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Writing Signature

One of the recent forum posts on Scribophile (www.scribophile.com) asked about writing signatures.  Specifically, what element or elements appear in most or everything you write.

Answers were, as you would expect, all over the map.  One of the most common was food.  A surprising (to me, at least) number were music related, in which the author intentionally added a musical element somewhere in the story.  Some had scenes or entire stories that took place in a desert.  Some always had character names that started with a specific letter, or always had a character with a specific name.  Those seemed to be the most common signatures expressed, though there were at least a dozen others mentioned, but never more than once.

It got me started thinking about my own signatures, of course, though I’m a lurker in the forums and rarely comment unless I get really jazzed about a topic.  I commented on this one, if only to say what my signatures are.  Food is one.  I tend to include detailed food dishes in my stories.  Handguns is another.  I have a lot of knowledge about handguns and I tend to have my characters use them or talk about them in some way.

Having a signature can be a real boon to a writer.  It gives you a chance to become a part of the story.  I know that can sound stupid, after all the whole story takes place in the writer’s head before it ever gets to the screen (or paper, if you write longhand), but typically the author is at one remove from the story that’s being written.  Being able to incorporate a nice coq a vin or some kind of exotic appetizer into a story can be a lot of fun, though fish sticks and buffalo wings have their places too.

Using a signature also gives you a chance to educate your readers about whatever the subject is.  How many of you got excited to have coq a vin again?  And how many of you had to look it up (it’s a chicken and wine dish, very rustic origins)?  I don’t know about you, but when I read something, I like to walk away thinking I gained something from the transaction.  Sure, a good story is a pleasure to read, but in fiction there’s no real gain to the reader other than entertainment unless the author has inserted something that the author knows a lot about, like cooking and/or food.  I think back to the Nero Wolfe novellas, personal favorites.  Wolfe was a gourmand, and food plays a role in every single novella that Rex Stout put out featuring his rotund detective.  I’ve learned a bit about food from reading that series.

I tended to focus on the food signature here because that’s one universal experience that all humans have – the need to consume nourishment.  It’s a powerful tool in the author’s repertoire because it can instantly connect you with any reader.  While not everyone has had coq a vin, almost everyone has eaten chicken at one point in their lives and can relate to a dish that contains it, wine, and vegetables.  Chicken, in fact, is almost universally known and consumed, so it’s a safe bet to include in a story.  Though that shouldn’t put you off of including turtle soup or haricot vert in your story.

I’ll save you the trouble, if you don’t already know.  It’s French for thin green beans.

I think including a bit of yourself in your story makes you and your story more accessible to your audience.  Including a signature of some kind gives a bit of cohesion to your body of work, as well.  I’m not saying you have to have a signature, but it’s certainly not a bad idea, at least that I can tell.

In Memorium

Today the USA is on holiday to celebrate Memorial Day. It is the celebration of the memory of fallen military members who gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect our culture, values, and freedoms. It is a heartfelt “thank you” to the family members who had to sacrifice their loved one. And whether you like or dislike the idea or necessity of the military, whether or not you question the money spent on the military, whether or not you feel disdain toward those in the military, you cannot deny that they are no longer with us because THEY felt the need or desire to protect your life and life style. It’s sort of like an Irish wake here in the US on Memorial Day. Yes, we are honoring the fallen BUT we do it with BBQ and beer and all manner of recreation. It’s what we do. Because they gave their lives so we could live ours. We can also use this day to reflect on all of those who we’ve lost. And the older I get, the more parents, schoolmates, and friends seem to pass.

Still, it’s a holiday to celebrate life. So, go to the beach (watch out for sharks and sunburn), eat BBQ meat (because BBQ tofu sucks), drink beer (but don’t drive), and have a great time! Do all those things that make your heart sing. And in celebration of life, a big happy clap for A. Marie! She, and her husband, just brought forth baby number three for them just a few day ago. A beautiful little girl! Find what there is to celebrate in your life. As for me, I’m learning how to tat. I feel the need for lace.

