Excellent or Horrid Breeze

Papa Tree Moose often says “the biggest difference between an excellent day and a horrid day is what direction your ‘mind-wind’ blows.” Of course, living outdoors might have given him this perspective.

I considered a strong wind might topple a tree –remember where they live, these tree moose– but it also could cause a kite to soar. Have I mentioned tree moose adore retrieving kites from high branches?

I stand by the belief that trying to understand another’s paradigm is helpful, maybe key, to figuring out why they say what they say and I find tree moose to be an interesting species.

They live by “oaks grow from little acorns that try” and “what are birds but songs on wing.”

In the tree moose’s case, I am fairly certain they can’t change their environment… not easily anyway and if you can’t control your outer world, you may consider what you can control.

Based on that I suspect, besides an interesting platitude, this phrase could be another version of “make adversity your friend.” At the least it’s an “up, up and away” when life turns sideways.

Overcoming The Cliff

6FCF0933-BBC0-4203-884A-8CF446BC293DIn deference to our upcoming Cliff Day….

Cliff Day, you say…what is that? Well on average New Year Resolutions fall by the wayside on Feb 9 because willpower will only takes a person so far And it takes, on average 66 days to form a habit.

I’m on day 33 so I’m half way there but there’s a whole lot of self talk I’ve been doing because I’m looking to own my life and to have me take me to the goals I desire. Not to say that I’m opposed to have family and friends by my side…no person is an island and I want to spend time with family and friends. What I’m saying is it isn’t their responsibility to take me to my goals. That’s on me.

So what I’m learning so far…. And I’ll use resources when I can…According to James Clear (JamesClear.com) to change a behavior, such as creating better habits, a person has to change his or her identity….basically how he or she sees themselves instead of focusing solely on the new behavior.

It’s kind of like a peach here. The skin is what other people see. The flesh of the peach is an individual’s actions (what people focus most on when trying to make changes). And the pit is the belief a person has about themselves.

Does what you believe matter? Of course. We tell ourselves things about ourselves all the time. You may be a person who believes you ‘CAN’ or you may be a person who believes you ‘CAN’T’ and either way, you’re right based on what you believe. If you don’t believe you’re a person, for example, who exercises in the morning and you’re trying to create that action you are going to have internal conflict. This is great for books and movies and even tv shows but bad for reaching your goals. Your sense of who you are is going to win out over the long run.

So what do you do? Well, based on things I’ve recently read and heard it’s as follows:

First …Decide the new kind of identity you want to have.

I’ll use myself as an example. I want to be a person who get things done, who works diligently on improving my craft of writing and my love of learning, along with providing a safe nurturing space for those I share care for, AND be in top form and continue advancing skill-wise so I take on anyone on the fencing field.

Ok so I’m changing my identity – now what?
Second….Take small steps.
Wait, did I say that right?
Yes, I did. DON’T start off with life-changing transformations. (Lose 50 lbs, Publish 5 books, Earn $20,000 more)

There’s nothing wrong with aiming in that direction BUT that’s not pointing you in the direction of success. INSTEAD, start off with life changing behaviors. (Drink 8 glasses of water a day, write a paragraph everyday, work an extra 5 hours as a freelancer) And work up.

So what am I doing? I am drinking more water per day, exercising a minimum of 30 minutes a day – and I generally break that into a 15 minute morning tai chi and yoga and a 15 minute afternoon fencing drills, plus I occasionally throw cycling the exercise bike in too. I’ve scheduled my write time and well…there are other things I’m still working on.

Third…Put this new behavior in the routine you already have and use the 3Rs.
Um….What are the 3Rs?

· Reminder (or cue) – starts the behavior: Example your morning alarm goes off.
· Routine – the action you take: You get up and get ready for school or work.
· Result – You continue getting a paycheck or you eventually graduate.
So for me (Reminder) the alarm clock goes off and (Routine) I’d snooze it a few times, then roll out of bed and get the kid and me ready for school and work and get to work feeling frazzled. (Reward) I got a paycheck. And did what I absolutely had to.
Okay so incorporating from this schedule Now the alarm clock goes off, I snooze it once but instead of falling back to sleep I think about what I need to do and in what order. I get up then and do 15 minutes of tai chi and yoga because well, now I’m a person who does this in the morning, and afterwards, I get me and the kid ready for school and work feeling less frazzled.The Reward? Not only will I keep getting a paycheck and do what I have to but so far within one month’s time I’ve lost 9 lbs and feel calmer, more energetic and motivated. And again, this is a work in progress.
Four… Celebrate Your Wins. Embrace it. Own it. Building on successes is a sturdy foundation towards the life you want.

Yes so currently I’m trying how to celebrate wins without a lot of food rewards. I’d be thrilled to hear any ideas you may have.

In closing this little ‘rah-rah you can do it’ post, I’d like to say if you’re still working on your New Year’s resolution good for you! Keep rocking it! And if you fell off, don’t despair. Anytime is a time you can make positive change. Look up. The view is amazing!

 

Closet Doors Where Monsters Dwell

9F870D9C-F87F-4A53-8F24-BBB6BDA5C8D5

Once upon a time I frequently used the analogy that little monsters that get tucked away into a closet only get bigger and meaner the next time they’re able to break free and spill out across the floor.

Of course I was talking about personal emotional baggage and the importance of facing things and dealing with them…but it makes me wonder if this analogy works in the macroscopic view too… I speak of the horrible things that seem to happen more often within our country. And if the answer would be yes, like one might assume, what would be the fix? Is there one? A feasible one?

I would consider that in the personal cosmos among the thousand-some ‘me’s’ that each person holds within themselves…for what are we than walking contradictions… AND if one would be able to get passed the self-destructive ‘me’s’ to the me’s which hold a pervasive sense of self-interest, one might choose to find a solution. Granted, it might not always be correct at first but a course that is started can be amended and tweaked.

We name our personal monsters as we battle ourselves and come up with our action plan or we shove the beasties once again into the closet and hope they go away…(they don’t) but we choose. We choose.

