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 d├ęcor 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, 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


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


Marion Aldridge


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.


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.