Wednesday, December 2, 2015

We Write from Memory, for Memory and Sometimes to Memory

Memory is essential for everything we do. We learn through memory, understand through memory, forgive and even forget by way of memory. We revisit our past and consider our futures all through memories built from ours and others recall.

Recently, chatting with H. M. Jones whom I met on GooglePlus just a week or so after reading her book Monochrome (filled with the underpinnings of what motherhood is, not to mention the very important feature of memory) got me thinking back on the other avenues of writing I had taken.

Jones invited me to consider submitting a poem to a women's online anthology she has started up to give a voice to women finding publication difficult. I haven't tried to publish any poetry in many years, so I was surprised at how intrigued I was by the opportunity.

Memory: I remembered my pregnancy-inspired poetry from nearly twenty years ago.  I am certain her book and the various topics we touched on in our discussions were the trigger. I checked out Jones's Brazen Bitches anthology link on her H. M. Jones Writes website. I knew instantly which one of my poems belonged among the selection she had already posted.

I searched for the one I had in mind within my file of long packed away poems. It was just as I remembered it. I returned to those strong maternal feelings for a child yet to be born and realized that my daughter had reached the age when seeing this poem inspired by her beginning would show her what my hopes had been and what they still are.

I sent "Sister Clytemnestra" to H. M. Jones and held my breath that it was ready to speak for itself.

Memory: without it writers have nothing to give. It is through memory that we find a way to speak for those not yet ready to voice for themselves or not yet filled with remembering or the remembered.

When Hannah Jones (H. M. Jones) let me know that she would be adding my poem to the anthology, I felt exuberant, and the first thought I had was that my daughter must see this poem.

I have to admit I was more excited to show her than she was to see it. But she did read it and we talked briefly about its origins and inspiration. I was expecting a, "Gee, mom, you really were thinking about me."

That's not what she said though. She saw familiar mythology, and remembered texts she has read and studied.

I had forgotten she was an aspiring/growing writer herself. I realize now it will be a bit before the intent of the poem and its direct connection to her rises past the other aspects she was more focused on noting.

My daughter is a designer/engineer at heart. What grabs her attention fits more under the vocabulary of "foundation," "process," "structure," and "skill." She was busy dissecting not appreciating.

But I remind myself of memory. She will remember after a bit that the poem I showed her belongs to her more than anyone else. It may speak to others, but it was speaking to her long before she was listening. And one day, she will get past the what of it and see the intent I had that she become the women that she has grown into without ever knowing that was my wish until it had already happened.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

7+ Healthy Writer Activities That Help You Be a Better Writer

Health in all its dimensions.
I am a firm believer that being healthy leads to all sorts of benefits. As a writer, I especially want to do the things that add quality to my writing.  The more healthy I am, the better I think, write, plan, organize, and step into another person's (replace with character's) shoes.

  1. Sleep. We absolutely must sleep enough. For some writers, seven hours is optimum while others have different required amounts of sleep. So it is not that a writer must sleep a particular number of hours, but a writer must sleep the right number of hours.
  2. Drink enough clean, pure water. The brain needs water and it needs a specific amount. Just as writers need different amounts of sleep, their need for water differs too. It is dependent upon the climate lived in, the weight of the individual, how much exercise is practiced, whether or the writer takes medicine which effects water usage and even if the writer drinks other liquids which steal water. So it isn't a particular amount, it is the correct amount that the body needs.
  3. Companionship which supplies trust, support, a kind shoulder, challenge, and encouragement. This helps keep stress down because there is someone who will be there during the rough times.
  4. Speaking of stress: this is one of the top destructive health issues. Read, listen to music, meditate, go for a bike ride, knit, play Sims: reduce stress by doing those things that make you relax and get away from the stress inducing actions/experiences.
  5. Eat food that supports the mind and body. Sounds simple, but it isn't.  So this means no fast food, no sodas, no high salt chips, etc. It means eating for the body (and for the mind).
  6. Exercise at least thirty minutes a day (three to five  times a week) in a fashion that raises your heart rate, warms up your muscles, and challenges your lungs and your strength.
  7. This is the plus one: and it's not a repeat of number 3. Hang out with people who look at things positively, are honest with you and want you to be honest with them, are fair minded and open to new ideas, and have few prejudices (I'm okay with people who aren't crazy about spiders and snakes). If they are knowledgeable about things you aren't, then you have bonus material in that friendship.
  8. For writers only:  write.
True -- I have offered nothing new. But new isn't needed. Do what are bodies and minds have always needed. It doesn't matter that there is more technology. We still need sleep that rejuvenates, food that nourishes, love that makes us secure, friendship that brings us positive viewpoints, reasons to smile, support to get us through the tough times, and strong bodies fit to recover from illness, carry us through stress and open the pickle jar.

