Jan 31, 2011

Deliberate Acts

Often I think the task of writing seems like it gets out of my hands and into my mind, even though it should really be in both places.  There is a basic lesson in the structure of a scene that goes like this:

SCENE: the actions on stage - the conflict.
The fundamental pattern of a scene is:
a. Statement of goal.
b. Introduction and development of conflict.
c. Failure of the character to reach their goal (a tactical disaster).

Yeah, I know, why does the character have to fail? Simple, because if they don't the story is at an end. And then King George slew the dragon and they all lived happily ever after the scene was over - at least it was over as far as the dragon was concerned, and he probably wasn't too enthused about getting written out of the story so early and neither was the reader who would think, ho, hum, why read anything by this writer again?

Instead, try this; The King and his family appear in a beautiful meadow to have a jolly good picnic and up pops a dragon. Well the King does not have his armor or his trusty war horse and when his daughter spies the cute little lizard and asks if she can keep it, what's a father to do? He can't exactly stick a fork in the scaly creature and call it done. And as far as the dragon is concerned, the Princess is a little short on the filling the belly criteria and there are all those pigs and goats inside the castle grounds. So the King loses out on an all-day picnic, but life is looking like a picnic for the dragon. Now what are they going to do? And the story rolls forward.

But what about after the action ends and the players leave the stage? How do we get to that next bit of action and drama? It's called sequel, and yeah it's how the story leads us to round 2 and it goes like this:

SEQUEL: actions in the mind of the point-of-view character.
The character has an emotional reaction, thinks out a new plan and sets a new goal - to be sought after in the next scene.

So the King decides that in order to keep peace in the family, they'll all go back to the castle and once the Princess is safely in bed, well, he did need a new pair of dragon skin boots...

Don't forget the dragon has a say so in how things turn out too. He's thinking about how those nice, fat, barnyard animals are probably in wooden cages and how cedar roasted pig would taste so delicious. Once the King and Princess are in bed, well, a little midnight snack might be just the thing.

Sounds like an interesting scene to look forward to when we turn the page, don't cha think?

Jan 30, 2011

State of the Poem

A Fleeting Glimpse
She walked in the distance
Through the river of people,
Floating on the current
With the poise of a swan.

I pursued just to see her,
All other thoughts evicted,
Forgotten in the moment
Of a fleeting glimpse.

Though the day was ordinary,
And the crowd oblivious,
Sun followed like a spot
Of calm within the storm.

The end of this rainbow
promised more than simple gold,
A lifetime's bounty
In a fleeting glimpse.

Into a coach she climbed,
Raising its worth by her presence,
A dream, no more than
A fleeting glimpse.

Jan 29, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies

The Tourist, starring Angelina Jolie as Elise and Johnny Depp as Frank, is an engaging mystery of mistaken identity.  Both of these headliners are well known and superb and this films proves they work well as a team.  The premise is that Elise's lover, who stole over a billion dollars from a mobster, then had his face altered with plasic surgery, wants to reunite but also wants to throw both the mobster and the taxing authorities off track.  So he asks her to randomly pick out someone with roughly the same body build as his and convince everyone that she is in love with the decoy.  Of course she picks Frank, a school teacher on vacation in Europe.  

The supporting cast is really good too.  Paul Bettany, the tax inspector, has been in several big movies, perhaps most notably as the self-flaggellating priest in The Da Vinci CodeTimothy Dalton, as chief inspector, perhaps best known as Bond in License to Kill.  And Steven Berkoff who will be in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Best of all, this is an intense thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and will surprise you at the end.

Jan 28, 2011

Friday Free for All

Free stuff first:
A rose by any other name may be an American Beauty, or a Double Delight, or...
Having problems coming up with names for your characters? Here are three name generators available on the web that you can use or just have fun making up names:
Humor:
A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.
He decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, he saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.
"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."
A few moments later, as he ascended into heaven, he saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they:, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.
"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"
"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."
Reading - Two Penny's for your thoughts:
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny has a great opening sentence:
Kneeling in the fragrant grass of the village green Clara Morrow carefully hid the Easter egg and thought about raising the dead, which she planned to do right after supper.
Mix this with a little Haunting of Hill House and you have an excellent mystery written by the 2010 winner of the Anthony for Best Novel.
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney also sets the tone in the opening sentence:
The last time I saw Laurent Jammet, he was in Scott's store with a dead wolf over his shoulder.
She won the 2006 Costa (Whitebread) Book of the Year for this first novel.  She does a good job of mixing history, the far north and native american culture around a murder mystery.  Good stuff.
Writing:
More for the writer's bookshelf; The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler.  If you've read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, this will be a very familiar approach to story telling.  If you haven't read Campbell's book yet, read Vogler's first.  He is a consultant to filmmakers and has 'fixed' several scripts that have gone on to be blockbusters.  His book has to do with story though, not medium. This is a must have for the bookshelf.

