31 August 2015

Why I Am Unqualified to Write Serious Poetry

This past weekend I went to the League of Utah Writers fall writing conference.

I go to lots of conferences, but this is a first for me. The general consensus has been that this conference does not measure up to the others in the state. I'm happy to report that this is not the case. Not this year, anyway.

When I go to a conference, I usually look at the special things they're doing. In the past it has been the ones you have to sign up for that have really helped me. During my first Boot Camp at Storymakers, Lisa Mangum blew my baby writing mind wide open. And she was so nice about it! One year at CONduit I signed up for a manuscript review by a couple of local authors, as well as a first 13 line critique from a lady who looks stark raving mad, but is a writing genius. I was terrified, but I leaned a lot. And one year, Dan Wells finally explained passive voice to me. Bless him.

While signing up for the conference (which I decided to do last minute) I noticed they had a 3 hour poetry workshop.

Now, I'll start by saying that I don't love poetry. The teachers I had in school always drew these deep, often confusing and befuddling meanings from just a few lines of text.

Seriously, since when does the limp bag of a vacuum cleaner represent lung cancer? What if I say it represents the fact that they have dirty house? Maybe they haven't cleaned their dirty mind out for a while. Or maybe, just maybe, it doesn't mean anything.

Yes, yes, I realize I may offend a few of my friends who do, in fact, love poetry. Sorry guys.

So the instructor for this workshop was great. The class was wonderful, actually. I learned a lot of things about poetic writing and using the senses to an extreme I'd never considered before. We talked about how connections or disconnections are what cause emotions and that's where many people draw their poems from.

All of that stuff was awesome.

The instructor read a beautiful poem that she has published, and I thought the imagery was lovely and deep and conflicting and awesome. And then she pointed out that it was actually about her and her sister getting molested by a neighbor.



Sure enough, I read it again and found the clues.

Others in the group picked up on it the first go around.

Now I'm not actually dissing poetry, nor am I making light of abuse in any way. But to “Get it” is it required to have had some serious childhood trauma that you'll never recover from?

(That might be the offensive part, sorry.)

This is why I'm pretty sure I'll never be qualified to read or write serious poetry. I haven't been through nearly enough trauma.

Which I'm fine with, by the way. Totally fine.

The workshop had us draw an aerial view of our childhood home, and dredge up some of our earliest, emotional memories. Connections. Finding three good ones was easy. I had to really sift through my head to find bad ones.

I'm an optimist, and apparently that started from a very young age. Either that or I've lived a charmed life. Again, I'm fine with both.

I won't share the horrible poem I wrote. Which was great fun, by the way. I had a wonderful time.

But really, when we read this little poem by:

Margaret Atwood (click on the link and read it please, it's only 4 lines ling)

I was like, “That is one seriously pissed off ex-girlfriend.”

The rest of the group was like, “Abuse. It's about abuse. The barbs and the hook and the trust and the betrayal and the...”

Yeah. Okay. If that's how it makes you feel, then that's how it makes you feel. But don't try to tell me that that is how I should feel about it.

Because I don't.

And I hope never to.

However, if you need some sarcastic poetry, call me. I'm totally in.

24 August 2015

I, Frankenstein- Confessions of a Trope-Ridden Film

A few weeks ago, I was feeling especially down in the pretty-much-everything area. In order to cope, I flipped in Netflix. There in the queue to be watched, was I, Frankenstein. In a moment of weakness, I started the film.

Oh, I knew it would be bad. I was actually counting on it. I think I was certain that it would make me feel better about myself as a writer. Surely I can write something better than this.

And...I was so very right.

The story starts where Frankenstein leaves off--with the monster (in this case, called Adam) burying Dr. Frankenstein in his family cemetery. Once that is finished, he's attacked by demons. Lucky for Adam, the gargoyles on a nearby church are actually angels (of some sort) that are in an eternal war with the demons. Adam kills one of the demons, and the gargoyles come to investigate. They save him, then drag him to their leader.

Blah, blah, info dump, join us in our fight to save humanity, because it's the right thing to do.

Adam, "Uh, no thanks. What did humanity ever do for me? Naw, I think I'll go be angry and bitter for a few hundred years. Later."
Member of the Gargoyle Order, "Won't you take a weapon with our symbol on it? The demons might target you again, and only holy weapons can kill them."
"Don't mind if I do." Adam picks up a couple of heavy looking rods about two feet long.
Member of the Gargoyle Order, "Oh, don't take those. They're blunt and unwieldy and heavy."
Adam looks extremely satisfied as he whips them through the air with an ominous hum. "Thanks, this'll do."

