Pretty Has A Price

Aug 6, 2016 by

I’ve now finished the first draft of my third book–each one unique and completely unrelated to the other. That’s three written since I began the Writer’s Path program at Southern Methodist University in August of 2014.

The word count of Pretty Has A Price, draft one.

The word count of Pretty Has A Price, draft one.

The working title of Book Three is now “Pretty Has A Price.”

The book begins with newly widowed Sterling James leaning over the casket of her husband Harvey, saying a few last words to him before the graveside ceremony is to begin when she opens her eyes to see Annabelle, her nemesis approaching those gathering around. A cat fight, at a funeral, begins, with pallbearers ushering Annabelle back to her car.

Caught in the middle of these two women is Kent Jackson, a New York Times bestselling author who is in Montgomery, Alabama to write so he can meet the terms of a book deal. I enjoyed writing about Kent, who lives in a fictitious house on Old Cloverdale Park, around the corner from the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum on Felder Avenue. At nights he walks down the brick paved street on Old Cloverdale Park and strolls over to sit on the porch of the museum at night, looking up at the stars, listening to the crickets and night traffic, while wondering how Scott must have felt with Zelda there in the house, or the emptiness he must have felt once she’d gone back east again to be institutionalized. Kent, Sterling and Annabelle all end up at the annual Gala in front of the house in April and enjoy the amazing sights, sounds, and amazing food that even you can enjoy in real life.

Throughout the pages, readers learn about the high society balls that are still held in Montgomery–their elegance, their grandeur and the impact they have on those around them.

This book isn’t about anyone I know, but I’ve heard stories and embellished them from there. The story has humor, love, and explores the impact of pain and societal pressures.

I was told the other night it borders on literary fiction and straight fiction. Revision is next but I’m going to take a month’s break from it and let the characters breathe.

Writing is my life passion. There is no greater joy that to find a blank screen or piece of paper and put two or more characters in a precarious situation and see what happens next. Hopefully you’ll be able to read this story some day….

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Lead, Don’t Divide–Open Letter to Obama, Hillary and Trump

Jul 8, 2016 by

Dear Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump,

Now is your greatest opportunity to make a difference in the history of America.

Five Dallas police officers were murdered last night. Seven others shot. Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 8.24.38 AM

One of the suspects is said to have wanted to kill police. To kill white police. To kill white people.

This is not the time to talk about gun control.

This is the time to talk about leadership. It is not a time to further divide. Enough of that has gone on long enough.

All of you are guilty of dividing America further.

All of three of you.

It is time for each of you to change course. America can not endure four more years, for more minutes of divisive language.

If you want to lead America, it is time for you to do so.

Mr. President, you have six more months. Make every day of that time count. This isn’t about gun control. It’s about changing mindsets. It’s about embracing, not pushing people further apart. You were given a Peace Prize. Earn it. America is now more divided than we were before the Civil War. That is in part been exacerbated by your words. The ones you have uttered. The ones you have not. Redeem yourself.

Stop talking from your reader. Be angry. Be angry at those few police officers who might be out of line. Support the 99 percent who do their job with vigor. Be angry at those who give rise to the need for an officer to pull his or her weapon from its holster and fear what might happen next.

Mrs. Clinton, now is the time for vigor as well. Empty rhetoric has run its course. Your words mean something. You’ve never embraced that notion. It is time to do so. Your campaign staff today no doubt is thankful that the tragedy will take the focus off email. Have an event today where you actually seem genuine about how you feel. Stop that nodding when you say something. Give America the anger you have had at Bill and channel that toward those who divide us, those who kill police, and those who use the power of their badge wrongly.

Mr. Trump, you have exacerbated the divide as well. STOP IT. Be firm in your resolve, but use your energies to bring people together, not push them apart. Yes, America’s government has gotten out of control. We have huge social problems. Immigration issues. Lots of things. Be the presidential candidate who says the hell with all of that, be the one who says we are going to come together and to do that, the change begins with what I say, how I act. Don’t lose your passion, just channel it where it helps.

Now is the time to lead, not divide. That begins with my fellow citizens, me, and the three of you–who have the power of your positions. Use them for us, not for you and your personal agendas. That’s real hope and change.

