Attitudes

I think the mail problem is fixed. So be in touch.

What I’m thinking about today as I write is attitude. Not my attitude, although it helps to have a good one. No, I’m thinking about my protagonist. I came to a slowdown in my rough draft, a place where I had written a sort of shorthand–just the facts, ma’am!–so I could more quickly go from point A to point B before I stopped for the day. Sure, the basic information was there, the same as a peeled potato is a peeled potato. But so what? Who wants a cold, uncooked. peeled potato? Even with butter or salt and pepper on it? An uncooked potato is hard, and although it may have plenty of personality in the world of potatoes, I think most of us would find it unappetizing just sitting like that on the kitchen counter. Who would want to read a story with that appeal?

I knew that section of my draft wasn’t right when I wrote it. I’d written fast so I could have the idea written down, but later, I didn’t know what to do to make it sing.

Then I thought–attitude. There’s no attitude here.

So I threw out my facts, and said, this kid needs an attitude toward what’s happening to him! I asked, what would he really say if I wasn’t trying to stick to anything I’ve already written? How would he act and react? Now he’s saying things like, no, I don’t want to, you’ve got the wrong guy. He colors the approaching sirens red and tries to get away. His personality is coming through, the writing is going  better, and, coincidentally, the story reads  better.

So if you’re having trouble with your story, ask yourself this. What’s the attitude? Give attitude the reins and watch the story takes it true, crooked path!

Let me know how that goes.

By authorsusanshaw

Missing email–apologies–and writing deep

Hey everybody out there–

In case  you have been trying to communicate to me through my website, I haven’t been able to receive it lately. Don’t know why–some glitch in the firmament–but I hope to have the issue settled soon. So, sorry. Keep trying, and I’ll eventually collect all those missing messages. Assuming there are any! And if you’re not sending them, send them!

I’m still working on my story. I came to a place in it yesterday that I wrote the day before and thought, no, this happens too fast, this shouldn’t happen yet. And if I leave it alone, I can’t go forward.

So I back-tracked a little bit, me who tries not to revise as I write the first draft–usually it’s full steam ahead no matter what! But there can be exceptions. If  you can’t go forward, then I guess you have to go deep. This is writing, not football, after all. Going deep–it’s sort of like sideways time, something I’ve often wished I could invent. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer, so I can invent sideways time. At least on paper.

Writing deeper into the story is like going into the heart of a stew where you know there’s one small cherry tomato, you’re pretty sure, anyway, because you can taste the juice, and aha! there it is, the orangey red, the dark specks, the escaping seeds! You found it! But you have to write to find it. The discovery method!

So I took that writing knife, and cut a gap between two paragraphs and meandered a little. And guess what, it’s better. The story’s flowing again, there’s more character development, and the story line is sharper. And that part that I pushed further off? I deleted it. It felt good. Nothing wrong with a little meandering.

So I’m going back to work now, hoping to find more cherry tomatoes, garbanzo beans, and maybe a little bit of pie in the sky.

Thanks for checking in!

By authorsusanshaw

Writing stories: How do you get from here to there? Don’t miss those cues!

January fifteenth, and boy, is it cold outside! It snowed overnight, leaving a dusting on my front walk. That’s just the warning shot. I’m trying to remember that warning shots don’t always have follow-ups. But this is Pennsylvania, and this is January, and I think it’s more than a warning shot. It’s a promise.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how stories are written. How do you go from point A to point B? How do you get there from here? I’ve done it, so I should know, right? So, I’ve been a fly on my own wall, watching what I’m doing as I’m doing it. It’s so easy to miss your own cues. But what I’m thinking is that writing a story is something like driving a car. All those roads you pass, all those intersections, all those opportunities for diversion. Mostly, we don’t take them, and if all you’re trying to do is get home before the ice cream melts, that’s good. Sometimes it’s good to take the side roads, though, see what’s there, see who’s selling hot lemonade today, see who’s giving out gold doubloons. It could change your life. And what’s a little melted ice cream?