If you liked this post, please share it.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why read my books? 15 reasons you should consider making a purchase.

I don't do much in the way of advertising my books. So I thought this week I would post some reasons for someone to read my Students of Jump series, currently up to book 4.  The following are the reasons that came to mind.

  1. You haven't yet. Everybody needs to relax for a while each day. Relax with a book.
  2. You will be thinking about something other than what is troubling you.
  3. You will feel an affinity for at least one of the characters and want to know what is going to happen next to him or her.
  4. If you enjoy time travel stories, you'll enjoy my books.
  5. There are no cliffhangers. Each novel stands alone.
  6. Each one is better than the one before.
  7. They have strong women characters.
  8. You can get them for a good price at all popular retailers and a number of online libraries.
  9. There is something to laugh about, cry about, and think about in each one.
  10. You can purchase my book in a variety of eBook forms for many ereaders: Kindle, Sony, Kobo, Nook and of course, computer apps.
  11. You can buy the first three books in a box set for only $6.99. That means each one is a bargain at $2.33.
  12. There are four books currently in the series.
  13. Potentially there will be nine or more books in the series. (That's how many I have brainstormed on Freemind.)
  14. You'll be able to answer the following questions: 
  • Will Brent come to terms with both his pasts?
  • Will Misty forgive her father, save her mother, or get her aunt's gate painted?
  • Will Mack and Emily figure out who took Renwick mid time jump and keep each other safe from the same fate?
  • Will Quinn complete his time jumping test or take a forfeit to remain with an ever shrinking selection of pasts?
    15. Now the writer shouldn't answer all the questions. I bet you can come up with the fifteenth one.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

10 Styles That May Help You be Smashwords Ready Before You Have to Be

Before you write, set your styles.
There's always a little bit of a high I feel after I have formatted a book for upload to Smashwords and I receive the email stating that I have no autovetter issues. But I don't get that smooth upload through luck. I set myself up for it from the start.

I have a preset format that has me writing in Smashwords style before I type the first word. If you have uploaded to Smashwords once, you will know just what I mean, but you may not have set your MS Word to start you off right. If you are thinking about self-publishing your work with Smashwords, and it's your first time, take the time to set up your document to meet the demands of the Meatgrinder.

There's a bonus. My Smashwords ready novel will be 97 percent ready for upload to Amazon. I will only have a little front matter and back matter to change to meet Amazon's requirements when I am ready to upload to Amazon.

It's a pretty simple process to make yourself Smashwords ready at the start. Download the free Smashwords Style Guide and set up a four page document as if it was a book. Give it a title page, copyright page, chapter title, some body text and a bio with a few links to your author pages. In fact this can become your template for cutting and pasting into your finished novel when you are ready to format for upload. How great is that?! Now read that guide and apply the format requirements to this 1-4 page practice/template document. After this is done, you can open a new document based on these style settings.

With that four-page document ready for styles, you can set up what you need for that book you are going to write. I have created the following styles that I use in nearly all my books. They make preparing my manuscript very easy.
  • Body text: Modify your normal text to Times New Roman, font 12, first line indent .3, single spacing, everything else set to 0.  It's important to do this first because all your other styles will be based on this one. (Look to the style guide for how to work the styles. It would be silly for me to repeat it, and the guide does a great job of showing writers how to do it.)
  • Book title: using your Normal style, create a new style setting the various qualities you want for your title: bold, italics, font size, font, center, no indent (I just use Times New Roman throughout). Label it.
  •  Chapter title: again (and I won't repeat this any more) using your Normal style create this new style: bold, italics, font, font size, center, no indent. And add one more neat trick (thanks to Mark Coker). Click on the Line and Page Breaks tab under the Format/Paragraph pop up window. Put a check mark in the box "put a page break before." This is great as it creates a reliable page break between the end of the previous chapter and the new one. I also increase the space above and below the written text (also recommended by Mark Coker). 20 above, 36 below to put the chapter title a little further down the page and the first line of text a nice distance from the chapter title. Play with this until you're happy with the distance.
  • White space marker. I use markers for white space because simply adding returns can be confusing in eBook readers as the text that follows can appear as just a new paragraph rather than a change in time, viewpoint or character. So I use seven tildes in a row.  I type the seven tildes and click on my White Space style: center, bold, up a notch on font size and set .8 space before and after to clearly mark it as a separation often called white space.
  • Other chapter: the label does not explain well what this is for. I added this to my styles for this fourth book. I include not just Chapter and the number, but a title that focuses on a important issue in the chapter.  Originally I wanted to put these on one line together. But some of my titles were so long that they ran clear across the page. So I created an Other chapter style for the more specific title. It is based on the Chapter Title style but does not include the embedded page break which would have forced a blank page after my first line title when I put on the second line.  Chapter 1: The Dean's Ghost works fine when it is short. But long titles don't look right. Thus I do what I have below for all my titles and all it takes is a click on this style to make them look identical but act just that little bit different so I don't have a blank page between my two lines of titling.
                Chapter 1

