Archive | October 2008

Breaking the Writer’s Block

Three o’clock in the morning, and I’ve been staring at the monitor for hours, unable to get anything coherent written. Banging my head on the desk doesn’t help, although it does dislodge a stack of papers exposing a CD I’ve been missing for months. I pop the CD into the player and wait for inspiration. And wait. And wait.

Nothing! Screaming in frustration, I shut down the computer, throw a temper tantrum and cry. I’ve got it for sure, Writer’s Block. We all go through it. The nightmare, the bane of a writer’s existence, the dreaded words echo through my brain like a trailer for a bad “B” movie. Sometimes, if it’s bad enough or late enough, the words dance in a circle like “Ring Around the Rosie” mocking me with their mere presence. They laugh and point their fingers, making me sink deeper into my depression.

Writer’s Block is normal. Though frustrating, at times infuriating, it is a fact of a writer’s life. Sometimes you just ain’t got it! I find this is especially true if I’ve just finished a book or am trying to finish one. Somehow, the last few pages of resolution don’t want to be typed. Like pulling hen’s teeth, (an expression which here means something which is completely impossible), I try to get the words to flow, but the dam is firmly in place. Nothing goes anywhere. It’s constipation of the brain.

I have a science fiction series I’ve been writing the last three years. I’ve completed five of the books, but book six is giving me fits! I have sub-plots that need resolution. I have major plots that need extension. I have characters who need something to do and others who are embroiled in turmoil up to their eyebrows. They are all sitting and waiting for me and I can’t help them.

Banging my head doesn’t help, screaming and crying do no good whatever. Eating a candy bar, though tasty, serves no purpose except to put a few pounds on my hips. So what do I do? Every writer you talk to will tell you something different. All I know about is what works for me.

First, I take a break from writing. I read a good book, watch a few movies, participate in mindless video games and otherwise do things to distract myself.

Next, after an unspecified period, ranging from hours to weeks, I sit down and try to write something. ANYTHING! It doesn’t have to be connected with the book, usually it’s better if it’s not. Long or short, good or bad, I write. Sometimes just embarking on the composition process is enough to break the block.

Doing short writing exercises can help. When I taught high school English, one thing I had the students do as a class writing project, was write thank you notes for ridiculous gifts. Each student chose a gift at random drawing a slip from jar.

 

The rules for this exercise are as follows:

1. Must be sincere.
2. Mention the gift in the first paragraph.
3. Site at least two uses for the gift (or plans of where to put it if it’s decorative).
4. Must be at least three paragraphs of two or more sentences each.

Suggested gifts:

Umbrella holder made from an elephant’s leg.
Bookends decorated with miniature loaves of bread & shocks of wheat.
An incredibly fuzzy pair of house slippers.
A really ugly sweater.
Something impossible to identify.
A painting with dogs playing poker. (I know, some people think this is cute.)
Clothing that is too small (too large, hideous color, wrong gender, etc.)
Music CD that is of a type you abhor.
A movie you hated and never wanted to think of again.

(The list can go on forever. Don’t only use my list, make your own. Sometimes just generating a list helps get past that pesky creative blockage.)

Sample note:

Dear Aunt Fanny,
Thank you so much for the really interesting gift you sent! I can’t imagine what I’ve done without it all these years. It will add a great deal to my decor. I can’t wait to find a place for it in the living room.
I showed your gift to my friends and they were speechless. What an unusual gift! They wanted to know where on earth you found it, several of them would like one for themselves.
Again, thank you so much for your incredibly amazing gift! I shall treasure it always and remember you every time I look at it.
Your Loving Niece

There is no set cure for writer’s block. Sometimes the creative well simply runs dry. The key is to accept it and try to move on.  This is only one solution.  

Another idea is to take five words at random.  Either generate them yourself or use a word search or crossword puzzle to help you.  After choosing the words, try to put them all in a sentence.  Use whatever other words you need to complete it, they need not be the only words you use. 

For example, the words are lanky, study, fashion, romance, clock.  Below is the sentence I wrote using these five words:

The lanky college student could not decide if she should study fashion design or romance writing, so she took up clock repair instead.

