Monday, January 31, 2011

No Writing, No Wine, Makes Charli Something Something...

My family may toss me outside in the yard. I'll be with ol' Jack out there, frozen.

Here in Philly we are expecting yet another snow storm. Lovely. This one has ICE! Yay...not.

Weather like this keeps you in the house. You only go out for work, school, and necessities.

Wine is a necessity, not bread. But that's just me.

Over the weekend I had a hard time getting in the mood to write. I had a very bad cold. Very, very bad. And the hubby had our Saturday Night booked for a social gathering. He said the boos were free. What to do. Wine is a necessity as I've previously stated... invited to a place that serves free wine... wine is alcohol... therefore doubling as medication... therefore I can go.

The hubby and kid were happy to get me out of the house. They said I was acting a little off. Well, yes I was. Sore throat, snot rags, and a boat load of cough drops and you'd be too. I think they heard me grumbling about not bothering Mommy in her work place. I think they think I was starting to act like Jack up there. I think my kid remembers the Simpson's Tree House of Horror where Homer goes nuts without beer and TV.

Homer: No TV, no beer, makes Homer something something...
Marge: ...Go crazy?
Homer: Don't mind if I do! *Homer starts murderous rampage.*

Foreseeing their own demise they practically pushed me out the door. Kid goes to her Aunt's. Me & the Hubby are on our own. Woot!

We get to our little soiree and yes there is alcohol but 'tis not free. Hubby shrugs his shoulders as he laughs. "Like you're gonna leave? Free or not you never pass up a drink. Now drink woman and feel better."

Ah, the man knows me. Isn't he romantic...

And no, the family is alive and well. I slept all day Sunday and they didn't bother me. I wrote a wee bit last night too.

With the next storm looming overhead I guess the hubby better stock up on Merlot and Pinot Grigio. Mama's gotta some editing to do.

Enjoy today's clips that inspired this post.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Woodchucking Mayhem

With the Superbowl coming upon us I'm glad I've been paying tribute to commercials that make me laugh. Superbowl commercials are the stuff of legends. It's why I watch the game. I am not a huge football fan. I prefer different athletic eye candy.

Gimme Chase Utley shaking his booty on the baseball diamond. I mean look at him. Mmm, I'd say something about balls but I'll leave it to your imagination. Back to commercials and other balls.

When the Superbowl airs I devour the commercials, see what these writing geniuses have come up with. I envy those writers, just 30 seconds of cleverness. I'm too wordy for a gig like that. Enjoy today's show, two great commercials from the advertising gods.

I never thought I'd say this but being a woodchuck sounds like fun. I snorted watching this.

Oh and this Mayhem can ruin my life anyday. Dean Winters is hot. Ha-cha-cha!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Writer's Cocoon

I am emerging from a cocoon I didn't know I was baking in. Not the Cocoon from the movie, no aliens giving me sexed up mojo in a pool. I am referring to an actual cocoon, the ones kittypillars create while they transform into what they were DESTINED to be, beautiful butterflies.

A kittypillar, yes, I say kittypillar, starts a journey to find a perfect branch. I liken that to me finally deciding to write and sitting my tookus down to do it. For months I wrote, found a critique group, and studied the craft.

Yes, I had to study how to write a novel. Having a good story in your head does not equate to being an author. Being a literature teacher for six years does not equate to knowing how to write a work of fiction.

It is a craft. One I did not respect enough in my early days stumbling through my first attempt at writing this novel. Blogs, websites, story structure books, I read them all. But the education came in the actual writing, the numerous failed attempts. AND THERE WERE NUMEROUS FAILED ATTEMPTS.

I queried way too early. The MS was no where near ready. I was no where near ready as a writer. Me, the kittypillar hadn't even found my damned tree yet. I trudged and trudged. But I wasn't alone on this journey. I found some other kittypillars along the way. One you know here, AJ/JAWS.

Together we found our tree and started our climb. It hasn't been easy. Lots of growing pains along the way. As you are heading out to become something, you change. This kittypillar was becoming something and I couldn't face it. It kind of scared the hell out of me. I ignored the changes and continued to query. I changed my opening at least 7 times. Maybe more.

All were well written. So, my writing friends told me. My CP told me to stop fecking with something that didn't need fecking with in the first place. Jaws said what I had was good and should own it.

