Saturday, January 25, 2014

What a Novel Idea

Please see this disclaimer:  I approach this topic, not as an absolute expert, but as a surveyor and responder of an enriching, newly found experience.  I always wished in college I had either the "time" or the circumstance to take more upper-level writing courses (took all of the lower and mid-level ones that I could!) on how to develop and craft a novel.  Proceed with caution, as writing a novel is an act of dedication and patience.  If you are already a writer avidly practicing writing; I challenge you.  What's the harm?  What's the worst thing that can happen--public embarrassment or writer's block?  Sure, that's scary, but it can't be much worse than a bad day on social media.

Of course, novels will not take minutes, but days, and in some cases years.  Much like love, if it is meant to be it will just happen.  It won't happen directly from reading this blog.  At least, I doubt it.  This idea, when you're ready, will occur to you on your own.  We're all lucky in that we live in an age where it is easier to share ideas nearly instantaneously, with the touch of a button.  Many authors have not taken this for granted.  There are more self promoted and self published authors seeking audiences than ever. 

Before seeking some sort of audience, it behooves you to search and discover subjects in the corners of your mind and the backdrop of your life, in order to find a worthy story first.  If you're skeptical, that's okay.  It might not be the right time.  Although, let us examine the concept behind that 1987 U2 song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".  Writers, did that stop Bono and The Edge from crafting such lyrical, philosophical excellence?  I'm not accusing U2 members of writer's block, especially since Bono explained the song was spiritually based.  However, if you'll take notice, plenty of popular music is about that very subject.  Take this one for an example, Natasha Bedingfield's song "Unwritten".  It's almost as if the songwriters had nothing else to write about and thus began by tackling the absence that is not having a subject at all.  Take your own road.  Mine is the philosophical approach to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".  Why else would I write?  It's a search and discover mission.

Clever writers encourage the notion that when you find a solid story idea, you will start writing and ask yourself questions during the process and afterwards.  If you are writing and refining your work, the novel might even show up at your place.  "Hi there, say, I noticed you've been writing about me a whole lot lately. We haven't been seeing other people. You've just been writing about me, your topic. I was wondering if we might start seeing where this takes us."  It could happen.

A novel in its most simple state is only a longer, more connected format for exhibiting your best efforts in storytelling.  Before you even begin to consider such an endeavor, you might want to read.  This is a glaring assumption that you're not already.  That's all I see veteran authors write about and agree upon. Read novels and research your fiction or non-fiction subjects.  Prepare yourself in between reading and writing.  You can search and read articles with writing techniques:
It's a matter of preference whether you'll choose to stay with insightful short works like blogs or take on a more lengthy journey like novel writing.  As this article mentions, the only thing stopping you is whether you want to write one or not.  That is your choice.

In case you are curious on some novel writing techniques:
Here are some generous ideas on how to begin developing a novel from Randy Ingermanson, Ph.D. who teaches writing and sells his book with "The Snowflake Method" concept.
This article suggests a structured format with pre-configured conflicts and obstacles.  Sequential maps do help with organizing writing.  You can change and re-organize anything while novel writing.
At worst, good writers will have salvageable pieces that they can re-work, re-draft, and transplant into different formats.  When you have the will to write it, you will find the time.

I am currently writing my first novel.  I am prepared, financially and emotionally, if it is never mass-market printed or small-market printed.  My supportive family still wants me to write it.  It will take a lengthy time to write.  My friends will put it on their old-school bookshelves, or download it on their electronic ones. 

I will make some sacrifices--like what I consider to do for free time.  Blogs might be occasional book reviews instead of personal stories.  As a planner and marathon runner, I converted my routine into logging not mileage per week, but words per week.  When I am finished with this one, I'll have to revise and rewrite parts of it.  Then, I will write another one--for better or for worse.  It's like when Lady Gaga married the night.  You will marry novel writing.  If you are married, please note, do not ignore your real spouse with your new adventure.

Friday, January 24, 2014

What Is Calm?

"What Is Calm?" is a short story or collection of ideas for children of all ages and adults.  De-stress from your day and unwind as you reveal every serene moment.  Discover and picture each of these peaceful experiences.   Join and experiment by adding your own memories of what is calm.

