Sunday, September 25, 2011

Can't You Smell I'm Writing?

Writers all have different little tricks they use to help them get into the mood of a story, or to connect with a character.  On my desk, I have plenty of little knick-knack items, most related to a story or character.  Things I can pick up, fiddle with, throw if I'm having a really off day, and generally remind me of what I'm working on. But those things don't really do much to help me when the words simply aren't flowing the way I want.

I'm one of those writers who loves to engage all of the senses in my writing.  I want to immerse you in a scene.  Sights, sounds, taste, tactile, and aroma.  And I have found that one way I can call my creative muse is by the use of scents.  I search out smells that evoke the mood I want to create.  The perfect candle, or just the right incense--sometimes even the right cologne can transport me directly into the ambience I need to make the words flow from my soul onto the page.  I don't know why it works that way for me, but it does.  Probably a Pavlovian response of some sort.  Smell the candle, write the words.

Yes, I write horror, and other dark fiction, so you might be wondering if I have a stash of blood-scented candles, and the answer is no, I don't.  But, in one story, I have a demon, masquerading as a woman--a rather beautiful woman.  For her, jasmine and orchids set the mood.  Exotic, and a little dangerous.  Sage, bergamot, musk, those all evoke an image of the unknown for me as well.  Especially the sage.  I even own a bottle of a deep, rich men's cologne.  One spritz is all it takes for me to channel the character I imagine wearing it. 

When I need inspiration, I'll go wander in a candle shop, or certainly the candle aisle in my store.  I have a literal treasure trove of candles, incense, essential oils--and each evokes a different emotional response.  Even more, once a scent engages my muse, my writing becomes more descriptive in the use of all of the senses.  I have a candle called Angel Whispers.  It's a clean scent, almost like a gentle spring rain, mingled with flowers in bloom.  It takes my writing in a much different direction than the deep musky sage and bergamot candle.  That one is mysterious--dangerous.  I used that one when working on "The Hunt," a story filled with magic and mayhem.  When I was working on the scenes with the Minister in "The Hunt," I found burning incense was helpful, even though incense is more of a Catholic thing, and my minister is Lutheran.  My Catholic brain didn't care one iota. It's all about the mood I, the writer, associate with the smell.  All I know is that for me, it works.  So, if you see me wandering the candle aisle deep in thought, it's all research, me attempting to appease the muse without destroying the budget in the process.  I always end up with so many scents that pique my imagination.

I'd love to know what works for you?  Music, sights, smells, touch, taste?... How do you USE your senses to add layers of meaning to your writing? 
Write on!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Star Wars, you Rule-Breaker!

Last night I watched arguably one of the most famous movies ever to prepare for a plotting talk I'm going to be doing in October for Pagan Musings podcast.  "Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope."  (Not that we knew it was episode IV in 1977, it was just "Star Wars")  I chose this movie because it is so universally recognized, and it also fits the basic plot paradigm I want to cover.  Or so I thought.  But, as I analyze my notes, what I find is how many of the current screenplay conventions George Lucas broke in this script. 

Yes, Star Wars absolutely fits the paradigm I'm going to use in the podcast.  So, if you want to know how, you'll have to tune in to find out.  October 22nd, 7-9pm CST, on or on iTunes at

I want to talk about a couple of the "screenwriting rules" George Lucas chose to ignore when he crafted "Star Wars."

Rule:  Never open with an information dump, or in other words, disguise your exposition. 

Hello, that iconic scroll at the beginning?  You know how it goes, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."  Not to mention, why a long time ago?  Doesn't that mean the people I'm supposed to cheer on and care about are DEAD???!!!???  And why far, far away?  These are some scary bad guys.  Shouldn't this story be happening RIGHT NOW, and so close these bad guys are just one hyper-jump to light speed away from Earth, where they can wreak some real damage?  But the crawl at the beginning of each movie--information dump! 

Rule:  The story question must be posed in the first ten minutes of the film.  This sets up who is the "Good Guy" and who is the "Bad Guy", and ultimately, the question of who will win. 

