getting to know you

It’s an old song from The King and I and it was the theme of my day.  I’ve been working on the exercise for Secret # 18 to get to know my characters prior to diving into the plot and scenes of the story I will create.   Today’s character was the romantic hero and I learned a lot about him.

He’s an Aries, he was born in the year of The Rabbit, and he was involved in local rodeo events during his teens.  I’m not sure who his best buddy is yet, but I know his dreams and life goals, which means I know his identity, and why the heroine wants to avoid him.  🙂

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be attending the Emerald City Writers Conference and know it will be fabulous.   I’ll spend the whole weekend refilling my storyteller soul,  surrounded by writers who understand the best thing we can do for our characters is make their lives miserable.  We give them a glimpse of bliss, then burden them with conflicts and choices to clear all the crap away and make them worthy to achieve bliss.

Michael Hauge states this brilliantly.  When we first meet our characters what we see is their identity.  Only by breaking through their identity do we get to their true essence, and it is that journey that is the story.

This is mirrored in life.  When we first meet someone, we are seeing their identity and we are only showing our identity.  When we see others within conflict, that is when we see their essence, and it may not be pretty.   When we are in conflict, we may not be pretty either.  What’s inspiring is when we see how conflicts can form bonds.  Conflicts shake us out of complacency, and bring our true essence forth.

Like stories in a novel, we are transformed by conflict.  Which means we’ve changed and we begin again, getting to know ourselves and others.  “getting to know you” is always a new story.


This past weekend was wild with conflicts; melodrama, secrets revealed, sudden storms, people in peril, slander, laws broken, legal actions taken, and a whole lot more.  I also went kayaking on a pristine inland lake and floated with large fish in the shallows.

My fiction brainstorming exercises went well too.  The dozen pages I drafted this weekend are revealing characters I’m excited to get to know.  I will dig deeper into the essence of these characters as I contemplate, and create, the struggles they will face as their story evolves in the weeks and months ahead.

But I’m also distracted at the variety of conversations and actions I’ve observed within a small community of neighbors.  Whew!  What research!

I have to ruminate about these true-life events, and the people who took the time to write an extensive letter full of words which was distributed to many.   It’s a story that is comparable to a very personal event I endured in 2006, while we were settling our parents estate.  Months of letters were exchanged where one aggressive agenda was being shoved onto myself and siblings.  There was no regard for us, our lives, our goals, our families. The needs and intent of the one were deemed more important than what would benefit others.

Today’s events are not so personal to me.  In the buffer of time and distance I’m appreciating my role as an objective observer.

I’m also learning about villains.   They truly see themselves as heroes of their own story.

Exercizing the Muscle

“I’ve got this great idea for a book.  Let me tell you about it and you can write it…”  I’ve heard this more than once and I smile and answer,  “I’ve got too many of my own ideas.  Ideas are the flash, it takes about a year of daily dedication, and about six drafts, to write a completed novel.”  Today I began exercising my flabby idea muscles.  I found they weren’t as out of shape as I thought.  🙂

I have so many awesome books and workshop notes on writing commercial fiction that I decided to begin with one and do the exercises all the way through.  No More Rejections, 50 secrets to writing a manuscript that sells by Alice Orr is my choice.  Secret #2:  Keep the Idea Muscle in Shape.  It was fun and the inspirations really began after I pushed myself past her 10-15 minute time frame.  I’m in better shape than I thought and wasn’t satisfied with a short workout, instead I wanted to feel the burn.

In the blogs I follow, one message was repeated today.  Here’s Sarah’s story and it represents how writers are doomed with creative minds that can often send us off on life tangents with wild enthusiasm.  But alas, writers are happiest when writing and when we realize we hate biology it’s time to stop cutting up frogs.

I’m a sassy domestic drama storyteller.  I don’t do pirates, or thrillers, or murders.  Well, the murder potential has appeal but not in this book, that I know of, at this stage in the brainstorming.  We’ll see, I’m off to begin contemplating Secret #3: Get Into Trouble.

The process

At a Powell’s Books author event on Friday, I confessed to my friends how nervous I am about starting a fresh, new, fiction project.   Fortunately these writers  have watched the roller coaster ride my life has taken since 2003.  They understand my trepidation, my concern about having ruined my storytelling skills, after these years of nonfiction.  We all agreed it was time I begin a new story.

My writer toolbox of skills and style has expanded during these years,  and today I was contemplating my process.  Which I don’t have.

I wrote by the seat-of-my-pants in the past, full of passion for the characters and potential adventures, without a theme in my head.  Writing memoir and nonfiction these past years demanded I organize, shape, and bring purpose to each page.  I’m determined to bring what I’ve learned to this new story and plot my conflicts, and plan the heroic journey, before I write a word, or, at least until Friday.   That’s when the new computer arrives.  A desk is on back order and is another ten days out.