Jan 27, 2011

Thursday with a Good Book

Charles de Lint's (@cdelint on twitter) The Mystery of Grace is a self-contained look into the afterlife. Altagracia, or Grace, has a lot of tattoos, her hands are marked with years of motor oil and grease and she has fallen in love too late. There's a bit of difficulty in a relationship where only one of the people is alive.

This is one of my favorite authors - his style is unique and he holds your attention with his deft painting of lives here and now, touched by the magic that is all around us.

Read this book and you'll learn why the dead wait for All Hallow's Eve. You'll find that conundrums exist here as well as there, that hate and evil are terrible anchors and that friends last forever.

Jan 26, 2011

Blog Twit

So the more I do this, the more I realize I don't know how to do this.  I have been trying to get my blog to release posts based on a schedule, which apparently is up to my blog to decide, or so it seems.  I keep finding that blog posts I have created do not go out when I thought they did.  Lots of reasons for this; I write and save and schedule for posting, yet it seems I still have to push the button.

I also am a software developer so it tends to get more frustrating while I am tempted to write a program that will do what I want, the way I want.  Though that would take too much time.  I remember a project that I was invited to do by a hardware company that did not want to write the software because the budget was too small for them to consider, but the money sounded good to me.  The hardware salesman introduced me to the client and told them that they had bought a computer with no software on it and that after the machinery was delivered then I would start to write the program for them.  They told the client that software was not magic, it was something that had to be created and took time.  They asked the client if they understood and the client said yes.  On the day the computer was delivered, the client walked over to the machine as the console keyboard and monitor were unwrapped and asked "Where's that magic key I hit to get my report this afternoon?"

OK, I'm looking for that magic blogging key now.

Jan 25, 2011

Where am I

Updates on my writing projects:

Deliberate Acts: Is there any such thing as a human character who is all bad yet believable?  Don't real people do things for a reason - even a very warped reason?  If two guys in America during the world war two era were German without either the interest or the incentive to act for the Nazis yet did horrible crimes, does that preclude their being human?  What if they have fond memories of their childhood?  What if they have a half-sister that they would do anything to protect?

Lifeblood: Theogony - Mother Nature is not happy - of course how would you feel if your spouse locked up your children?  Need to find a good title for the next installment where tensions get greater and she decides to act to protect her children.  More of my poetic novel done to the rhythm of an online dark comic.

Keepers of the Dead: I think this has been floundering because I don't have the roles fleshed out for anything other than the heroines and their mentors/companions.  Don't really know the bad guy well enough (though I do know who he is), nor do I have a contagonist, a shapeshifter (as in the archtypical role - I do have shapeshifters, but I need to decide which is the one who has shifting loayalties), the trickster, the threshold guardians, etc.

Staying Alive:  Names for my cavemen - Og, Mog, and Plant?  These geniuses need to be believable as the merry band of batchelors who try to make good in spite of all odds (and yes they're odd themselves).  Actually I will probably write this three times before choosing the final draft.

Jan 24, 2011

Potholes in the Road to Story

How many ways can I get diverted off the route to a completed writing project? Let me count the ways:
  1. The book I am reading suddenly gets so engrossing I can't put it down - this is writing research, right?  If I could just figure out how this author does it, I could use that in my own book.  Somehow this research never ends till the end of the book.
  2. The dishes, laundry, fix-it list, etc. is staring me in the face and if I don't do something about them it will just get worse.
  3. Need to watch that show/movie - more research.
  4. Need to feed/pet the cats/dogs.
  5. Need to read that online article about a writing issue - more research.
  6. Gotta fix dinner/lunch/breakfast.
  7. Real research - read that article about the same subject as my book.
  8. Have to prep for that interview - it could lead to income that we sorely need.
  9. Get that book from the library written in the same genre that I'm writing - need this research, though is sure is a good book, can't put it down, what do you mean it's 2:00 in the morning, ah well who needs sleep?
It is so easy to run into the potholes along the road.  In order to miss them I need to keep my eyes on the road to completing my writing projects.