Or this one.  The words were elevate, nude, collapse, candy, hatrack.

Candy, the nude model, had to elevate the hatrack so it wouldn’t collapse.

The more disconnected the words, the more interesting the sentences.  The sentences don’t have to make sense, but the words do have to be used properly.  You can change them slightly by adding prefixes or suffixes, but the nature of the word should stay the same.

Whatever you do, keep at it until the creativity returns.  It will come back when you least expect it.  Try not to fret, because stress encourages writing deamons, helping them latch on.  Relax, listen to some good music and remember – you can do it!

Character Interview with Gabriella Deza of “Indian Summer”

 

 

 

Second Wind: What is your story?

Gabriella: I haven’t much of one yet, I’m only just 15, but what there is of it is told in “Indian Summer.”

SW: Who are you?

G: I am Gabriella Deza, youngest daughter of Governor Ferdinand Deza.

SW: Where and when do you live?

G: I live in the village of St. Augustine, Florida territory. The year is 1739.

SW: Are you the hero of your own story?

G: Me a hero? Heavens, no! That would be Manuel Enriques, my father’s aid du camp and the love of my life.

SW: What is your problem in the story?

G:Quite by chance, I found out a terrible secret. A British spy is trying to overthrow my father, capture the fort and take over the town!

SW: Do you embrace conflict or do you run from it?

G: I’ve never wanted to embrace conflict, but one must face it bravely. Troubles are sent by God to test us. Am I going to argue with Him? I never run when I can fight.

SW: How does the author see you?

G: Headstrong, demure, capable, passionate, honest, loving. I am these things and ever so much more.

SW: Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

G: Oh, yes, Dellani Oakes portrayed me very accurately. She seems to have seen into my heart with great alacrity.

SW: What do you think of yourself?

G: I think I am all those things and more. For one so young, my life suddenly became rather complicated.

SW: Do you have a hero?

G: My father, Manuel and Sailfish are my heroes. They are all so brave and noble. Though, in their own way, all men are heroes, don’t you think?

SW: Do you have a goal and why that particular one?

G: My goal is to marry Manuel as soon as possible. I love him more than I can possibly express. I want to be with him forever. He is my own, true love.

SW: What are your achievements?

G: I’m too young to really have many of those. Although I have made Manuel love me and I have done everything I can to help him and my father keep their secrets and save the town.

SW: Do you talk about your achievements or do you keep them to yourself?

G: What need have I to brag? God sees what I have done. If He deems it worthy, than others will hear of it in time. Manual and Papa know what I have achieved. For now, that is all that is important.

SW: Do you have any special strengths?

G: My faith in God is my greatest strength. My faith has seen me through very trying times. I would not be the woman I am without it.

SW: Do you have any special weaknesses?

G: My passion for Manuel is nearly my undoing. All he need do is look at me and I go weak in the knees.

SW: Do you have any skills?

G: I speak English and French in addition to my native Spanish. I ride a horse very well and also drive a buggy as well as any man.

SW: What do you need most in life?

G: I need the wretched spy disposed of so that our town will be saved and I may marry the man I love.

SW: What do you want to be?

G: I want to be a wife and mother, what greater purpose is there for a woman save to go into holy orders?

SW: What do you believe?

G: I believe in God and I believe in the love of Manuel and my family. I also believe in my own abilities to cope with any situation life presents.

SW: What makes you happy?

G: Many things make me happy, but when Manuel kisses me, I can’t think of anything but how happy I am. There is only one thing which would make me happier, and that would be to marry him.

SW: What are you afraid of?

G: I’m terrified of losing Manuel. If he were to die, what would become of us? Papa says only he can save us in this troubled time. If I lost him, I would have no reason to live.

SW: What makes you angry?

G: The fact that wretched spy is trying to kill us all! He is someone we know, a person who pretends to be our friend. He has all but ruined my life. If I had the skills, I would find and slay him myself.

SW: What makes you sad?

G: The loss of my mother makes me sad, as does the death of Manuel’s beloved aunt. Though they are in a better place, I miss them both very much.

SW: What do you regret?

G: That I with all my education, I never learned how to shoot a pistol.