But this macroscope…with millions of other people with whom we have no control over…and a growing divisiveness of what it means to even be counted as human …let alone the plethora of issues….what do we do? Honestly, what can one person do?

How do we deal with these growing closet monsters? How do we find the common ground to give/admit these monsters’ names and reduce their growth? How do we keep them from splintering us further as they grow.

Unbelievably, as I stare out into the vast chaos of the unknowable I keep hearing the phrase:

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Which of course could tip this little essay into a sketch of “the monster… um… ‘Sauron’ can be defeated by all of us singing Kumbaya at the top of our lungs while every 11th person played taps on their left big toenail and all the little children dance AND at the same time the big bad ring will be tossed into the volcano.” But the foundation of this inane gibberwash IS these little monsters beg to be named. They beg to be identified, to be admitted, because ONLY then can we create a do-able action plan.

But what are their names? Is it safe to speak their true names? Is it safe not to?

We’ve our not-so-little monsters trolling our towns and cities laughing and multiplying because we give them conflicting upside-down and sideways names and feed them our disgust and our surrender.

We point fingers at each other and gnash our teeth and tuck ourselves away behind doorways where monsters used to hide.

…and I think they’re too big to shove back in the closet.

When Nightmares Change

The world is full of interesting and miraculous mysteries…from astronomy and earth sciences to quantum physics and more.  That which was viewed as magic from centuries past now have a scientific name but perhaps the most mysterious of all is what happens within the human psyche, cultural awareness and the dance of social norms to the single seed of human consciousness. And with that last journey…I can fathom a guess of what others experience based on my own experiences and empathy but one is truly only a would-be expert within their own personal landscape.  And of course, many ignore that landscape. It’s finding yourself…losing yourself…and being too busy to contemplate belly lint. 

However, I’ll hazard the telling of my own journey…a little corner within my realm of existence…and it lays within the remembered dreams of my consciousness.  Many have asked what are dreams…  Perhaps little windows to view the  underworkings of who a person is? 

My story starts with the nightmares I had as a child … of being terrified of the Bogeyman/demons chasing me… into something else, I believe may be worse. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have nightmares of the Bogeyman(men)/demon(s) chasing them. I have had those dreams almost  continually since I was a child and I’ve tried many ways to protect myself from 1) waking from a deep sleep before they reached me to 2) waking during my elementary school days singing ‘Yes, Jesus loves me’ to 3) finding my hands in the middle of a dream and pressing them together to take control of my dreams to … 4) well, too many to count. 

I can say the last demon to attack me in the dream world grabbed me behind my cracked bathroom door. It was in the hallway of my house. Well, in the dreamworld…in my house. It was a horrid slime-covered tentacled hand and the grip was tight. I knew if I pulled back… Retreat, at times, can be the worst thing someone can do. I barely took a moment to look at the alien rippled muscles or acknowledge the pressure bruising my wrist. Instead, I growled at it. I growled so viciously that it carried over into the waking world and I rushed it with a wild cry of  ‘how dare you’ erupting from my very being. 

But I don’t know how the match would have concluded. I was shaken awake because I was growling in my sleep. 

Since then I find teases of an upcoming attack, glimpses of the bogeyman/demon from the corners of dreams but no attack comes. Which is fine…. but

But now I find myself in spaces that the Bogeyman/demons had/have visited. I find horrific scenes of severed body parts and decapitated heads arranged in artistic collages. 

I suppose I have overcome one nightmare trope by facing my fear and holding ground but the thing has morphed into, I think something worse, and I’m not sure what to do about this one. 

As I digress I can say that as a child of six years I came across my grandmother’s head (in a dream) laying in the backyard grass so many nights in a row. It was terrible but what scared me most was when her eyes opened and she started to talk. Never heard her words of presumable wisdom because I’d wake in a cold sweat each time. Sometimes I wonder what message she would have given…had it even been her. She was yet alive then…in the real world. 

These other decapitated heads…and other parts. They come from those I do not know. There is no last moment of life within them. I’m not scared of the carnage before me. But what am I? I stand ready to do battle but there is no one to fight. I stand at this horrific aftermath. I am emotionally numb. And I am seeking to do what? What action can be taken? I have no answer. 

And then, of course, when I do awake I think what can I harvest from these images for my manuscripts and wonder if this isn’t to much for YA…  

I suppose this story is in its middle and I am waiting for the next volume to open. But for this one, I’m still mulling its contents.  

Reposted – Interview with Kathryn Craft

This is reposted from an interview I did for one of the presenters (and a very dear friend of mine as well) from the thoroughly enjoyable and informative GLVWG Write Stuff conference.

https://glvwgwritestuffblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/an-interview-with-kathryn-craft/

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What a delight that you’ll be at the 2017 GLVWG “Write Stuff” Conference as a presenter. You have been a motivating inspiration for GLVWG for many many years in various capacities. We’re happy to have you!

Kathryn Craft: Thanks Tammy! It will be so fun to be back home. I attended this conference every year straight from 2000-2012, when it was my honor to host my brand new agent on the agent panel, and then returned as a presenter in 2013. I’ve missed it.

Could you tell us a little bit about what got you into the writing world? Was it when you became a freelance dance critic for the Morning Call or was it before then? What was the spark?

Kathryn Craft: In 1983, when a company I was dancing with approached The Morning Call about a review, I learned they needed a dance critic. I wrote a sample review. The editor read it and said, “Don’t write in the first person because we don’t yet know who you are. Don’t say, ‘It seemed as if’—it weakens your writing. Don’t use more than five sentences per paragraph. Can you start this weekend?”

When you have an area of expertise and know how to string sentences together, it can sometimes be just that easy to get paid to write nonfiction.

