Friday, April 29, 2011

Icer versus Glugger

I’m sittin’ here at McDonald’s, doin’ a lot of deep thinking. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of Coke people in this world: the kind who fills their glass most of the way full with ice and the kind who gets only a little ice.
Lotsa Ice Coke drinkers are the ones who think ahead and are willing to sacrifice. They know that as the day wears on that their Coke will be more watered down, but they can sip and enjoy the cool beverage longer.
Little Ice Coke drinkers are frugal and getting more Coke for their money. But they are prone to glugging it down in a hurry before it gets warm.
Oops, there is a third kind, like me, a combination of the two. I get little ice in the winter, because it stays cold longer anyway, and more ice in the summer, so it’ll last. That makes me a PlannerGlugger.
Coke personalities translate to writing styles. I am like the icer. Steady as she goes. The Turtle to the Hare. I take my time, and I get there.
Becky is a no-icer, glugging that sugar and caffeine and pounding out several pages at a time. She’s the Hare.
When we come together to write, we morph into the PlannerGlugger. Becky continues to pound the keyboard like crazy while I think and talk through possibilities. Occasionally, she’ll close the laptop and listen closely while I talk. She might comment or she might not. Then she whips the laptop back open and continues pounding away.
So while there’s no particular Coke Writing Type that is best, it’s important to know what yours is, its benefits and challenges, and work with that.
And having a partner gives it variety.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The "Larry Factor"

Recently, I saw the question on a blog, “What inspires you? What is your muse?”
Which made me think a bit about inspiration. Where does it come from? What keeps  writers writing when the world around them is dense with distraction?
Do I even have a muse?
Pretty sure I don’t, so for the sake of today’s blog, I’m going to call what makes me sit and produce “drivers.” I’m not really tickled into inspiration, as one might think of as Muse. I’m also not like compulsive writers who HAVE to write, whose muse/inspiration/drivers give them no choice but to seek out a computer and sit.
Normally I’m tooling along doing everyday things, when BAM! one of my drivers hits me in the face.
I have two equal drivers: rain and challenge.
Stormy days make me want to write. Like right now. If I didn’t have a mortgage to pay, I’d totally ditch work. No idea why rain drives me, but when I crawl out of bed to a thunderstorm, all I want to do run through the house, throw open all the curtains, sit down, and write.
Equally inspiring to me is challenge. When Larry and I began this novel, it was simply a challenge. He would leave me with a ridiculous scene to follow, and I had to figure out how to make sense of it, then leave him with an equally challenging starting point. We’d write a paragraph at a time, a scene at a time, occasionally pages at a time, and we were always trying to one-up the other person.
Rain is unpredictable, so I primarily rely on challenge, like I did for the first draft of our novel. It used to be that I’d come home, open my e-mail, and see the latest piece from Larry. Then I was driven to produce.
But now the book is written, and there are no more fun scenes waiting for me in my mail box. Just Victoria’s Secret sales announcements and my subscription to A Quadrillion Chicken Recipes!
Since I can’t rely on the weather, I’ll have to rely on challenge, which for a rewrite is ENORMOUS. I should be really fired up then, right?
I am—sort of. I’d liken it to how I was fired up to finish my Master’s thesis. Wanting to do it, needing to do it, working on it a little every day, but knowing it wouldn’t be as much fun as the classes that led up to it.
No, I’m not as fired up as when we were writing the first draft, back when it was both challenging and fun.
But I am motivated. Larry and I devised a plan and agreed on a schedule that would get us through the rewrite in three months.  
I suspect wrapping up the rewrite and handing it over to Beta readers will bring me the same sense of accomplishment as finishing my thesis. At least this document will give the readers a different reason to laugh than my communications professor.
 And maybe the Larry Factor will make revision fun.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Writing is like planting trees?

Recently I cut down three large dead or dying trees from our home’s three acres. This left the front of the property looking pretty barren, so we decided to plant more trees. We brought them home in pots and placed them around the yard. I had no idea at the time how much planting trees is like moving furniture.
And writing for that matter.
After 41 years of marriage I know my wife well enough to know that no matter where I put the trees, she’s gonna want ‘em somewhere else. I had ‘em pretty much where she wanted ‘em when I heard her say about the dumbest thing she’s ever said—well, besides “I do.” She said, “Move that one back about two inches.”
 I’m standin’ in the middle of three acres with this little tree, fifty feet from the nearest object, another tree, and she wants me to move it two friggen’  inches! TWO INCHES!!!
 Who in the Hell can see two inches difference in three acres? I looked around to be sure I didn’t put the tree two inches from a sign that said, “Put tree here,” signed God.
            Now, I wasn’t around at the time, but when God did his plantings, I can’t imagine he was being THAT picky. I could be wrong. Even though I was totally baffled, I did what any sane husband would do, and moved it back two inches, got her blessing, and started digging.
            Doing mindless tasks such as digging gives a person plenty of time to think, so I was trying to puzzle my way through her logic when it hit me--for her, that was exactly the right spot for that tree, and she knew it.
Which brings me back to writing.
When I struggle to find the right word for a sentence and ask her, she says, “Just use…”  But I don’t, because I know it’s just not quite right.
If my three acres was our book, I could see which scene belonged here or where that sentence belonged.  When you think about it, in a 350-page book, a certain paragraph might need to be moved down two lines.
And maybe it’s not so much different from my wife telling me to move the tree back two inches…
…but seriously, I still think it’s about the dumbest thing I ever heard.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Exploits of patience

