Need your next great idea? Try this!

A few years ago, after reading Dufresne’s Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months, I created my go to story idea generator; my Plot-o-Matic. The Plot-o-Matic is a set of three different colored cards: green = Subject (person or occupation), yellow = Conflict (something the subject wants or needs), and blue = action (something the subject does to achieve that goal or overcome the conflict). When I’m looking for a story idea, I pick three cards, one of each color, and see if the story I want to write comes together. I have used that Plot-o-Matic to come up with many short story and flash fiction ideas. It’s a fun and useful tool and it was free, other than paper and printer ink.

When I became a blogger, I started searching Amazon for fun things to recommend for you, writers and readers, and noticed there were Plot-o-Matic-esque products on the market like The Storymatic and The Writer’s Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the ‘Write’ Side of Your Brain. Then, when shopping for a game for my nephew, I noticed Rory’s Story Cubes among the games and bought a set to try them out.

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Rory’s Story Cubes

The game and how to play

Rory’s Story Cubes are six-sided cubes with simple images on each side. For a long time I’ve been fascinated by human symbols. They dominate my fabricglass art and my puzzle design. I love looking up symbols in symbol dictionaries and dream dictionaries. How people express so much meaning through a simple shape over eons is exciting to me. So this game is  right up my alley.

There are different ways to play. The instructions page provided with my set provides 3 ideas:

  1. Roll all 9 cubes and look at the face up images. Pick an image that will be the starting point for your story. Beginning with “Once upon a time . . .,” make up a story that somehow links together all 9 face up images.

  2. Think up a title or theme for a story. (Examples: The beach, My fantastic vacation, Dream.) Then roll all 9 cubes and try to tell a story that relates back to the title or theme.

  3. Divide the cubes evenly among the players. (It’s ok if some get more than others.) Starting with one player and continuing in a circle, take turns rolling the cubes and adding to the story based on the face up images. Stop after all 9 cubes have been rolled, or continue rolling for additional rounds.

Rory’s Story cubes also offers more inspiration on their website.

Let’s Play

So let’s test it out. Can these story cubes inspire my writing? How will they compare to the Plot-o-matic?

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What story does this roll give us? Hmm. Who’s my protagonist?

A happy man examines a letter that says he has to come home right now, so he jumps out of the plane, but on the way down a bee stings him. While sucking on the sore sting on his hand he does not pay attention to his magnifying glass that sets fire to his parachute. Luckily he lands in a tree, but he walks with a limp from then on and has to use a cane.

How about another one?

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The hour was getting late for saving the earth, so the alien came disguised as a rainbow to alter the magnetic poles, but when it did, the water flowed upside down confusing the fishes and killing the bees and now the earth is overrun by scarab beetles.

Here’s one for you. Please leave your stories in the comments.

story cube 5

Now let’s play another way. One cube at a time.

story cube 7

Sasquatch, of course.

story cube 8

took a trip to Egypt to visit the great pyramids.

story cube 9

A freak storm surprised him. Lightning almost hit him, so he found an opening and hid inside the pyramid.

story cube 10

He pulled a flashlight from his backpack and began to look around the small chamber in the pyramid.

story cube 11

While examining an intricate spiderweb, he felt a chilly hand on his shoulder and roared turning around ready to attack.

story cube 12

But it was only a friendly mummified pharaoh who wanted to meet the furry large guest in his home.

story cube 13

The pharaoh asked if the bright light and crashing sound outside had been a meteor or an asteroid. He hoped it was the gods come to join him in the afterlife. Sasquatch hated to disappoint him,  but  told him it was only a bad storm.

story cube 14

Sasquatch pulled his favorite book out of his backpack. It was a book about the pharaohs of Egypt. He gave the pharaoh his flashlight and a sharpie. “Hey, could you find yourself in my book and sign your pic?”

The pharaoh started leafing through the pages. He started laughing. “I’m not in here. They haven’t found my chamber.” He shined the flashlight around the room. “See,” he said, “Not discovered yet.” He held the book and pen out to Sasquatch.

Sasquatch shrugged. “Wanna sign it anyway?” he said. How about right in the front?”

story cube 15

After the pharaoh signed his book, Sasquatch climbed to the very top of the pyramid, waited for a large gust of wind and opened his parachute. The giant wind, helped along by the ancient pharaoh’s good wishes took Sasquatch all the way back to his home in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

Here’s a video from the Rory’s Story Cubes website showing another story inspired by the story cubes:

Analysis

My stories inspired by story cubes tend toward the silly and ridiculous, but I had a lot of fun and wasn’t using them to work on anything in particular.

The Plot-o-Matic also lends to the silly and ridiculous. I’m seeing a trend here. It may not be the tools, but the user. Hmm.

I like the story cubes. They feel less rigid than the Plot-o-matic, as the different images can symbolize the subject, conflict and/or the action. The story cubes also seem more conducive to group writing and play.

As you can see, like the Plot-o-Matic, story cubes are a fun, playful, idea-conjuring resource with a vast array of outcomes, but what if some of the images don’t work for you and/or you would like something more specific to your story idea?

Rory’s Story Cubes has created a variety of different cube sets to address that issue. You can choose from:

Rory’s Story Cubes Actions

Rory’s Story Cubes – Voyages

Rory’s Story Cubes Bundle with Original, Actions, Voyages, Prehistoria, Enchanted, Clues, Intergalactic, Medic & Score 

But what if you want something very specific to your story that all those almost infinite possibilities didn’t symbolize?

How to personalize your Story Cubes

I came up with a quick DIY project for you to get the most out of your Story Cubes.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A pen
  • White label stickers
  • Scissors
  • OR for those who cannot read their own drawing
  • A printer
  • ink
  • printer paper and tape (double-sided preferred)
  • or printable sticker paper

I’m pretty sure you get where I’m going with this, but since I want to draw little symbols for my cubes . . .

Instructions:

  1. Measure one side of a cube (height and width to cover image)

three story cubes, a ruler, a pen and some white stickers

 

I don’t think I need an abacus, a teepee, or an L in a box (?) so I’ve chosen to replace these three symbols with symbols more pertinent to my story.

 

2. Take the sheet of labels and draw out a square that matches those measurements

3. Draw your preferred symbol within the square you drew

Drawings on sticker paper. A goatman has been placed over the teepee.

To be more specific to my stories, I’ve drawn a volcano, an alligator and a goatman. I’ve already cut out the goatman and placed him over the teepee.

My symbols may not curb the silliness of my stories, but they are more specific to what I’m writing.

4. Cut out the square and stick it over the side of the square you want to replace

5. Repeat until all unwanted symbols have been replaced

Three story cubes with hand-drawn symbols

6. Roll cubes

And there you have it. Three unique and fun stories to write. I would love to see what you come up with in the comments.

