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Saturday, July 22, 2017

 

Cue the Heartstrings

In most movies and books, it's easy to tell when characters fall in love. Cue the wobbly knees and sweaty palms as two people embrace for their first kiss. Cue the birds singing in the background, the music, and the panoramic view of the New York City skyline, preferably with the Empire State Building windows lit in the shape of a heart.

There are many examples of extraordinary feats of strength and courage that prove someone has been struck by Cupid's arrow. These scenes are often powerful and beautiful. But there are times when it's just as effective to use a small, sweet gesture to melt the hearts of our leading characters.

Recently I watched The Way We Were. My new favorite scene is near the beginning of the movie when Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand were talking one night at an empty, outdoor bar/cafe. They don't know each other well, and the conversation isn't as smooth as it is later in the movie when they know each other more intimately. The dialogue stops and starts, and I already want them to like each other and want one of them to say something witty to make them fall in love with each other. But they don't. Not yet.

But here's what does happen: The camera cuts to Streisand's untied shoe. Redford is sitting on a table, or short wall (I can't remember exactly), but he sees the shoe and she sees that he sees the shoe and he pats the front of his thigh and tells her to put her foot there. And she does. And he ties it. When he's finished, he gently touches the top of the shoe with his hand for just a moment.

This scene captured everything they were feeling through a simple gesture that spoke volumes. She was vulnerable, he was caring. A kind act that shows a character's emotions in a way that isn't sexual can increase the heat factor to be explored later, while also building tension.

Here's two examples of how other movies effectively capture these small moments:

In Stranger than Fiction, IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) brought bakery owner Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) an assortment of flours (also a play on words). She, of course, immediately invites him to her place.

And finally, who wouldn't want Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) from the movie Say Anything... standing in their driveway holding a boom box playing In Your Eyes, by Peter Gabriel?

So take these cues from the movies to show your characters falling in love through a small gesture. And if you have a favorite example, please share it!


Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: No Fear of Flying

by Susanne Brent

Write what you know is often advised, but when it’s time to write sex scenes I’m unsure what I know is adequate. My insecurities and inferiorities feel exposed when writing sex scenes. I feel literally naked. My performance on the page always feels lacking and, unlike sex, there is no one to ask, “was that good for you?”

I once shared with a writing friend a chapter of my novel involving sex between my two main characters. Afterwards, my friend said I needed to read more books with sex scenes. Apparently, it wasn’t good for her. I felt as if she had gotten a glimpse into my own sex life and it was not page worthy. If in a critique someone says the dialogue is stilted, or the plot confusing, the comments might sting, but to have someone say my sex scenes were poorly written made me fear attempting to step into the bedroom, the shower, or the back seat of a car, wherever my characters might become intimate, ever again.

Still, I wanted my characters to be fully human. I could avoid having my characters do nothing more than kiss or hug, but then I wouldn’t be challenging myself. Besides, what if my characters wanted sex? That seemed unfair to them.

As my blunt friend suggested, I could search through books for well-written sex scenes, but I remembered I had taken a writing class several years ago specifically on that subject. I dug through my treasure trove of resources, and found a class handout taken from a book by Elizabeth Benedict titled The Joy of Writing Sex.

In her book, Benedict used examples from literature to explore ways to illuminate her premise that writing a sex scene is not writing a sex manual. A sex scene should enhance characterization, tell us about our characters “sensibilities, circumstances and inner lives. Sex needs a purpose in your story. It needs to reveal something about them.”

Your characters should want, and want intensely, and not just for simple release. Bad sex in real life. Bad. Bad sex for your characters. Good. In fact, disappointing and unfulfilling sex can enhance readers understanding of a character especially when it has evoked strong emotions within them.

By this time, we all know the mechanics of sex. What a writer needs to do is recognize sex is the most complex of human exchanges and we are rendered vulnerable in our desire to connect. Strip psychologically naked your characters.

Which might just make you afraid to write about sex. That’s a positive thing. Benedict said what you are most afraid to write about is where the writing energy will reside. And take your cues from your character, allow them to show you the way. That takes some of the pressure off.

Finally, and I liked this suggestion the best -- it’s okay if a writer is aroused by her own writing. Maybe there can be joy in writing sex, after all.

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Born in Chicago, I grew up reading the Chicago Sun Times that my dad brought home every night after work. The newspaper inspired me to become a journalist. I earned a journalism degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver and moved to Arizona to work on a weekly newspaper. I wrote on a freelance basis for a variety of publications including The Arizona Republic. I am hoping to complete my novel this year, and I write a blog. Find me at thatsnotmytable.wordpress.com
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, July 20, 2017

 

Reading to Write

What are you reading right now? What do you mean you don’t have time to read? Look, it isn’t me. It’s Stephen King, but he’s pretty clear on this – if you don’t have time to read, you simply do not have the time to write. He said so. And I have to suspect that the man might have a wee tiny clue.