But I doona listen verra well. So, I continued to feck with said opening. If you've ever listened to my diatribes about the opening to my MS, you know we haven't exactly seen eye to eye. To get past this stumbling block I immersed myself in story structure books, blogs, websites, and I read and read and read various works of fiction. I devoured them. By forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone and read books I normally wouldn't, I felt a shift take place. It was subtle and barely noticeable but it was there.

I evolved in some weird way. It's something I cannot really explain but you too may have felt this yourself. By reading so much I felt I had a better understanding not only of the craft but writing me. This enlightened Charli Mac has new eyes and a fresh outlook. It happened this way...

Last week I was reading, Save the Cat. It has proved to be an invaluable resource to me, for many reasons but one more than the rest. It proved to me I had my structure down pat, the acts, the beats. I'd had the plot down from the get go. Woot, score 1 for Charli. But said opening was still a wreck, or so I thought.

I asked a fellow friendly writer to read all seven of my versions. This facetious lil' redhead (not JAWS, another one) said she would. Boy, she had no idea what she was getting into.

She read one, just one and emailed me. Her question was an Ah-ha moment. She asked me what voice did I want to use for this MS. Because this opening was different from the one she'd read a while back. Voice, voice, voice, voice, it's all about the voice. And she was right. And AJ was right. And so were a handful of other writing friends. I was losing my voice by re-working all these openings.

Facetious redhead told me to sit back and decide how and in what way I want to tell this story. To do so I had to read ALL the openings I'd done. ALL OF THEM.

I did. What I found was priceless. The version I had a while back was good. Really good. It had the right premise, set-up, and it made me feel something I hadn't in a long time-sure of myself. A major brain fart came and I combined a few things and decided to expand on my hero's Save the Cat Moment, a moment I already had in the book before even buying said feline bible of story structure.

As I revised I found myself tapping into this new writer inside of me, not new but a more grown up version. Words flew and it all just felt...right. What is so grand about all this you say? Well, for one, the dammed opening is now done. It needs a tweak here or there. But I can honestly say, when talking to someone, "this is how my story begins...".

More so I was proud that I had this within me all the time. Stubbornness, the need for the MS to be accepted, all blurred my vision. I wouldn't change how I got here for the world. Never in a million years. All of these headaches were the growing pains of becoming a writer. It wasn't easy and I've moved on from some parts of my writing life, left some distractions behind. And I feel amazing.

I can feel my wings growing in this cocoon I've created. Pretty soon I will sprout, break free, and fly. But that will be much later. This kittypillar still has a lot of work to do in here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I wish my boobs could do this!

Bang bang! I cannot get enough of these commercials. How does this connect to writing...whoever wrote these lil' snippets is a marketing genius! BTW, my hubby would do back flips if my tots did this.

Unfortunately this is where the puppies are headed...

I Lift Things Up and Put Them Down...

Every time I see this commercial I laugh. I laugh so hard I snort. His voice follows me on the train to work and I think about how can I put him into one of my stories. He is the epitome of  a character archetype.

It's kind of contagious too. Anytime I ask the hubby to get me this or that he says, "I lift things up and put them down." At least he's moved on from quoting Antoine Dodson. Anytime I'd ask a question or do something very Charli-like he'd say, "You are really dumb, for reals."

What characters from commercials make you laugh, stick with you, or even influence your writing?

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Ode to Edward Burns

We all draw our inspiration from something, someone, some experience or another. We're writers and it's in our nature to observe the world around us. We observe it and more so we absorb it. Absorb it into our bones, blood, and out our fingertips across keyboards.

There are many instances and circumstances that propelled me to this place in my life, this writing place. I'd like to share one of them with you.

This is the movie Purple Violets. An Edward Burns movie. A movie about lost love, the one that got away, and what else, writers. This movie had me thinking about that book I never seemed to sit my ass down and write. This was July of 2009. And here I am today. Said MS in the bazillionth round of edits.

Ahh, Eddie friggin' Burns. I love the man. Besides his obvious good looks and dashing personality, he is an amazing screenwriter; completely undervalued in the business, IMO. His movies; which he writes, directs, and occasionally stars in, always seem to reach out and tug at something deep inside my writer's soul.

Oh, it could be the Irish-Catholic thing, that cool neighborhood guy aura he oozes, maybe it's the almond shaped eyes- oh those Irish eyes are definitely smiling, and maybe, just maybe, it's his innate gift of the craft.

This gem had me finally go and write. Thanks Ed, you're the man.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Save the Cat is Keyser Söze!