Fifteen years later I entered the longest labor of my life when my family suffered the kind of tragedy that can make a novelist out of you: my first husband committed suicide after a day-long standoff on our idyllic little farm. In the years to come, it grew clear that for me, the medium of story would be crucial to finding hope within this darkest trial of my life

I quickly met the first of many fiction-writing obstacles, and each came stamped with the word “humility.” I took a voluntary downgrade from the nominal pay of a dance critic and wrote fiction without pay for a decade. I learned that stringing lovely sentences was no longer enough. An informed opinion was no longer enough. Desire was not enough. I needed to make a substantial investment of time and money in a storytelling education. I quickly realized I could no longer go it alone, and came to my first GLVWG meeting in 2000.

Would you mind giving us a bit of a teaser about your Friday’s half day workshop “Maximizing the Emotional Potential of Your Novel?”

Kathryn Craft: Lifelong readers intuitively know a lot about writing. Like when to insert a dialogue beat, or a bit of backstory. Yet as writers it can take us a long time to figure out the most elusive aspect of effective fiction, which is creating an emotional bond between the reader and her proxy—your protagonist. The answer is not as easy as having an unlikable character save a puppy. With examples from effective passages in bestselling literature, we are going to identify many factors that contribute to this bond so that you have the tools to give your reader exactly what she came for: a full emotional ride.

Reading ‘The Far End of Happy,’ (a book I read straight through because I couldn’t put it down), and knowing that it’s based on your family’s experience, do you have any advice for others on 1) how to tap into and harvest sometimes overwhelmingly brutal emotions and 2) how to be brave enough to get them on the page without extra fluff around them?

Kathryn Craft: Thank you for your kind words, Tammy.

1) I have to admit, my draft was pretty superficial. Over the seventeen years prior to getting the contract for The Far End of Happy I’d verbally told the story of my first husband’s suicide standoff many times. Like a river taking its same, inevitable course, over time my story grew predictable, tumbling over obstacles so familiar their edges had smoothed. I learned where to pull back so as not to make my listener quite so uncomfortable. Where to breathe so I could make it through to the end without sobbing.

So while novelizing my experience, I wasn’t necessarily surprised to hear from my trusted first reader that I had skimmed over the emotional surface of the story. Her critique of the dark moment, in particular, reflected my worst fear: that I might default to this verbal telling mode and fail to use the full power of literature to evoke my characters’ experiences.

I almost let myself off the hook. I mean, who could blame me if I couldn’t bear to bathe in the blistering tar of memory? No one would. But my reader would not be served. Here were some of the ways I pushed through my own resistance to bring the story fully to life.

I immersed myself in source materials (such as in-person interviews with people who knew my husband, news coverage, photos, journal entries, his suicide note) and listened to music that evoked that period in my life.

I allowed setting to enhance meaning.

I dug beneath the obvious (such as the horror that he had killed himself) until I found more revealing emotions (such as relief that this trial was over).

I got creative with motifs (such as the color red) and the rhythm of sentences. Just as I clamped down on emotion in my verbal telling by controlling my breathing, I found I could let emotion fly by omitting punctuation and not allowing the reader a breath at all.

I reviewed and tweaked emotional turning points so the reader could follow each phase of my protagonist’s inner journey.

2) For me, removing fluff is easy. I overwrite until I nail the essence of what I want to say and then pare down to the barest essentials. A critique partner with a brutal red pen can be quite handy at this point. I’m not a person who has trouble killing her darlings. A novel is comprised of many wonderful words, and the ones you take out will not be missed by a reader who never knew they were there.

What are you working on currently?

Kathryn Craft: Another psychological women’s fiction novel that will force a woman to confront her culpability for her husband’s shocking murder by the way she discounted her childhood friend who killed him. It is set in northern NY State, where my protagonist spent many happy summers with this friend, only her reckoning comes during a winter ice storm.

How would you say that networking within writing communities and volunteering your time and energy have helped you grow as a writer?

Kathryn Craft: Through the various positions I held on the GLVWG board (president, workshop chair, program chair) and for The Write Stuff (conference chair, publicity, agent & editor chair) I was able to build the programs that gave me the support and education I needed. I literally brought my teachers to me. Critiquing for fellow GLVWG writers led me to a career as a developmental editor that is now ten years old. I found mentors among the published authors in our community I hired as lecturers and workshop leaders. I got to know peers as we worked side-by-side, and our shared sweat and tears gave me an audience to cheer me on once I finally got an agent. I would have floundered on my own. And when I joined the Philadelphia Writers Conference board, where I serve for six years, my contacts expanded all the more. This is the very definition of building an author platform.

Both your books ‘The Art of Falling’ and ‘The Far End of Happy’ are great selections for Book Clubs and based on your website, book clubs can see if they can schedule a visit, either in person or via Skype, with you. Being able to interact with your readers has to be a delightful time for you. Any stories you’d like to share?

Kathryn Craft: Reader interaction is the very best, you’re right! The biggest surprise has been how often there is someone else in the room whose world has been rocked by suicide. Often they are the quiet one in the corner, pointed out to me only later by the book club host. At bookstores and libraries, people have held up the signing line because they simply had to tell me about a loss in their own family that they’ve never before spoken about, but they felt my talk gave them permission. I’ve even had people approach to tell me about their own suicide attempts, and how my books have brought a sense of understanding and hope. The first time that happened it gobsmacked me. All I could think to do was give the woman a hug and tell her she is living a story that is worthy.

Would you be able to give us a teaser about one of your Saturday’s sessions, ‘Engaging Backstory Techniques?’

Kathryn Craft: We’ve all had the experience: we are reading along and suddenly the story screeches to a halt while we are regaled with old news of a character’s youth. “She grew up next to a post office…” and now as a reader you are derailed by wondering what this has to do with the book’s premise. The reader will assume the post office was important, and when it isn’t, you feel cheated. This is one of those intuitive inclusions I spoke of earlier, but there is real craft behind what to include! We’ll look at how to determine relevancy, how to help the reader sustain interest from this departure from your story, and look at a variety of ways you can seamlessly interweave this all-important story element.

Out of curiosity, when you are not writing, what sort of books do you like to read?

