop star with a wry sense of humor about life. She picks herself up every time life knocks her down, dusts herself off, and writes a song about it. Cooper Cartwright, the love interest: active PI, tries to contain Heather but frequently helps her in her investigation.

Jedi. Roan, young boy who unexpectedly ends up at the Jedi Academy, artist, struggles with the class material. Yoda, comic relief. I love the way this book merges the struggles to survive being a tween with the struggle to learn the force. Reality meets sci fi.

Murder. Hercule Poirot, detective, brilliant, aware of it and possibly even over estimates his own brilliance, “tortuous mind.” To describe anyone else would give away too much of the plot. Read this even if you don’t read mysteries or Agatha Christie.

Withheld. Molly, ex nurse, budding writer, adventurous, determined, not constrained by societal concerns when it comes to the big things in life but attempts to maintain in all other aspects. Her brother, cohort in crime since they were young children, secretive.

There you have it. Consider doing this for your own work or books you like to see what makes them tick. It’s a great way to get in the practice of distilling what you are working on down to a couple of sentences. You never know when you have 30 seconds to charm an agent or editor or someone in the business with three lines about your own work.

Weekend Workshop Saturday Edition

I am pleased to welcome a new feature for my blog, the weekend workshop. This little idea was born out of a fortuitous collection of events that happened to come together for me this week. A) I was noticing people really like to read about the craft of writing in my blog. B) I pledged to myself I would start working on my craft by getting a book from library each time on craft as well as one for research. Then finally C) I was going to lay down with my kiddo one afternoon and needed something to read. I grabbed the second from the top book from my box o’ books (long story) and settled in with it. The book turned out to be Story Sense by Paul Lucey. I’ve had this book for eons, it was assigned reading for a script writing class I enrolled in back in my early twenties but which I promptly dropped when the prof dissed Robert Altman in the first class. What can I say I was young and idealistic. Anyway, I never got around to reading the book.

I am reading it now and in the opening section the author suggests one spend one week per chapter as to really digest the information and ones time with the writing exercises. So I will be doing that here. Saturday I will summarize the chapter. Sunday I will answer the exercises in my blog. If this turns out to be something we all enjoy, I will continue the process after this book but for now let’s consider this a 12 week experiment.

So Chapter One: Selecting An Idea

-a simple plot which puts interesting characters through complicated situations.

-use dramatic contrast to create tension(s) and reveal your characters

-think carefully about your audience, you don’t have to cater to them but a children’s book that ends darkly, isn’t the best combination, for example.

-provoke an emotional response

-adapt stories by changing the characters, the location, the time line, or give it a fresh emotional thrust or perspective.

-truth is stranger than fiction, we’ve all heard that. So use it, peruse news stories or even reality shows for that kernel of the bizarre you can build a story on.

-pay attention to the people around you. Invent story lines for them. Ask what if? Add a new character to your gallery each month so they are there waiting to tell their story when you need them.

-It might be a worth wild exercise to figure out which archetype your story is destined to follow; the Hero(brave souls who take on a dangerous task), the Buddy(two friends against the world), the Impossible Quest(noble adventure), Breaking Away(old order must submit to the new), Medea(independent woman), or Faustian(the extremes to which people will go to get what they want).

Somerset Maugham said there were only three rules for writing a novel but unfortunately no one knows what they are. Let’s figure them out together.

Now don’t they feel dumb…

This morning as I was doing home school with my kiddo we were reading this book ajuniorggbout Geography. I love this book and if I can get it on other subjects I will. (the tone is funny while still talking to kids like they have brains.) But I digress, I came across a section on big Hollywood movies that make major mistakes pertaining to Geography.

-Jurassic Park, when Nedry is meeting on the beach to discuss stealing the dino embryos, the local is listed as San Jose, Costa Rica. Except San Jose is 50 miles from the beach. Oops

-Armageddon, when they are celebrating the destruction of the meteorite all over the world, it is magically day in every local.

-Titanic, Jack tells Rose he used to fish in Lake Wissota in Wisconsin. Throw away line to give him some back story, right? Oops, Lake Wissata was created by a dam that was built in 1915, three years after the Titanic sunk. Too bad he didn’t use his time machine to go back and tell himself not to get on the Titanic, eh?

-Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indy’s plane flies Southwest out of Shanghai passing over the Great Wall of China, which is actually hundreds of miles North of Shanghai. Cool airplane trick. I want one.

-The Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family climbs over the Alps from Salzberg and across the border into Switzerland. Yeah, they are safe. But wait, if you cross the Alps from Salzberg the border you cross is actually into Nazi Germany. Oops, not safe.

This right here is why I research. Because someone always cares. These are quick mistakes that could have been avoided with a 30 second google search. I always take the 30 seconds, even when that means 3 years to write one stinkin’ spy novel. It will be correct when I finally finish it.

And I used these example because I liked these movies. I still do.

Quick reminder; if you are in the area, tonight at 7PM at Boxleys in North Bend is the Bard and Starlett hour. bard-starlet-radio-hour-flyer-final

The Pitfalls of writing over a long period of time

When I wrote my Wednesday Writers Cafe recap, I sort of glazed over the whole Mongolia and Moscow situation in my spy novel but I thought touch on that a bit more.

See when the night started I thought my characters were in Uzbekistan. I had just finished editing the most recently written section of my novel, where my main characters infiltrate the home of an arms dealer and force him to tell them who he stole the warhead for and where it is now, not that he knows the latter. But in that section I have the arms dealer speaking Uzbek to his son, who tries to defend Dad, it’s a long story, about 40K words right now. So at the start of the cafe I was grumbling about how to get them out of Uzbekistan without sending them back through China which is how they got there.

My writing friends, like true friends, began throwing out all sorts of suggestions, and I started checking into the feasibility of them, flight distances, etc when I suddenly realize when I started writing the section, 18 months ago, all of my distances, and travel times, and issues have them going from China to Mongolia. Mongolia, not Uzbekistan.

Crap, somewhere in those 18 months I forgot where I put the arms dealer’s house. I started writing based on where I thought I had left them and because really I wanted to be able to say he spoke Uzbek.

Sigh, so now not only did I have to rewrite some stuff but my spies are in Mongolia and I need to move them out of there. Repeat the previous fun and games where I try to figure out how to get them out of Mongolia without going back through China. sigh.

This is the problem with writing a novel over the course of 2 1/2 years at current count, and it’s only half done. Plus I just decided to change the bad guy because of that whole mess with North Korea and the movie. All my North Korea research is for naught and I must start again. This time however I picked a bad guy I know something about, having taken a class in it while pursuing my degree. This will hopefully cut down on the amount of research I need to do.

Ok new goal. If I want to finish this spy novel before this year’s Nano how many words per week do I need to write….There are exactly 23 weeks until November first. If I write 2k words per week for 20 weeks, that leaves me 3 weeks to research this year’s Nano before it’s time to write. That’s not bad. I think I can actually do that. But that does raise the question, what am I going to write for Nano 2015? Don’t tell me one challenge at a time, I don’t work that way.

Aren’t You Beautiful….

Well, aren’t you?

Last night was writers cafe, I had super good intentions about how much I was going to get written. I had a sitter, she even showed up,  I was ready to write given that I got little done yesterday morning and then it happened….

the Writers Cafe. We should give up the premise that anyone gets more than a few words written at these things. I did manage to hold the line long enough to get my spies out of Mongolia and into Moscow. Out of the pan and into the fire one might say but then I got a text.

To back up, a few weeks ago at the cafe I was told I needed to think about my author’s photo for that book I’m going to publish this summer. Not to mention for my blog (what my laptop and fingers shot isn’t going to cut it?), and for my promotional materials. Ugh. Marketing. I hate Marketing. I have a whole blogs about it hating it and panels I went to so I could hate it a little less.

The problem with marketing, for me anyway, is that these days you aren’t just selling your book, you’re selling yourself as well. Readers want to know their authors. I am so not comfortable with that. I don’t want to be looked at. I want to be invisible behind my screen and produce novels that do my talking for me. Yes, I know, reality check.

So I texted a friend I am going to see in a few weeks, who’s taken most of the pictures of me I have ever liked, and asked her to take my author photos for me. Last night she texted and asked me to find examples of pictures I might like, I had said I wanted whimsical and weird/arty shots, and we would recreate them. LOL. Down the google rabbit hole I went.