 

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Summer Reading, Traveling Abroad

Jun 28, 2016 by

So far this summer, I have spent an abundance of my time in Imperial Russia.

I spent two to four days drifting off the coast of Cuba trying to reel in a very large fish.

And I’ve spent a couple nights wandering the cafes of Paris.

I’m three chapters under the stairs in the cupboard of the Dursley home–4 Privet Drive.

And I’ve stepped way back to the days surrounding the crowing of Arthur as King of England.

And it’s just the end of June.

If you haven’t figured it out, I’ve been reading Anna Karenina, The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, the first Harry Potter book, and Le Morte d’Arthur.

I’ve also been reading a few books on the craft of writing. (Posts about those to come.)

WISHING I’D READ MORE AS A KID

I’m more than 50 years of age now and I wish I’d taken more time as a young man, as a boy, even, to read.

Those days were spent being a live and in love with the world. No, I wouldn’t trade them as they are what helps fuel the tales I now tell in novel form. But having read more when I was younger would have fueled novel writing at an earlier age, I do believe.

But I didn’t and I can’t change that.

WISHING I’D READ MORE TO MY CHILDREN

In spite of what others might say, putting my kids down at bedtime was usually a task that fell to me. I wish now I’d been better prepared. I wish I had taken my children on magical journeys with books at night instead of fighting with them about staying in bed, getting drinks of water, or the umpteenth trip to go potty.

But I didn’t and I can’t change that.

SO WHY NOW?

That’s not an easy question to answer. At least not in one part.

For one, I’m busy trying to complete my third full-length book. I’m revising, I should say. If you talk to any writing coach they will tell you that you get better by writing, AND by reading the works of others. So I have put myself on a mental diet of classic literature. This third work is more colorful and elegant in word selection. The reading of great works is helping that.

The second reason is that for the past month, I’ve largely been bed-ridden. While helping my daughter move out of her dorm at Auburn, I fell. My neck began to hurt severely. On the return trip from Alabama to Texas, I set up to go see a chiropractor. The chiro got my neck to stop hurting, but has awakened an issue in my lower back. I’ve been in intense pain for four weeks now. Tomorrow comes a visit with a spine specialist. Being lost in my books has helped me try to forget about the pain.

The third reason is simple: I have too much living left to do not to entertain my brain with some of the finest literature that mankind has ever recorded.

What books are you reading this summer?

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Writing Prompt: What is your favorite way to spend a lazy day?

Jun 23, 2016 by

My daughters gave m300 Writing Prompts Icone a book entitled, 300 Writing Prompts for Fathers Day. I intend to do as many of them as possible and post them here.

The first prompt: What is your favorite way to spend a lazy day?

THE ANSWER

Maybe it is because of the way I was brought up, but I seldom allow for “lazy days” in my life. One of my old girlfriends said I needed to find a way to relax.

The way I see it, there will be plenty of time for lying around doing nothing once my earthly race is over.

THE ACTUAL ANSWER

If I’m having a “slower day,” it will usually begin with cooking something for breakfast, putting something in a crock pot for later on in the day. I have recently learned how to make beef ribs using the crock pot for a couple of hours and then baking them to completion. They’re not like going to Pappa’s in Irving, Texas, but they’re half the price for a lot more opportunity.

I regret greatly these days not having spent more time as a child, teen and young adult reading fiction. In those days, I couldn’t sit still very much to read.

At 50 years of age, I realize that life would have been greatly different had I taken time to read more. Now, as often as I can, I’m reading multiple works of fiction. Presently I’m working through The Old Man and The Sea by Hemingway. I have volumes I and II of the complete works of Sherlock Holmes handy. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy is on the desk next to me.

This summer I have completed Twain’s End, and The Heaven of Mercury by Brad Watson. I also devoured The Great Gatsby in a weekend.

I used to say the best way to get better at writing was to write. I’d amend that these days to say that the best way to get better at writing is to be reading as much as you can, and writing as well.

What are you reading? How do you spend a lazy day?

