Tag Archives: creativity

Happy birthday, Dad. Wish you were here.

That's my dad with the notebook in his lap, doing what he did best: reporting.

That’s my dad with the notebook in his lap, doing what he did best: reporting.

Ever wonder what makes a person want to write, or want to be good at it? My dad said a good reporter never lets go of the curiosity, never lets politeness get in the way of a story – but also never lets a story get in the way of basic courtesy and humanity. In my humble opinion, modern journalism allows the story to trample humanity far too often.

We used to go for drives, just my dad and me, and we would talk. He told me about newspapering, reminisced sometimes for the entire ride. It was less a conversation than it was a feast of words.

He could paint such vivid word pictures that often I could not see the landscape through which we drove for all of the images crowding my mind.

He never talked down to me, which sometimes left me struggling to decipher a word by its context.

It seems as though I’ve known the four Ws (who, what, when, where – you all know them) all my life, along with that important H (how). Applying them was second nature even when I was in grammar school. Chasing a story with him, I could often tell him some or all of the Ws of it, which pleased him no end. And of course, it pleased me no end to have pleased my dad.

I wonder often if my personal philosophies were formed less by my own observations and judgments but by his. I can’t recall the specifics of our talks anymore. He died in 1968, and time erodes so many memories.

He was utterly irreverent, could make me sick from laughter or weep with empathy. He disliked pretension, subterfuge, hypocrisy and injustice – especially injustice. To him, family was the highest priority.

My siblings have different philosophies than I do, and although he talked with them and wrote letters when one of them was away, I was the one who went with him on stories most often. And on our long drives, I knew I was the world’s luckiest child.

We had an ongoing squirt gun battle, with only one gun. Whoever had it would sneak up and shoot the other, elude capture and hide the gun. Eventually, the victim would discover the gun’s hiding place, reload it and the game was back on. Months could pass between battles. I once spent the better part of an hour crawling through kitchen and dining room to the living room, to rise up behind his easy chair and blast him in the back of the neck. Boy, did I pay for that one! He trapped me in a closet and of course, I emptied the water pistol at him. But he had a turkey baster and a pitcher of water in his hands. Cheating was fair in our game.

Irreverence – dad went to as many of my choral concerts as he could. He would sit in the  audience and make hideous faces, cracking up not just me, but anyone else in the chorus who caught his act.

There was never a doubt in my mind – and maybe not in his, though he never said – that I would follow in his footsteps. He wanted to write a novel, something that I don’t think even my mother knew. After he died, I looked everywhere, because I’d once seen several pages of a rough draft. I don’t know if I wanted to simply read it, or to finish it for him. But it was gone.  He hadn’t had much time to work on it, anyway, working two jobs to support us until the day he died. Perhaps he chucked it. I don’t know.

That was part of why many of our talks were in the dead of night. He got home at exactly 12:20 a.m. from his second job as a copy editor at the Columbus Enquirer, and there I often was, waiting, even on school nights. We’d talk, eat peanut butter and tomato sandwiches, and eventually he would remember that I was supposed to be asleep. He’d send me to bed, but never rebuked me for waiting up.

All these years later, I often look at the clock and it’s 12:20 a.m. Funny how that happens.

I don’t know if he built a love of writing in me, or if he recognized it and simply tried to help my love blossom. He never said, and it never occurred to me – and there wasn’t enough time – to ask.I’m just glad that I have it, and glad of the things he taught me.

Like him, I became a journalist, and like him, may never see a novel published, though unlike him, I’ve written several. (NOTE: this was written in 1998, long before I published Memory’s Child)

I’m glad I had him, even if he did lie when he said freckles were beautiful. Even if he lied when he said his was transferring some of his freckles to my face when he grabbed me up and rubbed his stubbly face against my cheeks while I squealed and squirmed.

He’s been gone more than three-quarters of my life and I miss him still. He would have been 100 today. Happy birthday, Dad.

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Writing Process Blog Tour – My Part!

Many thanks to my friend and fellow fictioneer, Jerilyn Dufresne, author of the charming and funny Sam Darling mystery series. She tagged me in her recent blog post (Read it here). Thanks, Jer! I enjoyed the challenge.

What are you working on now?

Lately, I’ve been emulating a scattergun – I’m working on four books. In addition to researching and writing the sequel and prequel to Memory’s Child, I’m also updating and revamping a mystery/suspense novel (Dying to Meet You) and a romance/adventure novel (Trial Run). Both of the latter are set in Florida.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?Memory's Child

Well, how many books do you know of that were generated by a can of tuna? Seriously, I found myself in a small, neighborhood grocery store one day, staring at an entire shelf section packed with cans of tuna. I thought about all the grocery stores in my city and all the cans of tuna they stocked, then all the stores in the country and so on. The idea of all those dead fish was staggering, and I wondered how long the ocean could continue to pro
duce so much fish if the population keeps growing.  You see where that kind of thinking is likely to go.

