Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Sharing the Joy

by Sandy Cody

I once had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Hamilton (author of Book of Ruth and  A Map of the World, to name just a couple of her books). I asked her which part of writing she most enjoys. Here's her answer:

 HAMILTON:  I love it when, with some kind of magical harmonic convergence, everything starts to hum along, and you hardly know you yourself are present at work. (This is not a usual occurrence). It’s as if you’ve spun gold from straw; you look up and think, How did that happen? Also, I enjoy reading my work out loud to myself when it’s going well, when I can take pleasure in my own sentences and story.”

 I think one of the reasons Ms. Hamilton’s answer resonated so strongly with me was the contrast with some (most?) of the things I say when I talk about writing. I speak too often about the difficulty of writing and too seldom about the joy. I share those moments of inadequacy when the words won’t come and fail to mention the rush of joy when they do come, those all-too-rare moments when I feel that I've “spun gold from straw” or the pleasure of reading aloud a description or a bit of dialogue that got it right.

 Since I know a fair number of other writers, I know this is common. Writers complain a lot … about the loneliness of writing (then turn around and say we can’t write because no one will leave us alone); about the discipline required (as if anything worth doing doesn’t require discipline); about the lack of time to write (which might be less of a problem if we’d stop complaining and just write); about the demanding people in our lives (what would we write about if we didn’t have them?).

Why do we do this? I’m not sure. I think it’s at least in part because we’re obsessed with writing and don’t know how else to talk about it–possibly due to a misplaced sense of modesty. We’ve been taught that it’s not nice to brag. Fair enough. But is it any nicer to subject those around us to a litany of imagined woe when, in fact, we’re doing what we love? Granted, realization of the pain of writing is a necessary part of birthing a novel, but maybe we need to lighten up and broadcast the pleasures of our chosen vocation. Let’s share the joy.

So ... here I am ... saying it out loud. I am a writer and that is a privilege and a joy. I am living my dream.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

How to Take a Selfie

by Victoria M. Johnson

Of all the important holidays in June, National Selfie Day is gaining in popularity.  Invented in 2014 and celebrated on June 21st, its purpose is to honor taking a snapshot of yourself.  People can chronicle moments in their lives or use a selfie as a form of self-expression.  Taking selfies is certainly faster than constantly asking strangers to take a photo of you or your group.  And they are more spontaneous than "posing" for a photo. Taking selfies with others requires that everyone squeeze in close, you can't help but smile.  Well, okay, technically they are posed for because you have to get everyone in the shot but they look more fun and spur-of-the-moment.

The Most Famous Selfies

Many people have gained notoriety, both good and bad, with their infamous selfies.  Some have risked their lives to take the ultimate selfie, which is taking the practice too far (like the guy who's running from stampeding bulls in Spain).  Here are a few notable ones:

1.    UK astronaut Tim Peake's selfie of his spacewalk is the first selfie from space.

2.    Celebrity Ellen DeGeneres set Twitter on fire when she took her star-studded group selfie live during the Oscar show—and posted it while the show was live!

3.    Russian daredevil Kirill Oreshkin takes outrageously dangerous selfies of himself atop towering structures.

4.    A climber's selfie at the peak of Mount Everest proves the world isn't flat.

5.    Nonprofits like the MidManhattan Library use selfies to promote a cause, in this case to bring awareness to banned books.

selfie tips by Victoria M Johnson
Your selfie doesn't have to be perfect.

How to Take a Selfie 

By now you're eager to take your own selfies.  The experts suggest these top tips:
  * Raise the camera at an angle above you.
  * Natural light is best.
  * Smile or not.  But have fun with it.
  * Be aware of the background.
  * You can always edit a photo before sharing.
 * Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

Here's a video of simple selfie instructions from W Magazine.  Click the arrow in the center to view.

The Oxford Dictionary recognized the word "selfie" in 2013.  There's no longer a reason to let a moment go by where you say, I wish I had a photo of me doing xyz but there's no one here to take it.  Take a selfie.  Remember to share your selfies on social media using the hashtag #NationalSelfieDay.  Why not take one right now?  Post the link to your selfie in the comments below. 