I found that when I rolled with my story-specific tiles, the game changed for me. The symbols became more of a What If game. What if the alligator is afraid of his own shadow? What would happen if the goatman got a bee sting? Do I want to bring magic into my volcano story?

I may be onto something. Adding personal symbols to the story cubes may be a more powerful writing tool than I thought.

I look forward to reading your interpretations of the story cube rolls.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

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Reaping A Bountiful Harvest

summer squash, pole beans, kale, Swiss chard and a lemon cucumber nicely displayed on a wood countertop

The harvest: Summer squash, lemon cucumber, pole beans, Swiss chard & 4 kinds of kale

I find no meal more satisfying than the one picked fresh from my garden. This year’s harvest is turning out to be very exciting. This year is the year of vine vegetables and many kinds of kale. Yum. The beauties pictured above were used for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

For breakfast this morning I had a piece of grain and seed toast with a little yogurt ranch Three slices of lemon cucumber showing the pretty star-shaped centers and seedsdressing, white cheddar cheese and slices of lemon cucumber. The first bite was surprising. The sweetness of the cucumber drew out the salt in the bread to an acute surprise.

For lunch, the summer squash served as noodles after going through the spiral slicer . The raw squash had less taste than I expected, but was full of flavor once topped with an olive oil sauce of onions, garlic, Roma tomatoes (from my friend’s garden), and fresh rosemary and thyme (growing in pots on the porch).

Harvest DinnerDinner was wonderful. We put brown and wild rice in the rice cooker and food steamer and steamed the beans and some cauliflower. Then when those veggies were done, we steamed the greens and some mushrooms. I topped the whole thing with my favorite spicy peanut sauce. I used the Gado Gado recipe from The New Moosewood Cookbook .

This wonderful harvest after years of being mostly thwarted is a great metaphor for the writing life. It takes persistence and constantly trying new and creative things.

I keep planting every year, no matter how the last harvest turns out. Every year I try something new. I try new vegetables. I change where and when I plant. I’ve planted horizontally, vertically and in arcs. This year I added planting up with poles and twine. This year, I’m also going to try a fall/winter garden, replanting as soon as I finish the harvest.

In my writing life, I make another Gator McBumpypants picture book, another NaNoWriMo novel, another short story, another poem, no matter how the last one was received. I read, I enjoy online courses and I learn and practice the craft every day. I don’t approach the page the same way, but try new skills and ideas all the time.

At the beginning of the week, I organized all of my writing projects for this fall and found an amazing word harvest. I found a lot more words on the page than I expected. I have so many wonderful projects to work on, it’s hard to choose; in a good way.

Today is about celebrating the harvest. It’s about time and patience. If we keep at it, one day we may be happily surprised with enough to eat.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

Interview with award-winning screenwriter Geoffrey Calhoun

After sharing his fun guest post, Finishing Your Script by Defeating Act Two, Geoffrey Calhoun kindly took the time to answer my questions about his writing practice and his business We Fix Your Script. His answers are full of great information. Make sure to follow the links to learn more about his favorite books, authors and websites. I’m going to thank him up here because I like the interview ending with his advice for new writers. Thank you, Mr. Calhoun, for sharing your time and experience.

Geoffrey Calhoun

 

Geoffrey D. Calhoun  has optioned several screenplays and has worked as a writer on two features coming out in 2017 “The Little Girl” and “Studio 5.” His multi-award winning thriller “Pink Bunny” is scheduled for a 2018 release. Geoffrey has won multiple screenwriting awards and has worked as a producer, an assistant director, and director on indie film productions.

 

First, thank you for your guest post, I noticed people have been re-tweeting it and liking it on Good Reads.

That’s fantastic! I’m really glad people enjoy it. I love this craft and writing about it. It’s important for us as writers to pass down what little tidbits of knowledge we’ve learned for the up and comers. Just like our mentors did for us.

When did you first know you were a writer?

Jeez, that’s a tough one. I guess it was quite by accident really. I had a coworker who moonlighted as an editor for a local kids show. One day he just walked up and challenged me to see who could come up with a better treatment for a script. I secretly have a bit of a competitive streak in me. So I accepted. That night I went home and learned how to become a screenwriter. Eventually we compared stories and I won. That was the end of it, until my wife read the treatment and suggested I do the script. I confessed that I really enjoyed the process. I’ve never stopped since. As a side note, that script was actually optioned at one point but never made it to production.

Do you write every day? Tell us (me and my readers) a little about your writing practice.

I do. In one form or another. When I am actively working on an assignment then it’s a minimum of four hours a day for writing. When I’m not on assignment, then I am constantly developing stories. I can’t give you an approximate time spent on this because it’s all of the time. Perfecting and developing a story is always on my mind whether I’m grocery shopping or actively mind mapping. I keep note pads all over my home and in my car so I can jot down ideas.

What is your best trick for getting more words on the page?

Music. When I am writing I have to have music playing. Right now my son is practicing his baritone, so I can write while he plays, but otherwise I pull up a customized playlist. I have specific tracks I listen to when I want to write a specific emotion to a scene. If I don’t have music on, it’s more of a struggle.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

Honestly, with my peers. When I want to clarify an idea, I pick one of a handful of people that I trust. I will chat with them and bounce ideas until something sticks. They are a sounding board. They’ll tell me what’s crap and what’s genius. The myth that a writer sits alone at computer and creates brilliance one key stroke at a time is a lie. No one does that. Sure we do the work, create the character, and story, but every great writer has a few friends that they turn to and clarify their ideas with. It’s usually done over a casual drink or lunch. But it’s done. Anyone that says otherwise isn’t telling the truth.

Who have you found most influential to your writing?

Syd Field. This man is one of founders of modern screenwriting. I had read a lot of how to books before I got to his book Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. His was the first book that really opened my eyes to story and the importance of structure. It changed my writing. To this day I read it every year and still learn something new.

Who are your favorite authors?

With novelists I’d say a gentleman by the name of R. A. Salvatore. He’s written a thirteen book series within a fantasy realm that is fantastic called “The Legend of Drizzt.” I’ve read all of them. As a screenwriter I’d say David S. Goyer, Christopher McQuarrie, and Jonathan Nolan. These guys are masters at their craft and are what I aspire to be.

What are your favorite books?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The smart humor in that book has seeped into my writing style.

For screenwriting it would be Screenplay by Syd Field. “How to Write a Screenplay” by Viki King and “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier. I still reference all of these books to this day.

What three writer’s websites do you visit most often?

John August’s. His is great. It keeps you up to date on the latest changes in screenwriting. Screencraft, I visit their blog. They talk about a lot of the struggles that screenwriters face. Stage 32 is another website that is nice to go on and get support from other writers.

