|Posted on February 6, 2019 at 5:05 PM||comments (0)|
They tell me dialogue is kinda important.
With Edge of Sundown*, I could hear my characters, see their body language, clear as day. For Yet Unnamed Manuscript #2, they're silent little shits tuned into their iPods.
HEY! I'm TALKING to you!
EoS was intended to be character-driven (it was) and YUM2** is plot-driven; this might be the reason for the issue? When I was a yute, my dialogue sucked so much, I dreaded ever having to make characters speak. I was focused on plot, and perhaps this is the disconnect.
Late last year I had a daring idea for what would amount to an erotic short, maybe a novella. With "Cellophane Sea"***, I had the feeling that the theme had never really left me once I hit 'submit'.
As I walked out the door today (misty Smarch mornings are good for thinking), I had a line for the protagonist tugging my sleeve. Then the plot of a new novel, however light on finer details, barreled into me. Told from dual POVs, I'd have the erotic novella (wife) interspersed with suspense (husband).
I bent over a storage thingy on the train platform to write all the bits down before they dissolved into brain juice. Details kept coming until I realized: this isn't a snippet for later. I'm working on two novels at once.
Perhaps between this latest character-driven attempt and the current plot-driven one, the two elements will learn to play nice.
*Who knows what the final title will be, but so far, that's what I'm calling it.
**This was not a well-thought-out acronym.
***Cellophane Sea appears in Dread Naught but Time.
~I don't know what this picture has to do with "two at once", Pexels, but I want both. Sharing is for the weak.
|Posted on January 21, 2019 at 2:20 PM||comments (0)|
A few days ago, I was tagged in a Twitter game requesting four pics that sparked the latest work in progress.
(Let me just take a second out to bow at the altar of Unsplash.)
Anyhoo, I see snippets of a project in my head before anything gets on paper. (Or screen.) Thanks to nearly 20 years with the same Boo—film geek extraordinaire—I get a braintrailer as a point of departure.
I kept seeing the same camera movements; the zooming, the panning from one subject to the other, and until recently I didn't realize that I'd held this movie in my inspirational back pocket.
Said Boo introduced me to this brilliant short by Rodrigo Gudino and Vincent Marcone back in 2010. It's six minutes of increasingly creepy menace, unfolding a story before your eyes by simply taking deeper looks into a single photograph. Enjoy.
|Posted on December 10, 2018 at 4:05 PM||comments (0)|
from Facebook, 7/11/17
Well, my concentration's in the shitter today. Clearly.
For months—nae, years—my sporadically helpful brain has come up with various philosophical, writer-cred-y questions like "What poorly executed Dutch appetizer would this character cook?" or "Which dead celebrities should I immoralize in wax?", then force me to "research" options on the internets until I can no longer blink.
I often hear other writers mention how their characters "talk" to them, and they're just the conduit taking notes. I'm completely jealous of that. I'd be down for some transcription at this point. I never pictured my characters talking to me. I picture them as actors, leaning against their trailers, smoking and stuffing their faces from the teamsters' catering table, constantly checking their watches to see if I finished that day's script rewrite. (Another few minutes, guys.) If this were a movie, I'd have blown the budget a long time ago. Thank god I wasn't approached by the publishing house equivalent of Liberty Films.
I'd questioned a certain trait, let's call it, for my protagonist. I kept coming back with, "Nah, that changes the whole tone of the book." Only a couple of weeks ago did I realize that attributing this to a secondary character would add depth and meaning without making a massive alteration. (Or so I hope.) Three years, it took me. Have I not been paying attention, or what? I know it's not buried in the remaining 200 pages of notes.
I'd like to hear how this goes for you peeps. Who's cracking the whip and calling all the shots? Who's a transcriptionist, and do you actually hear their voices? How can I get a piece of that? (Don't worry, I promise not to call the men in white coats. We're all a little mad here.)
|Posted on December 10, 2018 at 4:00 PM||comments (0)|
from Facebook 7/9/17
This weekend I murdered.