How to Take a Selfie by Victoria M Johnson
Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Monday, June 4, 2018

You Do What?

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Every so often one of my writers' groups will conduct a workshop on 'how to create a character.' I've taken a few of them and the methods range from a half-dozen point checklist to a six page questionnaire that goes into such depth as the character's favorite flavor of Jello, the schools he attended, what kind of pet he had as a child.... You get the idea.

I've tried them all, and each time created a deep, multi-faceted character. A completely dead deep, multi-faceted character. They had all the proper points, but they never came to life on the page. Working with them resulted in all the joy and sparkle of Silly Putty. Oh, they moved from Point A to Point B when I directed them, and spoke the words I put in their mouths, but they were reminiscent of nothing so much as Gumby or King Kong - their movements were obviously stop-animation instead of really coming to life.

So I quit taking classes and went back to what I've always done - letting the character come to me. Almost every writer has snorted with disbelief when I tell them about the birth of my characters, but - other than my occasional forays into how-to-create-characters classes - it's always worked for me.

So what do I do? Nothing. My characters simply walk in, tell me their name, and start fitting into the vague storyline that I've started with. And yes, they tell me their names. Once I really didn't like a character's (the hero!) name and changed it. He didn't like it, so he shut up and refused to speak to me again until I changed it back to what he wanted some three weeks later.

Who said writers had complete control in their own world?

I know this technique (technique? maybe dictatorship?) wouldn't work for all writers. Huh, it may not work for any writer besides me, but that's the point. Even if I'm the only one it works for, it does work for me. I know the character's-favorite-Jello system works for some people. It doesn't work for me, but I'm glad it works for them.

What I'm trying to say is that there is no one singular this-way-only technique for writing a book. The only thing that we all should do is write a good book. How we write that book is up to us. There are many good techniques, probably some I've never heard of. The important thing is that each writer has to find the one that works for him. Or which ones work for him. There's no rule saying you can only use one technique. As long as you turn out a good book, it doesn't matter.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

1000 Words

For writers, it's not the image but the words that create the image in the reader's mind.

Take for instance, this image: 
 or this: 

or this:

or this:

These are all from my newly acquired garden in the extreme north midwest. Each one has its distinct and unique story. And each has its place in my own story which I have told in my recent blog for In Maine. I reprint that post here:
Cover Image of Pavane for Miss MarcherFor the past few weeks, I’ve been living in Cathryn Marcher’s garden — without the pumpkins.