Jan 23, 2011

State of the Poem

Musing

The capricious muse
Flits in and out of
My unsuspecting
Mind suddenly when
Ways to record her
Barely heard whispers
Elude me like the
Wind blown art fleeing
From my thoughts into
Fog that lifts only
To reveal a blank
Space in memory

Oh to bind her with
Chains in my closet
So I can go to
Her and demand each
Line that echoes the
Perfect phrasing to
Deliver my art
To paper and tears
That will move my dear
Readers to feel the
Emotion and depth
Of my inner thoughts

But try as I might
She slips through my mind
Like a teasing fly
Always just out of
Sight with a flick
Of her wings and a
Buzz over my thoughts
Making me look for
Her vaporous words
Hoping they will hang
In the air behind
As she leaves me blind

Oh capricious muse
Come back to me here
Give me a taste of
Your sweet vapor's air
Hold my hand steady
While I write of your
Beauty and wisdom
Or at least of your
Fair and wondrous eyes
That see visions of
Tears and laughter and
Tell tales in my ears

Jan 22, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies

Temple Grandin

I watched the Oscars get presented last year.  I saw the big, emotional deal everyone made about Ms. Grandin and how she overcame autism and a movie had been made about her life and the wonderful performances of the actresses, etc.  I didn't think it was my cup of tea.  

Then we visited one of our local favorite used bookstores (Stevens Books) and while talking with one of the employees, we promised to get the movie and watch it.  We got it.  It sat on the shelf for months.  Finally we had watched everthing else there was to watch and had run out of options.  So we watched it.  Shame on us for having waited so long.

This movie is not about an autistic girl who fought her way to some form of normal functioning in our world, it is about what would be an amazing accomplishment for anyone, even if they had everything handed to them on a silver platter.  Temple Grandin owes a lot to the stubborn persistence of her mother and a lot to her own ability to concentrate on whatever she chooses to give her focus.  

I'll not give away the ending here.  You need to watch Temple Grandin for yourself.  You'll discover not only performances that obviously deserved the awards they received, but you'll find a story and a person you will be glad to get to know.

Jan 21, 2011

Friday Free for All

Free stuff:

from: All Freelance Writing
This was posted back in 2009, but the site is still operational, the info is interesting and they have a little list of giveaways including:
  • Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator
  • Freelance Project Hourly Rate Calculator
  • Word Count Tracker (Simple Version)
  • Word Count Tracker (Advanced Version)
  • Keyword Density Analyzer
  • One Page Marketing Plan Template
  • One Page Business Plan Template
  • How to Write an E-book in Just 14 Days -- Free E-book
Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Reading:

The King of Lies by John Hart - his first novel is gritty and concerns a disillusioned lawyer, his malcontent sister, his society wife, his emotionally scarred love of the woman he should have married and the discovery of the body of his missing father.  Gripping tale of a man coming of age in his 30's while trying to keep himself and his sister out of jail for the murder of their father.  (The link this time takes you to the author's own website, I've been using links that point to places you could buy the book, but I'm not associated with any of them and I don't want to make people think I'm sponsering any place in particular - you can go to the library, get it at your local independent bookseller, go to the mall and get it from the behemoth books-as-commodity store or order it online from your internet site of choice - oh, yeah, I promised not to rant).

Writing:

Another book; Writing for Story by Jon Franklin.  If you haven't read this book by a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, you're missing one of the good ones.  Franklin makes a good case for simple story structure and then gives you his prize winning stories to check out how it has been successfully done.  Read it, write your story, win your prize and remember us little guys.

Jan 20, 2011

Thursday With a Good Book

Joe R Lansdale's (@joelansdale on twitter) The Bottoms is a must read.  He puts right there in East Texas during the depression in an area that hardly noticed any difference.  The characters are believable, the time and place are believable and the events are scary believable.

The story is told from the viewpoint of an 80 something old man harkening back to when he was just a boy doing what boys do when they're growing up on a small farm in a small community.  He has a younger sister and his mother is considered the most beautiful woman in the county.  His father wears three hats; as a farmer, a man who runs a barbershop and the constable.  There are people from different races, there are people in the Klan, there are some just common sense folk and there is a mystery man that some folks think is just a myth.  Then there is a killer, some think he is the mystery man, some call him a travelin' man and the constable is suspicious that he's right there among them all.

This was a joy to read, keeping me on the edge of my seat and wishing for more when I finished.

Jan 19, 2011

Wednesday on the Web

I am learning more about using the web to communicate every day.  I participate in a private poetry forum (Dreamland), I'm writing this blog, I have twitter and facebook accounts, though I'm still trying to understand how to use them, and I have found some wonderful resources on the web that are interesting, helpful and easy to follow.

One I am getting a kick out of is The Poets Daily put out by Bradley Howington up in Indiana.  Now, I think I am supposed to format that preceeding sentence somehow to do a better job of giving him credit, but I haven't figured that out yet.  So I have old-fashioned HTML links to his daily and his twitter page.  Hope it helps him somehow, but in the meantime I am going to continue to read what he produces.

