Friday, May 31, 2013

Guest Blogger Ann on "Write On"

Write On 
Guest Blogger Ann M. Piraino on her naïve and ingénue writing techniques.  Thanks Sara for inviting me to your Blog!!  Most of the things I have "published" reside on (so far).

So to Write On – these are the first tools you will need.  Some starting point like my 3 formulae – put some words on the page to start the flow – and an idea of the topic/person/place/thing in your story.  Sometimes it is best to start at the end and work back to the beginning – know how it turns out and head in that direction.  Of course, character development is great in the 3rd style if you use the semi-auto-biographical version of the formula.

I have three pseudo formula styles for my prose – poetry would be entirely different!  Well, maybe not.

First is OUT
The once upon a time group with lots of direction to go from there! Once Upon a Time, a Long, Long Time Ago, In A Land Far, Far Away, at the edge of a dark forest, in a (small, medium-sized) cottage (house) there lived. . . And so it begins, the first of my formula writing styles to flesh out into a story – maybe a fable, a fairy tale or something more up to date like a story set in Forks about vampires.

Okay, those have already been taken by Hans Christian Anderson, The Brothers’ Grimm and Stephanie Meyer but you get the formula concept. 

I then expand it by using the variables (parts of the OUT used alone or in parts): 

  • A Long, long time ago. . .(setting era, timeframe – good for stories about the past in real or fictional form);
  • In a land far, far away (setting a location – good for stories in the dessert or even other planets?)
  • Maybe in a land far, far away at the edge of a dark forest (look out for hobbits, werewolves, witches and Gepetto the wood carver).

 Second is DARN
That stands for It was a dark and rainy night – NOT Stormy!  Stormy can conjure up too much of a scary proposition – running off the road in your car, getting hit by a tree, stumbling around in the forest or being frightened inside that old mansion on the hill when the power goes out – no, stormy is Stephen King, Dr. Frankenstein, Edgar Allen Poe and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Rain can be pleasant – thank goodness because we have so much here in the northwest. It can bring up visions of glistening rainbows from water refracting from streetlights as you walk or drive through the city.  It can bring up romantic moments in your cottage, home, motel room with the warm fire burning, candles lit, and anniversary dinner at the table.  It can be Sleepless in Seattle with the lapping waves on your houseboat. . .

But, you could still turn rain to a storm if you want to set up fear and terror – great way to go in a split direction!!

Back when Hannah/Morgan/Amelia – whatever I decide to call myself and write in the third person – was (insert age here) – this stuff happened.  This has been a wonderful vehicle to use not only to record some fun stories about my youth and later years but to be able to scrub and put into the files for some future generation (not from me of course, I have no children) to read and ponder.  Who could imagine typing and using something that didn’t plug in or use wifi??  Not having a car or having a car with manual transmission?  Heavens!  How could that be??  Even the current generations Y & Z find those things unheard of!

I remember my step uncle always talking about back-in-the day when he would travel miles to school, or camping trips dragging his canoe behind him until he found the river.  Hard to believe now but in the 1920s it was real!  They say write what you know and even with tricky memory, writing about yourself is easy – no made up backstory or the ‘what would my hero do in this situation’ concerns – you either know because you already did IT or because you would follow a similar value or ethics decision in the future.

Whatever I/you choose and wherever I/we end up – we can Write On.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reader's Bill of Rights - Later Amendments

Last night as I was dropping off to sleep, I realized that the Reader's Bill of Rights needs at least one additional amendment.  I'm pretty sure I can come up with a few others as well.

And yes, I know that the Bill of Rights themselves are amendments.  That's why these start at eleven.

Amendment 11:  The right to read more than one book in a given time frame.

I usually have three to ten books I'm reading at any one time.  Some are non-fiction, some are short story collections, and most are novels of some type or another (usually different genres).