SW: Has anyone ever betrayed you?

G: Yes, the man who spies on us, using our friendship against us. He betrays me, my family and my home. I hope I have a hand in bringing him to justice.

SW: Have you ever failed anyone?

G: I hope not. I will only have failed them if I do not find the spy and send him to God early for judgement.

SW: What was your childhood like?

G: Delightful in so many ways, but also sad because we lost Mama when I was five and Grandmama not long after. However, Papa and his new wife, Clara, have provided a loving home for the four of us. My older sisters, little brother and I have lived in relative comfort our entire lives.

SW: Do you like remembering your childhood?

G: Oh, yes, very much! I have wonderful memories of my childhood.

SW: Who was your first love?

G: My first and only love is Manuel. I never realized how much he loves me nor I him, until he declared his love for me on my birthday. He is the most magnificent man alive and I love him more than my own life.

SW: What is your most prized possession? Why?

G: My peso necklace, because Manuel gave it to me. Though my parents gave me pearls for my birthday, the peso shows Manuel’s love for me. He can’t ask me to marry him, it wouldn’t be proper, but that shows each of us our promise to wed.

SW: What is your favorite scent? Why?

G: Sandalwood., because that is the scent of Manuel’s soap.

SW: What is your favorite color? Why?

G: Apple green, because it was Mama’s favorite as well, and I am most like her of all three of us girls.

SW: What is your favorite music?

G: The flamenco I danced with Manuel.

SW: What is your favorite item of clothing? Why?

G: The apple green dress I wore to my party. It is the first dress I wore that showed everyone I am now a woman. And because Manuel and I danced the entire night together when I wore it.

SW: If you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?

G: I think I’d like the Spanish and the English not to hate one another so much.

SW: What makes you think that change would be for the better?

G: There would be less fighting and conflict in the world.

SW: If you were stranded on a desert island, would you rather be stranded with, a man or a woman?

G: Do not think badly of me of saying this, but I would want to be stranded only with Manuel. I can think of no one else with whom I have enough in common to spend any period of time. Only if we were married, of course. Anything else would be scandalous!

SW: How do you envision your future?

G: I see my future happily married to Manuel, having his children and loving him for the rest of my life.

Character Interview with Manuel Enriques of “Indian Summer”

Second Wind: What is your story?

Manuel: My story is still being written, but a portion of it is chronicled in “Indian Summer” by Dellani Oakes.

SW: Who are you?

M: My name is Manuel Hermida Enriques Orejan Sanchez and I am confidential aid to Governor Ferdinand Deza.

SW: Where do you live?

M: I live in the beautiful town of St. Augustine in the Florida territory.

SW: Are you the hero of your own story?

M: What is a hero? A man who does what he must to protect that which he holds dear. I am such a man. If that makes me a hero, then I accept this role gladly.

SW: What is your problem in the story?
M: The problem is that there is a pesky British spy wandering around causing trouble. The beast is wily and sly, but I’ll catch him, have no doubt.

SW: Do you embrace conflict?

M: Conflict is in many forms. If it is in the form of a beautiful woman, I embrace and make love to it. If it is in the form of this annoying little fly speck of a spy, then I spit on it and grind it to dust beneath my heel.

SW: Do you run from conflict?

M: Never! Face conflict proudly and fight it to the death.

SW: How do you see yourself?

M: In my life, I have done many bad things. However, I am trying to change to be worthy of my darling Gabriella.

SW: How do your friends see you?

M: I haven’t many friends, but those are very close. They see me as strong, intelligent, passionate with women, stubborn and capable. How do you see me, cariña?

SW: How do your enemies see you?

M: My enemies never see me. They are dead long before that. If by chance they do catch a glimpse, it is as of the face of death.

SW: How does the author see you?

M: Ah, my beautiful Dellani. If it were not for Gabriella, such stories we would write together! She sees me as romantic, passionate, handsome, slightly dangerous, and very well appointed.

SW: Well appointed?

M: You will have to read my tale to find out what I mean by that.

SW: Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

M: As accurately as any woman may know a man’s heart, yes.

SW: What do you think of yourself?