If you’re writing a story . . .

For instance, I was writing a scene in which a fifteen-year-old boy in a school lunchroom gets hit on the face with a roll. There’s jam on the roll, so now there’s jam on the boy’s face. He leaves the lunchroom, and a girl follows with a sandwich to give him. Gives him the sandwich and returns to the lunchroom (don’t worry, there is logic here), and the boy goes on, away from the lunchroom, with the roll and the sandwich.  And I wrote some more before stopping for the day.

The next morning, I thought about this scene, and I thought, Hey! A girl and a boy together, the boy with jam on his face. What’s the logical thing here that you aren’t doing? The girl needs to wipe the jelly off the boy’s face. How flirtatious is that? And the cue, the side road, is right there. As my grandmother used to say, if it had been a bear, it would have bit me.

But first time around, I missed that, a cue I’d put in there myself. True, the girl didn’t have to wipe the jelly off the boy’s face, but when an actor’s given a cue, he needs to do SOMETHING. In a story, you can’t have a pot of soup on the stove and a cat wandering the shelf over it and a hero staring out the window and not use the set-up. It’s obvious. The reader’s looking at it and saying, what’s going to happen with this soup, with this cat, with this person? You can’t just have the cat take a nap, the soup get eaten, and the character move to New Jersey, the end. Well, you can, but why were those cues there if you weren’t going to answer them?

So, to my loyal readers out there, if you’re writing a story, what cues have you written that you’ve driven blithely on by? Take those cues and let the girl make the boy nervous while she wipes his face. And then what? And then what? Take those cues, and you’ll see the ideas spin like wisps of cotton candy.

On to the cotton candy!

By authorsusanshaw

New Projects and New Ideas and the Snoopy Effect

It’s January fifth already, and the holiday season feels almost like a mirage. Busy and colorful, and fast disappearing behind the bends in the river. Always good to look forward.

I’ve been working on a new project that is going well. Can’t talk about it yet–my projects are like the helium in balloons when it’s early days. Talking about them pricks the balloons, and the stories escape into the ether, and they cannot be gathered back. But I do have a story going that I’ve liked for more than two days running, which is kind of a record lately. Maybe the Christmas break recharged my batteries. Too bad you can’t do that the way you recharge cell phones. Just plug in, and after an hour, we’re all set for the next story. Well, we’re not machines.

I was talking with one of my friends the other day, one I talk to maybe once a month. We get caught up with each other during those conversations, exchanging truncated versions of our most recent experiences, and I got to thinking that by this time, my friend, with her somewhat detached perspective, must know what the next chapter of my life might be, based on all the things that have led up to where we all stand now. I suggested she write the next chapter and see if it matches up with what really happens. After all, just like in fiction, people behave in character. One thing leads to another, and we all act and react in character, even when we think we don’t–because we really can’t do anything else–and then we’re onto the next chapter in our lives. All very predictable, right?

Except for that thing I call the Snoopy effect. Charlie Brown never expects a caped and goggled Snoopy to fly into the sandbox, knocking everybody else head over heels, while pursuing the Red Baron.

So, that’s what I’m thinking. All stories, just like in reality, have their Snoopys and Red Barons who swoop down out of the sky and knock people over as they go about their lives. We’ll see what kind of Snoopy effects my new story produces.  But boy! No wonder I so often feel like my life is a cartoon strip!

Thanks for visiting! I’ll be back before too long!

By authorsusanshaw

Happy New Year!

Hello, all you great people! Thanks for visiting here. Hope you’re all enjoying the season.

I’m at my desk still trying to get a handle on the latest opus. I think sometimes I’ve got it, but somehow, the golden threads keep slipping through my fingers. Well, I know. Keep writing, and the story will reveal itself and won’t let go. Once it does that, then here I go on the roller coaster!  But so far . . . There is always the fear that my last story was my last, and that can lead to nail-biting.  Maybe my new hero is a nail-biter? What’s she nervous about? Or he? Something that hides in the rain outside the window? Or maybe she bites her nails just because she bites her nails. Seems like the habit of an uneasy person, though. What’s the reason, what’s the reason?

