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I saw a post about a contest at Spinetingler Magazine and I decided to send something in. The catch: I don’t have anything that fits the guidelines. The solution: WRITE SOMETHING, DUH.
So I started:
It should be about revenge. It should be 500-1500 words. I can do that standing on my head.
Trouble is, it’s growing. It’s already 500 words and it’s barely started.
Two answers to that:
- Write it until it’s finished, then cut.
- Write it until it’s finished, then send it somewhere else.
A corollary to 2 is: Put it on hold and try again for a shorty and THEN write this one until it’s finished. That may be what I’ll do. I have some 100-word revenge stories I could flesh out, and I may try that.
Anybody have any two-cents’-worth to put in on the subject?
writing prompt: Is revenge sweet, or is it ashes in your mouth? What about various characters you’ve created? Write a character who ALWAYS relishes revenge. Now make him/her experience remorse over one triumph.
Why This and Not That
Indie film critic, Daria MacClellan, wants to marry the man she loves, but she’s slipping on rose petals as if they were banana peels on her way to the altar. Big, beautiful and rebellious, Daria, who is most comfortable in a monster movie poster T-shirt and blue jeans, finds that her wedding is hijacked by family drama. How did she sign on for a formal wedding planned by Sky, her perfectionist, anorexic, older sister? Daria adores her fiancé and she loves horror films, but her wedding seems to be spiraling downward in that direction. Will a picture perfect pink wedding turn her into the Bride of the Living Dead?
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Your “this, that and a whole lot of the other” blog headline set me to thinking about why we write this or that and so often the other.
I’ve known that I wanted to write since childhood, but what to write did not come that easily. It seemed to make sense to write science fiction stories and build up to book-length fiction, but I couldn’t seem to finish any of the short stories. Finally I started tried collecting small fragments and fitting them together jigsaw puzzle fashion until they started to reach critical mass and I was writing a novel. Surprisingly that worked! I finished the novel. It was a sensitive story of disillusioned youth. A few kind friends read it and said nice things about how much effort it must have taken to finish it. One commented, “It sure has a lot of pages.” Not a good sign.
Some years later I picked up my first novel again and found that I could not manage to finish reading it. That book sits in the closet, but writing it taught me an important lesson: I love to write novels.
I could not write another such book, youth can only be disillusioned once, right? I wanted to write another novel but what did I want to write? A book called out to me from the shelves of a Berkeley bookstore. It was called HOW TO WRITE AND SELL A NOVEL by Jack Woodford, pulp novelist and Hollywood screenwriter. Woodford inspired Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury to write, so I was in good company.
A great deal of the material in the Woodford book, written in 1936, was obsolete, but one piece of advice was well worth the purchase price of the book, “Write what you read.” Most of us tend to do this instinctively, often when reading a not-so-good example of a genre we like and thinking, “I could do better than this.”
I didn’t have much confidence that I could write better than the authors of the books I read most—murder mysteries—but at that point I was reading 80% mysteries, so I gave it a try and it worked. When the book was completed, 400 manuscript pages, I went looking for an agent and found one who would talk to me, I wasn’t so sure that the pages I handed her actually were a mystery.
Fortunately, she liked what she read and told me she would represent me if I would cut every section point when the character sat down to contemplate her past or reflect on her life. There was the ghost of the sensitive novel of disillusioned youth surfacing again!
When I finished cutting those interludes the book was about 75 pages shorter and much more readable. Within a few months the agent was able to sell the mystery and my first book, TERMINATION INTERVIEW, came out in 1988 from St. Martin’s Press.
It’s been a long journey since then, but Woodford’s words hold true and I keep an eye on what I’m reading to see what I want to be writing next!
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Lynne Murray, author of the romantic comedy, Bride of the Living Dead, has had six mysteries published. Larger Than Death, the first book featuring Josephine Fuller, sleuth of size who doesn’t apologize won the Distinguished Achievement Award from NAAFA (the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance). She has written three ebooks of encouragement for writers as well as essays, interviews and reviews on subjects that rouse her passions, many of those can be found under “Rants and Raves” on her web site at http://www.lmurray.com. Lynne lives in San Francisco and when not writing she enjoys reading, watching DVD film directors’ commentaries and spoiling her cats, all of whom are rescued or formerly feral felines.
