Sunday, April 13, 2014

Whodunit: I Really Don’t Know But I’ll Keep Reading


By Kimberly Johnson

Uncle Sunny done it. The Frank Sinatra-singing Lothario choked the life out of the old ladies with Venetian blind cord. Afterwards, Shorty and Moe put’em in the dumpsters around Trenton. Cops were stumped on this head scratcher. Leave it to Stephanie Plum--full time bounty hunter and part time private eye-- to stumble on this beloved killer in Janet Evanovich’s Takedown Twenty

I missed that one. Evanovich kept me guessing until the end when Uncle Sunny croaked while Grandma Mazur was performing a pole dance. I don’t keep a lot of mystery novels on my bookshelf because I can figure it out. Now, I can add one.

I had two suspects: the peach-Schnapps-drinkin’ butcher or some geezer at the Senior Center. On top of that, Uncle Sunny is a mobster with family ties to Stephanie’s boyfriend who happens to be a cop. Complicated, huh? I enjoy reading these tales—the characters are regular people with plenty of drama.  I attribute the keep-me-guessing part to character development. Who could go wrong with Ranger? The sexy knight in shining armor rescues Stephanie from being tossed over a bridge by Shorty and Moe. Or Lula? She’s the sidekick who wears too much spandex and buys lettuce for a runaway giraffe. I found three writers who give pretty good advice on suspense:

Ron Lovell: Set up false leads and red herrings all along the way to throw reader off as to who the killer is. Be fair with readers—lead them to the solution of the crime methodically, planting clues, and don’t bring someone out of nowhere that the reader does not know or care about. 

PD James:  Usually, there is a murder, a closed circle of suspects with means, motive and opportunity for the crime and a detective, either amateur or professional, who comes in like an avenging deity to solve it. 

Chuck Wendig: In real life, people get run over with cars, shot with pistols, and decapitated with ancient swords. Take down your victim with all the creativity you can muster.

So, the next time I read a Stephanie Plum mystery, I’m going to double-check the false leads and fish out all the red herrings to untangle whodunit.

Sources:

Monday, April 7, 2014

South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Website Improvements


By Ginny Padgett


The SCWW website has some great advantages for members beyond general information and conference registration. Recently in accordance with member requests, new pages and a number of improvements were made.

Members’ Published Works Page (http://myscww.org/members-published-works/):  This page isn’t new but it's been upgraded. A slider feature continually rotates books so all work is visible, regardless of when it was posted. (At the present time, only five books are sliding, however that technical glitch should be rectified within the week.) Also on that page there is now a button to find work by genre. If you have work to add to this page, go to the web address above and follow the guidelines. Note: While work continues on this page, the guidelines are not visible. However, they may be found on the Quill Bulletin Board. Issues are available on the website for reference (http://myscww.org/category/quill/).  Please follow the guidelines carefully. 

Members’ Websites and Blogs (http://myscww.org/members-websites-and-blogs/):
This page is not new or improved. If you’d like to add your information, follow the guidelines on this page.
SCWW Blog (http://myscww.org/category/blog/). I bring this page to your attention because this is where our Cola II Blog Vote Winner goes each month. The innovation on this page is content. In the past, blogging responsibility was handled mainly by SCWW Board members. This year there is an emphasis on posts from the general membership and outside guests.

Speakers’ Bureau Page (http://myscww.org/speakers-bureau/): This is a new page where members may offer their services to speak to groups based on the author’s area of expertise. If you’d like your information to be included on this page, the guidelines are available on this page. Note: It is most important to follow the guideline closely.

SCWW Board of Directors Meeting Minutes (http://myscww.org/board-of-directors-meeting-minutes/): This is another new page to keep the membership abreast of the workings of the organization.


Not a SCWW member and your interest is piqued? Join us. There’s a website page for that too: http://myscww.org/join-us/

Sunday, March 30, 2014

CLARA'S HOUSE

By Laura P. Valtorta

Boubacar Traore. Amadou and Miriam. Tinariwen. Sure, the Malian music playing at our house is cool and helps me write. The best place to write, however, is inside Clara and Ross’s house in Austin, Texas.

The cool white tiles and the big windows out into the yard help me. Plus the sense of being on vacation. I don’t have to worry about the meals. Clara and Ross will take care of that. Give me some French press coffee, pressed by Clara, and the hope of Thai take-out, and I’m happy.

The place where we write affects us: the ambience. Place affects mood.
Even a quiet hotel can be inspiring when you’re on vacation. I got tons of work done at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC when Marco and I were there in February. Most of the creative work took place in my head. We went to the National Portrait Gallery and saw the winners of the portrait competition (Artist builds self-portrait from rice-- sculpture; Musician goes crazy in Whole Foods – paper-mation). Visual art always heats up my literary imagination. Then when we returned to Chapin, and while it snowed for four days, the words poured out of my fingers.

While we were in Austin, we attended some of the South By Southwest free shows on the side. Frankly, the music in Austin is usually a lot better. This time, the SXSW festival sucked up all the good acts and we were left with the crumbs and a bunch of beer guzzlers on the street. One exception: the Andrew Combs band from Nashville. It’s nice to see a cute young man playing some hipster- pleasing country swing music with his friends.