Kathryn Craft: If I get to choose, it will be a literary bestseller, since reading “up” inspire me to write. But traditional publication is a game-changer as concerns reading. Now there are books to blurb, colleagues’ books to read and recommend, research books to read, comparable titles to read for marketing purposes, your next blurber to identify, contests to judge…the list is endless. I probably only choose 4-5 books per year, and they will probably be for my neighborhood book club.

I understand that you are a part of Tall Poppy Writers who seem like a collaborative bunch. Could you tell us a little more about it?

Kathryn Craft: The Tall Poppy Writers is yet one more writing community from which I benefit. This is a marketing cooperative of women writers who believe that we are stronger together. We are debuts and experienced bestsellers and everywhere in between, traditionally published in multiple genres at publishing houses of all sizes, so it is rare that one of us won’t know the answer to a question posed in our private Facebook group. We do in-person events, joint social media promotion, philanthropy for literacy causes that benefit girls and women, and have an online book club with frequent giveaways.

And last question, Kathryn… for an aspirating writer hoping some of the stardust from successful writers rub off on them through interaction, what advice would you give him or her?

Kathryn Craft: This is so darn easy people think it won’t work: support that writer whose stardust you seek. Go to their in-person events and introduce yourself and ask questions. Attend social media events such as Facebook book club events and do the same. Read their books and recommend them on Facebook, tagging their author page. Write an early review on Goodreads and copy it to Amazon on release day. Shout out the release. Share their Facebook posts and consistently retweet them. Stop short of downright stalking them, of course, but any of these measures constitutes a huge show of support. I have helped out my supporters in so many ways, from reading chapters to recommending them to my agent to RT-ing them when their big day comes. People notice when you do nice things for them and they won’t forget you.

Thank you taking time out for this interview. I look forward to seeing you at the conference!

Kathryn Craft: Look forward to seeing everyone soon!

*****

kathryn-craft-2Kathryn Craft writes stories that seek beauty and meaning at the edge of darkness. Rich with material for further thought or discussion, her novels make a great choice for book clubs.

Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, Kathryn served for more than a decade in a variety of positions on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, and volunteers as time allows with the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Kathryn also hosts writing retreats for women and speaks often about writing. She writes a monthly series, “Turning Whine into Gold,” at the Writers in the Storm blog, and freelances as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com. She is a proud member of the Tall Poppies Writers, a marketing cooperative of women’s fiction writers.

Kathryn is the author of two books, The Art of Falling (2014, Sourcebooks), and The Far End of Happy (2015, Sourcebooks).

You can learn more about Kathryn Craft at KathrynCraft.com, her Facebook Page, and follow her Twitter Feed.

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(Revised). Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. She has finished her first YA fantasy adventure book, A Window Into Hazel Truths, and is revising her second book. When not writing, she works in the social services field to help community member in-need, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a rapier fencing cadet and marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).
 

Within Adversity and Mistakes Lie Opportunity

Let me tell you a little story. It goes something like this… 

One day an ambitious woman decided to make her mother a four-layer cake (white with her favorite buttercream frosting) for a landmark birthday and surprise party . She even considered trying her hand at making frosting roses but had back-up decorations should she fail. Opportunity, yes…without pressure.  

The woman baked the cakes the night before and allowed them to cool overnight, even made the frosting before she headed for bed and set her alarm for early morning to complete her mission. See – the woman had discovered years before that even though morning wasn’t her favorite time of day… early morning consistently proved to be a peaceful time that after a quick half-cup of coffee creative juices flowed and a deep zen-type focus would kick in. It’s the “riding the wave” under a muse’s smile and she was actually looking forward to the time. Looking forward to it so much she awoke several times discovering only an hour or two has passed before sighing and going back to sleep.  She rose 10 minutes before the alarm went off and eagerly went downstairs.

I’m glad in hindsight to report “Things did NOT go as planned.”  

It was early morning, yes. Consumed half-cup of coffee, yes. Deep zen-type focus? No.  That elusive and intoxicating unicorn had been shooed away by two snarfy kitties and their on-going ‘Operational No-Growl to Peaceful Co-Existence. ‘ Their antics included one older “how dare you exist” cat attempting non-whole-heartedly to hold back some of her hisses and growls while the younger and clingier made a game of being underfoot and practicing world-champion styled  “rub at the human’s legs.” 

Not a big deal.  The woman had often dealt with interruptions and adversity before. The key, she decided, was to refrain from many lower body movements. She smiled to herself. Problem solved. Now to deep focus

 Achieved!! Layer 1 on the cake plate and iced, layer 2 on and iced….layer 3 on and iced….layer 4 on and …. Ignore the cat, ignore the cat. The cake slide slightly to the side. 

Can’t have that. Nudge it back. Top layer iced. Okay. Frost the side and…. 

A piece of the bottom layer crumbled.

Dang it…well, that can be hid under the frosting. Slides again..

No, no!  Nudge it back. Okay…. Wish this cat would go away. Don’t think about that.  Focus. Focus. Breathe. Okay. We’ll grab more frosting and …. The cake slides again. 

 Damn it. Stop. Nudge. Nudge. Hmmmm…. Do I have toothpicks? Would someone accidentally bite into a toothpick?  I could…

The woman pushed the cat away with a foot. Cat came back. Pushes away. Comes back. Sigh. Doesn’t matter.  Maybe if I  nudge the cake more than necessary the other way and when I frost the opposite side… Oh good…Good… This is going to work.  

The muse creeps into the room, taps the woman on the cheek and whispers “Open your eyes. Your cake looks like the leaning Tower of Pisa.”  

Sigh. She nudges the cat away. Let’s see…I can… Cat comes comes back with an extra exuberant rubbing.   

“Will you get away from me!” The woman snaps and pushes cat away with the top of her foot.  Cat comes back. “GET.”

The cat looks at her incredulously. 

“GOOOOOO!”

