Permission to Invent

Let’s  talk about the different forms of writing there are, which reminds me of a line in the movie, Bridges of Madison County.  Clint Eastwood said, “….Problem with being a journalist too long is, you stop giving yourself permission to invent.”  He continued, “They (National Geographic) like their wild life in focus, and without any personal comment.”  We know that writing is writing, but there is such a diversity in this field.  Can I begin with the journalists who either like the news, or are trapped and have been doing that so long, like Clint Eastwood’s character, they’ve lost their creative edge?  Then, there are the script people handling all those sitcoms.  We also have travel shows where descriptions of each locale are given, and they sneak their creativity in a sentence describing a town built into the side of a mountain.  For instance, “The whitewashed homes on this hillside sparkle and reflect not only the personality of its residents….”

Then, my favorite – the tons of history broadcasts, which in my old age has become extremely interesting.  I really don’t know where that came from, I hated history in school.  But, I love the narratives to do with World War II, and Eastern Europe.  The other day my husband laughed and said, “Why weren’t you a Historian.” If I had an inkling as a youngster, then maybe.  In any event these are the most complicated, I think.  He or she has to provide as much information as possible, and usually fit it all into a sixty minute time slot.  Who could do that?  With all the hours I’ve logged watching this stuff, I consider it quite difficult to figure out how to describe the Wannsee Conference or Germany’s taking of Poland in that amount of time.  Yes, I know the information is provided, but I’m pretty certain I would have one of two problems – I’d have too much information, and not be able to cut it down, or only have enough to provide one paragraph.

Next, those goofy World’s Dumbest shows.  I always wonder, do they watch all the way through and then, come up with their humorous descriptions?  But, as I think about it, I guess they’d have to, huh?  I know I said the history pen person’s job proved most difficult, but I think this category also ranks up there as challenging.  An inebriated driver is butchering the alphabet while swaying to and fro with his hands behind his back.  A script is devised to the effect – “This alphabet alchi is aching for apprehension.”  Or, “This swaying and smashed inebriate is headed for the slammer.” (Can I tell you how that hurt)? I would seriously believe, one would have to profess a comedic background to fill those shoes.  It’s gotten so bad, or should I say good in my house that whenever we go to the movies, or are watching a movie at home, while I’m engrossed on the screen, yelling at the characters, hubby is reminding me – PLOT.  While at the theatre, one can tell three rows back, this man is married to a writer, or maybe he is the author.

Moving on, everyone in my immediate peer group tells stories – developing pictures through words.  Yes, we have given ourselves permission to invent, to create –  characters, quirky or otherwise, places, weather, and it goes on and on.  I think developing tales in this way is so much fun, although it can be very frustrating at times.  I remember Nora Roberts mentioning at one of her workshops she enjoyed being at her computer making up stories, because she could control the environment.  Does that mean that all of us writers are controlling people?  I don’ t believe so, but it certainly gets the endorphins cranked, doesn’t it?  To work for one of these shows, yes, is a paycheck.  However, does the professional receive a sense of fulfillment when checking that bank statement, or just say to him/herself – “Well, it’s a paycheck,” wishing all the time they had never gotten in that end of the writing game?  For me, I’ll continue concocting stories, controlling my characters in my little make-believe town/city.  Because, although I and a lot of my peers are not published as of yet – like reaching the gates of Heaven – can’t you anticipate one day witnessing that marvelously colored book cover with your picture imprinted on the back. I do believe that is an unquestionable accomplishment.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Critique Groups

Critique groups are integral to writing, and some would say a faction such as this gives breath and life to ones work. I know I usually begin my posts with the title in mind, and somewhere along the way go into a left turn that leads me one hundred miles in another direction. But, this time it will be deliberate. For us old timers (I mean how long we’ve been writing or trying to write), we know a few things that happen at a critique session:

  1. Bringing your work before your peers to obtain feed back on what has been produced in the past month or since you last met;
  2. Brainstorming – bouncing ideas around for those who are stuck in a plot, scene, chapter beginning, ending, etc.;
  3. Reviewing your work for grammar, structure; and
  4. Motivation – spiritual and intellectual.

I joined New Jersey Romance Writers (NJRW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA) twelve years ago, just as I moved from Rockaway, New Jersey to East Brunswick. Then, through NJRW I became hooked up with a group of women calling themselves, “The Lusty Ladies,” who I must say left an indelible work ethic on my craft as well as my heart.

