What a Fabulous Conversation! How to Write Great Dialogue.

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I love dialogue.

Of all the elements of fiction, dialogue is my favorite as both a writer and a reader. I get excited when a come across a long stretch of dialogue in a novel, and as a writer, I work on dialogue for hours.

There is no resistance. I love picturing these scintillating conversations between characters, and I have no complaints working out the kinks as I put those talks to paper.

If anybody has come across some of my work-in-progress excerpts, you would find a lot of dialogue because I love it so much. If you’d like to check that out, go here.

Maybe I should have been a screenwriter. Because splendid dialogue between characters on a movie screen makes me high for days.

For example, Pulp Fiction is one of the best dialogue movies I’ve ever seen. Without the exquisite dialogue in every single scene of the movie, Pulp Fiction would have been awful.

As far as the characters and the plot are concerned, the stories are disturbing. Generally speaking, all the characters are out for themselves and nobody has a moral compass.

There are exceptional scenes of personal growth, like the choice Butch made to save Marcellus Wallace from a hideous fate, even though Marcellus Wallace had put a hit on him.

Also, the epiphany of Jules to quit the hit man’s life, walk the earth as a holy man, in the final scene when he spares the lives of Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, made a breathtaking end to a film that boggled the minds of most people who saw it.

Pulp Fiction took black humor to a new level. Throughout the many psychotic and psychopathic events, the audience laughed hysterically and savored every moment (or almost every moment), and I believe it was because the dialogue was that brilliant.

This was during the days when Quentin Tarantino collaborated with Roger Avary. Either Avary was the dialogue genius, or the two of them needed each other for that magical precision of back and forth verbal volley between characters. All I know is the dialogue in Tarantino’s films has made cringe once they fell out and parted ways. Too many monologues.

I love good dialogue in a novel. I relish the chance to imagine these fictional conversations in my mind and put myself in the story as one of the characters.

The dialogue in Tom Robbins’ work (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Jitterbug Perfume, Still Life With Woodpecker) makes me want to dance and celebrate the glory of life. But his characters and his plots are every bit as magnificent as the dialogue they speak.

Back in the day, Jane Austen had some pretty luscious dialogues set in Regency England. But Jane Austen had far more fodder to work with. We’ve gotten lazy and unskilled in the act of communication. For centuries, conversation was an art that most people wanted to excel at.

Now that my rant about my love of dialogue is finished, the nuggets of advice I can offer on how to pen dialogue are:

1) Practice and Read Your Dialogue Out Loud. That’s the only way you can hear the rhythm and flow of a conversation.

2) For anybody who really struggles with dialogue, I suggest writing dialogue between the writerly YOU and your principal characters. I suggest doing this one character at a time, to open yourself up to an impression of who they are as people and how they sound, even their quirky and unique expressions. A few exercises like this and you’ll be creating dialogue between the characters with little to no trouble.

I’m also happy to share a lovely article that gives more detailed tips on gorgeous dialogue. Click here.

4 Steps and 40 days to Healthy Habits For Writers Who Struggle With the Juggle!

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Hey y’all,

Did you know that it takes 40 days to change a habit?

According to the late Yogi Bhajan, it is so. It also takes 90 days to confirm the new habit; after 120 days, the new habit is who you are; and if you keep it up for 1000 days, you have mastered the new habit.

I’ve found that 120 days will make some profound changes. 120 days was enough to quit smoking. I did this by replacing a bad habit with a good one. Instead of puffing on a cigarette, I practiced the Kundalini breathing exercises Yogi Bhajan passed on to Western culture.

I focused on 1 or 2 meditations and mantras at a time for 40-day runs. At the end of that winter, I had transformed into a non-smoker rather than an ex-smoker craving a cigarette. That was more than 15 years ago.

Some would say Yogi Bhajan was a cult leader. And maybe that is true. Either way, smoking is a gnarly addiction for a lot of people; it was for me, so the man and his memory have my respect, as well as my gratitude. 

Since then the 40-day method has been my standard go-to when it comes to making constructive changes in my life.

I’ll get back to this later.

A few days ago, a gentleman responded to a meme on my Twitter page about writer’s block. From what he had to say with very young children to raise, I gathered that he doesn’t have time to write.

Since I’m new to parenting via the stepmother path, I could sort of relate to what he was talking about.

I got to thinking about all we have to juggle in life – and then there’s the writing. It’s a balancing act that I’m not comfortable with. There was a time when I had the time to isolate for several weeks to write a rough draft because I didn’t really have to worry about anybody but myself.

Even if the loneliness of being that single got to me so much that I suffered some serious writer’s block as a result, I miss having that kind of space to immerse myself in another world. Now, I only get 2 hours of daily writing time - 4 if I’m lucky - before I have to move on with everything else that needs to be done.

As an independent author, I’m also a publisher. I have to find my editors, artists, graphic designers, printers, and whoever else will be involved in the process of giving birth to a new book.

Independent author or not, there’s no getting away from all the social media stuff that needs to be done. Instead of simply working on the creative juice of novels and stories, writers now have to have a platform. We have to blog, tweet, pin, Facebook, and Instagram, etc.

All this for the sake of getting our name out there in the hopes that the world knows our stuff exists and will come to read it and love it. Traditionally published authors have to do the social media thing just as much as the Indies do.

Then there is the stuff of life - relationship, friendships, parenting, day jobs, and beloved hobbies for those who have the time.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems there are more demands on time and attention and energy than ever before. Or maybe it’s because a child has been thrown into the mix of life, and I’m still getting used to that.

I’ve never been organized in my life, and now I have to be at least a little competent at it. Which brings us back to habits because I had to improve mine.

So about that 40-day method of creating healthy habits…

Or 90 day.

Or 120 day.

Last year, I made a commitment of 4 small yet mighty changes of habit - daily meditation, walking, chores, and writing. I started the day with meditation and walking before getting my morning coffee. Then I wrote at least 2 pages every day and did at least 1 chore.

I did this for 120 days.

Small changes led to big results.