Web page: http://www.lmurray.com
Bride of the Living Dead: http://www.pearlsong.com/brideofthelivingdead.htm
Author Carol Preflatish tagged me from her blog with the questions below. Please take a few minutes to go visit Carol’s Food Bites.
1. What’s the last thing you wrote? What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?
“Leaving the Turtle”, a science fiction story I’ve submitted to Norilana Press’ WARRIOR WISEWOMAN anthology. Editor Roby James has not accepted it, but she’s given me some great editorial suggestions that have made it a much stronger story, even if she ends up returning it.
The first thing I wrote that I still have is a little piece called “Busman’s Holiday”, a science fiction mystery which I’ve been toying with reworking. I wrote it when I was in middle school or high school, I think. My mother loves it because it has a cute little alien animal in it. I can remember earlier things I wrote, but I had the wit to destroy them years ago. My mother would want me to take particular note of a mystery in which the villain poured a whole bottle of bath oil in the victim’s bath water and softened her to death. Oh, yes, I did write that down on actual paper and gave it to someone to read.
2. Write poetry?
Yup. I don’t count the doggerel I post here as poetry, but I do write poetry on occasion.
3. Angsty poetry?
Not often and not very. Sort of angst-ish, maybe.
4. Favorite genre of writing?
However the story comes out. I tend toward fantasy, but I enjoy writing anything that happens.
5. Most annoying character you’ve ever created?
The most annoying has got to be Packy from DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH, the mystery I racketed out for this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge. The most get-away-from-me character is Darryl Moran from SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING, one of the books soon to be reissued in various eBook versions by Echelon Press.
6. Best plot you’ve ever created?
Maybe FORCE OF HABIT, another of the Echelon re-releases. It’s a farce, with everybody thinking he/she/they know exactly what is going on and everybody mistaken, but all their wrong pursuits come together in the end. Mind you, they’re still wrong, but they’re all happy.
7. Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?
I’m partial to the twist at the end of EEL’S REVERENCE, the third of the Echelon re-releases. I like poetic justice.
8. How often do you get writer’s block?
Never. Any time I can’t get on with a story, it’s because I’ve done something wrong or haven’t thought something through well enough or have neglected something that needs to be there. That isn’t the same as that terrible feeling of knowing what you want to do and not being able to dig out the words and smear them on the paper.
9. Write fan fiction?
I haven’t written any for a long time, but that’s only because I’ve been too busy. I love fan fiction, and I love writing it. I believe in keeping as close as possible to the characters and relationships of the original, though, even though I might push that envelope to the point of silliness. I have some fan fiction stashed on my website, but only gettable-to from my blog. I was told having fanfic on my pro site wasn’t professional. BRRRRAAAAACKKKKK!
10. Do you type or write by hand?
Oh, Mr. Laptop is our friend! I do some writing by hand, and I make a lot of notes in the notebook I carry in my purse, and there is some rewriting that just HAS to be done on paper, but I do so much revision-as-I-go my paper used to be nearly illegible!
11. Do you save everything you write?
Pretty much. I have a binder of just bits. I even keep the results of writing exercises, even free-writes, if they have just one good line or phrase. You never know. I’ve gotten some good stuff out of bits.
12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?
OH, yes! Abandoned stories live in a folder called Working, although I’m thinking of changing the name to Bits and Bobs, because I keep coming across that term in English fiction and it tickles me.
13. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
Hmmm…. Maybe “The Dragon of North 24th Street”, which first appeared in the last issue of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s FANTASY Magazine. Some of the characters were very closely based on people I knew when I was growing up, and Pearl was definitely my Aunt Ruth. She really did threaten to kill a whore and only relented when the woman asked to go buy milk for her baby.
14. What’s everyone else’s favorite story that you’ve written?
“Lonnie, Me and The Hound of Hell”, currently looking for a home.
15. Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
There’s a bit of romance in many of the things I write, and I’ve written a couple of fanfic romances. I like people who like each other, romatically or platonically. I don’t think I’ve ever written angsty teen drama, unless you count the fanfic my high school friends and I used to write.
16. What’s your favorite setting for your characters?
Right now, it’s Spadena Street, the setting for DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH and “The Spirit of Spadena Street” in THE GIFT OF MURDER.