Once a month the six of us would meet, right after work for me, at a members’ home where we’d begin the evening with pizza, and someone always managed to bring desert. Back then, only one of the six held bragging rights to being published.  Then, maybe a year before I moved here to Virginia (give or take), we took in another member who had stories published in True Confessions Magazine. Everyone usually read something at every meeting.  We would share stories, our written fiction works, as well as an account of our day-to-day lives since we were together last.  And, if anyone knows anything about writing, they are aware a writer’s story is their baby; they’ve sweated, cried, and agonized over its formation – so the person with whom the tale is shared becomes a confidant – almost as intimate as the doctor delivering a son or daughter, theoretically that is.

Growing up in the city, I think helps some of us develop a thick skin; some of us…maybe. I must say for the newbie out there, you have to bite the nail and dive right in, because as one of my critique buddies said, “otherwise you’re writing in a vacuum.”  Okay, so if you go in “thin-skinned,” after a few months, your hide should be toughened enough for anything.  But, you cannot trade the hours spent learning in such a setting. Along the way, I got in my head to take some courses at a school for creative writing.  After I finished the classes, I wrote a piece for one of the trade newsletters comparing that experience with the local chapter. What I said in that article still holds true today. Everything taught in those courses, I already knew. Why? Because of all the information picked up from the work shops, meetings, my special bond with my critique buddies, and those many critique sessions. I am in the process of looking for another group, I’ve had two since I’ve lived in Virginia. But, I have to say, and I must be candid here, I have this fear that I’ve been spoiled for life.  I don’t think I will ever; can ever find another party of women who can equal the professionalism and camaraderie found with “The Lusty Ladies.” Thanks guys, and I just want to say how much I miss our little meetings.

Permission to Invent

Today, I’d like to talk about the different forms of writing, which reminds me of a line in the movie, Bridges of Madison County.  Clint Eastwood said, “….Problem with being a journalist too long is, you stop giving yourself permission to invent.”  He continued, “They (National Geographic) like their wild life in focus, and without any personal comment.”  We know that writing is writing, but there is such a diversity in this field.  Can I begin with the journalists who either like the news or are trapped, and have been doing that for so long, like Clint Eastwood’s character, they’ve lost their creative edge?  Then, there are the script people handling all those sitcoms.  We also have travel shows where descriptions of each locale are given, and their creativity is sneaked into a sentence describing a town built into the side of a mountain.  For instance, “The whitewashed homes on this hillside sparkle and reflect not only the personality of its residents….”

Then, my favorite – the tons of history broadcasts, which in my old age has become extremely interesting.  I really don’t know where that came from, I hated history in school.  But, I love the narratives to do with World War II, and Eastern Europe.  The other day my husband laughed and said, “Why weren’t you a Historian.” Who knew.  In any event these are the most complicated, I think.  He or she has to provide as much information as possible, and usually fit it all into a sixty minute time slot.  Who could do that?  With all the hours I’ve logged watching this stuff, I consider it quite difficult to figure out how to describe the Wannsee Conference or Germany’s taking of Poland in that amount of time.  Yes, I know the information is provided, but I’m pretty certain I would have one of two problems – I’d have too much information, and not be able to cut it down or only be able to come up with one paragraph.

Next, those goofy World’s Dumbest Driver’s videos.  I always wonder, do they watch all the way through and then, come up with their humorous descriptions?  But, as I think about it, I guess they’d have to, huh?  I know I said the history pen person’s job proved most difficult, but I think this category also ranks up there as challenging.  An inebriated driver is butchering the alphabet while swaying to and fro with his hands behind his back.  A script is devised to the effect – “This alphabet alchi is aching for apprehension.”  Or, “This swaying and smashed inebriate is headed for the slammer.” (Woo, that hurt). I would seriously believe, one would profess a comedic background to fill those shoes.  It’s gotten so bad or should I say good in my house that whenever we go to the movies or are watching a movie on the television, while I’m engrossed on the screen, yelling at the characters, my husband is reminding me – PLOT.  And while at the theatre, one can tell three rows back, this man is married to a writer or maybe he is the author.