I've also found out I can follow some of my favorite writers like: @AndrewVachss (see I am trying to make this both twitter friendly and browser friendly), @neilhimself (Neil Gaiman), @joelansdale, @MargaretAtwood, @cdelint (Charles de Lint) and many more.

There is a problem though, there are only so many hours in the day and I have daily obligations that fall outside the realm of reading all there is to know about all that I want to know.  So I limit my hours online as I type away at my book projects.  But there are also books to read, new books, old books, absolute must reads and my favorite writers just keep producing more of them.  Guess I better get off the web so I can read some more. 

Jan 18, 2011

Novel Approach

When building a novel, I have found it is much more complicated than simply extending a short story form into an epic form (see Jon Franklin's Writing for Story a good book for writers).  When I write and simply let the words flow through my fingers to the keyboard, I ramble.  In order to create a cohesive story that runs through a full book-length narrative (and action), I find it easier to think of it like a painting. 

First, I have to know the landscape in the background.  Not that I write pages of description about the mountains or desert or beach or concrete or traffic, etc.  I want to know where and when the action takes place.  What else was happening in the world; what were the universally known political events, what was playing at the movies, what were the hit songs, what was the weather like?  If the story is placed in the future or an indeterminate time, this still has to be known, even if I make it up out of thin air (I have no idea if people can create anything from thick air).

Next, I want to know about the people.  Are any of the characters in the story real people?  These can be temptingly easy to use if there is a lot of biographical information available (watch out about putting words in their mouth they haven't said).  What about the fictional characters?  What do they look like, what are their habits and why do they have them?

Then I want to know about the plot, what is the dramatic situation, how does our hero deal with the journey the story is going to put them through?  What is the difference or twist in this story versus similar stories that are already out there and yes, they do exist - originality is found in how you write it differently.  If you disagree, read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, then go read Beowulf, or Gilgamesh and look at the parallels.

Now, that I can paint these elements, I want to know about the emotional tone, it should float up and down like a biorhythm.  I want to make sure I keep the suspense working.  I want to peak the reader's attention with a love interest, I want to...

Well what I really want to do is write a book that the reader can't put down, one that they want to tell everyone about.   

Jan 17, 2011

Words in Progress

Writing is a learning process, one that never ends.  As I finish the book I'm reading (The Bottoms by Joe R Lansdale - great book, I like the way he structured it, the way he makes the people sound like they're from the location and time set in the narrative, the effect of history on the story and our world, just go down to the bookstore and get your own copy to read), I am reminded about a lesson on pace in a story.  

If you want to slow things down in your story, add memories of your characters - when they look back to tell something to us, it provides a pause in the overall story.  To speed things up, drop the chatter.

When you listen to a storyteller, try to notice how they go round-about to stretch the story telling time.  They'll add flourishes and what may seem at first to be unnecessary events and embellishments.  But if they're good, at the end you won't be able to decide what really should have been left out of the story.

Like this scene from a short story I wrote titled "Lifeblood".

     On the street, partying was muted by the cold January air.  Still, as he turned off Rampart there was a crowd packed so tightly it spilled into the intersection.  A large boned black woman screamed into the face of a drunken white man. 
     Like everyone else, the tension held him there.
     "You lousy son-of-a-bitch, you better apologize 'fore I show the whole world how little you have, you freaking wimp!  You owe me and I'm going to get it!"
     "C'mon darling, now..." the man said as he took a hold of her shoulder.
     "Don't you 'darling' me!"  The woman slapped him hard enough to turn his head.  His eyes locked with the dark man in the cloud of smoke that looked like it was reflecting the lowest red light of the lamps.
     "You pay attention to me when I talk to you!"  The woman was hopping from foot to foot.  The man kept staring off to the side and she could not contain her indignation any longer; the second slap did not even jar him, but his cheek immediately flushed deep red with anger and his eyes took on the look of a crazy man.  He doubled his fist and swung at her head.  But he was not from the street like her.  She easily dodged his drunken swing and sent him sprawling with a right hook.  The crowd cheered and swayed in the direction of the fight.  A hole opened in the crush and the dark man threw his spent cigarette down as he squeezed through.

Everyone who reads "Lifeblood" and gets back to me about it remembers this scene. Was it unnecessary or did it control the pace without letting-up on the tension?  I like to think it did the latter, and created a threshold in the story where the main character was prevented from just running to the next point in the story.

Jan 16, 2011

State of the Poem

Phidippides

Phidippides loved his simple life;
To rise in the morning,
Look out to sea,
Go to the agora of Athena,
Argue Xenophanes' heresies,
Wait for a commission to do what he loved,
Run.