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Read Twain’s End, by Lynn Cullen

Jun 22, 2016 by

In late April I had the fortune to meet Author Lynn Cullen while attending the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, Alabama. She was taking part in a workshop in discussing the process of writing historical fiction when I also had the fortune to be introduced to her latest literary work, Twain’s End, (Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 12.14.46 PM

Since meeting Lynn, a paperback edition of her book has been released as well.

LITERARY FICTION

Lynn’s book is a 300-page magical blend of fact and fiction intertwined with dashes of literary prose so poignant that it bears the sweet smell of the hydrangeas so oft preferred by the likes of Mark Twain and more so, Sam Clemens.

As a reader, one can’t discern the difference between what actually happened and the reading between the lines that Lynn has so carefully filled in–like a brick layer setting mortar and bricks under the watchful eye of Clemen’s personal secretary, Isabel Lyon, as she helped manage the building of his famous Connecticut home, Stormfield, in Redding.

All the critical elements of storytelling are wrapped delicately in the telling of this tale of love, conflict, and self-redefinition. Lynn helps us all see, through the eyes of an omniscient narrator, the emotional and mental struggles that plagued one of America’s greatest writers–some of the same troubles we all bear even today.

There is beauty in the poetry of the writing of Lynn Cullen. Often times I found myself reaching for my iPhone to pull up a word she used to paint her imaginary scenes–words that I would then write down in my personal writer’s notebook to hopefully employ once again in a tale of my own choosing.

For its historical value or not, Twain’s End is an enjoyable read and I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy as soon as you may.

MARK TWAIN

Like all of us, Sam Clemens put on masks to create a world that was kinder and gentler than the one he apparently knew. For the writer in me, passages where she framed the thoughts and events surrounding childhood wounds Clemens alleges, provided insight that’s value can not soon be measured. Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 12.15.13 PM

In Chapter 30, Lynn has Hellen Keller ask the most pointed question of the work: “Don’t we all make up our own worlds?”

And therein lies the heart of the message in reading this book.

In my own writing–three as yet unpublished full length works which you can read more about here–I have found relief from the pains of this life–ways to write (intended) wrongs out of existence; ways to heal pains of days that long since have passed me by that still hurt as much as paper slicing a finger’s flesh.

TWAIN’S END

Pick up a copy of Lynn Cullen’s book, Twain’s End in hardback or paperback. You will be doing yourself a mental treat.

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Chasing My White Whale

Jun 14, 2016 by

Are you chasing a metaphorical white whale, something that continually gnaws at you, encompasses you, and is on the verge of driving you stark mad? If so, you must be a writer of some sort. Maybe an artist. Perhaps both.

A great book all writers MUST read.

A great book all writers MUST read.

Today was I treated to the release of Steven Pressfield’s new book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, via an email from Shawn Coyne’s website. It’s almost 200 pages long as a PDF but I read the entire thing in an hour or two. (If you follow the link you will be taken to a PDF version of it to read on your own. I do not know how long they will leave free access to it.)

This is the book that includes the core messages, structures, concepts, themes, additional resources and practices all good writers should employ if we are to become better craftsmen.

I was turned on to the power of Shawn Coyne’s book, The Story Grid, while taking a revision class for novel writing at Southern Methodist University in early March of this year. Coyne’s book, website, and iTunes podcasts–I have all 34 of them downloaded and play them in loops–have had a profound impact on my writing.

But it was Pressfield’s book today that really sums up much of what I’ve been taught while in the Writer’s Path Program at SMU under the direction of Author J. Suzanne Frank, who has worked so hard to build the program into a highly reputable one.

Pressfields’ book is a must read for anyone daring to write a novel, screenplay, or non-fiction. He’s done them all–even a failed attempt to edit a porn flick, which ultimately taught him two of the most important lessons he’s ever learned about writing a scene.

RULES FOR EVERY STORY

Pressfield lays out several important principles within his book, but I have already typed out these eight points and pinned them to the cork board over my writing space as a checklist as it were for story development. I encourage you to copy them as well.

