Terrible Strange: Behind the Scenes

Hi everyone.

Today I’m going to take you behind the scenes of my first novel, tentatively titled Terrible Strange. I started this and completed a rough first draft when I was in grad school a couple of years ago. However, there was so much wrong with it that I decided to put it away for a while – it just wasn’t speaking to me, you know?

Anyway, it did start speaking to me a few months ago so I set about rewriting it. I’ve changed the POV, made the characters older, took them out of high school and put them in grad school, got rid of the clichéd “angry dad” character, and did a LOT more digging into my protagonist’s backstory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have also left behind “pantsing” in favor of plotting.

I’m not gonna lie – it’s been a struggle to make such a big change to my writing process, but whenever you combine pantsing with ADD all you get is a hot mess that kinda looks like a story. At least, that’s been my experience.

 

 

 

 

So, I checked out a bunch of different plotting books – there are so many good ones – and loved two books in particular: Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody and Story Genius, by Lisa Cron.

I was already familiar with Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat series from my screenwriting days, and Lisa Cron’s blueprint method of building a story that has both internal logic and a sense of urgency is brilliant. Plus, constantly asking yourself, and your characters, questions – as she recommends – really, really works. Who knew?

 

 

Anyway, despite my lack of productivity – God, how I wish I could regularly churn out 2,000 words a day like my OCD girl idols on YouTube – I have still managed to reach the midpoint in my novel. Yay!

How about you? Have you ever rewritten something from scratch because the story just wouldn’t let you go? No matter how hard you tried to leave it in the box of shame, or the folder of forgetfulness?

Please let me know in the Comment section.

Thanks for reading.

What the HELL is a Johari Window?

Hi everyone.

I recently discovered an amazing writing tool, courtesy of another writer. (Shout out to Kristen Lamb @authorkristenlamb.com).

It’s called the Johari Window.

It was created by two psychologists in 1955 – Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. They thought it would help people to better understand their relationship to themselves and others. Self-help groups and corporate team-building exercise leaders loved it.

Ugh, I know. Snoozefest.

However, if you stop reading right now just remember this – these two guys named their creation after themselves – JO for Joseph and HARI for Harringtion – which is kinda cute.

Still here?

Great, because if you don’t think, Wow, this would be a great tool for character development the first time you see a Johari Window, then I don’t know what I can do for you.

That first box – OPEN (sometimes called ARENA) – this is all the information that your character knows about him/her/their self and that everyone else knows, too. Like – he used to be a lap dancer, but then he became an EMT, and now he’s a convicted felon out on parole.

That second box – BLIND SPOT – contains stuff about your character that other people know, but that your character is currently ignorant of, or blind to.

Like – she feels worthless and ashamed because she can’t afford name brand clothes, but other people see her as creative and stylish.

The third box – HIDDEN (sometimes called FAÇADE) – is full of all the crap your character knows about themselves, but that they keep hidden from everybody else.

Like – they have a shoe fetish, only no one can tell because they have 40 pairs of the same style shoe.

 

 

 

 

The fourth box – UNKNOWN – is where all the stuff that no one in your story knows about yet.

Like – aliens have been keeping an eye on your character ever since they were born, because your character’s bio-dad is the leader of a great civilization on Alpha Centauri.

Once you use the Johari Window to map out your protagonist, you can continue to use it to structure your story. The way you do that is to design a story problem that will eventually help your protagonist finally see their blind spot and how it’s negatively affecting their life and other people’s lives too. And in the process of doing that, you want to shrink that UNKNOWN box by the story’s end with the goal of ending up with a more balanced, whole person who knows who they are, likes who they are, and knows where they’re going.

Have you ever seen the Johari Window before? And have you used it in your writing?

Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

How long should it take to write a novel?

Hi everyone.

If you’re at all like me, you alternate between “good” writing days (you know, where you actually get some writing done), and “bad” writing days (all those other days where you barely string two sentences together before deleting them anyway).

So I wondered what other writers’ creative flow looked like.

Here are a few of the most famous works of fiction along with how much time the authors spent writing them.

