Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Writing in My Head

I've been pretty busy in real life the past couple days, but I've also been working on a short story. This is something I wrote several years ago because it popped into my head while I was looking at a photo. It wasn't polished and it didn't have too much personality. I was busy with a different project and moved it to my Stories folder.

During some cleanup last week, I pulled it out and knew what needed to be done to make it sellable. So I worked on it a little bit every day, and when I read it over found it still had a couple rough spots.

I fixed one, but the other still bugged me. During all the busy time, this snippit kept playing over and over in my head like a broken record. Finally it came to me last night. I'm going to go back and reread it today and see if I still like it.

This is how writers are. We write even when we aren't writing at the computer. We think about writing while we're busy shopping or cooking or playing with the dogs.

As readers we do much the same thing, especially if we're truly engrossed in a book. I know some of you will read through day and night until you finish, but I've never done that. I like to savor the story and characters and keep them around for a while. So while I'm doing other things, I'll think about the book I'm reading and wonder if this or that will happen.

At least this is how it is with me. What about you?

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Muddled Middle

As writers, the middle of a fiction project - whether it's a short story or novel - is often our undoing.

Some writers bog down and trail off and wind up putting an unfinished manuscript in a file. Some plod through and work to fix the problems on subsequent drafts.

As readers, sometimes we put the book down and don't pick it up again, or we stop reading and go to the next story.

The middle of a story - long or short - is no place to take the middle road.

One way to avoid a muddled middle is to tap into characters and tie them tightly into plot. Plotwise, we're told to pile on the trouble. With each chapter, ask ourselves what else can go wrong. What more dirty deeds we can go wrong for our protagonist.

While you're asking these questions, don't forget about your character. If he has an unrational fear of snakes - think Indiana Jones - play that up. If she's afraid of her shadow, it's the time for her to become more paranoid about everything happening to her. Because of her fear and paranoia, she searches for ways to defend herself. And in doing so, causes more problems.

So heap on problems that fit your character so that plot and character become entwined.

It's one sure way to unmuddle your middle.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday's Top Ten

How to know if you could be a writer:

10. After you make a comment, people often look at you as if you'd sprouted a second head.

9. You make up a story about every eavesdropped conversation.

8. You give personalities to everyone waiting in line with you.

7. You mentally correct other people's grammar.

6. Typos really bug you.

5. You find yourself jotting down unique names.

4. You stare at strangers while thinking how you'd describe their faces.

3. People have to repeat their questions to you because you're lost in thought.

2. You read two or more books at the same time.

And the number one reason you might be a writer:

1. Your purse and/or pockets are loaded with scraps of paper filled with notes, most of which are unintelligible by the time you find them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blogs, Dogs, and Headaches

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . this would be last December before our move . . . I read at least a jillion blogs every day. I followed every link. Or so it seemed. This in addition to checking for updated news every five minutes. I kept wondering where my time went.

While we were in transit, with no computer, I read zero. And I discovered the news channels make a 30-minute cycle. I suffered withdrawal. I was forced to rejoin the human race full-time. Horrors!

I love life, and I discovered real life is more fun than I remembered. I'm glad I'm here.

Now I'm more selective at the computer. I'm not letting myself get sucked into that time-wasting hole again.

Why am I telling this to you blog readers when I want you to come here to see what I have to say? Isn't it counter-productive? I hope not.

As writers, we want people to read our words. As readers, we want to know what writers have to say. That's kind of a catch-all, but each of us reads for different reasons and only you know why you read what you do.

So I'm asking you to think about what you do every day and keep a balance. Read those blogs - mine included, please! Just don't live by them. If an entry doesn't catch your eye, skip to the next one. I still check all those blogs, but I don't read every word of each one every day. (What a sentence!)

If you're a news junkie like I am, remember if the news is important enough, you'll receive an alert. You news junkies know who you are. You receive alerts from more than one source.

You'll feel strange and almost as if you're skipping school for a few days. Trust me . . . it's worth it.

What does this have to do with dogs? Nothing - the words rhyme. Yesterday was their bath day. Wrangler goes to the groomer, with all that long hair. And it's shedding season. I'm not fond of clogged drains. Shiner is still bathable. Now both of them smell and feel good. That won't last but another day or two. So I'm enjoying it while it lasts. Those few days once a month are nice.

And headaches? This morning I awoke with a sinus headache. No doubt caused by the changing pressure of the fronts that keep passing through here. It's spring, after all. But after a couple of Sudafed and some caffeine, the balloon is slowing losing air. By lunch time I'll be good as new.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Learned Something New Today

I learn new stuff all the time, but today I learned something new about the way Blogger operates.

Today's REAL post is down beneath the picture of Wrangler and Shiner. I actually wrote it on Friday before I posted the photo because that's when it all went on. Then I saved it to post for today's writing entry.

I thought it would show up with today's date . . . but no. So please scroll down for "Observe and Recycle."

Thanks.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Furry Children

The dogs have alternated between being friends and enemies this week. And between friends and enemies, they've taken turns at seeing how far they can push me.

