Sunday, October 11, 2015

TRAVEL WRITING; LET THE STORY COME TO YOU








BLOG 30


ELAINE





I love to venture forth, be it climbing rocks in Joshua Tree or backpacking in Iceland where my daughter and I traveled last July. “This will be your next book,” my friends predicted, but writing a book about the Icelandic wilderness was never my intent. If I've learned anything about travel writing it's this: one should refrain from seeking adventure with the intention of writing a book. In other words, the story should present itself to you, you can't go to it. Although my trip turned out to be more challenging than I ever could have imagined, with plenty of personalities and situations to color the pages in every gradient of the rainbow, when all was said and done I summed it up in these few lines:



Although we gave it “the old college try” we didn’t make it to the end due to blisters on our heels. I lamented the blisters and kept repeating that I had hiked 100 miles in the Himalayas in THOSE boots with THOSE (Smart Wool) socks, and 35 miles in the Sierra Nevada the summer before without ever developing a single one. Quite honestly it seemed like such a rookie mistake not to bring a pair of sock liners to cushion our feet against the moisture. While I over-the-top prepped for this trek, what I didn’t account for was endless rain on the first two days and the fact that our feet/boots would become miserably soaked. That, plus we had to negotiate the uneven terrain of Iceland where spongy moss, ash drifts, and lava flows created a unique challenge. And to make matters worse, our 62 year old guide, Bryn, didn’t lead a trek across the wilds of Iceland..... he led a MARCH! I continually struggled to bring up the rear, which caused a wee bit of consternation. Luckily, we were able to leave the group on day five when we descended the “wilds” for a scheduled food drop. Six of us were picked up by an Indiana Jones style 4-wheel monster truck that tore across the landscape and bounced through rivers to deliver us on the main highway where we met our connection to  Reykjavik. We later discovered that we didn’t miss much on those final four days; a scheduled glacier crossing was scrapped due to snow, so I guess the choice was a good one. In five days, we did manage to crisscross a portion of the Sioujokull glacier, forded many rivers, and were delighted to soak in a hot spring in camp on night three making the journey all worthwhile.

I've filed this story in the “Live and Learn” category of my adventure repertoire.





Friday, September 25, 2015

SAVE MY GYPSY!



Blog 29
Kristen


Save my Gypsy! 
At Literary Orange Writer’s conference, I asked a panel speaker what books she used to help her in crafting her stories.  One of the books she recommended is Save the Cat by screen writer Blake Synder.  It is a terrific resource and has truly helped me to discover the pitfalls in my current work (not to mention I need to go back and completely rewrite my first two works).

In any event, my current point of struggle he describes on pg150 & 151 as the “turn turn turn” rule.  “The rule is: The plot doesn’t just move ahead, it spins and intensifies as it goes…it is not enough for the plot to go forward, it must go faster, and with more complexity to the climax.”

As I reflect on stories (movies and books) that have captured me from beginning to end, the ‘turn turn turn’ rule is in full play.   The heat is turned up on the protagonist, thus not only revealing character, but keeping me engaged. 

Watching a movie, A Few Good Men for example, illustrates this effortlessly.  It seems like it should be the natural spine to any good story.  And yet, my poor Gypsy seems to be bumping around her story—facing conflicts, yes—but where something of value is at stake, not so much.  

Trying to add this into my story without it feeling contrived is also a challenge.  Synder 
recommends making the bad guy “badder” and having his grip ever tighten on the protagonist.  Okay, I will try that. 

He also suggested making sure what is at stake taps into a primal need such as: survival, sex, hunger, love, acceptance, etc.  Okay, I will try to add that too. 

Thanks for the never ending love, support and inspiration from my Writing Group Women, I will find a way! 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I Was One of the Thousands of Children Adopted from Greece During 1955-1957








BLOG 28
JOANNA

There were three thousand children adopted from Greece during 1955-1957 period who are now middle aged or older. Many were sold.  Governments falsified documents so that there was no way to trace their journeys. Those who were babies recall little about the separation from their birth families, but this girl, who entered the United States  at ten years old, recalls every detail. 



