Once Upon A Time…

I used to write in this blog a lot…now it’s being neglected. It’s mostly neglected because I don’t have anything to say of a writing or reading nature. So what’s so special about today? I found an old notebook with a reading wishlist in it and it inspired me to talk about things that I want to read (in hopes that increasing my reading will increase my writing, both here and my creative writing pursuits).

So, what do I want to read? I don’t know. I know what the world says I should have read already (like The Help), but I don’t have many books I want to read lately. I do have a few non-fiction titles I would like to read: The Other Wes Moore, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Laying Down My Burdens. I’m currently combing through my old list for fiction books, and I may cruise back issues of BookPage to find something.

I have been working on some pieces in my long term absence. I have made progress on my Camp NaNoWriMo manuscript (aka continuing to write a crappy first draft), and I officially starting on the second short story in the Candy Apples series. So it’s not all sitting on my hands this way. This second story in the series is hard to write because I haven’t been there. It’s dark and terrifying and sad. It’s not a place one likes to dwell. It’s not difficult thinking like an adolescent again, but the subject matter gets so dark I wonder if I can see my way out sometimes. But it will be powerful fiction, the kind of fiction that may help someone else. These addiction stories are turning out to be some powerful stories. I was thinking of putting Candy Apples up as an Amazon single, but I don’t know if I want to. I  might have to make it free and then sell the series, which doesn’t sound like a plan to me. Besides, I still will have ten stories to write, so publishing it now will be a little soon. I would like to know if any of you would buy my work.

I’ll post the fiction books in my notebook up tonight, and you can tell me if they’re worth reading. In the meantime, two questions: Read any good books lately? Would you buy my book?

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Making the Most of Memory

Sometimes I get little twinges of memories–incidental things that have happened to me a long time ago, things that were buried underneath all the new memories I’ve been  making. These memories are usually unrecorded things that make me so, “Oh, yeah; that’s right! That DID happen!” When my Muse is on  speaking terms with me, these little remembrances are just the grain of truth I need to sweeten the fiction pot, so to speak.

The other day, I was sitting at my desk, letting my mind wander when I remembered a little girl from my childhood that was murdered. This wasn’t just some girl I went to school with or saw on the bus; I knew her. She was invited to my birthday party. Little details about her and about the case came floating back: the last name of the couple responsible, what they had done to her, the date she died. I don’t know what idea it will turn into, but the memories mprinted themselves so fully on my brain, I knew I had to write them down.

It’s not always a full blown topic or idea, though. Yesterday, as my mind was out wandering at work (again), I was thinking about abuse in one of my stories. It’s tricky to write about something you have experienced, trickier still to write about something you read or heard about it. The very last thing I wanted to do was use someone else’s abuse real life abuse story. That was depressing, so I thought about summers when I was a kid. I was always with my cousins or someone else when I was really little, so nothing ever happened to me. Then I remembered coming back from a beach trip. I won’t tell you what little thing I remembered because it’s important to one of the addiction short stories I’m writing, but that detail, so minute, expanded into a whole scene. It was like when a movie comes on focused on something small like the numbers on an alarm clock, then slowly expands to reveal the whole scene: a hand shuts off the alarm; a head peeks out of rumpled covers; a man sits up; a woman sits up, scratching her head and yawning; they look at each other and scream bloody murder, each trying to cover themselves and get away at the same time.

Of course, I twisted and changed the memory to make it fiction: the girl is older, the cousins are friends, the room is different, and the addiction/abuse angle is completely fiction, but weaving in other memories, I think it could feel real.

I don’t know how many of you have encountered this, but there is a cloud on the horizon. I love the addiction stories so far, even though they’re tough work. It’s a challenge to myself to write them, and when I get one right, I feel like I’ve done my best work. However, I know if I ever do get to the point of sharing them, people will think I’m speaking from experience (if I do it right, anyway). How does one deal with that? I mean, to a certain extent it will be me; I’m using my memories and remembered feelings to construct it. But most of it will be the result of talent and hard work. I’m not too concerned about it. If I can make it so real I can convince people I have experienced it firsthand, I will take that as a compliment.

How do you make the most of your memory in writing? Do you ever use real life elements in your stories? How much of you fiction is you, is “real”?

