Thursday, January 31, 2013

Recycled: Inspiration in the Strangest Places

Writers are often asked where they get their inspiration. What led you to write that scene that changed my life forever? That moment when all the planets aligned and the readers saw that you had planned it from the very beginning. Was it divine intervention? Was it your love of research? A pivotal moment in your life?

Who knows? I am often surprised by what causes my best stuff to appear. It is normally a moment that is so inconsequential to every one around me, but yet, sends my poor little brain on a tailspin. A trivial little glance that balloons into an entire chapter. A scent that makes my typing fingers ache under the need to get it down before it leaks through my pores.
One night, I was laying on the bed and working on a scene that was severely lacking. It needed something to give it depth. Something to show a sense of symbolism for how different this particular character sees the world. I gave up and moved on, knowing that I would come back to it later. I knew that if I try to force it, well – it will seem forced. And we don’t want that, now do we?

So as I moved on, I heard this buzzing--the very distinctive hum of a fly. I watched the annoying critter in his confusion of trying to locate the best place to sit. Have you ever really watched a fly? I swear it is like the perfect illustration of ADD. "I think I will sit here, oh wait, blinds." 

I slid from the bed and went to the kitchen to retrieve the flyswatter. I came back to find that he has disappeared. Now, I have played this game before. So instead of wasting my time – I sit down on the bed knowing that as soon as I begin concentrating the insect will begin his annoying song once more. He does not disappoint.

I ease from the bed and watch him as he dances from one surface to another, teasing me as he hovers over a surface and then takes flight once more. I track him like an avid hunter. He rests on the door frame. I lift the flyswatter mere inches from his little body, trying my damnedest not to disturb the air, and in a swift movement I flick my wrist and watch his lifeless body fall to the floor.

I do my victory dance and look up to see my husband staring at me like I have lost my mind. My only response is not to admit that I am crazy, and instead, sing a song about murdering this poor critter.

After I have celebrated my kill, I use the flyswatter to scoop up the stiff remains. When the fly is at eye level, I catch a glimpse of the insect in the light. I take a closer look to see how beautifully painted this insignificant little bug is. When you see a fly, they appear black and you never notice their iridescent wings, the green covering with  gold flecks, and the details of the gigantic eyes (better to see you with, my dear). And in this moment, I have found my answer. The death of a fly gave the depth to the character for which I was so desperately searching.

And if you ever read Iron Thirst, I hope when you reach that chapter you are not too distracted by the image of me chasing down a fly--ninja style.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

WSW: Getting to Know Your Characters


I'm starting a new story. The characters and I are still in that honeymoon phase, where we still love each other, enjoy spending time together, and are really just getting to know one another. I sat down on Saturday and interviewed the love interest. He has been very reserved. Most of my male characters are not as open about their feelings. We started simple, such as what type of music do you like? After learning his style, it opened the door to the why, the bigger backstories that make him who he is and will help me write from his point of view.

The female was much easier. It was her personality that even brought me to the story. Sure, there are details that I need to flesh out, but I can clearly see her motives, logic, and patterns of speech.

So for today's Whatcha Say Wednesday, I'd love to know how you get to know your characters. Do you wait for them to speak to you or do you break out interrogation tactics? Is it a quick flash, possibly that even made you want to write the story?

Do you have a set method of quizzing your characters or is each one unique in how you meet?  Do you wait for inspiration, or do you put them in their costumes and settings, guiding them through the path?

Better yet, is this something that comes natural for you, or is this an area where you struggle?

Whatcha Say Wednesdays are for you. It's a chance to voice your opinion, share your knowledge, and interact with one another. Answer what speaks to you, and ignore the rest. But do tell—I’m quite curious. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Lesson from Pilot Episodes

Since I gave up on regular cable and just pretty much use Netflix and Hulu, I have developed a strange addiction. I love watching pilot episodes of television series. This past week,  I watched the pilot of West Wing, Ally McBeal,  and The Following. It fascinates me how they set up an entire series, introduce characters, and fill you in on backstory, all while still being interesting enough to keep you intrigued for that episode and hooked to come back for the next.