Meditation balanced me a lot more and I could concentrate so much more.

I lost about 15 pounds from walking – just walking.

I usually wrote more than 2 pages a day.

One chore often led to another chore, sometimes 2 or 3 more.

I’m not saying that I’m a neat freak now, but I tidy more than I used to and it has made a difference in how functional I am.

In that 120 days, I finished the rough draft of the novel that I am well immersed into my second draft now. In that time, I finished rewriting and polishing a fairy tale I wrote years ago.

I was more productive during that 120 days than I had been in years. With all the demands on my time and energy, I was much more productive than when I had the time and space to dive into an imaginary world for weeks at a time.

Just in case anybody would like a to-do checklist on consciously changing habits, I got some great tips from the guys at JumpCut, and their Viral Academy on making Youtube videos. Here ya go:

1) Identify the bad habit you need to change.

We lie to ourselves all the time about our habits, and justify them. Don’t do that.

2) Replace the bad habit with a good one.

We rely on our habits to get through the day. Taking away a bad habit without putting something else in its place won’t work. For example: Meditate for 5-10 minutes first thing in the morning, instead of opening your phone to check Facebook. Or do deep breathing exercises that will give you a head rush instead of reaching for a cigarette. That’s what I did.

3) Plant a seed habit.

Start small and build from there. It helps if you put yourself in the position that you have to do it. That makes it easier to do it every day. For example: Walk or ride bike to work. Write 2 pages before checking social media, etc.

4) Don’t break the chain.

This is where the 40 days comes in. If you don’t have a wall calendar, get one. Put a big fat X in any color you want on each day that you do your new, healthy habit. Do this for as many days as you can. Doing this feels deliciously satisfying.

If you make it to 40, try to push it to 90 days. Maybe spread to 120 days. And then…

I should probably aim for 1000 days to make sure these new habits stay with me forever.

Are there any writers out there who have any healthy habit forming tricks you’d like to share? What tools do you have to make it all happen? If you have any insights, please check in with a comment or two. Check in if you struggle with the juggle. Because I’m pretty sure we all do.

Truthfully, I should start another 40-day challenge to get the second draft done. Or 90 day. I’m sure I could get this draft done in 120 days.

For anybody who wants to be a Youtube influencer, or to check out some of Jumpcut’s courses, click here. For the record, this is NOT an affiliate link, and I do not get a commission if you anybody signs up. That one video they did on changing bad habits did me a lot of good and I want to spread the love.

Thanks for reading.

Peace,

Montgomery

 

 

 

How to Tackle Setting

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So I’m looking into various articles and blogs about setting. I think I talked about this in an earlier blog, but setting is one of the last things I take on when I’m writing a piece. If you want to take a look at that blog, go here.

But what are the gifts of setting? Why is it so necessary? Personally, when I get bogged down in all the details of a room, I space out and skim and get straight to the action. That said, there is no doubt that it’s uncomfortable and perhaps even unpleasant to read about characters talking and acting in empty space. Setting grounds the story to a particular time and place that the reader can connect to. So there’s no getting away from it.

As I said in that blog, for anybody who is reluctant to tackle setting:

Tip #1 Write setting as a character and describe its personality. That is very liberating. I’d even say it’s fun, especially if you write about a place here in the real world that you hate. At least that’s how it worked for me.

“Happiness is very important there (Orlando, Florida). After all, it matches the weather.”

That piece about the place where I grew up from Margaret Grossman’s writing class is long lost, but I do remember the last lines. I was proud of it, and she praised it to the skies, which made my week.

Tip #2 Exaggerate the details. Extravagance can come in really handy when it comes to writing about place. Going over the top about the details of a place, or even a feature can free one up and thaw one out to go to town on setting because like making setting a character, it’s more fun to write. Here’s an example from a piece I’m writing right now out of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.”

How in the devil did I come here?

That’s what I wondered as I encountered again the cavernous entry into the home of the most legendary Courtesan the Capital City had ever known. All I could think about was that afternoon when the Wanderer and I first stepped inside the Courtesan’s Casa.

The atrium had soaring ceilings with pale pink satin lining the walls, while mottled pink marble stretched along the floor and up the steps of the sweeping staircase in the middle. Maybe even the ceiling was pink. It was impossible to tell because the massive chandelier hanging in the space between the ceiling and the floor reflected pink everywhere. Hundreds of candles and thousands of crystal droplets married fire and ice when the tiny flames coupled with the glimmering teardrops, then flickered along the marble floor, the stairs, and the walls. Such a pairing had cast rosy radiance throughout the foyer to render everybody inside timeless and ageless.

The procession of servants and protégées lined up and waiting were the most gorgeous household I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe it when the men bowed! Even the strongmen actually bent at the waist, after they had pulled me and the Wanderer out of the rioting mob. They may have saved our lives! Yet here they were, bowing to us like royalty, while the women curtsied. The courtesan protégées made quite a vision as they fanned their sumptuous skirts. Even the most junior maids held their plain skirts wide. Their timing was impeccable. The Courtesan’s staff moved in flawless unison, but how could they have rehearsed that moment?

My friend, the Wanderer had enjoyed many grand adventures in his life. Yet his black eyes were wide in his face. He appeared as stunned as I with this spectacle. None of it seemed real, especially with the hard coldness of pink marble penetrating my boots to chill my feet.

So those are my tips about taking on setting from the spirit of reluctance, along with an excerpt. 

Given that I struggle with setting, I can commiserate with another’s frustrations with it. That may not make me the best teacher. So here are some gorgeous and thorough articles offering practical and detailed instruction on creating gorgeous and memorable settings. Check them out here and here.

Writing Tips! Character, Plotting, Novel Structure, Oh My!

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Plot first, character second, or character first, plot second?

That is the question many of us struggle with.

General rule of thumb: Characters who drive the plot make up literary fiction; a fully developed plot where the characters come across as ‘flat’ or ‘1-dimensional,’ kind of like actors in a play, make up commercial fiction.