So this is my question to you, what would your author photo look like if you had money, time, and a professional photographer who knew how to get the best out of you?

There is Taylor Swift in my head

and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Yesterday reading other people’s blogs gave great prompts for my blog so I thought I would try it again today. The first thing I saw was a video by Taylor, Shake it, I think it’s called, and I was transfixed. Now why was I transfixed? Dancers. Yes, I am admitting to one of my seldom mentioned addictions: dancers, martial artists, yogis with skills – basically anyone who can do things with their body that takes years of practice, fascinates me. One time in Amsterdam I almost missed a comedy show I had tickets to because I couldn’t drag myself away from a street demonstration of Capoeira. Luckily my hubby was there to strong arm me away and down the street. All this is to explain why I watched the entire video and now she’s stuck in my head.

Today my kiddo has to take his Measurement of Academic Progress exam. When you home school through an ALE they want you to prove you’re been effective as a teacher during the year. So my time is short this morning. I need to take advantage of this calm before the storm to write what I can.

I’ll leave you with the words of Taylor (and a few of mine), a players got a play, and a haters got to hate, so this writers got to write.

I am not tired, I am frustrated

I think I have said that like nine times the last ten minutes. Homeschooling is painful. It really is. But growth is always painful. Or so I remind myself son a daily basis, so I will keep taking a deep breathe and help my son grow.

Yesterday was my first do it all weekday since Jersey came back home. Sigh. I did not get everything done. Surprise, surprise. I suppose if it had been easy before I wouldn’t have been looking to rehome my dogs in the first place. Somehow I need to find a way to recalibrate the math and make more hours in the day.

Right now I am writing this blog while I help my son with his reading/writing home school work. How effective is that? I have no idea. Laughing. But since I plan to move from the blog to working on my spy novel in a minute, I’ll let you know later.

Stupid Grin on my face

I drove home from the cafe last night with one of those perma grins that don’t feel fake on my face. In fact, I’m still grinning now as I type this.

See after the title research and debate, I settled on a title, no I’m not sharing now, you can wait. Then I started negotiations with the woman I wanted to handle my cover design and art. Not only was she super excited about the project but we were totally on the same thought plane about it. We spent about 2 hours hammering out all the initial issues and the design is on it’s way to form and function.

It was on the long drive home that it hit me. I am going to publish. Why designing the cover art should make me feel that way when writing the novel, editing the novel, sending it out for beta, etc didn’t make me feel it, I couldn’t say.

I am going to publish. Let that sit for a moment.

I am going to jump the chasm between hobbyist writer and published author. How flipping cool is that?

It’s Wednesday at the Cabana….Copa Cabannnnnna

I don’t know where I am going with that. laughing.

It has been a truly strange few days. Last night I got a burr up my butt about this song that I hadn’t heard before the last few months. Now I hear at least once a week on Jack and it gets stuck in my head every time for days. So I finally googled it up, never heard of the band. Finger Eleven. Apparently they were super cool back in the day but their last gig was a free bar show. sigh. How did I not hear of them before this? So there I am singing “if your body mirrors what your eyes can do, you’ll probably move right through me as I move to you” when my hubby asks what the bleep I’m doing. So I share and then I remember this other song which I play for him, this leads us down the never ending you tube rabbit hole of listening to songs by the two different artists that sing Somebody that I used to know. Weird, weird music. All that meant I did not finish the two beta reads I owed to authors in my writing group, which meant I needed to finish them tonight at the write in and meet my commitments. I don’t want to start piling up bad writing karma before I even need beta readers myself. laughing

I figured it wouldn’t take too long but then when I got to the table tonight….serious…a discussion on the physics and quantum mechanics of warp space travel. Oh mi god. I love these people. How could I concentrate with that going on all around me? I couldn’t so it took all evening for me to get through the betas and send feedback. And now, now when I could write for a few minutes, although not too long because I without sitter this evening and so must be mindful of the fact that my five year needs to get home to bed, they are talking about Agatha Christie and her brilliance. I am sucked in. It is over. Hang up my keyboard for the evening. I am done. Forget the yellow feathers in my hair and my tee shirt cut down to there, I’ve lost my mind to the charms of intellectual masturbation and I’m not even half blind drunk.