Pens, that is.
It was entirely unintentional. I sat down for a writing marathon (just shy of 12 hours minus the noshings, guys!) and they gave up the ghost, one by one.
My work bag standby croaked after merely drawing two lines through some old notes. It must have looked over at the 300+ left to go and willed itself to die.
The next two hung in for a minute, then dat was dat...and there wasn't nothin' we could do about it. (Sorry. I will use this joke ad nauseum.)
Gotta tell you...it was really satisfying. I'm getting somewhere, maybe. Considering how long I've been taking these damn notes, it felt pretty good to slash right through so many of them; write, however little, towards an end; and especially find some new notes that tell me, in great big letters, NOT to do X, then see that there are old ones saying the same thing. Maybe that means I've kept on track somehow? That the whole thing is somewhat coherent?
I've said this before, but I think I did realize something about the ending. It was a godawful mess not that long ago, and I trimmed until it sounded a lot more "together". Still, something wasn't right. It didn't click. It didn't thrill me, even though it was decent and finally made sense.
I was reading the other day (if I could remember the book, I'd share it) and finally my brain decided to stop half-assing it and cipher the problem (though not enough to remember a title; thanks, brain): I was too soft on my characters. Me! The person who claims to love torturing! But I hate piling on one disaster after another. What to do?
The problem wasn't that the MC loses too much, it's that everything plateaus when it shouldn't, and for too long. The plot flatlines. I love a quiet ending, but the "thriller" and suspense elements disappeared. Cue ambiguity via unreliable narrator. What really happens off-screen?
Aha! There was the light bulb, that domant little shit. That idea ties in nicely with another disquieting thing I have planned. Perhaps I was missing the gray area all along; the action-packed ending was too much, the hushed descent too lackluster. The ninja finale might be the way to go. Rip the heart out while it still beats.
Now to find another pen.
|Posted on August 20, 2017 at 7:35 PM||comments (2)|
From Facebook post 3-23-17
Val: Oh dear God, no.
Anna: What? What's the matter?
Val: It's Jenny. She's...writing what she knows.
Anna: No way. She was going to the DMV today!
Val, pounding on the inside of my skull: Hey, can you hear me? The murders weren't so bad in hindsight. Just not that. Please. Anything but that!
Me, typing and laughing maniacally: Val opened the door to a sea of gray faces and restless children. The stench of unwashed bodies was profound. "Jesus Christ, Anna! Would you LOOK at that line!"
Val & Anna: Nooooooooooooooooo
|Posted on August 20, 2017 at 7:25 PM||comments (0)|
From Facebook post 3-11-17
I came to a point in the nov where my protagonist goes to investigate some nasty events, forcing him to revisit the death of a friend. I realized that I have the perfect opportunity to rip his heart out. This is the stuff we sadistic writer types like best! My friend Jim says I'm a cold hearted bitch*. I should be relishing this! (*Totally a compliment.)
Except that it's all coming out rather shallow. I'm certainly not twisting the knife as hard as I could, or else I'm using one of those keen Ginsu gadgets; it's so sharp it can cut you to the quick...but you don't feel it for hours!
Nah. I need to dull the blade a bit or use a serrated knife instead. You can never sew that gash back together without scarring. Can't remember if I learned that in nursing school or cooking school...they were pretty much the same. Anyway, I digress.
How to deal with male grief? Especially this kind. The friend in question didn't just pass in his sleep, if you follow. And we're not talking a simple memory he can get over with the help of a Macallan or two. There's no craft book on this that I know of. I can't turn to my own bitter soul...now what?
I generally turn to novels in these cases. How did other guys write this stuff? But when you're itching to write, you can't stop to read entire books looking for the juicy bits.
Then it came to me: movies. Huzzah, the power of film! Ages ago, while researching something entirely different, I was reminded of a scene from a TV show, which basically boiled down to a reaction shot. A minor character goes from elation over a visit from a friend to horror and desperation once he realizes why he's really there. It's literally five seconds. And it's been on my mind for well over a year: how to describe, so accurately that readers feel it in their bones, the nearly palpable heartbreak this character experiences. How to make them want to reach through the pages and hug the poor bastard.
