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Archive for September, 2013

Magic of Writing

Magic of Writing

As a writer, I tend to write “organically”. This means I only draft a brief outline of the story and characters I’m writing, then allow myself to just fall into the story and let it, and my characters evolve. I find myself getting lost in the process of creating, and enjoy letting the characters lead the way. Sounds strange, I suppose, but it’s how I seem to work best.

 

I’ve attend a couple of workshops where other writers talk about how they detail almost every move a character makes, and every step along the journey is mapped out. Some actually even include detailed maps to help them along the way! I’m stunned and amazed, and impressed. I also know I couldn’t work that way. I’d get so caught up all that planning, that I don’t think I’d get to the actual writing.

 

What I know for sure is this; we each have to find our own way. For me, learning what method works best for me as individual is a private journey to be discovered through trial and error.  But don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from others and adapt what they do into what works for me. I do that all the time. It’s why I’m so interested in learning how and what other writers and/or artists of any nature do. I listen, and if I think there’s a nugget of inspiration for how I might make something work for me, I’ll use it. That’s my agenda for attending the workshops; I want to learn something I didn’t before. It’s a take-away I can shape and mould, or discard, as I see fit. I know there are no right or wrong ways to write, paint, create music, or do many of the things we all do each and every day.

 

Our Agendas

Our Agendas

In fact, each day we open our eyes, we have an agenda, which can be different from a goal. I might wake up with the goal of writing a certain amount of words that day, or fit grocery shopping and house-cleaning into my schedule, but my agenda is slightly larger. I want to get words written down so I can move the story along, and therefore, move that much closer to the conclusion, or to allow me the time to fit in some internet marketing and promotion. I might need to get the grocery shopping done that day, so we can have the necessary ingredients for the dinner I’ve planned. I do the house cleaning to ensure I feel comfortable and at ease during the evening hours when I’m relaxing. I simply cannot relax when a place is unkempt and dirty.

 

When I used to work in real estate and mortgage sales, or as BDM for a small incentive marketing company, everything work-related I did, I had an agenda. I had a reason for the tasks I assigned myself. As a commissioned salesperson, I had only myself to rely on to get the job, and tasks done. I hated cold calling. Hated it. But, I also knew that sometimes I just had to get it done if I had any hope of gaining that next bit of business. My task making those cold calls, but my agenda was to ensure I had income down the line.

 

It’s the same with my writing. I write five days a week, essentially from 9-5. I write because I love to write, but I set goals for my writing to fit my agenda; to get a book published within an established period of time. I might edit all day for days at a time to allow the publisher to continue with the next step, and hence, get the book published and in reader’s hands.

 

Marketing and promotion via social media also has a hidden agenda. As much as I love interacting with online family and friends, and I do, I also need to get the word out about my work, and to do that, I need to allow them to connect with me as well. So, I go to various forums, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even this blog, to create content that allows people to find me, learn a little about me, connect with me, and perhaps even discover my latest book. Dare I hope they’ll be intrigued enough to even purchase an ebook or print copy? Yep, I do.

 

I’ve learned, through years of reading avidly, that my characters also need agendas. They have to have a reason for being. They have to serve a purpose, whether as a main protagonist who is on a quest for love, justice, or whatever, or as a supporting character. The supporting character’s job is to provide someone for the protagonist to interact with, bounce things off of, and provide third party insights into the protagonist and the situation they’re dealing with. It’s an important job, and one not given much credit. Even villains have to have an agenda, one that moves the story, and the character along.

 

Spark of Life

Spark of Life

If my characters lack an agenda; that spark of why they’re doing what they’re doing, what motivates them and drives them to the conclusions they make, I’ll lose the interest of the reader. Characters, even paranormal ones like a handsome ghost, have to embody human elements a reader can relate to. They have to have reasons for being there, and reasons for wanting to achieve the goals and tasks set before him. Without that, they’re just going through the motions, lying flat on the page and providing no excitement or momentum to the story. Readers are going to tune into that, get bored, and close the book, which is definitely not the point of any story.

 

Not all agendas as positive ones though. Just as with people, characters within a story can have agendas that are harmful to themselves or other characters. They can be motivated by greed, jealousy, evil, and a host of other not so nice motivators. We all have and experience those feelings, and our agendas can sometimes be self-serving. So as a writer, I try to remember that. People, even good ones, don’t always make the right decisions for the right reasons. It’s what makes us human, and it makes for great story-telling. Characters who exhibit human flaws and skewed agendas are great, since they allow them to seem more “3D”.