On Saturday night, there was a Tinariwen concert outside. I was hoping for more inspiration. No such luck. We got to see what the singers looked like (skinny French-speaking Touaregs in burkas, dancing scared like deer in the headlights) but their sweet folk music was RUINED by the horribly stentorian amplification. Yikes.


In order to write, the background must include the right kind of sound. Not a beer-blast concert. Not Marco yelling at me and flapping his arms. Yes – Sonia Jacobsen’s album, "Avalanche." Yes, Marco cheering a soccer match in the other room. Yes, Clara making French press coffee and the tropical sounds of birds in the background in Austin.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Did You See Her Dress at the Oscars? Describing the Action Can Make You Money


By Kimberly Johnson

Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o wore a gown at the Oscars that fashionistas are still talking about.  

Here’s some blog chatter: 
When Lupita stepped onto the carpet in that sparkling, sky blue silk georgette gown that was custom made for her by Prada, she looked absolutely breathtaking… In Lupita’s red carpet interviews Lupita said she chose this shade of blue because it reminded her of her native Nairobi and quickly #NairobiBlue became a trending topic. .(Nicole Gibbons, SoHautestyle.com).

The “It girl” of this year’s awards season, Twelve Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o made her Academy Awards debut in a custom Prada robin's egg blue gown. … Nyong’o—who brought her mom, Dorothy, along for the night—topped off the winter wonderland fairy princess look with a gold and diamond Fred Leighton headband. (Josh Duboff, Vanity Fair) 

My sideline interest is to write about the haute couture frocks, chapeaus and zappos worn by the Hollywood elite and the up-and-coming. I thought about it – turning a descriptive phrase can be rewarding (financially and creatively). I checked out Paula Rollo’s blog, "How Much Do Bloggers Really Make?, Part 2."  In her post, she lists poll results in which she queried bloggers about pay, time spent on the blog and monthly page views.  I found out that just-getting-started writers put in over 20 hours each week on content and the pay ranges from $10 to $500 per month.

Recently, I’ve been bouncing this sideline thing around to a friend or two. One worrywart said, “Will people take you seriously, writing about what so-and-so wore?” My take on this seed of doubt is that a blogger is no different from a New York Times reporter: conduct the research, become a subject matter expert, find refreshing angles to present the facts and deliver the message. It is like the advice of a high school English teacher: Tell a story about a moment/event that means a lot to you. Get right to the action. Describe the action and use all five senses.

Nick Levitan’s blog, "Is It Time To Take Fashion Bloggers Seriously?," crushes that seed of doubt and sums it up pretty well:
…Because of the ever-growing power of bloggers, and the decline of traditional fashion magazines, it is likely that bloggers will become more powerful than ever. It is true that with the fast pace of modern fashion, a once a month magazine is simply not able to keep up with the evolving trends and changes that occur in fashion seemingly overnight. The day of the fashion blogger is now, and if everyone does not take notice, they will be left behind.
Sources:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

TRUTH AND HISTORICAL FICTION

By Bonnie Stanard

As a writer of historical fiction, I am disturbed by Andrew Delbanco’s claim that a novelist using historical characters and settings has no obligation to factual reconstructions.  Delbanco, in a review of a novel on Abraham Lincoln, says:

The novelist … can take liberties—suppressing this, embellishing that, even inventing situations, characters, and words that were never actually spoken … A novel is beholden to no external measure of truth; it must only be true to itself.*

Only true to itself! Why write historical fiction if you’re only going to be true to your imagination? When I place my characters in history, I have freedom in defining their thoughts and motives. Their acts and the events surrounding them are restrained by historical fact. The defense that some writers pose of “capturing the spirit” of the truth doesn’t give them the freedom to alter facts.

Think of it this way, should we create distortions that may change our readers’ perceptions of historical people or events? What would you think of novels in which:

John Brown’s army wins a victory at Harpers Ferry
Hitler has a love-child with a Jewish mistress
Alexander G. Bell beats his wife
Al Capone is elected mayor
Henry Ford murders his brother
The Wright Brothers bash a gay bar

In the same vein, I would assert that movies have a similar responsibility to history. When script writers create events contrary to proven (as opposed to speculative) history, they break faith with their audience. For example, in The Patriot is a scene in which British soldiers burn down a church filled with families, an event with no supporting historical evidence. In cases such as this, the fabricated excitement arouses misguided feelings of insult or mistreatment.

I can’t agree more with Edward Rutherford, author of Sarum and other historical novels, who said in an interview :

My fictional characters are free to follow their personal destinies; but I never alter the historical record just to suit my convenience, or my prejudices. Novelists and movie-makers are sometimes tempted to do that and maybe they believe it doesn't matter. I think it does matter.

… so much political propaganda is based upon the falsification of history. An extreme example would be the medieval blood myth told against the Jews, that they kidnapped and sacrificed Christian children … It seems to me that those of us in the business of storytelling, in books, plays or movies, have an ethical obligation not to mislead our audiences over the historical record, especially when subjects may be emotive and affect our attitudes to others. The bigger the audience, the greater our responsibility; and I don't think we can evade that responsibility, whether we like it or not.**

Because our stories have the power to create myths, we writers of historical fiction have a responsibility to the record. We can distance ourselves from propaganda by sticking to a framework of facts. If that’s too much of a burden, other genres are less demanding, such as scifi or fantasy.