The Girl Who Couldn’t Commit

That would be me. It seems that lately I have a hard time settling down to work on one thing. I’ve started too many things and they all demand to be finished. Whenever I think I know what I truly want to work on, I casually glance at something while looking for a scribbled note or character sketch, and before I know it I’ve been sucked in to something different. I’ve started too many good things to focus on just one.

I suppose this should be a good problem to have. If I had a bit more focus lately, it would be. I’m guaranteed several good books, after all. It’s just deciding which good book to write NOW that’s giving me the blues.

I already know what your advice will be. “Write what you’re most passionate about right now.” Well, at the moment, I’m most passionate about researching the Marriage Kit book. I’m loving conducting the interviews and trying to figure out what to read to flesh this out. I’m even loving exploring my own feelings about the interviews and articles and bits of advice. What I’m not loving? Transcribing the interviews! I’m so far behind on actually typing up (and posting) all of the interviews that I’ve conducted, I don’t know when I’ll catch up again.

But then, I had a breakthrough on the Some College memoir. I was right; going home made all the difference (mostly because I came across a few more of my journals that fleshed out more of what I was thinking leading up to and during the first few months of that time. I definitely want to include parts of those entries in the memoir. I’ve also broken down the structure into three parts, quite a few chapters. I know where I’m going with it. Now I just have to write it.

I actually have quite a few chick lit/ harlequin type books floating out there. At one point I was all about the love. There’s the class reunion WIP you all are familiar with (my NaNoWriMo novel from last year), there’s one I found a chapter of on Openfiction.com (which I can link if you want me to) and three additional chapters at home,  there’s the one I spoke about yesterday, and at least one other with a really big “this isn’t what it looks like,” moment.

Also while I was home, I found the beginning (but not the whole written portion) of a story about a mystery writer that I started on the large lined paper with the big blank space at the top that they give you when you’re just learning to write (don’t worry; it’s evolved since then, lol) which shows promise, as well as a YA novel about a teen girl who is kidnapped by her best friend’s killer (and ex-boyfriend), who has connections to the mob. I was about fifteen–no, seventeen?– (short at first, then long) chapters in. I lost the first 12 (they were stolen), but had recreated three or more of them (I started this in eighth grade!).

These are just the ones with the most upfront potential that I’ve found. I also found two more YA type of fiction pieces that are pretty lengthy. The only thing is, I haven’t written YA type of works since I used to read YA books…when I was a YA. Still, these books have something…

Of course, of course, there are the WIPs you all are familiar with: the jazz story, the southern gothic novel, Candy Apples and the other short stories in that collection. Everything with the potential to be epic and the pull to get me to reread it and want to write more of it. What to do, what to do? Some of these stories have been with me for years and refuse to leave me alone.  

Aside from these dilemmas, I’m also supposed to be working on a dissertation (editing, not writing). Oh, boy.

***

I promise that my next entries will be more than just me lamenting my good fortune. I am thinking of adding a couple of tabs, one where I help you keep track of the eighty million WIPs I have going on, and one where I make some concrete goals for the rest of the year. Maybe if I commit to it on paper? I’m thinking some NaNoWriMo-esque months are called for here.

Speaking of discoveries, I finally got a cassette player! I can play it through my little boombox, so that’s nice. I’m working towards being able to convert cassettes to digital (read: saving up to buy the software). I’m so excited about this, as I have one of my stepdad’s original recordings that I want to add to my collection. As my stepdad passed away in 2009, you can imagine how dear of a project this is to me. There are a few other things I’d like to convert as well, but this is the most important.

Now, time to brag: tell me about some of your recent successes. It can be anything. Also, tell me your plans for writing world/publishing world domination!

Disorganization Station

I’ve hit a rough patch with the marriage kit interviews (and by rough patch, I mean that I keep getting dodged and ducked by my pool of participants :-(), so naturally I’ve switched gears to another project. Here’s the problem; I can’t find it.

One day, long, long ago, I mentioned that I came up with a very detailed vision of one of the Candy Apples characters and was ready to start her short story for the addiction short stories. I wrote a bit about that, from the perspective of her barbie doll. It was great for a first draft. It started like a tight shot, a close up of a battered and bruised Barbie, then expanded to pull in the character, her home, her mother, and all sorts of interesting things that didn’t belong in the opening paragraphs but were good insights for later in the story. I was pretty pleased with the direction, but I got distracted by a shining bauble (aka, the Education Workshop), and after chasing that a bit, I attempted to resume my marriage kit things. Now, I’m ready to get back to it. The ideas still seem fresh and exciting. The thing is, though, I don’t know where I put the Page of Awesomeness that I wrote.

