Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I Know it was Blue - Thoughts on Organizing Memories by Author Rosemary Lord

Rosemary Lord wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!
She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now, English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.


I Know It Was Blue

I was de-cluttering. Anything to delay writing the next part of my new book. Many writers have clean, tidy fridges for this very same reason…

I was going through an old box of scraps of paper that needed purging. “Cary Grant: 11 am, Tuesday,” I had long ago written on the back of an envelope. As you do.

Then I picked up a tariff from the Hotel Aguadulce in Almeria, Spain. “Yul Brynner – top floor, Charles Bronson, Raquel Welch –” scribbled on the top. A tattered Boarding Pass LA – New York. The name ‘Richard Dreyfuss’ was in pencil. A metro ticket from Paris with Charles Aznavour’s name on it. My souvenirs all told a story.

Goodness, I realized, my writing has taken me all over the place. What fun. In those days I earned my living writing for various magazines, interviewing movie stars (the real sort) and writing about people in the film industry, especially Old Hollywood. A receipt from the Palm Bay Beach Club in Miami was next. Columbia Pictures had flown me there to interview Muhammad Ali and also James “Jimmy” Stewart. Both were making movies in Florida. I had my portable Olivetti typewriter, a small tape-recorder and a passport. ‘Have typewriter – will travel’ was my theme.

I’d forgotten about this part of my life. I remember I was almost always broke, as we were paid peanuts for such interesting work. But you usually got fed. That was a priority. Otherwise I lived on a diet of spaghetti (very cheap) with grated parmesan cheese.

After a while, racing from one appointment to another, running for a train somewhere, the typewriter got left at home. I had created my own short hand in which to hand-write my pieces. I still have the typewriter and a large box of tapes of those interviews. I realize that one day I should attempt to de-clutter these, too. Big sigh. Not sure if I could ever part with them or the stack of well-thumbed notebooks filled with quotes and notes.

Today - I harrumph - journalists have the ease of minuscule, assorted recording devises that even type up the spoken word. But I would not swap my ‘journalistic clutter’ or the memories of those struggles, frustrations, fun, exciting and sometimes dangerous adventures, for anything.

But I digress: the scraps of paper that I should be clearing out. Focus, Rosemary!

You see, I have a habit of writing notes on the nearest things to hand. Paper napkins, paper tablecloths, the most obvious. Old receipts, used envelopes are a favorite, too.

Friends are used to seeing me with an array of paper scraps on my desk as I pull together some semblance of a story or article. (You should see my desk right now. Please, no! At least I have a desk these days.)

I do have a good selection of notebooks – even beautiful, leather-bound books – with pages of eventually published pieces and several yet-to-be published stories. Yet, when my ever-busy mind comes up with another great idea, or a solution to a scene I am writing, the notebooks are not usually close enough. So I dig in my pockets and bags for anything to write on. My challenge is to collect those scraps of literary pearls and to transfer them to the notebooks and ultimately onto my computer – where I can cut-and-paste to my hearts’ content. I am getting much better, but still not efficient enough for my own demands.

Dare I ask my fellow bloggers and readers if they have any similar organizational challenges? Any ‘helpful hints’ are welcome! Or must I remain drowning in a sea of scraps of paper?

I love a quote from the late Professor Randy Pausch’s wise little book, The Last Lecture. Knowing he had not long to live, he wanted to develop a good filing system, in alphabetical order. But his wife, Jai, felt this way too compulsive. He told her:

“Filing in alphabetical order is better than running around and saying, ‘I know it was blue and I know I was eating something when I had it.”

I confess I still spend a lot of my time muttering to myself, “I know it was blue and I was eating something….” Help!!



Wednesday, January 20, 2016

From Screen to Page, Part 3 by Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of Petals in the Wind.  

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no 'help wanted' ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.




FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3

 

Today we wrap up our discussion about the basic rules of screenplays that would benefit fiction writers. We’ve already covered the four story questions every writer must be able to answer (see post from September 9), and how your protagonist must undergo a transformation (see post from November 4. And now the final point:

 

ΓΌ  Use the three-act structure in novels

 

Most plays and films are written in three acts. It’s a time-proven method to follow when writing any long form fiction, including books, because it provides structure without limiting creativity.

 

In a novel, Act I begins with Once upon a time and ends around the first crisis, or inciting incident – the event that launches the story. Act II follows and is often divided into two scenes with a second crisis point in the middle. This mid-point crisis lifts up the middle of the story and raises the stakes. Act II ends around the final crisis point, the story’s climax. Act III resolves the climax and takes us to the story’s resolution and ideally, a satisfying ending.  