Perhaps that is an oversimplification. But generally speaking, it’s pretty easy to discern when a novel has its foundation in ‘character’ or ‘plot.’

To refer again the marvelous Margaret Grossman, one is either a plot writer or a character writer, and each envies the other their talent.

As a plot writer, I’ve had to research and devise tools to give birth to more intriguing characters – or at least, I think they’re intriguing. But I haven’t a clue how to show those writers who struggle with plot how to develop one.

Remember the post, Engaging Characters or Juicy Plot?

In it, I gave a character checklist for those who write plots but don’t write characters naturally. If you’ve never seen that post, here’s the link.

This is a similar tool I use when I’m struggling with fleshing out characters and why they do the things they do. Since I write plot naturally, I have to work on developing characters. Yet it’s very difficult to give pointers on something that comes naturally, at least it is for me.

Anyhow, on Pinterest, I came across a writer, Penelope Redmont, who offered a very simple and elegant method for developing plot, clearly for those who naturally write character. Here’s that wonderful blog here.

Also, while I’m at it, here is my Cage-Escape-Quest-Dragons-Home, the basic structure for forming chapters and the arc of the novel as a whole. This may help with the character arcs Penelope Redmont refers to in her blog, Plotting Fiction: 3 Plotting Tips to Make Fiction Easy.

And guess what else? Penelope Redmont writes Romance! Regency romance and romantic suspense – ha! Oh, what an odd coincidence that is! For anybody who doesn’t understand why that’s strange and would like to know, check it out here.

Got Writer's Block? Here, Have Some Writing Prompts!

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Writer’s block is such a bitch. Prevention is worth more than cure here, of course, and one of the best ways to prevent the dreaded writer’s block is to write your story ideas down as they come to tinker with them later.

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But in case you didn’t do that, here are some prompts and story ideas that might get you rolling. One could be used as a journaling piece or memoir.

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What do you think about doing a series of essays on your most embarrassing moments – those times we’d prefer to forget? I think the experience would be both humbling and liberating at the same time. It’s very empowering to embrace our human frailty.

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And here, enjoy a couple of others. Hope this helps!

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In case these aren’t enough, there are plenty more prompts to be found here and here.




Why Do We Write?

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Why do we write?

I ask myself this question all the time for all kinds of reasons. I ask myself why did I want to be a writer when I procrastinate for far longer than I actually spend typing, when I’m frozen on a scene, or when I’m overwhelmed by the magnitude of the story nuggets that have yet to be the rough drafts, rewrites, revisions, and edits of gold mines. Writing is so much work with very few tangible, immediate rewards. It is not a “fun job.” It keeps me in my head. It keeps me solitary, sometimes even isolated. There is no way to be a writer without being a watcher. That role of observation keeps me out of the active participation of life far more often than I would like.

A perfect example of this watcher/player dynamic can be found amongst the Beat Generation of writers and poets. “On the Road” was not about Jack Kerouac so much as it was about Neal Cassady, a friend Kerouac found fascinating. Apparently, Neal Cassady also had a talent for writing. A “Joan Anderson letter” written to Kerouac from Cassady featured the stream-of-consciousness writing which inspired Kerouac, and he write “On The Road” in that style, this book that made him famous. What Cassady did not have was the discipline or the drive to become a great writer himself. He was too busy playing on the stage of life, being a muse, an inspiration, the Holy Fool who lived on the edge until he self destructed right before his 42nd birthday. He died alone on a railroad track in Mexico from exposure, after mixing powerful drugs and alcohol.

Kerouac wrote his story down. Allen Ginsburg probably enjoyed a lot of inspiration from Cassady as well. Ken Kesey further immortalized him in the Merry Pranksters as the manic bus driver of “Further.” In the lives of these writers, they were both players and watchers; but ultimately, they had to be watchers to sit down, reflect, and write it all down. It’s hard work. It’s painstaking. Writing needs a lot of patience. And in my case, writing comes slowly.

I had so many dreams. Why did this one stick? It would have been so much more exciting to have a dream of dancing or skydiving or mountaineering or snowboarding. I’ve done a bit of all of these, some more than others. But these were passionate hobbies, not callings. Even being a geologist or biologist would have left some room.

Writing is an exacting taskmaster. So why do we do it?

In my case, I suppose I write because I’m called to. When I don’t, I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing. When I do, I feel at peace.

Writing does help me sort out my thoughts and ideas. Writing can upset me, but it can also bring me clarity. When I write a piece I can feel in my bones is special and just right, sweet gratification follows.

As far as the stage of Life is concerned, I’ve sought out unusual and extreme experiences, knowing that there would be a story in there somewhere. So oddly enough, writing goaded me into being a player on plenty of occasions – even if I watched the entire time.

I must admit I like playing God. Writing stories and novels makes that role inevitable. So when I finally arrive to that sense of finish – knowing I’ve done all I can do for this novel and this world I created without an editor – and write “THE END” on the last line, it feels f*cking great!

The anticipation of that satisfaction keeps me going. What works for you?

She's a Victim of her own Success

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Sometimes I hear these pithy statements, and know immediately I have to use them later. This is tied into the “Give Yourself Something to Write About” theme of my blog. The best way to come up with fresh ideas and new perspectives is to DO STUFF. Do stuff that hurts, that’s difficult, that makes you uncomfortable.  

That’s what I did when I had a conversation that gave me the title of this blog: “She’s a victim of her own success.” I’m currently at a Contact Improv Jam. Contact improv is a form of dance that makes a lot of people uncomfortable because it entails getting into intimate personal space with strangers, rolling around on the ground, sharing weight, being lifted and twisted into all kinds of bizarre shapes.

Anyway, I was deep in conversation with this guy who I know through these jams, about his friend. They live in Seattle, I live in Portland, so these are the only times we connect. Anyway, I asked him about his friend because I hadn’t seen her in a while. She’s a cute blonde who is an excellent Contact dancer, who men love, and who seems to have everything. She did tell me about a pretty gnarly health problem she had, and I mentioned that. He shrugged and said he wonders about the health problem that she’s treated for years, and has his doubts. He said she’s gotten reclusive, never wants to go out, go to contact jams, or do anything.