          The Dean's Ghost
  • Time markers: in my first three books, my characters were moving about so much in time that I felt my reader would need a little assistance keeping track. So I set up a style for a time marker. Example: March 21, 2214, New Hampshire Complex, Langler Section. Bold, left justified.
  • Center: set up a style for centering based on Normal. According to Mark Coker, this is much more reliable than clicking the center button on the ribbon. Italics, bold and underline on the ribbon, however, are said to work fine.
  • Front and back matter. Mark recommends that front and back matter be left justified with no embedded indent. So I set up a style just for that based on my Normal style but without the .3 first line indent. And I added an 8 point space after to separate the left justified paragraphs.
  • Table of Contents look best either centered or left justified. I prefer left justified, so I made a style that had all the Normal text qualities but did not include the indent. And I use the Chapter title style for the title Table of Contents.
With these styles already set up in my styles ribbon, my manuscript was already free of most issues that cause autovetter problems and was largely ready for final formatting via the style guide.

One issue I found when I used the Pilcrow (backwards looking P thing in the ribbon that shows the the coding of your document) to check for unnecessary format coding was unexpected section breaks I did not insert. I don't know what causes Word to insert section breaks, but they show up in the oddest places in my manuscript. When it comes time to get ready to format for upload, the first thing I do is activate the codes view (click on the Pilcrow) and look at every page, every line and every code. I get rid of extra spaces, tabs, unnecessary returns and most especially those pesky section breaks which will insert annoying extra pages. Then I'm ready to complete the format for Smashwords.

So if my husband did not keep chatting with me and asking me how much longer I'll be, I would have completed my formatting for Smashwords in about 45 minutes. But that wasn't the case. It took me about an hour and a half. And don't forget to save as a doc rather than a docx which leads to a failed upload.  Happy formatting.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The 10 problems that will make me giveup reading a book

Poorly written stories make for a blurry book, lacking color
Lately, due to my lighter teaching schedule, I have been reading a book a week, minimum. (Last year, a book every two months was my average.) Usually I will read a book to the end, waiting for it to redeem itself if it is less than engaging. "Maybe the writer needed more practice and the end will show improvement," I tell myself.

Often even a book that starts off rough will, over time, gain its feet. The adage the act of writing improves writing and every writer gets better as they continue to produce often applies. But some problems will bother me so much that I will have to remind myself that redemption might yet flower if I keep reading. But I have given up on a few books.

These are the top ten which will, if enough appear, convince me to give up on a book.

  1. Unnecessary sex - though it isn't presented this way, it will have the effect of a quickie with a prostitute. I can ignore it once. But if it repeats, I will probably drop reading the book.
  2. Unnecessary swearing - and even worse, if the swearing is the same word and everybody who swears in the book uses it and only that one word.  I recently read a really great book that had this one flaw. It was as if the characters kept saying "um" or "like" every few words. Made me cringe every time, but it did not make me stop reading because it was an excellent story and thankfully, the swearing was not a constant, just consistently repetitive and frequently unnecessary.
  3. Introductions that tell how bad things are now without providing any real imagery, characterization or depth of story. Sort of a "by the way, first you have to know this." Now you can read my story.
  4. Too many characters with different color eyes and hair or stripes or accents, and that's all I get to tell them apart. Everyone sounds the same.
  5. One woman and every guy wants her or vice versa. And I don't even like the character, so how am I going to be convinced every Tom, Dick and Harry will?
  6. The story plods along, I realize I have been reading for half the book and nothing has happened, and I still don't know the characters well enough to want to continue the journey with them.
  7. The characters are really tense, but there was nothing to make them tense. Everybody is grumping along or sparks are flying every time they touch, but nothing led up to it.
  8. Really poor punctuation and sentence structure. I can deal with an occasional missing word, an unnecessary fragment, etc. A good story is a good story. And many a time I and others will trip over our words while we tell about something interesting. We don't lose our listeners and the writer won't lose this reader for an occasional writing issue. The story is everything. But really bad grammar and punctuation skills can kill even the best story.
  9. I put the book down (voluntarily) to go have lunch or chat with a friend and I can't remember what I was reading. That is a really bad sign. I am about twenty pages into a book right now and have put it down twice. Both times I had to think a bit about what was happening before I opened it up to read more. Nothing is happening yet that is keeping my interest which is funny as the White House has just blown up, people are fleeing and a crazy man is on the loose. No real tension. The main characters are just walking away from the burning building.
  10. Using known characters and relying on the reader's knowledge of them to carry the characterization. That is not the way to create memorable characters the reader is going to care about.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

When the mess of writing clutters the table, there is always a solution

The bowl.
My husband and I used to tandem bicycle race. We traveled about quite a bit because tandem racing has never been a sport that takes place often nor was it held at numerous sites in close vicinity to each other.