Both cats bolt. The woman turns back to her project and takes a deep breathe, and another. Okay… How to deal with this and…

The top layer cracks…. Maybe I could hide that under frosting and… The crack ripples deeper in defiance it would seem of solution. Maybe I could make a Mt. Vesuvius cake? Mt Vesuviuos. How would I decorate for that? Not really appropriate for a birthday cake. 

 The woman frowns. Sits  in front of the cake. The thing mocks her with another rippling crack. I could just buy a store-bought cake. She reaches for the bowl for a taste of the perfect frosting. She closes her eyes.  Damn it. This is too good to throw out. Cake pops? Cake pops. I’d need a lot of chocolate and sticks. The woman glances at the clock. No, not enough time for a store trip let alone make them. It’s hopeless. 

It is here that a voice from the past knocks aside the mocking muse. The voice is her mother’s and the message is an old adage repeated past counting. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” 

Well, I could get out a casserole pan and make one really huge cake pop. Hmmmm….

And voilà! The invention of the Casserole Cake arrived into the world. 

Recipe: One cake disaster crumbled, scooped into pan, spread out, coated with a thin layer of white chocolate from the white chocolate bar originally bought to make the white chocolate fruit dip, and then decorated with back-up decorations. Easy-Peasey, yes?  

[As to the fruit dip: Dig into pantry until you find left-over black wafers of white chocolate from an earlier project. As black colored fruit dip is not appropriate for a mom’s landmark birthday add strong tint of rose to the cream cheese and yogurt part before adding melted chocolate. The color will be transformed into … dusty-dark lilac purple color. Yes! Do-able. Yay!]

The woman also bought store-bought cake as well for the candle blowing out ceremony because who knew if the disaster would turn into a decades old telling like the infamous Thanksgiving chocolate pies ….BUT the consensus for  Casserole Cake? “Yummy!  When are you making it again? Can I have another serving?”

Added bonus? The woman had a nice story to convey to her mother of how one of the life-lesson learned at her mother’s knee still benefits her to this day.

Oh, and the young kitty-cat? Still as affectionate as ever…but slightly less underfoot. 

Happy Birthday Mom! I love you!

Meet 2016 Keynote Robert Liparulo

Interview I did for 2016 GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference. Original can be seen at  the GLVWG conference blog

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Hi Robert,

We are thrilled to have you join us as our keynote speaker for this year’s Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group “Write Stuff” conference along with teaching “From Mind to Manuscript: The Making of Your Masterpiece” and “Thrillers and Mysteries: How Knowing the Difference Will Help You Write a Great Story” for the pre-conference workshops.


Would you mind giving a teaser of what you’ll be covering during the preconference workshops and your keynote speech?


Robert Liparulo
: First, I’m excited to be a small part of this conference. I’ve never attended, but have run into people who have and have loved it, all the learning and networking—oops, I mean socializing.

My full-day workshop will be a nuts-and-bolts analysis of what it takes to take your story idea from your head to a published book, in the hands of readers. A lot of books and seminars offer a sort of recipe or step-by-step guide to getting published, but really, it doesn’t work that way. If it did, everyone who’d read one of these books or attended one of these seminars would be published.

Storytelling in a way that involves the publishing industry is an art—way too subjective for cookie-cutter recipes—and everyone attempting it is unique, with his or her own set of skills and motivations and styles and hang-ups and frustrations and moments of brilliance and . . . you get the idea. My workshop will approach the process of writing and getting published—as well as what comes after—with this practical, real-word writing-as-art (i.e., subjective), writer-as-artist (i.e., unique) perspective. Forget the books, forget step-by-step; here’s what it’s like to really do it, in the heat of the battle, what they don’t tell you. I don’t like lectures—they’re boring and the topics of writing and publishing are way too expansive and complicated for one person standing at a podium to address all the issues meaningful to attendees. So while my workshops will have a semblance of structure, and I’ll have important points to address, I’m counting on the attendees to let me know what’s important to them about a specific subject, to make our time time very interactive and meaningful—conversations rather than presentations.

Based on other interviews I’ve read, I understand you started writing poems and then short stories as a kid before you moved into journalism. Could you tell us a little bit about your initial writing adventures?

Robert Liparulo: I was in third grade when I realized I wanted to be a writer—I don’t really know why, and I didn’t know at the time what kind of writer. In fifth grade, I wrote an article about an experimental jet flying across the Atlantic and stopping in the Azores islands, where I lived. My teacher sent it to a magazine, without telling them my age. A few months later, I received the magazine with my published article and a check. I was pretty much hooked on writing articles from that point on.

When I was 12, I read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. For about half the book, the main character, Robert Neville, tries to get a sick dog inside his home. When he finally does, he spends the night taking care of it. Stroking the dog’s head, he recalls the way things used to be. We come to realize that the dog wasn’t just a dog; it was symbolic of life as it had once been and would never be again: family picnics, movies, relative peace and calm. The last line of the chapter was something like, “In the morning the dog was dead.” I started crying, and I thought, “If words—only WORDS!—can make a pretty tough 12-year-old boy cry, I want to do that.” For years I went around telling people what I wanted to do when I grew up was to make 12-year-old boys cry. (I’ve received emails from both boys and girls who said Frenzy, the sixth Dreamhouse Kings book, made them cry—I had to laugh that I’d finally fulfilled that goal.)

Starting when I was a teenager, I wrote for magazines like Inc., Highlights for Children, New Man Magazine, a lot of entertainment and trade publications. Eventually, with the prodding of my family and some writer friends, I started writing novels.

What advantages and/or disadvantages, if any, have you experienced by first being a journalist and then a novelist?  


Robert Liparulo
: For a long time, I thought, “What am I doing? My true love is fiction; I’m wasting all this time writing nonfiction.” But then, when I started writing novels, I realized how much of what I learned as a journalist translated extremely well to fiction writing, and made me a much better fiction writer than I would have been without that background. Journalism taught me how to research deeply: how to interview people, how to overcome the fear of reaching out to experts, regardless of their fame or expertise or position; it taught me how to find really cool tidbits hidden deep in archival vaults, gems which have not yet made it onto the Internet, but add levels of richness and authority to my fiction. Journalism taught me the importance of brevity and how to achieve vivid descriptions in few words, how to hit deadlines, and write authentic dialog . . . this list goes on and on. I’m convinced now that no writing—whether it be personal letters or software manuals or screenplays—is ever wasted.