“She’s a victim of her own success,” he said. “I think that’s all that’s wrong with her.”

Talk about a mic drop and a head swivel! That statement is rich with meaning and hidden meaning, the kind of statement that stops us in our tracks and makes us think.

We really do have it so good, and have for so many generations. But to think of being so blessed, of having so many advantages that one could possibly implode on oneself boggles the mind. Another way of looking at it is that having such a sweet deal in life may be so boring that one creates problem to have a challenge or some strife to get through.

I’m sure there are many other ways to look at that. But who knows what may become of that chance remark. Perhaps it will only be this blog. Perhaps this kind of woman will be a character in a story. Maybe she already is in a variety of novels, TV shows, movies, and plays.

Either way, that was a fantastic statement and I wouldn’t have found that nugget of inspiration if I hadn’t been DOING STUFF.

So get out of your head and into the world and do stuff that gives you something to write about.

Love Story vs. Romance

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So what distinguishes a love story from the romance genre?

Although I’ve gained a new respect for romance novels – which you can read about here - I’m more than a little frustrated that my former assistant put “romance” all over my META data and keywords.

I don’t write romance, and to put that in my META data to increase SEO is false advertising. Anybody who stumbles across my work and mistakenly buys it is going to be really pissed off when they encounter a predatory seductress who’d rather eat the hearts of her conquests than accept a happily-ever-after ending.

So what are the differences between them? These are broad generalizations, but I’ve come up with a few reasons why love stories command respect and romance tends to inspire derision.

If written well, a love story can be considered literary fiction. If we’re going into the classics, a couple of examples are Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is a love story, as is “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. For film, “A Star is Born” is definitely a love story, and so beloved it has been remade over and over again and still makes an impact.

Romance follows a formula and that makes it commercial, even if it is beautifully written. Since I don’t read romance novels, I don’t know who the latest prolific romance novelist is after Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts, but I do know both of those women made a fortune off their genres. There are too many rom-coms to list.

A love story often has a slower pace without too many plot twists. Romance is all about the drama of obstacles to these star-crossed lovers. A love story can be set within an ordinary life, or an extraordinary circumstance in an ordinary life; whereas romance tends to be set in exotic times and places. But to me the greatest distinction between a love story and a romance is in the ending.

Romance novels, by their very nature of romantic escapism, have a formula and that formula must have a happy ending. Romance always ends with the man and woman are together against all odds. Since love stories are closer to life, sometimes they end happily – as was the case for Jane and Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice,” but not always. It could be argued that “Pride and Prejudice” was an early romance novel because the happily-ever-after ending was not true to life of what the writer, Jane Austen, actually experienced. Marrying within your social class and with an attention to money was a very insurmountable obstacle in Regency England and Jane Austen did not get the guy because her family, although respectable, was not moneyed. Perhaps that aura of loss and disappointment lent itself to the happy endings of her novels, and made them love stories, not romances. On the other hand, “Northanger Abbey” was silly enough to be a romance.

In “Wuthering Heights,” Catherine Earnshaw married somebody stable and died young. They don’t necessarily have that happily-ever-after. IN
“Bridges of Madison County,” Francesca stayed with her husband rather than leaving for a sexy photographer.

Love stories can end happily, but they don’t have to. This is probably why they command respect that romance doesn’t. Here’s another blog on the differences between love story and romance here.

One of my early reviews on Amazon about Ella Bandita and the Wanderer declared that theirs was a love story. Not a happily ever after love story, but a love story nonetheless. That is why I’m kind of pissed about romance being in my META data.

Adventure or Stability? Writer's Life.

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Experience feeds the muse. I’m a strong believer in experience as fodder for writing. I firmly believe writers get their best ideas from those times spent outside the comfort zone – taking risks, learning new things, experimentation, travel, trying new experiences, trying things one thinks one couldn’t do. For writing, it’s even better when things blow up in one’s face because chances are there will be a story to tell later. All these experiences can and will pass through the funnel of our conscious and unconscious mind and the result could always end up as wonderful fiction.

I’ve been blessed with many unique experiences because I’ve made unusual choices in my life. I’ve taken a lot of chances, embarrassed myself more often than I like to admit, suffered plenty, and tried to make sense of it all. Most scenarios did not work out in my favor. But I found inspiration in those moments of mortification and pieces of pain. I also discovered that although I may have had the fleeting wish to die of embarrassment, none of that killed me, or my sense of self.

Yet when it comes to being productive, I have recently found that stability has made me more productive. Right now, I’m engaged, have a stepdaughter, and 5 cats. My traveling is in-state most of the time, and my escapades tend to be shorter in duration. In other words, my life is not as exciting as it used to be. Yet my life is also a lot less lonely, and loneliness gave me the worst writer’s block of my life.

With all my core needs met, I’m stable and I’m writing more often than I have in years. I’m actually optimistic that I am finally going to finish the 2nd novel in a series of 4 that I couldn’t bring myself to write for years.

So the paradox is interesting, and more than a little frustrating. Adventure gave me a lot of the stories, but I was too immersed in what was happening to write it down. It has been stability that gave me the breathing room to write and rewrite them down. Also, sometimes distance helps.

I wonder how many of us can write prolifically while having an adventure, or do you need stillness and steadiness to write?

The Long Absence From Writing

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It’s intimidating to get back into a project after a long absence from writing. In my last post, I mentioned the relief I felt finishing the rough draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” because I’d had writer’s block for years. If you want to read it, you can find that blog here.

That rough draft was difficult because my writing muscles had atrophied, and my abilities had gotten weak. It hurt to write when what I was writing wasn’t good; and for a long time, I didn’t have any faith that eventually, it would be good. But I kept it up and finishing that godawful mess of a rough draft about a year ago was likely the most magnificent achievement of the last five years.