M: I am not a modest man, but even I do not like to brag. I am all that is said of me and more.

SW: Do you have a hero?

M: Yes, my blood brother, Sailfish of the River People. He is the greatest warrior I know and even more brave than I.

SW: Do you have a goal?

M: Indeed I do! I want to catch the spy so that I can marry my beloved Gabriella.

SW: What are your achievements?

M: That is perhaps not a question I should answer here, eh, cariña?

SW: Do you talk about your achievements?

M: As I said, I am not one to brag. What I have achieved is a matter of history. There are things I have done that I would rather forget.

SW: Do you keep your achievements to yourself?

M: Many of them, yes.

SW: But why? Surely your accomplishments are wide ranging and very nearly stuff of

legend.

M: Not all legends have a happy ending. Some things are better left unsaid.

SW: Do you have any special strengths?

M: I am swift, strong, I speak many languages fluently. I can track prey like an Indian and shoot a bow as well as a gun.

SW: Do you have any special weaknesses?

M: Only my love of Gabriella. She makes me weak.

SW: Do you have money troubles?

M: No. Although I like to gamble, I rarely lose. Besides, my parents and aunt left me a great deal of money.

SW: What do you want?

M: I want to marry Gabriella more than anything in the world. Well, there is perhaps one thing I want more than that, but it’s not polite to discuss.

SW: What do you need?

M: I need to catch that wretched spy!

SW: What do you want to be?

M: I am what I want to be. An honorable man who loves a beautiful woman. One day I shall also be a father, that is my greatest ambition.

SW: What do you believe?

M: I believe in God and my strength and abilities.

SW: What makes you happy?

M: Would you like to me say something poetic like a beautiful sunset or the seagulls above the water? I am not poetic man. What makes me happy is very simple, my love for Gabriella. It drives me, moves me to be the best I may be.

SW: What are you afraid of?

M: I am afraid that what I am capable of will one day consume me. And I am terrified that I will lose Gabriella.

SW: What makes you angry?

M: The snake of a spy.

SW: What makes you sad?

M: The loss of my sweet aunt. May she rest in God’s peace.

SW: What do you regret?

M: I regret how I have behaved in my past. That is behind me now.

SW: What is your biggest disappointment?

M: I am most disappointed that I cannot wed Gabriella right away.

SW: What, if anything, haunts you?

M: In a soldiers life, are there not many things to haunt him? What haunts me, cariña, is better left forgotten.

SW: You look sad, have I touched on a painful subject?

M: Among the most painful. I am not proud of many things I had to do. It is between me, God and the dead.

SW: Have you ever failed at anything?

M: So many things, how can I even count them?

SW: Have you ever failed anyone?

M: Not something I wish to discuss. But yes.

SW: Have you ever betrayed anyone?

M: Never on purpose, but accidents happen.

SW: Do you keep your promises?

M: Always. It is a point of honor.

SW: Are you honorable?

M: As much as I am able to be given circumstances.

SW: That sounds like a very cagey answer.

M: And it is the only one you shall get.

SW: Do you have any distinguishing marks?

M: Oh, yes. I am very well appointed.

SW: You would love for me to ask what that means, wouldn’t you?

M: No, I would like you to read the book and find out.

SW: Have you ever killed anyone?

M: I was a soldier, of course I have killed. And nearly been killed more than once.

SW: Who was your first love?

M: My first love was a girl whose father was a garrison soldier. We ran away together, but I deserted her soon after.

SW: Why did you do that?

M: Because I was headstrong and stubborn and scared to death of her father.

SW: Who is your true love?

M: Ah, my beautiful Gabriella is my own true love.

SW: What is the most important thing that ever happened to you? Why?

M: Getting this job with the Governor is the most important. It got me out of my old life and onto a straight path to redemption. It also brought me Gabriella.

SW: Was there a major turning point in your life?

M: The day I realized how much I love Gabriella.

SW: Was there ever a defining moment of your life?

M: The day that Gabriella said she loved me. It was the most important day of my life.

SW: What is your most prized possession? Why?

M: My most prized possession? Must I have just one? Perhaps my pistol. Or my best pair of boots? No, not really, although I am rather fond of these pants.