But the truly shocking thing? The number of writers I know who don’t read or don’t read much. Their excuses vary as widely as the areas in which they write. They just don’t have time. They have families and day jobs. Or they don’t like much of what they’ve tried to read. It just isn’t any good. 

Honestly, I have to back Stephen up on this. You need to find time to do both. Don’t give me that look. I spend far too much time with teenage boys, the kings of scorn, masters of the scowl. You, my dear, are not intimidating. Maybe if you’d read you’d learn how to do it?

Because that is Stephen’s point. Read and you will develop the tools that you need to write. Here are just a few things that you can learn from reading.

Read your favorites, the books, essays, or poems, that made you want to write. Look for the things that you loved. When I was a kid, I was hooked by Marguerite Henry. I loved how she could take factual stories and spin them into compelling fiction. With this true-story vibe, her work has the ring of Truth.

Read things published in the last 2 years and you’re going to learn about the market today. This is important because it is vital to know what is out there now. Look at how it differs from what was published back when your inspiration took root. No way, no how would publishers have touched Maggie Stiefvater when I read YA. Stiefvater's YA has a raw edge. When I cut my teeth, S.E. Hinton was all the rage. Yes, I still love her stories but her books are very different from what publishers are buying today. You need to know about today.

Read, read and read some more. And as you read, pay attention to how the authors do various things. Stiefvater has created an anti-hero I adore. He’s edgy and a more than a bit mean. But he’s also frighteningly compelling.

I’m currently reading Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. He has spun a true story, 100% nonfiction, into something fast paced and compelling. He uses his timeline masterfully to pull you into the story. He plays with reality, giving you the facts as mainstream society originally saw them and then letting the reader in on what the Osage knew from the start.

Jane Yolen? I read her for a literary air, amazing vocabulary and masterful tellings.

Asia Citro? Her ability to teach science through fiction, combining fact and fantasy.

Lisa Wheeler? Fun word play.

April Pulley Sayre? Her use of rhythm.

Read to study what’s out there. Read to study good writing. Read so that you too can write. Seriously, just do it. It is well worth the time and effort and don't overlook audiobooks.  They can accompany you on a long commute, to the gym and even into the kitchen when you fix dinner.  Just find time to read.  Otherwise?  I'll have to go get Stephen.

--SueBE

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins August 14th. 

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

 

The Off-the-Grid Payoff

Staying at my parents’ house, which is now my house, led to quite the writing epiphany.

You see, I’m too cheap to pay for an Internet connection (and lots of other stuff that may not be apropos to this discussion) while I was there. So I was forced to make a few changes.

I checked my email on my phone, once in the morning and once in the evening, because I didn’t want to eat up my data. I kept to necessary business only (like writing, friends, and family). And found out that I have about two minutes of necessary business every day. What the heck?

I skipped all my social media because, as I may have mentioned, I was pinching pennies. And found out that any important news with friends and family and sometimes, even writing, ended up coming to me in a text. Yeah, apparently, I don’t really need social media.

And finally, even with all the cleaning and work I had to do at the house, I still found a couple of hours almost every day to write. A couple of hours! Daily!

Flash forward to back-at-home—with my always-available and magical Internet—and bam! The epiphany smacked me upside the head. Namely, that I waste an awful lot of time on the interwebs. I mean, it truly is awful the hours I can piddle away on cruising around social media, reading funny emails, and looking up stuff just because I can. (How old is Jane Fonda? Where is that Bigfoot museum in Georgia? What are those little green people in Guam called?) And all that writing time I found the month before? Gone with the wind-ernet.

If I’m being honest, I had an inkling that I wasted a lot of time out there on the Internet. Being off the grid for a couple of weeks just proved it in a pretty resounding way. But an epiphany—even one that smacks you upside the head—is only as good as the will to make changes.

So to keep from wasting time in my inbox, I still check my email on my phone, twice a day, to see if there’s any business I need to deal with immediately. Later in the day, I dump all those other emails, zip-zip-zip! Okay, I might read one funny email, but seriously, an exercise that I might’ve spent more than hour on has become a ten-minute routine.

As for social media, and I’m mostly talking about Facebook here, I’ve struggled a wee bit. It appears that I’m incapable of policing myself once I jump into those social waters. I have to have some kind of social life, after all, and as a writer I have an innate and highly developed sense of curiosity.

So, yeah. The best I’ve been able to do is limit the times I check in, which for now, is twice a day. Limiting the time I spend there is my goal; I don’t always achieve it, but hey. It’s a work-in-progress.

Speaking of which, my latest WIP is coming along nicely. I’m finding more and more time to work on writing as I spend less and less time on the Internet. And I challenge you to try going off-the-grid this summer, if only for a week or two. You might be stunned at how much you accomplish when you walk away from wi-fi!

