Thursday, June 30, 2011

Workshops, Presentations and Speeches

It's conference time. When you're first starting out as a writer, you get to sit in the workshops and learn. Or be rude and get up and leave. You get to judge the worth and value of the information to you-and sometimes you judge wrong, but that's another matter. As you progress in your years of writing, as you learn more than the basics, suddenly you are the workshop presenter. You are the person tasked with deciding on a subject that hasn't been done to death, working on the handouts and the possible PowerPoint slides. You need to determine the mix of lecture and exercises and discussion to give your audience something to go home with and feel as if they got value from their conference fee. You are tasked with sharing the knowledge others shared with you that allowed you to get where you are. You are responsible to pay it forward.
That's something I did last week. I learned some valuable things in my modules at grad school and last week it was my turn to create a module and present it to a small class. I think it went well. I have heard from the attendees that they found it useful. I'm so glad. The best part is that no one walked out.
Please remember as you go to conferences and pick workshops to attend that the presenters have taken a great deal of time and effort to share information with you. No matter how boring you may find it, or how repetitive. Please don't leave. Consider the person in the front. As writer's we aren't trained to be good presenters. We live in our small offices and write. We speak through media that can be edited and revised. We are not usually face to face. Remember the presenter is simply trying to pay it forward. Be considerate. You never know what kernel of info/inspiration you might get if you only stick it out.
When it's your turn to pay it forward, you'll understand and hopefully no one will walk out on you. Cheers~

Monday, June 20, 2011

June Book Review by Ted

I'm posting Dad's book review this week because I'm off for my last intensive residency for the SHU Master's Degree program. Yes! Graduation is June 26th. Woot. Okay, here's Dad:

Vanishing genre.............................. This morning the news from entertainment is about the death of actor James Arness----for 20 years he was Matt Dillon on CBS's "Gunsmoke." During this period there were as many as 10 weekly shows about the Old West and all the stories it spawned. That was before the plethora of TV channels and programs about a lot of nothing. It is almost as if we are now ashamed of this part of our history. So.......................... Let us return to the days of yester-year. From out of past comes the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Almost every child waited impatiently for the WJR ( Detroit ) syndicated show to begin the daily adventures of " the Masked Man of the Plains." This same period saw books-- paperbacks--by great Western authors like: Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, Larry McMurtry, Owen Wister,Walter Van Tilburg Clark, and Tony Hillerman. They were on all the books shelves in every bookstore, newspaper stand, and paperback rack. Movies were made from many of them and they spawned such heroes as: The Lone Ranger, Lash LaRue, The Cisco Kid, The Green Hornet! Wait, The Green Hornet!??? A western hero??? Well, for the uninformed, the Lone Ranger's last name was REED. His nephew Dan was in many episodes of the stories. According to the story of the Green Hornet (Bret Reed), his great uncle was the Lone Ranger! That might be worth knowing for a trivia question in a gathering of friends. However I digress. The Western today has about died. I think it is a pity! Another Western author penned this month's selection: "Other Men's Horses" by Elmer Kelton. This book is the eighth book in his nine-volume Texas Ranger series. The ninth, "Texas Standoff" is the
last in the series and the last of Mr. Kenton's books since he is no longer with us, having passed away in 2009. In "Other Men's Horses" Texas Ranger Andy Pickard is assigned what appears to be routine duty. Donley Bannister, a West Texas horse trader, has killed a thug named Cletus Slocum, who stole one of Bannister's horses. Pickard is ordered to find and arrest
Bannister and bring him to trial. WAIT a minute! A trial for someone who shot a horse thief in Texas!?!?!?!? The action gets heavy really fast as there are gunfights, spirited chases, outlaws who are bad but also good.....This book is indeed a "Return to the days of yester-year!" If you haven't ever read a Western or if you have but not in a long while, maybe it is the time for you also to "Return to the days of yester-year." This is a good place to start.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Do Writers Have Hobbies?

I think in the beginning writing is a hobby-don't smack me. We usually start off thinking , "I have an idea for a book. I wonder if I can write it." We play around with our stories never intending for anyone to read them. Some may never go farther, but others will get the notion that perhaps they can become published. Suddenly the little hobby becomes serious work. There is craft to learn. Rough drafts, revisions, critiques, more revisions and learning about querying and actually sending out the work. Then there are more revisions and so on and so forth. After years deep in the trenches of writing- published or not- you stick your head up and wonder, "Do I have any hobbies?" or maybe you think, "Who has time for hobbies?"
The answer to that is you need hobbies and you must find time for hobbies. Why? Hobbies can lead to book ideas. For example my hobby of baking gluten-free lead to my gluten-free bakery mystery series. Another writer I know began to make her own soaps and this helped round out her historical romances.
The point being that yes, we are always told, get your butt in your chair and write. But without doing more than that the writing falls flat. The hobby you choose doesn't matter. It could be fixing scales, hiking, photography, playing in a small town band, weaving, painting, gardening. Anything to get you out of the story doing something where you have permission to do it badly. I mean, it's a hobby, right? So who cares if the scarf you attempted to knit turns out to be a pot holder? Hobbies free up the creative mind. They allow you to relax and let your muse in without the pressure of performance.
Give yourself permission to add a new hobby to your life and I am betting you will find that your writing is better for it.
If you could do anything, what hobby would you take up? I'm off to make triple berry jam. Cheers~

