We were not designed to fail

My hubby is a Discovery Channel nut. His wind-down time is spent ogling the mating habits of the cheetah or the hyena as both prey and predator. It’s intriguing to watch, this big burly dude describe the beauty of the circle of life. I didn’t get it at first–not the animal’s behavior–but his wonderment of them. I usually only see that look during basketball playoffs.

But at second glance, it’s pretty clear. I’m no animal behaviorist, but I do realize that animals in all their complexity stay within the realm of their design and purpose, to watch reminds me that they are created beings. Although they do not move and perform with exactness, their instinct is superb, even if it is not precise.  They know when they’re predator, and when they are potential prey. Animals understand their challenges and use their ample paws, teeth or stealthy moves to maneuver, pounce and conquer, or to escape sudden death. Sometimes they fail (not quite quick enough), others times they savor the kill. They seem to realize what they are born to do and move with confidence even in the wake of danger and uncertainty.

For humans, it’s complicated. We struggle and fumble even as we are equipped with these tools of reasoning and emotion. They are both our greatest assets and most blatant weaknesses. We overthink and second guess; we allow jealousy guised as competition to rule our good sense and move us in the opposite direction of success. But in fact,  even as we struggle, we have all we need to do what is necessary and move with purpose–including emotion and reasoning. Once we realize this truth we will know what God knows about us; He did not design us to fail.

Sometimes I look up to the heavens, seeking  God for some great sign;  a Red Sea parting or a burning bush for the secret to success. Then he reminds me that I have everything I need—it was part of His masterful design, turns out, he’s pretty good at creating stuff. All I have to do is look inside and trust Him.

We are teeming with resources. Sometime one falters, but another will arise strong. My eyes may not see it, but my ears hear it; perhaps I can’t hear it but I can feel itgraceful-predator-108267. My emotions allow me to empathize with others, show deep affection, forge relationships. My reasoning moves in and allows me to make swift decisions or ponder at other instances.

Sometimes I wonder if  my writing will matter. Will anyone even care about these stories? Maybe they’re a big deal in my head only. And again he reminds me that he isn’t a God who imparts haphazardly or insufficiently. His gifts come with intent. Yes, there is a plan in it. And as long as I put Him first they will reach those for whom the stories matter. The gift to breathe life into these works of fiction resides inside and just needs to be stirred and sometimes shaken.

He has created us with purpose and on purpose. We are of perfect design despite the flaws and setbacks. To those of you who write, I say write on. Don’t stop. Someone needs/ wants to hear what you have to say, whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.

We were created to succeed and to accomplish. We were not designed to fail.

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Take me there: writing vivid fiction

I’m in the middle of reading a novel that has all the elements to make it a potentially intriguing read: a unique story line, characters that have interesting backgrounds, complex relationships between characters, and an exotic setting. Also, the writer has a great command of language. And you would think with all of the correct ingredients it would be a book that I just can’t put down, but in fact I can and I do– quite often.

I’ve been mulling over what is missing because I am rooting for this book and the author in such a big way. As I was driving home the other day it hit me in dizzying revelation: the author doesn’t take you there. Let me explain.

Friday night is movie night for the family. Last Friday we gathered with a two-hour supply of popcorn, candy and drinks and settled ourselves to be somewhat entertained. You see my daughter is allowed to choose the movie.  Sometimes…O.K., oftentimes she picks a dud because she is at that particular age where kiddie movies are…well for kiddies and teen movies spawn too many questions, many of which, Ishe is not quite ready to handle.

With such a small range of choices, some of her pics are crammed with actors well who are… we’ll simply say, the casting director pulled them out of acting school a few credits too soon. But this particular movie was different. I was drawn in from the beginning; the musical score was brilliant and the colors were live and vivid. Every character that walked onto the scene was believable and even funny. I was drawn into this world of make believe and the movie kept me there until the end.