This weekend I’m planning a flurry of mind-dump writing in hope I’ll get a clue who my characters may be.  I’ll probably read a book or two.  The writing process can be 90% perspiration to get that 10% of inspiration.  So it’s time to perspire.  The timing is good, I’ll be full of fresh ideas and potentials while attending the Emerald City Conference next weekend.  I’ll also be renewed with camaraderie which is the lifeblood of a creative spirit.   Story doesn’t come to life in a vacuum.

A new story begins

Yesterday I woke at 6 am with the thought I needed magazine pictures for my storyboarding process. While the coffee perked I was out in the driveway in my robe, digging in the recycle bin.  Fortunately the bag full of magazines was within reach, barely.  I didn’t have to climb in.  A neighbor was walking his dog on the street.  I’m sure he’ll be too polite to mention if he saw me, at least to me.

As I settled on the couch, with a cup of coffee and scissors, I despaired.  They were writer magazines, full of text and a few years old so mainly black and white.  My fiction style is light contemporary romance with a touch of adventure in boats & aircraft.  My characters have esoteric or mythological interests that flavor their speech.  What pictures could I find to inspire me from writer mags?  Oh well, couldn’t hurt to look.

I hit pay dirt in  The Writer, I was in a flurry of cutting faces and graphics.  Author pictures are great because authors have a certain flair to their persona, intelligent expressions, and often a smirk.  Oh yeah, I could populate books with these faces.  Suddenly a few pictures shouted, “Here I am!”  OMG!  I know these characters – from the story yet to be written – can’t remember all the names – I’ll check my notes.  Maybe I’ll change names.  In the beginning, everything is only the spark of an idea!

Enthusiasm has bloomed, creativity sparked!  It feels good.

real characters

I’ve been reading a lot of beginning chapters of potential novels, as a contest judge.  I found myself duplicating comments I got in the past from editors, as to why they passed on publishing my story.   Everyone is too nice, the characters make efforts to get along.  None of my fictional characters had a reason to grow or transform.  No ego issues, ergo, no story.

Even stellar writers who have mastered craft; style, voice, tension, pacing, etc. failed to engage me because of the characters on the page.  I didn’t care about the story because the character goals lacked depth, motivations were not believable, and there was no substantial conflict to overcome.

Yesterday I chatted with a former neighbor, Nancy.  Nancy sold her house on our street after becoming a widow.  The current owner bought this house when she became a widow.   I told Nancy I haven’t made an effort to befriend this younger woman because the widow stories are bit big for me.   Nancy and another friend of mine became widows in 2005 the same year my parents died.  Both of these women were four years older than me.  Both of their husbands were named, Dave.

I’ve dedicated a lot of energy learning to write nonfiction and feel this awareness of real life will enhance the conflicts I bring to my fiction.  Death creates a transformation for those of us still alive and this is why I don’t care about characters who “could die,” unless they have a dream to live.

While disappointed with the fictional characters I met this past week, I enjoyed these stories about real people:  Magnetic PersonalitiesSport FanaticsCourageous MomsRoad Warriors and the review of a “Lactating Detective”.  Real people are interesting!

Here’s the motto of a friend who is thriving years after breast cancer – if you’re a writer, please bring this motto to your fictional world:

Get busy living, or get busy dying.

new story different view

Yesterday I drafted a story to work on with my 7-yr-old grandson about when his Aunt Lyndsay was 7-yrs-old.

It was a time when Lyndsay didn’t know what it meant to move to a new home, a new state.  Her older sisters and parents talked about “Moving to Oregon” but maps are boring pictures to a 7-yr-old.  The house went on the market in September of 1996 but it didn’t sell fast because the NJ home market had imploded.  The delay increased tensions with two teenage girls in the house and drama spiraled high in the spring of ’97.

Lyndsay noticed the adults were always talking, with few smiles, using big words about topics she didn’t understand.  Her older sisters were very emotional and lots of stuff happened.  Now, at 21, Lyndsay knows the events those weeks before her First Communion were a big deal, but she’s still not sure what actually happened.

It was her turn to wear that special white dress her sisters had all worn when they made their First Communion.  In May of ’97 Lyndsay was glad then that the house hadn’t sold so she could celebrate with her classmates.

When I wrote this story yesterday I tried to imagine being 7-yrs old.  I printed it with only a few sentences on each page, leaving big blank spaces for my grandson to write or draw anything he wanted.  I told him the story shows the lack of control Lyndsay had over the unknown.  I know there were times she was sad and scared.  Even after the the house sold, and we moved to Oregon from New Jersey, she was displaced for months before she again had her own room, her stuff.