SW: Oh? Why is that?

(All I get is a sly grin and a slow, wicked wink.)

SW: What is your favorite color? Why?

M: Sapphire blue, because it is the exact shade of Gabriella’s eyes.

SW: If you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?

M: I would change how much we hate and distrust the British. It would be great for us and the rest of the world to trust one another.

SW: What makes you think that change would be for the better?

M: There would be no wars or conflicts. I would never have to leave Gabriella’s side again.

SW: If you were stranded on a desert island, would you rather be stranded with, a man or a woman?

M: Can you really see me stranded with a man? I’ll only go if Gabriella does.

SW: How do you envision your future?

M: Happily married to my beloved.

“Indian Summer” An Historical Romance

In the spring of 1739, Gabriella Deza stands poised on the verge of womanhood. A product of her guarded upbringing, she is naive in the ways of love until dashing Manuel Enriques declares his love for her.

Quite by accident, Gabriella uncovers a plot hatched by a British spy. Armed with her information, Manuel embarks on a dangerous mission to entrap the spy and save the fort from capture by the British. Unfortunately, Gabriella herself is caught in the trap and kidnapped. Join Gabriella and Manuel as they embark on a voyage of intrigue and espionage. Will it tear them apart? Or will their blossoming love bind them together?

Visit Second Wind Publishing to find out more about “Indian Summer”.  www.secondwindpublishing.com

“Indian Summer” excerpt from first chapter

The following is an excerpt from “Indian Summer” now available at Second Wind Publishing.


The first rays of sun rose above the ocean, setting the waves afire. I gazed out my window, watching the town of St. Augustine awake. Sounds from the kitchen below blended with the calling of the men on the docks and the soldiers at the fort.
Tradesmen opened shops as women called to one another from their houses. Carpenters and stonecutters continued repairing the walls and buildings after the latest British attack. Seagulls called raucously along the shore waiting for whatever scraps got thrown to them, fighting over the merest, insignificant crumb. All these were comfortable sounds, mingling together into a familiar morning melody.
As my bedroom faces the ocean and hence the rising sun, I wake early, before any of my family, enjoying these last quiet moments. Yawning and stretching deliciously, I dressed and sat at my desk to compose a letter to my grandmother in England. I had not written anything but the date, 15 February, 1739, when the door to my room flew back connecting sharply with the wall, thus announcing the arrival of my little brother, the pest.

Reebdoog’s Halloween Horror

 This story was written for Horizons, an online video game I have played for several years. I entered it in the Fall Festival scary story contest and it was chosen for publication in the game. Reebdoog’s Tale is told every year now by a character at the festival grounds.

REEBDOOG’S TALE

“I’ve a tale to tell will set your blood cold just to hear it!” The inebriated dwarf tipped back in his chair, puffing a foul smelling cigar. “Tain’t your run o’ the mill tale neither, but one as will chill ye to the bone!” He leaned in blowing acrid smoke in my direction. “It’s true! I seen it with me own two eyes, I have!

“Just a mite of a lad I were then, an’ no taller than yer knee. Da had been teaching me the finer points of brewing.” He nodded solemnly. “Ma, she’d been after me to learn me letters, but I’d a far better head for brewing than I had for reading. How some ever… Da sent me to town to chat up the human folk there, for twas rumored as there were a secret recipe for brewing rye to make a fine, smooth whiskey.

“Well! I got there and spoke first to that feller who buys and sells. He told me many things, but bid me caution. ‘Mind now,’ says he, ‘ you don’t go poking into the basement under the house with the glowing runes. There be a secret door there under the stairs. Takes ye places as ye don’t want to be going.’

“Well, I laughed my bony arse off at the man, scoffing and making rude noises as I went. I wandered the town a wee bit, stopping to have a sip or two of Da’s best brew, and fell in with bad companions. They told me as they knew where the secret brew were kept. As they’d took a liking to me, they’d show it.”

He gestured to the barmaid to refill his mug. Satisfied, he tipped back again, taking a long pull on his pint. He wiped the foam from his bristling, red mustache and continued.