*The NY Review of Books on Gerome Charyn’s novel I am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

TIPS FOR BEGINNING WRITERS

By Fred Fields 

Writing is a more difficult task than neophytes imagine. Getting "A" on your essay in 12th grade English is not comparable, although it's a good start.

You must acquire knowledge of the craft. Learn how to write for a more discriminating audience. Let your characters tell the story, and short paragraphs are more willingly read than long ones are important examples.

Surprisingly, correct language or grammar is not always required. The best illustration of that, for me, is the character Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger's epic, Catcher in the Rye. As the narrator of the tome, almost the entire book is told in Holden's voice, which is, for me, a very annoying ultra-typical teen vernacular.

An important element of the craft is getting your facts straight, which requires considerable research. As the author of a story you are expected to be the expert of your tale. If your research is incorrect, it detracts from the reader's concentration and the believability of the story. Luckily, that is made somewhat easier with today's computers.

For the beginner, most writing coaches suggest writing about something you already know. Catcher in the Rye is also a good example of this. Like Holden Caulfield, Salinger went to private schools. And his personality issues revealed in later life suggest the experiences and thoughts of the unhappy teen were likely autobiographical.

There are many other considerations to taking up the craft of writing, not the least of which is getting your work recognized and purchased by the public-at-large. Many writers write for their own gratification. Most, however, prefer to write for the public's enjoyment and the resulting profits. Thus, an author will spend a lot of time marketing his work, often with unsuccessful results.

A professional writer soon learns that the pursuit of the craft demands more talent and effort than merely writing a good story or essay.




Sunday, March 2, 2014

COLLABORATION

By Laura P. Valtorta

Screen writing involves more collaboration than writing a novel or a poem. To be serious at all, the writer needs to submit the screenplay to intense criticism in a class or from an editor. The criticism relates to the form of the story, the style of the writing, and the visual aspects of the film. Nobody writes screenplays for friends and family. Screenplays are written for production. Ultimately, they need the approval of a spouse, a best friend, business people, and plenty of enemies. Truth tellers.

Making an independent film requires the involvement of even more people: producers, cinematographers, lighting engineers, gaffers, and production designers. Musicians. Actors. The director relies on a team.

Recently I traveled to Washington, DC to film an interview with the head of a large company. This interview, if I can obtain the right to use it, will be the centerpiece of my documentary. I discovered that while writing the narration for the film as we neared the end of initial shooting. I needed that interview.

In order to shoot the interview, I required the help of many players. The CEO’s assistant, Tom, had been instrumental in scheduling the time and place. My husband, Marco, came along to keep me company and give advice. To do the filming, I had hired a Washington-based film company called “Blue Sky.”

Blue Sky sent me a cinematographer named “Jackson.” He was a friendly guy who wore a ski hat and a down jacket throughout the entire shoot. He came in with three huge bundles of equipment that he unpacked and set up fast. We tried out the lighting and sound, and then we waited.

The CEO arrived 30 minutes late accompanied by her COO. By then I was high on coffee and cold weather. Outside it was snowing a little. I wondered whether we would make our flight home.

The CEO settled right into the hot seat. She had read my questions and maybe even practiced several of the answers. I threw in a couple more questions to make her think. She answered those as well. I admired her training and expertise. She stated she had an engineering degree and an MBA. She showed me pictures of her young family.

Once the filming was over, Marco and I dashed out of the hotel. We grabbed a cab to take us all the way to Dulles – something we’ve never done before. The cab driver became part of the filmmaking process, too. We arrived at the airport in time to catch one of the last planes to leave before the snowstorm hit.

More than anything else, filmmaking is just plain fun.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

WRITER'S BLOCK: Conquering the Troll

By Jodie Cain Smith 

Without a shred of scientific evidence, I proclaim that any writer who says he or she does not struggle on occasion with writer’s block is a liar.  Like the hairy troll under the bridge, writer’s block waits for us all, hoping we don’t know the secret to passing over the beast.  Yes, writer’s block is a hairy, evil, scary, mole-covered troll.  She must be dealt with.  Writer’s block must be overcome.

When the troll begins to drool and growl in my direction, I step away from the computer.  Extending the torture will not help.  I stand up and move.  Stretch.  Lie on the floor and think deep thoughts.  Read.  When none of these budge the troll from my mind, I take more extreme measures.

