Category Archives: Guest DJ

Guest DJ: Dancing About Architecture

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Guest DJ: Dancing About Architecture

untitledWipe the sweat and blood off your face and welcome Jim Scheers to the mosh pit. Jim’s debut novel, THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT, THIS IS WHAT YOU GET, is about the New Jersey punk scene in the 1980’s. As someone who knows little about punk, this book opened my eyes to the heart of the scene and the exhilaration of the music. As a writer, he catches the small details most of us would gloss over. It’s a rough beauty of a story.  Jim grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in Philadelphia, where he works as a technical writer.

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Dancing About Architecture

Music is a lifeline in my novel, THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT, THIS IS WHAT YOU GET.  The punk songs the characters hear on college radio are like rescue signals, letting them know they’re not alone in feeling, as the band Minor Threat sang, “out of step with the world.”

That’s what punk music was—and still is—for me, and when I set out to write this novel, I knew if I couldn’t make the reader “hear” the music, the story wasn’t going to work.

On my commutes to and from Philadelphia, I sat pressed shoulder to shoulder with my fellow office workers, ear buds in, cycling through all the punk and hardcore songs on my MP3 player, steno pad in my lap, scribbling down the lyrics I could quote in my story. And I tried to describe what I was hearing—as if I were talking to someone who’d never heard it before—but it was like grasping at smoke.

I paged through music reviews, and the few (very few!) novels I could find that dealt with punk music, and made a list of every evocative noun, verb and adjective. I had a bunch of variations on “the singer screamed” and fifteen different descriptions of how a guitar sounded, but still, something was missing.

In the evenings I paced my apartment, my drafts and notes spread out on my desk. Maybe this was beyond me. I felt haunted by this quote (attributed to everyone from Laurie Anderson to Frank Zappa): “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Then I paged through the steno pad from my train rides and came across these lyrics from a 7 Seconds song (written by Kevin Seconds):

You wanna be the way I am. But you could never understand.

It’s not just in my head. It’s in my heart.

And if I can give a f— you better start . . .

Even divorced from the music, the rhythm was there. And the emotion too. It was more direct than poetry, more stripped-down than prose. Blunt, abrupt, in your face (that’s also the name of the song). Scornful, but also idealistic.

Everything I had been struggling to capture was already there, in the lyrics.

My mistake had been trying to describe the experience of the late 80’s punk scene. Instead, I needed to recreate it. So I made each chapter read like a punk song. No long passages of exposition (no guitar solos). Quick starts and abrupt endings. Narrow intense focus. Limited metaphors. Only concrete things: shouts, fists, guitars, combat boots.

Instead of telling the reader what to feel or how the songs sounded, I let them join in, which was the whole point of the scene anyway:

7 Seconds live in 1985

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THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT, THIS IS WHAT YOU GET, published by Northampton House Press, is available on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Read an excerpt and find out more at www.jimscheers.com. -

 

 

Do you have something to say about writing and want to spin the Guest DJ turntable? Contact me here.

Guest DJ: Plotting and Pantsing with Laurie Loewenstein

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Guest DJ: Plotting and Pantsing with Laurie Loewenstein

As I detox from all of that pie and shopping, I’m need some quiet jazz after a terrific, hustle-bustle holiday. So let’s put on our yoga pants and listen to the smooth melodies from our latest Guest DJ.

Lauriepix1Laurie Loewenstein is a fifth generation Midwesterner.  She has been a reporter, and a feature and obituary writer for several small daily newspapers, as well as a college writing tutor. She was among the third class of women admitted to Colgate University.  She has master degrees in history from Syracuse University and in creative writing from Wilkes University. Her novel, UNMENTIONABLES, has been called “a memorable debut novel” by Ann Hood, author of THE RED THREAD.  It is the flagship publication of the new imprint, Kaylie Jones Books, published in conjunction with Akashic Books. Check out Laurie’s website at http://laurieloewenstein.com/.  UNMENTIONABLES will be on bookstore shelves in January 2014. It is available for immediate shipment from the publisher here.

How the Other Half Writes by Laurie Loewenstein

Sometime during your writing career, someone will probably suggest that you swap pages with other writers. The right writers’ group can be of tremendous help in maintaining momentum and providing a knowledgeable and compassionate sounding board. Every two weeks for five years, I drove two hours each way from my home in eastern Pennsylvania over the George Washington Bridge and into Manhattan for my group. I won’t wish away a single of those thousands of miles on my odometer.

I got to read, chapter by chapter, all sorts of developing manuscripts. We were a diverse lot with stories ranging from an aviatrix of the early 1920’s to three Long Island kids hunted down by teenagers. My own writing vastly improved and I loved the camaraderie of  talk over pizza and Diet Coke after days spent alone, in my pajamas, typing on the keyboard.