Moving on, everyone in my immediate peer group tells stories – developing pictures through words.  Yes, we have given ourselves permission to invent – create; characters, quirky or otherwise, places, weather, on and on.  I think developing tales in this way is so much fun, although it can be very frustrating at times.  I remember Nora Roberts mentioning at one of her workshops she enjoyed being at her computer making up stories, because she could control the environment.  Does that mean that all of us writers are controlling people?  I don’ t believe so, but it certainly gets the endorphins cranked, doesn’t it?  To work for one of these shows, yes, is a paycheck.  But, does the professional receive a sense of fulfillment when checking that bank statement or say to him/herself – “Well, it’s a paycheck,” wishing all the time they had never gotten into that end of the writing game?  For me, I’ll continue concocting stories, controlling my characters in my little make-believe town/city.  Because, although I and a lot of my peers are not published as of yet – like reaching the gates of Heaven – can’t you anticipate one day witnessing that marvelously colored book cover with your picture imprinted on the back. And that is an unquestionable accomplishment.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Black History Is American History

In 2008 I watched a documentary on Home Box Office entitled “We Are Together: The Children of Agape Choir.”  The show recognized the Agape Child Care Center in South Africa which takes in orphaned children.  My overwhelmed heart forced me to order the CD featuring the music of this children’s singing group.  Shortly thereafter, I made a trip to visit my aunt, who lives in South Central Virginia (2 hours away), and along the way I began to listen to this CD.  Maybe it’s just my writer’s mind/imagination, but I almost had to pull over – unable to drive as I became engulfed with a sense of presence.  There is an unmistakable atmosphere created by the sound of music from the continent belonging to my ancestors.  Or maybe it’s simply in my DNA; it could also be related to this Virginia, this new land, slavery, ships and this people, singing the tunes that kept their hearts connected to home.  It could be my African guardian angel – the one someone informed me of, many years ago.  But, I had to shake my head and blink a few times as I certainly knew I had witnessed those early relatives or a friend’s ancestral loved ones darting in and out of the underbrush to avoid being seized by the authorities.

I bring all of this up, as it is a time for remembering and recognizing a People – one who contributed much to this nation.  In 1976 our government expanded the then, “Negro History Week” to “Black History Month,” which is what we celebrate today.  Morgan Freeman made a comment about his take on the issue.  He said, “I don’t want a black history month.  Black history is American history.”  I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Freeman since my people gave to this country; first mandatorily, but then, as a choice of their own.  As much as I would love to know what part of the Motherland my folks heralded – it stands questionable, if I ever will.  How sad it is to be unable to trace ones family roots.  My grandmother, at one time, spoke a little of her grandmother.  She mentioned her remembrance of a story where she had been sold on a block in the Shockoe Slip section of Richmond, Virginia.  Unfortunately, that is all that I know.  I did however, join Ancestrydotcom for a brief time.  What did I find: 1) A census sheet with my grandmother, her siblings and parents all listed with their address, and 2) a possibility of some connection to a county in North Central North Carolina.

I have to say I envy anyone who can put a pin in a map and without hesitation, declare their relatives are from wherever.  And, since I’m not Vanessa Williams, Emmitt Smith or Blair Underwood, I can forget contacting anyone from “Who Do You Think You Are?” for assistance.  Moving on, a friend asked us how we could live in a state where the slave movement marched up its shores?  The simple answer to that question has to be, one cannot bypass a street on the short route, because it is painful, pretend it never happened or not want to learn or acknowledge that part of history.  That’s like saying I won’t watch Gone With The Wind, because the parts played by the black actors and actresses were stereotypical.  Doing that takes acknowledgement away from that actor or actress; the only parts available to them at the time.  Hattie McDaniels, who played Mammie in that movie, even commented, “Why should I complain about making $700.00 a week playing a maid?  If I didn’t, I’d be making $7.00 a week being one.”  One would have to applaud that achievement – celebrate their strength and desire.

In closing, as I did my research to write this piece, I had a difficult time deciding which direction to go, since there have been so many contributions made to this country by my brothers and sisters.  Did I want to pick my heroes and discuss them one by one or just write by the seat of my pants as usual. I guess you can tell my choice.  But, as a writer, I could not resist the chance to mention a few African-American authors and poets, past and present.  Therefore, in honor of this special month, these are my favorites; the ones who blazed the way, so to speak:

Phillis Wheatley – (1753 – 1784) – Poet

James Weldon Johnson – (1871 – 1938) – Author/Poet*

Langston Hughes – (1902 – 1967) – Poet/Author*

Nikki Giovanni – (1943 – ) Poet/Writer/Activist*

Maya Angelou – (1928 – ) Poet/Activist/Author/Actress*

Now, with no arrogance intended, I can only dream of a time – way in the future, if this world is still standing, some child will be asked to make a list of his/her favorite twenty-first century authors and my name will make their list.  Some dream, huh?