As a frequent sufferer of writer’s block, here are my top four remedies:

·        Exercise.  Go on a tough walk or run.  This is not the time to meditate with a stroll and classical music.  Pushing my physical capabilities so hard that I have to concentrate on breathing or risk passing out on the side of the road leaves no room for beating myself up about what my lead character should do next.
·        Organize something.  Attack the closets and cupboards in your home.  We all have them:  the hiding places we are afraid to open out of fear of a head injury.  Yes, seasonal décor will attack if not put away properly.  So, when feeling blocked, I take a few minutes to organize a hiding place.  I often discover what I have been struggling to write.  Unfortunately, I have struggled so much lately that my closets are immaculate.  I’m running out of hiding places.
·        Be creative in something other than writing.  Get crafty.  Explore the visual arts.  Sing.  Get your creative juices flowing without the torture of a blank screen.  I recently began toying around with acrylic painting.  My creations look like the work of a kindergarten student, but success with painting doesn’t matter.  What matters is being cleansed artistically.  For an hour, I clear my head, focusing only on brushing paint across a canvas and Tracy Chapman blaring from the stereo. 
·        Schedule a writer’s lunch (or coffee if you are opposed to food).  Going it alone as a writer is tough.  I regularly attend lunch dates with my writer buds in order to prevent writer’s block or treat symptoms as they occur.  However, this is not chitchat time.  This time is dedicated to discussing each other’s work (exchange pieces ahead of time and prepare a critique) or to explore the craft of writing.  At a recent lunch, my friend and grammar guru Kasie shared a six-point plot structure she is using to revise her novel.  After the lunch, I applied the same concept to my own work.  The answers I had struggled for months to find finally came to light.

So, the next time you face the troll, try one of my writer’s block remedies.  Here’s hoping you find safe passage.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

AMERICAN HUSTLE — Digging a Way into the Past with Flashback

By Kimberly Johnson

 Last Saturday, I forked over $5.50 to see People magazine’s 2011 Sexiest Man Alive and an Oscar-winner run con games. I definitely was not conned out of my money.

Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale brought the 70s to life. It was bell bottoms and platform shoes. It was a comb-over and a curly perm. It was a well groomed seminar in applying the technique of flashback. I give an A + to director David O. Russell and screen writer Eric Warren Singer. The film opens with Bale fiddling his stringy hair in order to conceal his bald spot. He’s preening in the mirror, styling’ and profilin’, ready to meet the mark (a New Jersey mayor) with partners in crime Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper. From there, the flashback is laid down like shag carpet.

I like flashback. Uber-director Martin Scorsese does a respectable job of it, especially in Goodfellas. Personally, I have not attempted to use it in my writing so I think this is a good spot to explore it. Screenwriting instructor Syd Field states that “Flashbacks are a tool, a device, where the screenwriter provides the reader and audience with visual information that he or she cannot incorporate into the screenplay any other way. The purpose of the flashback is simple: it is a technique that bridges time, place and action to reveal information about the character, or move the story forward.”

Well, that’s what David Russell did in American Hustle. I think he wanted me to feel sorry for Bale’s character (Irving Rosenfeld), so he jumped back in to the past to illustrate what a schmuck he was and soared forward to illustrate how Irving was going to right some wrongs/do the right thing with this last big score with the FBI.  This movie inspired me to use flashback in some upcoming writings. Here are three items I liked when researching the topic:

1. Use flashback as a significant event that gives clues about the character.
2. Make sure the transition process is simple and smooth. The audience should be able to follow the action from the present, to the past and back to the present.
3. Create a physical type of transition. For example: a character sees a picture, smells a scent, or hears a specific sound which causes him to reminisce about a bygone time.
4. Tackle the age old problem of using flashback as a way to plug in a plot dilemma. According to www.scriptsecrets.com, establish the backstory early and re-establish it before you incorporate the flashback scene.
 Like a shag carpet, Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale brought the '70s to life. But it was flashback that shined like a disco ball to make the film quite memorable.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

SHORT STORIES

By Mike Long                                               

I’ve been fortunate enough to have three short stories selected for publication this year, and since this is new to me (and possibly new to others), I thought I’d share my experience.                                                                                                     
“Choteau’s Crossing” will be released in late January in the Rough Country Anthology from High Hills Press. That same publisher (Louella Turner) is also publishing “Unfinished Business” later this year in Cactus Country IV. “Resurrection” is contracted for the Broken Promises Anthology from La Frontera Press, date TBA.

I’m told an author makes little or nothing directly on pieces in anthologies, with a typical payoff of  $50 plus five copies of the finished work. The real benefit is exposure, at no cost. The publisher distributes the work to libraries and bookstores, and/or to major distributors like Ingram and Baker&Taylor, and perhaps readers discover the author and seek out more of the author’s work.

For me there’s been another plus. I just finished “Higher Ground,” the third novel in my series, and since Lou Turner likes my two short stories, I asked if she’d consider the novel-without the painful query process. She said yes, and asked for it and synopses for the first two novels. Since I have the rights to them, I’ve also asked her to consider becoming the ‘publisher of record’ for them, and thus take over distribution from me. If she agrees, I’ll get a much smaller cut from sales but hopefully the increased volume of sales would make up for it. Fingers are crossed but I’m hopeful, as she just nominated “Choteau’s Crossing” for a SPUR Award in the 2014 Western Writers of America competition.


In each of these cases, I regain rights after a short time and can perhaps bundle these stories into my own anthology somewhere down the pike, if I get busy and write a half dozen more.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

WRITE


Marion Aldridge

Write!

Write. Whatever it takes to write, do it. Turn off the television set. Get up early. Go to a coffee shop. Don’t go to a coffee shop. Set aside the time. Take the time. Steal the time. Write.