After much soul searching, and due to extreme poverty, parents agreed to put their youngest children up for adoption through a special program run  by Queen Frederica of Greece and the government of United States.  Parents wanted to give their children a better life.   After all, going to America was special.  America  was for  the select. America was the land of gold, where people had walking and talking dolls, chocolate, and  lived happily ever after.  There were many difficult farewells and well wishes.

Parents trusted that all children would be looked after well--trust was their driving force. But what parents didn't know is that they would never see their children again. The moment their child left,  the connection with their Greek family and their old  life  was cut.  Some grown children don't remember the separation.  Some don't even know they have Greek biological families.


Now fifty years later, many who  were adopted continue to  look for their biological extended families.   Families on the other side, in Greece, continue  looking for that child that left them so many years ago.  Mine is the  story of one child's journey back to  her Greek family, a story I tell  in  "The Girl from the Tower."

 
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The Girl from the Tower, A Journey of Lies

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"A healthy person has one thousand wishes and plans, a sick person has one"

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

LETTING GO TO FIND YOUR ARTIST'S PURPOSE


BLOG 27
MaryAnn

LETTING GO

Sometimes we hold on too tightly and defeat ourselves before we even start. This is especially true for a creative person and we are all creative in one way or another. In striving to write or paint, decorate or dance, cook or garden, we become perfectionists, editors, and critics of our own work. This can often immobilize us so that we no longer even try to pursue our passions.

We need to let go of the unnecessary parts of life so that we can get to the valuable important things that give our lives purpose.

I love the following poem and have shared it often:

SHE LET GO . . . without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.

She let go of the judgments.

She let go of the opinions swarming around her head.

She let go of the committee of indecision within her.

She let go of all the “right” reasons.  Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask for advice.  She didn’t read a book on how to let go.  She just let go.

She let go of all the memories that held her back.

She let go of all the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.

She let go of all the planning and all the calculation, about how to do it just right.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be.  A smile came over her face.  A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and moon shone forever more.

Written by Ernest Holmes (1887 – 1960)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

UNRAVELING YOUR BALL OF TWINE








BLOG 26
Elaine


On a sun-scattered Monday morning I face the blank page, first in a string of Mondays since last settling at my computer poised with the intention to write. Like a concert pianist I stretch my fingers and place them upon the keys; then I conjure the mantra I love the process! all the while reminding myself that a non-outcome for my effort is better than no effort at all.


Being in the midst of a dry spell is no picnic for an author. It's the last place I expect to find myself, dragging my heels through the parched, white metaphoric desert sand. While I experience this slump (aka period of rejuvenation) here are a few activities I purposely engage in to keep my writing fresh. I've discovered that writing isn't always about filling the blank page; the blessing is to find joy in the little things.





1) Never underestimate the power of an email! It's an opportunity to express yourself with an economy of words. Consider emails to be an exercise in effective communication. To compose a clear and concise email is good practice, while proofreading and editing will hone your writing skills.





2) Posting to social media is not considered writing (or is it?) If you are an author and have a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, or blog, your posts are a potential reader's first exposure to your style. So take pride in what you post. Consider it an opportunity to make a difference, provoke a thought, or gain a new admirer.




3) If you're able to express yourself creatively, chances are you're able to express yourself through other channels, too. Photography is one of my favorite means of expression. Lately, I've also delved into the abundantly rich world of anything-goes mixed-media collage where the possibilities are endless and no rules apply. The rebel in me loves it. The author in me rejoices in its tactile simplicity. To wile away the hours cutting, pasting, and arranging rather than tapping away at a keyboard is a breath of fresh air.



So if you find your words have become a tremendous jumble (think: twisted ball of twine), do not despair! Every day I tug at the knots, and little by little I've begun to unravel the mess. When the time is right, there will be one continuous thread. And that thread will have amazing stories to tell.




Friday, May 1, 2015

FALLING IN LOVE WITH MADELEINE L'ENGLE ALL OVER AGAIN




POST 20
Melissa



I remember catching the spark from Madeleine L'Engle.  Madeleine L'ENGLE had just published  A Wrinkle  in Time in 1962.  I read it in 1966.  I related to the adventurous girl in the story. I was an adventurous  12 year  old.  I explored the land around my house and  imagined monsters in creeks, mysterious  strangers in abandoned cabins, and hideouts in trees.