We had a compact car, a Datson 210. My husband was a serious fanatic about keeping his bikes clean (still is), and a tandem (bicycle built for two people) is no small package. We had two choices: mount it on top of the car or mount it behind the car. Neither option ends up with a clean bike at the destination.

My husband had a better idea. Thus the incredible disappearing tandem carrier was invented. It amounted to the removal of both wheels and the turning of the handlebars completely around so they hung over the frame. Then the car's rear seats were laid down and the frame laid on top the ridiculously tight flat space encroached on by the rear wheel wells.

Various bags, riding accouterments, and the bike wheels were wedged into place. A blanket was laid over it and then further soft items placed over that.  Riding buddies would remind us each time we arrived at a race site that we forgot to pack the bike.  Riders who didn't know us would look strangely at us as my husband would nod and say, "We might as well unpack anyway and stay awhile." Then our friends would gather for the great reveal. We could get that bike back together in about 59 seconds.

Now there is a glazed clay bowl on the center of my kitchen table. It's squatty, round, about twenty inches in diameter with a variegation of colors: vibrant reds, pulsing oranges, mossy greens, and lots of browns.  Several years ago I was visiting my mother and she offered me the bowl.  She didn't want it any more, and I was afraid to say no about taking it, worried she would take it as a condemnation of her decorative style. But then again she didn't want it any more and what did that say? But I did take it. It sat beneath the open island in my kitchen and became the catch all for plastic bags from the grocery store until we could recycle them. A rather ignominious use for it.

Then we bought a table. A really beautiful inlaid wood dining room table. All my writing stuff: index cards, computer, chargers, resource books, pens, ear phones, pictures, mouse pad and the list goes on, just could not be moved from the old butcher block table to this lovely piece of furniture. Yet I still needed to work there.

I moved everything to a basket in another room. I would retrieve my computer from a shelf when I wanted to use it and then put it back. Every night the same schlepping back and forth. When I needed a pen, my phone charger, phone, e-reader, my ever present index cards, highlighter, calculator, whiteout, soft screen cloth, I would have to trudge to the basket in the other room. And then take it back when I was done. The table looked wonderfully neat, but I was finding the whole carting process annoying. Things began to get left behind on the table for later schlepping. A poor solution.

There were numerous options:
  • Move myself to my neglected desk in the back room.
  • use my lap desk on the spare bed
  • use the couch in the living room and clutter the end table with my things.
  • throw a table cloth on the table and stack everything back where it was within easy reach like before. Seriously, not a chance.
I walked by the island and bent down to scoop up a snarl of loose dog hair and saw that bowl. Hmm.

The plastic bags all fit quite nicely into one bag, squished free of air and tied up. I set them back under the island and carried the bowl to the table.

You know, that bowl can hide a two-inch thick, trade-size writing journal, and all my other creative odds and ends. It looks nice and is the right height to make it difficult to look straight inside it when you eat, but not so tall that you can't reach in and find something by feel when you need it.

It will not hide a tandem bicycle. But then it doesn't need to.

How do you hide your writerly stuff?