In a yoga class this week, I had a flush of “retirement guilt” as I listened to young moms talk about how hard it is to create space in their lives to come to a yoga class. During my first year of retirement, I have been blessed with lots of free time and choices. So, I felt a bit defensive about my abundance of free time. Then I remembered that I worked my butt off for 45 years at “real jobs” and made time to be a husband, a parent, a good employee, a friend, a sports fan and a writer. J. K. Rowling did way better than I did.

Write.

Whatever the subject, write. You can delete it or throw it away later. I wrote an entire book that turned out to be pretty awful. Now I know how not to write about that subject.

Write, even if it’s bad. You will have second and third and twentieth draft opportunities. It won’t be perfect on the first draft or the fifth draft. You can research later. You can get opinions from proofreaders and copy-editors later. Just write.

I would like to be a better writer, but people who don’t write aren’t even bad writers. They are simply not writers.

I would like to be a more consistent writer, but I’d rather be an erratic author than a wisher or an if-onlier or a wannabe.

I would like to be a smarter or more clever pundit, but I don’t think the Nobel or Pulitzer prizes are in my future. I would simply like to get some ideas out there for conversation and to receive an occasional check in the mail.


So, I write. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

HONOR THE PLAYWRIGHT

By Jodie Cain Smith

I learned the rule “honor the playwright” early in my formal acting training and quickly became an actor who never improvised. I spurn actors who adlib, nilly-willy through the playwright’s achievement and spit upon my core principal.

Recently, however, in a production of Nora and Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore, I went over to the dark side. For the sake of character development – an actor’s justification for all crimes big and small – I changed the words mother and grandmother to mamma and grandma and the word Baltimore to Galveston. Night after night, audiences howled at my portrayal of the sassy State Senator. But inside, beneath my stage makeup and costume, I knew my crime.

Enter self-loathing and guilt.

Were my actions truly justified? Maybe. But, I couldn’t rid myself of one truth: by changing the playwrights’ words in order to create a character I wanted to play, I failed to honor the playwright. My performance felt tainted. Will I remember this show for the privilege of working with such a talented and passionate company or will I only remember the moment I broke the rule?

Enter divine intervention, courtesy of the theatre gods.

Nearing the end of our final performance, fellow cast member Emily rose from her seat and faced the packed house. She was to perform “Geralyn’s Story”, known to all of us as “The Breast Cancer Piece.” As Emily began to speak of reconstruction surgery, two audience members hurried out of the theater. Nora and Delia’s words hit too close to home. Undeterred, Emily continued, performing each word as if she had written them herself.

Over the course of rehearsals and previous performances, I had learned Emily’s routine as I watched from my upstage chair. Pacing on the downstage platform, Emily would tell of mastectomies and lace bras, cup sizes and a tattoo in place of a nipple. Next, she would cross upstage and with a sweeping arm in the cast’s direction, indicate “the friends who’d looked after me like angels.” After that, she would sit and recall the baseball caps she wore through chemo, her “magic hats.”

However, during our final performance, after Emily made her usual upstage cross, she did not sit. “What is she doing?” I thought. A slight panic pulsed through my veins. Then, facing the audience full front, Emily began to deliver the line I knew so well, “My crushed velvet (hat) was my favorite. My Aunt Honey gave it to me.” But on this night, she changed it. “My Aunt Sarah gave it to me.”

My friend had found the most touching way to pay tribute to her sister whom she lost to cancer one year ago. Emily stood through the rest of the piece, as if to say, “Sarah, you are precious. You are missed. And, tonight, I honor you.”

In that moment, I realized the exception to the rule. I broke the rule in order to garner a laugh, a second of glory that I will soon forget.Shame on me. Emily, however, broke the rule and created higher art: that moment when a play becomes something more, something real. Emily did more than change a word. She made the words her own. I can think of no better way to honor the playwright.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

READING AND WRITING

By Bonnie Stanard

This morning as I was eating cereal and reading an article in The New York Review of Books, it came to me that one reason to write arises from reading what somebody else has written.

I had been reading a review of biographies of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower in which his handling of international politics was contrasted with that of his successors. Every president since Eisenhower has ignored traditional military art. That is to say they have merited the idea of a partial victory (an oxymoron). According to the article, our military leaders “promise quick victories with little pain” resulting in exploits such as Kennedy’s attempt to overthrow Castro and his sending “advisors” to Viet Nam. Dabbling in conflicts or sending small contingencies of combat troops into hostile territory is anathema to Eisenhower’s credo that war is an all-or-nothing game.

Reviewer Thomas Powers put forth simple and fundamental ideas which rang true. My reaction was to get an email off to my sons and friends, to broadcast my reaction to this information, to make my thoughts on it known.

Years ago when I read the diary of Thomas Chaplin, I began a literary journey that resulted in three novels, something I never anticipated. From my experience of sharing Chaplin's life—his toothache, his boat in a storm, his fields of cotton, his fight at the agriculture society—arose the character of Tilmon Goodwyn, who began to take shape as a man who considered himself a good person. The slave girl Kedzie appeared to prove him wrong.