Running brought the ultimate freedom;
From the toil of farming
Left to others more sedentary,
The cares of family life
Left to a wife more stable,
To a feeling of knowing how to
Fly.

When he saw the Persian heralds
Thrown from the Acropolis;
He hurried to the home
Of the man he knew would need
The swift of foot, someone who
Could feel the hot breath of
War.

Two hundred fifty times
Phidippides counted one thousand;
Thirty six hours passed,
From morning to evening to morning again,
Artaphernes listened with patience,
But the moon was not full nor could Sparta
Help.

Another thirty six hours passed
As Phidippides ran the course back to Athens;
A night, a day and night again,
Two hundred fifty thousand paces,
One stride after another,
To tell Callimachus and Miltiades they were
Alone.

Riders came to tell of Eretria's fate,
And of the traitor Hippos;
Marathon was the landing place
Of Persia's mighty threat,
So Phidippides donned his hoplite armor
Marched with his Athenians to seek his
Fate.


Miltiades gave the order at dawn;
Persians one mile across the valley,
Run! The General said and pointed to the sea,
The enemy stared in disbelief
Arrows still in bundles
How could an army with no archers, no horse
Charge?

One hundred ninety two
Athenians died as heroes that day;
Thirty three times that many enemies lay
Upon their final bier, yet
More than that had reached their ships
To sail away from the most important Greek
Victory.

Persia sailed south, the same direction
The attic bay opened upon the walls of Athens.
Phidippides was the man to run with news and
Assurance to the first place called city.
Forty more times he counted one thousand
One word fell from his lips with his life:
Niki!

One hundred ninety two
Heros ride the wall of the Parthenon;
Hoplites elevated to the horse,
Paid for with their lives under a new concept,
A different word for defending the land
Because of pride and love for freedom:
Patriot.

But one statue stands at the gate in Athens,
One man's record stands alone yet today
Of the greatest race ever run; Athens to Sparta and back,
To Victory on the plain of Marathon and back again
To announce Niki, Victory is ours,
Phidippides.



In 546 BC, one man ran for 78 hours and fought in one of the most amazing battles in history, defeating Persian cavalry and archers. Little surprise his exhausted body gave way. The battle of Marathon is the pivotal point in history for the defining of Europe and western civilization, which was just beginning, thanks in large part to the ultimate sacrifice of one patriot.

Jan 15, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies

The King's Speech

When I first heard of this movie, based simply on the title, I thought; not interested.

Then I saw advertisements on TV for the movie and because I like Geoffry Rush and Helena Bonham Carter and I think Colin Firth is a decent actor, so we decided to go see it at the local art theater.

I was highly entertained.  Geoffry Rush is his inimitable self, an actor who can make anyone believable with no more than a mere glance, who in this film takes a no-nonsense approach to helping the man who would become king.  Helena Bonham Carter brought off grace, style and familiarity with wit as the prince's wife who will let nothing stand in the way of helping her husband.  And Colin Firth did an award winning type of performance as the stuttering prince who becomes king and leads his people through their hardest days, learning to pace himself and give speeches over the radio to reach out to his subjects throughout the world.

There is a priceless scene where Firth and Rush are arguing and Firth starts cussing - it's hilarious.

If you haven't seen this yet, go out and get tickets for the next showing of The King's Speech, you'll be happy you did.

Jan 14, 2011

Friday Free for All

OK - about the free stuff
from: http://momspotted.com/2011/01/affordable-scarves.html
This was originally posted on January 13th, but the giveaway goes through February 6th.  Affordable Scarves Giveaway. The rules are found after the fourth large scarf picture.  They look pretty neat, so good luck.  Please Note: This is only available in the United States (sorry).
Humor:

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."
Reading:

I'm reading The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale and it's good, really good.  He places you in the East Texas bottoms in the 1930's, has mysterious and outrageous characters, deals with persecution and discrimination and does it while using a cast not too dissimilar to the Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Now I'm not accusing him of plagiarism, nor am I saying his novel should have been put up for the Pulitzer.  It did win the Edgar for best first mystery novel and it certainly deserved the award.

Writing:

I did research about people who have been scapled and survived.  There is an excellent picture of such a person on the Internet and it looks like the fellow's head is wrinkled and sunburned, a lobster red sunburn with a distinct crown shape as though he'd put a solid barrier over his forehead to protect it from the sun but forgot he had nothing to protect the top - and it cooked, medium rare.  Also found in my research, did you know that other countries in the wester hemisphere sent their Japanese citizens to the United States during World War II so that we would put them in internment camps?  But not Mexico - they liked their Japanese citizens and after the war they did a significant amount of exports to Japan.  See, it pays to be nice to people.