Submissions for the July issue close on Wednesday. So, if you have any conspiracy theories you’d like to share, better get them in soon!!! Unless of course, you think they are watching you. If they are watching, then wait to Thursday, June 1st and submit for the August/September issue. The theme is “That’s Gonna Leave a Mark.” Why I could write a dozen short stories today about Little Man’s exploits last week.

It’s That Time of Year

Photo by Ben Schonewille courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Here in the southeast USA the temperature is rising. Many days have already reached 90 degrees and some have topped it. It means one and only one thing – summer. And so, it’s time to take out the BIG roll of paper and make the “Summer of Fun” calendar. Little Man is becoming more and more independent so he’s able to attend activities that don’t require parental supervision or participation. This is good for me because I don’t like summer – hot, humid, bugs, hot, draining, hot – so now Little Man can go to these fun things with his friends and the other mothers and I can go hang at the local coffee shop until it’s time to pick them up. Or, do all the other fun things we do – laundry, grocery shopping, housework, work, and so on. There is still a few days of school before summer vacation but then it’s full steam ahead.

This year is the year of the camp. There’s full day camp focusing on clay and pottery, archery, swimming, soccer, and crafts; Vacation Bible School; Scout Camp teaching archery, BB guns, knot tying, fire starting, and all manner of camping and campfire activities; soccer camp; and several weeks of home time and spotty activities. What to do? Well, there’s movies, putt putt, activities at the park, concerts, rock climbing, bowling, reading contests at the library, and possibly a few overnight trips for mini vacations to places not too far away – possibly the beach or mountains. Can’t forget the big celebration on July 4th! And Little Man turns seven!

The best part of summer is spending time together as a family and enjoying activities together. The hardest part of summer is finding the balance of down time so we, Husband and I, can continue to work and do the things we need to get done and have to get done. But it’s all good. What are your plans for the summer?

Part of your plans had better be submitting to Pilcrow & Dagger! July’s theme is Conspiracy Theories. Don’t make me tell you know who…. Submissions close on May 31st so get suspicious and paranoid now!

Blockage Part 3

Blockage, Take 3

Two weeks ago I wrote the first thing I’d written since before Christmas.  Today I sat down and started working on the stories I started back in November.  The interim has been a terrifying time.

For five years I was driven by a passion for writing.  I wrote every day, getting up early and planning my days off to make sure I had writing time scheduled.  And when I say early, I mean five o’clock early, which for me is remarkable since I seem to arise at seven o’clock naturally.

Then, one day in December, I didn’t write.  And the next day I didn’t write.  Didn’t even have a desire to do.  I just didn’t care.

It’s been four and a half months of not caring.  I didn’t have an episode when I wanted to write and couldn’t for whatever reason, I just didn’t want to write at all.  It was more compelling to me to watch YouTube videos about my hobby than it was to write (which doesn’t count as my hobby).

During that time I’ve been “off” in other ways as well.  I’ve been more easily distracted in general, less focused on my work, and less attentive to things like housekeeping and gardening.  Is it all related?  I think so.  It’s my supposition that when a writer isn’t writing, when a writer is truly blocked, as they say, that it manifests itself in other ways as well.

I looked on Amazon to see if I could find books about writer’s block.  Now, when I say looked, I mean that I typed in “writers block” as my search term and scrolled through the results.  I found several books about getting around writers block, a few using that as their title, and one book that purports to use “brain science” to get around writer’s block.  Since I was looking for a book about the causes of writers block, this seems the most promising of the titles offered.  If I get the time I think I’ll read this book and post a review of it at some point in the future.