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

20 Ways Writers are Active Learners

Just let me learn
Writers learn all the time. We want not just our facts as close to accurate as possible, poetic license not withstanding, but we are always looking for inspiration. So we cannot help but be active learners. And we do it like this.
  1. We go looking for what kind of pine trees are located near Devil's Lake in Oregon and get all caught up in the fertilization process of the Ponderosa Pine. Okay, not necessarily "we," that was me.
  2. But many of us want to learn how to make a book trailer and end up chatting with several authors who have done this and several others who have not but want to and a few that feel they could use one but know they will never do it because it just looks like too much work. Somewhere in the process, we feel inspired to begin mapping out the trailer we were contemplating and then check on the software recommended by the experienced writers, and...we learn something.
  3. We are inspired. We look for things to inspire us.  We want to learn because learning inspires us.
  4. When we drive to the grocery store (usually out of guilt because while we have been writing all day, someone else in the family has been cleaning house, mowing the lawn, or doing the laundry), we see people, I mean really see them. For example, we might look at the mother with the three little girls, two which look like they may be fraternal twins, but we're not sure and we don't want to ask, but they sure look the same size. We consider that maybe they're cousins or playmates and that could explain why they are the same size. Or maybe they really are twins, or the older same size girl is just smaller because she takes after the mother's side of the family while the actual younger one takes after the father..... Now we get to thinking about our own family and when we get home, instead of writing, we get on and look up our family roots or call Grandma and ask about the first friend she remembers having and whether they were the same size or not. No matter what, we spend our days learning.
  5. Did you know that cartographers put in fake towns on their maps so they can catch plagiarizing map makers? And did you know that Rand McNally was accused of plagiarizing someone else's map and the company (Rand McNally) was able to prove they hadn't plagiarized because people began going to that fake town and ultimately put in a few businesses and built a couple houses and called the place by the fake name that the map said was there. I learned this when I was looking for inspiration and watched a TED talks given by John Green about how nerds learn everything online. I dare you to go there and learn something.
  6. We writers are dependent upon our computers for a variety of purposes that support or directly involve our writing, so to combat the various ways a computer can mess with us, we find ourselves in need of learning it's many secrets, i.e., how to save on at least three different back up systems or how to extricate a disk from a drive refusing to pop out the side of our laptop upon command or find out if we should start crying because our screen has gone completely black except for the little white arrowed cursor that we can still move. I learned a lot dealing with that unexpected computer moment.
  7. This does not even take into consideration how often we are reading books about writers, written by writers for writers to improve writing or even books for writers but not by writers (a definite paradox in that one).
  8. And what about when we watch those around us surreptitiously? We are paying attention not because we are nosy, but because we wish to catch the nuances of verbal vs physical communication between people who like each other, between people who don't like each other, between a person who likes the other who does not like him/her. We are not being nosy, we are learning the trade.
  9. We look at how other authors organize their blogs, advertise their books, tweet, google+, etc., because we want to learn their secrets.
  10. We read the posts that Mark Coker writes because they are about writing and the market and how we are doing as a subgroup. And we hope to learn something vital from his examination of our accumulated activities. We do this on purpose.
  11. We give ourselves limits on how long we can research. And then we break the rule we created to avoid using valuable time we could use for writing because learning about the new colossal Stonehenge believed to be not more than three miles from the currently famous and provably present Stonehenge is just too interesting and we might, maybe, someday use that information, sort of.
  12. You know when the company decides to replace the thingamajig you've been using very well the last three years and you have to figure out how you are going to accomplish the same things using this new thingamajig? This happens. Routinely. This year it was change all the students' laptop computers to Google Chromes. Now I could have pulled out my hair, ran round my room in circles cursing administration for yet again not asking me how this would affect putting out a school paper. But I didn't because I might find it useful knowing all the ins and outs of this particular thingamajig. Took a principal, a technology director and me about two hours to put all the fingers in the dike before all my newsprint dripped off the pages of the yet to be published first issue. But we did it. Now my students are experts and sending documents compatible with our layout program is old hat. Nobody is crying in the corner. We all learned something. 
  13. Have you noticed how often the things we do routinely teach us something new almost every time? I teach literature, and of course, I have favorite pieces I have my students look at each year. Even after reading "Of Studies" by Bacon numerous times, I still gain from the examination. This year it was the list of intake: taste, chew, swallow, digest. The depth at which we take in information equals the depth at which it influences and changes us. Read widely and deeply. 
  14. Are you one of those people who read labels? I don't mean when you go shopping, but that too is good. I mean whatever is sitting in front of you that has words gets read. I do that and it never fails to boot me off into interesting thoughts and ideas. Yeah, reading Mrs. Dash seasonings can make me creative. Who'd of thunk?
  15. Art work. Art work is amazing, inspiring and it makes me want to tell the story that continued of after the image was capture. I learn about these new characters and sometimes they stay with me long enough to become masters of their own stories. Other times they come in as bit parts for stories current in the works and sometimes, strangely enough, they offer a new viewpoint that changes the direction of something I'm writing. Without that trade of ideas, I wouldn't have realized some off point in my idea, some not so ringing true interaction. We learn even from our imaginative selves.
It is likely you noticed there are not actually 20 ways of learning for writers written here. The reason my post-reading friend is I expect you to come up with a few to add to my list. Surely by now you have thought of your own active learning adventure that you would like to share.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Harness your emotional grip on creativity with levels of intensity

I love reading about the creative process. So many things effect the act of creation. There is place, time, deadlines, atmosphere, and a sense of purpose. But a recent article covered the idea that emotion has an effect on results and even on what area of creation the artist should focus on based on that emotion.

