Tag Archives: writing

Writing Lessons from a Chinese Festival

I went to a Chinese festival this week because I’ve never been to one.  It wasn’t big, but it was inspiring.

chinese fest 

Not inspiring in the I-want-to-learn-the-dragon-dance kinda way, but in the story fodder way.

  • I saw a man with eyebrows long and pointy enough to form scale-model curling Maui waves over each eye to the point that his vision was partly obscured.
  • I met several women who were visibly shocked to have a door opened for them.
  • Among the traditional dancing, singing, tai chi, and guzheng demonstrations, I witnessed an excellent Mexican dancing troupe.

chinese fest now with more mexican dances 

A step (which here means: an hour-and-a-half drive) out of my normal routine led me to think about characterization and story.  First, physical traits should be unique.  Second, people will react when their ingrained expectations are challenged in even the smallest of ways. And third, sometimes random, cool things happen that enhance the experience. Here, the juxtaposition of the Machete dance with stomping, whooping, and rhythmic clanging machetes highlighted the nearly silent Chinese dancing. What seemed kinda out-of-place, made the overall presentation more powerful.

Step out of your routine this week, writing friends.  Notice new things and use them for inspiration.


Mommom’s Bid for Hollywood

Mommom passed a few weeks ago.  She was the 97-year-old incarnation of independence who raised three kids by herself in the 50’s and let no one hold her back from doing what she wanted to do.

I believe all people have a story–that one event that should be made into a movie, but it never gets published. Hollywood never hears about it. And sooner or later it just disappears because no one remembers it anymore.  

Certainly her previously-blogged eye freakishness could be an interesting subplot, but I would imagine surviving a terrorist attack as the main attraction.

In 1973, Mommom, along with with her sisters and families, boarded the Sounion for a cruise to Israel.

Sounion cruise ship

While they were docked overnight in Beruit, two men set a bomb on the ship and probably set it to detonate once the ship was out to sea the next morning. I say “probably” because they botched the job and blew themselves up right then and there.  Certainly this still caused the ship to sink, but since the ship was in port, nearly all passengers made it off alive.  The newspaper reported no casualties; however, Mommom claims one couple didn’t make it off.  A man had a heart attack and his wife chose to help him instead of saving herself.

 

That’s not the only place her story differs from the article.  The article states all passengers spent the night in a hotel.  She told me it was a warehouse where they stayed until they could prove their US citizenship in order to return home. . And the article says everyone climbed aboard a plane the next day and continued their trip.  However, the passengers escaped in their pajamas, with little else.  Certainly, jewelry, wallets, and passports went down with the ship.  How would they be able to continue their trip? If you read the article, you’ll pick out lines that tell you this is a cleaned up account of the events.

Mommom’s version involves a lot more yelling, threats, and huddling together for comfort for days. Her perspective makes it real, makes it different than the accepted truth, makes it her story.  

So you know people.  They have stories.  You have a story.  Write it down.  Write the truth.  Don’t let it disappear when no one’s left to remember it anymore.

 

 newspaper

 

 


Perspective

Me, 5 years ago: 59 degrees?  Screw this.  It’s too cold to run.

Later:  50 degrees?  Ok, I’ll wear a long-sleeve shirt.

Later: 45 degrees?  I’m going to need gloves.

Later: 40 degrees?  And maybe a hat.

This morning: 38 degrees?  Cool, I can wear shorts.

Perception is reality.  Change the first one and you can make the second one whatever you want.


The Big Break…and Bigfoot…and unicorns…Chupacabra…

2013 is the year when I decided I wanted to be a writer.

Not the year that I decided that I wanted to write books—that was many years ago.  But the year that I decided I wanted to write.

My usual pattern has been to write a book, revise it, and sell it.  Then begin next book.  That pattern is, at best, one-third writing and two-thirds waiting.  And the goal isn’t to be a waiter.

So, to change things up, 2013 was the year I said “Yes” to all writing opportunities that came my way. 

“Do you want to write an article for my magazine?”

“Yes!”

Followed by: “Would you like to write some short stories?”

“Yes!”

Followed by: “Would you like to write an educational e-book?”

“Yes!”

Followed by speaking gigs, Skype visits, and Twitter Chat.  And because why not, I put my name in to instruct at a week-long writer’s conference.

2013 is the year I learned that writer’s write.  Each opportunity led to another opportunity, which will hopefully lead to more in 2014.

For most of us, the Big Break is a myth.  Waiting to be noticed, waiting for that one chance, waiting for Powerball–waiting is not going to make things happen. I think, instead, it’s all about accepting the little breaks which will build up to help us become that thing we’ve dreamed of becoming.

Have a happy New Year.  Make 2014 everything you want it to be.


Technology Error. Old School Mode Activated.

That’s it.

I wrote before how my smart phone is out to ruin me by randomly deleting some notes and choosing to back up others.

So today, I implemented my new crash-proof device: the waterproof notepad.  My spiral Batman notepad did the basic job.  But spirals bend and the pages get wet and/or rip out.

Image

So I got this in the mail yesterday and started scribbling in it today.  So far, I’m feeling pretty Steinbeck.

My son’s critique:  “What if you lose it?”

My answer: “Then I’m just as bad off as I am now.”


Today’s Lesson: Back It UP

I learned the hard way over 20 years ago on a computer with no hard drive.

10:00 at night, finalizing an exam, I nearly cried when the power went off. Now I save and re-save and USB and email myself to back up all my projects. I lecture my students about backing up everything because weird things happen. I lectured one kid who stayed after school until 6:00 to finish his ginormous multi-class essay. He dismissed my advice with a wave of his hand. The power went out at 5:55. I think he knocked a couple chairs over. So I back up all projects. Always. OCD style. Every time.

But before they are projects, they are just little embryonic idealets punched into Notes on my phone. When I get an idea while at the deli counter…. Thumb, thumb, thumb, thumb, thumb, thumb. And I’ve got it to fit into something that I haven’t even thought of yet.

And during my daughter’s swim or ballet lesson, I might piece a couple of the ideas together or maybe outline a progression of these ideas.

And life is good.

Until I open Notes this morning and watch the screen blink once. Then my 12 pages of notes became 5 pages of notes. Minutes later, I scrape my jaw off the floor. This never happened when I used a spiral notebook.

I head for my nearest tech expert, my 15-year-old son.

“Yeah, that happens to me sometimes. You should back it up to your Cloud.”

File under: “Things I Needed to Know before I Lost 7 Potential Novels.” But OK. I’m wiser, right? Grumble grumble. **kicks desk.**

So, gentle readers, back it up. All of it. Often.

Or get a spiral notebook.


Library of Congress Contest Event

Hey, Delaware area 5th and 6th Graders!

On Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 1 p.m., I’ll be speaking at the Dover Public Library to hype the Library of Congress’ “A Book That Shaped Me” contest. 

Contest details here.

Library of Contest Event info here.