Decluttering

I just deleted twenty-seven emails. This may not sound like a blog-worthy task to you, but trust me, it is.

I tend to be a bit of a hoarder by nature—not one of the obviously-in-need-of-therapy kind that they do television shows about, but more of a save-this-in-case-I-need-it type. That mentality has served me well in the past because I’ve saved things that I did, indeed, need in the future. But oftentimes my “saving things” resulted in piles of (organized) stuff in many different resting places. We had so many saved things lying about our house that when we did need to find something, it took forever, or worse, we never found it due to the massive nature of our “collection.”

Because we had so little space in our cars when we moved back to Arkansas from Nevada, we ended up weeding out of lot of things just to make the trip back. That inspired me to make a major push to clean out some of “saved things.” (I refuse to call my stuff “junk,” okay?)  We cleaned out the garage, had a yard sale, donated carloads of stuff to Goodwill. It was liberating and I honestly feel better about decluttering (most of) my life.

However, it occurred to me that while my home was looking pretty spiffy, my inbox was a big ole’ hot mess.

When I started to seriously pursue this writing thing, I did what I think most newbie writers do—research. I went online searching for the best resources, reading the most popular blogs, registered for message boards and author newsletters, and followed every author, agent, and publisher I could on Twitter.  That resulted in a lot of information.

It also resulted in a lot of email.

There’s a lot to be gained by reading every scrap of information you can about the craft of writing. I want to be a successful writer. I want my manuscripts to appeal to readers, agents and publishers. I want to “get it right.”  Reading writing blogs and following agents is helping me to craft the best stories that I can. I can say with all certainty that my manuscripts are better off than they would have been if I had just started with no information, blindly jabbing at the idea of writing and occasionally landing on a good idea or well-written sentence.

I’ve noticed is that my writing suffers when I am actively trying to remember every nugget of information I have read on the craft of writing. Instead of writing my story I’m thinking, “Is this inciting event strong enough…does this character’s arc work…is this showing or telling…do I need that dialog tag…does this setting seem unique…” All of that bumbling around my brain when I’m trying to write a scene causes it to stall and it just gives me a lot of stress and doubt.  Instead I should be focusing on my character’s voice and how they’re going to deal with the thing I’m throwing at them.

I’ve had to actively learn how to keep what I know in the back of my head and let it become “white noise” while I’m writing. I wish I could tell you the steps to do this, but I can’t. It’s a daily struggle for me to “just write” instead of “write it, think about it, edit it, reread it, revise it, think about it, ask my crit partner about it, rewrite it again.”

Another issue I’m facing is that I’m working again, so my time is limited. I no longer have hours every day to read the blogs, author emails and spend more hours than I care to admit on Twitter.  I’m forced to make my writing “count” now.

With all that in mind, I decided one way to combat the issue of having too much in my head is to declutter my inbox. The twenty-seven emails I deleted were author newsletters, blog posts and book deals. Yes, I’d love to support every one of those authors, read every one of those books, and consider each blog post. But while I am doing those things, my manuscript is sitting there with a blinking cursor beckoning me.

I’m not going to ignore good advice from great sources, but I am going to attempt to maximize what I read for the greatest effect. Since I’m going to soon be querying a YA Historical Fantasy, I can put that adult romance author’s newsletter on the back burner. Because I’m working on a NA Contemporary Humor manuscript currently, I don’t necessarily need to read that blog about crafting the perfect Sci-Fi setting.  And do I really need to add another book to my TBR pile?

Okay, yes, to that one.

Hopefully the decluttering of my inbox will result in a little decluttering of my writer brain, and in return, yield some fantastic words. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now I have to go find that box my husband was looking for last night and delete two more emails that came in while I was typing this blog!

 

 

 

 

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What I Learned from Jason Bourne

…How to kick butt and look good doing it, obviously. But that’s not what I’m going to discuss today.

Readers of this blog already know I was an unpaid extra in Jason Bourne. I was fortunate enough to go to the Aria casino two days in February and witness the making of a big scene in the movie. Note: There will be NO SPOILERS here. Just generalizations.

