Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Blog Post 14

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


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.


Anne Frank's Diary
 POST 12

WHY JOURNAL?  A page of my journal is like a cake of portable soup. A little may be diffused into a considerable portion. - James Boswell

There are certain things that make me relax, like writing my journal. That's the only time that I'm relaxing. It's the only time I really get to examine myself. -Jessica Simpson

I write journals and would recommend journal writing to anyone who wishes to pursue a writing career. You learn a lot. You also remember a lot... and memory is important. -Judy Collins
Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal? – Henry David Thoreau

The only thing I have done religiously in my life is keep a journal. I have hundreds of them, filled 
with feathers, flowers, photographs, and words - without locks, open on my shelves. -Terry Tempest Williams

I keep a quotes journal - of every sentence that I've wanted to remember from my reading of the past 30 years. -Richard Powers

Writing the little daily journal is fun. I have set my usual two pages of writing as the day's work. I don't know if I can keep this up from the beginning, but I will try. – John Steinbeck

The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I might suffocate. – Anne Frank

My journal is off limits to anyone but me ... I can't wrestle on paper if I fear what someone else might think of my wrestling. – Nicole Johnson

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Joanna signing her memoir  for Elaine at her Book Launch.

 POST 11

Joanna Giangardella, author of Dancing Skeleton: Journey Through Stage IV Cancer will be speaking to my memoir writing workshop on Thursday February 19th in Orange County. This follows her recent book launch held in her home in San Clemente for family and friends.

She has many reasons to celebrate.
Twice in her life, Joanna Giangardella beat the odds.

 In her previous memoir, Girl from the Tower, she recounts how she was born on the Greek island of Pergos and was separated from her family at the age of ten through a UNICEF adoption program.

Finding herself in a dysfunctional family in America where she was not allowed to embrace her coming of age years in a normal fashion or even speak her own language, she had to rely on her own internal strength to rediscover herself and her birth family.

Later in life, as the hard-working owner of a hair salon, Joanna discovered she had Stage IV Cancer. Her road to recovery meant battling medical misdiagnoses and dealing with her own worst fears. Now an artist and a nutritional consultant, Joanna actively supports cancer research and nurtures others cursed with a similar diagnosis.

Her second memoir, Dancing Skeleton: Journey Through Stage IV Cancer recounts her personal journey. The book is available on

Here's one comment of many:

"Joanna Giangardella's Dancing Skeleton is an excellent depiction of her determination to beat the odds against an ugly disease and the unnecessary obstacles, walls, and buildings she had to climb for her sweet victory."
- Roni Teson, Author of Twist

Wednesday, February 11, 2015



How do I find the time to write when I have a full time job I like the rhythm of writing at the same time everyday. But when do I have time?  I teach elementary school.  I'm exhausted when I get home. I'm too tired to do anything. 

However  the next morning its a different story.   Writing gets me out of bed when its still dark outside. Soon after Peet's Coffee Shop opens, at 5:30 a.m., I'm  sitting in front of my laptop with a large cafe au lait in front of me.  I'm immersed in my writing.  

I recognize the regulars that come into the coffee shop every morning. After  so many mornings,  we share an early-bird-coffee-drinking bond.

By 6:45 a.m.  its time to close my laptop and go to work.  I listen  to talk radio in the car while I  finish off the last bit of  coffee. No matter what else happens for the rest of the day, I feel at peace  with the world. I've immersed myself in my story.

Saturday, February 7, 2015



Is a picture truly worth a thousand words?
Without a doubt, some photographs lend themselves to a story. Others fall into the category of maybe,such as this one I snapped on my 2013 Himalayan trek in Nepal.

Which prompts me to wonder: How much more effective is a photo when accompanied by a passage of words?

Take, for example, this photo from July 2012, which depicts me standing on the summit of Forester Pass (13,200 ft.) in California's Sierra Nevada.

While one might guess that my joyful expression results from our successful completion of the pass, the following lines from my trip log add a new dimension to the scene:

Having only eaten oatmeal in the morning, I ran out of steam and was STARVING! Not only that, but all I wore (on my way up) was a T-shirt, and because of the wind and the sun ducking in and out from the clouds, I froze . . . but it was amazing when I finally made it to the top!”

Isn't it so much more satisfying to read a firsthand account detailing what I went through to get there?

I'm not saying that every photograph should be accompanied by words, but a photo-journal is a wonderful creative outlet for the aspiring writer and amateur photographer to combine their love of the two. Both are easily transformed into books through online websites such as Shutterfly where it's a cinch for people to preserve their photo memories while embellishing the pages with text. In recent years I've designed several Shutterfly books linking photos to my journal passages, and I've experienced incredible results.

By the way, the photograph that opens my piece—the nondescript scenery shot? Allow me to share my background story, and see for yourself if you think it turns a so-so shot into a great one.

My day began before the sun's first rays appeared, and ends as it dips into the fog. Pastel pink and purple cotton wisps beckon from beyond the teahouse windows luring me out of the smoke-filled common room to expand my lungs with fresh air. The snow-hardened peaks and razor-sharp ridges appear to round in the fog. Hello Ama Dablan I say as I greet the contours of Mother and Child's familiar profile. Imposed upon her flank is an enormous, rectangular-shaped shadow, an anomaly reminiscent of Shiprock in the New Mexico desert or the square mast of some ancient vessel.”

Does it enrich the photo? I'll let you decide.