  1. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne.  Published in 2006, the movie based on it came out in 2008. Boyne finished the first draft in 2.5 days. 
  2. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Originally published in 1954. It took Tolkien 16 years to finish it.
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone in the U.K.), by J.K. Rowling. Published in the U.S. in 1998, it took Rowling 6 years to complete it.
  4. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. First book in the fantasy series, A Song of Fire and Ice. It was published in 1996 and it took Martin 5 years to write it.
  5. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley. Published on January 1, 1818, it took her a year to write it.
  6. IT, by Stephen King.  Published in 1986. King says it was first conceived of in 1978, but that he didn’t start writing it until 1981. It was finished in 1985.
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Published in 1960. It took Lee 2.5 years to complete it. 
  8. Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. Published in 2005. Meyer wrote it in 3 months.
  9. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Published in 1843. Dickens completed it in 6 weeks.
  10. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Published in 1886, Stevenson knocked this out in 6 days.        So there you go.

We now know it takes anywhere from 2 and a half days to 16 years to finish something worth reading.

I feel better already. Don’t you?

Does knowing how long it took some of your favorite authors to write their novels help, or hurt?

Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading!

Writer’s Journal vs. Writer’s Notebook

Hi Everyone.

Today I want to talk about a topic that came up online recently — what is the difference between a Writer’s Journal and a Writer’s Notebook?

It’s all just a bunch of  OCD writers once again obsessing about stuff that doesn’t matter, you say? Oh, you are so wrong.

Not only does this stuff matter, it matters A LOT.

At least to us writer types.

Let me explain.

Writers’ Journals are kind of like specialized diaries. This is where you put all the writing that should probably never see the light of day.

For instance:

  • If you do daily writing prompts — this is where you put your responses to those prompts. Five ways to describe a dung beetle!
  • If you spend the first ten minutes of every writing day writing I don’t know what to write today. Do that here.
  • If you’re thrashing around, trying to nail down a difficult scene that’s not quite ready to be introduced to  the rest of your manuscript, this is a good place to do your thrashing.
  • If you need to get the boring, every day stuff off your chest before you can be creative, then unload that crap here.
  • If you sometimes find yourself compulsively writing Zarry or BTS fan fiction, because … well, just because — then this is a safe space for it.

Writers’ Notebooks, on the other hand, are where you get to live as a writer.

Here’s what goes in your notebook:

  • Your thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, observations, bits of overheard conversation
  • Pick a place, like a coffee shop, and move around the room listing the things you hear, smell, taste, wonder about — you can use these bits to flesh out a setting or a scene later on
  • It’s where you collect random — or not so random — ideas
  • Bits of poetry or song lyrics you like
  • Topics and themes that are important to you, or that you find yourself coming back to over and over again
  • Character sketches of strangers
  • Bits of dialogue — even if you don’t know who will be saying this dialogue yet
  • Doodles or sketches of people or places that intrigue you for some reason
  • Quotes from books or authors that turn you on
  • Words that you just frigging like the sound of
  • Lists of things
  • Whatever else you feel like including — as long as it’s personal

Believe it or not, all of this stuff is valuable. These are the tiny bits of grit and sand your writer’s mind will use to create pearls.

So get yourself a couple of blank notebooks and make one your Journal and the other one your Notebook. Add something to each of them every day.

You’ll be glad you did!

Do you have a separate writer’s journal and writer’s notebook? Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading!

The Year of Living Dangerously, 2020

In 1978 Christopher J. Koch wrote an amazing novel about the 1965 failed coup attempt to oust Indonesian dictator “Bung” Sukarno. In the aftermath of that failure over 1,000,000 people were butchered. The book was called The Year of Living Dangerously and it was made into a movie in 1983.

 

 

 

 

 

Sukarno was president for 17 years and suppressed Indonesia’s parliamentary system in favor of an authoritarian “Guided Democracy.” Endowed with a “larger than life” personality, Sukarno’s personal and political excesses, and his infamous cabinet of 100 corrupt and cynical ministers, induced a continuous state of national crisis.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, welcome to my world.  There don’t have to be exact parallels between Sukarno’s rule and the current president’s rule for you to get the chills and the heebie jeebies.