According to Scott Barry Kaufman in his article "The Emotions That Make Us More Creative," one should consider not just emotions that are "positive and negative," but also "emotional intensity."

Kaufman argues that research shows that the belief that positive emotion increases creativity because it broadens the outlook and negative emotion narrows the focus thus reducing the creativity is "simplistic."

Kaufman went on to explain that intensity was also very important. Emotions that are positive but lack intensity do not necessarily improve creativity. Applying research done by a psychologist named Eddie Harmon-Jones and his associates, Kaufman explained that the emotion "pleasant" as too mild while "desire" has intensity and therefore greater motivational power which would lead to completing a goal.

This is all very interesting, but how does one direct it toward creative writing? Kaufman clarifies this by stating that "high emotional states focus us on completing a goal" whereas "low emotional states" drive us to "seek" greater challenge elsewhere.  In a sense that lower emotional state causes us to seek creativity.

So to answer that question: how does this effect our creativity as writers? When we writers are feeling less intense, we are more likely to be inspired to come up with something new and unique. When we are feeling highly energized, it is likely we will do well to focus on a goal or action that requires completion.

When feeling good, relaxed or slightly under the weather, direct yourself to the act of drafting. Creativity will be within reach and supported by our emotional state which won't distract us with emotional intensity.

But when feeling highly emotional (positive or negative) our attention narrows, so we should be working on the final phases of a work, such as editing, formatting or organizing.

I am still thinking this through. When I am being creative in my writing, I get very intense and focused on the work I am drafting. That seems to run counter to what Kaufman is saying. But I must agree that at the start of the act of creating I am often in the medium range of emotion.

Later when I am choosing to edit, I find that being tightly focused, a high intensity desire to work on something, does get me to redraft and define my intention on a scene better than being relaxed does.

What I liked best about the article though is that he stated that creative people are able to adapt and mix emotional states for the best results. We are essentially diverse and not boxed in by our emotions. We harness them. Yeah, emotionally creative powerhouses. I'll take that complement.

Have any of you noted your emotional state and its effect on your creativity?  What have you found about the connection between emotion and your work?


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

6 Ways Writers Bring Verisimilitude to a Character's Experience

We fiction writers attempt to create authentic character experience, largely from events we have never experienced. Of course, we often draw from memories to bring verisimilitude to our writing, but just as often, if not more so, we write of things we have never seen, touched, emotionally felt or responded to.

Writers attempt to create the familiar and unfamiliar daily. If we are true in our creation, our readers will believe in the moment we depict.

Writers attempt to make readers sympathetic. We turn them into partners who can feel what our characters are feeling to such a degree that, however momentarily, they are in the same emotional instant of being as the character we painstakingly created.

In other words, our readers laugh, cry, wince, tremble, and smile just where we want them to as they read. Either the reader never experienced the situation or they have. In either case, they deepen the connection through imagination and through their own personal experience.

With the desire to develop our characters so our readers commiserate and celebrate with them comes the need to grasp the nuances of these unique and often powerful incidents.

There are six main ways writers do this:
  1. We talk to friends, family and professionals who can provide the needed information
  2. We research by reading texts, maps, and internet sources, etc.
  3. We seek the experience
  4. We keep copious notes about what naturally occurs in our lives
  5. We observe closely when others go through events around us
  6. We draw from our imagination, using all of the above to produce something that has yet to be experienced by anyone
Consider the following list:
  1. getting married/divorced/widowed
  2. childbirth
  3. being burned
  4. breaking a bone
  5. being hit by a car
  6. falling a great height
  7. sneaking/breaking into a home/business/institution
  8. stealing
  9. lying for the sake of survival
  10. flying a plane
  11. grave illness
  12. flying in space
  13. crashing a car/plane/motorcycle/boat
  14. losing a limb
  15. fighting a monster
  16. being shot at
  17. shooting someone
  18. making a movie
  19. abusing
  20. being abused
  21. building a house
  22. crafting a work of art or necessity
  23. fixing a machine
  24. programming a computer
  25. building a computer
  26. running a country
  27. taking over a country
  28. assassination
  29. jumping on/off a train
  30. falling in love
  31. hate
  32. raising a child
  33. teaching a skill or knowledge
  34. running a plant/warehouse, business
  35. running from an enemy/attacker
  36. running any complicated machinery
  37. running a marathon/extreme sports
  38. climbing a mountain
  39. hunting
  40. dressing a deer/pig/cow/etc. (I don't mean with clothes; however, that might be something a character might have to do, so perhaps that should be on the list)
  41. cooking a complete meal
  42. painting a picture
  43. losing one's mind/memory
  44. caring for the elderly
  45. raising a child with a disability
  46. training a horse/dog/monkey/donkey/etc.
  47. sculpting
  48. treating an injury
  49. designing clothes/interiors/architecture/etc.
  50. drowning 
  51. miscarriage of a pregnancy
red - events I acquired information about or observed from family, friends or professionals so I could use it in something I've written
purple - what I have personally experienced and may have used
orange - what I had no experience in but I did use in my writing and augmented through additional research
white - have not needed to know yet

Obviously, the list is incomplete and infinite in potential length.