Let’s talk about We Fix Your Script (really nice looking website btw):

Thank you 😊

WeFixYourScript.com

What inspired you to start this business?

Having been in this business for awhile now I felt it was time to stand up and give a supportive voice for the indie screenwriter. I think back to all of the times I had paid for and received coverage from “professionals” and more times than not it was filled with vile comments. Never positive or supportive. It was brutal. I would get feedback telling me that I would never make it. Some would be offended that they had to read my work.

To me, this is unacceptable. This bullying attitude of arrogance that can be found in our industry has to stop. To tell someone that they’ll never make it and to slander their work is wrong. That writer came to you seeking help. They put their soul into that script and you tell them it’s a terrible piece of garbage and they are wasting their time. How dare you? Sure this writer may just be starting out. Yes they need help. So why not help them? Mentor them.

I’ve seen great writers, people with serious potential, walk away from our craft because they couldn’t take the criticism anymore. I can’t stand by and let that happen. I founded this website to offer a safe place for a writer to bring their work, where they know they will be supported and treated with respect. We won’t just dog your work to make ourselves feel superior. We will help you become better at our craft and provide creative ways to make your script great. Think of us as mentors.

We Fix Your Script has an impressive group of consultants. How did you all get together / find each other?

I’m lucky to have found a great crew that shares the same vision for this service as I do. I’ve met all of them while I toured the country with my multi-award winning script “Pink Bunny.” Over time this idea had been brewing in the back of my head of starting this service for the indie writer. I’ve vetted all of our writers to make sure they have the best of standards and every single one of them is just an amazing and beautiful person. I couldn’t be luckier.

Tell us about how We Fix Your Script works. At what stage in the writing process would we contact you? We’ve ordered a product, what happens next?

We have options for any stage of the writing process. If you just have an idea and you need to develop it more then you can get a one on one session with a consultant and work it out over skype. We call that our development package. If you’ve written a short script/feature/web-series and need feedback, we do that as well, but we take it a step further. Not only do you get comprehensive notes but we also give you a one on one skype session with your award winning and produced consultant that specializes in your genre. Say you want us to do a rewrite or need grammar and formatting fixed, we do that as well, on a case by case basis. We cover all of your screenwriting needs.

You’ve won many awards for script writing (there’s a list in your bio on WeFixYourScript.com):

Yes, I’ve been very blessed.

How did you choose which contests to enter?

Film Freeway is great. They give you reviews on each contest. You can also use the ISA International Screenwriting Association as well. They even offer discounts on contests. Between the two I was able to figure out where I wanted to enter.

Any advice for putting together a winning submission?

Screenplays for contests can be very different than ones you want to sell. If you are looking to put together a winning script, I would suggest something character driven with an interesting concept that really grabs the reader. I would also recommend that you play around with your structure a bit. Do what ever you can, to make it stand out from the rest of the pack. For instance, “Pink Bunny” is a Rashomon styled thriller that really bends reality at a few points but the characters are so interesting that it keeps you around for the long haul. But if I wrote a summer blockbuster, it would be dead in the water in a contest. Also, I have to say this: make your script perfect in every way, whether it be grammar, format, or structure. A perfect script with a cool concept and deep characters will land you in the top 10 percent of most contests.

Are you working on any enticing new stories you can tell us about?

I just finished an assignment for a popular TV channel but unfortunately mums the word on that one. I was also hired to rewrite two scripts that are moving into production this year. Which is exciting. I’m currently in negotiations to have one of my scripts optioned.

And just for fun:

When you’re not writing, what is your favorite thing to do?

I love family time. We can be hanging out at home or grabbing a bite to eat. Doesn’t matter as long as I’ve got them around.

Are you a dog person or a cat person?

I’m a dog person. Right now, my greyhound that we saved from a racing track is asleep next to me. That’s what she does, nap. The fastest couch potato on earth and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Final question:

What bit of wisdom would you share with new writers?

Don’t give up. Screenwriting is about the long game. It’s about sticking with it and perfecting our craft. Remember, it takes, on average, ten years to become an overnight success.

Summer Book Bingo 2: Adventures with A Good Book

In my last post, I told you about all the fun squares/book choices of the Seattle Summer Book Bingo. One of those squares said to get a recommendation from an independent bookseller, so I headed over to A Good Book in Sumner, WA to see what they could recommend.

Recommendations

When I mentioned to the dark-haired, bespectacled young man behind the counter what I was up to, he motioned toward the woman behind him who was the proprietor of the establishment, Evelyn Nicholas. They were both quick to point out the books that were next to the cash register.

Campfire Bookclub

The first book they showed me was A Darker Shade of Magic: A Novel (Shades of Magic) by V. E. Schwab. This is the book selection for their June Campfire Bookclub. You are welcome to join in a discussion of the book around a campfire with a drink and marshmallows on June 28th from 7-9pm. The book is part of a trilogy and Evelyn told me that her customers who read the first book rush back in for the second,  A Gathering of Shadows: A Novel (Shades of Magic). The third book in the series is A Conjuring of Light: A Novel (Shades of Magic).

Though this sounded interesting, and the bookclub sounds fun, I was curious to see what else they would recommend.

MC The great train robbery 75

The Great Train Robbery

The second book near the register that they recommended was a 2014 re-release of the 1975 novel by Michael Crichton. I had heard of the film and didn’t know it was based on a Michael Crichton book. I have read most of his books and found this tempting, but it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for.

Evelyn said, “and we also have used books,” and took me into the other half of the shop. This reminded me that I had read on their website that they buy used books, so I asked her about their buy-back policy. Turns out they do a one-to-one exchange, meaning for every book you bring in, you get a discount on a purchase. I’ll definitely be taking her up on that, next time I visit.

Since I recently enjoyed Pest Control and The Exterminators (Assassin Bug Thrillers) by Bill Fitzhugh and I’ve enjoyed every book by Carl Hiaasen, I asked her if she had any recommendations in that vein.

Evelyn said, “You like funny,” and took me to another section of the shop. She told me about a couple of books then grabbed Hidden Palms: A Butch Bliss Novel by hidden palms coverHarry Bryant. The plot, as she described it, sounded like something Mr. Hiaasen might have conjured and I really liked the cover. Then she directed me over to another area of the store while she explained that Harry Bryant is a new nom de plume of an author that works at the store. I was pretty sure I knew who she was speaking of because I had met him and as I looked over what she called his “darker titles” I saw I was right.

Harry Bryant is the “more light-hearted and funny” persona of Mark Teppo who I met at an authors’ talk at the Sumner library and again when I went to a NaNoWriMo write-in at this bookstore. I haven’t read any of his books yet, so this was a perfect recommendation. SOLD.