(P.S. Jane’s 79. Seventy-nine! How is that possible? The Bigfoot museum is in Gilmer County and the next time I’m near Blue Ridge, you know I’m going there. And the little elves in Guam are called duende. You do not want to mess with them.)


Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer. She's weaning herself off the Internet but that doesn't mean you won't find her words, popping up here and there. You may even find her hanging out with Bigfoot (which looks a lot like her doxie, Libby).




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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

 

Interview with Winter 2017 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up, Danielle Dreger

Danielle Dreger is a librarian and writer in Seattle. Her flash fiction has appeared in Pinch Journal, Cleaver Magazine, The Dime Show Review, 200 cc’s and The Driftless Review. She’s a contributor to Preemie Babies 101 and her essays have appeared in The Creative Truth Journal and Mom.me. Her first YA novel, Secret Heart, was published in October 2016. When she’s not working or writing, Danielle is traveling with her husband and toddler. Follow her on Twitter @danielledregerb or at danielledreger.com. Check out her emotional winning entry, "Tourism for Broken Hearts," here.

interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Welcome, Danielle! Your bio says that by day you are a teen librarian, and I also noticed you have written an essay titled "What Librarians Wish Patrons Knew." Please share some of those tips with a fellow library lover--just in case I'm doing something wrong :-)

Danielle: I'm currently the Teen Services Coordinator for Sno-Isle Libraries in Marysville, WA. One of the best tips I have for library users is, if you don't see the book you want on the shelf (or in the catalog), ask the librarian to order it! Libraries rely on recommendations, especially when it comes to books by indie authors and small presses. If they don't have the funds to purchase it, they can always ask another library system to mail the book! Another tip: people forget that libraries offer more than free books and movies. Many libraries now have access to streaming services like Freegal or Hoopla for brand new music and TV shows, offer cutting edge programs like ukulele lessons or home brewing talks, and have online resources to help entrepreneurs start small businesses, teach travelers new languages, and provide free practice tests for SATs, ACTs, and professional exams.

WOW: I love it, and so true. Libraries are such great resources. Now on to your writing. By reading "Tourism for Broken Hearts" and the plots of some of your WIPs for children and teens, it's obvious music plays a huge role in your life. Who are some of the musicians you can't live without?

Danielle: My taste in music often changes with what I'm working on, but I've been a longtime fan of Tegan and Sara, Sleater-Kinney, and Arcade Fire. Often I'll hear a song on Pandora or Spotify that sends me down a musical rabbit hole and the next thing I know I'm singing along to a song by The Strokes or Lisa Loeb that I haven't heard in 10 years. And my household is currently obsessed with the Hamilton Soundtrack and the Hamilton Mixtape. I have a feeling the next YA novel I work on will be influenced my a musical theater soundtrack.

WOW: You released your YA novel "Secret Heart" in fall of last year and describe it as "A teenage Kissing Jessica Stein with a Dawson’s Creek vibe set to a soundtrack of Sleater-Kinney, Tegan and Sara, and Taylor Swift." What was the inspiration behind the novel?

Danielle: I had the first spark of an idea for Secret Heart at a Tegan and Sara show in September 2012. They'd just released their song "Closer" and it struck me. I was working on something else one night and Avery's voice came into my head and I wrote what later became a key scene set at a GSA meeting. Avery was so funny and raw and I found that once I started writing, I couldn't stop and I wrote the very first draft of Secret Heart during NaNoWriMo 2012. A lot of the music Avery listened to was music I was into either as a teenager or what I'd recently discovered.

WOW: When those characters pop into our heads it's hard to get rid of them, isn't it? As far as flash fiction, there is an impressive list of published short stories listed on your website. I encourage our readers to check out "Bulletproof Breasts" if they are in need of a smile. Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

Danielle: Flash fiction is my first love. Many of my stories take place abroad and are inspired by people or situations I've encountered while traveling. I spent a day in Zagreb about 4 years ago on my way from Split, Croatia to Libijana, Slovenia and went to the Museum of Broken Relationships. Seeing those artifacts of heartbreak stuck with me and a few years later "Tourism for Broken Hearts" was born. "Bulletproof Breasts" is a riff on the fake meet-cute story I share when strangers ask how I met my husband (we met online). Plus, I always wanted to foil a robbery! And of course I get a lot of inspiration for flash fiction from writing prompts and contests.

WOW: Your son was born a micro preemie and you are a contributor to the Preemie Babies 101 blog. How did this experience shape your views of motherhood?