 

Here is a simple diagram illustrating the three act structure as it appears in novels:

  


            

The four segments represent the acts and scenes, divided by vertical lines denoting the three major crisis points, each higher than the previous one. The peaks and valleys track tension, and the horizontal line at the bottom represents the story synopsis.

 

As the diagram shows, if you write your novel with the three-act structure in mind, it creates a solid foundation, a floor on which to build your novel –the protagonist’s arc, the plot – and a firm base to plant your crisis points. The structure provides guidance in finding where the story needs to be cut and where it needs to be fleshed out. If you want to create well-defined crises, steadily increase the tension throughout, and avoid the dreaded ‘middle act slump’ that dooms so many tales, use the three-act diagram like a map to lay out your first draft or direct you through a revision.

 

One way to see if your novel fits into the three-act structure is to take a sheet of paper, fold it in half twice lengthwise and twice widthwise. Open it; you’ve created sixteen crease boxes on your paper. See if you can summarize your novel in the sixteen boxes. Ideally the first row would cover the beginning through the inciting incident, the second row would end at the mid-point crisis, the third row would end at the climax, and the fourth row would include the story’s resolution and end. You can see by this exercise that Act II, or the middle of your story should be approximately the same length as the beginning and the end combined. If one section is bloated and another is skimpy, it can indicate your pacing is out of balance. Maybe the beginning drags, or you rushed the ending, or the middle isn’t developed enough. The crease box exercise works like GPS to identify problems in your manuscript.


A related screenplay rule that is especially relevant to short form fiction writers is: Keep the story simple. Unlike novels, where you must have at least three crisis points, in short form fiction there are only two - the inciting incident that launches your story, followed by a steady build-up to the climax and resolution. Don’t overcrowd your flash fiction or short story with too much plot or sub-plot, too many extraneous characters or locations. Instead, add complexity with multifaceted characters, crisp dialogue that drips with subtext, and vivid bites of description. Very short pieces can consist of a single scene – think of a standout commercial on TV as a visual form of flash-fiction.

 

Here’s a bonus: If you have scraps of ideas floating around but nothing firm enough to write about yet, try planting the idea on the diagram above. Often, when you decide where the idea should fall in the story structure, you ground it enough to work out more details and launch a story concept.

 

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If you have found this series helpful, we Writers in Residence would like to hear from you. If you didn’t, let us know that as well.

 

 




Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Birth of a Book




Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mysteries, Barking Mad About Murder, and A Bird's Eye View of Murder.  Her latest mystery, Civility Rules, comes out this February. To find out more, visit her website at www.jacquelinevick.com. 





THE BIRTH OF A BOOK









I've never had the privilege of giving birth, so I can't speak from personal experience, but I think the event has been captured in enough books/movies/conversations that I don't feel unqualified to compare the novel-writing process with a that of a full-term pregnancy. Both are exercises only attempted by the delusional, and the mistakes made along the way range from comical to painful, but the results are original and, one way or another, extraordinary.

I will make the author in my example female because writing "his or her" and "he or she" over and over again is a pain in the side.



The Spark of Life 


BABY: The minute the couple finds out they are expecting a baby, joyful laughter follows them wherever they go, because they are telling anyone who will listen that they are having a child with the expectation that the good news will bring forth reactions of awe and wonder. In their excitement, they seem to forget that billions of people have accomplished this same goal.

BOOK: When the author comes up with a killer idea, her first instinct is to share the idea, though often with more reticence than the happy couple. The author might toss out the idea to a group of friends or a writer's group with the hope that her peers will be stunned into speechless envy. In her excitement, she forgets there is no such thing as a completely original idea and that her writer friends have probably have had similar ideas and tossed them out.

The Excitement Grows

BABY: Lacking sense, the happy couple will NOT keep their dreams for their child to themselves. For example, Uncle Sam, who once had hopes of becoming an All-Star baseball player until he tore his rotator cuff, won't appreciate hearing over and over how this little wonder will someday be a member of the Hall of Fame. Foolish comparisons are made. "He's going to be an athlete, just like his father," even though the only reason the patriarch of the family wears sweats is because they have an elastic waste band. Mom will pipe in that their little girl will surely be at the top of her class, because Mom is still proud of the passing score she received on her dissertation about the effects of cow flatulence on the ozone. Then, to ensure their child receives a good head start, they will immediately apply at an elite preschool.