While back at the register, where my adventure began, I saw that they, too, have a Summer Book Bingo. I excitedly got my first BUY A BOOK square stamped in the top

A Good Book Summer Bingo Card

row, though I was given a choice, so I recommend reading through and seeing where it will be most advantageous for you to fill a row.

This bingo card is a clever way to inspire me to come back and buy books. The squares aren’t only types of books to read, but calls to action as well. Not only do you get a stamp for buying books, but also:

Read a media tie-in – Okay, this isn’t a call to action. Turns out it’s a genre. The call to action is, I had to look this up. I thought it would be reading articles or essays about books, but it’s not. It’s a genre all its own and, actually, will help me out with my “Genre that is new to you” square on my Seattle Summer Book Bingo card. Media tie-ins are books made from TV or movies. Things like Star Wars and Star Trek books. I really enjoyed the TV shows Monk and Castle, so I will probably read one of the books made as extensions of those series.

Attend an event – I’m not sure, but I would think that attending the Fireside Bookclub would get stamps for an event and a book discussion. Another event at A Good Book that I think sounds interesting is A Good Talk Salon where local people give talks on subjects other than their profession. The only problem being I would have to sign up to give a talk. I hope they have another one soon.

Have a book discussion – It’ll be interesting to see how I prove some of these things for my stamp. I have book discussions all the time.

Show them your library card – I should have gotten this stamp while I was there. I always have it on me.

Review a book – this is something I have been working on. Reviews are so important to authors these days. If you like a book, you should quickly head over to Amazon and Goodreads and let everyone know.

and Gift a book – I’m always excited when I find a book that I think is just right for a friend or family member.

Supporting Local Authors

Evelyn told me, as the only bookstore in town, she really wants to help local authors. She showed me a Free Books in return for review shelf at the front of the store that she hopes to fill with local authors. These are the books I took.

Wedgie & Gizmo- This will be my “Gift a book” bingo square. I plan to give it to my niece and can picture her reading it to her little brother. I’ve already posted my review on Goodreads.

The Fallen Star: The Nocturnals Book 3- Not a local author, but I’m hoping this will be a nice birthday gift for my niece. I better read and review it quickly as she’s an independence day baby.

The Best of Talebones-I was excited to see this on the free-for-review shelf. I met Patrick Swenson at the same author talk at the Sumner library as Mark Teppo. I got a signed copy of The Ultra Thin Man: A Science Fiction Novel and enjoyed it. Though the sequel, The Ultra Big Sleep

was on the shelf, I left it for another reader, for now, and grabbed the collection of short stories from Patrick Swenson‘s previous magazine. As a short story writer, I’m always looking for interesting short story collections.

Another way that A Good Book is supporting local authors is by inviting local authors to sell their books in front of the shop during the Rhubarb Days weekend. Evelyn offered me a spot on Sunday, July 16th and I am very excited to bring Gator McBumpypants to my local community. I’ll talk more about it soon.

I want to thank Evelyn and A Good Book Bookstore for her time, great book recommendations and her work for local authors. I had no idea that trying to fill one square on my Summer Book Bingo Card could be such a great adventure. Goes to show how important independent bookstores are to a community. I hope this inspires you to venture to your local independent bookseller and ask for a recommendation. I would love to hear about your local bookstore and the latest book you bought there.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Book Spine Poems: Happy #NationalPoetryMonth

This morning, I came across an article in School Library Journal called

Here’s How You Make a Book Spine Poem with Your Students/Patrons by Travis Jonker

The concept is simple, fun and it inspired me. Here are my poems, created from my bookshelf in celebration of National Poetry Month. I hope you will join me and link to your poems in the comments.

Blind Sided: a short poem made of stacked books

Blind Sided

Beyond good and evil

Back roads inside the criminal mind

Blind side our kind

Mothers Talk: a poem in three books

Mothers Talk

In the company of cheerful ladies

The devil’s teeth serving up the harvest

Paper and Fire Don't Mix: a poem in three books

Paper And Fire Don’t Mix

The people of paper

Civilization and its discontents

The girl who played with fire

The Happy Evening News: a poem in four books

The Happy Evening News

Who’s writing this

furiously happy

evening news?

Bad monkey!

Stained Glass Death Switch: a poem in five books

Stained Glass Death Switch

The book of illusion’s stained glass death switch

Crowns what the dead know

The Unforgettable Photograph: a poem in eight books

The Unforgettable Photograph

The unforgettable photograph:

point zero; nowhere wild.

Chop wood, carry water

where there is no doctor.

When you are engulfed in flames,

teach yourself to dream the dream of Scipio.

A Quick #Movember Update and a game of #pessimisticmoustache

To raise money for Prostate Cancer Research, people all over the world are growing mustaches this month. If you haven’t seen Adam Garone (the founder of Movember)’s Ted Talk, I recommend watching it. It’s a fun story.

To create Movember awareness, Diana Rose Wilson and I have turned my game Pessimistic Moustache into a twitter hashtag game only about mustaches. We would absolutely love you to jump over to twitter and join us at #pessimisticmoustache. The rules and background of the game are found in my original post:

The Pessimistic Moustache Game: Avoiding cliche description

How to play #pessimisticmoustache for #Movember: The quick and dirty version:

1. Look at a picture or GIF of a mustache

2. Pick an ism that you think would describe said mustache

3. Warp that ism into a descriptive sentence and tweet your sentence using the hashtag #pessimisticmoustache

4. (optional but greatly appreciated) Add your own picture of your, or your friend’s Movember mustache

5. Invite your friends to play #pessimisticmoustache and shout out your favorites

Based on a great description in an Agatha Christie novel, the game challenges you to match an ism to a body part. For the month of November, it’s all about mustaches. Having a list of isms at your fingertips makes the game easy. I enjoy the list of Philisophical Isms at Phrontistery. Phrontistery is a wonderful site for word lovers. I highly recommend spending some time exploring.

So Let’s Play!

Here’s an example:

Andrick is participating in Movember. He let me take a picture of his mustache growth.

Man looking at camera with small amount of mustach growth

One Week’s Growth – I see a lot of potential

When I look at this mustache, I see future possibilities: It could go Tom Selleck; It could go Snidely Whiplash. So, in that sense, this is a futuristic mustache. I could write: A futuristic mustache betrayed his grim smile.

Or it could be a euhemeristic mustache, meaning that his mustache explains mythology as growing out of history (I go for the sophisticated, layered mustache meanings). In this case I might Tweet: The man with the euhemeristic mustache walked as if he had wings on his heals.

I like fortuitism for this mustache. Fortuitism is the belief in evolution by chance variation. See, it ties into the idea that at this point the mustache is in a formative stage. Could a gust of wind, or some jam on the lip steer it from a Tom Selleck to a Snidely Whiplash?