With over 1,000 articles under your belt, I understand you were able to interview some of the big names in the publishing world and the music industry. What would you say are some of the most memorable interviews you’ve done? Did you have a favorite? Any interviews stick out that wasn’t from someone with a big name?  

Robert Liparulo
: I have so many stories about my days as a journalist, I probably should write a memoir. From interviewing Peter Cetera, of the rock group Chicago, which ended up with my accidently stranded onstage—between the drummers!—as the band played through an entire concert; to interviewing Bruce Springsteen when I was a teenager. He kept delaying the interview, which puzzled me, until he said, “Are we waiting for your father?”

The authors I interviewed collectively had an enormous impact on me in that they made me see them as human, not as demigods with supernatural powers to tell stories. I’ve always been a reader, and I held authors in such high esteem, I thought, “Surely, there’s something magical about these high-level storytellers; I could never do that.” Meeting many of my novelist-heroes—as pleasant as many of them were—showed me their humanity, that they were ordinary people who dreamed big and worked hard—things I could do!

The author most responsible for my finally biting the bullet and driving me to write my first novel is someone whose name I can’t reveal (he specifically asked to remain anonymous); suffice to say he’s a bestselling novelist with a household name. He found out that I actually wanted to write novels and started calling me every month to ask, “Have you started yet?” After about a year, I started Comes a Horseman just so I could finally say, “Yes! I’ve started!”

Ted Dekker and I were friends before either of us had started writing novels. When he published his first books and was starting to get some heat, I interviewed him for New Man Magazine. Despite having been friends for some time, that interview revealed a side of him I hadn’t known, mostly the way his mind works through stories, piecing them together like big jigsaw puzzles, and the business side of writing, which he grasped better than any other author I’d ever met (to my knowledge). His insights helped me tremendously in completing my first novel and launching my brand.


I understand you like to work 12-16 hours (or more) during the day when writing. What got you into immersion writing? What do you like best about it? How do you juggle work and family…and also just curious…do your characters pop into your dreams at night? 


Robert Liparulo
: I’m not sure what got me into immersion writing, just that it made the most sense to me, to be so into my characters and my story that everything else fades away. That’s the way I want readers to experience my stories. I’ve always thought, “Stories that don’t keep the writer up at night, won’t keep readers up at night.” The only way for me to achieve that state of immersion is through long hours in that fictional world.

Juggling long work hours and family is not easy. It takes a toll. I try to break away for dinner and tucking in the kids, but I’m only half-there. My kids grew up with it, so they naturally accepted my “writing state.” My solution was to set whole days aside just for the family; then they had all of me.

My characters don’t so much “pop” into my dreams, as my dreams are my characters’ dreams. I get so into my characters, I become them, I eat what they would eat, walk like them, talk like them, dream their dreams. I know, weird. When I was writing the Dreamhouse Kings series, I became my main protagonist, a twelve-year-old boy named David. I played soccer with my son and his friends, watched kids’ movies, ordered from the kids’ menu. I’ve spoken to hundreds of schools and always get twelve-year-olds telling me how deeply they related to David. So I guess it worked.


I understand several of your books are in various stages of development for the big screen, including the first book you’ve written and your young adult books ‘Dreamhouse Kings.’ Anything you can share with us?


Robert Liparulo
: Hollywood is a unique beast. Lots of ups and downs. Everything revolves around financing, which comes and goes. Even studio executives at the highest levels can no longer simply “make it happen.” Second to that is trying to reconcile differing creative visions. The producer who bought the rights to Comes a Horseman, Mace Neufeld, who made all of Tom Clancy’s movies, apparently spent millions developing scripts, which never satisfied him; he’s a brilliant visionary and filmmaker, so I trust his opinion. But for now, the project’s in limbo. With some of the movie adaptations, I have the contracts to write the screenplays myself, along with a couple originals, both of which come with their own obstacles and headaches. This is the kind of stuff I’ll address in my session on working with Hollywood.


What inspired you to write for both adults and young adults? Does your audience affect how you present the story? Why or why not?


Robert Liparulo
: I was happily cruising along writing thrillers for adults when my publisher called to ask if I’d ever thought of writing for young adults. I think what got him thinking about it was, in part, my novel Germ had struck a chord among younger readers, mostly high-schoolers. I immediately thought of the Dreamhouse Kings story, which stemmed from a series of dreams I had when I was eleven. It felt like a story for young adults, middle-schoolers. I jumped at the opportunity, and the series became my best-selling books to date.

I knew from the start that I didn’t want to “write down” to a younger readership. I knew from my own kids and talking to many young readers that they are a lot smarter than many writers, many adults, give them credit for. And nothing drives them crazier than writing that’s dumbed down. So I decided to write the Dreamhouse Kings the way I would write an adult story, with two exceptions: one, my protagonists would be young, so readers could relate to them; and two, I wanted a topic I felt would be more interesting than the high-tech shoot-em-ups I was used to writing. The Dreamhouse Kings, which is a spooky time-traveling adventure, fit that bill perfectly.


So….do you have a usual go-to to get the creative juices working if and when you’re stuck?


Robert Liparulo
: What inspires me most is excellent art. Doesn’t matter what form it takes—literature, film, music, paintings, statues; anything that’s done extremely well (to my mind). I have a few go-to movie soundtracks (Last of the Mohicans, anything by Clint Mansell, for example), movies (Lord of the Rings, Jaws, Memento), literature (a piece about hell by James Joyce, any Elmore Leonard or Cormac McCarthy novel) that get me in the mood to write the best I can. I keep a coffee table book with the works of Michelangelo on my desk. Not that I’ll ever achieve such excellence, but I can try.