17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?
DOWN AND DIRTH DEATH, the NaNo project for last year, also set on Spadena Street, BAR SINISTER, a couple of stories I want to submit to anthologies in 2010.
18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?
19. What are your five favorite words?
Chantilly, Liliokalani, mumbletypeg, goosefeather, whortleberry and harlequin
20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?
All of them, alas, even the stinky ones. Even Packy. Maybe not Darryl….
21. Where do you get ideas for your characters?
People I know, people I am or have been during my life, pictures in magazines, wondering about people in the news.
22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Not much, but some.
23. Do you favor happy endings?
24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
More so as I rewrite.
25. Does music help you write?
No. I don’t want any music or talk while I’m writing.
26. Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops into your head.
Gah! Everything popped into my head at once! Since I’m thinking of using some backstory from EEL’S REVERENCE for my next short story, I’ll quote a little from that:
“Mind your own business,” said Guerrero. “We’ve got a deal.”
“What deal?” asked Loach. “She’s in danger and you’re not, she does all the work and you just stand around and look fierce? Some deal.”
“She’s backing out. Muriel, stick with old Loach, will you? I’ve charged you first-class prices for second-class coral, and I’ve swiped your tips, but I’d never — ”
“You did what?” said Muriel.
Hmmm…who’s not been tagged yet? How about Joanna Foreman?
writing prompt: An oldie but goodie: Ask your character 10 questions you don’t know the answer to and have him/her answer in his/her own voice.
The story isn’t over. I’m going to keep working at DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH until it’s done, although I expect progress to be much slower once November is over and the Christmas season kicks in. It’s almost time to start Christmas baking, then it’ll be time to start the Christmas eating, and that takes up a considerable amount of my time.
Speaking of eating, so far I’ve managed to come up with a recipe for each chapter of this book. On my #4 daughter’s advice, I don’t put the recipes in the text unless they’re abnormally short, but I’ll include them at the end of the book. For some reason, I’ve been ravenously hungry, the whole time I’ve been writing this….
I had all day to work, and I couldn’t get going. It was like pushing chain uphill, all day. I finally realized what I’d done wrong and went back and fixed it, and then the pace picked up. In a way, I wish I wouldn’t do that, because it does stop things, but I guess that’s better than writing full-tilt and then having to rip it all out. At least it didn’t happen until I was almost at the end of the challenge. Buck Leatherbury just came into the book. I don’t know yet how much he’ll have to do, but I’m thinking he’ll be in it quite a bit here at the end. Moms and J.D. from my unpublished short story, “No Quarter” are in it, too, which I didn’t really expect. BUT NOT BUD! I’m not even setting this in Bud’s town, although I think it’s on the same river. BUT BUD ISN’T IN IT!
writing prompt: Have your main character win something the reward for which is the striving.
I’m up to 46,000+ words, now, still ahead of schedule for the challenge but behind on my personal goal. I may very well catch up, though. I’m getting a good view of the last part of the book, with some scenes I need to put in that’ll go fairly quickly. I hope.
LeJune and Packy aren’t getting along any better. Every so often, I think things are going to get all warm and fuzzy and familial between them, but the family feeling seems to be staying pretty duty-versus-heartfelt. For instance:
Packy was in the kitchen, reading diaries, and Mama was winding up a conversation with one of her friends.
“I better let you go, then,” Mama said. Then she said, “Uh-huh. No, really?” and they were yakking again. It was worse than having a teenager.
Packy had a glass on the table in front of him, empty except for the leavings of one of those effervescent stomach powder drinks.
“After all the bean soup you ate for supper,” I said, “I’d think you were fizzy enough as it is.”
“Gave me indigestion,” he said.
“More likely, it was that hindquarter of beef you had for lunch. A man your age ought not to eat that much in one sitting, especially if you have a delicate stomach.”
I could see he wanted to contradict me, but either he had indigestion or he didn’t.
I’m having a blast with these characters. None of them is anybody I know, but they all have bits of different people I know included in them. You who write, you know how that is. Even if you start out intending to parody somebody or, worse yet, pay a grand tribute to somebody, unless the character becomes somebody else, that character is cardboard. Or, as I prefer to say, a sock puppet.