Have I missed writing?  Yes and no.  Maybe I just needed to recharge my creative batteries, so to speak, but it’s not like I woke up every morning and said, “Today I’m going to write” and then couldn’t.  I tended to do with writing what I do with working out – it’s a cute idea but that’s about it.  Not like the “before times” when I HAD to write or I would get the jitters.  I can’t describe, really, the feeling of not wanting to do something that consumed me for so long, because it wasn’t a feeling at all, it was a lack of feeling.  That was the scariest part of all.  For a long time I’ve wondered if I would ever write again – and was pretty blase about the outcome!!

But the feeling is coming back.  Like I wrote earlier, I figuratively dusted off two of the works I’d been working on prior to this strange episode.  I went back over the critiques people left me about them and sighed.  I have some major editing to do.  But I’m wanting to do the editing.  And that’s a huge step forward.

Changing gears, have you read the latest issue of Pilcrow and Dagger?  If not, you should seriously think about it.  Another great issue!!  Thanks to everyone involved in the making of it.  And, as I always say, life is short, read fast.

All Done! Wait. Not yet…

Back in October 2007 my husband of 11 months and I moved from Florida to Virginia. I had been living in Florida since 1986 so I looked on the move with happy anticipation and excitement. Husband had only lived in Florida since 2004 so for him it was just another move for a better paying job. And we did what most people do when they are looking to settle down in a new location – we bought a house at the height of the housing market. It was a cute house – a little brick Cape Cod style home on an acre lot. It had a small living room, a kitchen/dining room combination, half-bath/laundry room, Master bedroom, and master bath downstairs. Upstairs it had two really big bedrooms and a full bath. The walk-out basement was unfinished but had potential to be something more. There was no garage and we had to quickly add a shed in which to stow the motorcycle.

In the end, the job was not what it should have been, my employment opportunities were narrow, and it turned out to be one of those places where if you weren’t born there or went to the “right” church, you weren’t picked first for the team regardless of you stats. The scenery was superb, the weather was fantastic, and the best thing about that place is Little Man. He was born there. We moved away from there and to our current home 1 month after he was born.

Anyway, after 6 years, 8 months, and 1 day we finally sold the house! Hurray!! It had been a rental house for the years in between. Don’t get to excited – we rented for less than the mortgage payment and we didn’t sell it for what we bought it for. And in between we also had to repair things, replace things, and maintain things – all from a distance, all third party, in a small town where if you aren’t from there and aren’t living there it’s hard to get anyone to repair/replace/maintain anything.

It’s just one of the many projects that I’ve been consumed by for the past several months. Getting the house on the market, my dad’s passing, completing my real estate course and class test (still have the state test to take), and my dog died. We are still in the kitchen remodeling phase – Husband is making the cabinets so it’s slow going now –  and I’m working in a “dorm room” kitchen, I’ve got just a few more chapters left to finish the novel I’ve been editing and that will complete all the projects (except for the kitchen) that have been swirling around.

And just in time too. School is almost out here in Georgia. Just 3 1/2 weeks to go and then on to the “Summer of Fun.” This year I hope for an actual summer of fun not to be interrupted by a hysterectomy, an ill family member, or old pet having to be put down. This summer should be awesome because I’m almost all done with the current things that distract. Oh, there’s still many projects that remain – the rest of the fixer-upper house, the back yard landscaping, my family tree project, the next novel I’ll start editing as soon as I’m finished with the current one, MY novel….. but those can wait a bit or tackled one at a time. For now, I’m all done (almost).

 

We are accepting submissions for the July issue! The theme is “Conspiracy Theories.” Do you put electrical tape over your phone’s and computer’s camera lens? Do you not talk about important things in the same room as your smart TV? Do you erase your cookies after each time you go on the internet? Are they listening? Tell us your theories! Deadline is May 30th.

What Did You Say?

Today I’m struggling. I miss my dad and there is nothing I can do about it. He’s been gone four months now and I should be moving on with my life. I have, and mom is too, we all are. But sometimes someone will say something that he used to say and BAM! I miss him all over again. So today, I was listening to the radio and one of the announcers asked the other, “Did you hear what I said?” and man #2 says, “Yes, I heard you say something but I wasn’t listening.”