Larry picked a particularly timely topic for his last blog—my migraines. I’d had one for three days. But medicated, I could actually sit up, so I figured we should go ahead and try to work on the manuscript.
Did we accomplish much? Not really. My bad.
At one point I just stared at the wall for about 30 seconds trying to think of the word I needed to finish a sentence, but when I did, I couldn’t remember the point I wanted to make.
Seriously, Larry is a saint—his patience knows no bounds.  
Recently I told him that my life is a footrace between migraines. I sometimes have as many as four a month, some lasting for days. So the days I am feeling half way decent, I’m dashing around, making up for the stuff that didn’t get done when I was flat on my back in a dark room.
The short of it is that I’m stuck with headaches. Over the last decade, several specialists have told me it’s a chronic condition that I have to figure out how to live with. And a couple other specialists have told me that once I get through menopause, the headaches will lighten up, and maybe even go away. Then again, maybe not.
Regardless who has it right, currently my life is a dead run from headache to headache, trying to get the house picked up, groceries bought, litter boxes changed, and laundry washed. I never know when a migraine will strike, how bad it will be, or how long it’ll last, so when I feel halfway decent, I have to prioritize what gets done, how clean my house needs to be, how tall my grass can grow before the neighbors show up with pitchforks—
—and how little writing I can do before poor Larry starts tearing out his hair with both hands.
 Maybe next weekend it will rain, and I’ll be stuck inside at the computer. Maybe I will be able to spend an entire day on the manuscript. Maybe I can get several blogs written ahead.
Maybe at this week’s meeting, we’ll both be on fire, and Larry’s next blog will regale you with the productiveness of our exploits. So are you ready?
On your mark….
get set….

Friday, April 15, 2011

And in this corner! Brutish, gruff, and smelly!

I’ve often thought that after creating man, God stood back to examine his creation: big, hairy, brutish, gruff, and smelly. God shuddered, “I can do better than that!”
            So he created woman.
Afterward he stood back to admire his creation: small feet, capable slender hands, delicate facial features, pleasant voice, and as a stroke of genius, breasts. Visually, the female creature is far superior to the male creature. God had to have had a smile on his face after that accomplishment. But…
            ...he didn’t get everything right. The female creature is annoyingly prone to headaches.
            My wife gets them.
            And Becky gets them. Week-long migraines.
Becky’s headaches affect her writing and our collaboration. More than anything else, our rewriting has been most affected, because it’s more of a team effort than writing the first draft. I usually start checking on her health at least two days before we are supposed to meet, because the headaches sometimes take days to come on. Then they sometimes just happen all at once, and she has to call and cancel at the last minute.
On the most part, she is a trooper and suffers through our rewriting sessions, but you can tell the difference in quality and output.
Me? I’m a baby. When I get a headache, screw everything. I take aspirin and go to bed. On her good days Becky is sharp and quick, and I’m not going to say she is dull and lethargic on her bad days, (because she will be reading this) but she/we are far less productive.
Headaches fall into the category of “shit happens.” I have my bad days too, everyone does.
You and your writing partner will have bad days brought on by poor health, family problems, job stress or any of a number of things, but you can and will work your way through it, finish that book and become world famous authors.
As for me…screw it I’m going to bed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Now where are my ruby flip flops?

            After a year and a half of submitting our novel chapter by chapter to the critique group, last week we received our final critique.
How does that feel? Well, considering how the previous chapter had been pulverized as though by flying monkeys, you could say I was deeply, painfully nervous. And the fact that I had to face it alone (Larry couldn’t be there) only brought my nerves closer to the surface.
When the critiques began, they were good, with very few suggestions for changes. I just knew they were lulling me into a false sense of security, and then somebody would POUNCE! “Ha ha ha! I rip up your manuscript and eat it for breakfast! Ha ha!” and of course, the flying monkey had a French accent.
Then when I least expected it, Debby said, “I had an emotional response when I printed your last chapter this week. I won’t get to see these characters again.”
Speechless, I sat there with my mouth slack, trying to think of something to say. 
“Thank you?”
Although that was what came out, “thank you” was hardly sufficient to convey my appreciation for the most deeply gratifying, validating thing I’ve heard since we started bringing our story to them.
So while she’s grieving for the characters she’ll miss, I’m basking in the glow of accomplishment, wishing Larry had been there to share it.
But now it’s back to revising, which will be a whole lot easier knowing that we’re not trying to make a silk purse out of a flying monkey.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Am I odd and unusual, too?