See . . . I caught them smack in the middle of a planning session on how to make me nutzo.

Happy Friday!

Observe and Recycle

I was sitting here listening to what sounded like a million birds singing, the city's woodchipper gnawing up and spitting out what had been the neighbor's shrubbery, and Air Force training jets zooming by overhead one after another, when all of a sudden all the noise stopped.


Eerie.


One by one, the birds chirped solos before the full chorus joined in. And as they sang, I heard the jets again in the background - touch-and-go's, I guessed - taking off to the east after landing from the west. The shrubbery was mulch.


It's observations like this that find their way into my writing in some way. Sometimes, it might appear on the page/screen exactly as it occurred, but most times these observations reappear in a distorted form. It might be only the eerie feeling or the sudden silence. Or maybe it's a nosy pilot's wife who sees a something strange going into the woodchipper. Or maybe it's birds being sucked into the chipper by an unknown force - if I'm feeling like Stephen King or Dean Koontz.


The point is that the more you note your daily experiences, the more you have to draw from when you sit down to write. You can bend them, morph them into something you wouldn't recognize if you didn't know where it came from, or play with them in any number of ways - even have someone love the feeling you thought was scary as hell.

So pay attention. And recycle your experiences!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Great Art Hunt

Sorry, I'm back. Forgot the title!

= = = = = = = = = =

Did I party so much on St. Paddy's that I couldn't show up yesterday?

Nope.

Yesterday was The Great Art Hunt.

And I'm not talking about a great man named Art Hunt.

I'm talking about searching for a few great pieces of art. Hmmm . . . that sounds a little kinky to me even this early in the morning. Maybe instead, some art pieces for our new home. Yeah, that sounds a little better.

At the coast, our home was smaller and we didn't have enough space to hang or display what pieces we have. Before you get the wrong idea, we don't have anything expensive so don't plan to come burgle us. We have an artistic family, and we've traveled some and picked up things here and there.

Here in San Antonio, we have wonderful space. Some of what we have is out, and more will be, I'm sure. But we have a few spaces that need something we don't have. Hence the art hunt.

Our search produced one find. Yes!

You wonder why I'm so excited? It's because my live-in handyman and I have different tastes in a lot of things, art being one of them. So when we find something we can both agree on, it's wonderful. Usually it's something that wouldn't be either of our first choices but something we can each live with. Don't ask me if that sentence is grammatically correct . . . I'm on my first cup of caffeine - I'm not sure, but I'm not changing it.

Yesterday's find, however, is something both of us would rank at or near the top of the list. And it was cheap, too. How can you beat that! Don't even answer, "With a stick." Hush. I told you I'm not awake yet.

And to wrap this up, today's lesson is this:

Compromise is a great and wonderful thing. It works in all parts of life, from getting along in school to marriage to national and world affairs. Agree when you can, don't always have to be right, be choosy about the battles you choose to fight.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

You might think that with the last name of Kilgore that I'm Irish through and through. But you'd think wrong. I share that name with my live-in handyman - a wonderful person who in a former life must have kissed the Blarney Stone and enjoyed it so much he gave up looking for the leprechaun's hidden pot of gold.

Since you know I'm not Irish, except for one long-dead ancestor named Quinn, I guess I can share with you that for the most part my ancestry is English and German. Or German and English. Oh, and toss in another long-dead ancestor from France. And there you have it. A true American Mongrel.

But since today everyone is Honorary Irish, I'll leave you with an Irish blessing or toast or whatever. Goes great with green beer!

May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Finishing School

Today I'm going to talk about finishing a project.

First off, I'm not talking about those writers who write multiple projects at a time and always have the stovetop and oven filled with stories/articles in progress. And you sell these. I can handle two or three writing projects at a time, but some of you might have a dozen or more going at once, which would send me screaming into the night. But more power to you.

No, I'm talking about those writers who have boxes filled with half-completed manuscripts, two paragraphs of a hundred short stories, notes for magazine articles. And those writers who rewrite the same story for years and never move on to anything else because "it's not finished yet."

I'm not a psychologist, but there's most likely an underlying cause for this type of behavior. Whether it's fear of failure or success, or maybe a souped-up desire for perfection, or something else, I don't know. And it's probably different for everyone. But to have any chance of success in publishing, you must have a product to sell. You don't have a product if your work is left undone.
So how can you finish it? I don't have a magic answer for you. This is one problem I don't have. In fact, the closer I get to the end, the harder I work to complete it. I can't stand to leave anything unfinished. Maybe we should do lunch!

Deep down, I believe the answer lies within yourself. You need to want to finish it, and that need should be at the top of your priority list. But if you can't get to this point, I have some suggestions that may help you to trick yourself into at least getting a little further along. I missed the nurturing gene, so bear with me.

Forget trying to be perfect. None of us are. Not even you. Ask your spouse. Or your cat. Or any editor. When you find yourself nitpicking on the 40th pass, YOU ARE DONE.

You have a premise? A character? Nothing else? Page after page of these in that box? Grab two or three of those. Put them together. See what happens. Maybe you get a page instead of two paragraphs. Tomorrow, pick up two or three more. See what happens. After a week, see if you have something resembling a story. Or at least a good beginning to one.