An expected bonus was finding out how the other half lives – or, more precisely, how other writers write.

The most lively discussions I had on this topic were with Theasa, a straight shooter from the old school of print journalism. For her, the primary joy of writing came down to “seeing what happened next.” Each day at the computer was, for her, like opening a brightly wrapped present. What would happen next to her protagonist, the feisty aviatrix? She was, as I learned at a writers conference, a classic “Pantser” as in “seat-of-your-pants.” No outline, no elaborate plotting – simply an idea about a character, a setting, and, sometimes, a general idea about the large conflict points to guide her along like a string of Christmas lights. The old-fashioned outdoor kind of lights with big fat bulbs. Stephen King, the conference instructor noted, is a Pantser, too.

“But Theasa,” I would counter, “how can you make sure the story doesn’t wander off into a dead-end?”

She would shrug. “If that happens, the characters just have to work their way out of it.”

I, on the other hand, am a Plotter.  I start with an outline of the main characters and their arcs. I also outlineUnmentionabes-Cover-FINAL.indd where what actions need to occur in which chapater – all with the goal, by the final chapter, of hitting the bullseye. I use a large pad of newsprint, the kind you prop on an easel for a team meeting at the office, and set up the timeline on one page, character profiles on another, then rough chapter ideas. I am aware of the danger in this. The danger of adhering too closely to my pad. The story may jerk along with a mechanical Frankenstein gait. The story may lack the flexibility that comes with spontaneity. I try to counter this by rewriting the outline as I move forward. For my novel, UNMENTIONABLES, I re-jiggered the outline at least four times.

A big part of me would like to be a Pantser – extemporaneous and open to whatever comes along. But that is not my nature – as a writer or person. But I’m glad there are the Theasa’s out there, writing like the wind to find out what happens next.

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?  Or somewhere in the middle? Tell us in the comments.

If you have something to say about writing and would like to be a Guest DJ, you can contact me here.

Guest DJ: John Koloski’s Top Five Horror Reads

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Today’s Guest DJ post reminds me of playing The Monster Mash on a 45 record with my cousins, Bonnie and Jennifer. There were two beds in the room and we leaped from one to the other, screaming the words.  So it’s a big ol’ “wah-wah-woo” for John Koloski and his special Halloween Creature Feature!

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John Koloski is a teacher and published author who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. His first novel, EMPYRES:BLOODBLIND, was published by Northampton House Press and is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

John Koloski’s Top Five Horror Reads

 

1. Stephen King

DSC08292 (2)Stephen King is the gateway drug of horror writing. So well known that his life story appears in graphic novel format, King is a gypsy fortune teller of writing: he sees all, knows all, and tells all.

When he sees all, King is an excellent non-fiction reporter on the subjects of writing and horror. King’s nonfiction work DANSE MACABRE is an insightful classic that covers horror writers and horror movies.

When he knows all, King produces works such as ON WRITING, a book filled with true stories and extremely practical advice for authors. Called “The best book on writing. Ever” by The Plain Dealer (Clevland), this work  bristles with King’s wit and wisdom. ON WRITING  is a must own for every curious reader and aspiring author.

When he tells all, his genre coverage is encyclopedic. He offers readers telekinetic prom murders in CARRIE, a Las Vegas-style battle of Armageddon in THE STAND, and  a psychic determined to stop the political career of the Antichrist (THE DEAD ZONE). Anything by this master is worth reading, but I recommend his early short stories from NIGHT SHIFT and his first novel, CARRIE. These are King’s exquisite love letters to his twin mistresses, Horror and Terror.

2. H.P. Lovecraft

Revered by many horror fans for his Cthulu Mythos, Lovecraft was virtually unknown before his death in 1937. Most of his work appeared in pulp magazines, like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, and his reputation as a master of horror rightly clawed its way up from the grave. Lovecraft’s idea of a mechanistic universe filled with uncaring gods (Old Ones) becomes truly terrifying when readers learn that all humans who glimpse this truth are doomed to descend into madness from the knowledge. Barnes & Noble has released a beautiful leather-bound edition of Lovecraft’s stories, but for those who read favorite books into dog-eared shreds, I recommend THE ANNOTATED LOVECRAFT published by Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. Historical background information that accompanies stories in THE ANNOTATED LOVECRAFT make it a real gem for readers.