As writers, we can learn a thing or two from a pilot on how to set up our own stories. We can use the examples they provide to show not tell, provide backstory sparingly, introduce characters dramatically, and entice the readers to keep on reading. I will examine the pilots of the three series that I mentioned to show you what I learned from them.

The West Wing Poster 
West Wing is an excellent example in how to bring in your actors. It set up the characters by making them have a grand entrance. You get a strong understanding of each character by their actions, dialogue, and the predicaments in which they land.We should strive for this in our characters.

The action was front and center. The characters were always moving or involved in quick, witty dialogue. There is not a bit of drag. Every inch of that script is used to tell show the story, move it forward, build drama, or for character development. Not one scene superfluous.

Ally McBeal is on the opposite side of the spectrum. Its opening episode was also filled with lessons that a writer can learn, but more along the line of what not to do.   It was a poorly done pilot, and if I didn't already know the series--there would have been no way that I would have come back for more.

Ally McBeal PosterWhat's worse--I was showing the episode to a friend who had never seen Ally McBeal. I raved about the show, but truth be told -- I had never seen the pilot. I came into the series, originally, around season two. During watching the episode, I found myself continuing to say things like it gets better, it's not always filled with so many flashbacks, and just keep watching, I swear.  If a book started this way, I would shut it and not return--unless I had received those same pleadings from a fan who had already read the whole thing.

New writers don't get this luxury with an agent or publisher. You have the first five pages to grab someone, buckle them in, and pull them into the book. They don't care about the spectacular scene on page 56, not if they never made it to page 3. 

It consisted of too much back story, too much inside-the-head commentary, and a full fledged, glitter-free pity party. Most of the jokes and scenes were just for the cheap laugh. There was not a consistent structure, the characters contradicted themselves, and too many scenes of Ally just walking down a sidewalk thinking.

The Following PosterThe Following overall was a wonderful first episode. It let you know early on what type of series you were watching, started with drama and action, slipped in back story as needed, showed you the flawed characters, and ended the episode with a cliffhanger to pull you back the very next week.

If we view the first ten pages or so of our novels as the pilot episode, then we should try to accomplish what The Following has accomplished. I was engrossed from the moment the show started, and was covered in chill bumps when it was over. Had there been a second episode already in existence, I would have been watching it. Translate that into a novel. If you can invoke excitement and fear in your readers and have them craving more, then you have won. You will create your own following.

A lot of weight is put on the pilot episode.  It is make or break. The show will not see a regular viewing audience if it does not test well among sample audiences or TV executives. It has to introduce the characters, show why you should care for them, communicate what type of show it will be, and above all else, entertain and hook the audience. For the writer, we must accomplish this in the span of five to ten pages. Take some time to watch a few pilot episodes of television series. Make notes of what works and what doesn't. Never stop learning how to be a better writer. 

What are some of your favorite television shows? Did you start with the pilot episode, or did you come into the series later? Do you have a favorite pilot that demonstrates how to hook an audience?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Re-Introduce Myself Blogfest


 Thank you to Mark Koopmans, Elise FallsonC.M. Brown, and Stephen Tremp for hosting the Re-Introduce Myself Blogfest. I thought I would have a little bit of fun with it, and do a multiple choice quiz. The answers are at the bottom of the page. Hope you enjoy guessing to see how well you might know me, and maybe learn a few new interesting facts about me along the way. 

1.       Who of the following would I rather hang out with (dead or alive)?

a.       Johnny Depp
b.      George Carlin
c.       Dick Chaney
d.      Edgar Allen Poe
2.       What is one of my irrational fears?

a.       Fear of the elevator door shutting on me.
b.      Snakes
c.       Bugs trying to climb on me.
d.      All of the above.
3.       What industry do I work in?

a.       Retail sales
b.      Financial/Brokerage
c.       Writing restaurant reviews
4.       If I didn’t have to work, what would I do with all the extra free time?

a.       Work on my novels, travel, and play tons of capoeira
b.      Buy drawers full of pajamas and invest in a great television and all the best cable channels.
c.       What? I would still work, because I love what I do.
5.       Where did I grow up?

