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. 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


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.  ;-)  ;-)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Fictional Past

By Sarah Herlong

When I was young and sensitive about critiques, I asked my mother to read my story. I wanted to know if the actions of my characters were realistic. She pointed out to me that putting gas cans full of gasoline in the trunk of a car was not a safe thing to do. I was crushed. The gas in the trunk was very important to my story…it was crucial!

I wanted to write stories that didn’t sound like a kid wrote them. Unfortunately I was maybe 10 years old. I decided to stop writing. I wanted to wait until I was older and knew more about the world.

I then turned my attention to art deciding to merely illustrate my friend’s book instead. We were 13. I pursued art through college. I wanted to take a creative writing course, but bottom line I was too chicken to take it. I wondered if I had anything to say that wouldn’t scream that I was only 20 years old. 

It was only after college that I started to write. A lot of writing was skewed and imprinted with depression. It wasn’t completely worthless, but was damn near close. I still have those writings to remind me of a place I don’t want to go back to.

Finally in my thirties I took a writing class. It was a fiction class and it was all about getting words on the page through prompts. We wrote during the class and at home. It blew my mind. I was in the midst of a mania induced creative period. I dreamed what every writer dreams, to quit my job in order to write. But that job inspired my writing.

Then I got laid off from that tyrannical job, worked for a funeral home and started writing again. This was the ultimate job to inspire writing. I did a comedy routine about it. Wrote stories about it. And put together and delivered a career-day presentation on the funeral business—for middle schoolers.

Then the depression returned and the writing stopped. It wasn’t until I met a little cat named Sparky that my inspiration returned. Three Sparky stories in and I think I’m safely entrenched in writing for the long haul. The irony is now I want to write children’s stories that have a realistic kid’s voice, instead of writing for my age.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Selfie, Hottie, and Twerking: My 8th Grade English Teacher Would Faint

By Kimberly Johnson

Who would’ve thunk it? A Disney alum would spark controversy and add a newfangled word into the American lexicon. Yeah, I’m talking about Twerking. It’s a verb. According to Oxford online dictionary it’s “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.” It’s a noun. According to my Google search, there are 195 videos on the subject. London’s Daily Mail announced last week the winner of the first Twerking championship.

Mrs. Taylor, my 8th grade English teacher , would take a nosedive in front of the chalkboard if she knew words like selfie and hottie entered the hallowed pages of the Oxford Dictionary. She was a taskmaster. Here’s a lady who insisted on diagraming sentences. BTW, selfie is the Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionary. 

Who am I to be judge, jury and executioner on which words meet some unwritten seal of approval? All I know is that these seemingly fad words are a good thing. They bridge the generational gap. A guy from the MTV Generation may embrace reading/writing and become the next John Steinbeck. What I find interesting is that these trendy terms are seductive enough to sneak into my vocabulary bank. While watching E! News, I blurted out actor Gerard Butler is such a hottie. (Sorry about that.) Here are some listed in my pocket phrasebook.

Hottie: an attractive guy or girl  
Selfie: self- portrait snapped on a smartphone
Bazinga: A catch phrase to accompany a prank, similar to “You’ve been punk’d”.
Swagger: To walk around being overly self-assured 
Gangnam Style: Similar to swagger
Friend me/Like me/Tweet me: To leave a message

Who would’ve thunk it? Miley Cyrus and Mrs. Taylor – in the same story. Whether it is a verb or a noun, trendsetting words are a part of the American vocabulary and maybe we should embrace a word or two.