Obviously that's an in-my-own-words recap. I was laughing so hard. It was like the writers opened the book of tropes and said, "Which one should we use here? We need something meaningful and *cough* deep."

Some other guy, "I got it! Let's have him choose the weapons that most resemble him. It'll be like symbolism. Fantasy fans love that stuff."

"Good. Do it. But don't make it too hard for them to figure out. Audiences aren't what they used to me."

Sadly, they skip the next 200 years and just give us a basic, Adam trudging through the world always being harassed by demons. He likes to kill them. And that's when the writers drop him in some crazy city where the headquarters of the Gargoyle Order is. Still not sure if the humans can see it or not. I somehow missed that tidbit. Adam is hanging around and he takes down a demon. The Gargoyles get all mad that he got a human killed (but not really) so they grab him and drag him in again.

Apparently the Queen knows he's important, but in 200 years she never tracked him. Can't be that hard when you have a bunch of minions that can fly wherever they want. Sheesh. Adam still refuses to join them, and at this point the demons really enter the story. They attack. The Queen is captured and the others are scattered. Including Adam.

The demons want Adam and/or Frankenstein's diary so they can duplicate the process that brought Adam to life, so that all of the demons the Gargoyles have banished to the underworld can be resurrected into bodies that the Demon Prince (king? Lord? Whatever.) has been gathering for a while. Everyone's got to have a hobby, right?

Seriously, the plot had promise, but the stringing of tropes like popcorn on one of those Christmas tree swags killed every bit of it.

So the queen is captured. Adam goes to get her back. She's all helpless and whatever. Stuff happens. She's saved and I think Adam gets caught by the demons. Doesn't matter.

Fast-forward to the end of the film. Adam goes and gets the Gargoyle's all riled up so they follow him to where the Demon Dude has the bodies stashed. At this point, the stupid queen reveals that she transforms into a bad a** Gargoyle that leads her followers into battle.

Why in the he** didn't she transform when her citadel was under attack the first time and kick the demons trash? Hmmm? It's like the writers didn't even bother to read the whole story at once so they could catch obvious (and stupid) errors like that.

There's plenty more.

I finished the movie, and since my expectations were low, I thought, "It could have been worse."

I'm happy to say that it did, indeed, make me feel better about my own writing. I have mean editor friends who catch that dumb stuff for me. I am more and more grateful to them every day.

Did anyone else spot a trope in the film that they'd like to share?

17 August 2015

Wow, I Really Do Know A Lot About Writing

The other week, a friend of mine asked me to come and speak to her women's group about being an author. They wanted me to share my experiences in publishing, then answer any questions they had.

I always get nervous before these things, because I never feel like I know that much about writing. There is always someone around who knows more or has more experience than I do.

In this case, I was the expert in the field.


These ladies fired all sorts of questions at me. Topics ranged from how to craft a story to how to create good characters to what's the best route for publishing to how did you get interested in writing?

As I was answering, I found out a lot about myself. Yes, it seems strange, but there you go.

One woman asked me how I learned to write a story. How did I plot?

Part of me remembered hearing wonderful writers saying very deep and moving things about plot and feelings and how the characters wove into the story to make conflicts and how the emotional payoff at the end had to be good enough to satisfy the reader.

None of this came out of my mouth. What came out of my mouth was this, "You know what, I follow the 15 point beat sheet. Go read the book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. That's how I plot."

And it's true. I'm sort of helpless without those 15 beats. The 7 point plot system works as well, and I shared that with them, but in a nutshell, I'm a Save the Cat girl. I also mentioned that some people can't outline. They have to write themselves into a corner, back up and go again. Everyone's process is different.

Another question I got was "How do you go about writing a second book?"

Again, all sorts of deep and meaningful things about inner conflict and not letting the middle sag floated through my mind. But what I said was, "Go watch the Empire Strikes Back. Follow the pattern. It is perhaps the best and most successful second act of a trilogy that has ever been filmed. I find something like that and follow the pattern. My story will not turn out the same, but it gives me a direction for my 15 beats."

I said it, thought about it and decided that this is totally true. It's how I roll.

There were around ten women there. One had self-published one novel and was working on her second. The others merely had aspirations. Each one of them thanked me for being so honest and excited and knowledgeable about writing. They plan to start a writing group to see if they like it.

Now, I'm well aware that I have a lot to learn about writing, but it's good to take a step off of the path and look back at how far I've come.

The journey is long, and some parts are steeper than others, but like on any hike, glance over your shoulder and see the distance you've put behind you. You might be both surprised and awed.

10 August 2015

Something New

I'm always trying to do new things. I like new experiences because they broaden my mind. They give me a new perspective. They help me grow and learn.