The scene was the EXO-Con convention scene. In this particular scene a *thing* happened and chaos ensued. The first day that I filmed, there were about 300 extras in attendance. We were ushered into the room and filled in the seats at the front. We sat around a lot and then took our directions. (Those born in January, stand up when so-and-so is announced. Those born in Feb, boo when so-and-so is announced.) Then we played our parts as several actors—one of which was Oscar-winning Alicia Vikander—were introduced by the announcer at the Con. We cheered at the appropriate times, acted shocked at an announcement made, then we ran our little booties off after the *thing.*

And we did it over and over and over and over.

The director, Paul Greengrass, moved us all over that room. Some of us moved to the back, some slid over to the right, some stood up, some came in from the side as the scene was called.  He moved the cameras around just as much as he did the people. Each take was a different angle or different action by the crowd. It was fascinating to see how many different things he was doing with the same set of people and same set of words. We probably did the same scene upwards of twenty times on the first day. But that was just the first day. He did the same thing for the same scene for the entire week.

The second day I went to the set, Matt Damon was introduced into the scene. Because you can’t have a Bourne movie without Bourne, right? (We don’t talk about that “other” Bourne movie, okay?) I’ve already fangirl gushed over how awesome Matt Damon is, so I won’t do that again. But it’s important to note this was the same scene, only a few seconds after the *thing* occurs. On this day of filming there were 1200 extras in the building. Matt made the comment that it was the largest group of extras he’d ever worked with. So that’s a lot of moving parts and fangirly people hanging on his every word! But the filming was exactly the same as it had been. Only this time we got to watch Jason Bourne run around. Literally. And because he’s Matt Damon, the focus was completely on him the entire day. The scene stayed the same but he was the star. Just as you’d expect.

When I saw the movie, my friends and I scoured the scene, looking for my face. Sadly, we didn’t see me. (Though there will be a frame-by-frame investigation when the DVD is released!) What struck me as crazy was that very little of what he filmed that week actually made it into the film. Case in point: At the con, one of the actors gave a heart-felt speech in which he told the story of how he came to the conclusion to do this *bad thing* and why he did it and he ended up asking forgiveness in the end. It was probably a good 3-4 minutes long. On screen it was maybe 20 seconds.  The meat of his confession was left on the cutting room floor. But that didn’t matter because the viewer got what was going on with just that 20 seconds on the film. The extra 3 ½ minutes wasn’t necessary to understand this was a remorseful guy trying to make amends.

As I recalled all the fun (and exhaustion) from those days filming, I began to see where I could draw parallels from my experience as an extra and apply them to my writing.

CHANGE YOUR CAMERA ANGLES: Don’t be afraid to experiment with your scenes. Look at them from different angles. Would the plot be better served if someone else was speaking? Would the scene have more tension if it were outdoors while raining instead of on a comfy sofa? Would the character react one way externally and another internally? Move things around. Change things up. Look at your scenes through a close-up lens, then zoom out to wide angles to vary them.

USE YOUR STAR: I tend to love my supporting folks a lot—they’re the ones that typically share news the protagonist needs, or they argue with the MC, or simply add the comic flavor to a manuscript.  All that is fine, but don’t forget who your star is. Your protagonist’s reactions should be driving the plot. I mean, Jason Bourne needs to be taking out people with nothing but a bendy straw, not his best friend. (Well, if he had a best friend.)

EDITING IS CRUCIAL: That backstory about your MC scarred childhood when he stepped on a frog and is now terrified of frogs isn’t necessary. That is, unless he comes face-to-face with a hideous slimy frog. (Which is the worst thing I can imagine.) As writers, we bring our characters to life. And we often cannot do that unless we KNOW these characters. It’s fine for them to have a backstory, just keep mentions of it brief. If’ you can say it in twenty words as opposed to 350, then say it in twenty words. It makes things tighter and the reader will be less likely to wander away. Spend time really cutting out what isn’t competently necessary to drive the plot. Case in point: That car chase scene down the Las Vegas Strip? Paul Greengrass did not share why Jason Bourne took the particular car he did and the story of the guy he “borrowed” it from.What we say was Jason Bourne getting in the car and speeding away like a boss. That’s all we needed.