More than twenty years ago, I discovered that I can’t write when I’m in pain. This was the year when my mother suddenly collapsed with a cerebral hemorrhage. She almost died, and if my brother, Robert, hadn’t been at the house to do CPR, she would have. I was journaling every day at that time, and I remember opening up my notebook, putting pen to paper to write about it, and I froze. I made nothing more than dot on that page that day because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. When somebody suggested I write about the pain, I argued that I could do that from a place of remembrance. At the time, it was all I could do to live through it. I couldn’t bear to reflect on it.

Over the years, things happen. Things like betrayal, heartbreak, abandonment, death, and grief, and every time I would take a long absence from writing. I envy those writers who can produce even while they suffer, even when they wake up with anguish and go to bed with despair. I’m sure their writing is very powerful and deeply moving. But to date, I simply can’t do it. For me, suffering blocks productivity. Maybe that will change some day; maybe I will find solace in the fictional story that has nothing to do with what is current in my life, and that will give me an escape.

I have no advice on what to do when things are bad and the writing is blocked, but I can offer some ideas on what to do to shift your energy away from the inertia that grief often brings. Several months ago, I did a blog about changing your habits, which is pretty much how I became productive again. You can read about it here if you like.

But it really comes down to meditation and exercise. If you must choose one over the other, I suggest exercise that has a meditative quality, like walking, running, and swimming – especially swimming. Exercise pulls you out of apathy quickly, and meditation brings you to the inner stillness and peace I believe are necessary for productive creativity.

Then write. Make yourself write even if your writing sucks. You have to do something to get back your momentum. Eventually, your writing will be good again.

Read a Lot and Write a Lot

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Stephen King offered this pithy gem of advice in his fabulous book for scribes, “On Writing,” and he considered it crucial enough that he repeated “read a lot and write a lot” throughout the book. As much as I admire Mr. King for “On Writing,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and the sheer mass of work he produced (I’m not a fan of horror), I have a slight tweak to add.

Read a lot, but read selectively. Write a lot.

The reason why is that I have found that whatever I’m reading affects the way I write. Although it probably affects character and plot development in ways that I’m not aware of, my biggest concern is the effect on the beauty and quality of the writing. In other words, if I’m indulging in a juicy piece of mind candy to escape from reality – and we all do it, chances are it’s not written in the gorgeous style of quality literary fiction. Chances are, the editing may not be that great either. But if the story is engaging, pulls me in, and I’m enjoying the read, I don’t care because I’m getting what I want out of it. However, I’m not thrilled when that less than high quality style of writing is coming from my fingers as I’m typing happily, especially if I’m in the 3rd or 4th rewrite. So it’s probably best to read the most sumptuous, lyrical, poetic prose I can get my hands on, especially while I’m in the later stages of rewriting, editing, and polishing.

I have found that what we read influences not just what we write, but how. This is especially true of the fiction we read while growing up. For instance, before I found my niche where I belonged, I tried my hand at writing a mystery. Why? Because I grew up reading Agatha Christie mysteries. I read all of them by the time I finished my teens. Between the pages of those deceptively simple tomes was a brilliant brainteaser of a Whodunit. Nobody did the Whodunit better than Agatha Christie. Nobody even came close. And the reason why is because it’s f***ing difficult. It wasn’t long before I found out that I sucked at writing mysteries in general, and the Whodonit in particular. 

Yet there was no way I wasn’t influenced by Agatha Christie’s work. I read too much of her when I was young for any other outcome. How? What gift did I receive from the pages of those mystery novels I couldn’t write? Strict and obsessive attention to detail. From what I read, Agatha Christie didn’t neglect a single detail in her books, that’s why when the reader and the innocent characters in her stories finally got to Whodunit, every detail offered up was presented, including the details that she sneaked in. Not a single detail was wasted, whether it was to throw us off the path, or stacked to build a case for the murderer who had actually done it.

As a reader, I notice the abandonment of details - usually in subplot storylines that don’t conclude or even in the main story itself – and every time, I’m irritated with the sloppy, lazy writing and editing. I’m especially annoyed because those works actually got published. As a writer, I do my best to avoid that. Hopefully, I succeed in the goal of getting all stories and details to round out to a satisfying ending. 

So those influences come out in sneaky and surprising ways.

Read a lot and write a lot. But be selective in your reading choices.

If you would like more of Mr. King’s pithy advice about writing, read his book, “On Writing.” In the meantime, here’s this blog: https://jerryjenkins.com/stephen-king-writing-advice/

The Sweetest High Ever!

Indie.Author.Fantasy

“Artists are envied by millionaires.”

I don’t remember the book where I read this, but I do remember that claim and how gratifying it felt to read that. All flattery aside, this makes sense. Artists are creative and to be creative is to play God. Who wouldn’t envy that?

Personally speaking, I believe everybody is born with creativity. Yet few grow that quality or have that part of themselves nourished enough to have that creative strength throughout their lives.

Creativity is powerful. It is also overwhelming. Because I have found that a deep creative groove carves many paths, one detours to another, which then segues into another…and before one knows it, what was supposed to a straight road has become a labyrinth of various creative pursuits.

How heady is that? And how easy is it to get carried away and get lost and very possibly be left with a plethora of unfinished projects? Way too easy.  

For example, I write original fables and fairy tales. I also enjoy the art of oral storytelling, my own stuff, as well as other people’s, and of course, the myths and folk tales from all over the world. Those two pursuits are very compatible, but I still have to stop writing to practice storytelling, even with my own stuff. Storytelling is not the same thing as reading from a book. It’s a performance, and that alone takes time and energy and repetition before a piece is polished enough to present to an audience. In other words, the path of writing segued into performance art.