Now, I need to change my chosen ism into a description. Fortuitistic- this may not actually be a word, but it is closer to my meaning that fortuitous, so I’m going with fortuitistic -artistic license and all that. So, my tweet will be: The fortuitistic mustache skipping across his lip expressed his whimsy, or was it loose morals?

Need a break from #NaNoWriMo? Hop over to #pessimisticmoustache for some fun and to show your support for Men’s health, then do some word mining at Phrontistery.info. There you have it, my simple formula for happiness.

 

Poetry and The Fiction Writer

Pictures of books I recently read as a poetry study

Discovering The Art Of series and further study

The collection of books pictured above was inspired by discovering The Art of series at my local library. The Art of discusses different aspects of writing with examples from a great variety of texts. I wanted to learn more about the authors who wrote the series, so I picked up their poetry and essays as well. I’m glad I did. This group of books :intelligent discussion, imparted wisdom and beautiful poetry.

But I’m a fiction writer, why spend time with poetry and poets?

Words are a writer’s tools and poets have to use words in the most efficient manner for maximum emotional effect.

Ellen Bryant Voigt

The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song

Rhythm is what makes Ms. Voigt’s poems so amazing. Her contribution to The Art Of series is my favorite of the bunch. I learned some interesting vocabulary specific to the rhythm of words:

enjambment – the running on of the thought from one line, couplet, or stanza to the next without a syntactical break.

trochee – a foot of two syllables, a long followed by a short in quantitative meter, or a stressed followed by an unstressed in accentual meter.

caesura –

1. Prosody. a break, especially a sense pause, usually near the middle of a verse, and marked in scansion by a double vertical line, as in know then thyself presume not God to scan.
2. Classical Prosody. a division made by the ending of a word within a foot, or sometimes at the end of a foot, especially in certain recognized places near the middle of a verse.
3. any break, pause, or interruption.

fricative

palimpsest – a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.

Headwaters: Poems

I loved these poems. Though completely lacking in punctuation, the message is never lost and the rhythm is clear. Her word choice is beautiful. These poems felt like a magical discovery.

Mark Doty

The Art of Description: World into Word

I enjoyed the idea of “the sensorium”–finding the places of sensory overlap and allowing the senses their complexly interactive life.

I also noted that I should read :

Middlemarch by George Eliot and
Resurrection Update: Collected Poems, 1975-1997 by James Galvin

Deep Lane: Poems

These poems take you on walks with the dog and inspections of the garden. They take you there through lovely description and word choice.

Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter is the editor of The Art of series.

The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot

Full of examples of how subtext is used in fiction.

Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction

Mr. Baxter’s essays get into his thought process. They let the reader into the flow of a writer mind.

Here I also learned a new word: Pusillanimous – lacking courage and resolution

Brenda Ueland

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit

It felt like serendipity when Charles Baxter started talking about Brenda Ueland’s book because I already had it on my bookshelf. It’s a great book for those times you need a cheerleader, which, as writers, we often do.

I just opened to a random page and found this bit of fun:

Now Blake thought that this creative power should be kept alive in all people for all of their lives. And so do I. Why? Because it is life itself. It is the Spirit. In fact it is the only important thing about us. The rest of us is legs and stomach, materialistic cravings and fears.   –Brenda Ueland

Excited to fill up on some poetry?

Here are some links to poetry sites I enjoy, so you can get your fill while you wait for the books you just ordered from Amazon to arrive  🙂

Poetry Foundation

Poets and Writers

Eunoia Review

Tweetspeak Poetry

Are You Thrilled

Joy Write

Happy Reading and Writing

Don’t be pusillanimous. Get out there and explore!

Who is your favorite poet?

What is your favorite poetry book?

What is your favorite poetry website?

Carving Through Writer’s Block: Guest post from author Christopher Bailey

3 Ways to Conquer Writer’s Block

Bad guy on a boatIt’s a simple two-word phrase that can make a writer’s blood turn cold; writer’s block. It is the dreaded barrier against creative flow that every author struggles with from time to time. There are a number of causes of this mental road block, and a number of theories on how to cure it.

In an effort to give my fellow writer a leg up and over that wall of resistance, here are the three biggest things I’ve found, and my own personal variants, that have helped me past my creative constipation. No doubt you’ve all heard much of this before, so I’m going to throw my own spin on them and tell you exactly what variants work best for me. Experimentation is key to finding your own magical keys to open the writer’s block door, so by all means try out your own variations. We’re creative people by nature, after all, right?

Clear Your Mind

Easier said than done, I know. We live in a world where we’re all drowning in the pressures of our lives. Jobs, family, social obligations, finances, the list could go on for pages. It all results in the same issue however; stress and mental exhaustion. These are two of the biggest killers of creative flow.

Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to push such things from your mind, however temporarily. Anything that helps you to rest and restore your mental clarity will work here. A few suggestions are meditation, take a nap, go for a walk, enjoy a break filled with your favorite, oft-neglected pastime. The drawback of course, is that all of these things take time.

For me, meditation is my go-to cure for mental mud when I sit down to write. It doesn’t villain meditatestake long. Even a ten minute meditation with emphasis on mental clarity works wonders. That ten minutes will often buy me so much more productivity over the course of my writing session that it makes up for itself six-fold. It does take time, but the payoff is well worth it. It’s also nice that you can do this at any time during your writing when you stall out.

Just get comfortable, close your eyes, and breathe steadily. No, the lotus position is not required. Count your breaths, but only up to five. Focus on breathing smoothly and evenly, and when you reach five breaths, start over at one. This helps to keep your mind on the breathing.

It will be obvious if you’ve lost focus, since you’ll count higher than five. Don’t get frustrated, just calmly refocus on the breathing and start over at one. Any meditative master, which I am not, will tell you that meditation takes practice like any other skill.

Handy tip: don’t set any kind of timer if the alarm will be loud and jarring. Most phones have a gentle alarm feature. Startling yourself out a calm meditation can send you spinning right back into a tailspin of frustrated, foggy thinking.

Remove Distractions

bad guy at the pianoOf course, some distractions are inevitable. If you’re a stay-at-home parent you’re unavoidably going to have to deal with child-oriented distractions on a regular basis, for example. Often, there are many distractions we may not even realize are problematic until they’re removed. The point is, when you’re trying to overcome writer’s block, eliminating all possible distractions makes a huge difference.

For me, having a designated space to write in is a tremendous help. It can be a special chair with your laptop, a writer’s nook, or even a home office. Find some place that is as quiet and calm as possible, as free from distractions as possible. And for crying out loud, turn off your phone. Texts and Candy Crush notifications will not help your writing!