While I search for the big hook, I listen to the patter of rain, thinking how it mixes with the dull quietness of the furnace and the click of the keys under my fingers. Maybe the rain and the furnace and the clicking will grow into the story about the girl, about the boy, about the someone who needs to get from point a to point b, and he better figure out how because so much depends on it–

Yes, so much depends on it.

Well, whatever it is, it won’t be what I’m expecting, that I can be sure of. Things tend to work this way from where I sit.

But, along with the rain and the quiet roar from my furnace and the story that doesn’t want to show up-not yet, not yet, I’m thinking of you, whoever you are, and wishing you a wonderful New Year! All the best, from me to you!

Till next time–

By authorsusanshaw

Book-signings, magical acts, and Pavlov’s dogs

Hey, everybody. Another great day in my part of Pennsylvania.

Those of you who came to my book-signing at the Devon, PA, Barnes and Noble on Saturday, thank you! The table was full when I started and empty when I left, and I’m going back to sign more books next Tuesday, the 20th, at four, at the same place. Hope to see another stack of TUNNEL VISION disappear. 

I’m also signing copies at Chester County Books in West Chester, PA, this Thursday, the 15th, at  7. Come say hello! Watch the magic books disappear! That’s what it felt like to me on Saturday. I almost felt like I had to explain what happened to all those books–I ate them? I hid them behind the pillar? Where did they go? The truth is a little stranger. Wow! Thank you again, those who bought them. Love my readers!

Pretty cool stuff.

Well, I’m working at my desk every day, like usual, writing the elusive great American novel. Some days, it’s more elusive than others.

One thing I know, you have to sit there every day, every day, every day if you want to catch the ideas as they fly by. I sit there, and the ideas come, some days more easily than others. But just the act of sitting at my desk seems to bring it on, and sometimes the ideas start to flow before I sit. Like Pavlov’s dogs and the ringing bell–it’s all in the conditioning.

So, fellow writers, ring that bell!

By authorsusanshaw

Smooth and abrupt transitions outside my window and on my computer screen

It’s raining, and the weather forecasters say the rain will probably end in snow early tomorrow. Almost springlike today and perhaps two inches of snow tomorrow. Is there any such thing as a smooth transition? Winter, here we come!

Smooth transitions are more likely in writing than in weather or anything else, but smooth transitions aren’t always what you want in a story. In fact, often the suddenness of a change is what drives the story. Everybody’s happy and joyful, and then a car drives into the deli–no announcement–where all the laughing was going on. Whoever expects that? And what caused it to happen, anyway? 

Not even a reader will predict a car crashing against a deli counter unless the story’s eye alternates between the ill-fated driver who is only three blocks away, now two blocks away, now one, from the  shopper innocently ordering a pound of Swiss and a pound of sliced turkey, and oh, yes, give me some of that cole–hey!

That alternating eye can give you suspense as the reader wishes the deli patron would answer the cell phone he left on the table near the back. Why won’t he answer it, and how many seconds are left before it is too late? Forget the deli order, man! Answer the phone and save your life!

Life can change in a minute, in an instant, and then there is no going back.  We are changed forever.   Maybe sometimes we writers write to be in control of that, to soften that, to mend the wounds. If it’s in my story, then I invented the car that drove into the deli. I can unwrite it, I can change where the impact is, and I can take the action in fifteen different directions afterwards, depending on whether the red stuff is ketchup or blood. Or paint. Or ink. I can make people say I’m sorry. Or not. Whichever the story requires.

But one thing I can’t do is stop the rain outside my window from turning to snow.

Well, it is December, isn’t it?

Gotta look for those boots!