Writers get inspired by the works of other writers. Owen Wister’s The Virginian inspired The Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams. Sometimes that inspiration takes on a life of its own resulting in books written in response to another. Literary allusion, or writing that throws light on other writing, has been around since the Bible. Homer’s Odyssey has spawned numerous literary works such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, Atwood’s Siren Song, as well as poems by such as Walcott and Tennyson. More recently Michael Cunningham used Virginia Wolf’s Mrs. Dalloway as a springboard to write The Hours, which was made into a successful movie.

I guess my point is that success breeds success. Good books give rise to more good books. But you have to read them first.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Business Of Writing

By Sarah Herlong

It dawned on me recently that I wasn’t doing enough with my writing. I was concentrating on upping my writing hours and completing stories. But what about all the other aspects of writing I need to do?

For instance I need to spend time educating myself about writing as a craft. I get called out sometimes about my problematic point of view. After doing some research, I bought some good books. Now my goal is to spend a certain amount of time per day studying.

Because I write children’s literature, this is another area I need to research. I need to learn all about the different genres for the various age groups. I also need to read inside my genre to learn more about my audience.

But as a writer I shouldn’t just read within my genre. I should read anything and everything I can get my hands on, newspapers and magazines as well as books. I never know where my inspiration will come from. It could be that magazine I just picked up at the doctor’s office, or a column in the newspaper about an upcoming poultry festival. By the way the poultry festival did inspire me, and will eventually be showing up at a critique group near you.

Then there is the aspect of getting your work ready for submission, working on query letters, and synopses. If I don’t put in time for this, I need to question my reasons for writing. I have a format query letter I can personalize for the person and story I’m trying to sell. I’m also working on doing my synopses ahead of time to prevent that rush to complete one at the last minute for an agent.

Next in the business of writing that I need to work on is finding literary agents to submit my writing to. Those don’t usually fall into your lap. You have to search for them. And this for me is the area where I drag my feet. Hopefully you don’t have this problem. Not only are there agents to submit to, but magazines, contests and publishers. All of which are just waiting to be found.
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There is one other area that is an important part of being a writer and that is the need for a platform. My only foray into that realm is being on this blog and on twitter. Being a recluse, I plan to use my expert skill of procrastination to avoid working on this one for a while.



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mitty to Mitty

By Laura P. Valtorta

The doors of the Columbiana Grande cinema went “whoosh” as the renowned movie critic, Laura P. Valtorta made her way to see the latest Ben Stiller flick – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. “The Bluffington Post” had sent her free tickets. She made her way to the back of the theater, amongst the other important critics, some of whom spoke French. “Bonjour,” they saluted her.

“This should be good,” said her husband, Marco, gobbling popcorn and jarring Laura from her reverie. “It’s nice to continue our Christmas day movie-going tradition.”

Their son, Dante, stretched out between them, hogging both armrests and sending twitter messages on his phone.

“Put your phone away,” Laura told Dante, hoping he would switch from the artificial electronic stimulation of his cell phone to the artificial electronic stimulation of the cinema “Since we’re at the movie house now, let’s watch the movie up there.’

That was the theme of Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty – everyone needs to stop zoning out and pay more attention to what’s happening in the here and now. It was a message Laura enjoyed, especially in a world where people seem unable to sit alone at restaurant without chatting loudly with someone in another city on their phones, or staring at the screen of a laptop, lost in a distant world, far away.

We’ve lost the art of people-watching. We’ve all become Walter Mitties.

In the Ben Stiller movie, Walter eventually stops daydreaming so much. Getting fired from a job cures him. He travels to Iceland and Greenland, he climbs mountains in Afghanistan to find Sean Penn, and he learns to court the woman of his dreams. Unlike the 1947 version of the movie, starring Danny Kaye and an overbearing mother, Ben Stiller’s Walter ends up being helped by his mother (Shirley MacLaine) – not smothered. Unlike the main character in the short story by James Thurber, Ben Stiller’s Walter is not married to a harpie. He wants to get married; and women are not monsters.

During the closing credits at the Columbiana, the famous movie critic Laura Valtorta spoke in French and Italian to her cohorts and opined that Ben Stiller’s movie was superior to the 1947 version – more thoughtful, more meaningful, and less critical of the female sex.

“The Danny Kaye version was just plain silly,” Laura said. “I bet that Ben Stiller gets along well with his mother, Anne Meara, and with his wife, Christine Taylor.  James Thurber was married, twice, but he probably preferred E.B. White.”


The other film critics laughed.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Don’t Want a Niche

By Marion Aldridge

Current wisdom for writers and for many other professions is to find a niche market and focus. You can’t just write about travel. You have to write about gay travel or traveling as a handicapped person or travel in the Florida Keys or travel by dugout canoe. If you choose to specialize in travel by dugout canoes, you need to decide whether your canoe will be dug out of maple or cedar. Niche marketing.

My trouble is that I am curious about everything. Don’t limit me. I see a bumper sticker that says, “Eat Bertha’s Mussels,” and I wonder what that’s about. Who is Bertha? Where is Bertha? Can I get to Bertha’s by suppertime?