When I was on the road with my collection of fables, I stopped in Santa Cruz for six months and came across flamenco dance. I even lived with my flamenco teacher and her husband for most of the time I was there, and was blessed to learn from excellent Gypsy teachers who came to California from Spain. Several months later, I wrote a lyrical piece, “Snowboarding for Flamencos” when I was torn between a flamenco workshop in Santa Cruz and the best snow season in SE Alaska where I lived at the time. Winter was intoxicating, and snowboarding won over flamenco. But the conflict was such that I wrote that piece and recorded, doing flamenco dance steps in a wide variety of footwear, including my snowboarding boots. So that is writing, spoken word, dance, and even music, because I made the cadences of my dance steps into as hypnotic a rhythm that would match the lyrics of “Snowboarding for Flamencos.” This short lyrical piece that was only two minutes long was doable, and very joyful when I finished it. I also used flamenco with another piece I wrote about an ecstatic experience I had on the Oregon Coast while on magic mushrooms. Again, performance art, choreography, dance, and live spoken word. That took at least 2 weeks for me to put together and practice, and if I did it again now, the rhythms would be different because I didn’t film or record it. Again, it’s doable. But I also fantasize about doing that as a book on tape for AN ENTIRE NOVEL. That would likely take a decade. That’s not doable.

So yes, creativity is overwhelming. But what a glory it is when all those segues and paths come together and something gorgeous is created!

That is the sweetest high ever!

Engaging Characters or Juicy Plot?

character-plot.jpg

“Fiction writers are strong in either plot or character - never both and each envies the other their talent.”

So said Margaret Grossman, my favorite writing teacher of all time. Her natural inclination was to write awesome, well-developed characters, the kind of people you’d want to sit down to coffee with and have long, intriguing conversations. But she struggled with finding things for these lovely characters to do.

My natural inclination is plot. I have absolutely no problem making stories up, with lots of plot points, twists, and turns. But it’s connection to the characters that keeps readers engaged with the plot, and I’m sad to say that my characters are often misunderstood and their development criticized. I struggle to flesh out fully actualized people in a fictional world - especially at that time when I worked with Margaret. I also think it’s peculiar, because I am always trying to figure out the psychology of people in the real world, and what makes us all tick. Perhaps all that amateur psychoanalysis has helped. Maybe I’ve improved since then, but criticism around character development is the most consistent when it comes to my writing. Perhaps that’s why I use archetypal types for my characters? Either way, I do the best I can, and sometimes that falls short. In my current novel, both the protagonists are telling their stories from 1st person “I.” I hope that will make a stronger connection between the readers and my characters.

Truth be told, I believe this weakness around character development is a pretty common problem with most indie authors. I haven’t made a formal study of it, but most indie authors whose work I’ve read have 1 dimensional characters as well.  

I wish I could give some sage advice and how-to’s on how to write plot if you naturally write characters, but I’m one of those who doesn’t know how to teach something that comes very easily to me. When it comes to writing character, I say practice.

But another tool that may come in handy is to write up a character sheet describing each of your characters, and then add some of those details in your plot pages.

Name:

Age:

Hair/Eye Color:

Height:

Unusual feature:

Beautiful/Homely:

Biggest Fear:

Greatest Hope:

Primary Motivation:

Likable Quality:

Fatal Flaw:

Quirks:

Best Friend:

Primary Partner/Spouse/Lover:

Secondary Partner/Lover:

What does this character want?

What role does this character play?

Is this character sympathetic and trustworthy?

What is the primary struggle for this character in this story? 

Feel free to add any more details that may help flesh out your characters into a person you’d want to hang out with or the kind of person you’d avoid at a party. It actually helps to list details of each and every character, no matter how minor they are. I don’t always do this exercise, but when I do, I find this tool helps bring characters to life.

And yes, as Margaret claimed, I do envy natural character writers their talent. But at least I have an exciting, juicy plot line to carry the day, and I’m sure some writer somewhere envies my ability to do that.

The Don't Wanna's

Resistance.In.Writing

What part of writing do you resist the most? What is the least enjoyable? What do you put off until the last minute? For me, it’s setting. I used to hate writing setting. Most of my early pieces I naturally wrote in a void of the timeless and spaceless. Even as a reader, I’ve always found the description of place to be very boring. Setting slows down the pacing of action, and sometimes it seems to bring the story to a halt. If I had my way, the reader would simply fill in the setting details themselves without any help from me. And of course, setting has always been one of my weakest areas in writing. Perhaps that may be the clue as to why I’ve disliked it so much.

But it doesn’t work that way. A well-developed setting is needed for world-building, and not all readers share my tastes. Many readers savor the description of setting. They love it when a writer makes a place real for them whether it’s historical, fictional, or actual.

I remember the first time I wrote a setting piece that did my teacher proud. She said it was one of the best pieces on setting she’d ever read – which was a high compliment. In that particular piece, I wrote setting as a character. I wrote about the town I grew up in, a place that I hated from the point of view of its culture as a personality. So there was a lot of energy and even passion to what I wrote. It was cathartic and healing to make fun of my hometown through the written word. I would even say I enjoyed it.

Since then, I’ve been able to tackle setting in my stories with less reluctance and more willingness. I try to make the descriptions beautiful and sumptuous, and therefore more interesting to read. I also try to make the sense of time and place unique and fantastical. After all, this is a fantasy world I’m writing about, so make it beyond this ordinary world.

Yet it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the settings in my novel are nameless. The setting of the Ella Bandita stories is vaguely any country in pre-Industrial Europe, the implication that the country in question could be Italy or Spain or Portugal. Yet there are some scenes with winter and heavy snowfall – in the 3rd novel, snow and ice play a crucial part of creating a setting. So that could be the northern, Scandinavian countries. In other words, I make the setting to suit what I need in the novel, and I’m not going to restrict myself to one particular country, its history, or its limitations. It is also the part of my work that I focus on last, filling in the details as I rewrite.

I wish I had some strong words of wisdom on how to tackle those areas of resistance, those areas of weakness. The only advice I can give is to keep working on it, and perhaps take notes on writers who are strong in your areas of weakness.

Here’s a lovely blog by Jill Kemerer on her tips on strengthening weak areas of writing: https://jillkemerer.blogspot.com/2014/10/strengthening-weak-areas-in-your-writing.html

So how are some of the ways you handle an area of writing you don’t like or are even weak in? Writing setting as a character in one instance worked to open me up. Even if I still address setting last of all, I wouldn’t say that I hate to write it.