This always happens to me This never happens to me. I’m so disorganized organized. I never always know exactly where everything is. It’s typical so out of character for me not to be able to find the scrap of paper page that I’ve fleshed out some paragraphs on. Of course, I can absolutely put my hands on my journal, in which I outline the general ideas and crow over my major epiphanies; I just can’t find the wonderful Barbie-centric opening paragraphs.

I’m almost certain they are in my living room amongst some other scraps of stories papers that I have. It would be easier if I had a specific place to write and keep my story ideas. I really need a computer desk/mini office space.

Are you an organized writer? Disorganized? Where do you keep your little creative asides until you can work on them? Any idea where I might find that story?

Cheating in the Next Room…

BLACK SOUL SINGER JOHNNY TAYLOR PERFORMS AT TH...

I'm hoping my WIPs don't listen to this guy (Johnny Taylor) Image via Wikipedia

…is a blues song by Johnny Taylor. “Cheating in the Next Room” is about a woman talking on the phone to a man she is cheating with, making plans to meet up with him. Johnny is letting her know that he knows she has been faking lovemaking with him and has been meeting this other man. He tells her “that’s alright; I’ll soon be gone.” He is fed up and won’t take it anymore.

My writing can say the same thing about me. I’ve been “cheating” on some projects with other projects. I am supposed to be working on the short story project that I had the breakthrough on. Before I had that breakthrough, I was working on my memoir about college. Now I put the college memoir on the back burner, because I think the program I’m preparing for the high school students at church on Saturday would be the perfect place to begin the memoir (as it involves my college journey). Since the event hasn’t happened, I don’t have the opening. That’s understandable. I’m at a natural stopping point.

However, after talking to a real-life and blogging friend, I began to get really excited about another project that’s been on the backburner: possibly turning the marriage kits into a book. The thing is, making the marriage kits into a book will involve more than just compiling the interviews (and conducting more): I’ve noticed the book on weddings I’m reading has things to say about marriage. I have several other books, podcasts, and TV shows that speak to marriage that I frequently mine for information. I want to expand my interview pool. I want to research. I want to put away the short story project and work on this one, even though I know I’m supposed to return to the memoir after Saturday. I also know I will be doing more researching than writing working on the marriage kit project.

Does anyone else suffer from the lure of research over actual writing? I get so excited about some of the research I put into projects that I never get around to writing it until much later. How do you balance research with writing?

The greater question is how do you decide which project gets your time when your time is limited? I work full time, have an occasional second job, a boyfriend, a church I’m active in, my Dad’s book to format for Smashwords publication, and I want to have a little me time, so my writing time isn’t as extensive as I would like. When you don’t have time to do it all, what do you do? How do you keep a project on the backburner from burning up? This is my dilemma of the past few weeks. I’ve just went with it and done writing wherever my fancy has taken me, but I’ve not made much progress on ANYTHING. Help!

The Bad Beginnings Blues

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Tug of war. Thi...

This is what I've been doing all weekend... Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been engaged in a tug of war with my brain. There’s an idea lurking in there that I have one end of, while the other end is tucked into one of those little squiggly lines on my brains surface. I try to pull it out, but my brain is not letting it go. It won’t allow me to fully realize this idea I have in my head, an idea I know will be epic, if I can just get it out

Let’s back up to the beginning of this tale. I accepted a challenge from Cordelia to write more often and actually finish some projects this year. I was excited at the prospect of having someone to bounce ideas off of, to proofread my work, to tell me whether or not a piece needed to be reworked for the eightieth time, to tell me when something is crap and should be flushed down the toilet. I even had a solid story to start with.

I didn’t think the story needed much tweaking, only, the story I was telling didn’t seem finished. The thing’s I wanted to tell didn’t fit the story I had, though, because of the focus. After mulling this over a bit, I came up with an amazing idea. One that would fix my little dilemma, but create a slew of others.

The story I’m referring to is Candy Apples. Candy Apples is one woman’s struggle with a specific kind of addiction. She is in a support group with other individuals, two of which she interacts with regularly. The problem was, as I reader, I wanted to know more about these other women. The glimpses of them I saw in this story were so compelling, I had to know their stories. But this wasn’t their stories. Through several days of thinking and plotting, I came to the conclusion each woman needed her own story. They were strong enough to stand on their own. If the stories unfolded in such a way, I could even share certain events in Candy Apples from their perspective.