The world has always had a love/hate relationship with generalists. One of the first words I remember being taught in a classroom is the word “dilettante.” It describes, I was told, someone who is “a jack of all trades and master of none.” Apparently, to be labeled a dilettante is to be insulted. I prefer to think my interests are eclectic. I may read the biography of a baseball player one day, a financial analysis of “Tulip Mania” the next, a science fiction novel the next, a book about Buddhism the next and a Civil War history the next.

“Where the Pavement Ends” has been my attempt at writing a travel blog in the year since my retirement. 
http://marionaldridge.wordpress.com I have written about New York City, Shreveport and Machu Picchu, but I have also written about football, colors, grief, friendship, patriotism, race relations and alternative medicines. Travel, it turns out, is too narrow a topic for my interests.

I admire people who have specific, marketable skills, who are expert in a particular area, those who can craft fine furniture, who can wire a house for electricity, who can play the flute, who can teach children in a classroom, who can perform surgery. Some people are brain surgeons, play the flute and make fine furniture. I am not one of them, but I am happy the world has people who cross disciplines. Too narrow a focus makes us less than we might be.

An old joke tells of St. Peter giving new residents a tour of heaven. As they pass certain sections, he shushes the recent arrivals, motioning for them to be quiet. Later someone asked, “Why did we need to be quiet back there?’

St. Peter responded, “Oh, that’s where the Baptists stay and they still think they’re the only ones here.”  

Retirement has been good for me because it freed me from many of the restrictions of my life that were employment based. Being restrained by others and limiting myself drives me nuts, but it is somewhat inevitable in the workaday world. Nowadays, every morning, I drink coffee from a cup that is inscribed, “Never affirm self-limitations.” When I begin my morning and the sun is rising, I want my ears sensitive to all that is happening around me and I want my eyes wide open. I want to see, taste, touch, hear and smell it all. Bring it on. No limits.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

New in 2014: One Writer’s Resolutions

 By Jodie Cain Smith

As 2013 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the last 12 months. I perfected the most flattering angle when taking a selfie. I learned the answer to a question I never thought to ask regarding what a fox might say and that I am completely unprepared for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. I was confused by men in skinny, high-water pants and prayed for the sagging trend to finally end. (My prayers were not answered.) To be truthful, I revel in the opportunity to leave narcissistic photos, annoying earworms, the compulsion to build a bunker, and strange fashion choices in the past.

However, 2013 wasn’t a complete bust. It provided so many writing lessons that I feel compelled to make a few New Year’s resolutions in order to capitalize on what I have learned. (Please note that as a realist with a fragile ego I try to avoid situations in which I set myself up for failure. Therefore, I rarely make resolutions. Is it fair for me to vow on December 31st to go to the gym five days a week knowing that I will fall off the fitness wagon by February? No. That just paves the road to self-loathing, which I detest.) Yes, failure is quite possible, but with all of you holding me accountable, I may succeed. So, in 2014, I resolve to:

1.      Stop being lazy. I recently learned that I used the word had 480 times in my novel, The Woods at Barlow Bend. Rather than choose a better, more descriptive verb, I remained faithful to had, using it every chance I got. Had been. Had seen. Had gone. Had had. The word lost all meaning by page 200. Thank goodness for editors.

2.      Get out of my lead characters’ minds. As fascinating as I believe my leads to be, after all I created them, perhaps their constant reflections and silent soliloquys are not the best way to tell a story. Can we get a little action on those pages, Jodie?

3.      Break up with adverbs. Seriously, I absolutely promise to only use adverbs sparingly in 2014.
4.      Be ever cognizant of perspective. This will be my hardest resolution to keep, as I prefer to write first person narratives and struggle with laziness (See #1). I fear that around March 2014 I will falter and begin creating character after character with psychic abilities and the superpower to read minds.

I challenge each of you to create your own list of writing resolutions for the New Year. Would you like to explore a new genre? Perhaps your goal is to submit more pieces for publication. Or, maybe your resolution is to write without fear, to destroy inhibitions with every sentence? Maybe, just maybe, we will become as brave and skilled with our writing as we are with the built-in camera of our cell phones. Now, should we discuss all those photos you’ve been posting?


Friday, December 20, 2013

MOMA – Love of Bove: NEW YORK CITY, Day Three (12/07/2013)

By Laura P. Valtorta                                     

Art begets art. Nothing speaks more profoundly to a writer than a modern art exhibit. I’ve seen some Picassos before, but the selection at the Museum of Modern Art is astounding – particularly “Girl Looking in a Mirror,” and “Dream of Undie,” or something like that. Brilliant mauves and yellows. Beautiful browns.Then there are the giant Matisses “The Dance.” “The Red Studio.” Marco took lots of photos.

Carol Bove’s sculpture “Equinox,” (a display that fills an entire room), was the most captivating piece I saw. The textures of driftwood, steel, painted piping, feathers, seashell, glittery curtain, and a decomposing mattress created surprises at every turn.

Sixth Street was an ant hive of tourists. This time I had Marco as a barging partner.  We ate at Pret a Manger. Sandwiches. Scarce wood benches.