 

Keep writing and kicking butt like Jason Bourne!

And In Time, We Will All Be Stars

November is National Novel Writing Month. In short, writers commit to writing 50,000 words, the  better part of a novel, in thirty days. NaNoWriMo is not for the faint of heart. It is a laborious task that can seem daunting at the least and downright impossible at the most.

Given that I am 65,000 words into my work in progress, a YA Fantasy based on the ancient Mayan creation story, I have decided to NaNoWriMo a little differently this time. My goal is to finish the novel within the first week of the month. Let things simmer (meaning: DO NOT GO BACK AND READ IT) during the second week. Then, take the following two weeks (and a couple days!) to begin revisions.

I am at a crucial point in my story and because I am a “pantser” and didn’t know exactly where my story was going to land, I have found myself struggling with the ending. (Though my fabulous and wise Crit Partner could tell you I pretty much struggled through the ugly middle part too! Thankfully I can trust her not to share my deepest inner writer freak-out moments OR the strange rabbit holes my brain takes me down at times.)

For this manuscript, I know what the two POV MCs need to go through at the end. I was just not sure how to make it happen effectively. So, I spent a little of my writing time yesterday searching for inspiration. I had pretty much exhausted all of my Mayan culture references and was still coming up short. But something I wrote as a “place holder” line stuck in my head and I couldn’t let it go.  The line was something to the effect of “burn with the fire of a million stars.”

I tried to figure out where I had heard that before because it kept coming into my head with a specific tune. Then I was hit over the head with my past. That line, and that particular tune were from one of my favorite songs in the classic 1980 film, “Fame.”  (Yes, I was one of “those” nerds that not only had an intense love of all things Sci-Fi, but also stricken with a case of Broadway dreams.) The song was based on a Walt Whitman poem, so you can imagine the intensity that this word-geek loved that! The lyrics to the song and the poem itself are spectacular.

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

So, after I read the poem a few times, away to youtube, I went. I found a clip of the song. Just listening to it did the trick to open up my mind. The score of the song fit in perfectly for the scene I was working on, starting out in a vulnerable place, then building into a crescendo. I was able to find inspiration and a jumping point for a pretty large reveal in the scene I was writing. All was right with the world.

But, I caution you, my writer friends. This tale does not lead to a happy ending.

After I heard the song a few times, it was in my head. And I started remembering how much I loved not only that movie, but the TV show that followed it. Which led me to googling Lee Curreri, as he played Bruno Martelli, my favorite character from the movie and tv show. (Even named one of my characters in a previous MS, Martelli!) So I spent longer than I care to admit seeing what he’s been up to since the days of Fame. (A lot, actually. He’s a working composer in Hollywood with some decent credits. Ooooh, I wonder if he’d score a book trailer? Hm…)

So, the moral of my tale is this:Inspiration doesn’t have to match your genre or draw directly from your outline. Consider favorite old songs, poems you wrote in high school, movies from your childhood. Inspiration can be found anywhere. Just don’t let it get in the way of your writing.

For more info on NaNoWriMo, click HERE.

And to see my inspiration, I Sing the Body Electric from FAME, click HERE.

Me and Jeff Goldblum

As I backed out of my driveway yesterday, I noticed a dead fly on the dashboard of my car. It was a pretty big fly. Big enough for me to detect flecks of green and gold in its lifeless body. I thought to myself, “Poor guy, he probably fried to death in the sweltering southern sun.”  Then I thought, “What are you thinking? It’s a fly, a pesky, buzzing, menace to society. It doesn’t matter if he fried, choked, or succumbed to old age! IT’S A FLY. Dead flies are good.”

I vowed to get rid of the corpse as soon as I came to the first traffic stop.