Then my mind ventured on and came up with a frame work for the other stories, which led to the realization other stories, and a little research, were needed. All of this was falling together and working out seemlessly. I ended up starting to examine one of these women’s stories, where I wanted to start, where it fit in my framework, what symbols and motifs would be important, etc. Finally, I was ready to start writing.

Only nothing came out.

This never happens to me.

I usually have spectacular first lines of my stories that start right in the thick of things and really set the tone for the story. This is especially true of Candy Apples. In the creative writing class I was in when I wrote it, one thing everyone agreed on was how awesome that opening line was. But somewhere along the way, I’ve seemed to have lost my first line mojo. I blame it on planning.

I’ve talked about what part of a story I get first here. It’s usually one of two things–a character or an opening line. Rarely is it a plot or a scenario. I’ve also talked about planning ahead versus going with the flow. I usually go with the flow and plan where necessary. This time, I had a strong character, already established in another story. This time, I’ve plotted out many of the important plot points and I know where I want to end the story. This time, I can’t think of an opening line to save my life.

The opening line has to grab the reader’s attention. It has to be interesting and intriguing, yet subtle and alluring. It has to invite you to read more without giving the game away. It has to seduce. In short, it has to work. This is especially true in a short story, as you only have so much time to establish a scenario and characters before you have to get things rolling.

I’m at a crisis point, a major stumbling block, very early in this story. Could it be I’ve lost my first line mojo for good? Does anyone have any tried and true techniques for crafting opening lines? Do you know of any good articles I can read on the subject? How can I wrest this opening line from the slimy recesses of my brain-squiggles?

Taking Up the Gauntlet, or I’m Going to Do It!

Cordelia Chase

My second favorite Cordelia inspired this post...Image via Wikipedia

I recently read how one of my favorite bloggers, the awe-inspiring Cordelia of Cordelia Calls It Quits was challenging herself to write the first draft of her novel this year. After all, when are you ever going to be “ready” to do it? When are you going to have “time”? Carpe Diem, and all that jazz.

I’ve been thinking about my writing goals for this year, and a few things stick out. I have some great short stories and the beginnings of novels and memoirs laying everywhere, as well as the marriage kits interviews that I want to turn into a free eBook someday (I’m still debating free, but love is free, so why not teaching to love, right?). All of these wonderful things, but nothing finished, or even fully realized.

 I don’t know where I’m going with many of the projects and haven’t made any plans. I’ve been telling myself I want to build up my blog following first. I want to pull all of my blogs together on one self-hosted website. I want to procrastinate take my time and play around build my following. But the following isn’t developing fast enough. But whatever happened to “build it and they will come?”

So, I’m building. Piece by piece, throughout this year. I’m joining Cordelia in writing. Only, I have so many projects, what to focus on? I don’t want to end up with just a first draft, needing revisions, proofing, and a coat of spackle before I can begin the long, arduous process to publication. Yet, I want to set some hard and fast, no wiggle room writing goals for this year. So where do I start?

Here’s a list of the projects and what I plan on doing:

  • Candy Apples–the only story I’m giving the real name of. This is the close to being finished, as it was for a class that required me to do a major revision. It just needs some spiffing up and can be sent out.
  • The Art Story–very good portrait of an (sometimes) unapologetic promiscuous artist that needs major revisions to the end. I sent it out to a contest and was politely dismissed. Promising but needs work.
  • The Boots Story–seriously has little to do with boots. I just lost steam on this, but I have a few ideas I want to play around with. This is the last short story I will work on, because I just don’t have an idea what will happen.
  • The Vandalism story–I had to rework a major hinge point of the action. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and had an “epiphany” that turned out to be 3am delirium.
  • The College Memoir–I had this brilliant idea to write about my year between my junior and senior year. It was supposed to be a very inspiring memoir about overcoming fear of failure and obstacles, and learning to learn in the real world (real world as classroom was very big in my head that year…a survival mechanism, I think). I got as far as coming up with a snazzy list of chapters and subjects, including one about how David Boreanaz saved my life (no, I’m not telling; you’ll have to read the book!). I have some notes from then as well. Really want to do this, but haven’t much to work with yet. Need to plan it.
  • There’s another memoir idea floating in the darkness. I just can’t remember it right this second…(darn it; stalling didn’t work…grr)
  • 1st novel in progress (Southern Gothic Novel, for now)–I started this in college; had a professor who really liked it and really encouraged me to finish it. He told me I wrote like Toni Morrison (not the first time I’ve heard that; not sure is compliment or joke, as he knew I didn’t really like her work). I have 40 pages, at lest 30 of which are absolutely perfect. I’ve tried to take it in several directions, but other projects intervened. Am going to write this novel. Will be best of present works.
  • 2nd novel attempt (A Blues for Zora, for now)–was supposed to be a short story but is shaping up to be jazz and friendship centered novel of great importance. Has the best name I’ve ever come up with for a club, the best club owner in history, a strong narrative voice…and threatened to go all Harlem Nights on me, so I stopped while it was still good. Have to plan this one more.
  • 3rd novel attempt (Class Reunion, for now)–NaNoWriMo chick lit attempt. Strong characters and panic inducing subject (more so as my own class reunion keeps approaching faster and faster). I feel comfortable putting this one off the longest, as the characters are solid and jump right back into action the minute I focus on it.