But it was more than an adventure story.  A Wrinkle In Time,  gave 12 year old me permission to experience the deeply profound issues that swirled around me as I entered the bigger world.    I still remembers her chilling portayal of conformity:

"As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers."
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Her  advice on writing resonates with me today: "You are given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you."  


Thank you Madeleine L'Engle for sharing your imagination and insights with an adventurous twelve year old girl. I will always be grateful.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

HOW TO STRUCTURE A STORY


POST 18
MARYANN


Without structure you have no story. Structure in story must include a character in a situation with a problem who tries over and over again to solve that problem but fails again and again and then, at the climax of the story, makes a final last-ditch-effort attempt and proves himself or herself. Within this framework, you have plot or story arc and character arc.

Joseph Campbell's HERO'S JOURNEY contains the best story structure formula and is used by novelists and screenwriters.

1. The hero is confronted with a challenge,
2. rejects it,
3. but then is forced (or allowed) to accept it.
4. He travels on the road of trials,
5. gathering powers and allies, and
6. confronts evil—only to be defeated.
7. This leads to a dark night of the soul, after which
8. the hero makes a leap of faith that allows him to
9. confront evil again and be victorious.
10. Finally, the student becomes the teacher.

Every book or film can be analyzed according to the Hero’s Journey.

Once you learn to plan a story this way, it becomes much easier to plot stories and to critique your own work as well as the work of others.

Basically what's happening in story is a character must make a CHOICE and this choice is shown by ACTIONS and all those actions must have CONSEQUENCES.

The character must make a choice required by the story and there must be action because of this choice. Think CAUSE and EFFECT. Something happens, the character reacts based on who he or she is and that causes reaction and so on. There's a SET-UP, aRESPONSE, an ATTACK, and a RESOLUTION. This paradigm will make it easier to structure your story.

The MAIN CHARACTER or PROTAGONIST or POV NARRATOR has a history (the character sketch and backstory you've created) and something changes that creates the story: a bomb drops, a best friend betrays, an opportunity arises, etc. The hero attacks the problem or goes after the goal and something else changes and then, finally, things resolve: the mountain is climbed, the treasure is found, therace is won.

Story is like life. As heroes of our own stories, we are constantly responding, reacting, changing, adapting, shifting and, because of our actions, something changes.

That brings about conflict and that is story.


A POEM IN YOUR POCKET





POST 19
MaryAnn



April is National Poetry Month and it's time to celebrate poets and poetry.  The bestfiction writing uses the same literary elements as seen in poetry: metaphor, symbolism, alliteration, and subtext.

Where do poets get their inspiration? "Poems come from ordinary experiences and objects, I think," Sharon Olds, winner of the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award for her book, The Dead and the Living, says. "Out of memory—a dress I lent my daughter on her way back to college; a newspaper photograph of war; a breast self-exam; the tooth fairy; Calvinist parents who beat up their children; a gesture of love; seeing oneself naked 
over age 50 in a set of bright hotel bathroom mirrors." 


How do we read poetry?

First of all, we turn off the television. Secondly, we're prepared; we have a book of poetry on hand for those surprising moments when we have a chance to read. Third, we read silently and then we read the poem once again out loud, paying attention the rhythm of the lines as we slowly absorb the poem's meaning. 

Poetry demands our attention and concentration. Being able to concentrate in today's hectic world is sometimes impossible. Waking up in the middle of the night unable to sleep is the perfect time to turn on a light and read a few poem. Time spent having to wait 
for an appointment can be better utilized by pulling out a volume of poetry.

Good poetry has clarity of language that will help us in our own writing. The closer we 
look at poetry, the more we will discover about excellent writing. Poetry is, after all, words put together in the most perfect order.

Put a poem in your pocket during National Poetry Month. Read one, write one, and share one with others. We have 26 letters to play with and mold into art, and poetry makes the best use of those letters.