Oh, man do we get a great glimpse of the bad guys.  When the huge Imperial ship chased down Princess Leia's ship in the opening sequence, the sound in the theatre rumbled.  It was massive, powerful--unstoppable.  Then Vader enters.  The breathing alone, coupled with the black mask and cape... then the guy kills someone with ONE HAND.  Hello, I don't think anyone--or anything can take him out.  And that's before he chokes someone out with his MIND.  But, where is our "Good Guy?"  Is it the lady with the cinnamon-rolls on the sides of her head?  How about the weird little robot that doesn't even talk, only beeps??  Uptight gold robot?  I don't know.  Ten minutes pass, and Luke Skywalker hasn't even hit the screen yet.  But, when Luke finally hits the screen, we know immediately that this immature, whiny kid is going to either have to defeat Vader, or die trying.  We just don't see how it is ever going to be possible. 

I could cover a lot of territory in how the script fits or doesn't fit standard conventions, but this would be a book, not a blog entry, so I'll end with one final "rule" Lucas breaks in "Star Wars."

Rule:  The Good Guy (Luke)  needs to control his own destiny, and defeat the Bad Guy (Vader) on his own merits.  (No one can rush in and save him at the last second.) 

Yes, Luke controls the Force, he flies into insurmountable odds and aims at the target.  But hold on a moment.  Vader is about to blast him out of the sky.  He's right on his tail, we're waiting for Luke to make a move against him... and no.  Han Solo to the rescue, and it is HAN who blasts Vader into the nether-regions of space.  Now, we know that there are a five more episodes to this story.  George Lucas knew he had way more story than he could fit into one movie.  But, he had to fight to greenlight "Star Wars," and the studio had no intentions of promising him anything until the first movie delivered.  Heck with a  working title like, "Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars." it's no wonder the studio balked (Okay, so that's Rule #4, you need a short, amazing, and compelling title, but since the film came out as "Star Wars," I'm not going to harp on it.)  My point is, in 1977, Lucas had no idea if he would ever see the completion of his vision, and his hero just let the sidekick clobber the bad guy.  Typically a fail as far as scripts go. 
"Star Wars," was one of those films that made an indelible mark on my psyche.  I lost count of how many times I saw it during the summer of 1977.  Why?  The characters, the story, the ground-breaking uniqueness of the film itself--I still love every frame of it.  When I look at the overall arc of the six films, I am so impressed at the craftsmanship--and Lucas's ability to successfully bend the screenwriting rules to give us a story that spanned a nearly three-decade time frame, from May, 1977-August 2008. Heck, I struggle to maintain continuity for a two-hour (120 page) script.  I bow before the Force. 

Have I captured your interest?  Don't forget, October 22nd, Pagan Musings Podcast.  It will be archived on the Blogtalk radio site, and on iTunes if you miss it.  Just in time to get your opus plotted for National Novel Writing Month 2011.  November 1-30.  I'll be leading the charge, and updating every week on how the Lincoln Region is doing on Pagan Musings.  Come be part of the magic!!  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Editing 101: Search and Destroy Mission; FELT

A recent facebook discussion on the use of the word “felt” brought about an idea to demonstrate how I go about editing my own work.  The book “Dead Reckoning” from the Sookie Stackhouse book series created the discussion, so I am using a page from it to show what I’m talking about.  In general, “felt” is telling.  It deprives the reader of sharing the experience.  Also, I'm adding some photos from the HBO television series, "True Blood," based on the books.

Book selection:  “Dead Reckoning,” by Charlaine Harris, 2011.  Page 107.