I recently was asked by a fellow critique buddy for my notes on Save the Cat.

Me, being the absent minded writer I am, scratch my head. I don't remember critiquing a story with that title. I'm not particularly fond of cats in general. Sorry Cat People. I do not like cats. I am paraphrasing here but I am with Robin Williams when he said that Cats are like Drag Queens. And I have a tweener daughter, all the Queen like drama I can stand, thank you very much.

So, back to this email. I tell this writing buddy I will check my files and get back to her. I find nothing and let her know. I check our message loop and other people chatted about my notes on this friggin' cat. Was I drunk messaging one night? 'Tis very possible I tell you. But no, I check that too. I did not jump online and post about saving some cat while intoxicated. It would more than likely read about me killing some cat while under the influence. Maybe not murder but at least spraying a bunch of water on it. Again, sorry Cat People. I do not like cats.

So, I am tripping around the blogosphere today, not tripping like I am stoned. I do not do drugs. Hugs, not drugs. Win with Gin! I digress. Save the Cat kept coming up on writer blogs and message boards. What the what? This Save the Cat business is like my own personal Keyser Söze. What is it? Who is it? Why do they think I have notes on it????? It's an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in bacon. But I have no time to decipher this nonense. I have a story to complete and this damn opening of mine is a pain in the arse. My own Verbal Kint, if you will. I ignore all this cyber purring and search the interwebs for the answer to my WIP conundrum. Feck the cat, someone else can save it.
Lovely YA author and blogger extraordinaire Elana Johnson blogs about the writing life. When I get my email about Elana's latest blog post, I swear I hear the heavenly angels sing AHHH. She is blogging about what else, How to Start Your Book. Wowsers! What are the odds?

I've been jammering about my failings in this department for months. I have SEVEN different openings to my MS. Ask AJ and she may say I have more. I lost count honestly. Elana is a rocking blogger with a book coming out in June called Possession. You may recognize her name from being a steady contributor over at Query Tracker and her fondness of Bacon. (The food, not Kevin Bacon. I do not know about her feelings on the actor from Footloose.) She loves bacon. I love bacon. Everything is better with bacon. Bacon. Bacon. Bacon. Writer's block, eat Bacon. Stuck in traffic, dig in your pocket and nibble on some bacon. Not sure what would go great with that ice cream sundae, add bacon. Had some great sex, skip the cig and chew on some bacon. Frustrated by this post, EAT BACON! Again, I digress.


Anywho. Where was I? Cats, heck no...*Charli sips some gin, licks fingers from her BLT.* Oh yes, the blog post. So, I continue reading Elana's genius and I image... OF A FRIGGIN CAT! Ohh...light bulb over my head hums then illuminates. ELANA STARTS TALKING ABOUT...SAVE THE CAT! It's a flipping screenwriting book! One that boils down story structure. For DAYS I've been jammering about structure, how mine is all off. I follow Larry, the story fixer. He chats about structure and screenwriting like I do bacon and boos. Lately with all my MS opening woes I've been reading up on it. Now Elana with this mysterious Kitty? The planets have aligned for this moment. It's all been leading up to this...

A kind of lame, real-life version of The Usual Suspects, the scene where Chazz Palminteri is looking around the office and it all sets in. The events of the past few hours, chatting with Verbal Kint, it all comes full circle. Well, that was me reading Elana's post today. I didn't drop my coffee mug on the ground or chase after a man with a distinct limp. No instead I sat at my desk and yelled out "Shut the front door!" But I said the real thing. You know, like Ralphie saying fudge but really saying f*ck in a Christmas Story. Got it now? Good. (And if you've never seen The Usual Suspects or A Christmas Story you have no business in the story-telling business. They're classics for Christ's sake.)

So, back again to this diatribe. Elana's post is about her NOT nailing the opening to her next book. And I was like, OMG, no friggin' way! Another coincidence in this strange feline mystery. Elana is an agented writer, she has a book coming out, SHE LOVES BACON! How can she have the same woes as me??? I felt a kinship, a bond beyond pork products. I felt hope actually. Hope that I too can overcome this black hole that's sucked the life out of me these past few months.

The post goes on about Save the Cat. How awesome it is and how it helped her. Her, the soon to be published and agented author is using it and even making storyboards and flash cards. Dude, I love flashcards, use them! Pig Meat, Crappy Book Openings, Saving Cats, and now 4x6 lined pieces of cardboard? We are sooo cyber sisters. I will not stalk her, I will not stalk her!