We writers are busy creating characters who go through believable experiences. If you are a writer, what unusual or challenging experience did you have to craft for your work? If you are a reader, what experience did a character go through that captured an emotional and physical connection from you, that made you respond because it felt that real?


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Use these 11 "nations" of the US to create depth in the characters you build

I read an article about the various distinct cultural nations within the United States and found it very useful for determining the underlying influences of characters in fiction. In this article which made use of the work of Colin Woodard, Matthew Speizer provides (This map shows the US really has 11 separate 'nations' with entirely different cultures) descriptions of the type of people who live in specific areas in the US and what their political/cultural viewpoints are built on.

At first while reading it, I was focusing on identifying where I fit in the demographics described. It wasn't hard to figure out. I'll give you hints and let you pick my niche: born below the Mason Dickson line, but raised into my teens in northern New England, I then lived several years in Oregon after finishing high school in California. My adult life was largely in the Northwest, with southern influences. 

Now that I've written it down, all I can say is good luck with locating my cultural position within these described "nations." I might be harder to label than I first thought.  Blame my dad who never seemed to be able to stay in one place very long.

But my point is how great is this for determining the underlining influences for character building and interaction. Imagine a "Yankeedom" having to rebuild a demolished world with a "Greater Appalacian."  Utopian leanings vs very constrained. The conflicts are built into the individuals and the "cultures" they bring with them.

How about a (space)ship's captain with "el Norte" sympathies with a first officer who's a "Left Coaster." Plenty of room for common ground and still areas where the two would argue specific issues of "expression," "exploration" and regulation.

In my SF time travel novel (book 3 of Students of Jump), Next Time We Meet, Mick Jenkins is largely Greater Appalacian. But the society he is now trying to make a home in is New Netherland in many respects. He wants order where they encourage a general "go with the flow attitude."

I can see these "culture" breakdowns of political viewpoints as one more useful tool for building individual character behavior and interactive conflict between characters. As you design characters, consider where they fall in these niches. Support the influences with attitudes, heritage, and biases that add depth to the individuality of your characters.  

Follow the link to the article and take a look at it yourself.  11 Nations of the United States.

Do you see any of your characters falling under these cultural labels? If so, which character, which story, and what qualities most standout?


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

8 Ways to Strengthen Your Writer Posture

Every writer needs a strong posture.
I recently watched a TED talks video, Amy Cuddy's "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are." As a teacher, I understand the dynamics of body language. I read my students' body language all the time and modify my approach to match or alter their attitudes so the class runs smoothly and achieves my intended goals for learning.

Watching this video brought to mind that this approach to body language relates to writers and how we do what we do.

The obvious connection is how our characters respond to given situations. The postures we describe our characters holding tells a lot to our readers about how the character is feeling about the situation. Do they expect to win or lose? Are they going to fight or run? Do they like the people they are with? Which ones more than others? How is the day going so far?

When that described posture is combined with narrative evaluation or internal dialogue, we end up with contrast, support, and definition.

Every writer makes use of body language.

But what about the writer as writer? How does a writer adjust his/her posture for power and confidence, raise testosterone and lower cortisol in the other aspects of being a writer?

I have read numerous descriptions of writers as shy, quiet, non-social, and insecure people. We present big, but in actuality lack confidence in being writers. I don't know if that is true since fifty years back the typical writer was often viewed as a heavy drinking, loud, drug taking, know it all. Were they faking it?  Were they, to paraphrase Cuddy, faking it until they became it? Everybody is "coming out," so perhaps authors are too, and maybe we really are totally insecure. I know I am a shy person who has a teaching persona my students often describe as demanding. Being a demanding person would not work for me as a writer. And I am not interested in following the drinking, loud, drug taking, know-it-all approach to ensure my "writing persona" is strong. So how can we use Cuddy's ideas to present a strong writer posture in our writing endeavors?

Here are 8 ways to use Cuddy's ideas to strengthen our writing posture.