Doing the research and interviews is fun? Putting it together is a bore? Grow up. Life isn't always fun. If you want others to read about all the fun stuff you found out, you need to make it into an article. No one will come knocking on your door asking what you learned today. If you want to share, put in your I-Pod earbuds and pretend you're seeing the information for the first time. Spend a few hours in Boreville writing the best article you can.

For half-finished manuscripts, start from the beginning and read. Keep a notepad handy. Fill it up. By the time you get to the stopping point, you should have a gazillion ideas about how to proceed. If it was worth keeping, it's worth working on. If you finish it, you can edit it. If you reach the stopping point and you're ready to gag and your notepad is empty, toss it with the trash. If you keep it work on it. If you're not going to work on it, throw it away because it's taking up space and nothing else.

I guess the bottom line is: Get tough with yourself.

You're a grown up. You can handle it.

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Today's Bonus (don't expect one every day):
Robert Gregory Browne writes about "Creating Characters that Jump Off the Page" here at The Kill Zone. All I can say is . . . what he said.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Name It and Claim It

A million thoughts are fluttering in and out of my mind this morning.

I love listening to mockingbirds sing, even when one wakes me up in the night.

Today I'm going to clean out the downstairs closet where I've stuffed everything I didn't know what to do with.

Will this economic mess ever improve?

I've enjoyed the rain all week, and we desperately need more, but I'm ready to see sunshine again.

Today I'm going to finish the chapter I'm working on.

I love our new home.

There must be a trick to winning the lottery.

C-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e!

Kids are so cute.

I still need to go to the library.

I wonder how many loads of laundry I'll have today?

Maybe I should try to focus.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Playtime at the Doggie Bar & Grill

As promised, a photo of Wrangler and Shiner playing. I took about a dozen, but they move so fast I was lucky to get one with both of them in focus.




The photo is a teaser.


But it leads me to the meat of today's post. Way back before the move, Mark Troy commented on one of my Monday writing posts about the importance of not always giving your characters the same traits you possess. In other words, writing outside your comfort zone. He expanded on this yesterday at Mysterious People.


How does the photo tie to Mark's article?


The dog's always prefer to play around my feet. With all those teeth showing, it's WAAAAY outside my comfort zone!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Doggies

Oops! Forgot the title.
______________________

Thanks for the welcome home.

Today's post will be short after yesterday's long one.

You know that old saying: Let sleeping dogs lie.

That's exactly what I'm doing now. Dog 1 - Wrangler - is asleep by my feet. Dog 2 - Shiner - is asleep in his crate. Ahhh!

I'll try to post updated photos later this week. Playtimes are a riot. I wish I could post sounds, too, but I seem not to have mastered the video function yet. When I do, I'll share.

Just like with kids . . . nap times are golden!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Tiki Hut Has Officially Moved

And its roots have begun to grow.

First, let me apologize for not posting for more than a month. Who knew I would fall off the writing wagon? Certainly not me. It takes only a few minutes to write a post here, and I never dreamed I wouldn't pick right up again after I got my computer hooked up at our new home.

But there were days I didn't even venture near my desk, much less think about anything to do with writing.

The move-in and unpacking took longer than I thought, but then most things take longer than I think they will. So that wasn't too much of a surprise. We still have a few boxes to unpack. And we still have many boxes of unwanted goodies that don't fit here to donate. But we've made good progress. The fun part now begins - the process of adding all the touches that will turn this new place into our real home. I can smell the paint fumes already!

Since today is Monday, this brings me around to the writing focus of the post.

With all now said and done, I think my little brain needed a recharge. I'm not kidding. I've been writing full-time for several years now. Every day, for the most part, I work on some aspect of writing, and I work at it for the full day. Writing is my day job, even though it would qualify me for welfare ten times over for the most part. Thanks to my live-in handyman, I have other support. And bennies!

But I digress. Basically, I've lived and breathed the writing world and soaked up news about the publishing business 8-10 hours a day for all these years. And written into stories all the weird little thoughts about events and people that crawled into my mind.

So when I was forced into cold-turkey withdrawal, I sorta shut down. Then one day I noticed something that sparked an idea. When the geeky guys came to hook up the TV and all the other stuff that goes with it, one of them popped in a DVD to check out the player. Another idea. Then I started getting cranky as hell because I still had boxes EVERYWHERE.

From then until now - about three weeks - I've been jotting notes around the house. Today is the first day I actually have writing time listed on my to-do list. Only an hour, but it's on the list. I feel better just knowing that.

So the focus here is this. If you get to a point in your writing where you're bogging down or feel overwhelmed, take a break. I didn't feel that way, but being totally out of the loop for a few weeks has re-charged batteries I didn't know were low on juice.

This came as a surprise for me. It might for you, too.

I have returned to the blogging world as well. However, while I won't promise a post every day just yet, I imagine I'll be posting 3-5 days a week at least. So if you don't see a new post every day, on those empty days close your eyes and imagine me covered with paint. Color of your choice.