Memory’s Child is more than a cautionary or post-apocalyptic tale about humanity outgrowing the resources of this planet, though. The idea of prejudice as a fundamental part of humans’ makeup is another of the book’s premises, and it’s an important one, I think. In Memory’s Child, the circumstances of the past have changed the focus of prejudice. As Shelana, the protagonist says, humans no longer have “distinctions of color or collar or cash,” but have replaced that with another kind of prejudice – against intellect. “Hate what you do not comprehend, wage war on what you fear, and destroy what you cannot have. Prejudice is as old as mankind,” she says. I thought that idea was unique enough to explore.

Why do I write what I do?

Good question, and I have no idea. Much of the story in Memory’s Child simply erupted shortly after the tuna incident. I was not planning a novel, had not thought about this story, and had no idea it lurked in my pen, waiting to attach itself to paper. I wrote the word “aberration” on a blank page in my notebook, and from that point forward, I just went along for the ride. If you can imagine trying to write, longhand, every word of a book as it is read to you, that’s what it was like getting Memory’s Child on paper. I wrote as fast as the pen would move, terrified that I would miss something important, eager to read what would happen next.

Over the cpen_nib_with_reflectionourse of about four days, I learned the story as it appeared on the page. I only stopped writing when I fell asleep, pen in hand. I still have the original manuscript with odd little squiggles marking the page. My husband, Randy, brought me food and made sure nobody bothered me with visits or phone calls.

Those were among the very best days of my life. Later, typing the manuscript from those handwritten pages, I added descriptions and other details that weren’t in the original narrative. The story came first, the details later.

How does my writing process work?

Sadly, no other stories have flowed from my pen the way Memory’s Child did. Writing would be so much easier if they did! Instead, I write more than I should, adding and subtracting scenes as I go, until I find what works. I still write longhand and I do not outline as many authors do. Once I tell the story, I’m done, and an outline is, to my odd brain, the same as telling the story. The book would never get past the outlining stage. Instead, I start at the beginning and just keep going to the end. When the story is written, I add in transitions and descriptions (I prefer dialogue and action to writing description). This is my first edit. The whole thing is put away for at least a month to let the story steep. Then I pull it out and edit, edit, edit until I’m happy with it, which can take months. I still itch to edit Memory’s Child as ideas continue to occur to me.

What are my writing plans for the future?

Once the prequel and sequel are finished, I plan to complete the rewrite of Dying to Meet You, then Trial Run. I have a couple more novels in the very-rough-draft stage: Fair Warning and Katie Enigma. My goal is to finish at least the first four this year, if recent health issues allow. After that, I’d like to take my time on Fair Warning, especially, since the plot of that one is quite intricate.

I haven’t warned them, but I’d like to tag Allyson K. Abbott, author of the Mack’s Bar mysteries, a unique new series, and Lauren Clark, author of Dancing Naked in Dixie, Stay Tuned and Stardust Summer.

Description

description wordleIt’s a badly-kept secret that I prefer writing dialogue to writing description.To me, description should be brief but substantial, so that it delivers plenty of information to the mind’s eye without blathering on and on about the color of someone’s shirt or going into painfully explicit detail about the way the setting sun strikes the forest floor through the tree canopy.

The sunlight is dappled, okay? I don’t need to know that the light is pale lemon yellow as it stabs through the pine needles, or dark and rusty looking as it weaves its way from the sky to the scattered carpet of brown and crispy oak leaves on the forest floor. I really, honestly don’t care. The sunlight is dappled. That’s enough for my mind’s eye to conjure up a crisp carpet of leaves below and a lush canopy above.

I once spent weeks studying character descriptions in novels. I didn’t look at descriptions of the main characters, because those should occur frequently throughout the book.

What I found was that in nearly every case, the author used around 100 words of description when introducing other characters that may or may not reappear in the story, and around 50 words to describe a character’s clothing, gestures and facial expressions if they did reappear. Secondary characters sometimes required more detail than lesser characters, especially if they were doing something like washing a car or firing a weapon as a chapter opened.

That’s what I learned from studying books that I liked to read. It’s not a formula, but I do use that information as a guideline when I write. Many times, trying to write a good description succinctly has forced me to work harder at using that small block of text to its greatest advantage.

My informal research also turned up the fact that, other than character descriptions, detailed descriptions of setting and action sequences such as gunfights and autopsies could go on for pages. I understand that describing the pathologist’s movements and the tools he uses in dissecting a corpse lends authenticity to the book (and thus, the author), but books I love give me a vivid snapshot without showing me the whole movie. Please stop describing Stryker saws to me every other chapter. I already know more about them than I ever wanted or needed to. There’s that dappled sunlight, again.

I force myself to write description, because although I know what everything looks like, the audience does not. However, I skim or skip overly long, descriptive passages when I read other peoples’ work. Too many novels have more description than story. It’s like wearing full arctic gear in Miami in June.

If you condensed all that narrative, you might wind up with a lovely, highly readable short story or a novella. With the minute details of descriptive passages gone, most readers will conjure up their own visions.

Why don’t authors trust readers to employ their own imaginations anymore? I’d read every word of a book with less description, because it would be jam-packed with the important stuff. The story.