  1. Every story must have a concept. It must put a unique and original spin, twist or framing device upon the material.
  1. Every story must be about something. It must have a theme.
  1. Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Act One, Act Two, Act Three.
  1. Every story must have a hero.
  1. Every story must have a villain.
  1. Every story must start with an Inciting Incident, embedded within which is the story’s climax.
  1. Every story must escalate through Act Two in terms of energy, stakes, complication and significance/meaning as it progresses.
  1. Every story must build to a climax centered around a clash between the hero and the villain that pays off everything that came before and that pays it off on-theme.

I enjoyed this book–particularly the parts where he was speaking to me as a fellow writer–where he describes what writers must endure in this life while in pursuit of publication or satisfaction or whatever it is that turns inside of us that our spouses, parents, siblings, children and friends do not get about us, and may never understand in full, lest they are tempted to chase the same white whale that causes a writer to keep going when every sane person in their life is telling them to stop.

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Why If You’re Writing You Need To Know Of Shawn Coyne

Jun 10, 2016 by

If you have seen author and editor Shawn Coyne’s website, you’ll see the points below and know that I’m not giving anything away that he hasn’t already posted or put into his book The Story Grid, but I have to tell you, being conscious of the five aspects he identifies necessary for every scene, act and an entire book has made a difference in my writing.

In previous posts I’ve talked about how I am a student in the SMU Writer’s Path program. There we have learned to keenly focus on the power of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey–the Hero’s Journey which was largely spelled out by Joseph Campbell.

In March I learned of Coyne. In late March I began constructing the organizational details for my hero’s journey for my latest draft manuscript–“First Things and Final….” As I developed the wheel of the hero’s journey for my characters, I also printed out a sheet for each scene I anticipated being necessary to tell my story.

Making sure these five elements were in EVERY scene, and that I could pull the camera back and look at each of my three/four acts–Act I, Act II-A, Act II-B, and Act III–and then pull the lens back even further to understand the compositional structure of the whole book, made every bit of difference in how I wrote this third manuscript versus how I wrote my first two books on completely different subjects. In fact, as I’ve been working to revise the first two, I have been developing and printing out scene worksheets for each of the scenes in the other two books to help with my revision process.

FTF circle

This is the Hero’s Journey I outlined in mid-April 2016 for First Things and Final…

Is this a sure fire way to get published? We will have to wait and see. I seem to excel at cranking out stories. What I need to do is find a way for my mind to be able to enjoy the tediousness that is involved in seeking out an agent, writing a query and then sending them out and following up as appropriate. I also need to develop greater discipline in going back into my previously written material and striving to make it better.

Having been unleashed to write stories, my mind is happier doing the writing and doesn’t like to be bogged down in the query process. That is something I must address lest I become a famous writer posthumously.

So what is this structure all about? It’s this simple–Every scene of your book needs to have these five elements. Otherwise, as Coyne puts it, it’s a nice collection of words, not a scene.

Inciting Incident--Something bad happens to a character that they were not expecting. They thought one thing was going to happen, but it did not. (Think of princess Kitty at the ball in” Anna Karenina” and she thought Count Vronksy was going to ask her to marry her.)

Progressive Complications–Insult to injury. Things get worse than what was initially expected. (She’s got that one lad calling her his first conquest as he’s asked her to dance and she’s promised him her third, as if she was confidently thinking it won’t be necessary.)

Crisis–Best of two bad decisions. (Anna has begun to dance with Kitty’s heart’s desire and Kitty is forced to accept dances with the others so she will stay in front of him in hopes that he will return to her, but all the while she can see there is something going on between Anna and the count.)

Climax–Fingers bent, things are getting worse. (Anna and the count continue and it’s now clear that he won’t be having much of anything further to do with Kitty.)

Resolution–The character has gone from an initial state to almost the complete opposite of where they were at the beginning. In Kitty’s case she was positive and excited about her future prospects of being swept away in a fairy tale with her prince–the count–and in this case, that dream has been shattered by the likes of Anna, a married woman with a son.

Recognizing these five elements as applied above to the three facets of every book–scene, act and over all story, made a difference to me when I constructed my present work, “First Things and Final…” Now whether that will ever lead to my books being published remains to be scene, but for me, it has made a significant difference and I encourage you to learn more about Coyne’s Story Grid.

 

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