What Is Calm?
What is calm? 
Calm is a long ocean wave that rolls, spirals, and folds.
Calm is so many deep and full breaths. 
Calm is a walk in the winding woods, crunching each soft step in rhythm.
Calm is a bright green tree swaying gently.
Calm is the surrender to sleeping outside in the fresh air of a warm day.
Calm is Grandma making herbal tea.
Calm are the butterflies fluttering in the fragrant garden.
Calm is the sweet scent of lilac and magnolia trees in full bloom.
Calm is no deadlines and a hammock swinging in a tropical breeze.
Calm is a serenade of summer frogs croaking in harmony.
Calm is Grandpa dozing off in his favorite chair.
Calm are the content birds playing hide and seek.
Calm is a gentle rain sprinkling each leaf.
Calm is a child's teddy bear.
Calm is a lullaby beckoning sleep.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Coffee Confessions

Edgar Allan Poe's birthday was this week.  With him, the subject of addiction tends to surface.  Poe gets harassed from the grave with this topic, as scientists have even tested a lock of his hair for traces of lead in efforts to prove the cause of death was his alcoholism. Relax, the lead was in alcohol from the early to mid 1800's, not today.  Well, was the cause of his death alcohol related?  Nope, it was maybe cats. He may have died of rabies from an animal bite. Cats, at times, get a bad rap themselves.  According to animal hoarders, they are also another addiction.

Much like coffee, the word "addiction" is strong.  Rather than think of ourselves as addicts, it helps to sugarcoat it with terms like aficionado and enthusiast.  "I'll quit coffee tomorrow."  This is what I tell myself. It sounds right out of a brochure, doesn't it?  It has been over a year now that I've had coffee every day, except for maybe one week.  That's something that could be said at a meeting of Coffee Drinkers Anonymous, if it existed.  What's the problem with having only one or two cups a day?  It's not like slugging down a pot; my friends console me.  I scarcely hear of anyone who can handle, or stomach, an entire pot of coffee daily.  I assume that breed is a rare species.

It has been brought up a couple of times by friends that we must beware of coffee pairings.  What goes well with coffee can seep over into other lifestyle choices.  In fact, those of us who crave sugar are perhaps more apt to pour on the bitter, brown beverage.  What goes well with coffee?  Pair it with a sweet scone, a doughnut, a pastry, or a slice of pie.  I have seen cookie dough as an offering on a drive-up coffee shop's menu. Yes, it was raw dough.

There are certain implications of coffee drinkers as a group.  Coffee drinkers who drink more than the mainstream coffee brands sometimes go to special markets and you can spot them in coffee shops.  In order to be a real snob though, you have to refuse any and all commercial coffee.  I'm not quite that picky.  You can make inferences that connect coffee shops to the arts, as musical bands sometimes perform there and eye-catching paintings cling to the walls. 

If I can get sappy for a second, there is an emotional draw to consider.  This emotional draw stirs up memories of families sharing brews together. Along with them are the occasional drinkers who only partake during holidays.  Then, there is a socialization factor.  Although very few people I've met have said to me, "I met the love of my life at a coffee shop", it is still a place to make small business contacts or a few friends.  For writers these places are, in part, research labs.

Admittedly, I have gone to great lengths to vanquish this addiction. I switched to decaffeinated for six months in efforts to curb the entire practice.  There is only one type of de-caf that tastes like regular and I only pick it up when visiting family in another city.  There have been plenty of times I've fantasized about throwing the glass coffee pot over my balcony to watch it tumble down the hill in the snow and hopefully end up in a ditch.  With this, I can further imagine waking up the next day and plodding through the snow just to retrieve it. Other futile attempts to stop drinking coffee include chucking the packaged grind, or in whole bean cases, the grinder itself on the highest shelves of our kitchen cupboards.  This simply required a chair to fetch it down the next morning.

Could it be that some of us are craving something more?  Is that why we are literally filling ourselves?  Perhaps, but it seems little to worry about if we don't know what the "something" is.  We must be realistic; we are not prisoners.  Maybe "we" coffee drinkers just don't want to quit enough.  Maybe life without its occasional perks is just a wee bit under-stimulating.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sparkle's New Home: A Children's Story

This is a children's story starring Sparkle the spunky Shih Tzu puppy who is faced with a confusing dilemma. All of her belongings are missing and her owners tell her she will be moving. Join Jerry, Linda, and little Sparkle on a journey moving from their home to an apartment. Enjoy this adventure that is based on a true story.
Sparkle's New Home
Sparkle yipped as she looked through the window.  She could see the mail carrier walking toward her in a blue skirt that swished with each step.  "Arrrrf", she chirpped to her the friendly greeting.  Sparkle and the mail carrier, Kristy, were good friends and had met many times over the years.  She wagged her tail, sniffed, and pawed lightly at the door.  Kristy delivered the mail and waved at Sparkle through the window.  Sparkle was sad to see her leave.  She went back to chasing her raccoon around with her trusty friend Linda.  Inside their house, things seemed to be changing.
(Picture of Sparkle watching and wagging through the front window.)
Sparkle looked at all the neatly stacked cardboard boxes in the corner of the room.  She raced up and down the long hallway but could not find her pile of toys!  At least she still had her raccoon, squeaky ball, and bone to chew on.  There was even delicious, crunchy food in the dish.