I highlighted the words “feel” and “felt, and the word “that.”  Passives also abound, as highlighted in blue, but I am going to cover passives in my next blog, so I highlighted them as a matter of practice.  I also highlight –ly words, and “just,” but again, I’ll save those for future editing exercises. 
Here’s the page:

She might have judged herself, but now that I’d gotten over the shock of seeing my grandmother as a woman, I didn’t judge her.  Who was I to throw stones?  The preacher had told me that all sins were equal in the eyes of God, but I couldn’t help but feel (for example) that a child molester was worse than a person who cheated on his income tax, or a lonely woman who’d had unsanctioned sex because she wanted a baby.  I was probably wrong, because we also weren’t supposed to pick and choose which rules we obeyed, but that was the way I felt.

I shoved my confused thoughts back into a corner of my head and picked up the cluviel dor again.  Touching its smoothness was pure pleasure, like the happiness I’d felt when I’d hugged my great-grandfather—but times about two hundred.  The cluviel dor was about the size of two stacked Oreo cookies.  I rubbed it against my cheek and felt like purring. 

Did you have to have a magic word to open it?

“Abracadabra,” I said.  “Please and thank you.”

Nope, didn’t work, plus I felt like an idiot.  “Open Sesame,” I whispered.  “Presto change-o.”  Nope.

But thinking of magic gave me an idea.  I e-mailed Amelia, and it was a difficult message to phrase.  I know e-mail isn’t totally secure, but I also had no reason to think anyone considered my few messages of any importance.  I wrote, “I hate to ask, but besides doing that research on the blood bond for me, can you find out about a fae thing? Initials c. d.?” That was as subtle as I could get. 
Then I returned to my admiration of the cluviel dor.  Did you have to be a pure fairy to open it? No that couldn’t be the case.  It had been a gift to my grandmother, presumably to use in case of dire need, and she had been completely human.

I wished it hadn’t been far away in the attic when she’d been attacked.  Whenever I remembered how she’d been discarded on the kitchen floor like offal, soaking in her own blood, I felt both sick and furious.  Maybe if she’d had time to fetch the cluviel dor, she could have saved herself.

Now, here’s how I would reword it:

Perhaps my grandmother judged herself, but after the shock of seeing her as a woman subsided, I didn’t.   Who was I to throw stones?  The preacher said all sins were equal in the eyes of God, but in my opinion, a child molester ranked worse than someone who cheated on their income tax, or a lonely woman who engaged in unsanctioned sex because she wanted a baby.  Wrong?  Maybe, since he also said not to pick or chose which rules to obey.

I shoved my confused thoughts into a corner of my mind and picked up the cluviel dor.  My fingers ran over the smooth object, about the size of two stacked Oreos.  Cats purr when stroked, and as I rubbed it against my cheek, I understood why.  Happiness flooded through me, reminding me of hugging my great-grandfather, only magnified a couple hundred times. 

Maybe magic words opened it?

“Abracadabra?”  I held my breath a moment, then continued, “Please and thank you.”

Nope, didn’t work.  Not to mention, horribly cliché.  I paused.  Oh well, why not?  “Open sesame?”  I rolled the cluviel dor in my hands.  “Presto change-o?” 


But, thinking of magic gave me an idea.  So, I e-mailed Amelia.  It took some time to come up with the phrasing.  Even though I doubted anyone considered my messages important, e-mail isn’t exactly secure.  “I hate to ask, but while you’re researching the blood bond for me, could you find out about a fae thing with the initials c.d?”  Subtle, right?

I hit send, then returned to admire the cluviel dor.  Maybe only a pure fairy could open it?  No, Fintan gifted it to my completely human grandmother, presumably to use in case of dire need.

I remembered my grandmother’s body, left discarded on the kitchen floor like offal, soaking in her own blood.  Bile rose in my throat and my nails bit into my palms.  Maybe if she had the cluviel dor with her, she could have saved herself.

Notice NO felts, thats, and look at the reduction in passives.  This goes to show, I’m not saying ALL passives are bad.  Now, I hope you’ll add your thoughts or edits.  Plus, I hope you enjoyed the eye-candy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Powerlessness and Letting Go

I started my "writing half of the week," with a full list of things I wanted to accomplish.  That's not anything new and unusal, all professional writers set goals--and work to meet them.  But, sometimes life gets in the way, and not always in ways we can predict.