It was not one thing that did it for this movie, but a combination of many things; it was the color, the characters and the storyline. It was the smell, the air and atmosphere. Ooops… did I just include elements that can only be experienced live? Yep. That’s what a good story does; it pulls at all of your senses. You can smell the steaks on the grill, or the decaying flesh of the corpse; you can feel the bitter cold, or the unbearable heat choking the breath from you; you despise this character or absolutely fall in love with that one. A compelling read creates many dimensions; it awakens and stimulates you in the way that ‘being there’ would. As you turn the pages, you are walking through the scenes, alongside the characters.

The poet, Maya Angelou said something about people that I also think applies to fiction and novel writing:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Let’s face it, aren’t stories really just about…people?

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First things first: Write a compelling story

We’re swamped daily by the need to keep our social media pages popping; engage to push our numbers forward and expand our audience. We’re encouraged to hold our books high and exclaim: read this! This is the way to have true success in selling books or so I’m told. We can literally plan our day around  posting and reading Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook and be drowned in several hours of liking babies in funny hats and our friends’ pics of summer vacations and all those unforgettable sayings we forget as soon as we logout. But I’m convinced that the number one way to boost our numbers is to write a compelling story. Never dismiss the importance of a well-written fictional story

The eight-year-old daughter of the chairman of the publishing house which published J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter loved it because it was a compelling story; New American Library smacked down 400,000 bones  for the paperback rights of Stephen King’s, Carrie, because it was a compelling read. The editor who signed Mary Higgins Clark, read her debut novel, Where Are the Children in one night because it was a compelling story.  Once the smoke clears and the hype dies, readers want to know that the book they were talked into buying, is a well-written story.  How do we make sure of this?

Take time to edit  

This is especially true for self-published authors. There’s nothing quite like reading a book, after you have put your money and invested your time and find it riddled with errors; plagued with story lines or dates that don’t line up, grammatical errors, names and timelines that are off. It will turn a reader off just as soon as you’ve turned them on.

Don’t drag out the story

Have you ever read a story and had that feeling that the writer was stalling to get to the meat of the story? You’re annoyed and peeved and you feel like you’re at a magic show but you see the strings holding up the elevated lady.  I’m not talking about building suspense. I’m talking about dragging. Building suspense is a slow and steady progression; the key word is progression. The story is moving, building, increasing. Dragging consists of rehashing, or telling that which is not relevant to the matter at hand, adding elements, in the name of suspense which add no value to the scene or the story. A compelling read makes me want to read it on the bus, train or in the doctor’s office. It causes me to forfeit T.V., stop answering my husband and kids, turn off the phone or shut off my computer; read it by flashlight when I they call “lights out.” You know what I mean.

Tell the World

There’s so much to be said for good ‘ole word of mouth. You remember that, right? It’s when you tell two, friends and they tell two friends and…yeah you get the picture. Find a way to casually bring up the fact that you’re a writer: Say, I’ve got this book out… And if it is worthy they will tell others. I cannot tell you how many books I’ve picked up, with no intentions of doing so beforehand because someone said: You’ve got to read this…There’s something about the excitement in a person’s voice and in their eyes when they’ve stumbled upon a good read. You want to feel it too. They tell you: man, I read this book in like two days or you’re gonna cry at the end. And actually, I don’t even mind when they say, it started off kinda slow, but once you get into it, you’re going to love it. The thing is when others say they’ve experienced something good and it’s accessible to us, we want it too. People talk about what they are adamant about; whether it’s love, love love or absolutely hate. What they don’t mention is the mediocre.