Right now, I'm reading (eleven books):

Wool, by Hugh Howey
The Castle, by Franz Kafka  (yes, I do read classics, quite often)
Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields  (biography) 
Such a Pretty Fat, by Jen Lancaster (memoir/humor)
Indians of the Pacific Northwest, by Wine Deloria, Jr. (non-fiction)
Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
Wisdom of Psychopaths, by Kevin Dutton (non-fiction)
The Bone Chamber, by Robin Burcell 
Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs (memoir, maybe, who knows?)
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
Collected Stories, by William Faulkner  

Need I say that the last three, and Confederacy of Dunces, are not light reading. Engrossing, entertaining, enlightening, but not light.  I can only get so far in any given one of those without a break.  For the last two, I'll usually read a full short story.  Confederacy of Dunces and Naked Lunch, I'm not usually so lucky.  Confederacy of Dunces isn't that hard to read, but I'm having a problem with the characters being so stilted or two-dimensional.  Who would have thought reading Kafka would be easier than ... well, anyone. [I'm quite enjoying The Castle, btw.]

And as for Naked Lunch, you try to read it and see how far you can get in a single sitting.

As for non-fiction, biography, and memoir, I struggle a bit because I'm such a "story" oriented person.  Jen Lancaster is a great writer, but to me, Such a Pretty Fat comes across as a series of anecdotes tied to her trying to lose weight.  Mockingbird has a good story line, but there's so much detail thrown in that I have to stop after awhile or forget what I've read.  Same with non-fiction.  I can only consume it in small bits anymore if I want to retain it.  Face it, at my age my brain is just too full of other stuff.  

Amendment 12:  The right to own more books that you can possible read in your lifetime.

I don't know how many times I've gone to my book shelves and searched for something only to not find exactly what I desired.  I keep many, many books on hand.  Just in case.

Amendment 13:  The right to own a Kindle and still be considered a bibliophile.

See Amendment #12.  I never thought I would own a Kindle because I so love the smell and feel and weight of books, even when they hit me in the head when I fall asleep reading.  But I live in a condo.  I have one whole wall of floor to ceiling bookshelves, jammed full.  I was getting to the point that I was expecting a visit from Book Hoarders -- there should be a show called Book Hoarders; I know many.  I still have books piled up on my nightstand and coffee table, but now with my Kindle, I have room on my dining room table, kitchen counters, and dressers for things besides books.   [I do still have one counter in the kitchen for cookbooks.  The Kindle pretty much sucks when it comes to recipes.]

Amendment 14:  The right to fall asleep while reading.

A caveat applies.  You should be careful where you fall asleep while reading.  Snoring in the library isn't cool.  And sleeping in a crowded airport isn't safe, at least not any longer, especially if you're carrying a laptop or expensive purse.

Amendment 15:  The right to buy the same book more than once.

The Kindle helps with that because Amazon will tell you that you've already purchased said book.

Amendment 16:  The right to give-away/sell books.

Especially to make room for more books.  Or to share a favorite with a friend.

Amendment 17:  The right to get so lost in a book that you forget where you are, what you were doing, or why you care about the where you are and what you were doing.

I know I'm enjoying a story when a movie plays in my head, when I forget that my eyes are scanning a page because I'm seeing what's happening.  And that is why most of us read, isn't it.  To travel to other times and places, meet or be other people.  To get away from some untenable situation, even for just a few minutes.

With that said, go read a book.  Or five.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Reader's Bill of Rights, Reviewed and Revised

Back in the early '90's, Daniel Pennac composed the Reader's Bill of Rights.

(1) The right to not read.

To this I respond with a quote from J.K. Rowling, If you don’t like to read you haven’t found the right book.

Okay, so I get what Mr. Pennac is saying.  Everyone has the right not to read.  We don't live in a society which forces people to read, but I don't understand why people don't read, at least something. You don't have to read Ulysses, but you should read something--magazines, blog posts, comic books, I don't care--just so you can claim to be part of the human race. Telling and listening to stories are inherent in our genetics. I want to believe that people who don't read are lazy, but that's absolutely not true. I know many people who don't read, some more active, more productive, more intelligent than I am. But I don't understand them.

I learn so much from reading, about other people, about other places.  About myself.  So why not read?

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul.”   ―Joyce Carol Oates

“Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.” ―Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

(2) The right to skip pages.   

...or whole sections.

