Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Morning Interludes

Letting the dog out this morning, I glanced at the back patio. The puddles on the concrete told me it wouldn’t be a good morning for walking. Suffice it to say, my dog decided it wasn’t a good morning to smell the roses either. Get out, take care of business, and Bark! Let me back in, Boss.

This morning, then, I decided to allow a quick moment for a detour. A concept, actually. It came to me while reading an interview of Michael Connelly in the October issue of The Writer.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?

A: Keep your head down and write. Write at least 15 minutes every day, because even if you only get 15 minutes, your mind has to churn the story… Write a story that you would want to read. Just you. It starts with writing for yourself.

Write every day. Nothing new there. We’ve all read, and heard, that same mantra before. But two other things struck me, the first of which was the “at least 15-minute” rule. Since I’ve been thinking hard about NaNoWriMo, I haven’t allowed my mind to drift off toward other projects. But, what if I could allow at least fifteen minutes (but not more than thirty) a day for writing something? What stories, or possible stories, could I come up with?

The second thing was to write a story that I would want to read. All too often, I’ve fallen into a trap of trying to write for others. Will this hook a reader? Will a reader believe this? Whether it’s a glitch in the logic, or some deep psychological issue for which I need counseling, I don’t know. Either way, it was refreshing to see another writer’s advice to simply write something I would want to read. Does this hook me? Do I believe this? Would I buy this if I happened to pick it up and read only a couple of pages?

So, today I made a cup of coffee and took a little time for a concept that I have called Morning Interludes. I have even started a file on my hard drive. They’re not much. They may not even be complete stories, yet. But at least the juices are flowing and I’m accomplishing some form of writing every day.

What follows next is today’s Morning Interlude, inspired by a photo I found in the same issue of The Writer. You’ll notice that it’s nothing more than a potential hook. But it’s not much, you might say. In fifteen minutes, is that all I could write? I know. It could use more descriptions—sounds, smells, touch. It could also use more exposition, like why this character decided to kayak in the mornings. However, with the extra hour I took to write and format this post, I didn't have time to write as much as I wanted. Plus, I am sorry to report that some of the sentences I wrote wandered too far from the main story and ventured into dangerous territory, i.e. a dark area of something I wouldn’t want to read. For their transgressions, those sentences paid a dear price. They were quickly bagged and tagged. I have a DELETE key, and I know how to use it. I am a merciless killer of words. Mwahahaha...

“Death Along The Niagra”

Finding the occasional dead fish, belly up, while kayaking was normal. In fact, it was expected. But nothing prepared Brooke for this.

She stopped paddling and coasted down the Niagra. Considering the thunderstorms that rolled through Tonawanda last night, the water was especially calm this morning, which allowed her eyes more time to wander instead of watching the cuts and pulls of the current against the hull of her craft. As such, it was easy to spot the kayaks, and not fish, floating belly up along the river's edge. And yes it was kayaks. Two of them, to be exact. One had been fully capsized while the other lulled on its side.

Brooke dipped the right tip of her paddle into the water, turned toward the shore, and pulled up.

This time, it was the floating hair, and not the kayaks, near the riverbank that caught her attention. Long and blonde. And the hair was still attached to its owner.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Take A Walk With Me

“An important way you keep your protagonist from wandering aimlessly about your narrative is to give him an intention in every scene—a job that he wants to carry out that will give purpose to the scene.”

Jordan Rosenfeld, Make A Scene

Character is key. How many times have you read or heard that? As I start to think about the prospect of NaNoWriMo, and the potential of writing a novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of Character, and how Jordan’s commentary reaches to the heart of an issue. To put my own spin on Jordan’s advice, to keep your scene from falling flat, you need to focus on the five W’s of writing: Who? What? Where? When? And especially, Why?

“The intention doesn’t come from nowhere—it stems directly from the significant situation of your plot and from your protagonist’s personal history.”