The Introverted Writer

LimebirdVanessa has a great blog post about writers who may be shy in real life but blossom online.  Take a look! The Introverted Writer.

Nostalgia

Last night, I was thinking about jargon – specifically, newspaper jargon. So much has changed just since I started in the newsroom 30 years ago. Goodness, 30 years ago? My, how time flies!

Well, that’s roughly a generation, isn’t it? I suppose the changes aren’t spectacular when you look at it that way. Still, I don’t like change.

The newspaper where I cut my teeth was using the term “library” when I got there, so I don’t know if they ever called it a morgue. My father, also a journalist, called it that. When I first started at the newspaper, I fully expected to make use of its morgue. But, no, they had a library. I’m still miffed.

Back then, we didn’t have “captions.” Captions were for the slicks (magazines). We wrote cutlines and skel lines to explain what a photo was about. Nobody seems to know what a skel line is anymore, and you rarely hear anyone speak of cutlines. It’s all captions, now. I’m miffed about that, too.

In addition to jargon, other changes in the newspaper world distress me no end. People actually have to pay to have an obituary run in the newspaper. Pardon my French, but what the hell? Obits are news and nobody pays for other types of news in the newspaper. Imagine readers having to pay for a reporter to write up the local city council meeting or take photos of a car crash. I realize the industry is flopping along on the road, trying to catch up with the Internet and avoid total collapse, but I never thought I’d see the day when you had to pay for a regular obit in the newspaper. That’s shameful, if you ask me. You didn’t ask, but there it is. Take it or leave it.

Newspaper jargon is colorful and unique. Or at least, it was. I do see writers still use the word “lede,” though I never much liked that one. I mentioned a “double truck” to an editor a few years ago and she didn’t know what I was talking about.

I’ve already waxed nostalgic over the clacking of typewriters, clatter of the teletypes, thunder of presses and the scent of ink. The latter hasn’t changed, at least. Newspapers still use ink – those that print their own stuff, at least. Some smaller papers farm out the printing rather than buy their own press. That makes good economic sense, but still….

Nope, I don’t like change. Not in most areas, anyway. I have to admit, though, that the ability to blog freely, research broadly, become immersed in social networking sites and get involved in indie publishing is exquisitely exciting.

The Internet has wrought colossal changes in the way freelance and independent writers work and opened up an entire universe of great opportunities. That’s the kind of change I can live with.

Choices

This is the first Wednesday in some time that I have nothing on my must-do list. With nothing that I must do, I can spend my day on something that I want to do. But…which something should I choose?

I want to work on scanning all of my photographs and old family documents to make a permanent, easily transportable record. I plan to copy all of these to a DVD, a thumb drive and a portable hard drive for safekeeping. Should disaster strike and we need to flee, I can grab one of those and take my memories with me.

I also want to go through the zillion scraps of paper currently lurking in the back bedroom – mostly receipts – and get rid of any that are too old for anyone to care about. Especially me. Maybe while doing that, I’ll find some of the documents I put away “in a safe place” that I absolutely cannot find now.

We have new laws governing the paperwork we need to get driver’s licenses and to vote, and all of my documents are in that mystical “safe place.” I have five copies of my birth certificate, and can’t find a blessed one.

There’s also laundry to do, floors to sweep and dust to banish. Oh, and let’s not forget, dogs to bathe. I actually want to do these things, too.

I have several books I want to read, and I want to work on the edits of one of my own books and one of a friend’s.

Still, with all these great choices facing me today, I think I’ll just…write.

Writing pen

Whooooo are You? Who-Who, Who-Who?

Masks, by Richard Dudley of Pyrmont, NSW, Australia

Thanks to World Literary Cafe’s “share the love” program, I’m getting to know a lot of authors on Facebook. Some are newly published, some have multiple books under their belts. I’d say 99.5% of them are interesting as people, as writers, as craftspeople.

I’ve noticed something, though. Most of my friends who are authors and a great many of the new writers I’m getting to know use pen names. In the past couple of months, I’ve seen more AKAs than a typesetter in the wanted poster printing office.

Now, I’m not good with names under the best conditions, and that’s when the people I want to remember only use one name. Trying to remember real names as well as pen names makes me dizzy.

One or two authors I know had to switch to pen names after a bad experience with a traditional publishing house. Some use a different pen name for each of the different series novels they produce, while two that I know of use one pen name for books in one genre, like mystery, and another pen name for books they write in a different genre, like romance.  I envy them their prolificity (is that a word?), but I think I’ve asked one of my friends at least a dozen times what their pen name is.  That feels disrespectful to me, but it’s an honest-to-God flaw in my brain. No offense meant, my friends.

Using a nom de plume may be a safety consideration for some writers. Who needs stalkers and cyberbullies making life harder? Sadly, modern society, both real and online, can not be counted on to be civil or well-behaved.

There’s nothing wrong with pen names. Authors have used them for centuries. I may use one, myself, when I get around to publishing Dying to Meet You, which is a mystery and nothing like Memory’s Child.

If I adopt a pen name or two, I  just hope I can still remember my real name.