So I drove along my route as I normally do, singing along with Ed Sheeran (because he’s Ed Sheeran). I was right at the bridge of the song, time to really belt it out, when I approached the stop sign. I applied the brakes and something surprising happened. The force of the car slowing flipped the dead fly over. He was no longer belly-up as he had been. He was suddenly standing there on his spiky spindly fly legs. And I thought, “Hm, SCIENCE!” Then I tried to remember what type of force it was that created the phenomenon and how many legs flies have.

When I passed through the intersection and was underway again, naturally, I paid attention to the road and the other drivers. But, something caught my eye. It was a tiny flicker of movement first, but it increased until I had no choice but to investigate. Imagine my surprise when I realized the fly was alive and he was staring in my direction, taunting me, daring me to swat him away.

I knew at that point there were three possibilities. One, the fly had been playing opossum, or some insect version of opossum (ladybug?). Two, the virus is real and this fly is a Walker. Or three, it was stunned and had regained consciousness. I was forced to quickly discount my first two wild (but creative!) theories, so I decided my third theory was correct. This fly was a fighter and it wanted to live.

So I named him Jeff Goldblum.

I watched Jeff Goldblum attempt to crawl across my dashboard. He was wobbly, but he was moving. He inched along, a few steps at a time. Soon he had somehow managed to limp almost five inches toward the window. See, Jeff Goldblum was a smart fly and he instinctively the way to freedom.  (Or remembered the way he came in.)

By the time I turned onto the street by my office, I was rooting for Jeff Goldblum. I cracked my window to show him the way, like a lighthouse shining through the  dawn mist guiding sailors home. He fluttered his wings, bouncing and hitting the dashboard hard, but he would not give up. I spoke to him. “You can do it, “I said. “Fly, Jeff Goldlum, fly!” I said.

For a brief shining moment he took flight. He ascended into the air, hovered for what was probably a lifetime to him. (Roughly three seconds for me.) Then he plummeted downward,crashing in front of me and slowly drifting his way toward the gap in my steering wheel column.

I gasped in horror. Was this the end for Jeff Goldblum? It couldn’t be. He had a life yet to live. He had places to buzz and leftover food to devour and people to annoy. I didn’t want him to be dead.  I wanted him to live.

After what seemed a long time to me (probably another three seconds in actuality) Jeff Goldblum twittered to life. I had never been so excited! (At least that morning anyway.)

So I did what any good and benevolent lifeform would do. I used a discarded menu found in the recesses of my car and I scooped Jeff Goldblum from his precarious perch and I carefully opened the car door, depositing him among the flowers in our beautifully landscaped flower bed.

I don’t know what happened to Jeff Goldblum. I’d like to think he regained his full strength, flew to a nearby rosebush and met the fly of his dreams (Geena Davis, of course.)  After a honeymoon in the Landfill, they’ll come back and make hundreds of little fly babies.

(Okay, maybe not the fly babies part.)

The moral of this story. writers, is to give your characters goals and then give them a thousand different roadblocks to keep them from them.  I don’t like flies, yet when I found one that faced an insurmountable odds, I rooted for him.  I wanted him to succeed in getting to freedom, so much so that I helped him to do it.

Sometimes it is difficult to put our characters into challenging situations, but if we do, we create characters that readers WANT to win. They journey with them, experiencing the pain, the torment, the obstacles, along with them. They have no choice but to keep reading to see them succeed, or sometimes, fail.

I’m going to remember Jeff Goldblum because he was a profound, if not strange, reminder to make my characters struggle to get what they want. I want to give my readers someone and something to root for.

Like Jeff Goldblum.

hashtag amwritingchallenge

This month I am participating in the #amwritingchallenge. Writers are posting photos of various things on a list to their Instagram or Twitter accounts. (I’m posting on Instagram.)

I think this is a cool idea because it not only because it builds a community of people who are going through the same things, but it allows writers to give some thought to the thing we love to do–write.

Yesterday’s challenge was to post a pic of the view FROM WHERE I WRITE. Today’s challenge is a PAGE FROM YOUR MANUSCRIPT.