Danielle: So many friends warned me that nothing would prepare me for motherhood, and there was definitely nothing that prepared me for a baby born at 27-weeks who spent hist first 6 1/2 months in a hospital. To be honest, I didn't even feel like a real mother at first. I was only allowed to hold him for a couple of hours a day. I'd be consulted, but hospital staff made all the decisions about how much he should eat and what he should be doing. I was sidelined those first few months and it wasn't until I finally brought him home (still on a feeding tube) that I felt like I was finally a mother. I think that after you experience something as traumatic as nearly losing your child, you look at everything differently. I thought I'd be more of a helicopter mom after his rough start, but I find that I'm much more easygoing than I expected. Maybe because he was isolated for so long I actively seek out new ways for him to experience the world. I want him to be fearless. He travels internationally with my husband and I does surprisingly well. And I love that I can contribute to Preemie Babies 101 and share my experiences with other preemie parents.

WOW: Thank you so much Danielle! I know our readers will enjoy learning more about what inspires your work. 

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Monday, July 17, 2017

 

Where is Your Writing Path Leading You?

Did you read Renee's awesome article yesterday? I did! It really got me to thinking about her article, about an article I wrote a while back about being content, and that led me to today's post as I ponder where my own writing path is going.

Personally, I had been known for my technical writing skills in my professional life. I wrote many technical training manuals, then that morphed into motivational materials in the work place, articles in trade magazines, etc... When I left my corporate job, I started blogging which turned into writing short stories, starting books, and working with authors.

I've never finished a book. I keep thinking I've been derailed. Have I fallen off the path? Has the road come to an end? Or am I right where I'm supposed to be? Maybe I'm not supposed to be the next great american novelist.

Have you published several books that sell well and are well received? Are you still working towards that one book that is going to put you at the top of the NYTimes Best Seller list? Are you writing for you or are you writing for others? Are you afraid of writing because of others?

What motivates you as a writer and where are you going? Will you know when you get there or like me, will you still feel there's more to come? This makes me think of some of the great artists who were never popular or wealthy while they were living. Maybe we will never know in our mortal life if we have "made it".

What do you think?

Share some of your thoughts and ideas here - you never know, something you say may have a profound and lasting meaning for someone else.

Hugs,
~Crystal




Crystal is a secretary and musician at her church, birth mother, babywearing cloth diapering mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 10, Andre 9, Breccan 3, Delphine 2, and baby Eudora due this fall), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

 

Maybe in Another (Writing) Life

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I’ve been reading a chick-lit novel called “Maybe in Another Life” this week by an author named Taylor Jenkins Reid. In a premise similar to the Gwyneth Paltrow film, “Sliding Doors,” the reader is treated to alternating chapters on what would have happened if the protagonist, twenty-nine-year-old Hannah, had accepted a ride with her first love after returning to her hometown. In one scenario, she leaves a party with him. In another, she leaves with her best friend. The two storylines that play out are vastly different.

I’m enjoying the novel—even if the main character seems to worry a little too much about her love life, in my opinion (she has been wandering aimlessly from city to city with no real career path, for starters), and it did get me thinking about my own writing life. Along the way there were so many paths I could have taken and they all would have taken me down very different roads.

For example, upon graduating from college:
I considered taking a job as a reporter at a small, conservative newspaper in a town where I knew no one. It would have been a completely fresh start at the time, and I could have gained valuable reporting experience, even if the pay was pretty minimal.

Instead, I went to work as a media assistant at an advertising agency in town, where I did a tiny amount of public relations writing (mostly, I bought TV and radio ads for clients). It was a job that didn’t pay a lot (I had to work a second job on weekends), but it did have great benefits. I did also meet the guy who would eventually become my husband there.

And then, in my mid-20s:
I was working at a medium-sized advertising agency in a different city, when I was laid off from my media buying job without about a 100 other co-workers. We all scattered throughout the city applying for the same marketing and advertising jobs. I was offered a job selling automobile ads at a newspaper, which I took. But after the first day, I was so miserable and worried that I would never write again that I didn’t return to work.

Instead, I ended up waiting tables at an Outback Steakhouse while applying for any writing/marketing job I could find. After about six months, I heard back from a small public relations agency who just happened to have an opening for a public relations specialist. I interviewed and took the job, along with a great salary and a five-minute commute to my house, and slowly started writing again. I wrote client copy, press releases, stories for a local university’s alumni newsletter, and much more. And a few years later after my daughter was born, I had the courage and experience necessary to break into freelancing.

Now I find myself in my early forties with three manuscripts in a drawer and the idea for an adult suspense/thriller brewing in my head. (Aaagh!) But I’m trying to tell myself that there is still time to be published. I control my path, and I can make things happen if I buckle down. I could be sitting at a corporate office somewhere writing and editing digital content (I actually do that for a few freelance clients), or I can take the time to dust off a few projects and outline a new one. Which path would make me the happiest?

I’m pretty sure I know.

How has the path to your writing life been? Has it taken you unexpected places, with twists and turns? Is there a path you’re considering that you haven’t ventured down yet? I’d love to hear about it.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is also obsessed with true crime. To be continued . . .

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