Jordan Rosenfeld, Make A Scene

This morning, I started my day around a quarter to five this morning. It’s not hard to do when a five-year-old climbs into bed with you and your spouse and then starts wiggling around. I'm not complaining, though. I needed to wake up eventually. Why not do it earlier, right?

After letting the dog out and starting a pot of coffee, I slipped into a sweat suit, tied on a pair of sneakers (some old-fashioned words should never die), and then stepped out through the garage. Like other writers, I have decided to give “walking” a try. So with nothing in the sky but the crickets and the constellation of Orion to keep me company, I set out with only one goal in mind: to listen to my characters.

On a note pad, I’ve already jotted down some notes about plot devices and potential conflicts—the “significant situation” as Jordan describes it—so now I need to work on my characters. Who are they? What do they want? How will they get it, whatever “it” may be? With one foot in front of the other, the cool air brushing against my face, it has been my hope that I might find the answers to these questions as I trek the morning route. I shouldn’t really call it a route, though. I’ve only been doing this for two days now, and both times I walked a different way.

Here’s what I’ve discovered. A funny thing happens while you’re walking along with an open mind. I could actually hear the characters talking. While I had some names, I didn’t have them all. Now I have a new name to add to my cast of characters. And here’s something else. While I didn’t know at first exactly why one of them was angry, I now have a page of explanatory notes, including snippets of the conversations I heard. I’m starting to know more about my MC. Where he came from. How he came to live where he now lives.

After two days of walking, I have gained a greater understanding of my characters and the story. There are more connections to discover—obviously there will be if I want to have three-dimensional characters and a believable plot—but I now feel more confident that I can actually plug the colored wires into the right slots. I’m learning the personal histories, which will lead to motivations, which will lead to additional intentions for each scene.

Of course, it doesn’t have to happen exactly this way. You can do it during the afternoon or the evening. It can happen while you’re driving your car or riding the transit. For all I know, you can even listen to your characters while sitting out on the back porch, coffee cup in hand, listening to the birds chirping merrily as the sun sneaks over the horizon. However, you do it though, there is one constant. You must have an open mind.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NaNoWriMo... Can I do it?

Almost a month ago now, a friend asked me if I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. My response:

"Honestly, I don't know. Every time I think about NaNoWriMo, I always ask the same question: Where in my day will I find the time? In order for me to do it, something will have to give."

My writing comes in spurts. There are times when the heart races and the muse flows like a raging river. Then there are days when I have to touch a finger to the neck to see it’s time to offer up a eulogy and throw on the dirt. There are moments when the stories (usually micro fiction) are ready after only a day. As the saying goes, those are few and far between. Mostly, my stories are like children. They take months building muscles in order to stand on their own.

Suffice it to say, the thought of committing to an average of fifty thousand words in thirty days (or an average of 1,666.7 words, which equals approximately 6-1/2 pages per day) not only scares me, it freaks me out—especially when I consider that I have a job to do, a family to spend time with, household chores to maintain, as well as other obligations that take up more time in my week. Not only that, but whoever put this whole NaNoWriMo thing together could have picked a better month. Hello? Did someone forget that minor holiday called Thanksgiving? If you carve out a couple more days from the program, then the Per Diem quota increases. For an accountant like me, that's not hard to figure.

Again: In order for me to do this, something else will have to give.

But what if I make the sacrifice and pour on the water and the fire never comes? The way the muse has treated me lately—like I were some third-rate lover, who’s only value is to pacify the lonely hours during the week when all the other lovers can’t be reached—I worry that I’ll get a week into this, and then realize I have been abandoned with nothing else to guide me. No divining rod telling me where to dig. No compass pointing me in the right direction. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

So, for me it’s more than just a sacrifice during NaNoWriMo. It’s also a current sacrifice. I have to spend time now, thinking and planning and making notes. I can't leave it to fate, waking up each morning during November, trusting that I'll sit at the computer and the words will magically flow. That means there is less time right now for reading. It's also time to fold up my short-story polishing rag and tuck it away in drawer somewhere. It means going to bed earlier and waking up when the stars are still shining bright in the sky. And on and on…


The only reason I’m still considering NaNoWriMo is that I’m tired of feeling like the black-sheep, drop-out kid whose only accomplishment in life amounts to asking: “Paper or plastic?” Over the last couple of years, I have made a few attempts at a novel, only to see them flop in the dirt like a dying fish. And that makes me angry. I should be able to finish a novel. I have to finish a novel. There has to be more.