  1. Before you start writing, take that power pose — hands on your hips, feet shoulder-width apart and chin just a bit above parallel with the ground (called the Wonder Woman for a reason.) You should hear the theme: "Wonder Writer, Wonder Writer" playing in the background. Do this before you sit down to write that post, chapter, poem, etc. 
  2. Unless, of course, you are trying to write a downcast character and you are one of those writers that act out your characters as you write — so a low confidence pose would be good to start with: shoulders curled in, arms down and held close to the body clutching the torso or neck protectively — gather a sense of what that feels like and then power up and sit down.
  3. Going for an interview: written, audio, video, in person — first stand up, raise your hands in the air and shout (or whisper very loud) "I'm being interviewed" like it is an Emmy award you're receiving. Now go show them your stuff.
  4. How about that important phone call: Power pose it. By the way, according to Cuddy you have to hold this pose for two minutes. Now pick up the phone and make the call.
  5. About to upload your formatted eBook:  Walk around larger than life, take a stand in the middle of the room, power pose. Now go upload that baby. It's ready to face the world.
  6. Putting together a proposal to an agent? Feeling daunted by the task? Time to power pose. You got this. Now write that proposal.
  7. About to edit your fully drafted novel? Definitely time for a power pose. This is the second most common time for low confidence in the writer. (For me, number 4 is the number one low confidence time.) You've put in all this work and now you're saying it is done and ready for clean up. 
  8. Did somebody just say, "I hear that you write"? Get big, take up space — chest out, arms a little away from the body, chin up a bit or go for the power pose. Remember that's hands on hips, feet apart, chin up. "Damn straight, I'm a writer." Yeah, that's asking a bit much for me, too. But it would give me a rush of confidence, enough to say. "Yes, yes, I am."
It's been nice having this little chat. Consider following me, tweeting this post, checking by again. I do occasionally .... can you give me a couple minutes....  Okay, I'm ready now. So you enjoyed this post. Follow me, Tweet my post, come by each week and you'll find something valuable in my  writings to take away with you. I challenge you to check out my earlier posts. Yeah, power posture.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pre-order: Two new Students of Jump books ready for pre-order

I've never done a pre-order on my books before, but with two ready to roll out very soon, it seemed like a good idea. So as of yesterday, I have two books set up as pre-orders at Smashwords which will soon distribute them to Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble and other eBook sites in the next few days.

It is kind of exciting and daunting at the same time. I am making a promise to have them ready by the date specified. And that adds a level of stress that is different from simply deciding to publish by summer 2015.

A Jump in Time Makes Three is a box set of books 1 thru 3 of the Students of Jump series. It is in final edit. It will be available for pre-order until August 20, 2015. I am also setting it at a nice low early bird price of $4.99. It will move up to its set price of $7.99 after the publish date.

Check out my books page (tab at the top) for a short synopsis for each book.

That's the Trouble with Time is the fourth book in the series Students of Jump. My beta readers have been invaluable. I spent the last two months doing clean up and adding more than 35,000 words to the book leaving it a whopping 109,000 words, my longest book to date. It is priced at $3.99. It will publish August 31, 2015.

Blurb: When a student of jump taking his first solo time traveling assignment meets up with a determined renegade fighting the world government for freedom from oppression, he finds losing his jump unit is just one problem he has to fix, quickly followed by how he can protect his heart from being the next thing he loses, especially when she keeps throwing it back at him.

Cameo appearances by Lumin, Mick, Emily, Misty, and Quixote.

In the mean time during the month of July, all three books currently in the series are enrolled in the Summer/Winter sale at The first book In Times Passed is 100% off while books 2 & 3 are 50% off.
In Times Passed: An accidental inventor of time travel takes his desire for anonymity back 200 years where his struggle to live as an average Joe demands he accept the expectations present at his birth and use them to recreate society and put into motion what he jumped into the past to avoid. Uses Summer/Winter sale coupon to purchase for FREE.


No-time like the Present: The abandoned daughter of a time traveler takes her skill of testing prototypes to their breaking point and applies it to a time jumper sent to check on her. Convincing him he must take her forward in time to demand answers from her father is easier than she expected, but finding herself instrumental in revealing what could bring her father peace and forgiveness will test her determination to refuse him a place in her life.
Use Summer/Winter sale coupon to purchase at 50% off.


Next Time We Meet: Recently trained to travel in time and set to take a honeymoon in the past, an anachronistic building contractor and his quick-witted wife find the leisure life lacks challenge, so they take on locating a missing and notably annoying physitech, placing them in the crosshairs of the kidnapping entity as they jump through time chasing clues both reliable and false. Use Summer/Winter sale coupon to purchase at 50% off.