Monday, March 31, 2014

Music Mondays: Birthday Edition

Guess who has a birthday coming up? Go on, guess.

When I was little, birthday parties were a thing, filled with a lot friends, too many sweets, punch, and shiny, strangely shaped packages.

The older I've gotten, it seems well, a little weird to me to have a day dedicated solely to your own existence. I was just about to turn 13 when I told my mother I didn't want a party. The idea was discomfiting, part the beginning of teenage angst, part recognition that I was still the new kid in town and....I really didn't want to engage in the effort of inviting people to a party.

So began my general dissociation with parties. I still recognize my birthday....mostly as a mark on the calendar, another life milestone passed. Honestly, I think I'd forget it all together sometimes if my mother didn't bring it up during one of our phone calls.

For this week of my birthday, I'm listening to a mish-mash of music that speaks to coming of age and figuring out where the hell you're going.

1979 - The Smashing Pumpkins

Thursday's Child - David Bowie

Down So Long - Jewel

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I Have a Confession: I've Been a Bad Audience

I don't take the time that I should to visit other people's blogs.

And often, when I do, I don't make enough of an effort to comment on what I read.

As much as I enjoy receiving comments—from the simplest "I like it" to the more constructive "You could try...."—I've been very bad at providing those same comments to others.

Image via StockVault
Part of this is due to the fact that there are only so many hours in a day. I've touched on how I split my time Living On Social Media.

Like it or not, Social Media eats into the time you could be using to do....something more productive, like writing.

The rest of it is due to, well, let's just chalk it up to a mix of self-doubt and procrastination. Thoughts of they really don't need to know what I think or I'll return later, read more carefully and leave a comment.

Later, of course, turns into never. And even if they don't need to know what I think, I know many of them would like to know.

I would. That's half the reason I blog.

Community is important to a writer. At least it is to this writer. As much as I'm an introvert in the physical world, I like talking to people, especially about the craft. I like to share my writing. I like to receive feedback and I like to provide the same. Hearing from someone who's gotten some indefinable something out of what I've shared makes me feel good, it behooves me to share more. And I'm certain I'm not so different from anyone else writing out there.

So I'm making a resolution, to spend time on Sundaytypically one of the slowest days of my week (especially here in the South where everything is closed)to visit a few of my fellow writers/bloggers and actually leave those comments instead of finding excuses not to.

Will you join me? Will you take the time to provide some support to your fellow writers?

Friday, March 28, 2014

One Night in L.A.

Spring boarding (because I always seem to run in random directions with prompts) off the Inspiration Monday prompt "Silent Conversation," for the week of March 24th.

Luc is a character from my most recent NaNo novel. (The one I intend to keep working on during Camp NaNoWriMo in April, and possibly again in July.)

This is a little scene from his past. (I'm not entirely sure if I'm going to add it to my official headcanon. Though it would explain his somewhat easy acceptance of the events that unfurl in the novel....)

Room 105 in the Highland Gardens Hotel looks nothing like it did in the 1970s when Janis Joplin took that last fateful hit.

Luc doesn't much care about the decor. Or that a rock star died on the floor of his room 20 odd years ago. (His agent, Calla, seems to get a kick out of booking him in “haunted” hotel rooms.)

It’s after midnight. He’s been on his feet since 3 a.m. yesterday morning, dealing with the ins-and-outs of his exhibit. All he wants is to wallow in sheets that haven't been used since he checked in and sleep until it’s time to catch his plane.

He falls into bed still mostly dressed, murmurs, “Good night, Janis,” shuts his eyes, and lets sleep suck him under.

1 a.m. He wakes to dream scents of cigarette smoke and patchouli. The kitchenette light flickers. He’s sure he turned that off. On the bedside table, the radio alarm switches on, playing the local oldies station.

Luc holds his breath as static rolls into sound. Mama Cass croons through the speakers, beguiling him to dream of her. Letting out a chuckle, he checks the alarm, finds it set for the early hour; a leftover from a previous guest.

A sip of water refreshes him and he switches off the light, pads to the bed as Mama Cass’s voice fades into the darkness. The late night DJ pipes in, obnoxiously cheerful, apologizing for the track mix up.

The opening piano of “Turtle Blues” trickles through the speakers.

The kitchenette light flickers back on.

And the fine hairs on the back of Luc’s neck stand at attention. Calla’s eccentricities finally paid off, he thinks, I’m bunking with a ghost.