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Make Every Word Count: Editing your fiction

clarkkentWhen I was in college I interned for a city newspaper. One editor in particular seemed to have an aversion to everything I wrote, especially my first front page story.  It was about a walk to raise money and awareness for the homeless. It was my time to show them I could write more than just cute features about 4-H fairs and summer carnivals. I got up early and set out on the walk with hundreds of others. (O.K., not exactly hard news but still…) I interviewed people along the way, laughed and talked it up feeling mighty fine as a semi-professional journalist. Back to the newsroom I went and wrote from my heart, tapping away at the keys like Clark Kent. The following day I grabbed the paper and there it was: full color photo and my byline. And then I read it. I read it again because this wasn’t my story. I mean it was but it had been altered and turned around so much so it was like the ultimate wedgy. I choked back tears and gave that editor a look that I hoped would send daggers to her very soul.  She despised me. It was obvious. I mean I was an excellent writer with a natural gift and she was obviously threatened by this. There. I could be nothing else.

It would take me a minute but I eventually got it. In news writing especially, it is all about word economy. Articles are placed into blocks of space and have to fit perfectly within the space to which they are assigned and because of this news is told in the most efficient way possible.  Say what is needed and then stop writing. If a word doesn’t have purpose, if it is simply hanging around because he is friends with the other words, well– he has to go.

Thankfully this is one of the skills that I successfully transferred to my fiction writing; this system of word economics. Say what needs to be said and move along. This does not mean that fiction should be terse and without emotion; not at all.  But every word written should move the story along; no extra hang around words or characters or even scenes which do not progress the story. Words, whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction should make the reader feel as though they are going somewhere at all times.

Pick it apart after you’ve written your heart

First drafts are easier when you simply concentrate on getting the words down on paper. Let it go the first round because it just feels good–the release of emotion and authenticity of the story. Don’t be embarrassed by what you feel or think; don’t be lulled into going lightly as the wagging finger of your English professor, your Momma, your ex; the preacher or politically correct society hoovers over you. (Deal with them later.) Write from your soul, write with abandon. Now you have something substantial to edit. Edit afterwards and you’ll be surprise at how pure and rich your prose is. To edit while writing is like a wrestling match of the right and left brain; it slows creativity and even the editing is not done well; neither side wins.

Expand your vocabulary

Sometimes our need to ramble on is due to our limited vocabulary. It takes us longer to say what we need to say because we don’t have the words to express ourselves both efficiently and effectively. I realize now that was part of my dilemma during my internship. Vocabulary takes time to build. At that time I didn’t have it. That pesky editor did. She was good at her job. Skimming through a thesaurus and replacing familiar words is one way to get it done, but a more effective way is to read; read some of any and everything.

Now what is it I was trying to say?

Even as you are writing your fiction, keep reliving the story—the point of the whole thing. Play it in your head and talk about it as if you were speaking of real people. Have conversations about the characters with your family and friends as though you were working through real life dilemmas. If they start to look at you as if you’ve lost it for real this time, find someone else with whom you can talk about it. As long as the story is on your mind it becomes less difficult to get side tracked and you can express yourself more effectively.

Well, as I am sitting here writing this, I realize there is an editor I need to thank. See you in a bit. Oh, and feel free to leave comments I love hearing from you guys.

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Book Review: When Memories Fade by Tyora Moody keeps reader turning pages

WHEN-MEMORIES-FADE-197x300In When Memories Fade by Tyora Moody, Angel Robert’s life seems to be on the upswing; she has renewed her faith in God and has just celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday with friends. But increasingly with each birthday she is reminded of the missing pieces of her life. Twenty years ago on the night of her fifth birthday party, her mother Elisa Roberts walked out of their home, never to be seen or heard from again. The thought of what happened that night has haunted and tormented both family and friends for years, especially Fredricka, Elisa’s aging mother–Angel’s grandmother. Each passing year she looks into her granddaughter’s face only to be reminded of a daughter who mysteriously vanished; and it seems as if the community is no longer seeking answers. The thought that she may go to her grave never knowing the truth about the disappearance is becoming unbearable.  Angel is also pressed by this realization.

Five years ago Angel began working on a documentary of her mother’s life, but along the way she became sidetracked and it got put to the side. Angel’s interest in finding out what happened on that terrible night is piqued again, especially when her grandmother suffers a stroke.

