Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hiding or Working?

Hubby and I went to Icon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this weekend. We got there about 4:30 on Friday, and I looked over the program, looking for panels to enjoy. Unfortunately, the mood I was in, I didn't find very many activities that interested me. There was a concert Friday night, and as one of the co-chairs for our convention, I was supposed to be at the room party we were giving after the concert. Hubby usually goes with me, but with the party not starting until 11 PM, and him normally getting up between 4 and 5 AM to go to work, we knew he would be in no condition to do anything but go to bed. Actually, the concert ran long – almost 2 hours – and the party got postponed until Saturday night.

On Saturday, I attended a couple panels, and in between, I went back to our room, fired up the laptop and added to my current rough draft. I managed to add 1000 words to that story in one day. Good practice for November, I guess, except that I need to double that number of words.

Hubby thinks I was using the writing as an excuse to 'hide in our room'. That might have been part of it; I'm not a great people person, and knowing that I would be 'hostess' for that night's party room was wearing at my nerves. Writing takes me out of this world into a world where I control what happens. What could be more conducive to confidence?

So let's call it a mixture, both working and hiding. It kept me sane. And some days, that's quite a feat.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Give Me Inspiration!

Somebody, somewhere, started a tradition of "Write a Novel in a Month", and determined that November should be that month. I don't know all the rules ... maybe there aren't any rules, to speak of. But when I first heart of this concept, I thought of the 125,000 words that usually make up one of my rough drafts. I guess I assumed you were supposed to be writing a rough draft, because otherwise you are re-writing, and for me, that usually means tightening up and removing words, not adding them.

This past spring, I heard a writer friend read from one of his November projects at a local convention, and that prompted me to ask a few questions. His answers encouraged me to ask other friends about their participation in this annual event. I think someone said the goal was to write 50,000 words in a month, another might have said 25,000. One of those is less than 1,000 words per day, the other is closer to 2,000 words.

Now that I'm working a day job again, my writing time has gotten ... hard to find. Which is sad. Unlike so many authors I've talked to, I LIKE to write.

So I decided that this year, I would give November a try. I even sat down and figured out how many words I would have to write in a day to wind up with 50,000 of them by December. I didn't like that answer, so I counted weekend days and holidays as 2 days each, since I won't have to work on those days. That got me to a more believable number of words for a workday.

Hey, I wonder if that's why November was chosen, because it's got so many holidays in it, for Americans? There's Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, and the Day After Thanksgiving. I can't think of any other month that actually has 3 holidays in it.

I have a rough draft of a novel that I've been working on, so I can work on that. If I get that done – not likely, because I don't think I've even gotten 10,000 words written – I've got a rough draft for a short circling around in my mind. The ideas are there, I just can't seem to focus on getting them down on paper. I hope that 'inspiration' doesn't dry up once I try so hard to pound them out on the keyboard.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Two Choices

I received this in the mail this week. It's not my own work, but it's a good thing to remember whenever your characters need to make a choice. Even the simplest choice may have far more meaning than your character knows.
even the easiest thing becomes difficult when you do it reluctantly....

What would you do? make the choice.. Don't look for a punch line, there isn't one. Read it anyway. My question is: Would you have made the same choice?

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its Dedicated staff, he offered a question: 'When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?'

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. 'I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning.. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning..'

Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt.. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.

In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the Plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.

The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

The game would now be over.

The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first! Run to first!'

Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!' Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball . The smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third! Shay, run to third!'

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!' Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team

'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world'.

Shay didn't make it to another summer.. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!

AND NOW A LITTLE FOOT NOTE TO THIS STORY: We all send thousands of jokes through the e-mail without a second thought, but when it comes to sending messages about life choices, people hesitate. The crude, vulgar, and often obscene pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion about decency is too often suppressed in our schools and workplaces.

If you're thinking about forwarding this message, (please do) chances are that you're probably sorting out the people in your address book who aren't the 'appropriate' ones to receive this type of message Well, the person who sent you this believes that we all can make a difference. We all have thousands of opportunities every single day to help realize the 'natural order of things.'