 

It’s not easy to create characters on a page that will resonate with readers, but it is fun. As a writer, you have a vision in your mind of what the characters look like, sound like, and what drives them. Then you have to find a way to put that vision into words so you build a story, and a world, where the reader can get lost for a while. After all, the agenda of anygood fiction writer is to allow the reader to forget the outside world and settle in for a little dose of unreality. Still, not every writer gets it right every time. Ever read a story by a well-loved author and been disappointed to discover you just couldn’t connect with the characters and/or story line? That’s because writers are human, and there is no “one-size-fits-all.

Same is true for non-fiction. When dealing in facts, it’s equally important that the writer finds a way to do it in such a way that the reader will want to continue turning the pages to discover the wisdoms the book promises. Make it too dry and uninteresting, and you’ll lose people to boredom. They’ll look for something else that gives them what they need, in easy, enjoyable bites. Of course text books don’t need to be entertaining, and most of them are as dry as butterless toast, but they have an agenda; to teach and to share information. That’s it. The author of those texts though, has to ensure the information they provide is accurate to the very best of his/her ability, or risk being challenged on it. So, the agenda behind all the research a non-fiction writer might go to is to ensure the finished product delivers what’s promised; accurate information.

 

You and me

You and me

In fact, it occurs to me that virtually everything we do is with an agenda, with few exceptions. But we can, as human beings, do things “just because”. For example, I might compliment a woman in a grocery line for her lovely scarf and expect nothing in return. I might agree to help an artist title a new piece of artwork, which I did this weekend, just because she admits she struggles with finding the right words to put to her work, and not ask anything in return.

 

We can all do small acts of kindness for no reason other than, “just because”. The characters in a book can do it too. It’s a human quality that, when done right, comes off as genuine, but I believe the writer also has to see it as genuine. Of course you can argue that the writer might have an agenda when creating a scene where a character does something altruistic. The hidden agenda might be to create a picture of who the character is.

 

In real life, it’s argued that people engage in even small acts of altruism because they get something back in return; a smile, an acknowledgement, a feeling of “being good”. Maybe that’s so, but I don’t let it stop me, and please, don’t let it stop you. In writing, our book characters will benefit from engaging in that very human behaviour, and make them easier to relate to.

 

When it comes to those of us living outside the pages of a book, if doing something altruistic makes you feel good, and you want to feel good about yourself, I’d call that a great agenda!

I Feel Good!

I Feel Good!

 

 

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Never Forget

Never Forget

Today is 9/11, and although I’m Canadian, with it comes the vivid remembrances of that fateful day when the United States was attacked on multiple levels. It was also the day we buried my paternal grandfather. It was a very sad day indeed. Yet after the funeral, I gathered with several family members and we remembered my grandfather with love and joy. We laughed and told family stories. We said heart-felt prayers for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, and for the families affected. We grieved and we loved, and clung together.

 

The next day, I returned to work as usual, my life resuming the normal course of events. That doesn’t mean I didn’t hurt, or think, or feel. It means I had a job to do, and that job is living. It’s really the only job that counts, when you get right down to it.

 

My dad always says, “You can step off a sidewalk and get hit by a bus any day, so you better live every moment of every day you’re given.” No truer words were ever spoken. The older I get, the more I believe this to be true. When I was younger and raising my children, I was so caught up in the day to day minutiae of my life, that I didn’t give a lot of thought to my future. I was a working single mother living at the poverty line, and life was hard. What got me through was my family, my children, and my desire to do better.

 

Roll The Dice

Roll The Dice

A few years ago, I started re-evaluating my life and realized that I had choices to make. We all do. I could choose to live my life alone, or seek a partner to love. I met and married my husband just a few short years later. Then I started questioning my choice in career in real estate, then mortgage sales, and realized I wasn’t enjoying it. I had another choice to make. Either put up and shut up, or change it. I chose to change it. After a life time of putting it off, I decided I needed to follow my dream of becoming a professional writer. Writing had always come easily to me, but I had never undertaken anything as grand as a book before, and with a grade ten education, the prospect was daunting. Still, I had to try.

 

So, I continued to work while I began writing my first book. It wasn’t picked up, but I learned a lot about the processes along the way. I wrote a second book, and it wasn’t picked up either, but I learned more, and continued writing. I started a third, but didn’t finish it. Some day I may go back to those earlier attempts, but for now, I’m moving ahead.