Friday, March 27, 2015

BRINGING THE SCENE ALIVE THROUGH THE SENSES


POST 17

KRISTEN











A friend of mine recommended an “excellent book—a simply must read!”  Oh, how I hate those.  They interrupt my life.  Do I write or read?  Load of laundry or read?  Go to gym—or read?  It’s an addiction.  Be it flame to moth or winno to whiskey, I went to my Kindle and three clicks later, I got my fix.  True to tale, amazing book.
Not only is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerrbeautiful and engaging from every possible pore, one of the main characters is blind.  Doerr tells the story in third person omniscient; therefore, this character comes to us through sounds, smells, and touch.  Not only is this a refreshing way to know a character, it could be a great writing technique for our sighted characters as well.
I’m going to experiment.  I’m going to have my characters enter rooms and I’m going to write the scene as if that sighted character is actually blind.  As writers, we struggle to bring the scenes alive through senses—always adding this and that.  It never occurred to me to actually to take something away.  
I may or may not add vision to some of the scenes altogether.  Maybe it will be energizing for the reader to come back into a room visited many times before with the character (say the character’s kitchen, living room or office) but to experience this room through the other senses.  As I continue to brainstorm, maybe those smells can also “reflect” what is happening to the character.  For instance, tough times can have the smell of rot whereas good times can smell of roses.   If my character closed her eyes, what would she hear?  Close by and far away?  Are some sounds more comforting?  
Looking forward to a much needed Writing Group fix where I will bring my newest experiment to be poked and prodded.  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

ABOUT WEBSITES AND BLOGGING - PART II




POST 16
 Elaine

Louis Tigh, veteran of the United States Marine Corps and website designer, is the founder of Prometheus Design (www.prometheusdesign.com). Louis graciously 
donated his time to participate in the following Q&A about websites and blogging. This is part II of my Q&A with Louis. 

4) One of the biggest challenges for the aspiring writer/blogger is to attract an online audience. There are many useful tools that can enhance Search Engine Optimization; what would you classify as the number one most important blogging tool?

I believe you can learn a lot about how people find and interact with your website or blog by looking at the numbers. The best way to gauge this traffic is by using Google Analytics, a free tool offered by Google. It may seem intimidating at first, but I always encourage my clients to explore this tool to discover the viewing habits of their audience. For example, if you make a change to the site and people stay on that page longer, it may be wise to incorporate similar changes throughout the site to increase the amount of time people spend there. These numbers represent the culmination of direct marketing and you can quickly test and implement changes that will improve a users’ experience.

5) How often should a blogger add new content to a blog?

Realistically, I believe any regular interval is better than never adding new content. I have found that most people write one post per week, or one every two weeks, or even once a month. The important thing is to find an interval that works for you and stick to it. Before you know it, you will have added a large amount of content!

6) When a blogger provides a link to a website that is relevant to their own, does this help move their blog up the search engine train?

It may, however you usually want other websites to have links to your content. This not only looks good from a search engine perspective, but it will also lead people from their website to yours.

7) It's well-known that tagging helps link posts to the Internet. How does one go about selecting a relevant keyword or tags? What's the appropriate number of tags to add, and is there such a thing as adding too many tags?

Tags or keywords can boost your search engine ranking. To select keywords, compose a theme or a central idea behind your blog post. Choosing a few key terms that are associated or support this idea should be used. I would recommend no more than five tags per post.

8) Is it important to add images to a blog? What is “alt” text and why is it necessary?

Yes, I believe it's very important to add pictures because they break up the monotony of text. 'Alt’ text is short for alternative text and is used either because the image cannot load or the web user cannot see it, in which case their web browser will read the ‘alt’ text. ‘Alt’ text is also a great way of sneaking in some extra keywords that relate to your post.

9) Lastly, what role does social media play in optimizing a blog's exposure?

Social media is a great way to spread the exposure of your blog or website. While some people may feel comfortable trusting Google to provide them with the most relevant information, other people prefer to rely on humans instead of computer algorithms. By sharing your post or website on a social media platform, you effectively reach an audience you might otherwise have missed.

