Writers’ Workshops to the Rescue

I’m continually looking for writing tips, techniques, and approaches. I’m forever searching for ways to become a better writer and be inspired. Sound familiar? As a result, I attend conferences and workshops, read articles and books on writing, listen to speakers, and talk with fellow writers. I read novels and short stories all the time. And, of course, I write!

These on-going efforts with writing remind me of my golfing days and multitudinous lessons from golf instructors. (Spoiler alert: I am not the Carol Mann of golfing fame.) Many times I tried and succeeded or tried and failed at a lesson or on a course. However bad it got, I usually found something new or had a lightbulb moment (some days brighter than others), whether landing in the sand or soaring down the fairway. My golfing experiences are analogous to my writing journey – always searching for more, for better, landing in and out of the sand. And always enjoying those Aha! moments.

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Searching for more!

On a recent Sunday, I attended a short story writing workshop conducted by Author Elizabeth Sims and held at our local Miramonte Hotel. She is the creator of the Rita Farmer Mysteries and the Lillian Byrd crime series, as well as a contributing editor at Writer’s Digest magazine. In addition to fiction, she also writes nonfiction books. e.g. You’ve Got A Book In You. You can learn more about her at www.elizabethsims.com. She proved an original, entertaining, and informative instructor. There were techniques I’d heard before offered in a unique manner. But, more importantly, there were new concepts and ideas. Here are a few of both old and new:

Tips/reminders for characterization.
Give a minor character one physical trait.
Give a major character one physical trait, one psychological trait.
Give a major character an issue. e.g. abandonment

Suggestions for developing a plot.
Develop your story around a “heart-clutching moment.” e.g. huge moral lapse (Judas), nature gone wild (shark), change of heart (Michael Corleone in The Godfather).
Examine the structure of a Sherlock Holmes short story which often begins in a familiar setting with a messenger arriving with bad news. (We did a story analysis in session.)

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Sherlock Holmes and Watson

Paint a scene.
Make one element visual – e.g. a night sky
Make one element non-visual that appeals to another sense – e.g. a chill in the air

Tips for editing.
Cut one word per sentence.
Cut adverbs.

Final pearls to keep in mind as you write:

  • Get rid of perfectionism. Just get those words down. Go back later to refine.
  • Ignore sequence. Just get those words down. Again, go back later to address chronology of sentences, paragraphs, events.
  • Keep asking yourself, “Yes … and?”
  • Keep asking yourself, “What if?”

These items are just the surface. Ideas were developed through discussion and lecture plus Q&A. During the course of the workshop, we did writing blasts. I found her technique and approach freeing and fun. Her book, You’ve Got A Book In You, is now part of my library. At the end of the class, we each received an orange power bracelet and on it – you guessed it – are the words “You’ve got a book in you.”

This workshop was definitely a Sunday well-spent.

Posted in Authors, Creativity, fiction writing, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, novel, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Marketing Your Book – Again

Your book has been out for a while. What do you do now? How do you keep the marketing fresh? You do two things. You stick with what works and … you try something new. All Ways A Woman came out in January 2017. Lynn and I, the “we” of this post, have come up with our game plan for the 2018-2019 season.

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What have we done that works, that we’ll continue doing? 

First, because we combine the disciplines of poetry and art, we participate in art events and book events. Local art faires and book expos/festivals provide a ready market. The main tasks are being aware of these events and getting registered into them.

Second, we know talking about the book’s poetry and art in our program called “A Reading and Conversation with All Ways A Woman” is successful. We speak at libraries, museums, clubs, organizations, and private gatherings. We do readings in local coffee cafes. These are done with the stipulation we can offer our book for sale after the event.

Third, we’ll continue offering our note cards which feature an image from the book, with the accompanying poem on the inside.

What are we doing that’s new?

First, we advertised in a publication called Art Patron Magazine. According to its website, the magazine is “a regional art publication committed to the inspiration, curation, and collection of fine art in all its forms.” It has two editions distributed in Palm Springs and Laguna Beach, CA. This represents many thousands of people. We’ll soon see if there’s an uptick in online sales. In any case, the book is “out there” to a wider audience than we could have done on our own. Exposure can’t hurt.

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Second
, we will be presenting to a writers’ group. We’ll be sharing small excerpts from our regular program, but speaking mostly about creating a composite character, an “every-woman,” that women can relate to and care about, as well as our process of writing and collaborating. This is speaking to a new, more specialized audience with a shift in message direction.

Third, we’re trying some new merchandising. We’ll be offering a “Book in a Bag.” This will be a tote featuring an image from All Ways A Woman, with the book inside. The emphasis will be for gift giving.

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Nuts and Bolts

We’ll continue with the nuts and bolts of distributing bookmarks, business cards, and flyers. We’ll continue using sign-up sheets to build marketing lists, and we’ll continue with our Amazon and Facebook pages.

