Sunday, March 27, 2016

Reading What You Write


If you're a writer, I'm sure you've heard at least half a dozen field experts say you should be reading your genre. That's what made us begin writing what we write, right? (Say that five times real fast.) When I was a teen, fourteen or fifteen, my grandmother and aunt ran a small flea market out of the garages my grandfather once used for his auto-body shop. I learned about antiques like Depression Glass and various jewelry from different eras. I also tagged along when the women-folk went to different flea markets and garage sales, looking for these precious pieces to resell.

One day, I can't remember if it was a weekend or weekday during the summer months, we stopped at a multi-family garage sale at which there were a TON of paperbacks. I'm talking two tables packed with boxes packed with books. Big stuff. I had a quarter in the pocket of my worn Lee jeans. As Nanny and Aunt Lisa sorted through vases and plates, I thumbed through dozens of what once were well-loved books. The spines had a lot of creases. Some of the covers were torn. I read blurb after blurb after blurb.

And then I came upon this one:

From the moment she laid eyes on him, Rue thought Hawk Masters the most insufferable man she'd ever met. Proud, arrogant, overbearing, he made it insultingly clear that although her grandfather's shotgun had forced him to wed Rue, nothing would make him bed a scrawny little backwoods baggage like her.

I think maybe my mouth fell open. I'd never--and I mean never read anything quite like this. Sheltered Christian girl from South Mississippi? This was naughtier than naughty. I finished reading the blurb (her tousled red-gold hair...oh, my!) and flipped the book for a gander at the cover.


The pink dress and little flower in her hair sold me, and I discreetly slipped through the crowd, past my aunt and grandmother, to the small table where a lady sat behind a metal money box. "Just a book," I told her and paid her my quarter. "Thanks." I tucked the book beneath my jacket.

Folks, I read this 448-page novel in maybe two days. At the time, I was listening to The Moody Blues non-stop, so their music and Norah's words combined made me yank out a spiral notebook, one I was supposed to only use for school, and start writing.

Here's why I entitled this post, "Reading What You Write."

I love historical romance. It is my passion, it is my go-to. I suspect it always will be. Lately, however, I've been working off of a dream I had (yes, I know; that's so Stephenie Meyers of me), which featured a strange array of fantasy elements. I don't think about fantasy, not really. Don't give second thought to unicorns and fauns and trolls...whatever. Yes, I love Tolkien, George Martin, and Salvatore. In fact, I figured maybe I should start re-reading Salvatore to give me a little boost and, possibly, aid with the direction in which I want this novel to travel.

Here's the thing: Salvatore is marvelously poetic and my story, well, it's not. Plus, I'm worried, now more than ever, that if I allow his genius and intricate details of frost giants and trolls, halflings and dark elves, infiltrate into my own writing, then it won't be my own anymore. Remember, I do like fantasy, but I've never had a desire to write it. So, I believe, in this case, at least for me, that reading what I write is not such a good idea.

Am I wrong? What do you read while you're writing?

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

How You Can Help

As most of you have probably seen in the news, a major bout of rainfall struck Louisiana and Mississippi two weeks ago. We don't exactly live on high land around here. In fact, pretty much everyone is required to keep flood insurance. Expensive yet necessary. You can see why:



This won't be a long post, but I wanted to bring awareness to anyone who may want to help the victims of our 2016 Flood. For a list of ways you can assist, check out www.nola.com. Trust me, no donation is too small. Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers.

Senator Ryan Gatti & his crew (including me!)
Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

How Watching Film Can Help You Write...and Write Well


Last weekend, I and a handful of my fellow authors and friends (including my much-valued critique partner, who was skeptical at first but ended up attending if only to give herself a deserved break) attended a Bob Mayer workshop here in Shreveport. Admittedly, I didn't know much about Bob Mayer. He writes to every genre, including non-fiction, so it wasn't for lack of simply not reading what he puts out there. When I'm writing, I tend to re-read stories that make me feel comfortable and well-kept in my tiny little author bubble. Sounds strange, maybe, but I'll be willing to wager there's a fair lot of you who know exactly what I'm talking about.

Bob spoke of many things. In fact, I imagine the spread of subjects he covered would've been easier to fully teach over a span of perhaps 2-3 days, rather than 9-5. However, he did a great job, and I learned more than I anticipated, especially for the low fee ($50). 

One morsel in the bowl he touched on more than once was watching film to learn and understand how Goal, Motivation, and Conflict really work. Simple, really: Hollywood spends millions of dollars to put screenplays to film production and while some movies appeal more to one group than others and very seldom everyone, they almost always are well thought out in their scene-by-scene escalade to a (hopefully) satisfactory ending. In fact, a fellow author once suggested I watch the "deleted scenes" selection of a few movies, just to help with editing and knowing what should be cut. Good advice.

Bob explained there should ideally be two levels of conflict in every scene -- internal and external.

An easy example would be the scene from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in which Frodo and his three hobbit companions arrive at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. They've just narrowly escaped the Nazg├╗l (external) and are safe a the inn at which they expect to meet up with Gandalf. Seated and enjoying their ale, they talk amongst themselves, all the while nervous and noting stares from many people in the room, including that strange hooded bloke in the corner (external). Since we're in Frodo's PoV, of course, we gather from his body language and from his absentminded rolling of the Ring around his fingertips that he is already warring with the power embodied within the Ring itself (internal). 

Admittedly, it's pretty fun to do this, if you're OK with not sitting down and just enjoying a movie for entertainment value. I'd suggest practicing on films you've already seen. In Becoming Jane (which I'm watching as I type this), there is a scene in which the hero, Tom, a city boy in every sense of the word, has just arrived in the country and is, unsurprisingly, not fitting in. At the suggestion of his uncle, he takes a walk into the woods to gain his bearings. He swats at greenery with his expensive cane (external) because he is irritated of being sent to the country (internal). And then he runs into Jane, a country girl who is quite comfortable in her surroundings--the same girl he insulted not half an hour prior (external). Jane is walking the woods to blow of steam, too, after Tom slammed her writing (internal). When she sees him, she tries for avoidance but he's already spotted her (external), and so she tries to be polite. An amusing ping-pong match of polite insults ensues and they part ways far more frustrated than they were before they attempted to find calm in the wood (internal). 

So, there's two examples of, one, how GMC works in film of two totally different genres and, two, how GMC can equally work in our written words. The reader should be transported, seatbelt fastened for a full immersion into the world we've created and the characters who drive the story.

Hope this is helpful. Make sure to check out Bob Mayer's website at www.bobmayer.org.

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,

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