What would you say has been the best piece of writing advice you received? Also, what writing advice do you tend to give others?


Robert Liparulo
: Neil Gaiman told me the best advice for any writer: “Finish things.” Too many writers start a story, only to abandon it for whatever reason—they get bored with it, or get stuck, or get sidetracked by a story they like better or think would be more attractive to publishers. Finish everything you start, even if only for practice. That’s the type of writer publishers want, ones who finish. Know your story well enough to know it’s something you want to see to its completion, or don’t even start it.
Besides that, I tell new writers to trust themselves, their instincts. We are a generation raised on story. It’s in songs, commercials, games; we know story—its structure, what works, what doesn’t. Run with that, write your story without constantly analyzing and critiquing/criticizing it. Trust your abilities to tell a story, go for it.

The right research can add incredible depth to a story. What is your favorite way to research and what would you say has been the most interesting thing you’ve researched to date? What kind of writing project was it for? 

Robert Liparulo: I always interview experts. They will tell you things you can’t find anywhere else, and you can ask follow-up questions that flesh-out the topic in ways that help you develop an authoritative voice in your story. I start with people on the periphery of the topic and ask them to whom I should speak next, which usually leads to someone a little closer to the heart of what I want to know, to a better expert. I think of research as concentric circles; I’m always moving closer and closer to the center.

I’ve researched so many fascinating topics—gene splicing and designer viruses for Germ, satellite laser weapons for Deadfall, electronically-enhanced soldiers for Deadlock, exoskeletons for The Judgment Stone, wolf-dogs trained to incapacitate targets for Comes a Horseman—it’s difficult to pick the most interesting. Probably the most interesting result of some research came when I was looking into a society of people preparing for—with the intention of helping—the antichrist when he appears. This was for Comes a Horseman. I’d been interviewing experts, largely people with religious affiliations, who’d been tracking these people, keeping an eye on them. I was getting closer and closer to experts who truly knew meaningful facts about them and their activities, when I received a call at about three in the morning. An electronically modified voice said, “Stop looking for us.” Just that. Well, I didn’t want to find my dog nailed to the front door and I already had a lot of useful information, so I stopped. But I did work into the novel the things I had discovered about them—including using the electronic voice-changer over the phone.


Last question for now, what’s something no one has asked you in an interview but you wished they had?


Robert Liparulo
: Ooh, I’ve given a lot of interviews and most interviewers try to throw in something unique, so I’ve been pitched some doozies, including what’s my favorite ice cream (chocolate-peanut butter) and, believe it or not, “whitey tighties or boxers?” (“boxer briefs” seemed like a safe answer). (Your questions, by the way, have been refreshingly specific and knowledgeable—thank you!) Contrary to my ramblings here and elsewhere, I’m a pretty private person, so I don’t think there’s anything I’ve been dying to say. But I will tell you about the question that most caught me off-guard. The interviewer was especially insightful and had found something about me I didn’t know was even out there. He said, “You write unusually emotional scenes, very powerful and realistic, involving people dying or seriously injured. When you write them, are you tapping into what you felt when your sister died in a car accident?” This was a live radio interview, and I paused . . . and paused, then stuttered out something unintelligible. But the guy (however uncouth he may have been) was onto something I had never thought about. For the record, I had never consciously recalled those feelings while writing, but I realized then that subconsciously I most likely had drawn on those awful feelings.
Sorry to end the conversation on a downer, but there it is. And isn’t that what writing is all about, baring our souls?


Thank you again, Robert!  

Robert Liparulo: Thank you! Looking forward to the conference!
———————-
Former journalist Robert Liparulo is the best-selling author of the thrillers Comes a Horseman, Germ, Deadfall, Deadlock, and The 13th Tribe, as well as The Dreamhouse Kings, an action-adventure series for young adults. He contributed a short story to James Patterson’s Thriller, and an essay about Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy to Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner.

He is currently working on the sequel to The 13th Tribe, as well writing an original screenplay with director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive).

When not writing, Liparulo loves to read, watch (and analyze) movies, scuba dive, swim, hike, and travel. He lives in Monument, Colorado, with his family.

———————-
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines and is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing cadet and marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

HEY! Change your attitude. 

Yeah? Just how much of a difference does that make? Well, I’d say it’s extremely key. 
  As a writer I get to do a whole lot of creating unsolvable dilemnas for my poor mistreated characters and figuring out how to let them “muck” through whatever problem/crisis/tragedy until they discover the impossible solution. It’s interesting to note that, in my humble opinion, many fiction books have their protagonists find a solution only after they shift their paradigm and find that “outside of the box” idea. Even more interesting? You see it in real life as well. By changing one’s paradigm, your way of thinking, basically having an attitude adjustment things tend to change. So why is that? And does it have any reason why we are hard-wired for story? (Yeah writer…  double team things) 

Earlier today I posted on my Facebook wall: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. 

“Is ALL well in the world? No, like many there’s people I’m worried about and/or situational irritants abounding. It’s a small pocket of truth teaching a small child that yes there are things you cannot control and all you can do is send your prayers up BUT that which you do have control, do the very best you can. And that philosophy will serve you all of your days. 

I just need to boil that philosophy down to a quick one-liner for the list.”

Why did I write that? Suffice to say that I worry about those near and dear to me but I can’t always do anything about it. For someone who likes to be in control, it’s a bit torturous but tying myself in knots wasn’t doing anyone any good. Least of all myself. Yes, I can use the feelings of frustration, inadequacy, guilt, regret, sorrow, anger, etc. and transfer them over to my poor sobs in my manuscript and emotionally deepen the story but when I’m not writing then what? [Yes, Kathryn, I’m a storyteller because things happen…]

I fence…or dance…or take a walk…  I read this article recently for how to deal with upsets with an ADHD kid and first suggestion was to take a walk and talk because it’s near impossible to stay upset when you are in motion. My reaction was what? But say you are walking down the sidewalk on your cell phone and your friend gives you bad news. What do you do? You stop. Guess we are hard-wired for certain things.  

