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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

  1. Rewriting: My non-advice

    August 13, 2017 by Diane

    Remember way back when, before the dinosaurs, I told you I was rewriting my novel? I scattered bread crumbs so you’d know which direction I was heading, secretly hoping you’d join me on the journey.

    I got as far as step 4.

    Then I stopped posting updates.

    The truth is, I got lost. I tried following the expert’s maps, but managed to wind up in a thick, dark forest, bumping from tree to tree, unable to find my way.

    I came to the painful realization: I need to take off the blinders. I need to forge my own path. I need to rewrite my novel the only way I know how: through draft after draft. It’s what I do well, drafting. Hopefully I’ll need fewer drafts to see the story take shape. But with each draft, I’ll get closer to discovering my unique craft as a writer.

    I can’t write about rewriting, because it’s a path that may lead me to places that aren’t on your agenda. It may lead us both astray, at a dead end gazing at each other, saying, “What now?” My map might not be your map. Where I take the scenic route, you might want to zip down the highway. Where I meander like a snail, you might want to soar like an eagle.

    So my advice is to give no advice.

    Instead, I’ll rewrite my novel.

    I thought I’d send you postcards of my  journey as I go, not with the purpose of getting you to join me, but more like, “Hey, this is where I am. What’s the view where you are?”

    But then I wouldn’t be rewriting my novel.

    I could distract myself by posting squirrelly escapades for your amusement.

    But then I wouldn’t be rewriting my novel.

    I could make up questions for Dear Digby since NO ONE is submitting any, and then post my squirrelly answers.

    But then I wouldn’t be rewriting my novel.

    What I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that I’m going fishing (again). This time, to catch the big one.

    The novel.

    I’ve got a writing buddy to keep me accountable. I’ve got two short stories in the pipeline to submit to journals, to start building a writer’s platform and attract an agent’s attention.

    I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.

    But you’ll know when I’m back.

    Until then, (so you don’t think I’m being a lazybones), here is a taste of the first scene of the first chapter of my novel. Subject to change, mind you.

    Until next time,

    Happy Trails!

     


  2. What Keeps a Reader Up at Night?

    July 16, 2017 by Diane

    In high school, there was a guy (wasn’t there always?) named John McLean. He strode across campus in his long pea coat with epaulets, hands jammed in the pockets. He had pale, lightly freckled skin, brown hair that flopped across his forehead, and a small red scar across the bridge of his nose.

    I was mad about him.

    He hung out with me, once. I sat on the front lawn at school with my best friend, when John passed by, saw us, and kicked back next to me. He plucked at the grass, and a bee stung his index finger. It was Karen who took his hand and removed the stinger.

    Oh, how I envied her, holding John McLean’s hand.

    John’s feelings for me were probably non-existent, although I saw him at a party once through a haze of marijuana smoke. Later, I typed a poem about it—which was less a poem and more a wishful journal entry in stanzas—with a line about him looking up and “reaching out without reaching out,” and how I suddenly felt “tired, so tired,” (but in a good way, in a “I can sleep for a long, long, blissful sleep” way, because John McLean had looked up and reached out, sorta).

    No, John had feelings for a girl named Cathy, who lived on the same mountain where I lived, and rode the same school bus as me.

    Oh, how I envied Cathy, waiting for the bus with John McLean’s arm around her.

    Why am I telling you this?

    Story.

    So far, you might be intrigued, but you’re not really invested in John McLean like I am. I haven’t fleshed him out on the page, like I have in memory. As a reader, you’re not ready to stay up late flipping pages to find out what happens next. Sure, there’s a hint of conflict, a want that I, as the protagonist in this real-life drama, have, and something in the way of me achieving it.

    But what if I add this:

    Forty-odd years later, on a July night, I decide to look up John McLean on the internet. I want to see if he’s overweight and bald, or slim and rich, or married with kids, or divorced and wandering Nepal in his long pea coat.

    Why am I so curious at 11 pm on a weeknight, knowing I need to rise and shine for work the next day? What compels me to go down this rabbit hole on the internet at this point in time? And why am I fascinated by a guy I haven’t thought of, except fleetingly, since high school?

    Story.

    I want to know: whatever happened to John McLean?

    First, I try to find him on social media. Nothing. Then, I Google his name and the city of my high school. I find a woman whose last name was McLean. Her obituary says she was preceded in death by her nephew, John McLean.

    Wait, my John McLean?

    Okay, technically, not mine. But still. I need to know: is John McLean dead?

    I sign onto my high school alumni site, something I’ve never done, browse the yearbooks, and narrow down a year when he appears. I scroll through the grainy photos one by one, wondering if I’ll even recognize him, until…bingo! There he is, with the eyes and nose of a lion, grinning like someone who’s just been reprimanded and doesn’t give a shit. I must have drooled over that photo all summer long when I was fifteen. Of course I’d recognize it!

    Where did he go after high school? I spend another hour searching through archives of old newspapers, and then…this:

    John McLean was found dead near his truck in Half Moon Bay. He was 29 years old.

    It can’t be!