And so …

In the Palm Springs area, it’s a new “season.” Folks are coming in for vacations and extended stays to take advantage of the weather. The population swells as do the number of events and the marketplace. We wish you happy sales!

Posted in Authors, blogging, Books, Creativity, Inspiration, poetry, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Layers of Loss

A loss leaves a feeling of sadness, of hollowness, like part of you is missing. Not all loss is equal. The deepest loss is of a loved one. My experience has been that this kind of loss hovers, emerging unannounced in tears or depression or anger or grief. By degrees, it becomes “managed.” Special memories, dear memories, of the person begin to surface more often and become something to keep close.

Losing a pet? What can I say? I still feel the aura of my Great Dane (his name was Davidson) sitting beside me right now while I write. He’s content but biding the moments until it’s time to play. I can see him, feel him, although he’s long gone. That old saying, “Pets are people, too,” is so true.

I’m writing about the loss of a thing. I know, I know. It’s only an inanimate object. Perhaps replaceable, perhaps not. Get over it. But, and maybe you’re the same,  something given to you or purchased by you can be a reminder of a place you’ve traveled, an event, a person, a moment that is special, and when you wear it or touch it or see it you relive that specialness.

In the photo, I’m wearing earrings my husband gave me. The photo was taken in Oak Glen, California, during the Halloween season. Oak Glen is an apple growing center, a popular place to visit in the fall for apples, apple pie, and cider. It’s always a fun day. The earrings are a favorite. They’re for pierced ears – 14K gold with small diamonds.

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Going for apple pie.

The earrings were purchased in San Juan Capistrano, California, over two decades ago, maybe closer to three. My husband Tony and I were wandering the stores of the mission town on a clear day in late fall and went into Zia Jewelry to admire the Native American Art and the artistry of the jewelry. In a small, free-standing glass display case were the earrings. They were arranged with a pendant and a bracelet, both of gold, on black velvet, the only case with traditional style jewelry. I remarked how pretty and subtle the earrings were.  My husband, a traditional kind of guy, asked if I would like them. “Early Christmas,” was his comment. Well, did I say no? Of course not.

Last week as I did a series of runs connected to the daily business of living, I wore the earrings. In fact, I wore them often. Somewhere between USA Gas, Walgreen’s, Costco, and Trader Joe’s, I lost one but didn’t know it. Later that evening while watching TV, I decided to take the earrings off and discovered I had but one. What followed was a flurry of activity: an immediate search of the car, my clothing, my purse, and my traffic pattern in the house. The earring did not turn up. I kept picturing it crushed at the gas station or under the shelves at Walgreen’s or in someone’s pocket. I was so sad, Tony and I retraced my route, but no one had turned in an earring. I’ll never know. All I know is … I have but one.

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A New Year’s Eve

I know it’s not the loss of a person or a pet or a limb, but I feel a loss, like a small piece of me is missing. I remember the sweetness of that moment in San Juan Capistrano, Tony’s touch on my hand. Wearing the earrings always made that memory tangible and palpable. When I would put them on, I’d feel a warmness, a closeness, the softness of a special point in time.

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Similar to my earrings. (Courtesy of Etsy)

The single earring is safe in my jewelry box, evidence of a day I want always to remember.

Posted in blogging, memoir, personal essay, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Art of the “Acrylic Pour”

It’s sometimes fun to venture out of your comfort zone and try something completely foreign. It may make you uncomfortable. It may even feel risky. On occasion, I take that step away from writing and try a new creative experience.

I’ve blogged about my zentangle adventure in a post called “A Cup of Creativity Tea.” My meager achievements are pictured in the post. But what I loved was the peaceful moving of the acrylic pen, the change of pattern, the repetition, the flow, the supreme quiet of the room as the group worked, each absorbed in their own process.

I recently experienced the “acrylic pour.” I donned a utility apron and sat down at an oilcloth-covered table with two artist friends, one experienced in “the pour” and acting as our teacher. In front of each of us sat a small artist’s canvas (with a pushpin in each corner on the underside so it would sit level and dry evenly when completed as it sat in a drip pan), tubes and bottles of acrylic paints, white glue, water, floetrol, and treadmill oil. In addition, there were small plastic cups, large plastic glasses, ice cream sticks, several cut-off 8 oz. water bottles to form pliable, disposable pitchers, and a heat gun, plus a roll of paper towels.

The process began with selecting five paints, mixing each one in its own small cup with glue, floetrol, water if needed, and treadmill oil, and blending the mixture with an ice cream stick to a smooth pouring consistency. Then we took each small cup of paint, one after the other, and poured some of its contents, alternating layer by layer, into a water bottle pitcher. We made some layers thick and some thin. When done layering, we took an ice cream stick and cut a deep X in the paint as it sat in the disposable pitcher.