I rarely skip pages, and only once or twice skipped sections, but if the story is good but the prose is bad or long and drawn out, I will not hesitate to skip over however much is needed.  Tolkien is a perfect example.  Great story, but every time he goes into a page long description of a leaf or records a three page song, I just skip right over it.

(3) The right to not finish.

...or to not even get started.

Now days, I usually read the first few pages of a new-to-me author. If the prose is off-putting, I usually won't buy the book.  Actually, most of the time now, I get recommendations from other readers before purchasing a book.  I got burned a couple of times--it was a very inexpensive burning, more of a waste of time than anything else--on Kindle sale books.

To quote Nancy Pearl, model for the Librarian Action Figure, If you still don't like a book after slogging through the first 50 pages, set it aside. If you're more than 50 years old, subtract your age from 100 and only grant it that many pages.

I've heard her quote paraphrased as There are too many good books and not enough time in our life to worry about finishing boring books. 

(4) The right to reread.
(5) The right to read anything.

All I can say is absolutely! I totally agree.

(6) The right to escapism. 

Considering our current society where people text while driving, I think this one needs a caveat.  You have the right to escapism as long as it doesn't endanger someone else's life.

“Books don't offer real escape, but they can stop a mind scratching itself raw.”  ―David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

(7) The right to read anywhere.

Umm, see exception to #6.  Reading has the same rules as narcotics, which they certainly can be.  Don't read while operating heavy machinery.  Plus, don't be rude and read at the dinner table, unless you're at home with your boring parents or your boring spouse.

And a caveat for anyone who ever sits next to me on airplanes, if I'm reading a book, I don't want to talk to you or hear to you talk to me.  I'm using #6 to make me forget about the long, tedious flight.  [90% of my flights have been for work to some po'dunk town four hours away by plane.]

(8) The right to browse.

To be honest, I'm not sure what this means.  But here's my take on it.  I can read any genre I want.

I can also stand in the book store and read the first few pages, but I should not read a whole book in the book store.  It's not a f'ing library.  If you want to read free books, go to the library.  Nothing annoys me more than to pick up a book in the book store that has its back broken.  That's stealing folks!

(9) The right to read out loud.

Depends on your audience.  It can be quite fun to read aloud in the right situation.  My last boyfriend would read aloud to me, and I enjoyed it quite a lot.  But I'm not particularly fond of hearing just anyone trying to read aloud.  Some people can.  I can't.  I stumble over too many words due to a big problem with dyslexia.  So, sure, read aloud to your pets, or your kids, or your spouse, or even at the old folks home [they usually can't hear you anyway], but if you're in the book store [or library] or a restaurant or a pub or on the bus or on an airplane or just sitting next to me, read with your mouth closed.

(10) The right to not defend your tastes.

True as long as you understand that is a two-way street.


So read, people, read.  It's good for you.

With all that said, I'll leave you with one final quote.

“Cram your head with characters and stories. Abuse your library privileges. Never stop looking at the world, and never stop reading to find out what sense other people have made of it. If people give you a hard time and tell you to get your nose out of a book, tell them you're working. Tell them it's research. Tell them to pipe down and leave you alone.”   ―Jennifer Weiner

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dear Alan, a love letter...

Earlier this week I was tired and out of ideas for something witty to write on Twitter, much less in a novel, so I decided to do what a lot of people do on Twitter and quote someone else.  I found the following quote by Anna Quindlen to which I shouted, Amen!

People have writer’s block not because they can’t write,
but because they despair of writing eloquently.

My Twitter posts also get posted on my Sara FB page, and my dear friend Alan [friends since high school, which was a long time ago], replied, "the cure: JUST WRITE! The judgmental part of your brain is wanting to get it right and its suppressing the creative side. Next time, just write me a letter... and after a few minutes the words will flow, and I'll still treasure what you wrote."

And so, Alan, I'm writing you a letter.  If we weren't so old and hadn't been friends for so long and... for several other significant reasons why not, I'd say it's a love letter.  But in reality, it is.  This is my love letter to you and to all of my friends who have shored me up when my head was going under for the third or fourth time.  To all the people who have held out a hand and said, hang on.  And I'm not just talking about writing.  I'm talking about everything, about my life.