    I count back from the year of publication, and that puts this John smack-dab in the middle of my high school, at the exact moment of time that I attended.

    I’ve found him.

    Dead. At 29.

    So young!

    No wonder he never appeared on Facebook or Twitter or any social media site. He died before they were invented!

    According to the obit, John was an avid pilot. A pilot?—I had no idea he loved to fly. He raised bunnies and cattle. John McLean? A rancher?

    Now, I’m consumed by his story. I need to know what happened. But it’s 2 a.m., time to turn off the light, which I do, feeling spooked and saddened and wistful, spinning “what-ifs” in my brain.

    What if I track down his sisters? According to the newspaper, they lived in San Jose at the time of his death. Do they still live there? Would it be weird to ask them what happened? (Yes! Not to mention creepy.)

    What if I dig into the archives of the Half Moon Bay Review to find out about the accident that killed him?

    What if I search his college alumni website?

    What if I phone Karen, who I haven’t seen in thirty? forty? years, and say, “Remember John McLean?”

    “Who?”

    “John McLean. From high school.”

    “Nuh-uh.”

    “Oh, come on.The guy with the long pea coat.”

    “I don’t know. Maybe. Why?”

    “He died when he was twenty-nine.”

    “Ohhhh-kay.”

    What if I talk Karen into flying to California to join me as an amateur sleuth?

    What if, by finding out what happened to John McLean, I am somehow changed in the process? (Having less to do with the boy I remember, and more to do with the youth I’ve lost.)

    Then, I’ve got the makings of a memoir.

    Unless…

    What if I fictionalize this story? I’m agoraphobic, haven’t stepped outside my cottage in ten years, and this obsession over John McLean is the one thing that gets me to face my fear. It’s no cake-walk, going out into the world, tracking down the sisters, retracing his steps from high school to his final day on Earth. There are obstacles I need to work around (with the help of a side-kick, of course), not to mention the fear I need to overcome. But something drives me to answer the riddle, which says volumes about me. And what if all my detective work digs up something about John McLean that rocks my world in ways I never could have imagined?

    Then, I’ve got a novel.

    Story is answering the question: what happened? Supply an interesting premise with a universal theme (who hasn’t wanted to track down an old crush?), appealing characters, a mystery, and a quest that forces the protagonist to change, and you’re well on your way to keeping your readers burning the midnight oil.

    Whatever happened to John McLean?

    I’m hooked.

    Is it just me?


  3. How to Go Down When the Ship of Life is Sinking

    May 28, 2017 by Diane

    For the love of God, jump!

    I can’t remember the last time I laughed. I mean one of those stress-busting hearty belly laughs where tears stream down my cheeks and I can’t breathe. In a good way.

    My workplace took a turn for the serious. The ship is sinking. At first it listed. We added more weight to even things out, but all that weight filled the ship with water, and now we’re going down like the Titanic. Some people jumped overboard. Others were pushed, gently and with great sadness, to lighten the load. The rest of us are bailing water like crazy and occasionally getting into catfights.

    There’s a rescue ship on the horizon. We can see it, but it’s not here yet.

    So we offload more weight and strap on life preservers.

    This is the third sinking ship I’ve been on. The first was a travel adventure company that adventured it’s way straight into bankruptcy. The second was a nonprofit that managed their books so badly they didn’t realize they were out of profits until I developed a budget, brought in an ace accountant, and pointed out: the money? It’s gone.

    What’s the common denominator?

    Me!

    Am I the hex that brings these ships to their nautical knees?

    Or am I just boarding the wrong ships?

    At a writer’s conference one summer, a respected writer/teacher/book reviewer brutally edited my short story. The first paragraph alone was so bloody from the red pen, the page sobbed in pain. I told myself, I’m not a writer, I’m an actress, and marched across the quad to the empty theater, sat in the back row, and cried.

    Wrong ship?

    On Saturday nights, KQED airs movies. This week, it was the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. As I watched, transfixed, I remembered working on that show in college, watching from the lighting booth every night while lusting over the set construction manager who lusted over one of the dancers. I remembered dancing the ballet sequence in another R & H musical, Oklahoma, when my partner almost dropped me into the orchestra pit. I remembered shimmying on the grocery store checkout counter as Babe Secoli in the musical Working, and belting songs with a cockney accent in The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.

    I remembered those smells, those roars. My heart yearned for what was missing, like a long lost love. I told myself, that’s the ship I belong on, not this sinking tub I’m on now.

    Here’s the thing. I could bail, but the lifeboat is sinking too.

    It’s not a matter of finding the right vessel for my voyage. It’s a passenger issue.

    I was one of those cats fighting last week. That isn’t me. The real me finds humor in the nutty stuff that drives us nutty. But there I was, snarling, showing my claws, ready to jump. Stress will do that to me.

    I haven’t found the humor in the situation yet.

    However. Until the rescue boat arrives (and it will arrive), I’m committed to going down dancing and singing. I’ll be like those musicians on the Titanic who refused to abandon their instruments, sawing away on their violins as screams filled the air, because as long as they still had breath, nothing had the power to take away their music.