BOOK: The author, still under the delusion that her idea is original, witty, and worth millions, will start preparing her acceptance speech for the Academy, because, naturally, producers will fight to put her best-selling book on the screen. She has clear ideas of who should play her lead character. This taints her selection process of agents to whom she plans to submit her finished manuscript (which she hasn't started writing), causing her to narrow the field to representatives of New York Times best-sellers.

The Feedback 

BABY: They asked for it. After turning every conversation  back to the subject of their upcoming child, and even flashing pictures of the ultrasound at startled relatives, the couple is surprised when their listeners fight back. They begin to receive advice, and their every movement is monitored. Subject that were formerly considered private are now everyone's business, from gastrointestinal difficulties to their lovemaking habits.

BOOK: Everyone's a writer! After testing out ideas, plot points, and characters on strangers in the grocery store line, the author is surprised when her listeners fight back. Advice ranges from suggestions that she include graphic sex scenes to an insistence that she pepper the story with zombies, even though she's writing historical fiction.

The Hard Work


BABY: Morning sickness. Back pain. Strangers asking,  When are you due?  The mother's overwhelming desire to have this alien life form removed from her body.

BOOK: Writer's block. Grammar errors. Strangers asking, When does the book come out? And will there be a cheaper ebook available? The overwhelming desire to delete the entire  manuscript from the author's computer hard drive.

The Final Push


BABY: This baby is coming. After nine months, the mother finally reclaims her body, but the next 18 years are booked. I'll never do this again!

BOOK: The book is finished.  After nine months, the author types THE END. Now it's time to market the manuscript. Maybe I can get a job as a receptionist at the car dealership.





Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Change, Mack, P.D. James, Book Clubs, & Continuity


Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of six award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. For more information, visit her website or Amazon Author Page.



 
Adler “Mack” Jones thinks, A whole year has passed, and I didn’t even notice. Or see it go by? Or feel it go by? And who the heck is Mack, you ask? The protagonist in a book I just started (600 words written! (smile)) The whole idea for Mack, his friends, and this Mojave story came to me contemplating this blog, an email from Jacqueline Vick, and from Facebook posts by Paul D. Marks on TCM movies. I know, story ideas sometimes come via a convoluted path. But my point for mentioning is; what Mack is thinking, I’m also thinking this early January week of 2016.

My life so far, seems to be broken into chunks, often in ten-year or so groups, punctuated by change. Twenty-sixteen numerically marks the end/beginning of one of those periods—and like Mack, it’s hard to accept 2015 is over? The change has come, but I certainly wasn’t ready for it.

P.D. James advised to “Read widely and with discrimination.” Ha! Easier wanting to do versus actually doing. Give me a good mystery, and I’m set. At the beginning of my last 10 year swatch of time, we’d just recently moved to the high desert. Before that, in Puget Sound I’d been a member of a wonderful book club. And I sure missed it. Fortunately, in not too long of a time (end of 2005) we had a local book club up and going. It is through their wonderful selections I can follow P.D.’s advice. (If you know me, you know P.D. is my “rock star” author.) Here’s an old picture of some of the first members at one of our early initial potlucks at my house. As you might notice, after the book we read, food was an important aspect! We even called ourselves “Books and Cooks.” And how this fits in, besides enabling P.D.’s advice to read widely, is in relation to change and time flying by. (An aside note about time and change—the shelves in back of us are now covered with stuff accumulated over ten or so years! Jeez.)

Which brings me to the writing part of this meandering. Even though I write fiction, it is the “stuff of our lives” that forms, or at a minimum, colors and influences the tales we tell. And no matter what I might literarily imagine, what location I might want to visit in my writing, what intrigue I might want to weave—it’s everyday life, friendships, connections, happenings that take me there.

The personal nugget here—I’m powerless to stop change and time. And that is good—moves me forward! But for some other things, continuity is so important. For example, sharing reading adventures in a book club.

 And, the writing nugget here is; somehow, and I’m not really sure if you can make it happen, or precisely how—but opening our minds and emotions to the serendipitousness of change, while simultaneously holding on to the things in our lives that matter, is what brings richness and depth to our writing. Now, that’s a mouthful! But it’s what Mack is thinking about. What I’m writing about.

Indeed, even writing this post has turned me from, golly where did last year go and why haven’t I finished another novel—to looking forward to the start of a new wonderful year, full of change and continuity from last year—with endless possibilities for Mack!

Happy New Year!