Aloud, he says “Okay.”

Rising again, he shoves his feet into his boots, pockets his wallet and leaves the room.

The guy at the liquor store gives Luc an odd look before returning to his sports page. With his sleep-starved eyes, riotous pale hair, pillow-creased face and unlaced boots, Luc’s sure he resembles someone who badly needs a 2 a.m. drink.

He finds what he came for, then snags one of the shot glasses—emblazoned with Hollywood in bright pink script—on display next to the register.

Back in his room, the radio plays, the light flickers.

Luc sits the brown paper sack on the table, pulls out the glass, the small bottle of Southern Comfort Special Reserve. He pours a shot, salutes the air before tossing it back, tasting sweet spice and mint, the burn of bourbon.

“I’m a longtime fan,” he says, downing another shot. He pours a third, leaves it on the table, next to the open bottle. "But I really need some sleep."

He turns off the light and radio, undresses in the dark. In bed again, cradled in the warmth and spice of Southern Comfort, sleep comes easily.

The next time he wakes, it’s nearly noon.

On the table, the shot glass is empty, the bottle next to it drained.

Nikki Young Writes
I'm linked up with this week's Friday Fiction hop from Nikki Young Writes. Click the picture to check out her blog plost and a variety of fiction from others.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Everybody's a Critic: Being a Good Critic

As a writer, you've likely been in the position to give critique. Think about the criticism you've given.  Would you consider yourself a good critic or a bad critic? What about the people who've critiqued for you, where do they fall?

I've already talked in generalities about good and bad criticism, so let's look at the trademarks of each type.

Makes Vague Comments

I didn't like it. It was boring. I thought it was stupid. I hate it. It wasn't my thing. Etc.

This is a sign of someone who hasn't done their homework. Either they didn't read the piece or they read it, set it aside and gave it no additional thought. This is disrespectful to the writer and to the work.

Skips Positive Feedback

Some people may be fans of "harsh truths" and feel that there's no reason to buffet the more negative comments others may simply not think about doing so.

But people need encouragement. It makes us feel good and makes us more inclined to accept and apply criticism.

Confuses You with Them

"I don't agree with this/that." "I like this better than that." "You should change this because, in my experience...."

Questioning the facts is one thing. Thinking a story should change based on your personal likes/dislikes/worldview is another.

If the critic has a view they want to express, they're free to do so in their own story. They don't get to do it in yours.

Makes It Personal

"You have no talent." "You can't write dialogue." "You're not funny/original/etc."

The epitome of bad criticism.

Maybe you do lack the skills to be a "great" writer, but that doesn't mean you can't be a passable writer or even a good writer. But you need help to get there and this kind of criticism is no help. (Well....unless you're one of those people who exists to prove others wrong.)

Takes time with the work and is constructive

Good critics read a work, do their best to understand it and provide a meaningful critique that will better the story.

Meaningful critique being, of course, identifying specific elements that can be changed to make the story better; for example, suggesting a different point-of-view or the expansions of a scene.

Is Positive

There's almost always something good to say about a piece.

And the good critic will find it. It could be as simple as liking a character's name, a piece of dialogue, a description.

If you truly can't find anything, you could simply say "I'd like to see it again after you work on it." You leave the writer with a bit of encouragement.

Asks Questions

Good critics don't assume they know where you're going with your work. They don't assume their experience is greater than yours. They don't assume their knowledge wins out.

If they don't know why you've done something, they make a note and they ask.

Basically, the good critic does the exact opposite of everything the bad critic does. They follow what could be considered a golden rule of criticism: give the feedback you want to receive. Their feedback will help you write a better story. Because that's what they want to do.

Up next, some methods (chocolate? deep rhythmic breathing?) on dealing with criticism when it comes your way.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Off to Camp in April!

Well, sort of.

Camp NaNoWriMo starts next month. Camp Wrimo, an offshoot of NaNoWriMo, occurs in April and again in July. It's a slightly more laid back noveling experience where you can set your own word count goal.

I'm treating this WriMo a little different by working with the story and characters I met during this past NaNoWriMo. (I didn't hit 50k, but I hit 32k and I had the rest of it generally plotted out.)

I'm setting my goal at about 10,000 (though if I continue over, peachy). This should give me some room to work from the beginning, rewriting my story with a bit more care than what I used in November.

I've been using some of the Novel in 30 Days Worksheets via Writer's Digest, and my few haphazard notes that I jotted down during and in the last few months, to help me get some more organization to my characters and my plot.