Will I be able to write the novel in thirty days? That is a big question, for which I don’t yet have an answer. I know I want to. I know I’m starting to make the sacrifices right now in order to see if I can. Only time, planning, and effort will determine the outcome. If I don't, or if for time and family I can't, at least I’ll have a nice framework to build my novel upon. That may be just a consolation prize, but it will certainly be more than the unfulfilled dream I currently hold in my hand.

Friday, September 11, 2009

#FridayFlash - "The Only Thing Left"

Lola said, “Where do you think you’ll go?” Her tone actually sounded irritated.

She sat at the kitchen table and blew into a cup of coffee, apparently waiting for his response. As if she deserved one. Looking at her—the familiar pink bathrobe hanging open to showcase the curve of her breasts and a pair of frayed panties—Clint finally understood why some men could walk away. Like the love for the desert or the mountains or the woods, it wasn't just the view that anchored them down.

“Where I go doesn’t concern you,” he said.

She took a sip of the coffee and then laid the cup down. “Fine then. Be that way.” She pulled the robe together. “But let me tell you something. This isn’t all my fault. I mean, after twenty years of working at the same place, what’ve you got to show for it? A dumpy truck and a house that’s in total disrepair. We can’t even afford to buy some nice things once in a while.”

Shaking her head, Lola continued. “Maybe one of these days, you’ll take a look in a mirror somewhere, see the ratty jeans and oil-stained shirt, and finally understand where I’m coming from. You’ve got nothing, Clint. No passion. No pride.”

He reached for the door, thinking: Blame sure gets spread pretty thin around here. Even last night, his old friend Ricky couldn’t man up. It must have been one too many beers, he said. That and the slow music on the stereo. He was sorry, though. Friends shouldn’t do that to one another. Clint agreed, and then ended their friendship with one fist to the face and another to the gut.

As he opened the door, he turned to looked Lola straight in the eyes.

“You’re wrong about that,” he said. Seeing the contempt on her face, he wondered how in God’s name he could have forgiven her before. Not just once, but twice. “The only thing I’ve got left, it seems, is my pride.”

Friday, September 4, 2009

#FridayFlash - "Out of the Closet"

She didn’t even walk the same way.

Lane watched his wife cross the living room floor. Over the last week, her natural walk had changed. Not that it had to be über cute. God knows how much he hated the Legally Blonde look, all uptight and ditsy at the same time. Those kind of women deserved to be laughed at. Margie’s walk wasn’t masculine, either. Like the strut of a woman who had spent half of her life in the saddle. No, it was different from anything he’d seen out of her before. Feral. More feline, maybe? Like the way a hidden tiger crawls through tall grass, its sinewy legs constantly flexed and tense, ready to strike. Then again… maybe it wasn’t like a cat at all.

Lane shook away the thought as Margie dropped her keys, her purse, on the bar. She snatched up a rock glass and grabbed a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. She then poured at least two fingers of the Scotch, gulped it down like it was only water, and proceeded to fill the glass again.

“My God!” The sound of his voice startled him. Until he heard the words, he believed he had only thought them, for that had been the way of things lately—her changing, him remaining quiet about it. Well, not totally. He told his counselor, but even that had turned out to be like pissing into the wind. When Lane mentioned what she did, the counselor looked at him for a moment and then smiled as he scribbled more notes on a pad.

“Ah, a metaphor,” the counselor said. “That’s good. You’ve found a creative way to express your anger.”