Angel meets Wes Cade an investigative reporter whose father, an ex-detective worked on her mother’s case many years ago. These days the elder Cade’s memory is steadily diminishing due to Alzheimer’s, and moments of clarity are short and sudden. But this case, according to his son has always haunted him; it eventually changed him in a way that was troubling for Wes to witness.

As Angel and Wes come together to make the most out of what each has to offer, they often push each other to the limits as both have emotionally vested interests, but for different reasons.

When Memories Fade is of the mystery genre, but it is Angel’s faith that keeps her grounded and pushing to find out the truth despite obstacles and setbacks, as her mother’s disappearance is somewhat of a cold case after so many years. And it is the complexity of the relationships that drives the story. Although Angel loves and respects her grandmother, she is often annoyed that she is clinging to hope that, her daughter will suddenly reappear. Wes, on the other hand wants to find out why this case has disturbed his father for so many years. Why this case? What does he know and finds so troubling?

A mystery for certain it is the faith and hope of the characters that uplifts and makes it different from other mysteries. Initially the number of characters seemed to crowd the story, but as it turns out each has a significant role and placement. And Moody is able to intertwine this close-knit community of family and friends in an eerie connectedness that has you searching for the missing pieces and wondering what happened to Elisa Roberts and what does each one really know about the disappearance?

The story also touches on Alzheimer’s disease and the impact it has on family and relationships and the faith and love needed to sustain both the sufferer and the family. Moody’s When Memories Fade reminds you of the importance of hope even when there seems to be no reason to believe.

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The Writer’s Journey: Getting Published

book_blogHere it is. My official book launch day. In Three Days, the novel is finally available to all of you. And to say that I’m completely stoked is an understatement. I’m taking it all in, inhaling and exhaling and smiling like a kid at a birthday party eyeing a table full of presents and her favorite cake. Now, there were no paparazzi at my front door this morning, clutching cameras and microphones; the phone wasn’t buzzing clear off of the nightstand. But my heart is break dancing, spinning on its back with its legs stretched to the sky, it’s doing the robot and the wave and the Harlem Shake. And I feel like jumping in the air and doing that Toyota ‘Oh what a feeling’ jump. (You old heads remember that one.) But I won’t.  But I am smiling and thinking: I did it. I said that I would and with the help of God I did it. Boom.

Getting published is a milestone and my journey continues, but today I get to sit and relax a minute, refresh and revive myself before I get up again, stretch those muscles, crack my neck and knuckles and continue onward.  But I’d like to recap a few things I’ve learned because it never hurts but often helps.

Learn the craft of writing fiction

Becoming a marketing and social media guru is awesome. But while you’re doing all of that, don’t forget in the end you need to have a d@#$ good story.  You must learn how to write and learn how to write well or you may have 15 minutes and that is all. And even if you have a natural knack or gift or talent there is so much to learn; study, buy books, attend seminars and conferences; read, read and then read some more. Read all kinds of fiction; understand the flow of story, the development of characters, plot development. Serious writers invest in their craft. Writing should not be a tedious and unpleasant thing. And you don’t necessarily have to think about technique as you write. But you will find that as you write that which you have learned will make its way into your story: a type of muscle memory of sorts. You will be amazed at how you are able to discern gaps or flaws in your story as you edit as you study the craft. You will have a better eye/ear to what is missing or what needs to be weeded out. Your writing will improve and grow, but unless you’re writing strictly for yourself, some things must be taught.

Allow your story to flow naturally

Don’t try to be or sound like the next great anything. Simply tell a good story. Write it until you’re interested and in to it. Make it funny or sad or ridiculously exciting, but tell it well. Remove thoughts of trying to remind others of… Just do you. And if you do it well, and without reservation, the rest will come easier.