Handy tip: If you’re going to play music in the background, experiment with styles. You might be surprised what you find is most beneficial to your writing flow. I tried classical, which I love, and my writing stalled out constantly. I tried soft rock, and I found none of my scenes held any real intensity. I switched to industrial metal, and suddenly even my love scenes had more impact and power. Go figure.

Can’t Write? Just write.

Okay, I get it. This seems counter-intuitive. Despite how odd it sounds, many writers will Bad guy walking a dogtell you that the best way to get past a creative speed bump is to power past it. Some will tell you to just keep writing in your current project. I don’t encourage this, personally.

You want your work to be the best possible, and forcing your way through a tough patch can often lead to sections in your finished piece that are the literary equivalent of binge-eating a gallon of mint-chocolate chip ice cream to get over a bad breakup. It might get the job done, but it certainly isn’t healthy and the end result is guaranteed not to be pretty.

Many writers suggest free writing, the practice of opening a blank page and just beginning to write whatever comes to mind, cohesive and coherent or not. I spent a lot of time working with this method, and it works passably well for me. It is not, however, what has been the cure-all for my own creative blocks, though it may work great for you and I do encourage giving it a whirl.

Handy tip:

Ready for my personal favorite trick? Here we go!

I write random, unrelated back stories for my antagonists. Often totally unrelated to my current story or why my villains are, well, villains.

Villain in the gardenJust little things, like psycho cop’s bachelor party, or evil galactic dictator’s childhood trip to the pet store. This practice always takes me to unexpected depths in my anti-heroes, and allows me to see and understand my malevolent friends a little better. This is not only good for the depth of my bad guys, but fun writing practice. Simple, right? I get stuck, I open a new document and write a fun little back story for a much-maligned character.

The crazy part is that every single time I’ve done this, I’ve had a random inspiration on my main story. I suspect this works on the same principle as the theory that we have our best problem-solving ideas when we’re not thinking about the problem at all. For whatever reason, it works absolute magic for me!

Keep Trying!

Whatever works for you, or doesn’t, keep trying! Don’t give up, and if you have to walk away for a time, do it. But come back to it soon. No art form is improved without practice, and writing is no exception. Don’t let yourself get discouraged or frustrated. Just clear your thoughts, remove distractions, and just write.

Happy writing!

 

picture of author Christopher BaileyChristopher Bailey lives in Seattle with his incredible wife and daughter, eagerly expecting their second child. A lover of literature from an early age, he began writing short stories in the third grade for a school assignment and has never looked back. Having worked professionally with children and teens for many years, he has developed a particular fondness for young adult fiction, which is where he now focuses his writing in the hopes of helping a few more children learn to love the written word.

Hey readers! Want to meet Christopher Bailey in person?

Chris has a full schedule of fun events he’ll be at this fall. Want to pick his brain in person, or tell him how much you loved this post and his author interview? Stop on by and say hi.

Jet City Comic Show in Tacoma, WA, Nov 5th-6th
https://www.facebook.com/events/1321988751163825/

Silver Bells Christmas Bazaar in Puyallup, WA, Nov 19th
https://www.facebook.com/events/912423608864757/

Victorian Country Christmas in Puyallup, WA, Nov 30th – Dec 4th
(Disregard dates on the banner, they haven’t updated from last year!)
https://www.facebook.com/AVictorianCountryChristmas/posts

 

He’ll be signing autographs at all three. He hopes to see you there!

cover of Christopher Bailey's new book WHISPER

If you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest and can’t make it to any of the above events to get your copy of his new book Whisper signed, don’t worry. Chris is having a Goodreads Giveaway for 5 autographed copies.

Interview with Christopher Bailey, author of WHISPER

cover of Christopher Bailey's new book WHISPERWe are in for a treat today! Christopher Bailey’s new book Whisper just hit shelves and he has taken time out of his very busy schedule to tell us about his writing life. Christopher Bailey is the author of many books including the Starjumper Legacy YA sci-fi series and Without Chance.

As I mentioned in my previous post Exciting Firsts, this is the first of a series of upcoming author interviews and what a fun and informative interview it is!

Let’s get started:

We met at a writer’s social meet-up, so let’s start off with: When did you first know you were a writer?

In the third grade, I was given a school assignment to write my own Greek myth. It didn’t have to be long, only 200 words, but I was dreading it. I complained and fussed about it until my mother finally made me sit down and get it done.

What I ended up with was a thousand-word short story about the God of Lost Socks, the one who was responsible for the disappearance of single lost socks all throughout the world, leaving its mated pair only to taunt you.

It was creative, it was funny, and to my third-grade mind, it was brilliant. I turned it in to my teacher the next day with more pride than I’d ever had in an assignment before or since. It was filled with errors and problems, but my teacher raved about it. Instead of berating me for the problems, she loudly praised my creativity and originality. She constructively showed me how to fix the problems, and then gave me an A on the assignment.

I was hooked, and haven’t stopped writing since.

Do you write every day? Tell us a little about your writing practice.

I wish. Seriously, I’m currently working on arranging my schedule to allow for this, but at the moment I write only a couple of times a week. Usually binge-writing, if I’m being honest. I’ll sit down on a Saturday morning and write non-stop for ten straight hours.

Luckily, my wife is a candidate for sainthood, and interrupts only occasionally to bring me food and give me kisses. Both are required to keep up my writing flow you understand, so those interruptions are welcome.

Countless times I’ve been told by other writers that I should write every day, but it’s just not possible right now in my life.

My best advice to writers struggling to write every day is this: write when you can, and don’t feel guilty when you can’t. Make sure you’re getting some time in, but it’s far better to write once or twice a week than not at all.

Are you a plotter or a pantser (someone who outlines and plans or someone who writes by the seat of her pants)?

Definitely a pantser. I plot only a start point, an end point, and maybe one or two key points along the way. My characters and worlds live so vividly within my mind that they inevitably stray from any planned course if I get more rigid than that.

When writing my first novel, I tried a trick one of my favorite authors told me about at his book signing. He writes out the major theme for each chapter on index cards, and sorts and reorganizes them until he has the best flow. Then for each chapter, he writes another set of business cards with major points he wants to hit in that chapter, and then does the same organizing and reorganizing procedure. Then he sits and writes it exactly as scripted.

I’ll be honest, I made it halfway through step one of that process, and I almost gave up writing for good. It was only after I realized that there were two different types of writers, plotters and pantsers, that I understood I could still write a full novel without scripting every single nuance before ever sitting down to write the story.

What is your best trick for getting more words on the page?

Detailed descriptions added in the first round edit. My rough drafts are never too short of my intended goal, since I’m a chronic over-writer anyway, but the best way I’ve found to push that word count up is to flesh out my descriptions during my own first round edit.