Now I need to find a psychological reason criminals seem to be so dumb.
   

Jan 13, 2011

Thursday With a Good Book

Sometimes you find an author that sells well but just isn't your cup of tea, or so you think. That lasts until you pick up a title that seems to go against what you thought of as their defined realm. Maybe it's because the title is different, or the cover art is different, but something makes you read the the dust jacket material even though you're saying to yourself, "This is someone I don't read because I'm just not into what they write, why am I looking at this?" But the teaser is interesting enough to make you want to read the opening, and that makes you decide to buy the book.

Sandra Brown fits that description for me; I'm just not a fan of her romances or her thrillers usually, but she has managed to hit the best seller list with quite a few titles. So when I saw her novel, Rainwater, I was intrigued by the title and the cover art, which shows a 32 coupe trailing dust, driving up to a house in a very flat landscape. But the story is the best part. It starts off with "By any chance is your pocket watch for sale?" A question from a young woman who, with her husband, has stopped at an antique store. The man with the pocket watch won't sell it and there is a reason that it represents something special. The story he tells takes place during the depression in Texas.

This book is worthy of any reading list. If you'd like to look at Ms. Brown's website, you can find it at: http://www.sandrabrown.net

Jan 12, 2011

Here we go a Noveling

I think I finally figured out why New England writers are so prolific.  There's not much else to do when you're snowed-in.

Well, I'm not in New England (lot's of nice people, but it's so cold there I don't understand why they stay), but I do feel 'snowed-in', which I guess is better than just being snowed.  I grew up in Los Angeles where snow is something you see in the far distance on top of the moutains.  You like snow, no problem, drive up to Big Bear, play till your heart's content, then come back home to the nice, dry, smog filled, diesel fragrant air of the big city, fight your way through the traffic and rinse it all off at the beach.  OK, I remember why I left L.A., too many people, too little elbow room.

So a bit of catch-up on the writing projects:

Deliberate Acts - Act 1 outline completed - I've added several chapters that I have to flesh-out (love that phrase for writing, it reminds me that I have to make the people real)

Keepers of the Dead - this one is a trick and a half - I've always contended that men don't do women characters well and here I am working with four women in the forefront of the story - they're the heroines and I find it easy to get sucked into concentrating on the two characters descended from the Manx. 

Lifeblood - I've added a new chapter: Theogony.  If you're a poet or writer and want to read along about this, you need to get an account at Yuku and sign-up for membership at Dreamland.

Staying Alive - The cavemen are working out how to survive after the first big disaster flooded their little valley.

More to come...

Jan 11, 2011

Writing Trivia

In a short story I wrote a few years back, I placed a scene in the middle that takes place on a corner in New Orleans in the French Quarter.  It was intended as nothing more than a "try-again, fail" point in the story.  Yet that one scene is what everyone remembers about the story.  I thought of it as trivial, yet I always get the most comments on it's details, on the trivia that appears in the scene to cement it to reality.

Many writers stop the story with trivia, you've read them, a character enters the room at a run, but before they can take another step, the writer tells you everything about them right then and there like the story can be slowed in the lens of a stop-motion camera; the color of their hair and eyes and lips, the brand name of the jacket they're wearing, the size of their shoes, even the name of the cologne they've bathed-in.  Half a page or more later, the camera starts-up again and we're expected to remember the reason they ran into the room in the first place.

Yet trivia can be a writer's best friend.  Without knowing something about the scenery of the story it becomes a simple, lifeless, fable.  I want to know where in the world the story takes place and I want to know by hearing about the little things that make it all real and unique.  Likewise, I want to know enough about the characters to be able to visualize them in my mind, but not so much that I get bogged down in more than what I would notice in the course of action in real time.  Don't tell me that the teenager has three zits (only?) and exactly where they are if they don't move the story along. 

Like Shirley Jackson said, "Try to remember with description that you must never just let it lie there; nothing in your story should ever be static unless you have a very good reason indeed for keeping your reader still; the essence of the story is motion.  Do not let your chair be 'a straight chair, with no arm and a hard wooden seat.'  Let your heroine go over and take a firm hold of the back of a straight wooden chair, because at the moment, it is stronger than she."  (from "Notes to a Young Writer" in Come Along With Me)

Jan 10, 2011

Words in Progress

I like Walter Mosely books, especially those set in Los Angeles.  I grew up traversing the neighborhoods he uses as settings. Between the schools I attended and the truckyard where my grandfather worked, Mosely's characters spend their time wandering the streets and alleys I walked.  The familiarity of these settings and the time add to bringing the time, place and people to life.