Then we began to slowly pour the paint in circles onto the canvas like the rings of a tree, adding smaller circles outside of the large circle’s circumference until the paint was poured. Then we tipped the canvas from side to side to cover the surface and the sides. I loved this part, watching the design move, change, expand and contract, bring one color to the foreground, then another, making cells and flows. I stopped the tipping process when I liked the design.

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Blending light green, dark green, purple, pink, and white.

For the second canvas, we mixed our paints as before and layered them into a large plastic glass. This time we held the canvas over the glass and tipped everything upside down, ending with the glass full of paint sitting on top of the canvas. Then we slowly lifted the glass, allowing the paint to escape and flow onto the canvas until the glass was empty. We again tipped the canvas from side to side watching the designs until we liked what we saw. We sealed each finished piece with a heat gun, used sparingly, and placed them in a tray to drip and dry.

Here’s a blending of light blue, darker blue, aqua, gold, and white. Notice what happens as you turn the piece and look at the finished design from different perspectives.

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It was a failsafe experience. If I were to do it again, I would mix black, white, gold, light green, and dark green.

Photographing these with my cell phone camera was also interesting. Different room lighting would totally highlight a different color. In real time, these look bluer to me. Fascinating.

All in all, I liked doing an acrylic pour. My workstation attested to the fact that I had enjoyed myself. I have the honor of being the messiest painter in the room. Table, hands, arms, apron, and floor all showed my handiwork. Thank you to artist Nettie Roberts for your teaching and to artist Lynn Centeno for going on the journey with me.

From a writer’s viewpoint, acrylic pours would make great covers for journals and, depending on the book, an interesting book cover.

If you want to try this technique, I suggest this website. Essential Supplies for Acrylic Pouring.

Posted in blogging, Creativity, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, personal essay, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How do you feel about birthdays?

How do you feel about birthdays? Reactions seem to depend on where you are on the age spectrum. You may be happy about a birthday. You may be happy but feeling a bit depressed. You may be happy but can’t help being amazed.  You may be totally startled.

The four points on the birthday spectrum look something like this:

Happy Birthdays 

Age 1 – you learn parties are fun.
Age 16 – you’re old enough to obtain a driver’s license and drive a car.
Age 21 – you’re old enough to buy alcohol legally and say, “Let’s go party!”

Happy/Depressing Birthdays

The Big 4-0
The Big 5-0

These birthdays are traditionally honored by someone giving you a big party with lots of jokes – of which you are the star.

Happy/Amazing B-days

A retirement birthday.
A senior discount birthday.
A Social Security/Medicare eligibility birthday.

These are any birthdays 55 and after, when you ask, “Geez, when did this happen?”

Happy/Startling B-days

 Any birthday after about the 70th or 75th.

This is when you say, “Wahoo! I’m still on this side of the grass! Let’s go party!”

In the words of this fashionista …

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Image courtesy of Design, Design, Inc.

You never want to admit how many you’ve had.

 

Whether you admit to birthdays or not, whether you like them or not, you can’t avoid them. So you might as well enjoy all the external trappings and traditions: surprise parties, birthday dinners, cakes, cards, presents, family, friends.

But let’s not forget the internal trappings – who you are as a person, whatever your age. The list below works. Gentlemen, simply substitute the word handsome.

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Image courtesy of Hallmark

 

The moral? Wear your birthdays with pride, wherever you are on the spectrum!
You’re fabulous!

(Images are from cards my nieces sent, helping to “make” my recent B-day.)

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Earthquakes and Primary Research

Okay, this is bizarre. It’s about 6 p.m. in the evening. I’m working at the computer on a short story titled “The Phone Call.” It opens with a woman standing in her kitchen drinking a cup of coffee when an earthquake occurs. (The quake becomes a metaphor for what will happen in her life.)

At the moment, I’m focusing on three aspects of the story. First, what happens in the character’s immediate environment? For example, the room lurches. A silverware drawer slides open. Pots and pans rattle on an overhead rack. A box of cereal falls to the floor, scattering its contents.

Next, what happens to the character physically? I play with various manifestations. Increased heart rate, sweaty palms, a bathrobe suddenly too warm. Perhaps she clenches her eyes. Or screams. Perhaps she flees the room, one of the human responses to fear. Perhaps she freezes.

Finally, what happens to the character mentally? Maybe she thinks about being buried in debris. She pleas for the quake to stop. She becomes disoriented, confused. She’s sorry for recent words with a lover. Or maybe she simply shakes it off as another California shaker. Or is it?

What happens next is the bizarre part. At 6:24 p.m., a 4.4 quake takes place in real time, the epicenter about 55 miles from where I live. It sounds like marching feet that become louder and then stomp through the room, creating a jolt. At that moment I become a primary research source.