Changing “He pushed opened the creaky door,” to “He slowly pushed open the ancient, cracked wooden door and winced at the ominous creak,” only adds a few words to the sentence, but it adds a great deal of flavor, and will significantly contribute to your final word count when you do it to a few hundred sentences throughout the manuscript.

In my push to get the story out, I find I often miss opportunities to add flavorful descriptions like that in my initial rough draft. I just have to be careful not to overdo it.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

Like most artists, I draw inspiration from the world I see around me.

With my Starjumper Legacy trilogy:Starjumper Legacy: The Crystal Key, Starjumper Legacy: The Vanishing Sun and Starjumper Legacy: The Plague of Dawn for example, the idea originated from an argument between a pair of fourth graders I had been working with. They were arguing the advantages of magic over science and vice-versa, and I couldn’t help but point out that magic is simply science we don’t understand yet. The discussion that grew between the two children eventually became the idea for Starjumper Legacy.

My standalone Without Chance was inspired by a difficult situation I helped a friend through many years ago, as his parents threatened to disown him when he came out as gay.

Whisper, my newest standalone novel, came from a news story I had been watching about a kidnapping victim, and from a girl I dated in my teens who was schizophrenic.

Of course, once the initial concepts take hold, the stories themselves take on a life of their own and grow into something far beyond what I’d ever initially envisioned.

Life is such a wonderful, terrible, beautiful, ugly thing, that there are no limits to creative inspirations for stories of any kind if you’re willing to look for them in your own life.

Who have you found most influential to your writing?

My brother, Jeff. Since we were little, we’ve loved reading many of the same books and analyzing the stories to death. We look at everything, from the broad concept of the plot to the delicate nuances of character, right down to any hidden subtexts we can discern. We then debate the finer points potentially for hours on end. Our shared love of the written word has been a huge influence on my life, and most especially in my writing.

Do you listen to music while you write? What do you listen to? Do you create playlists?

Absolutely. I can’t write without music playing. I don’t create custom playlists, but rather add a few artists to a Pandora station and let it take over from there. My musical tastes are greatly varied, and I love everything from Beethoven to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, from Michael Bublé to Metallica.

Interestingly, when I write I prefer heavy metal. I’ve tried a dozen different styles during my writing, including changing styles to suit the scene. For me, it breaks my flow to change styles, and anything other than the hard-driving metal seems to negatively impact both my flow, and the power of my writing. Some favorites include Samael, Rob Zombie, and Celldweller.

Who are your favorite authors?

Wow, this is a hard question. All right, some favorites that come first to mind would be Dean Koontz, Bruce Coville, Robert Heinlein, Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett, Mercedes Lackey, Brian Lumley, and R.A. Salvatore. This is by no means a complete list.

What are your favorite books?

As above, this list could go on forever. There have been a few that have really changed my perspective, though.

I read Homeland by R.A. Salvatore as a youth, and the theme of a young man fighting to be a virtuous soul despite the darkness of his upbringing really resonated with me. I’ve carried that message with me my entire life, and attribute a great deal of who I am today to that book.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein almost literally rocked my world. His ability to take social norms and spin them so completely to force the reader to look at them from a completely outside perspective is staggering. So many things about our world that we simply take for granted. This book shook them all up for me.

Hogfather: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett is, I maintain, one of the finest pieces of literature ever created. The entire Discworld series is great, but this book in particular was absolute genius.

What three writer’s blogs do you visit most often?

http://thewritepractice.com/ is great for tips and tricks on the more technical aspects of writing.

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/ has some amazing information on marketing.

And of course, https://experiencewriting.com/.

Ha. Ha. Thank you very much. What three writer’s websites do you visit most often?

http://rebeccaconnolly.com/ This is a personal friend of mine and while I openly admit I’m not a big romance fan, her books are genuinely fun to read. It’s always interesting to see what she’s up to, since she always has some reader-participation game going.

http://brandonsanderson.com/ This guy is a brilliant writer in the Fantasy and YA Fiction categories, and I have yet to read one of his books I didn’t appreciate.

http://www.deankoontz.com/ Dean Koontz has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, and I’ve read more of his work than possibly any other single author. The Odd Thomas series is among my favorites.

Let’s talk about your book:

What inspired you to write Whisper ?

Whisper was inspired by a combination of a news story I read about a kidnapping victim who had recently been rescued, and an experience I had with a girl I dated in high school who was schizophrenic. Sounds like an odd combination, but in my mind the pairing just clicked and the story came alive in my mind.

What was the hardest part to write? How did you push through?

The most difficult part to write was the part of the book where Jackson is in the mental institution for treatment of his schizophrenia. I had second-hand experience with schizophrenia, thanks to the girl I mentioned above, but have no personal experience in a place like that.

Wanting to get this part right was important to me, so I interviewed a number of people who had spent time in institutions just like the one now in the book. Some readers may have had different experiences than that portrayed in the final book, but that part is based closely on the personal experiences of several people who’ve spent significant time in a variety of hospitals and institutions.

Following that, the difficulty was in not allowing the darkness and hopelessness in many of those places from overwhelming the greater story. It was a tricky balance, keeping the realism of his experience there while not detracting from the story I was trying to tell.

When you’re not writing, what is your favorite thing to do?

I sort of collect hobbies. I paint, play guitar, do some low-grade woodwork and leatherwork, all sorts of random things.

That said, my two favorite things in the entire world are curling up next to my wife with a good book, and playing with my daughter.

Are you a dog person or a cat person?

I’m very much a dog person. They make sense to me, and I relate well to them. My wife teases me a little about this because she says I behave much more like a cat. Funny thing is, she behaves much more like a dog and is very much a cat person. Perhaps that’s why we’re such a good fit.

What bit of wisdom would you share with new writers?

Writing is an art form. Like any art form, nearly nobody starts off brilliant. We all start from the bottom, learning the tools of our trade and the techniques of our craft. Even the masters have things they are still learning.

Don’t get discouraged if your first piece isn’t a masterpiece. Nobody’s is. Practice, refine, listen to constructive criticism and tell those who offer only nonconstructive criticism where they can shove their unfounded opinions.

No matter what, keep writing. Brilliant or not, marketable or not, popular or not, pursue it because you love it. Write because the stories live in your mind and need release. Write because it is a passion, a freedom, and an outlet.

Just keep writing.

Thank you so mush Chris! Readers, go get your copy of Whisper !

picture of author Christopher Bailey
Christopher Bailey lives in Seattle with his incredible wife and daughter, eagerly expecting their second child. A lover of literature from an early age, he began writing short stories in the third grade for a school assignment and has never looked back. Having worked professionally with children and teens for many years, he has developed a particular fondness for young adult fiction, which is where he now focuses his writing in the hopes of helping a few more children learn to love the written word.