I'm feeling more connected to these novel characters than I have to any in a while. My goal is to actually complete this project.

Whether it will see anyone's eyes but my own is another story entirely. But we'll see.

How about you? What are your spring writing plans? What's going to take you into summer? 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

That Time of Year

Via Flickr, Kozumel

Waste paper explosions and pens leaking on the table, eventually yield a stamped, stuffed manila envelope, addressed to the IRS.

She uncorks a wine bottle, bolts two glasses. It’s just enough to satisfy.

SATISFY  (transitive verb)

3a : to make happy : please  

 b : to gratify to the full : appease

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The King Is Dead

It's been a while since I've done a prompt. Or any writing calisthenics, really. I'm out of shape, out of practice.

For this week's (February 24th) Studio30Plus prompt: "My Father is the King."

I'm trying out a different style with this one. As always, with prompt responses, there's been very little editing. (I try to keep as close to my initial thoughts as possible with these. It's an exercise in learning to deal with imperfect first drafts.)

My father is the king.

The king is dead.

My mother finds him, not-asleep in the worn chair from which he so often ruled, issuing demands, proclamations, meting out punishments.

When she finds me—sweeping up the mess of a lunch that had not passed inspection—her eyes are bright behind her ruined makeup. The smudges of her mascara almost hide the recent bruising.

His heart gave out, she'll say to me later, voice awash with wonderment.

The coroner carts my father's body away in a black bag. I wonder if he'll end up on a curb.

My brother, on his way back from a school trip, doesn't get the news until he walks through the door the next morning.

He drops his dirty cleats in the middle of the foyer; red clay crumbles onto the hardwood floor. His duffel, filled with odorous laundry, he tosses onto the couch as turns and startles at the sight of mother in our father's chair.

When she tells him what's happened, he calls her a liar, locks himself in his room. He won't come out, won't let us in.

We leave him alone. Mom sweeps up red clay. She carries his duffel to the washer, opens it, begins pulling the stained and stinking uniform from the bag, then stops. Her fingers clench white on the jersey. She tucks the uniform back into the bag, sets it outside his door.

She is already breaking old habits.

Later in the evening, she puts a plate in my hand and I take my brother his dinner. He opens the door for me.

He's been crying. He's an ugly crier, his face red, splotchy, his eyes bloodshot.

"Did you cry?" he asks, setting his full plate on the desk, next to the framed photo of him and my father on the day my brother's team took the state championship.

"Yes," I say. I shed two tears.

"Liar," he spits. "You didn't love him."

I shrug, leave the room. I don't tell him love is finite. And fragile. It can be bruised, broken, can seep out of the body like blood from a wound.

My father is the king.

The king is dead.

My mother seems taller, her spine straight and taught as she strides across the lawn in dark pants, a fashionable blouse, her hair piled high on her head. The bruises on her face are no more than ghosts of shadows. She's never looked more beautiful.

She takes her seat between my brother and me, listens to the droning script of the burial, mouth flattening on the minister's line about forgiveness for wrongs committed.

As the last word tremors into silence, the casket sinks into the earth.

My mother sniffs. My brother chokes. I make no sound.

My father is the king.

The king is dead.

Months pass.

Too much time.

Or maybe too little.

She goes out on the weekends, now. With friends. With colleagues. With one very special friend from work. His name is David. She comes home with smiles and faded lipstick.

My brother watches her for weeks.

"She's forgetting him," he says, to me, one evening, after they've driven away.

Some people, I think, deserve to be forgotten.

The night of the big date, the one she's been prepping for the whole last week, my mother comes home late, her dress rumpled, a wide smile on her pale lips, a ring glittering on her hand.

My brother catches her just inside the door, stepping out from the little alcove that holds coats and shoes. It was one of my father's favorite spots, just out of sight.

He screams at her.

She screams back.

The heavy, wet crunch of fist meeting bone is loud in the hallway. I make myself small. I blend with the wallpaper as I've not done in over a year. I slink toward the living room, to the harsh melody of lungs gasping for air.

My mother's doubled over, right arm around her belly, left hand against her cheek, her new ring a little star burst scratch of brightness in the dim room.

My brother stands rigid, red faced, clenched fists. He sucks in air like a desert dweller does water.

His mouth opens, his nostrils flare. His face has changed, hardened, grown both alien and familiar.

My father is the king.

The king is dead.

Long live the king.

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