We began the morning walking on the High Mile and thinking about James Barilla’s book My Backyard Jungle. There are some beautiful views of the water from that walk, as well as some astounding construction. Construction workers were hooked precariously to enormous bunches of steel “cages” where the concrete will be poured. It’s supposed to be a housing hi-rise by Spring 2014, right next to the High Mile.
           
Last night, the unnamed, pukey film festival featured a film by Jill McTwattlebum (not her real name) that spent a lot of time whining. “My mother punched me around, so I need to become a second rate boxer to get over it,” etcetera. Getting a job that pays money might be a better kind of therapy at 40.

What interested me was Jill’s prior career as a pole dancer. She wrote a stage play based on the gyrating dancers that got good reviews. Then she made this film about herself, PTSD and boxing. Jill did a pretty good job of extracting stories from female boxers – stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. Unfortunately they all dealt with physical abuse. Jill’s husband had the best line – “I gave up Tai Kwan Do because after getting hit in the stomach a few times, I figured, I have an MBA, so I don’t need this.” Well said, Gary. Getting beaten up is a young person’s sport.

Writing the play allowed Jill McTwaddle to do a pretty good job of editing the film. Which shows once again that art produces art.

The trip to MOMA inspired me to work on my stage play, Bermuda while Marco is shopping at the stereo store in some kind of acoustical heaven.
           
Tomorrow – Broadway.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

New York City; Coen brothers film premiere SHADOW BOX FILM FESTIVAL Day One (12/05/2013)

By Laura P. Valtorta

On Wednesday in Harbison, SC I ate fish and chips at the Bulldog Café with Bonnie, Ginny, and Sarah as a last-meal type of thing. My flight to Newark went smoothly, Instead of dying, I ended up in New York City.

Sixth Avenue is weird. It took me 50 minutes to walk from the 700 block to the 1300 block to see a premiere (invitation, only) of the Coen brothers film – Inside Llewellyn Davis. The crowds were thick and multilingual, but I barged my way through. I missed Milanese Marco who knows how to part a crowd.

Upon arriving at 1350 Avenue of the Americas (a tall glass building), I could not find the Dolby 88 theater. The people in the bank were snooty. They did not know. I explored the side streets. Two women carrying a printout reminded me of movie-goers. I followed them into the bowels of the bank. A guard motioned me in, past some electronic barriers.

Two young men – hipster types with those black glasses and skinny pants -- found my name on a list and I was “in.”

The seats were plush and reclining. The room was about 120 degrees too hot. I barged into the center of the seats and plopped myself next to a bored New York couple (jeans, long hair, air of chic superiority) on one side and an older white British woman sharing M&Ms with a black British guy on my left. Neither side was up for conversation (with me, anyway) so I shut up.

We were all sweltering. An older New York man stood up behind me and bellowed – “Hey, turn on the air conditioning! We’re burning up in here!”

“Thank you!” I said to him. That’s what I like about New York. People are NOT afraid to speak up.

Six out of ten for the Coen brothers. The movie bumps along because you feel for the musician and want him to succeed. It’s frustrating because he does not. Why cast a guy who is not Italian and call him half Italian? It doesn’t work. We can see through all that. We can look at his body, and we can interpret the names of the cast.

I wanted Llewellyn to learn something. I wanted him to sign the correct contract and earn royalties. I wanted him to join the merchant marines. He did not.

As usual, Justin Timberlake saved the day with his acting and his hilarious song, “Mr. Kennedy, don’t send me into space.”
           
Now, off to the Shadow Box Film Festival.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Disaster! SHADOW BOX FILM FESTIVAL

By Laura P. Valtorta                                                        

Marco and I had a grand time watching White Rock Boxing in the 269-seat movie theater at the beautiful School of the Visual Arts in New York City. Alone.

That’s right. We were the only ones who showed up. The flat-nosed boxing reporter who promised to show up (he was there to watch the Dutch documentary two hours earlier) decided to hang out with some boxers who attended the short films in the other theater.

White Rock Boxing looked brilliant on the big screen. Even the music sounded good. The colors were just right. One hundred percent of the audience was delighted with the film.

What I learned from this experience is that television rules. When White Rock Boxing aired on South Carolina Educational Television two times (count ‘em – two) we had a potential audience of four million viewers each time.  At least I like to believe that. South Carolina ETV rocks! It’s mentioned as an excellent venue in the book the Screenwriter’s Bible.

The venerable Cliff Springs (owner of Genesis Studios) and I are wrestling with the conundrum of distribution. How can independent films find the largest audience? Film festivals? Television? Streaming on demand? So far, television seems the best bet. We also have to try out streaming—but where? DVD sales. How? All ideas welcome.

For people trying to find work – here’s an idea. Cook up a plan to market independent films. Because the films are all so different (length, quality, subject matter), the service has to be tailored to each film. And find a way for producers to make some money. You will be a millionaire in no time.

The Sundance festival sucked in more than 12,000 entries. This gives some idea of how many independent films are being produced each year. My short was not chosen. But this sparks in me a desire to produce more films. I want to get better. I’m sure other writers and producers like me share the same passion.

New York is not a total bust. Marco is here! Next on the agenda: MOMA.  ;-)  ;-)