About Writing: Guest post by Michael Onofrey

picture of man sitting next to his dictionary on a grassy hill writing in the park

The urge to write is what got me into writing fiction, or trying to write fiction. And by “urge” I mean a feeling that I want to write. This was what motivated me and what continues to motivate me. I don’t think this is unusual—the urge to write. A lot of people have it. But of course those numbers diminish considerably when it comes to picking up a pen or sitting down at a keyboard.

It wasn’t until well into middle age, forty-five years old, that I sat down at a keyboard with the intent of writing fiction. Of course in college (community college and then university) I wrote papers (essays and book reports) like everyone else. But that’s different than composing fiction with the intent of submitting to publications. Of course all writing counts. I’m not belittling college. I’m simply distinguishing between college papers, with the exception of creative writing classes, and fiction for publication. I think anyone who has done both understands the distinction.

Also, in college I majored in U.S. History, which is now call American Studies. So my only background and my only qualification for writing fiction was, and is, reading books, fiction mostly. But there, too, I got a late start, for I didn’t begin to read until I was in my last semester of high school (Industrial Arts major). I could hardly read. This might strike some people as strange. But it’s not strange. A lot of people coming out of high school are poor readers.

An odd set of circumstances prompted me to pick up a book. I was dating a girl from another high school, which made our dating possible because we were of very different social circles, for if we had been going to the same school we wouldn’t have gotten together. But by going to different schools neither one of us, her in particular, suffered any social embarrassment, for high school life is all about cliques. She was a half a year ahead of me, which meant she would be graduating in June, whereas I wouldn’t be graduating until the following year at the end of January.

When summer rolled around, the summer of her graduation, university life about to begin for her in September, she jilted me, which, even though I expected it, sent me into a mental tailspin. Strangely, on the afternoon of that devastating phone call I started driving and wound up in front of a bookstore. She had mentioned the titles of books during our time together and I, for whatever reason, had remembered two—The Stranger by Albert Camus and Another Country by James Baldwin. Still dizzy with confusion, I went into that bookstore and asked for those two books.

What a way to begin reading, not to mention having to look up words on nearly every page. Fortunately, as if it were a minor miracle, I was able to follow the stories, and a window flew open and there I was, looking out at a new world.

Man carrying dictionary by a lake
“I carried a dictionary and a novel everywhere I went”

I carried a dictionary and a novel everywhere I went for eight years, and when loading up a backpack every bit of weight counts. I’m still a poor speller. I still consult a dictionary often for spelling and definitions and word usage. I wouldn’t recommend getting a late start on reading, just as I wouldn’t recommend getting a late start on serious writing. Six years after I started writing and submitting, a small literary journal (Words of Wisdom, North Carolina, a publication that has since ceased publishing) accepted one of my stories.

Six years—that’s a lot of rejection. And I still get a lot of rejection. My writing is not consistent, and I don’t think it ever will be, just as I will never be a good speller nor will my vocabulary have the natural range that it might have had if I had started reading at an early age. Okay, so that’s the way it is. A lot of other people have it worse. Imagine trying to write in Aleppo, Syria.

Writing will probably never be more than a hobby for me, and by hobby I mean an activity that doesn’t generate enough money for me to live on. I wish there was another word besides “hobby.” “Pastime” maybe? But that’s even more nonchalant than hobby. If I were teaching at a college or university, I could say that publishing stories, while getting little in the way of remuneration, was worthwhile because it adds to my curriculum vitae (CV), which might serve to boost my position and income. But I don’t teach at a college or a university.man carrying dictionary by some shops

In addition to not making millions there is rejection, which is always painful. In dealing with rejection, stoicism would be a nice rejoinder. After all, rejection is part of the weather. Even the most renowned writers have had work rejected, primarily before they became famous. There are only two choices when faced with rejection: feel the pain and move on, or feel the pain and give up. This isn’t about heroics. This is pragmatism. Most stories that are submitted to a publication are going to be turned down.

I’m hardly different from anyone else. I like acceptance. I write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and submit. Rejection, rejection, rejection. After six months or so, another look, another rewrite. Revising has become fun. I don’t know why. Maybe because it presents an opportunity to play with words and sentences, as well as ideas and point of view. I do give up on stories, but I keep them on file. Now and then an idea will occur that pertains to a story I’ve given up on. I’ll draw the story up and try the idea. And then I’ll submit. Hey, all they can do is turn it down. Now and then one of those formerly dead stories will get accepted.

Also in the hash are different publications with different editors who have different tastes. Usually a rejection carries no real comment, perfunctory comments yes, but no real comments. Every once in a while, though, there is a genuine comment. Some are encouraging. But some . . . On a couple of occasions an editor has given me a totally pissed off lambasting, boredom and tedious detail cited. I guess they had had it up to their necks with that stuff, dull writing and details, and took it out on me. Or maybe they had a hangover, or maybe they couldn’t meet a mortgage payment, or maybe they were in the middle of a divorce. Yet, within that same week that same story (respective stories, but at different times) got accepted by a publication which I had deemed more reputable than the one(s) the tongue-lashing(s) came from. Highs and lows—the landscape.

man with dictionary walking by rocks

“Highs and lows—the landscape.”

 

At other times, I had given up on a story only to have it accepted after a whole lot of time by the last publication where the story was still (as it turned out) under consideration. Recently a story of mine was accepted and published by a university journal after the story went through two years of rejection and rewrites—forty-seven rejections. Why did I keep at that story? Because I believed in it. Giving up on a story or continuing with rewrites and submissions is a tricky thing, a case-by-case thing. But—I keep all my stories on file.

Favorite authors—here’s the link to my listing on Poets & Writers where I’ve listed my favorite writers: http://www.pw.org/content/michael_onofrey

About books concerning reading and writing—I return again and again to How Fiction Works by James Wood and Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.) by Francine Prose.

 

author Michael Onofrey bio picMICHAEL ONOFREY was born and raised in Los Angeles. Currently he lives in Japan. Over seventy of his short stories have been published in literary journals and magazines, in print and online, in such places as Cottonwood, The Evansville Review, Natural Bridge, Snowy Egret, Terrain.org, Weber–The Contemporary West, and The William and Mary Review. Among anthologized work, his stories have appeared in Creativity & Constraint (Wising Up Press, 2014), In New Light (Northern Initiative for Social Action, 2013), Road to Nowhere and Other New Stories from the Southwest (University of New Mexico Press, 2013), and Imagination & Place: An Anthology (Imagination & Place Press, 2009). He can be found online at Directory of Writers, Poets and Writers, and on Facebook.