Take the time to develop your story

Sometimes I watch those cooking shows; the ones where the chefs are given a set of ingredients and a time limit to turn out an amazing dish. One of chefs’ biggest complaints is time. They aren’t given enough time to create an excellent dish. Well, you have time. Take it to develop your story. If something isn’t working don’t ignore it. If a subplot isn’t working, take it out or revamp it. If a character is useless, he has got to go. As with cooking, no one wants a half-baked, thrown together piece of…Trust me, your reader will know when you stopped caring about the story.

Enjoy the journey

There are so many stops and resting points in our journey as writers. Yet it continues on. And as we accomplish goals, there are always more to accomplish. It is the mantra of life. Enjoy what you do. Breathe in and out; smell the fresh air, have fun with your characters. This is not root canal or outpatient surgery. It should be an experience that you relish, even if you don’t like every aspect of it. Every now and again stop to pick some flowers. Now inhale. O.K. exhale. Enjoy the journey.

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Starting over: breaking up with your novel

broken-heartYou’ve murdered all of your darlings, removed every word that wasn’t working and every lofty phrase that you thought was absolutely brilliant but unnecessary and yet your novel is as muddled as a bog. Sometimes getting up and going for a walk helps. You did that and shed a few pounds in the process. Sometimes putting it a way for a few days helps. It was put away for two weeks. You came back and it was still hideous. Sigh.

The first part of the novel was magical. It flowed effortlessly. During that time your smile was a little brighter; you actually cooked breakfast in the morning for the kids and even found yourself humming a little 80’s ditty while you were at it. New relationships can do that to you.

Somewhere, midpoint maybe, further perhaps, something began to change. It was nothing that you pinpoint exactly; it was just a feeling. You tried to deny it and kept showing up and plugging away—that’s the way we do it when we want a relationship to work. And now, well into the story, so much time vested and you have a half novel that is going nowhere. To continue on would be pointless. You both know it. But sometimes it is so hard to end it…properly.

In 2005 I was involved with such a novel. It started to become convoluted at about midpoint. I’d vested so much time and energy into writing the novel; I’d interviewed people, did proper research and so on. Now truly I’m the kind of person who has to finish things. I suppose it is my upbringing. (You didn’t leave the dinner table until your plate was clean even if that meant the grease had started to congeal around your pork chop.) To inject some life into it, I added more characters—just a few. It seemed they didn’t have much to do, and as a proper writer would, I added another subplot or two to keep them busy. And Yay, I finished it!

Finally it was time to for a read-through. I was so proud of myself for my stick-to-itiveness. It wasn’t long before I saw I should’ve broken it off a long time ago. There were so many characters going in as many directions. I was like a game show contestant trying to figure out the main plot, subplot and who in the world was the real protagonist? Two-thirds into it I stopped reading, flustered, eyes crossed. I could only imagine what an agent or editor would’ve said. (Had they even gotten as far as I did.)

What do you do when you do when you think it might be over

Do a read-thru  a check for blatant technical issues

Perhaps there are too many subplots; maybe the characters aren’t completely developed. If there are just technical issues these can be fixed. It may be a tedious fix, but doable. But if it has too many variables you may need to erase the board and start over.

Is your subject worth writing a novel about?

Many stories begin with an idea or a subject for which we are passionate and we think: I’m going to write about this! This is great when our emotions are high. But is the subject sustainable as a novel? Perhaps it works better as a short story, or maybe a subplot of a bigger story. Maybe it doesn’t work as a novel at all. Perhaps it’s more suitable for non-fiction. Don’t be afraid to take a look at other options.

Have you stopped caring about your characters?

If you’re trying to make yourself care about your characters imagine the horror you will put your reader through. Stories that are forced often sound forced or staged. Perhaps it just wasn’t a good idea to begin with. Sometimes we have to reexamine our reasons for writing the novel. Was it because everybody’s doing something in this genre and you don’t want to be left behind? Maybe a friend suggested it but you really couldn’t care less out it. Perhaps because of your experiences you haven’t developed an objective take on the subject. If you don’t care about your characters it will be difficult to continue to write about them. Letting go is hard, but holding on can be brutal.

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