Rare photo of me smiling.
And because this is from my year book,
Alan wrote over his face. I don't remember
him being a Black Panther, though.

1977  -   I was 17 and Alan was 16.

Some dance or another.  1977
Alan, you were there with me through high school, and whether you know it or not, you helped me survive
high school and my life at home. We both had issues we were dealing with, and being teenagers, we didn't know how to express our feelings, but being with you felt comfortable. You made me happy, and that's saying a lot for back then.  And just so I mention it.  Damn, we were skinny and beautiful back then.  Still beautiful, though, both of us.

Following in your footsteps have been many, many people. I won't name them all, because knowing me, I'd forget one of them and then hurt someone's feelings.  I hope they know who they are.  If they don't, then I've fallen down on my job.

There have been real times when I didn't want to live any longer, but I've always had someone call or reach out, and it never came to that.  

And because of all these people making calls, because of all these people holding me up, I'm now able to write. I don't write memoir, that's still too close, but I do write about what I know, about pain and worthlessness. About doing without in the midst of plenty.  About uncertainty and fear.   

About not being able to let my fear and self-doubt show.  

Most people only look at the surface. So I know that the people I call friends have fought a hard battle to get this close to me, and still many of them don't really know me.  Even my therapist got frustrated with me because I wouldn't share everything he thought I should.  As Desi [of An Untold Want / Counting Crows] says, once that door is open, I may never be able to close it again.  Of course, she says it more eloquently, but then again, this is a blog, not literary fiction. So give me an f'in' break. [sarcasm, okay, sarcasm]  

Desi does end up opening the door, but then again, I let my characters be braver and stronger than I ever was, than I am now.  I let them do all the things I wish I had done.  All the things I wish I could do.

With that said, I love you Alan, and each and every person who has ever been there for me.  And when I do become rich and famous, you can say, I knew you when you were weak and now you're strong.  

And rich.

And famous.

And owner of a private island, where only you all can come and visit.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

One of those Duh Moments...

Have you ever had one of those duh moments?  You know, where you think why didn't I realize that before, like five years before.  Yeah, well, I had one of those recently.  Not today, but I was thinking about it today while I was doing some re-writing.

Problem is that it's going to be hard to talk about it without giving away the changes I've made, but just so you know, it deepens my story significantly.

In my duh moment, I realized that I could have Maggie do something [again, not telling what], and originally I only thought, well that makes the story more complex, but what I realized later is that the something she does finally gives me the reason why the MacAllister curse is broken, hence a better ending.  I always felt like it was cheating to not spell out why the curse gets broken, but I really didn't have a clue myself why it was broken.  [Okay, if you didn't suspect that the curse will be broken, sorry, but don't be silly, of course it will be--plus telling you this gives nothing away, story wise.  Even my stories have a happy ending, per se.  Personally, I think Couillon has a happy ending, but that depends on your point of view about...  not telling, or will give away the story.]

So I know you're asking yourself why it took so long for this duh moment to happen.  I mean, really. Theoretically, the book has been finished for over a year.  But the lack of closure has nagged me for a long, long time.  So go ahead and ask why, but, let me ask this first.  Have you tried writing a full length novel?  Yes, then you know how you get involved with the characters, and they create the story, at least in literary fiction.  Well, this was something Maggie didn't want to tell me, I guess.  Or you could say, since I've never experienced it [thank goodness], it wasn't in my book of knowledge. After all, we write what we know.

I stumbled across the idea while I was reading someone else's novel.  That protagonist was in a situation I won't describe because it would give too much away.  Anyway, while reading, I thought, what if?  [I do that a lot with books and movies.  About half way through a book or movie I either guess the ending, or, in my head, I re-write the ending.]  In this case, I guessed the ending which lead me to what Maggie does, and the answer to why the curse is broken.  Yay.

So part of what I've been doing in this re-write is layering in Maggie's thoughts about what she's done, leading to a much much larger last chapter [or what was the one page epilogue before]--which still has to be written.  The last chapter will also have a short excerpt from Rose's diary, which answers the question about the curse, and reveals to Maggie, at least, why it's broken.  Now I just got to come up with Rose's voice.  And write that last chapter.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tag, I'm It!