Since moving into our new home, I’ve had the pleasure of gardening for the first time in seven years. While living in a city-bound apartment, I made do with potted plants on the balcony. Now I have about 5,000 square feet of lawn, trees and flowerbeds.
I also have hundreds of volunteers — not the helping kind! Since our lawn did not appear from under the layers of snow until late April, trees and shrubs have had free reign to seed the grass with their own progeny: honeysuckle, ash tree, morning glory, dandelions had all grown to the height of at least six inches by the time our new lawn-mower arrived. 
Removing these volunteers from my grassy realm proved beyond my capabilities. Even days of crawling on hands and knees, digging out taproots and consigning leaves and seedheads to the compost bin made no difference to the number of seedlings propagating amongst the blades of green. Even our resident bunny has not made a dent although it has helped in the cropping of the blades’ height in its grazing area.
Multi-colored TulipsTo my delight, the flowerbeds are less endangered by weed-growth. Although Ground Elder (aka Queen Anne’s Lace) has raised many heads in the lawn and along the back fence, the perennials such as Peony and Daffodils, Iris and Gladiola have a much stronger will to exist. 
Another joy is the abundance of lilacs. When I was a child living in Maine, my favorite hiding place was a grove of lilac bushes at the back of our house. I attempted to grow lilacs on the balcony, but the plant never took hold despite coddling. Because of my fondness for the blossoms, I had them in my wedding bouquet along with red roses and the requisite Baby’s Breath (Gypsophilia).Image of Lilac SpearsMy four lilac bushes had grown so tall, they were competing with the Locust for space and encroaching on the neighbor’s property. With the information from a tree surgeon that lilacs can be treated as shrubs, I cropped and snipped until all the dead foliage and blossoms were gone and the bushes had the energy to produce fragrant spears again. 
From Chapter One: “Rupert smirked, turned his gaze back to the window, waved the mist out of his face, inhaled the summer rain deep into his lungs along with the scent of white lilacs.” 
From Chapter Four: ‘Noam Snyder pulled up on the reins, bringing the old buggy alongside Cathryn’s front yard, tipping his cap and wiping beads of sweat from his brow. “Mighty hot for a lady to be working like that,” he called out to his tenant. 
‘“Now’s the best time,” she called back, straightening her back, pressing a dirty hand on her lower spine. “These pumpkins won’t win any prizes this year unless someone gives them a hand.” She wiped her neck with a handkerchief and wacked at the weeds in her pumpkin patch. “I swear these dandelions know I’ve got better things to do. They just grow out of spite.”’ 
From Chapter Fifteen: “Running and stumbling through the woods like a mad woman got her as far as the clump of lilac she’d hidden in as a little girl, afraid to go home for the licking her father promised when she refused to help her mother with the washing because she wanted to play the piano for a few minutes more.” 
As Pavane for Miss Marcher illustrates, gardening and lilacs are features of my life in fiction and fiction in my life. My latest novel set Down In Maine is available in print and digital editions on all online booksellers and by order from me! Digital Edition $3.95 / Signed Print Edition $15.00 inc postage.
I'm going back to my garden in a bit but wanted everyone to know where I am!

All the best,

Leigh Verrill-Rhys 
Writer, Gardener, Photographer and 1000 other things!

PS: May 28, 2018

And the reward for all the work: 

This pair have never entered the back garden before. I finished the circle flowerbed with hydrangea as centerpiece and crocosmia bulbs surrounding it on Sunday afternoon. By 5:30PM, the ducks that wandered up and down our street, scrounging in the gutters, had taken up residence at the circle's edge. The drake on guard as always.

Now the bunny, "Scamp" to me, has company along with the squirrels and house sparrows that nest under our patio awning. 

Happy Memorial Day to all and God Bless our Troops, Veterans and their families. Thank you for your service.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

It Just Got Real

By Karen McCullough

For a while now I’ve heard the horrific stories about the destruction wrought by drunk, drugged-up, and inattentive (read: texting or checking phones) drivers. I’ve long been a proponent of tougher drunk driving laws and those banning texting while driving. A week ago, though, it got very real to me. That was the day my brother-in-law, my husband’s younger brother was sideswiped by a reckless driver.

He owns a civil engineering firm that does surveying work, so he puts a lot of mileage on his SUV. A week ago, late on a Friday afternoon, he was heading home from work when a woman crossed the center line into his lane. He swerved to avoid her, but she still side-swiped him. His car went off the road and rolled several times.

A witness to the accident, who’d been driving behind her for some time, told the police she’d “been all over the road.”

The impaired young woman’s car also careened off the road and into a tree, but she walked away with almost no injuries. At this point I don’t know if she’s been charged or not, but I certainly hope she will be.

My brother-in-law sustained drastic and terrible injuries, including head trauma and multiple broken bones – vertebra, scapula, clavicle, and nine ribs were fractured. He’s already had several surgeries to repair various things. He’s still in the trauma ICU on a ventilator and has a gazillion tubes going into him and machines monitoring him.

It was touch and go for a couple of days, but it looks now like he will survive and mostly recover. But he has a long road ahead. He faces probably six months to a year of recovery and physical therapy. He may well be out of work for a year or more if he can ever get back to it at all. First, though, he’ll have to re-learn to walk and other motor skills.

All because a young woman got behind the wheel when she was either in no condition to drive or wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing. I don’t know what kind of penalty she’ll face, but I hope it’s a pretty steep one. My brother-in-law and hist family are paying a terrible price for her mistake.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Picture This!