Lane remembered how shocked he had been. “What do you mean, doc? I’m telling you the honest-to-God truth.”

The counselor shook his head. “Mr. Monroe, you don’t expect me to believe that story, do you? Did you actually witness it?”

The sad truth was he hadn’t. But he remembered the sound, like the crunching of a wafer, and the sickening image on Margie’s face afterwards. It was the look of pleasure. And joy.

The second glass of Scotch went as quickly as the first. Margie slapped the glass on the bar with a heavy thunk! and then wiped her mouth with the back of a hand. Lane narrowed his eyes. She never drank like that before, either.

He swallowed hard and touched the rolled-up bundle next to his leg. It was time to finally say something. Quit acting like a frightened mouse, for God’s sake.

He took a breath. He said, “Y-y-you might want to go easy on that s-s-stuff,” and then quickly regretted how weak it sounded.

Margie walked over and slumped into the couch across from him. “What? Are you my mother now?”

Lane shifted in the chair. He felt the rag and its contents against the side of his leg. He wondered how he would get around to it. Say, honey, I was cleaning the closet, and you’ll never guess what I found.

That wasn’t right. It was too… playful. She’d see right through it. Her eyes would narrow. Her mouth would form that same thin line he’d seen every time he tried to talk with her. No, he needed to show her some attitude. Otherwise, she’d pounce on him. What business do you have looking through my stuff?

He told himself to be strong. Just come out and—

“So…” Margie picked a fluff of lint from her skirt and flicked it away. “How was your meeting?”

He blinked. “What?”

“The meeting with your counselor today.” When he didn’t say anything, Margie craned her head to the side and looked down. “And when are you going to tell me what you found in the closet?”

Lane couldn’t breathe. He’d never mentioned the counselor. In the last few months, outside of a watch she’d given him as a birthday present, Margie acted as if she didn’t care whether he lived or died, so he didn’t see the point in bringing it up. At today’s meeting, the counselor suggested that Margie might be frustrated. Had he shown her any love? When was the last time he actually did something to please her without wanting something else in return? Maybe if he took the first step, she would reciprocate. Acting upon that advice, Lane decided to clean the house. It wasn’t a hard choice. After all, Margie constantly complained about how messy he was. If she’d wanted to marry a slob, she would have walked the aisle with a pig.

He found it when he started in on the closet. Pulled out her shoes to sort them by style and there it was—a hand-held device, almost like a radio, only this had a two darkened screens and buttons with characters he’d never seen before. The plan was to confront her, only it appeared she already knew. About the counselor. The closet. And the device.

He narrowed his eyes. But how?

As if she could read his thoughts, she said, “I have eyes and ears everywhere.” She croaked out a few unintelligible sounds. Two squares illuminated through the cloth as the device buzzed and whirred. Around the room, power buttons that once showed green now burned an angry red—the television, the video player, the computer. Looking down, he noticed the dial on his watch had turned the same color.

When he looked up, Lane almost wet his pants. Her eyes glowed yellow. Spikes punched through the flesh along her jaw. And in that moment, it all made sense. Her cold attitude. The way she walked. The cockroach that was there, and then it wasn’t. This was not the woman he’d married.

“W-w-where’s my wife?”

Slick limbs, three on each side, like the legs of a Black Widow, shot out of her body. They pierced Lane’s arms, his chest, and lifted him up. His feet hung in the air like lifeless fish.

The creature’s mouth curved into a crescent moon of razor-sharp teeth. “Let me show you.”

By my count, I went slightly over the 1K limit this time (about 1,010). I hope the short piece last week will compensate for the long one today. This one came from a prompt out of
The Writer's Book of Matches: "While his wife is away at a company function, a man decides to suprise her by cleaning the house. In the process, he finds a passport hidden in the closet. The face on it is hers. The name is not." Clearly, I didn't follow everything from the prompt. However, as Cap'n Barbosa might say: "They're more like guidelines." ;)