Sunday, August 31, 2008
I try to write about something I am familiar with. It makes research much easier. My first book was about how I started doing AIDS education in my beauty salon. I was the first hairstylist to do outreach on what they call a “grassroots level.” I tried to make it informative by giving advice on how to replicate my prevention programs. I tried to entertain people at the same time with how my work in the salon crossed over to educating people.
I was at a conference years ago and had done interviews on TV and radio and had been misquoted many times. I met a woman who said that I should tell my own story instead of having reporters and interviewers do their take on it. She went on to say that many times history was one person’s take on what happened, and that was all that people had to go on. I thought about it for a long time and, after reading another incorrect story about my work, started to write.
I purchased an ibook computer so I could take it on the road with me and I added to the story as things unfolded. It took me eight years to write the book. Every time I thought I had an ending something in the world of AIDS would unfold and pull me back into it.
At the time, I worked in my salon and did my writing on weekends or at night, usually after 12:00 am, but not after 2:00 am. I would start to get a little sleepy by then.
Looking for a publisher for a few years was getting annoying, so I looked into self-publishing. My biggest problem was that the company charged me to professionally edit my work and then announced that they had a hard time translating from my ibook to their PC. I did not see that as my problem after paying them $1,000.00. The book got published, but there were errors in it. I am not sure how to warn people about this process, but editing is just as important as the book itself. The company was bought out and went out of business.
If you're interested in writing, I suggest that you find something that is of interest to you and enjoy what you write about.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
By Alex Raley
Faced with the frustrations of writing, I ask myself, "Why write?" Does anyone care that I write; aren't there legions who write better; is there anything new to say; shouldn't craft be perfected before writing is attempted; and what will become of all those printed words anyway? Shouldn't trees be saved and this nonsense of words on paper be stopped? The simple answer is that I cannot stop. My writing is not an addiction. Writing is my sustenance. I write to sustain life, to assure myself that I am here, that something in my life has meaning, if only for me.
My writing comes primarily from my own experiences or observed experiences, though one soon learns that writing stalls if it only retells the facts. Even memoirs need the emotional impact of the writer's imagination in pulling facts together in an interesting, cohesive manner. This is clearly demonstrated in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Wind, Sand and Stars and Francine du Plessix Gray's Them. These authors' imaginations construct such powerful words that we flip pages as much for the writing as for the story.
Fictional writing is not so much a retelling of experiences as it is the creative reconstruction of experiences, often experiences not related in any way. Recently, I began a story with a prompt given to workshop participants. The prompt related to nothing other than the dialogue that arose from working it out. Later I tied the prompt dialogue to a fictional situation, one all of us have experienced or witnessed many times, in which the protagonist angers his wife by flirting with a beautiful female at a party.
When the wife reacts negatively, the protagonist decides he will do the walk if he is going to get all the talk, but then I was stuck. Where would the story go from that point? A visit with friends caused me to remember a situation in which the wife of a guy we knew left him for a woman. So I finished my story by having the beautiful girl take off with the protagonist's best friend's wife. In some manner, each element of the story is from my experiences. I tried to bring them together in a new way.
Writing poetry comes from my love of word sounds. From the time I was old enough to remember, there has been a word of nonsense syllables that rings in my ears. The word, if it is a word, seems to have no origin, except in my head, but I love the sounds. They excite me.
Poetry wants to clip along with interesting sounds, creating rhythms and cadences of their own, but poetry also wants to speak to that indefinable something deep within us that makes us who we are. I struggle to bring these elements together, most often without success, but the need for sustenance is strong. I cannot stop writing.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
People who have a finished screenplay should try out Virtual Pitch Fest. It's a way to send your pitches (2-3 paragraphs about the screenplay) to producers in Hollywood and New York. Having done this for about 4 months, I can testify that it works, and it's legitimate. The writer chooses her target producers, agents, or managers from a list describing who they are and what they want to read. I advise writers to buy the Hollywood Creative Directory to double check who these people are. In about 3-5 days the writer gets a response. "No, thanks," or "Yes, email me the screenplay right away!" From about 30 pitches I have sent in, 12 or so asked to read the entire screenplay. Each pitch costs about $10. This pitching is fun and it's fast, and it beats flying to LA to make your pitches. Well, maybe not.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Only in the last several years have I thought of myself as a writer. Somehow it always seemed pretentious to admit to writing, especially in the fields of fiction and poetry. In the past when working with newspapers or magazines (albeit small, regional ones), I could own up to being an editor—after all, my name was printed on the masthead. But as a writer, I’ve yet to see a book with my name as author.
FROM A DIARY, LONG AGO AND NOT SO FAR AWAY
For several years, I’ve been working on my third manuscript for a novel. My fascination with the Old South and Civil War began, I suppose, with the family legend of my father’s grandfather. A photo shows him to be a distinguished, white haired man with a vibrant mustache and a missing arm. The tale goes that in returning home after losing his arm in the Civil War, he was on a train robbed by the James gang. The robbers stole everybody’s valuables, except those of the Confederate soldiers.
Apart from that, years ago I read Tombee, the diary of Thomas Chaplin, who inherited a plantation on St. Helena Island in the 1840s. He described the crops he planted, his slaves and their work, talked of disputes with his sickly wife, castigated himself for drinking too much, and grieved over the death of his young daughter to marsh fever. The tone and detail make it apparent that he wrote the diary for himself. Theodore Rosengarten, who edited Tombee, provides an introduction that goes into the nooks and crannies of Chaplin’s life.
About five years ago, I reread Tombee. More recently, I went to Beaufort and found the plantation house, now privately owned. Looking on it and the landscape that was once Chaplin’s fields where his slaves tilled the soil was a near religious experience. Thomas Chaplin wasn’t a literary man and was undistinguished in his day. Yet he lives on in his house. His day-to-day existence persists in his diary. That it survived the War and was saved from oblivion seems more than serendipity. Maybe it was fate. I can’t seem to escape the notion that his fate and mine are connected some way. So I’m writing a story about a plantation owner on St. Helena Island, one who would have known Thomas Chaplin.