a.       San Antonio, Texas
b.      Atlanta, Georgia
c.       Crossett, Arkansas
6.       Who am I rooting for in the Super Bowl?

a.       San Francisco 49ers
b.      Baltimore Ravens
c.       Most awesome commercial
7.       What is a movie I could watch over and over again?

a.       Star Wars movies
b.      Princess Bride
c.       Gone with the Wind
d.      All of the above
8.       What is one of my favorite songs of all time?

a.       Ice, Ice, Baby
b.      Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone
c.       Freebird
9.       Which of the following describes me best?

a.       Animal lover, tree hugger, and mountain climber.
b.      Financial analyst with strong analytical thinking, prefers charts and graphs over human interaction, and reads academic journals for fun.
c.       Mother of two, loves to write, needs music to breathe, uses humor to survive,  and who can be a bit too idealistic at times.
10.   What is my favorite place I have travelled?

a.       Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
b.      London
c.       Paris
d.      All of the above, I LOVE to travel.
11.   What is the most redeeming quality in a person and is required in all my friendships?

a.       Loyalty- My friends must be loyal to me, I do not tolerate betrayal. Off with their heads.
b.      A sense of humor – All my friends love to make people laugh or love to explore humor.
c.       Must think that I am freaking awesome.
12.   What is my favorite style of music?

a.       Anything labeled as Indie
b.      Rock, both heavy and soft
c.       World music
d.      Trick question, I love almost all music
13.   If I could be a superhero, what would be my superhero power?

a.       I would love to time-travel. Flash in and fix things from the past, save the world, prevent embarrassments, and invest really well in the stock market
b.      Mind Control- If I could control people with my mind, then well—I could just make people do whatever I wanted. I would be the most awesomest, awesome, superhero ever.
c.       What? I am Batman.
14.   What is my favorite sport?

a.       NASCAR
b.      Capoeira
c.       Football
15.   What do I love most about writing?

a.       Being able to say things the right way. You know how in real life, after many conversations you think, Dang, I should have said this, or I wish I hadn’t said that. In writing, until it is published – you have that ability.
b.      Exploring characters and their psychological makeups.
c.       Creating realistic dialogue.
d.      All of the above.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Freestyle Friday: Meditation


On Tuesday, I wrote about using mediation in your writing.  I wanted to touch on the subject once more. Meditation can be a way to find stillness in this hectic world, and it is beneficial to your overall wellness. Though meditation requires nothing other than you and the focus on your breath, in the beginning it can be difficult. Below you will find a few tools to help with meditation.

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
― T.S. Eliot

“Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak.”
― Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, The 11 Karmic Spaces: Choosing Freedom from the Patterns That Bind You  

“Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.”
― Voltaire 


Clicking on the bookcovers will take you to the Amazon pages where you can read the opening pages.

Quiet Mind: A Beginner's Guide to Meditation

How to Quiet Your Mind: Relax and Silence the Voice of Your Mind Today!Oceanic Mind - The Deeper Meditation Training Course: for Beginning and Advanced Students of Meditation and Yoga

 CDs and MP3s - Guided Meditations

Guided meditation makes it a bit easy to concentrate only only the task at hand.  It helps you recognize when your brain is jumping the track.Clicking on the images will take you to Amazon or SoundsTrue.

Still the Mind
Guided Meditations: For Calmness, Awareness, and LoveMindfulness Meditation


No need to spend money. There are many guided mediation videos available on Youtube. They range from 5 minutes to over an hour, and include many different types of focus such as healing, relaxation, or self-confidence. Here are a few sample youtube videos that provide guided meditation

New to mediation--start small. Give yourself 5 minutes to get in touch with your imagination. 

This is a 10 minute guided mediation to help with self-confidence.

A 10 minute guided mediation for deep relaxation.

Pandora Stations

Already versed in mediation. Sometimes just adding a bit of music helps. Here are a few Pandora stations that I have used for meditation. Just enter any of the following into under "New Station".



Video Games

Yes, they even have video games to assist with mediation. Deepak Chopra's Leela is an interactive meditative video game available for the Wii and Kinect game consoles. Below is a trailer.