(Picture of room with lots of boxes stacked in the corner. This shows the entrance to the hallway. Sparkle is shown with the objects mentioned here.)

Suddenly, her owner Linda scooped her up in both arms and said, "Sparkle, today you must be very brave as I know you can be! Today we are moving to our new home. I hope you like it dear, fluffy princess!"  Linda patted her head between her two feathery plumes of ears.  Her dense coat of light-gray wispy fur shifted downward as Linda hugged her.  Then it popped back up and propelled itself into place.


Sparkle was curiously waiting as Linda carried some boxes out of the bedroom and brought them toward the front door.  She jumped into the large window and peeked through it as Linda walked into the giant moving van.  She came back into the house.  "You're next Sparkle, sweet girl! You, me, and Jerry are the only ones missing to move to our new place."


She listened to Linda but was now a bit shaken from the bumpy ride in the van.  Linda brought her out of the moving van and into a large building with long, brightly carpeted hallways.  They stepped into the elevator as a friendly neighbor asked, "What floor do you need?"  "Seven, please", Linda answered.  "Well that's a cute doggie you have there. Is she friendly?" the new neighbor asked. "Yes, very!" she answered.

(Picture of the elevator scene with Jerry, Linda, Sparkle, and the neighbor.)

Linda smiled and pet Sparkle to calm her.  Sparkle was still a little nervous but wagged her tail anyway.  She zipped across the new place inspecting each room with her paws barely having time to touch the floor.  They started to unpack their cardboard boxes together.  Jerry looked up at Sparkle from his recliner and asked, "Where do you think my comfortable shoes went?" Sparkle sniffed inside an open box and nearly got her head stuck.  She dragged one brown leather shoe out of the box and all the way across the living room and dropped it at Jerry's feet.  "Good job Sparkle! We'll have everything back where it belongs soon."


"Sparkle, how do you like your new home?" Linda asked.  Sparkle gave a soft, "Arff".  It wasn't so bad.  The neighbors were very nice and had even pet her!  There was the raccoon by the sofa and over by the window was her squeaky ball.  There was a lot of bright sunshine coming through the window.  Sparkle jumped up to it as she squinted and saw a children's playground, beautiful trees, and a walking trail.  Her bone tasted just as delicious as it had earlier that day.  She gnawed it and tossed it on her belly as she rolled from side to side.

(Picture is in contrast to moving day scene with those objects. Sparkle is content.)

Linda and Sparkle both yawned.  They had a long moving day of loading the van, unpacking boxes, and placing many of their items back where they belonged.  Nestled in a blanket, with a giant smile from ear to ear, she curled up and began to drift off at the foot of Linda's bed.

(Picture is two pages together. Sparkle is cozy and has thought bubbles of the day's events.)


Friday, January 17, 2014

This Is Not a Ghost Story

I honestly can't recall my first encounter with paranormal activity or why I am so overly anxious to damage shreds of blogger and writer credibility that I might have garnered with my whopping one post.  The first half of my life thus far, I had witnessed oddities, not apparitions.  As a child, there was one day I stepped outside our house for a trip to the airport and a tiny bird landed on my shoe and started confusingly tugging at the shoelace.  It stayed on my foot even as I lightly moved. My family enjoyed the splendor of it for a few minutes, but flights typically run on schedule, so we had to carefully "shoe" it off. Was I a ghost? No, I was a seven or eight year old girl. Couldn't the robin see me though? Did it not have as much instinct as its peers? At this age, I was thumbing through Dr. Doolittle and talking to the animals enough as it was. I didn't need to take this teen-aged bird to the airport on my shoe. It already had wings. Fly birdie! Fly!

Ghost stories often begin with oddities and with too many coincidences. Who hasn't experienced those? People have inklings, senses, and feelings for things. Regardless of what, politically, we might be persuaded to assume, people are actually quite brilliant. Or, maybe they are not...but that is for you to decide and perhaps the onset of a potential blog entitled "How Stupid Smart People Can Be".

As a teen, my friends used to play games with me of hide and go seek with objects.  I could pick up on their nonverbal cues enough not to have to search, but rather directly pluck the tiny object out from, say, under a bookcase after guessing what room it was in. I wouldn't be able to do this today. Yes, teenagers are magical, or as some describe it self assuredly indestructible.  Back then, it was truly mysterious. Now, it is decidedly nonverbal clues. This gives me more credibility. Also, you can't spend all day playing hide and seek as an adult. It's a shame.