Already on Day 2 I have gained new Instagram followers/friends and have enjoyed seeing the myriad of pictures from all over the place. Today I’ve even gotten to peek inside some awesome manuscripts!

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes up during the rest of the month. If you’re a writer, consider joining me for this fun challenge.

amwritingchallenge

To check out my #amwritingchallenge photos, visit my Instagram page.

Cherished Memories

Firstly, a belated thank you to all of you who serve in the military and gratitude to those who have passed on in service to our country.

In the spirit of Memorial Day, I’ve recently been giving a lot of thought to memory.

I don’t want to go too much into detail and give the plot of my current fantasy project away just yet, but I’ll tell you that memory plays a big part in the manuscript. I did some flash fiction exercises to help me flesh out the characters yesterday. From time to time, I like sharing these little exercises with you or give you a little peak into my brain as I develop these characters.

Here are the 100(ish) word pieces describing cherished memories or things they’d like to remember.

(I’m not quite ready to give up many character names yet, so you’re kind of flying blind here. Sorry about that.)

My little sister is not the same since she escaped the jungle. I remember her laugh most of all. When she laughed it seemed like it bubbled up from her toes like water, free and smooth and full of energy. When she was a baby my Papa used to shake his medicine stick at her and she’d gurgle for what seemed like hours. The rest of us would always end up laughing with her. As she grew older she still found joy in the smallest of things, like hummingbirds or juicy green apples or teasing me about getting married one day.  I miss that.

*

I wish I could remember the day I was born. I’d love to see the look on my mother’s face when she tied my quipus around my chubby little baby wrist. I can imagine the love that went into tying each knot, identifying every trait I was born with, wishing on each my birth stars. I can only imagine her humming lullabies to me, showing me off to my brothers. She’d never believed they’d grow to hate me or that my own father would think I’m a disappointment. Nope, she believed in me from the minute she saw my sweet little face. I feel it when I look at the stars.

*

Logically, I should say I would like to remember the day I first got my power. It was an important day in my life and I should pay it the honor it deserves. But if I put logic aside, I think I’d choose the day Chip and I abandoned our lessons to go swimming in the waterfall a few years ago. We spent hours splashing and swimming and just being free from restrictions before Chip got stung by the sunset fish. I had to carry him most of the way back, but I didn’t mind. That’s what friends do.

*

Carina and I used to race the king’s horses for fun. Of course, I’d usually win, but this time I had big plans to let her win. She’d be so happy she’d have no choice but to fall into my arms in gratitude. That was the plan anyway. But a sudden summer storm came out of nowhere and spooked our horses. We ended up riding out of control until the horses almost collapsed outside an abandoned barn. We had no choice but to go inside and wait the storm out. Hm. I never did thank those horses.

*

Once Dorado and I were out riding the king’s horses and got stranded in a storm. I’d actually kept an eye on the clouds rolling in for hours and I knew we’d get stuck in it. As usual, I had an eye on the back of Dorado’s horse too because I always let him win our races. Plus, don’t tell him this, but he looks hot on the back of a horse. By the time we found the barn, we were both dripping wet and laughing about it. That was the first time he kissed me.

*

When my eldest son Phoenix, came back to the palace with the first skull, I knew my reign would be triumphant. The Star Gazer had foretold of power and riches, but I didn’t dream they would come in such a strange form. I felt it as soon as he lay it down on my lap. The power was strong and my pride in Phoenix even stronger. He was born under just the right sign for an heir- brave, competitive, proud. I knew he’d bring me greatness and he did on that day.

I used to have many memories in my head. Not only mine, but the memories of our people too. They’re all gone now. There’s no memories to tell, nothing left to share. There’s only one thought rattling inside my mind now—the jungle. Shadows and nightmares, screams and demons. Nothing makes sense except for the pain. It reminds me of what I’ve done, of what I’ve become. The pain is my friend and it calls to me when I try to speak. It tells me to be still. It waits for me to sleep then comes out to play.