Finding Writerly Concentration With an ADD Mind

Writers.With.ADD

I used to think that procrastination was the biggest problem I had as a writer. But now I’ve come to realize that it’s my attention span. Perhaps procrastination is a side effect of ADD, or it’s simply a bad habit that happens to be very compatible with somebody who is distracted at the drop of a hat.

While I was growing up and through college, I timed my space outs really well, at points in the lecture where a story was being told or somebody asked a question. It never affected the information I gathered or my exam results. Of course, I took many breaks from studying and had the most epic conversations of my life on those breaks. But my grades always reflected my ability and the time I put into those courses. So no complaints.

Then smart phones came along and made me stupid. I’ve noticed in the not even 7 years I’ve had my smart phone and can surf the internet and check my email and Facebook whenever I want, that my attention span has plummeted. That nasty little tool makes it way too easy to get distracted from something that actually matters – like writing a novel. The hours of uninterrupted concentration I enjoyed with the collection of stories and my first novel, I don’t have that attention span for it now. And it has really freaked me out. Progress on the 2nd novel has gotten much slower.

But I’m still making progress.

So what to do?

Well, one really great habit to pick up is meditation. I stuck with it for 6 months, and that was when I finally picked up some steam with The Shepherd and the Courtesan/The Art of Taking Chances/the 2nd book in the Ella Bandita stories. My attention span increased and concentration became more effortless. However, I’ve let my meditation practice drop and I plan on picking it up again because it’s so good for me on so many levels.

But in the meantime, I haven’t dropped writing the novel with the drop in my meditation practice.

The one habit I’ve picked up recently is to actually work within the nature of my ADD. If I get distracted, I allow myself to venture off down another avenue, because I notice I get bored or irritated quickly when Facebooking, surfing the Internet, or a Netflix show. (Yes, I have Netflix on my phone. I’m such an addict.) When that happens, I go back to my piece and really don’t have too much trouble getting back in the groove. When I get distracted again, I started working on those short and sweet blogs, when I need a break from my novel or NetFlix or Facebook (which is not a satisfying pursuit anymore) or whatever else made me look for a squirrel. In fact, I found this habit the most practical, because I will go back to it.

And here I’ve written a lovely little blog on a break from my novel.

Piece of cake!

For the Love of BackStory!

Writing.Advice.

Fiction has changed a lot, and really, not necessarily for the better.

My fiancée used to teach high school English, so she stayed current on YA fiction. She has a particular love for YA dystopian fiction, but she even read YA fiction she didn’t like to stay on top of what her students were reading.

Like me, she has loved to read her all her life. But I have given up on most contemporary fiction because I think most of it has gone down the toilet. She agrees, and insists that most of the great writing right now is happening in YA.

If I had to guess, I bet one of the reasons why is YA doesn’t cut out backstory.

I read voraciously when I was a kid. Growing up, I read mostly commercial junk and did not become actively interested in the classics until I was in college.

But one thing most of my favorites novels had in common was that the backstory was a crucial part of developing the core plot. Novels were often hundreds of pages long, and far longer than the 100,000-120,000 word limit of what is now considered an epic.

What made up all those pages and words? Backstory. The backstory of each of the characters before they came to be a part of the main plot line was anything but shortchanged, usually described in great detail.

these were incredible stories and I loved falling into those worlds.

The biggest mistake I made with my first novel of the Ella Bandita stories (Ella Bandita and the Wanderer) was cutting out so much backstory. The reason why? Because I was trying to get traditionally published, and all the agents and editors insisted on a word count between 70,000 and 110,000 words.

Sometime after the 80’s, novels became shorter; backstory was only a succinct mention, and in many cases all but disappeared. If the story is one that takes place in a short frame of time, that would work fine most of the time. But how can anybody have the space to disappear into another world when that universe is so constricted?

It didn’t work for me.

The criticism pointed out the most often in my reviews is due to the lack of backstory. The critical readers expressed an inability to connect or understand the main character.

For a long time, I’ve known I need go back and rewrite it, add that backstory. But I simply couldn’t do it. I wrote and rewrote and cut out large chunks of that first novel so many times, the thought of working on it anymore made me weary.

There comes a time when you have to move on to the next book, so I did. Lesson learned, but ouch, that hurt.

Then it occurred to me that I could add to it.

Since Ella Bandita and the Wanderer was written as novella segments, I could take those 75 pages that had been cut, mainly written from the The Horse Trainer’s point-of-view, and put them before Birthing Ella Bandita.

I could also write a novella in the 1st person from her mother’s point-of-view, in the final days of her pregnancy, knowing that childbirth was going to kill her. That could be at the beginning. The main character would still be at the start of the story, even if she’s in utero.

Of course, this changes the entire tone of the novel, and the name needs to change. I think the name of the final novella of the novel as it is right now would work beautifully - The Heart of the Lone Wolf.

It makes sense, really. All the important characters in this novel are alone.

Right now I’m working on the 2nd draft of the 2nd novel in the Ella Bandita stories. When I finish, I’ll take a break from it and go back to the 1st novel and make those additions. It shouldn’t take too long and it will make a nice break from this draft.

As far as the 2nd novel work-in-progress is concerned, my working titles are: The Shepherd and the Courtesan, or The Art of Taking Chances.

Oh and the Courtesan has a juicy backstory. Even if the transformation of an ugly peasant girl named Addie into the legendary Adrianna the Beautiful has nothing to little to do with the main plot, I’m writing it and it’s staying.

Why? Because it’s good. Even if it makes the novel more expensive to print, it’s going in. Besides that’s the beauty of ebooks.

Maybe the glorious backstory can find its way back in to the pages of novels, now that printing may not be such an expense.

Do You Want to Be a Writer? Then Give Yourself Something to Write About!

