Saturday, October 24, 2009

C'est la vie et la vie à écrire

I have never been so frustrated in my whole life, but I'm young yet.

After going over some changes suggested by one of my critique partners, a whole section of new writing was lost. I finally found it in an old file and it took a while to find the right place to insert it. I've decided to lengthen the story by spinning out more of the time, adding details and back story. The book is better for it, but it's still frustrating to have to keep going over the same territory so many times. This is my least favorite part of writing -- rewriting and the seemingly endless editing. I wish I could simply write a book and not have to go over it more than once with the editor, but(the writing life).

In the rest of my life, things are moderately out of whack because I've spent so much time in my writing life, but there are worse ways to live. The lines between lives have been pretty blurred lately, but that is temporary -- I hope.

Judy from Mountain Mama's deli called me today to tell me she had read the first three chapters of one of my works in progress twice. She said there were lots of hooks and she wanted to know when she could expect more chapters -- like tomorrow. She's worried the heroine isn't going to make it and will come to a bad end. I've decided to keep her in the dark. If she's interested enough to read it twice and demand more chapters, then it's a good bet publishers will do the same. She did mention that one of my characters is very spiritual and it's odd that I didn't see that aspect of the character. It happens sometimes when a writer is too close to the story. It's a good thing, though, since that means the characters are evolving while I take dictation.

I received the last pages of the horrible novel from the Italian author who writes chapter long monologues and I'm so glad. Thirty-three more pages to go and I'm done with him. Elaine told me that when she started doing critiques she knew she'd have at least one good manuscript in every 25, now it's more like 1 in 75. Since this is my first one, I have 73 more bad manuscripts to go. Oh, joy!

Fringe is off the air for another two weeks and that's another reason I don't like commercial television. I'd rather wait until the series is over and on DVD. Then I can watch the whole thing and curse the producers and networks for canceling the show just when it's getting good and leaving the characters--and me--hanging. After all, it is all about me and networks should take that into consideration. I'm also waiting for the other three Doctor Who special movies that were promised at the beginning of the year. So far, there has been only one and the BBC never said anything about the Highlander and "The Gathering."

Well, that's enough for now. I have an autobiography to read and review and the last pages of the Italian's manuscript to critique and I'd like to get a little sleep tonight. With the way things have been going, I'll probably get very little sleep.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tarot: Sharing the wealth

When the moving finger writes and the Wheel of Fortune turns, it always comes around again -- as does karma. What you reap is what you sow and what you are given is multiplied. Now it's time to share.

10 of Swords

The man in the Ten of Swords looks dead -- or just beat and at the end of his strength. A timid deer moves closer to take a look and overhead crows fly. Crows are psychopomps, guides of the dead and carriers of the spirit. They are flying away, so the man is in no danger of dying. Since the deer moves closer, it is obvious the man is no threat. The deer is also the symbol of purity of purpose, its nimble feet carrying it into the light that shines from the swords hanging above the man's body. The deer is also a symbol of strength and longevity. The race is not over, just this part of it.

The Ten of Swords is a message that it's time to hang on when you think you cannot go another step. The tide is about to turn and the Wheel of Fortune has come around. With a little bit of hope and determination, you will find you can go one more step, and one more step is all that's needed to gain solid ground because the reward for which you have worked so hard is at hand. Just as the swords glow and shed their pure light on the man, holding back the twilight sky to light the way, so does the Ten of Swords signify that your time is at hand.

5 of Wands

Five men contend with other, pitting their strength and skills against each other, but the Five of Wands is not a battle to the death, but a time of scrutiny and attention to detail. These men are learning from each other and sharing their skills and experience with each other like brothers at arms training to battle the foe. In the grass beneath their feet, butterflies flit among the cattails and two mice seek food in the grass beneath the late afternoon sky.

The butterflies are the symbols of metamorphosis, grace and balance and the mice pay attention to the smallest details, assessing strengths and weaknesses.