 

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Night at the Metamorphic Mountains by artist George Hunter Tyneside

 

You should know earthquakes scare me. They give me a real sense of something bigger than myself, than humanity … with way more destructive might. They’re the reason there’s an earthquake kit under the bed along with a special wrench to shut off the gas, and clothes and an old pair of tennies.

Back to the quake. I try to capture the sounds. Very few except the rumble and the jolt. I try to capture what I did. I know I froze momentarily, listening, deciding my next move should I see or hear damage. But then the quake stopped. I only noted when it began, not its duration, probably less than a minute, more like seconds. I do know I was preparing to take off, run down the hall, find my husband. I became a combination of fight and flight.

What did my body do? It tensed, with all systems working overtime. My breathing, my nervous energy, my heart. Suddenly, I felt very alert.

After the quake stopped, and hoping there would be no aftershocks, I went back to the short story I was working on when the quake started, feeling more affinity with the main character than before. I became closer to the thoughts and actions she experiences during the fictitious quake, but more importantly to her actions after the event as her life takes on its destructive path and thoughts.

While doing secondary research, I’d read about earthquakes and how people may react mentally and physically. Primary research is research you collect yourself. At 6:24 p.m., I became prime material.

P.S. My husband didn’t feel a thing.

 

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Courtesy of amazon.com

 

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Be Your Own Hero

In this day and age, I’m looking for anchors, things to hang on to when the seas get rough. You know, quick words of encouragement or inspiration to deal with the political chaos and power struggles occurring in our society, whatever your leanings. To deal with the deluge of events, the drench of media. I’m looking for heroes. Or, if they are in short supply, perhaps it’s time we are our own heroes or, at least, our own cheering section.

 

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Courtesy of QuotesNew.com

 

While reading an L.A. Times article about the history of various buildings that have housed the newspaper, I learned of a motto the paper once used. It was written by Eliza Ann Wetherby who was a journalist herself and wife of the paper’s then-publisher Harrison Otis Gray. The Times motto?

Stand fast, stand firm, stand sure, stand true.

The motto seems appropriate for newspaper and media folk seeking facts and truth; for those expecting blowback and challenge.

I thought about the motto and how it might apply to individuals like you and me. I dug a little deeper into definitions via online and hardcover dictionaries:

Stand fast – be true to your principles, values, beliefs
Stand firm – be emphatic, resolute
Stand sure – have full confidence
Stand true – be or remain consistent

In other words, have the courage of your convictions. In some situations, it may be appropriate to remain steadfast. For example, among my core values, I believe in separation of church and state, ethical behavior, and the rule of law. But in some situations, it may be appropriate to be open and have strategies to serve the greater good. I would add three more points.

 Be open to new thoughts, ideas, and change
Be open to negotiation and compromise
Be ready to peacefully coexist

End of “be your own hero” #1

 

 

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Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk. Children read to animals in a shelter. 

 

While reading the book A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, I found a sentence that I could not forget.

“If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”  Count Alexander Roston

Shortened, it means to control the circumstances of your life or they will control you. When things go awry, get out in front of them.  Sometimes fate, luck, and destiny may interfere. It’s good to have a Plan B to be able to adjust. When I taught theatre, I encouraged the actors and crew to always have a Plan B … for the unexpected.

Think of an ordinary day you have perfectly planned – a hair appointment followed by lunch with a friend followed by an appointment for, say, an oil change. All you need is one flat tire anywhere in the mix to throw the day. That’s a boo-hoo circumstance. You call AAA and text whoever is affected and get on with it.

In Count Roston’s case, it was a lifetime circumstance – of house arrest. In other words, a serious challenge, a result of the political upheaval around him. He got out in front of it to survive. How he did so makes for an extraordinary read. He controlled his circumstance to the best of his ability.

End of “be your own hero” #2

 

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Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

 

The short story collection I’m assembling, working title Racing from the Dark, chronicles everyday people dealing with life, some more heroically than others. A tentative quote I’m considering for the book’s beginning comes from Anais Nin – author, essayist, and diarist (1903-1977) who offers another set of words I like.

Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.

We need courage, we need to take risks to grow. Each of us has personal challenges and we have challenges as a society. We want to ask ourselves what’s necessary to expand and enrich our personal lives and those around us. As a nation, we need to ask ourselves the same.

End of “be your own hero” #3

 

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Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

 

Seeking ways to be our own heroes, no matter the situations around us is an ongoing goal. If we’re all our own heroes, perhaps that aura will trickle upward, outward, and across society. We don’t want time to run out.

A few lines from this Native American blessing seem appropriate as we make our personal journeys, seeking heroes inside and out.

Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here.

Pueblo Blessing


							
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