Louis, a veteran of the United States Marine Corp, is the founder of Prometheus Design launched in 2014. The company prides itself on offering powerful web solutions to small business owners throughout Southern California. In addition, they focus on providing timely service, cost-effective solutions, and outstanding customer service. Prometheus Design will sit down with you and combine imagination, strategy, research, and experience to craft a unique solution to fit your needs. To view a portfolio of their work go to

ABOUT WEBSITES AND BLOGGING - PART I

 
 
Prometheus is a Titan In Greek mythology, best known as the benefactor who brought fire to mankind. 

POST 15
Elaine
 


Louis Tigh, veteran of the United States Marine Corps and website designer, is the founder of Prometheus Design (www.prometheusdesign.com). Louis graciously donated his time to participate in the following Q&A about websites and blogging.


When I stepped into the world of writing after a thirty-year hiatus, little did I know what I was getting into. Words like blog, website, platform and platform-building intimidated me. I struggled to write a coherent paragraph let alone create a website, and I sure as heck didn't want to write a blog! What could I possibly write about: Learning to love my delete button? The joys of writing in pajamas until noon?


I fancied myself a fiction writer, but a 2013 trek in Nepal led me down a different trail. Combining my lifelong love of journaling with travel, I wrote and published a memoir about the trek entitled Footsteps of Gopal. Blogging about my adventures soon became second nature, and the concept of a website no longer seemed foreign to me.  


Right around this time, I met Louis Tigh (pronounced tie) at a social gathering. He informed me that he'd just launched his web design company, Prometheus Design. Impressed by Louis' passion about web design, I hired him to create my website. Not only is my domain a place where I can blog and share my photos, but it's also  the perfect venue to advertise my memoir. Much to my delight over the past couple of months, I've also been able to track and watch my audience grow.


Louis graciously donated his time to participate in the following Q&A about websites and blogging. I share this information hoping to inspire future writers, bloggers, and website owners to reach for the stars!

1) For an aspiring writer, which is preferable: a website or a blog?


As a writer, your goal is to get your work out there and a blog is a great place to start. Once you develop permanent content you begin to attract users, and that’s when a website comes in handy. Hosting a blog on a website is a great way to keep the site fresh. As you add new content, it gives your blog a more professional feel.


2) What features does a website offer that a blog cannot and vice versa?


In my opinion, the key difference between a website and a blog is how the information is organized. With a blog, you have a lot more leeway in adding posts that are unrelated in sort of a ‘stream of consciousness’ manner. With a website, you're looking at how to take a lot of information that will more or less remain static, and organize it into a hierarchy that makes sense to you, your visitors, and the search engines.


3) What is Search Engine Optimization and how does it work?


Search Engine Optimization, or SEO as it is commonly referred to, is a collective term for incorporating strategies into your website that will allow your website to increase in rank on a web search. For example, if you have a website about haiku, you would optimize your website so it will rank high when someone searches for “poetry” on Google. While there are many different ways that you can optimize your website for search engines, the primary idea is to add relevant content. The easiest way to increase your website's search engine ranking is by writing unique content, or text, for the pages on your website or blog.


(To be continued in Part II)



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

FIGHTING "PLOT PUPPETS"