Americans have always felt immune to the harsh realities of life in other, less fortunate, countries. You know, those places where sociopathic dictators  gleefully destroy their own countries for the sake of ego gratification and money?

This shit only happens in other countries, not America. Right?

However in the few minutes it took to stage that ridiculous “photo op” in front of St. John’s church America’s plight became all too clear —

      • there was the obviously timed escalation of a peaceful protest into a “violent” protest (which simultaneously diminished and demonized the BLM protesters who were seeking justice for George Floyd and everyone else victimized by racism);  
      • followed by a mask-less Trump’s meandering walk across the street (accompanied by his band of equally mask-less minions, because, well, The Boss doesn’t wear a mask! and because Fuck Science!);
      • ending with an already-disinterested Trump holding up a Bible for the camera.

 

 

 

Thoughts? Comments?

Thanks for reading.

 

It all depends on your point of view.

Hi everyone.

Today I want to talk about something I’ve been dealing with in my novel lately — POV, which stands for Point of View.

If you write you know all about the POV issue —

  • what are the different kinds of POV?
  • what are the Pros and Cons of each POV?
  • and how do I know which POV is best for me?

Here’s what we know so far. There are quite a few POVs — 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person limited, 3rd person omniscient, multiple, unreliable, omniscient, head-hopping, and probably others I haven’t even thought of.

I won’t go into the pros and cons of each POV in detail, except to say you can figure out what they might be based on the name of the POV.

For example, when you use 1st person in a story you’re limited to showing only those things your narrator can see. That’s a con. However, when you use 1st person the reader is right there with your character, in the story. Boom. Instant reader involvement. That’s a pro.

So how do you choose which POV to use? And what damn difference does it make?

I’m glad you asked.

Choosing a POV involves a lot more than reviewing the pros and cons and then picking one. It’s more subtle and personal than that. You have to do all that, sure, but then you need to figure out how your character wants to tell the story, and then decide how you feel about that. Does she want a little space, but is still glad you came along? Try 3rd person limited. Is he okay being the star, but he doesn’t necessarily want you to know every damned detail because secrets? Unreliable.

 

 

 

And then how do you, the writer, feel about all this? Do you think your 3rd person limited character has too much energy for that POV? Maybe let her loose in 1st person.

As for what difference does it make which POV you use — don’t forget everything in your story is conveyed to the reader through your POV. If the one you choose isn’t the right one for your story, you could end up with a confused or dissatisfied reader. 

And nobody wants one of those!

 

 

 

Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts on POV in the comments section.

 

Writers on Writing

Hi everyone.

I have recently collected some of my favorite quotes on writing from some people I admire. It’s always comforting to know that someone better than you has been “there” before — full of doubt, exhausted when the words don’t come, angry at one’s own clumsy ineptness — and  that they kept going anyway. Here’s a few of them.

“I don’t want just words. If that’s all you have for me, you’d better go.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” – Terry Pratchett

And … “The first draft of everything is shit.” — Ernest Hemingway

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” ― Octavia E. Butler

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain

“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” — Stephen King

And most important …

“Write what should not be forgotten.” — Isabel Allende

 

That’s it for today. Let me know what some of your favorite quotes about writing are in the Comment section.

Thanks for reading.

 

You’ve Got 3 Wishes …

Hi everyone.

I was looking for blog post ideas this morning and came across this …

If you could have three wishes to change the way things are now, what would they be?

This got me to thinking about all the things that are wrong with the world right now, and what I would do to fix it.

You might have different concerns, but here’s what I came up with …

Eliminate Racism

Eliminate Sexism

Eliminate Sexual Orientation Discrimination

 

That’s it. Eliminate these three harmful, divisive mindsets and you’ve wiped out a good 90% of the hatred, pain and humiliation that people currently inflict on their fellow human beings.

Of course we will still have religious fanaticism, nationalism, classism and plain old stupidity to spice things up, because we wouldn’t want the Earth to look like some half-assed Utopia now would we?

What would your three wishes be?

Let me know in the Comment section.

Thanks for reading.