I told my grandson to write or draw whatever he felt about Lyndsay’s story because I know kids his age really like stories where the character can do something to make things better.  Maybe he’ll write about what makes him feel better.  I’m not sure he’ll do anything with the pages, or even read them, since it is summer and the weather is awesome.  I doubt he’ll relate to the desire to wear a white dress.

My grandson currently hears the adults around him using big words, talking about things he doesn’t understand, and we’re not smiling enough.  He’s feeling out of control, displaced, maybe even sad and scared.  So I wrote Lyndsay’s story for him and it made ME feel better.   Lyndsay loves the name she adopted when her nephew was learning to talk, she will now always be, “Aunt Z Z.”

I’m reminded of the resiliency of children.  When the adults are focused on the well-being of the child, the child will not only survive but thrive.  Someday my grandson will have his own story to read and he and his Aunt Z Z will share their memories of when they were 7.

Maybe neither will have a clue what happened, when they were 7, but trusted the adults knew and fought well for the well-being of the child.

the point is…

We watched Invictus this weekend.  The power of this movie is in the understatement since the story is true.  Movies like this should be used to teach history in schools.  During 1994-95 I personally gave passing attention to global events because I had a demanding job and four daughters in school.  It’s awesome now to see history presented so well.

Globally, history is happening now.  May was a big month for turmoil from the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico through Thailand, Jamaica and Greece.

I savored the sunshine and nature beauty this weekend, unplugged from the news and web.  Yet, at one point I was told I should get my head out of the clouds because there will be no future past 2012.  I don’t argue with this concept since Armageddon hung over my life since grade school.  I’m confident I will see my grandsons create a future worth living.  My personal history has shown it’s best not to empower the doom machine of the moment, no matter how many decades that moment may last.  Madiba is a good example since he held true for almost three decades in prison.

Another day, I was considered silly to have voted for Prez. Obama.  While I am not political, I am fascinated by history and the politics of the day is always a major player in the story.  I am hopeful there will be an uplifting future, no matter how dire events may seem at the moment.  I believe there is a more dynamic story in process than many see at the moment.  A few of my author friends admit they write the story to see how it ends while I’m one who can’t write a story until I know how it ends.  🙂

The past two days I’ve been plugged back into the world of news and webbits, there is so much!  But I’m inspired that the children are the human searchlights of our future while I’m a lighthouse in these rocky times.  I even caught the enthusiasm of my Ohio based friends and family that the demise of Touchdown Jesus could be a sign of hope The Browns will someday win the Superbowl.

The point is – horrors, trials and doom are part of our history but so is courage, innovation and success.

The next project – dads

I’ve been trying to decide on my next writing project.  Fiction or nonfiction, that is the question.  I love writing fiction but there is a lot of noise through book world about BRAND, VOICE and having three books that are consistent in theme and tone so you build reader loyalty.  Since I’m marketing a nonfiction project, the logical step for my career is to write two more.

I do have two more book-length nonfiction projects, one has been on the shelf for eight years, the other is a collection of ideas in a chaos of files.  The issue is, these are true stories from my life, full of conflict and wild characters within a family in trauma.  The one on the shelf was a scary time for me as a mom of teens.  Gee, who wants to revisit those memories?   Not me, and I’m thrilled to have 60+ novels here to read instead.  But a writer writes.  It’s not a choice.  It’s a voice.  It’s a passion.  With a reason.  It’s a lifestyle.

Today I was reminded (again!) that there are a lot of young dad’s out there who don’t have a good example of how to be a dad.  There are dad’s out there who’ve been abandoned or abused and they are trying not to continue this pattern on their young children.

The Will to Love shows my dad as a man who met a challenge and excelled, which is why the love story between my parents is the main theme, with my voice as the daughter.

In this shelved project, it’s my voice as the mom, about events that spanned about six months (years!) which could have destroyed my family if it wasn’t for the dad.  Yes, my daughters have a good dad, with a reputation as the fun parent, a dad with no desire to be in charge of anything (outside of his career) other than adventures with his girls.  But when his teen imploded, he tucked his fears and emotions into a corner for a few weeks and brought his business skills and flight training forth.  He rose above the trauma and saved the day, bringing our family into a better life.

So tomorrow I’ll suck it up and unearth this eight year old project from its resting phase.  I have a reason to revisit those memories and trauma.  Not only do I know young dad’s who have no example how to be good dads, I also now have five grandsons who deserve to see how the grandpa, who mixes up their names, is also a hero who didn’t crumble and run when times were tough.   Not a war hero, a family hero, when the stakes were as high as life and death.

A dad who became a stellar man for a time when it mattered.

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