Blog Post 14
Kristen


My struggle is fighting the instinct for my characters to become “plot puppets.”  I have this great plot in my mind—and yet, I know when I’m forcing my characters into that story line because that’s when my writing feels flat and unauthentic.  Yes, it’s positively painful.    
My characters are always right.
I’m reminded of the saying “Happy wife.  Happy life.”  And I suppose I should concede to “Happy Characters.  Good story.”
I try to reassure myself by thinking of stories I’ve enjoyed.  Books I’ve read all the way to the end verses the ones I shelveunfinished.  I recall movies I don’t mind watching repeatedly opposed to the movies that make me want those two hours of my life back.  The difference, of course—It’s character.
Upon closer examination of the stories, the plots are pathetically simple.  A Few Good Men—two marines kill a third and are on trial. It’s the character arc of Daniel Caffey (Tom Cruise) that keeps us engaged.   Oppose this to The Gambler (with MarkWalburg) where life and limb is on the line for the Walburg, and yet I could care less. Both movies feature outstanding performances from A list actors, but that isn’t enough for The Gambler. Walburg’s character (whose name I don’t even remember) motioned through the script to get to the ‘dramatic end’ of a single bet on roulette.  I could’ve skipped the two hours in-between and went right to the wheel.  Okay, ball landed black, or maybe it was red.  In any event, he lived.  Check please.  I’m sure you’re thinking of a hundred such examples—damn those fancy movie trailers.  
In my current project, the simple librarian has rewritten my story.  Oddly, I took a great deal of thought as to who I wanted this librarian to be—even though the librarian should be a very minor character.  My first idea was a lesbian librarian, but the character walked onto my page as a rickety old man.  With a past.  I couldn’t move on with my story until he told me about it.  He pushed up his long ragged sleeve to reveal the six tattooed numbers of Auschwitz.  A man who was once a Priest.  A man who was once in love with my main character’s mother. Atormented soul who tried to save children from the fires of hell only to be betrayed.  Now, there’s a story.
The only problem is—that wasn’t the story I intended to write.  I was writing a bully revenge story about a Gypsy girl with special powers.  But, even she isn’t cooperating with this idea and is spending way too much time in the library.  
As I let go of my precious plot, and give my characters more and more reign, I fear I may never finish this story.  What if they keep changing their minds?  What if they take me down a path that is endless?  What if the rabbit hole is just that?  
And to my writing group I bring my precious, tortured pages.  “Yes this is working” they say to the parts the characters wrote and “This is a little contrived” they say to mine.  “This part excited me,” they continue where my characters took flight and “I get a little lost here” to where I pushed plot yolks back into broken egg shells.  
Writing the back story helped tremendously.  My characters let me see where they were coming from and therein included me intheir journey moving forward.  I also outlined the 15 plot beats from the template of ‘Save the Cat’.  These two exercises gave me peace—by reminding me of my honor in crafting the story.  Characters and plot can no more lay next to each other and make a story then can water and flour sit in a bowl and make a pancake.
As the artist, I stir and season, blend and mix.  I choose the temperature and the bake time.   Presenting my creation, I hope it is endlessly enjoyed.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

GETTING TO KNOW WHO'S WHO IN THE MONSTER WORLD



I decided to set him straight by sharing my idea for the monsters in my story with him.  

I proceded with earnest enthusiasm,  "I’m picturing these monolithic Ogres called Mudders,  rising out of the ground dripping greasy mud and mold.   These  giant mud men  pull themselves out of  the ground like huge tubers. They appear at the slightest threat to their master,   emitting shrieks of anger, stinking like rotten flesh,  farting and burping. They are loyal to their masters, but  the bad news is, their judgement is not so great.  They are easily conned into going against  their own interests."

My Fantasy Gamer son,  looking the picture of patience,  said, “I’m still pretty sure you're thinking of  Golem.”  

"Oh no," I insisted.  

My son walked out of the room, shaking his head and  I quickly  Googled Ogres and Golem. Darned if the boy wasn't right.  Aargh!

Wikipedia describes Ogres as hideous, hairy giants  found in fairy tales.  They  terrorize humans and even tear them limb from limb to eat them.  

Golem, on the other hand, are more sympathetic creatures. They are found in Judeism’s earliest stories. Adam is a Golem, created by God out of dust.  Those who are  very holy can also create Golem out of mud, though these Golem are  a shadow of the life God creates. 

There are lots of stories featuring Golem, but one of the most famous is  a nineteenth century legend that  involves the famous  16th century Rabbi of Prague, Judah Loew ben Bezalel.   He created The Golem of Prague out of clay to protect the Jews from Anti-Semitic attacks.  The Golem succeeded in his mission until he  became  too powerful and had to be stopped. 

Why didn't I know all this?  My creatures are more Golem then Ogre.  I must have heard about these Golem creatures sometime in my past.  Apparently  they’ve stayed  in the far recesses of my mind until my story called them forth. It’s kind of cool how our imaginations reaches into our dormant memory for material to use in its creations.

Okay,  so now I know, the creatures in my story are  based on Golem  and not Ogres---Just don't tell my son I said so.