P.S.  Come see me at my book signing  at one o’clock this Saturday at the Barnes and Noble in Devon, PA . I will be soooo happy to see you there!

 

 

By authorsusanshaw

Book signings, art galleries, and the laughing muse

I’ve got a couple of book signings coming up for TUNNEL VISION. The first is at the Barnes and Noble in Devon, PA on December 10th at one. The next will be at Chester County Books in West Chester, PA at seven on December 15th. Come to one, come to both, and bring all your friends and their sisters and their cousins and their aunts. Men, too, of course, and little boys.  Walruses, if you can convince them, just leave out the seawater.

The signing at Chester County Books will be a mass signing–adult books down to picture books. My friend Eileen Spinelli will be there signing THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS.  Something for everybody.

I went to the opening of an art exhibit today at the Chadds Ford Gallery in Chadds Ford, PA. Something for everybody there, too, with miniature paintings of clowns, horses, flowers, and just about everything else. Kind of like a book signing with many of the artists hanging around, looking like regular people–funny how that is–watching to see how the rest of us react to their opened hearts. I’ve never seen a line for buying original art before, but the paintings were leaving, and they weren’t walking out on their own! I wanted to say to some of the buyers, wait! I haven’t had a chance to look at that one yet. Nor that one, nor that one! I think the artists thought it was just fine, and that’s how you could tell who they were–by their smiles, by their sideways glances to see which ones the buyers were carrying off. A last goodbye to a brainchild if one was theirs.

I have done a little writing today. The project is new, its wings still so damp it can’t yet fly, so I write carefully while my muse grins slyly from one of the shelves. Once in a while, I think she’s granting me some magic dust. And sometimes, I think she’s not. But I keep figuring out what to write next. I’m having fun with this story, finding out gradually what it is about. It always seems like a backwards way to write a story, but that is the way my mind works.  Maybe that’s why the muse is laughing at me!

So, my fellow readers and writers, hope all’s working for you on this fine day, and that your muse, if she is laughing, is also spreading magic dust over your world.

Until next time–

 

By authorsusanshaw

Small worlds and trumpet and rain duets

I’m sitting here at my desk listening to trumpet music wending its way from the front of my house to back where I am, so the brass tones mingle with the raindrops pattering against my roof. The brass tones rise and fall in volume and in pitch, but the rain holds steady. Looks like a wet preThanksgiving to me, but maybe the trumpet music will keep me dry.

I just heard from Kathy Temean, the lovely lady who works on my website, that she happened to attend an SCBWI First Page Session way back in 2002, when one of the first pages read was about a boy kept in the basement by his father. She wondered while working on my website and coming across my title, THE BOY FROM THE BASEMENT,  if what she’d heard back then was my effort, and it was. Surprise! I was sure surprised that she remembered it. You just never know. I did actually sell it to one of the editors present. That was cool. Click on www.kathytemean.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/importance-of-networking/ if you’d like to read Kathy’s comments on that and on other serendipitous events.

I always liked going to the Doylestown event–I liked hearing what other writers were doing, and I liked seeing if my reactions were similar to what the editors said. Plus it’s just great to talk to other writers. So much enthusiasm in the writing community!

So, wonderful people, the musician has put his trumpet away and gone on to other things, but the raindrops continueth. I’m going to sign off and mingle my new story with the falling rain.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with all the trimmings!

By authorsusanshaw

Blue skies, autumn leaves, and pumpkin pie

So, my faithful readers, how’s it all going today? The skies are blue and the air is crisp in my little corner of Pennsylvania. Most of the leaves are off the trees and waiting in mounds for pickup from the street. It rained a couple of days ago, and the water coming down the hill moved the mounds farther down the pavement, blocking mailboxes and driveways and making lacy patterns through the leaves. Kind of cool, but I’m not the one who cleared the area around the mailbox so the mailman could deliver mail.

I hope you’re all getting ready for a wonderful Thanksgiving with all your best beloveds. Save room for the pumpkin pie!

By authorsusanshaw