*My cast of characters (except Phillis Wheatley) have many more designations.  However, for space I have limited them to what is listed above.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

Children’s Books-No Picnic

Why would anyone want to write a children’s book when it’s the most difficult category in which to obtain a publishing, anything. Believe me, I know this first hand. But, what is moving deep within a person that pushes them on, regardless of the odds? Now, we’ve established that it’s difficult to stir a publisher’s curiosity. But, with a driving force the story lines continue to bubble, because of the love for this particular type. The affection for it makes developing the tale so easy to create. However, through it all, I’m left wondering what fashions the desire, since this genre is so opposite to any other. Maybe it’s a combination of a host of reasons beginning with the writer being a child in his/her own right; young at heart, so to speak. Or just that the end result will be a happy fable, all wrapped up with the fact the author loves children.

I think back to my childhood – I read everyday, every week. I would make my way to the school library once every three or four days, and load my arms with as many books as my little skinny arms could carry. Then, instead of socializing, I’d immediately crack one of those covers, and allow the author’s blood and tears to take me to the land created between those hard covers. I recall on many occasions even having difficulty lifting my head to walk. Could those writers have influenced me to want to develop my space in time – leaving me with a desire to recreate a loved childhood, lost to the years?

Maybe the writer enjoys recalling the time playing outside? As for me I never wanted to go in the house. I always wanted daylight, which meant I could stay out forever. Perhaps a special childhood friendship is the motive, and recreating that alliance on paper will hold those memories close to the heart. Because we know we grow up so fast, and when you reach a certain age, one realizes how fast the years have gone by – didn’t I have my twelfth birthday two years ago? Therefore, why not preserve those precious moments. Watching youngsters play; listening to their heartfelt laughter, and understanding how simple life is then – the way they roll around in the grass, jump rope or play hopscotch without being ridiculed. Does the writer still have these desires, admitting to themselves it really did end too soon, and they weren’t done being a child?

As for me I undoubtedly needed more time. I loved laying in the grass, climbing trees, and riding my bike. Which again states, for me, it may be about reconstructing a bygone era; a time when no worries abound, and summer spelled staying outside until the lightning bugs appeared. Then, chasing and catching them until a parent’s voice summoned. After all of this, I’m still wondering, and asking what drove the greats, George Washington Carver, C.S. Lewis, and Beatrix Potter – how can I possibly hope to be such a writer? Did they also have a longing to return to their childhood? What makes one want to contribute to the young mind? Is it an attempt to be part of a child’s development; bestowing the same morals as were instilled in us by our parents or a combination of the two? Too many questions, too few answers. All I know is that writing children’s books is so close to my heart, and extremely fulfilling. I pass these questions on like handing off the Olympic torch – if you have a love of writing children’s books, take a minute – tell me why, and maybe your answers will resolve some of my nagging questions.

Photos courtesy of iStockPhoto

Developing Characters

Be Attentive

One week or so ago, a writing buddy mentioned going to Panera Bread with her laptop to write.  Panera Bread is right up the street from my house, but this is something that has been so far from my thoughts it would have to be written in large bold letters, and waved in front of my face (that being a tweet).  I don’t know why.  Anyway, the instant I read the message, the switch flipped – I threw a hand to my forehead, and thought, man, am I a ditz or what?  I haven’t made it there yet, but it is definitely about to become a part of my routine, since I love being out and about, writing and people watching.  I want them so sick of me that in order to keep me away, they’ll have to stamp my card.  I recall reading how Ernest Hemingway frequented the local bars and restaurants in Florida to do nothing more than observe folk.  He also had a compulsion to incorporate things he noticed into his own made up characters.  I always try to remember this whenever I’m out anywhere, since this has always been one of my favorite pass times.