So, the plan is to finish the short stories, plan out the memoirs further, get serious writing done on 1st novel attempt (using newly acquired crappy first drafts are OK as long as I get the bare bones on paper mentality), plan 2nd novel attempt, and temporarily shelve 3rd novel attempt. As for the marriage kit interviews, they will continue as soon as I pick up my digital recorder tomorrow (yay!). I will meet with minister to help me flesh out idea for free eBook to save the institution of marriage.

This is what I came up with yesterday instead of actually doing any of this. I’m hoping to do better today. Check back for updates on my progress, sprinkled into my writing rants, book reviews, and all things writing and reading!

Feeding the Beast

Creative writing class-fine arts center (40269...

My name is Copywrite1985, and I can't stop expanding on my stories... Image via Wikipedia

“How’s your writing going?” My dad asks me. I’m trolling Books A Million, my third book related stop of the day. I’ve already been to the public library to get my library card, as well as to the used book shop in the quaint little downtown area I finally got a little time to explore. I still haven’t found the book club book that I’m looking for, but I’ve found a lot of other books that I find equally enticing.

“I’ve been busy with my blog–the content and learning about hosting my own site,” I respond, surveying thick computer books with a critical eye. I’m looking for a book on Java, which, my boyfriend has explained to me, is completely different from Java Script. Who knew? It’s a birthday present for the boyfriend; I hope he likes it. I want to show that I’m interested in helping him progress as a person, that I actually am listening when he goes into tech speak.

“I have to buckle down and work on my book. I don’t know when it’s coming out now,” my dad laments. He was shooting for a Valentine’s Day release, as his book centers on relationships. I’ve recently introduced him to the wonders of Smashwords, a program I myself haven’t had the opportunity to use, but is highly recommended for self-publishing. “Everytime I get close to finishing, there’s something else. The book keeps changing at the eleventh hour.”

I know how that feels. You think you know where you’re going, then all of a sudden, there’s a detour. Has this ever happened to you? You’ve thought you were done with a story, then you go back to revise and find yourself going in another direction entirely?

I have a short story that I wrote for a creative writing class. Our teacher required us to make a large revision (we had to change/refine at least fifty percent of the story, I believe. These were significant changes, not merely proofreading and adding a sentence). I don’t write that way. Usually, when I finish writing, aside from proofreading and revisions for clarity and style, it’s done. So I wasn’t excited about having to change my story.

After taking into account some of the things that people in class pointed out weren’t working, I see an entirely different angle that makes one character’s agreement to even meet for the climactic moment more believable. I add in backstory on another character that explains a bit of her brass attitude.

The revisions go well and my teacher asks me if I considered publication for it. I put the story away for a while, intending to give it one more fresh look before I sent it out for possible publication. When I pulled it out again, I found even more areas to expand upon, more places where I wanted the writing to be more concise. I wanted to concisely reveal more detail/personality of a supporting character. I’ll just tweak a bit here. I handed in the story revision in the Spring semester of 2008; the story has been sent to zero publications.

I’m having a bit of trouble letting go. I know that this isn’t all of the story, that other short stories may follow with the focus being characters that are supporting characters in the current narrative, maybe, but I can’t seem to get this story out of my hands and into the hands of publishers.

How do you know when a story is “done”? How do you force yourself to declare it a finished product and begin the (possibly) long process of trying to get it published? Someone help me let go, already!