Here is a small list of new and exciting experiences I've had in my life:
Did a clogging solo in front of like a thousand people when I was six
Tried out for the lead saxophone in the jazz band in high school.
Asked a boy I really liked to a dance.
Passed a black belt test for Shaolin Kempo
Went bungee jumping in New Zealand
Did the MS bike ride
Traveled to Israel
Wrote a novel
Learned how to get out of duct tape and zip ties
Drove down the sidewalk in my car for half a block
Volunteered to help with an art show
Star Wars speed dating
Saw the Dalai Lama speak
Hiked to Druid Arch
Learned to crochet

Most of these things I did  simply to try them.

Now, as I have just turned 40, I find myself attempting something that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would try.

It makes me shake my head every time I think about it.

You see, I have this writing buddy who has wanted to do a collaborative book since we both started writing seriously four years ago. I've always talked her out of it, because we have totally different styles, and we write for totally different audiences.

But a few months ago we were at a writing retreat (which consists of the two of us sitting in a condo for a weekend only speaking to one another in passing and typing for hours on end) and she brought it up again.

I was weak. It was way past my bedtime, and she pulled out this notebook and starts to jabber about how much fun it would be to try.

Pretty sure I was coming off a sugar high as well. So just to be funny, I started to help her outline a story...three hours later, we had a novel.

How did that happen?

So, my friends, in a few months time, you may hear that I have a new book out that is neither fantasy or science fiction. It's not even YA.

It will be a clean, romantic comedy. My solace is that I can be pretty dang funny when I want to be.

If anyone has a good pen name, now is the time to fire it over to me.

03 August 2015

The Smack Down

Just a side note. I had no idea that the Smack Down is a wrestling thing. I Googled images. I may not recover. In lieu of that, I'll put an adorable never give up picture in here. Because sometimes you have to come at a problem from a different angle and with a new plan.

The past six or seven months have not been easy on the writing front. For whatever reason, I'm having a hard time moving any project forward. It took way more effort than I thought it would to get Fractured Memories out and into the world. I was supposed to have three short stories finished by the end of this month, and only one of them is on a second draft, while the other two are hiding from my wrath-which is to say the ranting that I do every time I think about fixing them.

Life has been busy, things come up, I've had some health issues...blah, blah, blah.

Yesterday, I decided that I was finished making excuses for myself. It was time to just do this thing.

I work the best with plans. Plans that have been broken down into smaller sections.

For instance, I can't just say that by the end of August, I will have one short story ready to be published, another in the second round of revisions and the third in a first round of revision.

Sure, that's a simple goal. Right?

Uh, no. No because there are lots of steps that have to be taken in there.

The first short story, the one I do indeed wish to have ready for self-publication by the end of August, doesn't just need a light revision. I sent it to beta readers a while ago, and got some good (as well as harsh, but needed) feedback from them. Since then, I've been doing some world building, and some re-plotting. In order to get it up on Amazon on Sept 1st, I need to revise it, then send it to a few more beta readers. Get it back. Revise it. Send it to an editor (hopefully I can find someone who is good but isn't going to charge me an arm and a leg), get it back and revise it again. I need a cover and all of the junk that goes inside of a book...and then it might be ready.

So instead of just saying I want it ready to go, I have to break it down. One week I will do all of the revisions that I have now. I'll slave away until it's finished.

Then I'll send it to my beta readers for a week. In which time I will pull out the second story and work on it. When the first story comes back, I'll revise it again and get it to an editor in a week. Then I'll harass my beta readers again with the second story.

Oh, in all of this I have a co-authored project that I need to get 6 more chapters out for. One a week all month long and then some.

Plus, I can't ignore Instagram any longer. I need to get on there and see if I like it and if it would be a good platform for me as an author. I don't love Twitter, and Facebook is dying.

So, there you go. I have a new plan. (Not exactly as laid out above, but you get the idea.)

As will always happen in life, something is sure to blow up tomorrow and try to knock me totally off track. It might work, but I'm going to do my very best not to let it. Because if I'm going to be an author, I need to write stuff!

I'll report back the first week of September and let you all know how I did.

27 July 2015

Roleplaying-A New Adventure

I am not a roleplaying game girl. I think I've been roped into playing Dungeons and Dragons twice. The first time there were some very cute kittens in my friends basement that I really wanted to go play with, so I asked the dungeon master to kill me. Don't judge, I was like 9 years old. The second time was slightly better with a group of four on a long weekend in a cabin. I died then too, but not exactly on purpose.