This is the time to help yourself, like the butterfly that must battle its way out of the cocoon in order to strengthen its wings and earn its survival, a time to know yourself and reach your ultimate potential as the mouse knows where to find food and how to squeeze through the smallest spaces to get where it wants to go. Although the men compete with each other, each is also competing with himself. As you learn about yourself, take the opportunity to grow and help your companions grow and get better.

The Five of Wands reminds me of Jacob wrestling with the angel to earn the right to found a nation. Jacob was given a new name to honor his struggle. One thing Jacob was aware of was his motive; he dreamt of taking all he had learned and earned and making the most of it, of creating a new life and sharing what he had learned with his children and his people. That is the message of the Five of Wands. Improve yourself and society and use what you have learned to build, not destroy, for surely as you use your knowledge to destroy others, you will be destroyed.

10 of Pentacles

An open chest overflows with bright pentacles. A ferret looks into the chest with a smile on his furry little face while below in the grass a turtle moves methodically and slowly on his way, unaware of the wealth falling around him and unconcerned about anything but the task at hand. Who has left the chest open and why is it unattended. Doesn't the owner care that someone will steal what he has gathered? No.

The Ten of Pentacles, like the Ten of Swords, is the end of a cycle. At the beginning, the Fool started with a single pentacle and through hard work and wise investment he has increased the gift he was given tenfold and now he is ready to repay his debt with interest.

I am always reminded of the biblical tale of the two servants and the ten talents when I look at the Ten of Pentacles. One servant buried his talents in the ground to await his master's turn while the other servant took the talents he was given and multiplied them, returning the original ten talents to his master along with the fruits of his investments. He shared the wealth while the other servant merely hoarded what he had been given.

The Ten of Pentacles reminds us to share the wealth, to give something back to the Universe. Whatever talents or gifts you were given and have increased by practice and wise investments should now be shared. Like the ferret whose sharp intuition and acute sensitivity give it the edge in knowing what and how to make the most of the least, make the most of the gifts you have been given by sharing them with those who need it most. My motto has always been that knowledge is wasted when it isn't shared.

The turtle in some cultures is viewed as an invitation to share blessings of heaven and earth, providing a doorway between worlds, between what was and what could be. All you need to do is walk through it. As always, with the four elements, ten symbolizes the end of a cycle. It's a time to rest, re-evaluate and share what has been learned and earned. Now is that time. Don't hold onto anything you can't use; spread it around.

* * *

A woman has reached the end of the trail. She is tired and foot swore and doesn't feel she can go another step. She falls to the ground, worn to the nub. What she doesn't realize is that the end of her journey is just beyond the trees that close in around her. She has learned so much on her journey and she brings help and knowledge back to the people of her town, but in order to fulfill her task and share what she has learned, she must get up and walk one more step through the trees. Just one more step is all that's left of her long and arduous journey. One more step and she can rest.

What was the reason for the woman's journey? What did she seek and what knowledge has she earned? What hurdles did she face and climb? What has she learned? Will she fail or will she succeed now that she is so close? Will someone come looking for her and help her get home or will she rouse herself for one last push? What story do the cards tell you?

* * *

One thing I have learned is that the Wheel of Fortune keeps turning whether we succeed or fail. Throughout our lives, especially as writers, there is a time to learn and a time to share what has been learned. Maybe it's time to share what you've learned, so find someone who is need of what you know and share it. Be sure your motives are pure and you are ready to move forward. Until you give a little of what you have learned back, cast your seeds into the fertile ground, you cannot move on. Will you stay down, weary of the struggle, or will you get up and take that final step, open your bag of tricks and share your treats? You can either bury your talents or increase them and share the proceeds. It's all up to you.

Until next week, give the tarot cards a chance to show you the stories they contain. The Fool's journey is the journey of every character and your journey as a writer. Take a leap of faith, trust your instincts, and use what the Universe has given you no matter where it leads you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Win a book and stretch your writing muscles

There was a box on the porch this afternoon and it was from Simon & Schuster. Yes, the latest Chicken Soup book(All in the Family) is out. The box contained ten books. I had promised several to family and close friends and autographed those, but I have one more book left, other than my own copy, to give. I didn't think I'd go through eight books so quickly, but there is actually a demand for the book.