We have to take some of the spookiness away for a moment; it is stifling. Many paranormal or shall we call them unexplainable occurrences are not even scary they are just weird. I don't know why people don't share them openly more often because they frequently share other things that are weird; like pictures of die-hard fans sporting belly paintings and wigs at football games.
Whatever the cause, there seems to be a reason that we don't relish in this unexplained phenomena, at least not in first person. Even as I wrote these paragraphs, I mulled over a few dreams and ghost stories I've had, totally abandoned my computer for a half-day, and got goosebumps while simultaneously promising to myself those stories shall remain unaddressed. Here is where I'll give an honorable mention to dream sequences. They are better left alone, which is true of ghosts themselves if I've learned anything from superstition, U.S. pop culture, and legend.

For now, if we're in the mood for a good ghost story, we will just have to catch up on episodes of Ancient Aliens or an occasional round of Celebrity Ghost Stories, so that we can sit back with a discerning eye and jab all of their characters as soon as they are finished laying it all out on the line.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sending Yourself Some Flowers

Before I began this blog, which consequently was earlier this week, I was thinking what all writers think at some point, yet not all dare to accept.  I should write, but what do I have to offer the literary world?  Where do I begin? Then while at work today a thunderbolt hit my brain and I was plagued with a virtual downpour of story ideas, witticisms, even singular words that are not used nearly enough.  I could not purge them from my mind. It was enough to convince me that like it or not, this is my life.  I am a writer.

I thought about things and people I love: my family, animals, running, coffee, David Sedaris, poet Billy Collins.

I thought about things I hate: negativity, controlling aspects of life that are hard to escape- like not having enough money to fix the toilet and the leaky sink.

I thought about amazing events that have happened: I met Hillary Clinton and got to ask her a political question while she ran for a bid for President.  I've been blessed to teach a handful of classes for reading and writing.

I thought about horrible events that occurred: losing my older brother to a car accident, losing other family members.

Not all of the ideas were gems.  That was the point.  Some stories are worth telling.  As humans, we don't stop eating because some of what we eat is junk.  As a writer, I still need the sustenance that is the nourishment gained from putting words on the page.

I spent most of the rest of the night staring at the wall thinking about this comedy routine I saw with Lewis Black .  He mentioned a conversation he overheard, where the only sentence he caught this one particular girl student say was, "If it weren't for my horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college." He never got to hear the end of the story.  Sure, Black was highlighting how moronic this girl sounded in passing.  However, I think there was some truth in that he wanted to hear the rest of the story.  So did I.

In fact, by this time, it had occurred to me that not only do I rather enjoy reading, I rather love writing.  As my mind traveled in a frantic, nearly hyperactive fashion from writing ideas back to the its linear "workplace mode", I discovered a few more equally pressing notions.

Among my original, now seemingly absurd belief that I have no place writing was the sad conclusion that my writing material, my life, was somehow ill-fit and perhaps not interesting enough.  Well, what's your least favorite book you've ever read?  This is better than that.  Pairing up with the sad conclusion above was the unintentional disrespect for the universal human experience.  I like well written books and blogs.  It is art and I can dig it.  Not only am I not the only one experiencing life, I am not the only one experiencing very similar happenings.  This sharing of the human experience becomes a social responsibility.  Tones and moods are uniquely our own, but we are in this moment, this life, together.  Once I diced up the former negativity and changed its consistency to a fine puree, I was set to start writing more prolifically...or was I?

I have met people who are a little on the obsessive end, maybe they wash their hands a lot or have stuffed animals on their beds that no one is allowed to touch.  It strikes you as a little creepy, but you brush it off and think, to each their own.  Well no one has accused me of being superstitious, but with a few real ghost stories under my belt, I figure the lack of accusations were clear assumptions.  I thought maybe if I write the bad experiences that haven't happened (fiction) that they will happen.  Or, if I wrote about the negative life experiences (non fiction) that this could somehow make them worse.  I was feeding myself a tall order of hooey.  I started to think about how Stephen King wrote a book about a writer who writes these terrible things and they begin to happen to people in real life.  That should be a reason not to write, but I also remembered how I had that general idea in middle school before I had ever heard of that book.

The last pressing notion is the more positive thought that I should really send myself some flowers.  You see, I was considering several gifts to give for peoples' birthdays when I stumbled upon that one.  Perhaps this was out of self-pity after examining negative life aspects from King and my superstitious perspective that putting life events to the page could make them worse.  It could also make them better.  The flowers I would send myself would be ornate and with a note attached that reads: "Dearest Katie, I'm sorry that I have at times been hard to deal with and even sometimes have given you the short end of the stick. Love, Your Life".

So, here is my first blog. I think it's safe to say, it doesn't come without, Ahem, a few reservations.