3. Mary Shelley

Ah, Frankenstein! Not much need to say more here. Readers, particularly students, are often horribly confused on their first reading of this classic. Shelley’s story, subtitled The Modern Prometheus, deals with the horrors faced by a flawed scientist who usurps God’s role as creator. The 1930s image of Boris Karloff as a grunting monster is laughable compared to the DSC08178eloquent creature portrayed in the novel. Also, the novel’s structure is a hodgepodge, leading some to call FRANKENSTEIN the  worst telling of the greatest horror story in the world. Shelly listened to too many critics, including her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, when structuring her tale. In his reanimated heart, though, Frankenstein’s creature is a being as sad, shocking and horrific as Milton’s Satan. How else could one be when rejected by The Creator? Read this work! It’s time well invested.

4. Bram Stoker

DSC08179 (2)Everyone knows Dracula, the quintessential vampire, but have you ever heard of The Lair of the White Worm? This horror story was first published in 1911 – one year before Stoker’s death – and it’s based on the Legend of the Lambton Worm. This horror story involves a witch and a dragon, and it definitely induces “the creeps.” If you’re into vampires, then by all means read DRACULA,  but be warned that (much like Frankenstein) it tells a story via multiple narrators, newspaper accounts, and personal letters. For those heavily into trivia, Stoker spent some time in Philadelphia. The Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia houses several of Stoker’s notes for DRACULA, and those notes are written on Philadelphia hotel stationery. Stoker was a genius at telling unique horror stories, and there’s good reason the annual Stoker Awards for horror fiction bear his name.

5.  Edgar Allan Poe

Poe invented the modern detective story, and he codified how a great short story should be constructed. Poe’s belief that a story should be read in one sitting and give the reader an overall feeling prompted him to write shorter fiction. Technically, there are no Poe novels due to his aesthetic sense. He wrote poetry, short stories and a novella, but nothing long enough to be termed a novel. Poe’s tragic life gave unlimited fuel for his stories, and his equally tragic and mysterious death still fuels a cottage industry of conspiracy theories. Read Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Fall of the House of Usher as minimum samplings of his genius.

There are so many other horror writers to consider, including Richard Matheson, Neil Gaiman, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, and Anne Rice to name a few. Start with the five listed above, and you will be off to a great start!

You can contact John at www.johnkoloski.com or find him by name on Facebook.

If you have something to say about writing and want to be a Guest DJ, please contact Heather here.

Guest DJ: Finding Literary Inspiration Just Outside Your Door by Chris Campion

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Guest DJ: Finding Literary Inspiration Just Outside Your Door by Chris Campion

Next up on the turntable is the classic Kung-Fu Fighting, in honor of our guest DJ’s new novel.  Let’s hear what Chris Campion has to say about getting ideas for our writing.

1396691_10101874766804173_195418875_nChris Campion earned an M.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University. His fiction can be read on Fiction365.com and East Meets West: American Writers Journal. His debut novel, THE JIU-JUTSU BUM, was recently published by Northampton House Press, LLC.

Right Under Your Nose: Finding Literary Inspiration Just Outside Your Door by Chris Campion

My first short story was based on a guy who walked down an alley every day with a pit bull cur that ran amok all over the neighborhood. The dog would drag its twenty foot leash behind it because the fat ass who walked it never held the leash. Instead, he’d wattle after it with a cigarette stuck in his mouth like a lollipop. I’ll let you read the rest, but it doesn’t end well, if you couldn’t have anticipated that.

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I couldn’t make this guy up. So where did I find him? Right in front of my house. I’d take a break from writing my novel and wander outside for a bit to review the day’s chapter in my head. Soon enough, he’d make his way down the alley and we’d talk. Ergo, his presence and routine gave me the idea for a short story, and the rest is history.

What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to go very far to find literary inspiration, should you find yourself in need of some fresh material. Your hometown—your current lot in life—and its characters will do fine. My blog is filled with its findings.

Let’s go back to my front yard: I see the old, scruffy dude who pushes a lawnmower all day long because he can’t find a real job to feed his grandson. I see my friend, Mike, who tells me his life story of being in and out of jail, driving cars until the tires fall off and sparks stream across the pavement while being chased by cops, then getting arrested for looking like a terrorist because of his beard. I see barflies with more wisdom than philosophy doctoral students. And in my opinion, characters such as these with just as much backstory and personality are constantly used as characters in literature and even screenplays.

In short, I try and find what’s interesting about the people, places, and things in my immediate disposal. And a side note: keep a journal for when you return home with a treasure trove of new material. You will not remember it that night.