Okay, so here's a fun little game that hopefully will spread the indie word. Being IT means that you share information about your work in progress also known as WIP.

The Rules
1.) Give credit (including a link) to the Author who tagged you.
2.) Play by the rules, therefore you must post the rules!
3.) You MUST answer all 10 questions (below) some are quite hard but do your best.
4.) List five other Authors with links at the end that you have tagged so that the game can continue.

Link Back
The indie writer who tagged me was Beem Weeks author of Jazz Baby. He has an author site here on GoodReads where you can learn all about his writing.

Q1.) What is the title or working title of your WIP?

An Untold Want

Q2.) What genres does your novel fall under?

Women's fiction, no, not Chic-lit, more like literary fiction with a bit of romance in it.

Q3.) What actors (Dream Cast) would you choose to play the characters in a film version?

Assuming a dream cast means that the laws of physics (aging and death) don't apply (e.g., some are too old, some are dead), here's who I would have in the cast:

Maggie: Susan Sarandon or Vivien Leigh
Liz: Holly Hunter or Uma Thurman
Desi: Audrey Hepburn, definitely Audrey Hepburn
JD: Even though I'm not crazy about him as an actor, JD is fashioned after Clint Eastwood.
Rowan: Edward Norton or James Dean
Suzanne: Delta Burke, definitely
Libby: Kate Winslet or Helena Bonham Carter
(Libby is a difficult one to cast, as I don't like her much.)

Q4.) What is the main outline for your book?

Have you heard that there are only two stories? Someone comes to town or someone leaves town. This is the story of someone coming to town.

Basically, girl grows up in denial about her family's lifestyle. Now in her 40's and never married, with a teenage daughter, she meets the younger man. She wants to fall in love, but is afraid of what the neighbors will say and of the family curse which fates all men who love women in her family to an early grave. Troubles happen along the way as girl learns to accept herself and then figure out to do with her life.

Q5.) Will your book be Indie published/self published, or represented by an agency and sold to a traditional publisher?

Indie. I've tried the agent route, and haven't had any luck finding someone who "loves" my work. It doesn't fit a particular genre. And even though Donald Maass is preaching that literary and genre should find a happy medium (and I agree with him whole heartedly), no one seems interested and I kind'ov got tired of trying.

Q6.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I don't write in chronological order, so there wasn't really a first draft per se. Actually, the novel was finished and then so many things changed in the editing phase, and then so many more thing changes. So I can't say there ever was a real first draft. End to end, the process has taken about eight years (part of it involved learning the craft). But really if you count only the time I was actively writing, it took about two years.

Q7.) What other books in this genre would you compare your book to?

A friend said this novel is a cross between The Witches of Eastwick and Steel Magnolias. I like to think that my writing is somewhere between Sarah Addison Allen's The Girl Who Chased the Moon and Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. It has magic and witchcraft in it, but it's not fantastical realism. And it definitely not urban fantasy. (No vampires, werewolves, or zombies.) An Untold Want is about a family of Southern witches, real witches, and what life is like for the current matron in the family who tries to ignore her magical heritage. Maybe like Kate Morton's works, except set in the southeastern US.

Q8.) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Author wise, I have to say I started this journey wanting to write like Alice Hoffman. But my friends are my true inspiration. They keep me going. They bolster my confidence.

Finally, my Granny was a fine story teller, and I think I get that need to tell stories from her.

Q9.) What else about the book might pique readers attention?

Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll? I don't know. God, I'm telling on myself. I'm sure no one under thirty ever says that.

There are historical inserts (e.g., diary excerpts) that help tell the story. So it has the feel of a historical novel, while the main story still happens in the present.

There are a couple of steamy sex scenes, but nothing over the top.

The story is told from the point of view of three women, two of which are teenagers, and it traces their steps toward self-worth.

Q10.) Five other Indie Authors you have tagged

I'm going to cheat and only list two authors, but two authors you should look into.

E.J. Miller:
Martin Hengst:,