In December of 2010, a little over a year ago, my now three year-old granddaughter Abigail was diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura, an autoimmune blood disorder that causes her body to destroy her platelets.  She's done well with treatment, even though she's required regular blood product transfusions.  To date, over 6,000 donors have helped keep this little Princess alive. 

About a third of kids with ITP will have only one episode of the disease, about a third will have recurrences that subside within a year, and about a third will have life-long problems.  Since Abigail is past the one year mark, it is likely she is in the chronic category.  Another constant concern for kids with ITP is the risk of it developing into Leukemia or Lymphoma. Last week, Abigail's blood showed some things that raise the concern of this happening.  Yesterday, they drew more blood to repeat the smears.  If they are also abnormal, a bone marrow biopsy will be the next step.   

Waiting for lab results is always difficult.  But, today, with all these "things" I want to get done, I found myself looking up at a photograph of Abigail on my wall and dissolving into tears.  It hit me, this is the first time in the year Abigail's had ITP that I have cried.  It's never been my nature to break down, something I think has a lot to do with my nursing background.  But today I am not the nurse, I am a grandmother and a mother. I can't DO anything to change what she's going through, all I can do is love and support my daughter and son-in-law, and of course Abigail as they face the unknown. 

And I dont like it.

In my last blog post, I talked about why I write horror, and how I plumb the depths of my own soul when I write.  What I realize today is that I am terrified of not being in control.  From nursing and medicine, to being a retail manager, and even being the future president of the Nebraska Writers Guild, I gravitate to roles that allow me to shape my own world.  Think about it, don't fiction writers do this every day?  My rules, I make them up.  I tell my characters what to do, I create every detail of my story worlds.  I don't want to bow to God's will, I want to BE God. 

It's Holy Week, and I contemplate Christ's surrender as he faced his death.  The taunts, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 

As I search for solace, I recall Christ's words, "Father, if it is your will, let this cup pass from me; yet your will not mine be done."

As a grandmother, I pray that this cup pass from our family.  I can't make myself finish the sentence.  I'm praying for the grace to be able to finish it, and to have the conviction to back it up.  Is that me wanting to be God?  Absolutely.  It's my character flaw. 

I'm working with the plot for a short story, and in big letters on my notes page is the word, SURRENDER.  I'm not quite sure how I'm going to use it yet, but salvation will either be had or lost over that one word.  Writing truly is self-analysis on the page.  I'll let you know how it works out. 

As for Abigail, check out Abigail's Angels (ITP Support) on Facebook.  My daughter Megan, and Abigail are changing lives.  They are much better at this surrender thing than me.  You guys are my heroes!!/pages/Abigails-Angels-ITP-support/140680835987109



Sunday, April 3, 2011

Horror. Why we love to read it, and why I love to write it.

April 8-10th will be the 2011 Nebraska Writers Guild Spring Conference.  One of the many things I'll be doing to help with this conference is having a table to display information about speculative fiction.  What's that?  Speculative fiction encompasses the darker side of literature.  Subjects ranging from pure horror to science fiction and fantasy.  To prepare, I've spent a lot of time thinking about horror.  Why are people drawn to it?  Why do I write horror?

Horror writer Douglas Winter says it very well. " Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion."

A well-crafted horror story posesses the ability to grab my attention, and forces me to confront some part of my psyche I'd rather not face.  Yesterday, I was talking to a fellow writer about writing dark fiction.  (Hi Emily!)  I made the observation that if I am not squirming in my seat when I'm writing horror, I'm not digging deep enough inside the recesses of my own soul.  In a very real way, writing horror is a window into the author's being.  In gifted horror writer Joe Hill's story, "You will Hear the Locust Sing," Francis, the main character, turns into a giant bug, who then proceeds to eat his father.  It doesn't take much to realize that Joe just might be having some major daddy-issues with his rather famous horror writer father, one Stephen King. 