The inspiration for this novel came from the combination of two movies and a different TV show. If I got this far without wanting to delete everything, maybe watching something deeply moving will provide oil to the gears?
The only movie I openly cried to was Waking the Dead with Billy Crudup. I wept so hard I had to pause it so I wouldn't miss anything. The themes of loss and regret were profound.
I adore that movie. I swore I'd never see it again.
|Posted on August 20, 2017 at 7:15 PM||comments (0)|
From Facebook post 3-6-17
A lot of writers say they listen to music when they work. I tried doing that a few times when I couldn't seem to sit still long enough to write, even though the desire had me more excited than a free slice of pie. But it was hard to concentrate on my own words because my brain was busy deciphering lyrics. Before too long I was rockin' out—headbanging and the like—it just didn't work. The cat *hates* when I mosh...you know how they are. My writing suffered and I missed the nuance and layering of the music. It was like trying to listen to a phone call while someone talked in my other ear.
Recently, I needed inspiration for a romantic subplot. Love Interest hands off a CD to Protagonist and he reluctantly gives it a spin. It's reminiscent of old jazz and R&B torch singers; something sexy and beautiful but recent so he can prematurely scowl at it. (He's a codge. Gotta love 'im.) Most of all, I wanted to give the impression the music imparts without on-the-nose description. I thought I'd give this technique another shot.
The first artist that came to mind was Melody Gardot. She fit the bill: She's a young whippersnapper. Her voice is like liquid sex. I've heard the album "Worrisome Heart" a number of times so I didn't think I'd get as distracted as I would with new music.
Maybe the selections I used on my first attempt weren't right for the tone I was aiming for, but this time it worked beautifully. Before, I was separating everything, rhythm and phrasing vying for my attention. Ignoring the lyrics and immersing myself in the aggregate sound helped me develop the mood and expose Protagonist's emotional state. I'd like to think the new passages have more of a poetic flow now, though we'll see how they hold up after a few weeks in the time-out drawer.
|Posted on August 20, 2017 at 6:35 PM||comments (0)|
From Facebook post 1-29-17
This was my first time entering the NYC Midnight Short Story competition. There are three heats (if you're lucky); the first is a 2500-word story, due in 8 days, based on a random assignment. If I calculated correctly, there are roughly 3000 people in this challenge, 30 people with my assignment. Five people from each group are chosen to advance, which means I have a 1 in 6 chance.
My assignment was political satire. Not my forte (see what I did there?) My first thought was to rework a story from another challenge that didn't quite make the cut. I was afraid to look at it, and then I was cursing myself for not having done so sooner. It didn't suck nearly as much as I thought it did. The main character (if you can call it that) was stolen for the NYCM story, but I kinda wish I had just worked in the third element from this challenge—a prankster—and saved myself some time and frenzy. I'm not sure what to do with this one now...I rather like it. But then I have two stories in sitting around that are a little too much the same. I guess this is one of those wait 'n' see kind of deals.
I went to bed Friday knowing there were scads of new comments left on the NYCM draft. As in shit-tons, from one person in particular...not good. I didn't want to look just then, because I wanted to sleep and not freak out. Mission accomplished.
Then Saturday went a little something like this:
And here I am again. Addictions are fun.
Unfortunately I have to wait until mid-March to see if I advance to Round 2, in which I'd need to write a 1500-word tale—again with an assignment given shortly before—within 3 days. No pressure. The upside: everyone gets feedback from the judges, regardless of placement.
I do so love a good challenge.
|Posted on August 20, 2017 at 5:25 PM||comments (0)|
From Facebook post on 12-22-16
Is there anything more fun than giving someone the axe? It's better than killing your darlings, because you don't shed a tear!