Haven’t you read books where at least one of the characters is obviously standing in for somebody real? Where a character is just so awful or so perfect the book ought to have a label on it that says Reality Not Included? Or where all the action stops so a character can flap his or her literary lips while the puppeteer makes a speech?
Anyway, I’m in the middle of a fight scene, in which each character participates in his or her own particular way, and it’s getting a little loopy. Gotta go!
writing prompt: Is there a relative you tolerate for the sake of kinship but don’t much like? Use him or her as the basis for a character, but make him/her sympathetic.
I wrote over 3,000 words yesterday! W00t!
DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH is past the 30,000-word mark, and it’s true what they say in the pep talks: By the time you have that much material, you have so much in your mind about plots and characters and motifs, you can’t type fast enough.
I’m very proud of myself, because this morning I wrote my first out-of-sequence bit. I tend to write a bit, then write a bit more and go back and stuck something in and write some more, then go back and insert something or change something else. This year, I’m making heavy use of the Comments feature of Word (and OpenOffice), opening the Comments window and making notes to myself about what to go back and put in later, not now. Now, I’m writing. Later, I’ll revise. And I always write in sequence. I have to write A and transition to B and transition to D through C. Today, I wrote a paragraph and realized it belonged later in the ms and just double-spaced and went on with the scene I was writing. It’ll still be there when I need it. Maybe someday, maybe this very year, I’ll get loose enough to have a file called Bits To Put In Later, where I can stash paragraphs and ideas and conversations that come to me out of sequence. This may not seem like a very big deal to some of you but, to a control freak like me, this is major progress.
Here is a snippet from the book. Mama and LeJune have uncovered a crime their cousin Packy is involved in. They’re investigating it themselves, hoping to keep the family from getting involved with the police. Packy is staying with them temporarily. Packy tends to comment negatively on anything he possibly can, including LeJune’s weight.
“I usually have a snack before bedtime,” he informed us. To me, he said, “I know you do.”
“Can I turn him in now, Mama?” I said, which was just mean.
“I’ll fix it,” Mama said.
Packy and I sat and watched part of some doctor show until Mama came back with toast and hot chocolate.
Packy made a face after his first sip. “What is this?”
“It’s Black Forest flavor,” Mama said. “Got cherry flavoring in it.”
“Well, it tastes like cold medicine.”
“We like it,” I said, dipping my buttered toast into the cocoa and slurping up the soggy bread.
“Ugh!” Packy said, but I notice he drank every drop.
While Mama and I washed up, I said, “I hid the car keys, but I’m afraid the sneaking skunk will call a cab and go back to Aunt Mimi’s house and raid those diaries.”
“That’s just the kind of thing he would do,” Mama agreed. “That’s why I put a shot of cold medicine in his cocoa. He’ll sleep like a baby until we wake him up in the morning.”
Back to work!
writing prompt: Print out five random paragraphs from some of your unfinished pieces (don’t try to kid me–I know you have them). Shuffle them. Put them together in the order they come out. Try to make a coherent storyline out of them.
- Sit down.
- Turn on computer.
- Open file.
- Phone rings. Answer phone. Talk to caller.
- Other phone rings. Answer phone. Talk to both callers at once. Keep them both talking after they’ve tried to get off. Let them hang up.
- Write a line.
- Go back and change seven lines earlier in the story.
- Phone rings. Talk to caller.
- Play Solitaire.
- Play Free Cell.
- Play Minesweeper.
- Write a paragraph. Move it. Move it back. Move it somewhere else.
- Go back and delete an earlier paragraph.
- Phone rings. Talk to caller.
- Open an earlier version of the file and cut three paragraphs from it and paste them into the new file.
- Daughter and grandson come in. Play with grandson. Make lunch and eat with family. Play with grandson. Talk with daughter. Play with grandson.
- Play Solitaire, Free Cell, Minesweeper.
Doesn’t sound like a formula for success, but I actually did finish the story I’ve been working on. It isn’t a technique I would ever recommend for anyone else, but it’s the one I’ve had to learn to work with. I think I sort of sneak up on it, and finish it while it thinks I’m not paying attention to it. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!
writing prompt: Sneak up on a story and write it while it isn’t looking.