Yes, writing horror is catharsis, therapy, and if done well, something that alters the way the reader views the world.  I challenge readers of Alice Seibold's, "The Lovely Bones," to come away unchanged.  The best-selling Tim LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins "Left Behind"series fits this definition as well.  Disagree with me?  The Horror Writers of America don't!  They even list the Bible as a horror book.  Demons, plagues, apocalypses... Yep, that fits my definition for horror.

I sometimes wonder what readers of my stories will infer about my innermost thoughts from reading my work.  My co-authors, D. Anthony Brown, Brian Thomas, and Johnny Houser's demons will end up on display too.  Or at least they will if we do our job as writers well.  Because, if it doesn't make me squirm in my chair when I'm writing it, I can promise you won't squirm in yours when you are reading it.

I'll leave you with this, and I hope you'll take time to add your own stories as comments.

I remember the very first real horror book I ever read.  I was in seventh grade, and staying overnight at my friend Renee's house along with friends Sandy and Lynnette.  I was wearing a white flannel nightgown, with white lace on the yoke, laying on the floor in a sleeping bag, and even though the rest of the girls had drifted off to sleep, or were gushing about boys, maybe some of both.  I picked up this book, and from the title, it was about a girl.  A girl in High School. So, I started reading.  And I could. Not. Stop! The book was "Carrie."  I read the entire thing, cover to cover, that night by flashlight, curled up in a ball in that sleeping bag on Renee's hardwood bedroom floor. 

Notice how detailed this memory is.  It was one of those PROFOUND moments, one that changed my life forever.  Yes the details of the story scared the bejezus out of me, but the emotional impact was much deeper.  I couldn't stop thinking about that poor Carrie, how many horrific things she'd endured, and how she'd managed to fight back against everything and everyone that oppressed her.  I was a geeky, sometimes bullied junior high student, and it resonated with me.  It was more memorable than losing my virginity.  (No, I'm not sharing that story.  Sorry.  Maybe, just maybe it will show up in a future story.  I do write horror... bwahahaha) 

Now it's your turn.  What was YOUR first horror story?  Did it change you?  How?  Thanks for playing along!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Today I like my hair!

I woke up this morning and fixed my hair.  That usually sets the tone of the day.  Ladies, you are probably nodding about now, and the guys are most likely scratching their heads going "huh?" It's true!  The routine is the same, but the results may vary.  You never know until you start running a comb through the curls exactly what's going to happen.  It is either bliss, or agony.  Usually not a lot of middle ground either, and if my hair isn't playing nice, the rest of the day seems to follow suit. 

I went to bed late last night/early this morning after working on revisions on the screenplay adaptation of my story "The Hunt."  I'm short a good 20 pages, and I was more than a bit fed up with the whole thing when my head hit the pillow.  So, this morning, I decided I was going to take a break from it, get a little distance and perspective before I dived back in. 

Keep in mind that I am a disciplined writer, and I am not advocating procrastination.  What I decided to do instead was finish reading a book on screenwriting I'm almost finished with.  (Studying is a constant part of my life as a disciplined writer as well!) What I ended up with after a few hours of reading was a dozen sticky notes with ideas that came to me about my stunted script while I was busy doing something "else."  Ha! 

I also had a back-to-the-basics "duh," moment when it hit me that what I really need to do is look at the beat sheet and determine where I need them to be page-wise, and then compare that to where they actually are.  Is the inciting incident where it needs to be?  How about Plot Point 1?  Plot Point 2?  You get the idea.  Doing some simple math will give me the number of pages I need to add, and more importantly, will tell me exactly where I need to add them.  Hello, targeted revisions! 

I am very fortunate in that my story follows along extremely well with the basic story paradigm already.  That's because I have a decent foundation in setting up the story structure, which is a direct result of that studying I mentioned. 