Sometimes I wonder if that is the attraction to place my writing in the past.  It's familiar, and hopefully, somewhat familiar to my readers.  Deliberate Acts takes place in and just after World War II.  It involves the landscape of California, Arizona, Mexico and one exotic location: the island of Guam.  I like to include tidbits that may not be featured in your typical history book; like the outrage some people felt over U.S. citizens being rounded-up simply because their parents were from Japan and the enormous financial losses they suffered, not to mention the less tangibles, like dignity and respect.  Or the wonderful service to our country by dogs who aided in the war on both fronts, saving lives and running messages.

Perhaps when we read a story that includes everyday history, it helps us get that nostalgic feeling for the 'good-ole days'.

Jan 9, 2011

State of the Poem

Considering the snow storm that is affecting so many...

Winter of Discomfit

I hate Winter
With its sniffily cold
And feverish confinement
I ache for warmer,
Sunnier times
When life glows
And bones stop hurting.

I hate Winter
When every trip
Is in the cold
And visits
To the mailbox
Require warmer clothes
And Roller Derby skills.

I hate Winter
With no birds
To sit in
Bare trees,
Letting bleak light
Filter through
To dirty, dead ground.

I hate Winter
When illness visits
Its demands
And burdens
Like a relative
With no plans
To leave.

I hate Winter
With its interruption
Of my life,
my hopes,
The long dark nights,
And did I mention,
I hate Winter.

Jan 8, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies

We had a great time, the popcorn was perfect, Netflix through the computer to the TV worked just fine and the movie, Carolina, was cute and fun to watch.


Carolina (played by Julia Stiles) and her sisters, Georgia (Azura Skye) and Maine (Mika Boorem), are named after the States where they were born. Their father Ted (Randy Quaid) is a professinal drunk. Their grandmother (Shirley MacLaine), who raises them is a spitfire who follows no rules but her own. But she loves her family and defends their right to be who they want to be.

It's a good film from the beginning all the way to the end. And you can watch it in the comfort of your own home theater on Netflix (not a paid advertisement).

Jan 7, 2011

Friday Free for All

OK, get the free stuff out of the way first:
from: http://hunt4freebies.com/
This was originally posted on December 22, but they have now extended the dates through March 31. Get 2 FREE Nights at the Grand Sierra Resort Hotel in Reno Nevada  You can also call 1-800-501-2651 with offer code 2FTG if for some reason you have problems on their site.
Please Note: This is not available for Reno locals (sorry).
After I came up with this entry title, I realized that people would be thinking that I was giving something away for free besides just my words.  No guarantee that I'll be able to find a give away every week, but I'll give it a shot.

The other (original) meaning I had for this title was that I could just talk about anything at all.  Sometimes I'll base this on something I heard/read from a friend, and sometimes it'll just be me doing a brain dump.  I'll try to stay away from politics or religion (even the pseudo version, like pseudo-intellectuals who don't seem to have paid any attention to history when they were in school - oops, said I wasn't going to get on that slippery soap box). So here goes:

Humor:
There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed his desire to become a great writer.  When asked to define "great" he said, "I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level, stuff that will make them scream, cry, howl in pain and anger!"

He now works for Microsoft, writing error messages.

Reading:
Because in order to write, you must read.  I once attended a writer's conference and because I knew one of the writer's who was speaking and I happened to be wearing a suit, people mistakenly thought I was an editor (now if I could just get the editors to mistake me for a writer).  I was approached by a few folks with their manuscripts asking me to give them an opinion.  I tried to be polite about it, letting them know I was not someone who could grant them instant literary immortality.  One desperate soul thrust her untethered stack at me in anticipation that I would recognize her originality.  It only took a glance at the first page to notice the extreme similarity to a work by Frank Herbert.  I asked her if she had read the title her opening reminded me of and her response has stayed with me: "I don't have time to read, I'm a writer."

Writing:
So here I am, plugging away on my thriller: Deliberate Acts.  My bad guys are Bund wannabees, though they fit the profile of the pre-war group that represented the Nazi's in the U.S., meaning they're basically thugs who want to lord it over other people, my guys are basically too lazy to really get involved in politics.  Like most of the German 2nd generation citizens during WW II, they don't have German accents, so a simple adoption of English names does all it takes for them to slide under the paranoia radar of people who feared that anyone with a different sound or look were spies for our enemies.  These are guys who would rather go to the trouble of stealing from someone than put in an honest day's work.  But I need to research about people who survive being scalped.  There's a funny story about how my father's Bull Terrier did this to an intruder while he was trying to come in a window.