Remember my Liz Lemon Post? Nerds use flash cards. And Nerds get shit done. Nerds are gazillionaires. I am an aspiring nerd and writer. This is Steve Jobs to the right, BTW. He nailed the part of bazillionaire nerd who gets shit done. If there is a book about being a nerd, like a Save the Cat for nerds, I bet you Jobs read it and possibly even wrote it. And dude, with a last name like JOBS he was destined to get shit done.

Fate has instructed me to purchase said feline sparing bible of story structure. And I will tell you this. I listened and I bought. I have my highlighter and cards, gin and bacon. Save the Cat is Keyser Söze, Keyser Söze is the opening to my book- elusive, there, and then poof, it's gone....Damn you Keyser Söze!

Oh, opening to my mushy love story along the Jersey Shore, I will conquer you once and for all! I may not be saving any literal cats with this purchase but I sure as hell will save the start of my MS. The world is gonna love my opening like Tracy loves cornbread.

Thank you Elana Johnson, YA writer. Thank you. And thanks to my fellow aspiring writers who praised me for notes I didn't write, thanks to bacon and gin, thanks Steve Jobs and Keyser Söze, and thanks to Save the Cat, not real cats. I do not like cats. Thank you all!

OMG, Brain fart....maybe Elana Johnson is Keyser Soze! What the what!?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Water, Marilyn, and Death

My first books of 2011 are making my heart palpitate! I love them, well, two out of the three.
The books from 2010 I've yet to finish are dragging. Boredom is not something that sits well with me. So, The Shack and Eat, Pray, Love are officially sidelined. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I'm reading on the train to work. Loving it! Naked In Death, I finished and will discuss at another time on another blog.

I digress. I bought three books for MYSELF the other day. I had some Borders Bucks to cash in and I used them all on ME! SQUEE!

FRAGMENTS, Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe~ Edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Glory In Death by J.D. Robb

Let me explain the second J.D. Robb purchase.  A little birdie told me, here on this blog, that the series really picks up after the third book.  Pretty soon I will be a blogger on a Romance and Mystery site and this is part of my research. That's another thing I will discuss later. Super stoked about that. Not super stoked about the first pages of the second book.

Water for Elephants was on my to-read list for 2011. When I saw the trailer for the movie starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, it immediately pulled me in. It moved the book to the top of my list of books to buy. I love anything Depression Era but when you use the circus as a backdrop, you had me at Dumbo. 

Gruen breaks all the rules we read about as Aspiring Authors, all but one. She tells one heck of an amazing story. I noted an overabundance of the word WAS, telling and passive phrases, dialogue tags like I said or he says, and it opens with a PROLOGUE! A prologue that is a flashback. BAH to that agent intern who turned her nose up as such literary devices and the authors that use them. I guess this must be terrible writing too.

Anyhoo, I laughed out loud reading the first chapter, wanted to cry in the second, and now that I am in the third I can't seem to stop reading. When Gruen described the music in the prologue and said the "tuba farted", I snorted, twice.  Who doesn't laugh when they see the word fart? This man's journey starts with a stampede and a murder, fast forwards to him in a nursing home, then goes back to his journey on The Greatest Show On Earth. I can't wait to finish it. Below is a photo from the book, different photos open each chapter.

Fragments, a simple title that illustrates not only the prose within but the author's life. Marilyn Monroe has been an icon of mine since I was a tweener. There was something about her that I admired, something in a photo that spoke of her vulnerability, gorgeous and undeniably tragic. I often described her as tragically beautiful, something my head just blurted out when reading about her. It was hard for me to understand how someone with such beauty could truly believe she was ugly. Through the years I have read different things about her, never the conspiracy theory type stuff.

This book caught my eye when Christmas shopping and couldn't wait to snatch it up. Marilyn/Norma Jean reveals who she really was. Her own words and the words of those closest to her portray the avid reader, learner, poet, and actress. In it is a letter to Mr. Strasberg while in a psych ward, her thoughts about self worth, and poetry about loneliness. The words make you feel as if you are sitting on a sofa with her, chatting about life in general. This is a fragment from one of her poems. "Only parts of us will ever touch parts of others..." Lovely. I can tell this is a book I will be picking up time and again. Below is a letter written in 1956 to Lee Strasberg. It just made me really sad.

What are you reading? What do you plan on reading this year?