But I say we are hard-wired to change too. Why? We change our reality every day. And yes, some of it is merely by our actions. Repeat with me “I am the architect of my own fate.” True to a degree but there is more.  

Going a little deeper our subconscious mind has a great reality changer. It uses this cool tool called a reticular activating device. Yes, pretty RAD. (ha-ha) It’s that RAD that grabs your attention to whatever it is you’re focused on. Think being in a crowded room and hearing your name being called and frequently being able to identify the caller before you look up. How did you hear it over all the commotion? Your brain is on high-alert for certain things. So all those coincidences? Maybe they are not so coincidental. It could be your RAD sifting through the whatever terabyte of information your brain is bombarded with and brings your attention to your pet project, your new goal or even a sucky attitude that everything blows. 

Backing up a little … Thinking about how much stuff the human brain ignores and I’d wager our outside stimuli realities aren’t even the same. You and I could be at the exact same place and the exact same time and experience two separate things. And even if we experience the same catalyst our emotional/mental/spiritual difference may easily impact us or not in totally different ways. 

It gets better. Did you know your memories of an event aren’t from the event itself but more on what it was the last time you remembered it. Again we change our personal reality as time marches on. Granted it’s usually little by little but the thing is our reality is pretty fluid.   

Even our “beyond ourselves…outside our own heads” reality is kind of wonky, particularly if you look at basic quantum physics with its wave-partical duality (how about that for an oxymorin). Anything and everything is possible until the time an observer locks everything into one place, one reality purely by observing.  

http://youtu.be/DfPeprQ7oGc  

And not that you need to know this but every time I think of that it makes me think perhaps we have more control than we know and maybe magic and science are two sides of a coin…and it’s a very thin coin.    
But skipping back to one more physicality thought… How we are “wired” impacts reality. Take a rare condition of Syneshesia as an example. This cross-wire of senses causes people to experience things like hearing a color or tasting a number. I imagine that would be a strange way to experience reality and one that would be hard to describe.

And that gets me to stories. Studies have shown that experiencing a reality is more than just living it. You can gain many benefits of the same experience simply by story. Perhaps we are hard-wired for stories because we, on some level, yearn to have others “get” us and/or yearn to understand others. Take it one step further and perhaps stories are a way to experience a common reality, a shared one that we all know…. like one of our cultural shared foundations found in fairytales.  

A nice little ramble yes? Well I’m working on my reality right now and shaking all the pieces into place… I think. 

To loosely tie everything up… all that make-believe as children, the imagination, the infinite possibilities? All that helps. By having an open mind which is more resilient, less crystalized, more able to find those impossible solutions, you get your own personal doorway to a happier reality. So if someone says change your attitude, that might be the best advice you’ll ever get but as always it’s up to you to do it. Oh, and you have the ability to change reality, or at least your own. 

What do you think?

 

Birding the Scarecrow and Coveting the Shine

raven

A bird flew through me today…a big black raven.  It scooped up all my resolve, gulped it greedily and left me with an empty space within.
I never realized walking around with a non-sensible void, of nothing, feels weightier than the somethings.
Maybe gravity oozed in and filled the gap when I wasn’t looking. It’s colorless, tasteless, noiseless, right?

I need to find that bird and perform the Heimlich maneuver. Make it eject what it took.
But I don’t think it took resolve.
Was it hope? What is hope? Besides, you know, a nice little four letter word starting with an ‘H.’

Knock off the super ‘E’ and we’re all ‘hopping’ around waiting for that silent something more which changes Action into Faith.
Then Faith into Action. Maybe it’s like a shiny two-sided coin always spinning.
Maybe the bird took the coin and what’s remaining whistling on the inside is the centrifugal motion from spinning.

But why would it take it? Unless the coin got spent… maybe an expensive worry or six…and the winged tax collector came to collect.
Seems I’d be aware of that though, wouldn’t I? What about representation? Have I been hustled into the debtor’s waiting room?
Don’t tell, only hide, be quiet inside. And get that darned bird!

Unless I need to become the bird. Fly free and as fast as I can, feel the sunlight on my wings and scream in delight.
But how can I unless I cast off that which anchors me fast. Perhaps that elusive Gordian knot was painted into illusion.
I could shift my paradigm, couldn’t I?

With all the aspects of personality, we are the sum of our parts…perhaps sometime our parts refuse to be summed.
Seems like a tedious eventuality. Could we not be interchangeable within ourselves?
Or have I expelled myself far from the garden of well-being?

Perhaps I could just be a freaky little girl pondering if she should be a scarecrow or a bird protector.
Or perhaps I see too much and it’s just a play on words. I could just be raven-ous for change.  Then would it matter what I chose?
I think I’ll write some silly verse and mull…. Oh look, I did.

→Happy Friday the 13th←

A Day at the Museum – Egypt

There is quite a bit to see at the University of Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. I’ve been to this museum a few times but the last visit previous to this one, has been years.  I’ve said over the years I could happily get lost for days in a museum and I was hoping maybe the kids would like to see…at least some of the galleries. There ARE three floors and 100s of thousands is artifacts. Did they make it through the whole museum? No but they made it through most of it before they rooted themselves to some chairs. So no, I didn’t get to read all the plaques because … well, I had kids with me. Best solution? Take LOTS of pictures of both the artifacts and the plaques then see if I can piece the story together.  And I’m such a nerd girl sometimes so it seemed like the perfect time to do an iMovie or three.

I have the first one posted here. It’s of Egypt. It was the kids’ favorite and between the Lower Egypt gallery, Upper Egypt gallery, the Armana gallery and the Artifact Lab where you can watch conservation happening, there were plenty of photo opps.

My favorite gallery? The Roman/Greek/Etruscan and I’ll have an iMovie based on the pics we took soon.

Anyway, hope you enjoy!

Other links of interest:

http://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/beth-shean-columns-in-lower-egypt/