“Well, I were in sad and sorry shape by then. The peddler done told me not to go to the house with the glowing runes, but where do you suppose we ended up? Aye, ye guessed it! They dragged me inside, past the kitchen, to the stairs. There in the corner, they opened a secret door.

“Slowly, slowly I walked in and the door swung shut behind me with an echoing thump. Took a moment for my eyes to fix on what I were seeing. Twas at that moment I saw the worst sight of my life! I shudder now remembering! It were lined floor to rafters with kegs. They was stark empty and scrubbed clean! Why must have been dozens of them! And there in the midst of it all, a crew of humans whistling, singing and hosing them out! They took soap to ’em! Perfectly innocent kegs, they were, and these folk scraping around in them like they was mucking out stables!

“The pain! The perfidy! Crying out in horror, I yelled at them. ‘Why are you torturing me so? Have ye no mercy?’

“I ran hell bent to the nearest tavern with the ghosts of a thousand empty kegs haunting my steps! I flung myself on a stool and ordered a pint. You know what they give me? A clean mug and watered down ale! Just goes to show, you can’t trust humans!”

Write it Right or Yes, Viriginia, Mechanics Count

When I was a child, I couldn’t spell. I’m still spelling impaired and love spell check above any of the other features of my word processing program. I am, however, glad I have a good background in punctuation, because word processors are woefully inadequate there. Rule of thumb, if Word corrects your punctuation, it is probably wrong. Second rule of thumb: If you rely on Word to correct your punctuation, you need a lot of help.

I can remember saying to my mother, “But they know what I mean! Why is it wrong?” Because it is, genius. It simply is. There are rules and conventions in spelling and punctuation that we have come to expect. When they aren’t there, they interfere with the message we are trying to convey. I don’t remember my mother’s exact words, but that is the essence of what she told me.

As a high school A.P. English teacher, I got a lot of that same attitude. My students could not see the importance of spelling, neatness and punctuation until their essays came back covered in so much red ink they looked like they’d been slaughtered by Attila the Hun. I couldn’t seem to stress enough, mechanics matter!

Spelling is one of the most ignored conventions in writing. Of course, with the onset of massive text messaging, we ignore spelling completely and go to how it sounds. Abbreviations, typing it in quickly, getting the message to the other party fast – all this becomes more important than saying it right. If you send me a text message, I’m likely to send back the reply “???” Sorry, I don’t speak gibberish. Look it up. Dictionary.com is free.

The second most ignored convention is comma placement. Commas crop up in all the wrong places, but get left out of all the spots they belong in. Certain commas are expected. When using direct address, use a comma. “Brad, look at that!” Or “Look at that, Brad!” The comma is there to let the reader know that the comment is addressed to Brad. The speaker is not saying “Look at that brad.” He or she wants Brad to look at something.

Another anticipated and neglected comma is the one used to separate items in a list. “The big, black, ugly, smelly, dirty, nasty dog ran over and jumped on me.” While on occasion, one may dispense with commas to separate, it’s not considered a good idea. If the list is very long, as in the sample sentence, the commas have to be there. They just have to, that’s why!

Commas before the word ‘and’, can be debated until the cows come home. Many will tell you that comma is a must. Others will tell you that it’s completely unnecessary and redundant. Choose a method, side with one team or the other and be consistent.

I realize that sometimes the creative juices flow and the urge to get something down now is very compelling. We all go through manic writing phases . We hammer away at the keys and stay up half the night to get the story down. I understand this well. However, putting aside mechanics for speed is not a good idea. Figuring that you can go back later and neaten it up is fine in theory, but not in practice. It is impossible to read through and get all the errors on your own.

Sometimes you can bribe a friend or two to look over something you’ve written. I guarantee if it’s too terrible, they will get tired of it and quit. So, pay attention to the mechanics as you go. It makes less of a mess later and won’t take so long to neaten up. Finishing isn’t as important as getting it right as you go along.

What’s the point of this article? Am I trying to make people feel bad or insult their intelligence?

No. I am pointing out that each error we make as writers damages our credibility. Make your work as easy to comprehend as possible. Don’t interfere with your message by carelessness.