About a month ago I was minding my own biz, giving the ol’ slash with the red pen, when I realized that one of my characters, an e-mag intern, popped up with nary an introduction. Oh ho! Newbie mistake! So I wrote myself a note: “Give Zane a proper intro, stupid.” Because I’m a delicate flower and need to be coddled like that.
Recently I was going over the edits and realized that Zane's entire role consisted of entering a room, reacting, and beating it out of there. It was the literary/human equivalent of what my husband (the infamous Joel Wicklund*) refers to as The Obligatory Cat Shot™ (trademark pending).
Your basic OCS* is a pan or cut to a well-timed reaction from an animal, often during a moment of crisis. It's not necessarily used for comic effect, though it can end up going that way unintentionally. Cats are unrivaled in these roles, yet have terrible unions and remain largely unrecognized by the Academy.
Anyhoo, if you need a gangly, apish doofus for your story, I have one hanging around my novel's deleted scenes file all dejected-like. He has great timing and could use a few lines. But the kid does not stay in this picture.
*Click here for a great example from Silence of the Lambs. Apologies for the shitty quality.
|Posted on August 20, 2017 at 5:10 PM||comments (0)|
From Facebook post 11-12-16
It’s probably well known that most writers are a mess of self-doubt, unsure of themselves or their talents. I’m no different, certain I’m on the right track on Monday, but by Friday wondering if I shouldn’t just hop into an open boxcar and give up.
Wednesday morning I turned on the news and saw what I dreaded most. I felt like I’d swallowed an earthquake.
Facebook was full of posts that mirrored my feelings; some short, sweet, and funny and others angry, incredulous. My favorites combined gallows humor with insight, calling for unity while offering mutual respect. A friend insisted we should all speak out, put our emotions into words.
I had nothin’. I couldn’t hold a pen without fumbling. I shuffled around in circles trying to remember how to feed the cat. I’ve been speaking my mind since before the primaries. What good did it do? Now all my current projects seemed trivial, foolish even.
I started writing a novel over a year and a half ago, influenced by the rash of bloodshed and brutality. I remember thinking that if I wanted to make an impact, I’d better get moving; soon all the senseless tragedy will end and my plot would be dated and silly.
Lately I’ve been researching everything from the Civil Rights Era to the lives of former skinheads, even going so far as to visit my protagonist’s hometown to explore lesser-known segregationist practices. I caught a screening of Two Trains Runnin’ as a sort of homework, taking lopsided notes in the dark. The film documents two groups of young men—neither aware the other existed—who traveled to Mississippi in 1964 in search of two country blues artists. One of the groups got involved with the Civil Rights Movement to register black voters. After capturing the attention of the KKK, they were arrested for speeding and murdered shortly after their release. None of the men convicted of the murders served more than six years. According to presiding judge William Cox, “‘They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved.’”
I don’t usually stay for Q&As, but this time I did. One man asked director Sam Pollard how he felt as a black man today. His question came out haltingly; it was unclear if he was baiting him or treading lightly, unsure of how to say what was really on his mind.
“I’m feeling a little disheartened. I’m not sure which way America’s going. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve seen a lot improve. But now that I have a daughter, a granddaughter...you can see history repeating itself. It brings it all home. You gotta be careful.”
I share his fears about the path we’re treading in this country. Racism and intolerance are escalating, and similarities to the violent behavior depicted in his film are startling. We’ve all seen the videos of past and recent riots played back to back, the mistreatment of minorities and subsequent protests bearing an eerie resemblance.
Sometime in the stupor of the last few days I was reminded of a Woody Guthrie quote: “‘There’s several ways of saying what’s on your mind. And in states and counties where it ain’t too healthy to talk too loud, speak your mind, or even vote like you want to, folks have found other ways of getting the word around. One of the mainest ways is by singing.‘”
No one needs to hear me try to carry a tune. All I have is writing. But the message is the same.
This week, truth was proven to be stranger than fiction. Maybe I’ll be able to conjure up the right words for my own when the aftershocks subside.
But the boxcar is staying empty.