Probably since I lived in New Jersey for so long two other writers come to mind; Albert Einstein and Orson Welles.  Why do I bring up New Jersey when I mention these two greats?  Because in case you didn’t know, Einstein used to frequent the Nassau Inn, which sits right on Nassau Street in Princeton, since he taught at the college.  Secondly, Orson Welles lit a fire to his career with the infamous War Of The Worlds broadcast of a Martian invasion in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, which is a stones throw from Princeton.  As I worked in this college town three years for a Manhattan based firm, I had the chance to get up close with these two locales.  Having lunch one day at the Nassau Inn,  I sat across from the wooden booth bearing Einstein’s name (it is said he carved it there).  Although his works were philosophical, and not at all in the same genre as Welles or Hemingway, I still envisioned him taking in human behavior and writing on his note pad before he inscribed his name in the wood.  I don’t know how Welles picked Grover’s Mill as the scene for his ruse, but he did.  As a lover of the art of television, radio and the screen, he also had to have an inclination toward building personalities.  Let’s think about some methods of constructing a character:

  • Watching while out having dinner or at the local watering hole;
  • Eating lunch in the park – there are others there enjoying their meal as well;
  • An oddball you remember from your past may make a controversial bad guy;
  • Friends who have lost touch;
  • Family members/Friend’s family members;
  • Boyfriends/girlfriends from the past;
  • Growing LARGE ears and eavesdropping on nearby conversations as mannerisms are carried over into speech.

Those of us who have been around for some time know this, but are you newbies on your toes?  One day my husband and I were having breakfast at the Seville Diner on Route 18 in East Brunswick when a large family across the way caught my eye.  The father had three tea bags in his cup of water.  Now, that’s not something you notice everyday.  Of course, you know one of my people had to have that little oddity.  As writers, we are attentive creatures; sometimes though, it’s not inbreed, some of us have to learn the trait.  But, either way it is a critical part of creating riveting individuals in our work.  Tell me how you go about devising/developing a personality?

Listen

Don’t forget to click “LIKE” on my Facebook Fan Page at the top right of this page, and thank you.

Photos courtesy of iStockPhoto

Information provided by Nassau Inn & Wikipedia

A New Millennium

It took me the longest time to warm up to the social networking craze. Who remembers the old days when most of an author’s promotions, were done by their publisher?  I don’t know when all this happened, it took place so rapidly, but being more active in self-promotion is key to staying in the game these days. Along with self-publishing that has sprung forth, a person’s participation in advertising is crucial.  Then, out of nowhere entered Facebook and Twitter. I recall watching hosts of television shows, and listening to radio announcers close with: Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.  I also recall talking to myself about all the meetings and workshops I know I missed on the subjects. But, my response to all of it remained the same, “Well, I’m not gonna.” My uppermost desire two years ago simply involved acquiring a website. I wanted that more than anything else.

Then, suddenly, that door opened and I became catapulted, literally into cyberspace. At that time I still held true to my first instincts. I did not want private/personal information floating around the Internet. But, everywhere I turned, even though I heard my own complaints echoed from others, a force continued to pull me in.  So, here I am, two years down the road with a website, a Twitter, Facebook, and Facebook Fan Page account.  At the time I had no idea the kicking and screaming worked as a harness, so to speak-holding me back from all that I could be, as well as, limiting the exposure of my name to my immediate circle of family and friends.  If one desires a career in writing, a ton of  directions are already out there. The person hoping for this must jump on the road, and follow the signs – they are clearly posted. Now, some may ask what is it that I’m promoting on a Fan Page, since I am not yet published. I look at it this way, if I’m not out there, no one will ever know who I am. If I want a career in writing, I’ve got to hustle. Besides, when that “call” does come, I’ll already have been frolicking in the pool, which means my daily routine shouldn’t be upset that drastically. In addition, the cheering section will already be in place, don’t you think?

If someone wants to do this, it will take some time. I remember doing a little each day; adding one feature, and then another.  When I got that down, I moved on. This way, you don’t become overwhelmed, because it does engulf every aspect of your thoughts. Let me preface what I’m about to say with, I am not patting myself on the back at all – my computer skills are strictly limited to word processing, and that is all.  But, I have surprised even me. I set up my website, Twitter, and Facebook account, all on my own. My Fan Page, however, did require some assistance.  But then, the other day, I surprised myself again by adding a  Fan Page “Like” button to my website. What I’m getting at is, if I can do this anyone can. Then, the other day, a sister writer sent a tweet about how she liked Twitter much more than Facebook. I said to myself – “self…I’ve been saying that since the beginning.”  I responded to her tweet, “Does that mean you’re less social if you like Twitter better?” Her answer, “No, you’re more social.” I must say, all of this has taken me, by complete surprise.

To sum up all I’ve been saying is, we have come, somehow into another new millennium, and if you “wanna be” anything, but are not yet involved in any of this social networking, then you’re standing on the outside peering through the window, watching the smoke. Don’t you think you should get on board, and strap in – otherwise you may get left behind choking and gagging on the space dust.