So many seemingly trivial interactions between two people present us with a choice: Do we pass along a little spark of love and humanity or do we pass up those opportunities and leave the world a little bit colder in the process?

A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats it's least fortunate amongst them.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

All in a Dream

Authors frequently get asked where they get all their ideas from? Some people seem to think all they do is 'dream up' their stories. No, most authors go about creating their characters and plots very methodically. For the most part, dreams are too fragmented, too illogical to be of any use. But once in a while, I have a dream that... .

When I was a kid, there were two bouts of illness that produced fever-induced dreams. Both times, the dreams consisted of hearing people roller skating on the floor above, back and forth, and occasionally someone would knock over one of mom's favorite lamps, shattering it. Auditory hallucinations, I believe, because there was no floor above, nobody was roller skating, and none of mom's lamps got broke. That particular dream does not lend itself to being converted into a story.

However, a recent bout of flu that had me sleeping 12 or more hours a day while I fought through it left me with memories of several dreams that were ... interesting. Now, please understand that even these interesting dreams will not transfer, whole cloth, into good stories, but they might provide an idea, a spark, for a good story. A piece of a dream from decades ago provided the idea for the opening scene of a story I wrote way back then. It stayed the opening scene through some rewrites, but eventually, I faced the fact that it really did not fit the culture of the spaceship that was the setting, so the scene was changed beyond recognition. Possibly even yanked and replaced, it changed so much. Still, it provided the inspiration that started the story, which I might not have ever written, without that dream's scene to get me started.

In another sense of 'dream', I was notified a couple days ago, that I placed within the top 100 of my category in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Contest. So, several cartwheels later, it eventually dawned on me that this gives me something to put in my query letters, in that final paragraph that's supposed to tell the editor/agent something about me and my skills. Yes, it was 86th place in my category, but if that's good enough to be considered a win by Writer's Digest, then it's good enough for me! Now, if I can just get my computer up here on Cloud 9 with me so I can keep on writing...

Monday, October 3, 2011

In Sickness & In Health

Quick, in the last book you read, how many characters came down sick, and what length of time did the book cover? There are a lot of things that some authors just don't bother with when they are writing. Some never mention trips to the bathroom, or the clothes their characters wear, or the food they eat. If that works for them, for their stories, then that's okay, but sometimes I'm left wondering if a certain set of characters have any bodily functions, or have more than 1 outfit. Of course, I'd rather not have any author spend 6 pages going into great detail about each trip to the bathroom, or a description of today's outfit. I just like to know that I'm dealing with real people. People I can relate to.

People sometimes get sick. I'm not asking for anything life-threatening ... that would be too depressing, and I don't read to be depressed. But I don't know anybody who hasn't had an occasional cold, bout of flu, allergy attack ... something that makes them foggy-headed, out of sorts and functioning below par. For instance, so far this year, I have had a head cold and two bouts of stomach flu. Yes, it's been a bad year for me.

So, I suppose if a book covers only a few months, then it might not be too unbelievable that none of the main characters ever got sick. But when the span of that book is a couple years or more, I start feeling cheated if no one ever gets the sniffles! How can that many people be that healthy? It just doesn't seem believable.

An illness does not mean the action of the story has to halt until that person is healthy. How many times have you gone to work, even though you were mildly sick? Life does go on, which means the story can go on. SickPerson might make a mistake in a report that leads to complications. Or a foggy head might have a SickPerson phrasing a sentence poorly, leading others to think the wrong thing. Or, how about a taste of real reality? SickPerson's assignment has to be covered by Others.

Or, as I did in one of my stories, someone gets sick, but it hardly gets mentioned. In a book that spanned 2 years, a divorced mother spends a week fighting a cold that really has her down for the count. It is her landlady's efforts to care for his sick mother that has her 4-year-old son accept the landlady as someone he could trust. But I didn't show all of that; I simply had the son tell another adult that his mother had been sick, and Wanda (the landlady) had taken care of both of them.

Wait, was that one of those all-important trips to the bathroom that I should have devoted at least 6 pages to? Maybe. Maybe not. Every author sees these things differently.