For those of you who have read 'The Hunt," no worries, I am not changing the storyline at all. The screenplay follows the actual story very closely.  What I'm adding now are details, little things to help make Wuden Hollow a living vibrant world that will shine on a movie screen.  Little details and scenes that add to the lasting imagery. 

For example, I'm adding a brief moment where a little girl approaches Reverend Michael after the first sermon in the opening of the movie.  The wind catches her hair ribbon and blows it into the woods.  I'll use that ribbon in the woods when Michael is deciding which direction to run when being chased.  He can either go toward town, or deeper into the woods.  Then again at the end, when he sees the girl again, and he gives her back the ribbon.  Does anyone remember the girl in the red dress in "Schindler's List?"  

Plus, I'm now back to hair, which is where I started this post.  Not bad, huh?


Friday, January 14, 2011

wii fit:Needs Some New Options

I have a love-hate relationship with my wii fit.  Love it when the graph shows I am losing weight, and HATE it when it bounces back up, and then my mii character gets FAT!  What's up with that, anyway??? What about promoting that svelte body image that I am aspiring for?  Have the creators of the wii fit software platform not read "The Secret?"  Stop manifesting a body that I am sooo not visualizing for myself.  I am not only believing it is possible, but taking the actions needed to bring it to fruition.  I think that ought to count for something! 

One thing the wii fit does is ask you to select a reason why you think you might have gained weight.  Which makes sense, but the reasons they list are STUPID!  Some are really self explanatory; like "I ate too much,"  "Late night snacking,"  and "Not enough exercise."  I scratched my head at "I have indigestion," but I suppose that is a polite way of saying, "Hello... I am constipated," because let's get real.  If your weight went up three pounds because you need to BURP, you have some serious health issues.  There is an "I don't know" option, but if you use it, the wii trainer comes on and shakes his finger at you and tells you to figure it out. 

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that the majority of people who use the wii fit are women.  I know that sounds a bit sexist, but most of the guys I know prefer hefty weight lifting, kickboxing and other forms of mixed martial arts, or other gym related activities, not a little step-stool on their living room floor.  We women are obsessed with not showing up in a gym until we have attained the svelte figure we already envision ourselves with.  We are realists when it comes to that.  No one wants to see me huffing and puffing away in a spandex suit.  Including me.  Ergo, we like the ability to trim down in the privacy of our own living room with a virtual trainer who won't snicker behind our backs at the rolls of fat under our baggy sweat suits. 

But, back to the options when it comes to weight gain.  Going with the premise that there are a lot of women using the product, and it did ASK me my gender after all, I am going to suggest a few additional categories for weight gain.

"This week will be bad, I have a visitor.  Thanks for noticing that I'm cranky too."  Hello?  This is the most obvious one out there.  And it sure makes more sense than "I have indigestion."

"Just broke up with my boyfriend."  We have all been there.  Bring on the chocolate, and pull out a box of tissues.  Unfortunately, the weight gained by the chocolate is NOT offset by the volume of tears going out.  Wish it was, but not so much.  Another related reason?  "My best friend broke up with her boyfriend."  We all know that sympathy chocolate is essential to the recovery process, right?

"My stupid doctor refuses to give me enough thyroid medicine to make this weight go down."  I've been there, done that!  After a bout of mononucleosis, my body decided that my thyroid looked a lot like the mono virus and killed it off too.  My weight jumped 80 pounds in six months before we figured it out.  Easy enough, I thought.  Give me enough thyroid hormone replacement to put it in overdrive for six months, voila!  Not so much. 

"I'm female.  I'm hormonal.  Deal with it or die."  Kind of related to the first reason, but we all know which days I'm talking about here. 

And my favorite reason of all, "Ask me again and I will throw you and your stupid virtual trainer into the trash."  I use the male trainer (duh!).  Didn't this guy get the message that polite gentlemen do not ever ask or comment on a woman's weight?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  You should be ashamed of yourself, virtual wii trainer!

Well, I'm off now, I have a date with my wii fit.  If you see a white board in the dumpster tomorrow, you'll know what happened.