Close Encounters of the Fangirl Kind

Being a fangirl is to live a life full of extremes.

To paraphrase Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities — it can be the best of times and the worst of times… depending on what’s currently going on in your celebrity’s life. (Ugh. PR relationships and fake baby rumors anyone?)

Today I want to talk about a different kind of celebrity fangirling … a higher level of fangirling that focuses on an appreciation of creators and their creations. (Huh. Sounds so lofty, don’t it?)

Yeah, today I want to talk about some of the authors I’ve met, or sort of met, or could have met if I had only said something… Sigh. So in no particular order, here goes …

Ray Bradbury.  He was scheduled to give a talk during some 48 hour movie marathon being held on a college campus in Camden, NJ — one of the worst, most crime-ridden cities in America — at night. There might have been 40-50 people in the audience that night, and he did answer questions, as I recall. Of course, I was too thrilled — and too intimidated — to say anything to him, but damnit, I COULD have, so I’m counting it.  Besides almost meeting Ray f*cking Bradbury that night, the one other thing I remember was when I asked some nice African American gentlemen for directions to the school, one of them said, “Girl, are you lost?”

Stephen King. In contrast to my Bradbury “encounter”, this is more of an unconfirmed sighting, if I’m being honest, but hear me out.   I was standing at a bus stop on Roosevelt Boulevard (aka US Route 1) one afternoon, waiting on a bus.  Now when you “wait on” a bus, you don’t just stand there staring straight ahead. You stand on the the very edge of the sidewalk, and stare up the road the bus is going to be coming down… so you can get the first, possible glimpse of the bus way before it actually reaches your stop.  So there I am, following bus-waiting protocol, when I spot this tiny foreign car (at least I think it was a foreign car, but hell, what did I know? I was taking the frigging bus!) barreling down Route 1 in the right-hand lane. Inside the car was this big guy all hunched over the steering wheel, looking all tense, but determined. (Driving on Roosevelt Blvd./Rt. 1 has that effect on people, believe me.) My first – and last – thought was “That’s Stephen King!” as he flew by me less than six feet away. Don’t fight me.

 

 

 

 

Clive Barker. I think I actually took the day off to go to a book signing of his. I even made my girlfriend, Mary, use her precious lunch hour to accompany me to this book signing of someone she didn’t even know. Thank God she did, because otherwise I would have been hauled off by his security guy for being a drooling idiot. Don’t ask me when this was, or what book I gave him to sign, or whether I actually said anything to him – I just remember standing there with my mouth open while Clive and Mary had a nice, little chat about fans, and his handwriting looking like a doctor’s, and who the hell knows what else? It’s all a big, embarrassing BLUR. And I am totally counting that as “meeting Clive Barker”, so there.

 

 

 

 

Laurel K. Hamilton. This was at a science fiction convention in St. Louis. I attended a panel she was on, and afterwards, ended up in the same restroom… at the same time. Not wanting to bother her (while simultaneously letting her know I recognized her, but was being cool about it), I nodded at her in the mirror above the sinks. And, yes I’m counting it.

 

 

 

 

Have you met any of your favorite authors? Were they triumphs of fangirling? Or tragedies like mine?

Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading.

 

When laziness strikes …

Hi everyone.

I apologize for not getting a blog post done yesterday – my entire life was derailed by a dentist appointment in the time of corona.

You know you’ve crossed over into the Twilight Zone when you, the dentist, and her assistant are all wearing face masks. The first thing that comes to mind: How are we going to do this? After some discussion, it was decided that I should be the one to remove her mask.

It was a bit confusing, but I think it all worked out in the end.

Anyway, since all I can think about right now is the story I’m writing, and how to get through Act 2 without losing my frigging mind, here are some writing memes to inspire you.

What’s my story about …??? TF if I know!

Hey, buddy — wanna die?

 

 

 

 

When the only fingers that showed up for writing today were your STUPID fingers.

The dreaded “morning after” …

 

 

 

 

Staring into space with both hands on the keyboard definitely qualifies as “thinking about my novel”.

So, I really should get back to work before I do any more damage.

Let me know some of your favorite writing memes in the Comment section!

Thanks for reading.