You know how sometimes you meet someone and you think, “This guy would make a great story character.” Maybe he looks unusual or has an odd way of saying things or an interesting way of approaching situations.
I knew a guy once who drove me nuts. He would make a comment, an ordinary comment like you and I might make in an everyday conversation, a comment that wouldn’t normally require a response, but then he’d stop and look you in the face and say, “Huh?” He’d stare unblinkingly and say, “Huh?” again until you responded. And he wouldn’t do this every once in a while, it would be about every second or third sentence.
“Larry, look at that cat.” Expectant stare. “Huh?”
“Um, yep.”
“My sister had a Siamese once. It was meaner than hell, clawed at the curtains.” Stare. “Huh?”
“Oh…yeah, they do that I guess.”
“Two years, she got rid of it… Huh?” Stare.
“Huh?” Stare.
“Yeah… well… I gotta go.”
If you were lucky, he wouldn’t follow you, “huh?”-ing out the door.
I knew another guy, an ordinary guy, except he had long white hair and a big bushy beard and mustache. His face was a white ball of fuzz with eyes. When he was thinking, he’d stick out his bottom lip like he was making a roost for pigeons. You’d see him standing there, then the fuzz would part, and there was a pink lip, then it would disappear and reappear again. An interesting visual.
Then there’s this gal who walks around town with a cordless house phone up to her ear having loud animated conversations with no one.
I often wonder, “Do these people know that they are quirky or odd or unusual?” And I wonder if they find me the same way. Maybe I am as clueless about it as they are. Maybe everyone is someone else’s character.
Characters are everywhere, but they don’t always fit your story. We have a few “characters” in our story, but most of them are normal, ordinary people acting as normal as they can in the extraordinary situations we put them in…Huh?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Genius vs. The Group

Larry is a GENIUS!
At our last meeting, I agreed with pretty much everything he said about the story, and at one point, I even called him genius. But I don’t say that out loud to him very often, because then he’d expect me to agree with him all the time.
Such prolific agreeability threw my equilibrium off balance, so I needed to find something with which to disagree.
He said in his last blog “Will we get it done? Absolutely! Will the rewrite go smoothly? Could happen—but not likely.”
That’s where I disagree.
I think it depends on our personal interpretations of the word “smoothly.” For me, smoothly will be if we don’t rip each other bald in a scrap over what degree of realism to use.
For Larry, “smoothly” doesn’t include assault and battery at all.
He’s very attached to one of the less realistic characters, Chief Branch. And I totally get that.  I’m attached to one of my characters (Vic) who, in a few of his earlier scenes, was WAY over the top. But he has been tempered with some violently realistic scenes as well. His realistic scenes balance the over-the-top ones.
So now we’re back to balance. Our critique group indicated Chief Branch is too—and to use a quote from one of our group members—“Keystone Cops.” Maybe it’s time for him to shake off some of the slapstick for a dab of realism. Would a law-enforcement officer really do that? There is motivation for this character to act that way, but is the motivation strong enough?
Unfortunately not, according to Group. Not when lives are on the line, and he’s obstructing justice.
Like Larry, I thought the scenes were funny, but I’m not opposed to changing them. Then again, I’m just not quite as attached to Branch as Larry is.
Now if somebody told me to change Vic, I’d kick up a serious, unpretty fuss. He started out as a crazy, disgusting, wretch of a human being, which was really fun to write. However, he has evolved, and was an interesting and fun character right even up to the end.
Maybe that’s what Branch needs. Evolution. Not change his character entirely, but a bit of growth on his part would make him more sympathetic and less likely to be skimmed over when readers get to his scenes.
We’ll do what needs to be done, and Branch will be better for it. He will come out of revision just fine.
But I’m not quite so sure about Larry. Poor man might end up bald.

Friday, April 1, 2011

It could happen....maybe

I’ve been struggling with realism. It keeps getting in the way.
I think Becky and I have similar but different views of how much realism is expected. My theory is that if you have a totally goofy, outlandish story the reader expects it to be somewhat unrealistic. The movie, Airplane! comes to mind. How much of that stuff is really likely to happen? Oh my God! Not much.
On the other hand, To Kill a Mockingbird is believable, and if a sign with a bird hanging from it drops from the ceiling during a courtroom scene, it would be totally out of place.
There has to be balance and consistency. In our story we just started writing for the fun of it. On a goofy day, I wrote goofy, on a happy day I wrote happy on a sad day…well, I didn’t write. I didn’t worry about consistency, no one was going to read it anyway, but something changed—all those pages of words were turning into something.
Some of the stuff we wrote happens to people every day, some things could happen, some aren’t likely to happen, and some fall into the “Oh my God!” category.
 That “Oh my God!” category is what I enjoy reading and writing. But every page can’t be OMG, there has to be a balance. The more OMG, the less realism. Now, in the rewrite stage we have a chance to make it consistent. Most things fit perfectly, but some don’t. Those things have to be tweaked to fit into a certain range of realism. I’m shooting for the “could happen, but not likely to” range. Becky is in the same range, but closer to the “could happen” side.
Will we get it done? Absolutely! Will the rewrite go smoothly?
Could happen—but not likely.