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

There's been a great deal of chatter on some of my writers' groups lately about headshots and how often they should be replaced. Opinions vary widely, going from every time you change your hair style/color, to when it no longer looks like you.

I'm firmly in the latter camp. Considering I have been known to have my hair the color-of-the-week and (if I'm wearing a wig or hairpiece that day) go from long to short to mid-range with dizzying speed, as long as the face resembles mine I'm fine. Otherwise I would go both broke and crazy trying to keep up with photos of all my varied looks.

The fact that the picture looks like me is in itself a small miracle. While I admit I'm no beauty, children and dogs don't run screaming at my appearance. At least, not most of the time. I do, however, have the kind of face that does not take good photographs. My face is round, chubby and either paper-pale or blazing red, depending on the momentary state of my blood pressure. In most of my photographs I look like a gigantic sugar cookie with an idiotic grin - which might be why I took up photography years ago. If one is taking the photo, one cannot be in it!

When I came back to writing seriously after a ten-year hiatus - long story - I knew I had to have a good headshot, which meant needing a photographer who was at least part magician. Knowing I needed all the help I could get, I went to Glamour Shots at NorthPark Mall (are they even still in business?) which gives you an idea of how long ago this was. I booked a standard package and luckily had a late-ish afternoon appointment. Luckily, because I became a challenge to this place, which prided itself on delivering a good shot.

One hairstylist, two make-up artists, three photographers and three and a half hours later (most shoots ran no more than thirty to forty-five minutes) I finally had a decent likeness. In spite of all the challenges (problems?) of the shoot they charged me only the standard sitting fee, but of course I had to add extras - two additional 8x10s, both different, as presents for my mother and brand-new husband, and (what really drove up the price) I wanted to buy all rights to the shot I wanted as I was going to use it professionally. They did sell me the rights to that shot, but it was expensive! However, I guess the price has amortized out over the years I have used it. People still recognize me from it, so I am going to continue using it for a while longer at least.

During the interim years I have done at least two other shoots, both ending with images that either didn't look a thing like me or looked so much like me at my worst that, refusing to use them, I condemned them to pixel-heaven. According to impartial judges, the old shot still looks more like me than any of the newer attempts. So, like the man who came to dinner it just keeps hanging around.

The truly sad part of this tale is that my mother died unexpectedly just a few days after this shoot. She never saw the picture I had made especially for her.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

How to Host a Writing Fiesta

by Victoria M. Johnson

If you love to write and you love celebrating writing, then why not have a writing fiesta?  Just as the name implies, the day involves a lot of writing and a lot of partying (at the end of the day).  This fun day can help you get past a slump, or force you to return to a project you've been avoiding, or just inspire you to sprint to the end of a manuscript. 

All you need is a distraction-free writing space and five ingredients:

1. Writing Friends
We all have dozens of writing friends don't we?  And we all say we're going to get together some day to write.  And we all never invite each other over to write.  Send the email, or make the call.  They need only three things:
a. Bring a project they're seriously willing to work on.
b. Bring a healthy snack, lunch munchies, or beverage to share.
c. Bring their writing journals and pens or their laptops.

2. A Schedule
Schedule quiet writing periods of at least an hour to 75 minutes, followed by 15-minute breaks for time to stretch, get fresh air, and have a snack.  The quiet time means everyone works on his or her own.  After each break repeat quiet writing.

3. Comfortable Places to Sit
Everyone came to write.  The more conducive the space and seating is for concentration, the higher the creativity and productivity.

writing fiesta
photo by Andrew Neel

4. Comfortable Environment to Share
Allow time toward the end of the fiesta for each person to read some of their work they created that day.  Of course constructive feedback is all that's needed at this point since everyone is reading unedited, fresh material.

5. Fiesta Time
After a day of writing and sharing it's time to celebrate not only your written words, but also friendships with fellow writers, and your gifts of imagination and fearless writing.  It's time to bust out the Sangria or whatever your beverage of choice is to enjoy with kindred spirits.

And maybe one of your guests will volunteer to host the next writing fiesta.  Make them an annual or semi annual gathering.  Who says writing has to be solitary all the time?

Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.