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Combating Your Procrastination

I'm reading "The Feeling Good Handbook" by David D. Burns, M.D. It's one I come back to now and again. He has a section on procrastination that I find helpful and so I thought I'd share. If you find yourself procrastinating about your next book, your current book or even promoting your book here are a few simple steps Dr. Burns suggests to get you started:
1) Label the task you want to accomplish- such as; writing the proposal for your next book.
2) Get a piece of paper and make two columns. In the first, write down the benefits to not doing this task. In the second column, write down what the costs are to not doing the task. Ex: the benefits: If I don't write the proposal, it won't get rejected. If I don't write it, then I can feel as if the idea is great and not worry that it isn't going to really work. If I don't write the proposal then I don't have to get started on the next book. Now- the costs: If I don't write the proposal I feel behind and will miss my deadline. If I don't write it, I'll waste a lot of creative energy on an idea that isn't going anywhere. If I don't write it, I won't get the book done and I won't make any money. Next look at your list. If the benefits of procrastination out weigh the costs, then simply choose not to do the project. It's not procrastination if you choose not to do it. It's a choice. But, if the costs out weight the benefits, then go on to the next step.
3) Set a time and day you will begin the task. Ex: Tuesday at 2 p.m. Now, write down all the reasons you won't do the task at that time. (You know you'll have reasons.) Ex: I'll forget. I'll get a phone call. My kids will want something. Next- counter those reasons. Ex: I will write a note or make an e-mail alert reminding me of my time and day. I will not answer the phone and call back at 3 p.m. I will tell the kids I am working for this time and give them something to occupy them while I work-such as a nap, a video, a snack. etc.
4) Break the task up into reasonable steps so you can at least begin your task. Ex: a) Create a Word .doc for the proposal. b) Create a list of research links for the book. c) Write a simple outline. d) Write character arcs. etc.
5) Work on the task for the allotted time- starting with the simple steps. Give yourself credit for the work you have accomplished. You are no longer procrastinating. You are working toward your goal.
Let me know what you think about these simple steps and if this helps. Cheers~

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How to make your story more powerful

Last night we watched the 2008 John Malkovich, Angelina Jolie movie, The Changeling. The movie was based on the true story of a mother in the 1920's whose son went missing and how the LAPD tried to placate her by giving her another boy and telling her they found her son. The story is fantastic and mostly true which gives it a scary edge but this movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, felt completely disjointed and failed it's fabulous cast and director. In trying to figure out what happened, it occurred to me that the producers didn't know whose story they were telling. It was billed as the mother's story- but she was not written well and the impact of her story was lost in shots of Angelina running here and there. They did not get personal enough with her. They did not get into her head and her life.
Then they lost the trued hero of the story- John Malkovich's character- an Episcopal Pastor who had a radio broadcast in LA denouncing the corruption of the LAPD at the time. This is the character who actually drove the action. If he hadn't been denouncing the corruption, he would have never brought the mother and her missing child to the public's attention. He pressured the LAPD for five months-until they produced the "fake" child in hopes of making the matter "go away." But when the mother denied that the child they found was her son and begged them to keep looking- they stuck to their guns and painted her in the press as stressed and a bit crazy. In steps John Malkovich-again. He calls the mother, explains that he believes the cops have railroaded her to improve their image. He convinces her to draw up proof via the boy's dentist, school teacher and personal doctor that the boy is indeed the wrong child. He gets her to make the announcement to the press. The mother is subsequently tossed into the insane asylum in an attempt to shut her up and cool the political situation. All the character of the mother can do is stand her ground in the face of this madness-which is a very static position. The Pastor meanwhile discovers this atrocity and works to get her out. Again- who is doing the action? The Pastor. In the meantime, a boy comes forward and tells the police that his uncle has been killing little boys and identifies the son as one his uncle killed. The police try to bury the story-but another good cop- one we don't know at all until this moment -steps forward and digs up the bodies proving the boy's story to be true. With this information, the Pastor gets the mother out of the asylum, he then gets her a high powered-lawyer to work her case pro bono and together they sue the LAPD.
This is where the action ended and where the story should have ended, but they insisted that it was the passive mother's story and dragged the movie on- showing us how she dealt with the murderer and kept looking for her son for the rest of her life. this caused the last thirty minutes of the story to fizzle.
They say as writers, we are to write each scene from the point of view of the character with the most to lose. Why? Usually that character is the most active- they drive the story. Sometimes- as in this movie- the character with the most to lose is not the character driving the story. It is important as an author to step back and ask yourself-who is driving this story? Why are they driving it? Are they the most important character? Should they be the one whose story I am really telling?
Your work can become so much stronger- more powerful and faster paced if you can identify who drives the action, how they bring about change and how they change. Your story is strongest when you discover whose story you are really telling.
In the case of The Changeling, without John Malkovich's character, Angelina Jolie becomes just another voice in the crowd. How much stronger and more impact-ful the story would have been if told from the Pastor's point of view.
The way to make your story more powerful is to write about the character who is creating change-tell their story and you'll never go wrong.