Hey y’all,  Do you want to be a writer? Then give yourself something to write about.  I made a very nice, proper, young girl very uncomfortable with this piece of advice when she asked me about how I became a writer.  Until I said that, she looked at me with hero worship in her eyes when I told her about my year on the road, selling a book out of an old Four-Runner I called the Beast. Once I told her to get out and do some living if she wanted to find her best stories, she averted her eyes and looked down in the posture of shame.  I’m sad to say that there is no writing class that will give anybody the silver bullet. Mastering the mechanics of the art and craft of writing is valuable, but the real juice of inspiration is sucked from experience.  My best stories come from my life – especially vivid happenings that catapulted me out of my comfort zone, brought me to states of ecstasy and/or agony - anything that made me feel alive. There I found the richest fodder for stories, or even pieces of stories.  For example, there’s a really luscious scene in  Challenge  that I am especially proud of.  Challenge  is the third book in  Ella Bandita and the Wanderer . The illustration above is the setting for that scene.  As you can see, the illustration is a very sensuous image of a beautiful, naked couple soaking in a shallow pool; the Wanderer is combing Ella Bandita’s hair, while she leans into him and lets her fingers dangle in the water. The backdrop is not only a forest, but the type of old growth woods in the temperate rainforest found in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska; the pool they are soaking in is a hot spring.  How’s that for a luscious setting?  Have I had a sexy interlude in a sexy hot spring that I’m disguising as fiction? Maybe I have and maybe I haven’t. But my points are I have the experience of living in Oregon. I lived in Alaska for 11 years where I went hiking all the time.  AND I LOVE HOT SPRINGS! I especially love hot springs that are found in the woods of a temperate rainforest, and I have the gorgeous experience of finding my bliss in fabulous places such as these. So…what better setting could there possibly be for a scene that builds sexual tension between these antagonistic characters?  That’s only the beginning. Other examples are the On the Road posts that I put up from time to time. Being on the road with a Beast full of books, telling stories and selling them out of my truck was wwwaaayyy out of my comfort zone. There were so many incredible stories that came out of that.  So, a few weeks ago, I gave my blog an official name, and therefore a theme and purpose, which should help on my author’s platform.  This was a necessary step to moving away from the theme started by my former Operations Manager, Jessica Cox. She did a lovely job of building a blog with writing prompts and writing how-to’s, but that blog did not reflect me, my writing, or my tastes.  Writing advice is well and good, and valuable information that people want and need. I will continue to write blogs offering this, as well as writing prompts. But I will add from my experience and perspective, and hopefully, that will fill in the missing pieces.  Knowing the tricks of the trade to execute good writing pieces is essential, but the experience to inspire those tales is priceless. The mechanics will take care of themselves in due time.  I hope this blog more thoroughly reflects my perspective on the journey of being a writer. Apologies on the month long hiatus. I was rather occupied with the experience of an ayahuasca journey. I’m sure eventually that will find its way into my writing.  So go have an adventure and give yourself something to write about. Happy trails!  Peace,  Montgomery  PS: If you’d like to download  Challenge , to read that succulent scene for yourself, you’ll find it  here!

Hey y’all,

Do you want to be a writer? Then give yourself something to write about.

I made a very nice, proper, young girl very uncomfortable with this piece of advice when she asked me about how I became a writer.

Until I said that, she looked at me with hero worship in her eyes when I told her about my year on the road, selling a book out of an old Four-Runner I called the Beast. Once I told her to get out and do some living if she wanted to find her best stories, she averted her eyes and looked down in the posture of shame.

I’m sad to say that there is no writing class that will give anybody the silver bullet. Mastering the mechanics of the art and craft of writing is valuable, but the real juice of inspiration is sucked from experience.

My best stories come from my life – especially vivid happenings that catapulted me out of my comfort zone, brought me to states of ecstasy and/or agony - anything that made me feel alive. There I found the richest fodder for stories, or even pieces of stories.

For example, there’s a really luscious scene in Challenge that I am especially proud of. Challenge is the third book in Ella Bandita and the Wanderer. The illustration above is the setting for that scene.

As you can see, the illustration is a very sensuous image of a beautiful, naked couple soaking in a shallow pool; the Wanderer is combing Ella Bandita’s hair, while she leans into him and lets her fingers dangle in the water. The backdrop is not only a forest, but the type of old growth woods in the temperate rainforest found in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska; the pool they are soaking in is a hot spring.

How’s that for a luscious setting?

Have I had a sexy interlude in a sexy hot spring that I’m disguising as fiction? Maybe I have and maybe I haven’t. But my points are I have the experience of living in Oregon. I lived in Alaska for 11 years where I went hiking all the time.

AND I LOVE HOT SPRINGS! I especially love hot springs that are found in the woods of a temperate rainforest, and I have the gorgeous experience of finding my bliss in fabulous places such as these. So…what better setting could there possibly be for a scene that builds sexual tension between these antagonistic characters?

That’s only the beginning. Other examples are the On the Road posts that I put up from time to time. Being on the road with a Beast full of books, telling stories and selling them out of my truck was wwwaaayyy out of my comfort zone. There were so many incredible stories that came out of that.

So, a few weeks ago, I gave my blog an official name, and therefore a theme and purpose, which should help on my author’s platform.

This was a necessary step to moving away from the theme started by my former Operations Manager, Jessica Cox. She did a lovely job of building a blog with writing prompts and writing how-to’s, but that blog did not reflect me, my writing, or my tastes.

Writing advice is well and good, and valuable information that people want and need. I will continue to write blogs offering this, as well as writing prompts. But I will add from my experience and perspective, and hopefully, that will fill in the missing pieces.

Knowing the tricks of the trade to execute good writing pieces is essential, but the experience to inspire those tales is priceless. The mechanics will take care of themselves in due time.

I hope this blog more thoroughly reflects my perspective on the journey of being a writer. Apologies on the month long hiatus. I was rather occupied with the experience of an ayahuasca journey. I’m sure eventually that will find its way into my writing.

So go have an adventure and give yourself something to write about. Happy trails!

Peace,

Montgomery

PS: If you’d like to download Challenge, to read that succulent scene for yourself, you’ll find it here!