Photo courtesy of Ambro
www.freedigitalphotos.net

As a sassy eye-rolling teenager my dad would often ask if I were listening. I’d usually complain that yes, I heard him and he’d say, “I know you heard me, but were you listening?” See hearing is passive. If there’s noise, speaking, music, whatever you can’t help but hear it. It’s physiology – sound waves and vibrations in the ear. But listening is different. Listening is active. It involves deciphering the sounds. It means paying attention to the words. It means understanding the meaning. It means accepting the lesson and applying a reaction.

We tell toddlers “Don’t touch that, it’s hot.” And they hear us. They just don’t listen. Perhaps it’s the meaning of the words they don’t know. Perhaps those are new words all together. Inevitably, the toddler will touch and get burned and thus define “don’t” and “hot” for future understanding. And the next time you say, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot,” they probably will listen and not touch. Learning to listen is part of the growing process.

As people we want to be heard too. We want people to listen to us. But are we listening to each other? Are we listening for clue words so we can prepare our response while the other person continues talking? Or do you listen to them completely before digesting their words and then preparing a response? Do you jump in and interrupt thinking that you know what they are going to say? How can we expect to be listened to if we don’t listen first? How can we grow if we don’t hear other ideas and thoughts?

Writers are storytellers. And whether or not our storytelling is oral or written, we want the reader’s ear. We want them to pay attention, to listen. Whether we are writing a spellbinding mystery or an historical essay or an instruction manual, we must grab the reader. We do this with particular care in our words, imagery, structure, and tone which match the message of the writing. We want to hook the reader so they listen and absorb our words. And to do that, we must mean what we say. We must have meaning in our writing.

I wish Dad were here. I’d gladly listen to anything he wanted to say even if I’d heard it before.

We are accepting submissions to the May/June issue! The Theme is Conspiracy Theories. So, get out your foil hats and your debugging devices and send in your best stories or theories! Is there a space ship in Area 51? What is the government hiding in the Mariana Trench? What’s on the dark side of the moon? Does the government use fluoride in the drinking water for mind control? You tell us!

Blockage revisited

Hello again.  A week or so ago LeeAnn mentioned that I was suffering from writer’s block.  In fact, these are the first words I have written since before Christmas.

I’ve often read and been told that one has to write themselves out of writer’s block.  But that seems to pre-suppose that one still has the desire to write.  I didn’t, and, indeed, barely have any now.  It’s like a hole opened up in the well of desire and all of mine drained away in a great rush.  I can’t say that the hole has even been plugged, but I at least had enough desire to write this.  Which is a start, and maybe a pivotal point.

I’m not going to push it right now and try to go into an in-depth analysis of everything I’ve been thinking and doing while waiting for this block to go away.  For now it’s enough to have something flowing out.  Something real, if not terribly literary.  But this is the reality of writing for whatever reason you write.  Sometimes it’s more difficult than at other times, and at times it’s all but impossible.  I’ve been trusting in the maxim that writers write, and I’ve been assuming that at some time I’d start writing again, if I was really a writer.  Next I’m going to visit some of the stories I was working on and see if something sparks my interest.

Cliffhangers….

I am addicted to stories. I LOVE stories. I LOVE reading stories. What I love most is really good stories. When I lived in Florida it was not uncommon to have the occasional hurricane blow through. With the loss of power there’s no TV and nothing to do but ride out the storm, alone, in the dark. But wait! With a flashlight you can read! And red wine does not need to be refrigerated so… Yes, during a hurricane by the power of a flashlight (and a bottle of cab) I read an entire book. I wanted to go to sleep after the storm passed but the book was so darn good. What book? Airframe by Michael Crichton. The story itself is compelling enough but not overly remarkable. What made it an absolute page-turner I could not put down was two things. One, the chapters were really short. Like 1-2 pages short. And two, each chapter ended with a cliffhanger. I had to know what happened next. So I kept turning the pages and reading. And eventually the book was done, the flashlight batteries had died, and I could catch a few winks before the sun came up.