 

Then I wrote In The Spirit Of Love and it was picked by Echelon Press. I was elated! I was on my way to becoming a published writer. How cool was that. But I didn’t stop there. I began working on the sequel right away, while learning the ins and outs of marketing and promotion of books, how to do book readings/signings, and getting out there in public, talking about it, and putting myself in the spot light. It wasn’t comfortable at first, but necessary. I knew that. I made lots of mistakes, but I also had incredible role models in my mother and younger sister, who have become extremely good public speakers. I learned to push myself and my boundaries to get where I wanted to go, and at fifty-three years of age, that’s something to be proud of.

 

Despite the numerous rejections I’ve received, I still persevere. I get hurt, I get sad, I get disillusioned, but I choose to move on. I try to learn what I can from each situation, some of which makes its way into my stories. I’ve met some really wonderful people along the way. People I wouldn’t have met otherwise. That’s cool.

 

Over the years, I’ve watched my younger brother go for his dreams, playing pro-football years ago, building a life and a business, and falling in love. He didn’t always get it right the first time, but I think he’s finally met the right woman, has a life he enjoys, and children and step-children he’s proud of.

 

My middle sister has built a life and a business with her husband, striving to be the best she can be and treating everyone fairly and honestly. She loves her children unequivocally and is eagerly awaiting the birth of her first grandchild. She continues to strive to build the life she wants alongside her husband, and despite some real set-backs, lives each day to the fullest. Her boisterous laughter fills any room she’s in, and makes others laugh and smile along with her. What a joy she is!

 

Last weekend I attended my younger sister’s third wedding. I’ve learned a lot from her. She has endured more heart break and emotional disasters than anyone I know, but she continues to laugh out loud, love everyone, and give back more than she receives. She’s lost a child at eight months pregnant, two failed marriages, one absolutely devastating family tragedy involving an ex, followed immediately by breast cancer. Her family was falling apart, her children were struggling to deal with new realities, and still she carried on. Then she met her current husband, and fell in love. She hadn’t let the heart breaks of the past change her ability to love and trust. She went all in, and that showed us all the power of faith and love.

 

Celebrate Your Life

Celebrate Your Life

Now, most people would have taken that third marriage to a tiny hole in the wall and had a quiet ceremony. Not my sister. She had a blow out, Woo Hoo I’m Here, Kick-Ass wedding at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. It was expensive as all get out, but fabulous. She treated it like a first wedding, saying she refused to pay it less honor that the first two which were not successful. A friend who attended the wedding reminded me that my sister had earned the right to do things her way. She was here damn it, and she wasn’t going to do anything quietly. Well all right! We had a blast, all of those who attended shared in the love, the celebration, and exercised their right to shout out, “We’re here!” Thanks sis.

 

I’ve said so often that too many people put off till tomorrow what they could be doing today. It’s sad and unnecessary in so many cases. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard about this couple or that couple who planned to do so much when they retired, but one never made it that far. One is left to go on and make sense of the changes they face alone. I never want to be that couple. So, I told my husband I wanted to live for today, while planning for tomorrow. We downsized completely, sold our home, and made some drastic lifestyle choices to allow me to work full time as a writer. He’s retired after thirty years as a manager at BellCanada, but his pension is very small. We make it work. I want to spend time with my family, children and grandchildren, and travel when and where we can. I’ve come up with some pretty unique ways to accomplish those goals and fit them within our means, but we both agree, life is too short not to take risks and do what matters most, spending it with the people who matter most, and enjoying what we can of this life.

 

Long and winding road

Long and winding road

I don’t know what the future holds for me, or for my husband and I as a couple, or anyone I love for that matter. What I do know is that reaching for your dreams, working hard to make them come true, and taking risks is important. Waiting for tomorrow is different from planning for tomorrow. I believe we all have an obligation to ourselves to live our best lives possible each and every day, while doing what we can to ensure a safe and happy future. They key is to remember, we aren’t promised tomorrow, only right now.

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Goodbye Emily

Book Review:

Well, I’m impressed! I just finished reading Goodbye Emily a few days ago, and it had me in tears. Told from the perspective of Walter, “Sparky” Ellington, Goodbye Emily takes the reader on a roadtrip back to the summer of 1969, Yasgur’s Farm, and Woodstock, the home of peace, love, and rock ‘n roll! But more than that, it’s the story of one man’s attempt to make sense out of today, dealing with heart-breaking loss, and friendships not to be forgotten.

Congratulations to author, Michael Murphy, on doing all the things a good writer sets out to do; evoke different emotions from the reader throughout the story, and allow them to connect to the characters. At times I chuckled, laughed, and cried, but it also made me think about many aspects of life and the choices we all make. This story reminded me that you’re never too old to start something new, and the importance of friendships.

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The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

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