Obviously I'm not an expert, but my husband is a huge fan of roleplaying games, and I've been through it a few times. What happens is this, you spent copious amounts of time assembling a character including what they look like, their chosen attire, their skills, their weaknesses, their favorite band, their least favorite beer...I feel like with some games this could take a good two to three hours. And that's if you're quick. I spend less time on my novel characters. Anyway, once your character is assembled, you plop them down into a campaign that the Dungeon Master has thought up where they join with the other player's characters in a mighty quest to defeat evil and win the day.

The fighting bits are fun. Even though my eternal shunning from the dice gods always gets me more wounded than I would like. It's the bits in between that are, for me, annoying.

Pretty much, the players (that's me) pretend they are their characters, and have conversations as if everyone playing were there characters. This isn't the annoying part. This part can be totally fun. No, the part that makes me want to punch something is when the characters aren't sure what to do, and someone always jumps ahead and starts doing something stupid that is likely to get all of us killed, or they argue back and forth until someone gives (which hardly every happens) or the assertive person in the group forces them to stop and focus on what part of the quest we have to do next.

I'm a fan of cooperative board games, but not this.

I think it's because I'm used to being the author. My characters really don't talk back to me, nor do they generally question my orders. In this world I have no control, which then makes me grouchy and reaffirms to me why I never played team sports. Sometimes I'm not a team player. Plus, I can't run to save my life.

So the other night my brother-in-law put together a campaign for a game called Feng Shui. It's not as complicated as D&D (my character only took about 15 minutes to assemble) and since it's based off of action movie tropes and characters, it doesn't really take itself too seriously.

The only reason I agreed to play is because my hubby said I could play as Agent Bunnynose.

For those of you not familiar, I wrote 5 seasons of a spy satire called Babes in Spyland.  It's hilarious, and is hardly ever serious. Agent Bunnynose is one of the main characters. So I caved and said I would join the campaign.

...And it was kind of fun. Playing her. Trying to get into her head and figure out what she would do if she actually had to work with the Techno guy who regularly uses his laptop as a shield and drives random cars off of docks as a distraction, the Killer who literally fell on her face when she was trying to pull a Chuck Norris and round house kick three guys in the head at once, and some crazy mystic from the future that sucks souls to power her flying boots. And she couldn't just shoot them.

I know a handful of authors that actually do this sort of thing all of the time. I almost see the appeal. I also see why so many people who play Dungeon Masters a lot feel like their campaigns could be books. I also see what most of the time, that's a really, really bad idea.

20 July 2015

Walking in Someone Else's Shoes

There is a story in the Book of Mormon about an iron rod. A man, Lehi, has a dream that he needs to get from the darkness to the tree of life. He spots an iron rod that leads him along the narrow path that he must follow in order to reach his destination. Along the way there is fog and a cliff and a river and a building that people are hanging out of, making fun of those using the rod. Lehi holds onto the rod and gets to his destination. In the parable, he reaches eternal life and the love of god. If you want to check out the scriptural account, go here.

I had the opportunity to go with some girls in my church congregation to camp for a week. One of the evenings, we participated in an iron rod walk. It was a few hundred yards long, over rough ground, up and down dirt hills, over boulders and under trees. Throughout there was a literal iron rod that the girls could hold on to. They were blindfolded before they started.

As a leader (whoever thought that was a good idea was delusional) I got the assignment to watch a section of the rod and make sure the girls didn't have too much trouble. But I wasn't allowed to help unless they signaled, and I wasn't supposed to move any of the many logs and rocks that were on the path.

Most of the time I still consider myself young. I often act much younger than my almost 40 years, and I'm good with that. But standing there, watching these girls struggle along this rod, trying to get over logs and not twist their ankles on rocks, I was suddenly  thrust into a very different perspective on the exercise.

For the girls, they held onto the rod and got to the end. They might have struggled, but there was help when they needed it.

For me, I learned how hard it is to watch people you care about struggle with something you could simply take away.

I'm not a parent, so this revelation probably comes to most people much earlier than it did me. Standing there watching, not being able to tell them to just step a little farther or to hold on tight in a certain section almost killed me. I felt like those kids in school who raise their hand so high that their butts come out of the chair. I wanted to help that bad.

But I couldn't. If I had, the girls would have been cheated of their experience.

It must be hard as a parent to watch as your children start to spread their wings and fly off into the world. It must be even more difficult to bite your tongue as they share their woes and sorrows-things you could solve for them, but know that you shouldn't.

Another part of the exercise that I found interesting was how each girl approached the course.  Some almost floated over the obstacles, while others very deliberately put each foot down before moving the other one.

At the end we asked the girls to share their thoughts. One girl said that she had a hard time not clearing the obstacles as she got around them, because she knew there were people behind her that might trip.

It's amazing how a little exercise can get you thinking out of your own perspective.