In the past couple of years I have discovered the “binge watch.” I will record an entire series and in a matter of a few weeks watch all of them. I did it with Downton Abbey, the first two seasons of Game of Thrones (caught up to where they were and now watch the seasons as they air), Black Sails, The Tudors, and The Borgias. I prefer to do it this way because of the cliffhangers. Patience is not one of my virtues and so waiting nine months for the season to begin again does not make me happy. When I binge-watch, I can go straight into the next season. Like tuning a page to the next chapter.

That’s the key really. Keeping the audience (readers or watchers) turning the page. And most readers will give the author a chance to hook them. About 40 pages is the average (from my experience). So, how do you hook them? Brian Klems’ blog, The Writer’s Dig, has a list of 10 things you should do and he uses examples from an essay he wrote. Here’s the list:

  1. Begin at a pivotal moment
  2. Add an unusual situation
  3. Add an intriguing character
  4. Conflict
  5. Add an antagonist
  6. Change emotion
  7. Irony and surprise
  8. Make People Wonder
  9. Dread Factor
  10. Keep narrative voice compelling

This is an excellent list for writers to keep in mind while writing and editing. It is also good to keep for outlining and structuring. Because to keep the pages turning, you really need to keep these ten items going in each chapter culminating in the cliffhanger, or dread factor, or wonder, or surprise, depending on the action of the storyline.

As a writer, I’m horrible. I’m a pantser. I sit and I type and I hope the story will have some sort of cohesive theme and direction. As an editor, I stress to my authors the need for structure (not just sentence and grammar) and pacing. I need to heed my own advice and I’m almost ready to change from a pantser to a plotter. Yes, we need to let the story take us where it will but the key is to keep the reader turning pages and we need to strategically place our cliffs.

We are accepting submissions to our May/June issue. The theme is Three Wishes. I wish for a… well, let me think about it. What do you wish for?

Discontinued

How many times it has happened to me and probably countless other people? You find the right lipstick, mascara, hair brush, shampoo, detergent, vacuum cleaner bag, pantyhose, pen, pencil, stationery, bra, socks, coffee maker, and so forth and when you need to refill and restock your particular item is no longer on the shelf. And when you ask the helpful clerk, “Where can I find the (insert item here)? You used to have them here.” the clerk answers with the dreaded shrug “We don’t carry them anymore. They’ve been… discontinued.” If you are like me, you race home and search frantically through Amazon, Ebay, Craigslist and various other sites searching for the last remaining item you MUST have. If you are like me, you discover that your item has been discontinued for several months already and the last remaining items have been stashed away already by someone else.

It’s not just things anymore is it? Technology has away of becoming obsolete too. We recently went to show a DVD to our Little Man. Pulled it out of its place, checked it for scratches and cleanliness, inserted it into the NEW DVD player. “You are going to love this movie, Little Man! We’ve been saving it all these years just for you!” And with the press of the magic “load” button the machine swallows the disc. The machine begins to whirr, the disc is spinning. Loading Disc appears on the display. Anticipation builds. Then…. “No Disc” appears. And yes, we tried it several times. A quick trip to the Geek Squad let us know immediately that the DVD player is new and the disc is old. The new player cannot read the old encoding. We need a new disc. Which can be found in stock on aisle 6 for $19.95!