So I've decided to give the book to the person with the best reason for why I should send it to them. Make me laugh. Make my cry. Tug on my heart strings. It's your choice. I'll sign and send the book to the person with the best story. Neatness and grammar count. You have until Halloween, October 31st, to tell me why the book should be yours. I'll announce my decision then.

Since I'm feeling generous and there is one more copy of Past Imperfect left, I'll offer a signed copy to whomever gives me the best reason why my novel should be theirs. Same rules and deadline apply. Let the games begin.

My days and nights have begun to blur together a bit and I'm feeling a little out of sync, but that will pass -- I hope. One thing I have learned is that a spirited discussion with people of like minds, especially writers, goes a long way to stimulating the little grey cells and making the evenings much more interesting. Case in point, a discussion I had this evening with one of my favorite people about point of view and writers who don't read outside their chosen genre. In short, they're narrow minded idiots.

Too strong, you say? Not at all.

The example I used was composers and musicians, like Andrew Lloyd Webber (See? I did remember.) who has used children's songs (School Days for Music of the Night) and other folk songs and classical music to build an impressive and accessible body of work. He's not the first nor will he be the last. Musicians and composers use whatever appeals to them to create new music. During the 17th and 18th centuries many composers used common folks songs as a basis for more complex and what is now called classical music. Chopin was a past master at this, as was Beethoven, but most of the composers did the same thing. If you prefer a more modern example, take jazz, which borrows riffs from all types of music to create a new type of music with the old music as a seed at the core.

In writing, it's no different.

Take an outline for a story or a chapter by chapter synopsis. Lay out the characters and traits, the plot and rising and falling actions and give it to five different writers. Using the same starting point, each of the writers will come up with completely different stories, even though they started from the same material. Not only that, but how they write the story (the voice) will be completely different and unique to each writer.

I'll give you a contemporary example. Jane Smiley took Shakespeare's King Lear and turned it into A Thousand Acres, borrowing the plot, characters and motivations and turning it into a much different story. Shakespeare's play is evident in the basics, but the resulting story Jane Smiley wrote has its own unique voice, style and actions. The motivations of the characters are toned down a bit, but there are jazz riffs all through the story that bring it from a different place.

Think it's a lot of fancy talk? Try it. Take a story by any writer. List the characters and write a synopsis of the plot and motivations, then write the story from your point of view and see where you end up. You will find though the basics are the same, the story is uniquely yours.

I read that Jane Smiley studied the classics and read widely in literature from all parts of the world, including a Japanese classic book, The Tale of Genji. Stephen King write in his book, On Writing that a writer should read and read widely.

Don't read just in our own genre. Read nonfiction. Read fiction of every stripe and category, including literary fiction. Read the classics. Read plays. Read commentaries, but read. Read everything you can get and don't stop reading. Don't be afraid it will taint your work; it will do just the opposite. Reading widely will refine your technique and give you a wider and more comprehensive view, not only of writing, but of how other writers create worlds and stories.

And don't be afraid to experiment with point of view. Use them all. Get out of your comfort zone and stretch your writing muscles. Your writing and your understanding of how to write will improve faster and better than with all the writing how-to books in the world. You will find your writing will become richer and more interesting and you will be a better writer. Don't copy another writer's style, but learn how they accomplished what they did. Take it apart. Analyze it and then read it again for fun.

Herman Melville worked on whaling vessels to learn what happened on such voyages. While he worked on one whaler he laboriously copied, word for word, a book from a writer he admired. No one was allowed to touch his copying. When he was finished, he tossed his work overboard. One of the other whalers asked him why and he said it was because he learned what he needed to know -- how to write.

You don't have to copy another writer's book, but you should take the time to read and learn from successful writers. Find out how the trick was done. Then experiment and find out what you can do with the same tools and basics.

Writers who don't read outside of their genre are wasting their time and putting themselves in a very narrow pigeonhole. It's scary moving out of your comfort zone. Try it anyway. You can always retreat back to your narrow world, but I'll bet you will be changed -- for the better.

That is all. Disperse.