Jan 6, 2011

Thursday with a Good Book

I am a fan of Richard Stark, Donald E Westlake's pseudonym for the Parker novels.  Parker is a professional thief.  Backflash is just as good as the others I've read.  Action starts on page one with a car crash that Parker survives but his driver is 'clamped' in his seat by the dashboard and the door.  Parker knows that leaving him alive is a loose end, but he takes his word that he won't talk. He hears the guy was dead at the scene.  Then he gets a call on his home phone, the one number he never gives to anyone.  It's a guy who wants him to do a job.  A job that he was going to have the dead man do once he finished Parker's job.  Parker doesn't want anything to do with it.  But he has to find out who this guy is and why he had his number.  And the job turns out to be too good to ignore.

Jan 5, 2011

Keepers of the Dead

Well, yes there is something else I have on the fire too.  This is a horror novel. is about four women; two in 1889 and two in the present day.  It involves three cultures; the Manx, the Chumash, and the contemporary white world in each timeline.

Creating the backgrounds for each of these heroines, based on the cultures they come from and their individual journeys is a pretty complex task.  Hopefully, the plot will be as engaging as the writing project.

Jan 4, 2011

Deliberate Acts

I started this as a mainstream story about a man who grew-up in the Great Depression, had wonderful opportunities in Hollywood, joined the Navy for World War II, became a war dog handler in the Shore Patrol, came back to California after the war and ended up being a truck mechanic.  The story is told by his son, who knows more of his secrets than his father thinks he does.  But as many writers will tell you, sometimes the story seems to go off in its own directions.  So now it seems I'm writing a thriller.

There are bad guys, there are innocent victims, and there is a determined young man who wants to make sure the bad guys don't bother his or anyone else's family ever again.

Jan 3, 2011

Lifeblood: Where we've been so far

is divided into chapters and sections.  So far there are three sections:

~1~ In the Beginning: How Chaos threw off Time into the void but Time fought back against Chaos and caused the Universe to expand. Those who demonstrated that form could come from Chaos and Time were reviled, though the thing they made was like a magnet drawing the greed and desire of other beings, they were called demons for their efforts.

~2~ Primordia: Hunger drives everything in the Universe, babies, plants, animals, tyrants. But even with the destructive forces of nature, the makers strove to create a perfect world of balance and beauty.

~3~ Prôtogenoi: These are the first to call themselves gods, the first to create the ocean, the islands, the mountains and streams, the first to declare themselves masters of creation.

Jan 2, 2011

State of the Poem

OK, so I'm a published poet - even though the publication no longer exists.  So I guess I need to do something about that.  I have loads of poems, I just need to submit them and write more.  Here's one I wrote a long time ago:

Tin Man

The Tin Man searches through mists of time,
His joints ache from abuse of the long road,
His vision obscured by tears of passion.

Far ahead, his love waits a lonely shore,
Her heart suffocates in unending sand,
Her mind cries silently with deep longing.

No oil spared, even for meager relief,
No comfort to succor his loneliness,
Each step echoes with grief and aching pain.

Dark fell long ago this mystical night,
The path too, is but a ghost of memory,
Midnight comes, destiny riding the hour.

Like a mindless beast, he will not give up,
Hope provides a single shining beacon,
The armor of her love protects his heart.

The clock strikes twelve as his foot meets the shore,
With his caress, the sand flees from her soul.
Mark this, nothing stands in the way of love.

Dec 15, 1992

Jan 1, 2011

Happy New Year


I started a new novel during nanowrimo that I thought was going to be mainstream and it's turning out to be a thriller.  Deliberate Acts takes place in and just after World War II and involves a Navy War Dog Handler, the Japanese Internment Camps and Two German Spies who take advantage of the time and the unfortunate victims of public hysteria at that time.

I'm also working on a non-fiction book, whose working title is Staying Alive, about business continuity and disaster recovery.  Lots of companies have written a document titled "Disaster Planning" to put in place procedures to 'prevent' a disaster from occurring.  This is a good thing; pay attention to what you are doing and you will keep most small disasters from becoming big costly disasters.  But it does not address the real disaster, the one you cannot anticipate.  What do you do on the day after the disaster?  You want to be able to stay in business, serve your customers, take care of your employees and keep going.

And I'm working on a fantasy novel called - a fantasy about misunderstood artisans who shape life out of chaos and just want to be loved.

I'm afraid that I've already gotten off-schedule with due to the time it took to create my own
drop-caps as images. I have them now and the entries should have a consistent look both in the top of each entry and in the navigation buttons at the bottom. I am going to try a redirection script so that my 'latest' button will always take you to the last entry. I will also be playing around with the Copy function to see if I can get the poems posted everywhere they're supposed to be hiding.


-Ben Firetag