If you tried to open our website this morning, you would have seen a blank grey screen. Our website was down. Apparently, one of the technological thingys was causing a problem. A quick call to the hosting company by A. Marie (she speaks techno speak better than I do) asking them to deactivate all the thingys brought our site back up but now comes the task of figuring out which thingy – this time – caused the crash. Apparently, a thingy can become out of date and what was once a compatible pleasant thingy is now a thingy of destruction and doom. Really getting on my nerves. Because why can’t things be left well enough alone? Why can’t my thingy work indefinitely? Why must I get a new disc? I didn’t change it, so, shouldn’t the person/entity making the changes be responsible for updating everything to make everything work? Or at least give me a new disc for free. I had already spent $19.95 on one, should I receive free upgrades? And free upgrades on thingys! By free I mean hassle free too.

Everything, it seems, gets discontinued sooner or later. Even books become out-of-print (which should be a crime, thank you very much). Out-of-print can mean that the copyright expired and the book no longer is in the hands of the original publisher, or perhaps the sales were not good and only the scheduled print run was produced and no more printings have been scheduled. In the digital age, it’s difficult to know what “out-of-print” or “no longer available” will mean. There are many pieces of literature which have never fallen out-of-print. Obviously, religious texts and Shakespeare’s plays have been printed continuously. The Iliad and Odyssey and Beowulf and the Aeneid and the like have been in continuous print or at lease retelling. In fiction there are a number of books, Robinson Crusoe, The Fountainhead, Dracula to name but a few. One in particular began as a serialized novel and has been a quiet but fantastic story for 150 years. One of my personal favorites. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Check it out. And ask yourself, is what I write today strong enough to remain in print? Or will I be discontinued?

We are accepting submissions to out May/June issue. The theme is 3 wishes. What would you wish for? To be in continuous print? Immortality? A super power? Let us know!

Blockage

Blockage is a bad word. It conjures up all sorts of unpleasant mental images – blockage of the arteries, bowel obstructions, sink drain blocked up, toilets stopped up, traffic jams. The word blockage is both exhausting and filthy at the same time. Can’t decide if I need a shower or a nap when I hear the word. Yet, blockages happen. They are inevitable in all aspects of life.

Our dear friend Daniel LeBoeuf was lamenting just a couple of weeks ago that he has been suffering from writer’s block and has been unable to write for a while now. A. Marie was complaining of the same thing just a couple of days ago. Perhaps, it is soul-sucking day jobs that get in the way. Perhaps it is a time crunch that leaves us with no break and no personal space. Perhaps it’s the kids, laundry, spouses, errands, jobs, classes, pets, responsibilities, that drain our energy and diminish our focus. It happens.

And there is nothing worse than some know-it-all who will say, “you have to make time to write” like that makes the kids or responsibilities go away. Or, “get up early” or “wait until everyone else is asleep” like you don’t want to sleep too. Sure, in a perfect world we’d all go into our creative space, shut the door, and be in our happy places writing, painting, sculpting, reading, making jewelry, and so on and there would be no distractions and we’d revive our energy and all live happily ever after in a motivational poster. That’s not reality.

So, how do you remove a blockage? Good question. The answer is – drum roll please – whatever works for you. I don’t know. I do know what works for me. Words. I LOVE words. I love using words so exploring a new or unusual word and using it in a sentence or two helps get my brain working. AND I can suit the word to my mood or task at hand. For example, we are renovating the kitchen (yes still) and the word for the man who put our tile in is artist. He was fantastic and the floor is beautiful! The word for the business who hasn’t refunded the charge for items we never received is swindler. It’s a game. It’s fun. It’s what works for me. Does it mean I can then go write 2000 words of beautifully crafted prose? No, but my brain is in “word” mode and I’m making sentences. Perhaps taking a walk would work for you. Or a nap. Or drawing a picture. Or building something. 

Anyway, the point is that blockage happens and you have to find your plunger – what works for you to get past it. And no, the same thing won’t work every time; that would be too easy. Try a few things – throw out some words, throw out some old clothes, throw out motivational posters. Be patient, this too shall pass.

BUT don’t let the deadline for submitting to the May/June issue pass! The theme is 3 wishes. If it passes, you’ll wish you’d written something. What would you wish for?