It’s funny, but I swear the universe starts giving you more and more content when you ask for it. It’s as if it really hears your cry and comes through. Also, very importantly, get inside yourself more, because what’s inside of you will bring out the voice, the mood, the tone, the POV, and the overall vision and purpose of the story. Don’t believe me? Read Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, or John Updike and see how uncomplicated or simple the characters, settings, and conflicts are, yet, they write about them in such an original, refreshing, and beautiful way. They found the jewels around them—the stories, the literary sweet stuff that we writers live for. I hope my little rant will too.

You can contact Chris Campion via Twitter: @Campion23. “Like” his novel’s FB page at www.facebook.com/thejiujitsubum to stay up to date on author appearances, free excerpts, short stories, interviews, and more. Follow his wacky blog at campionsmind.blogspot.com

If you have something to say about writing and would like to be a Guest DJ,  please contact me here.

Guest DJ: Writing Historical Fiction The eBay Way by Barbara J. Taylor

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Guest DJ: Writing Historical Fiction The eBay Way by Barbara J. Taylor

2116_1020733919168_4329_nThis week, let’s dust off the phonograph, practice the Fox Trot , and welcome Barbara J. Taylor to our writing dance party.  Barbara J. Taylor is the author of Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night.  I’ve had the joy of attending one of her readings and talking with her about her writing process.  Her debut novel is a beautifully-written story and a must-read for next summer.  Here’s Barb’s fantastic research advice:

WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION THE eBAY WAY by Barbara J. Taylor

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While working on my first novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, (shameless self-promotion about to happen) due to be released by Kaylie Jones Books on July 1, 2014, I found eBay to be a great resource for historical fiction writers. My book, about a young girl in 1913 who’s blamed for the death of her sister, takes place in Scranton, PA, during the height of coalmining, evangelism and Vaudeville. Since I’ve never mined, evangelized, or Vauded (well, it should be a word), I had lots to learn. At some point, after long hours in the public library and the historical society, I discovered the goldmine (my metaphorical foray into mining) that is eBay. Below I offer several ideas to get you thinking about your own work. And remember, you’re looking for primary sources, not collectibles, so when it comes to your purchases, the worse the condition, the better the bargain.

Possible acquisitions:

1. Dictionaries

I bought a tattered dictionary from 1910 and referred to it often when trying to determine if a word existed at the time of my novel. For example, I needed to convey that a Fourth of July sparkler fizzled prematurely. I originally used the word “dud,” only to discover that “dud” did not come into mainstream use until World War I; however, according to my dictionary, “lemon” was used before 1913 to describe something as defective.

Internet Bonus: etymononline.com is a great, free, online, etymology dictionary.

2. Home Catalogues

I purchased a partially intact Montgomery Ward catalogue from 1905 with enough pages to dress my characters and furnish their houses. When one of my characters needed to wear an eye-catching hat, I created one based on two or three I found in the catalogue. “A band of moss-green silk circled the bell-shaped crown. A single quill shot out from three crimped rosettes, nestled in the seam of the brim.”

Also consider catalogues used for specific purposes, such as colleges, seeds, and so on.

3. Cookbooks

Period cookbooks offer interesting recipes that may make it into your novel. They also include information about the appliances and utensils needed for each dish, so you know how to stock your character’s kitchen. Additionally, these resources often offer helpful advice about homemaking or healthy lifestyle habits. One book in particular offered several hints that I incorporated into my novel such as, “How not to fall asleep in church,” and “How to drive away rats.”

4. Manuals and Textbooks

One of my main characters is a miner, and the family lives in a mining town. I bought a few textbooks on the industry to help me understand how it worked. Along the way, my character decided to go back to school, and these are the books he carried with him.

Internet Bonus: Check out books.google.com for scanned copies of industry-related materials.

5. Medical Books

For the most part, I found medical books to be expensive, but you can still get a bargain if you find one without a cover or with missing pages. One of the characters in my book required medical attention for serious burns, so I always emailed sellers to see if the treatment of burns was included in their volume before bidding. One kind soul scanned a chapter on burns and emailed it to me, knowing his book was a collectible and out of my price range.

6. Magazines and Newspapers

Both resources offer glimpses into daily life. The featured articles are helpful, but also be sure to check out the ads, train schedules, theater scene and any other information that may be useful. A local newspaper, The Scranton Truth, included cause of death in their obituaries and moral judgments on the lifestyles of the deceased. These made for fascinating reads and inspired some interesting details in my novel.

You can follow Barb on Twitter here or email her at btaylor729@yahoo.com.

If you have something to say about writing and would like to be a Guest DJ, please contact me here.

Guest DJ: Four Lessons On Living The Writing Life

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Guest DJ: Four Lessons On Living The Writing Life

Suzie BichovskyToday’s Guest DJ and I share the same tastes in awesomely cheesy pop music, so I’m thrilled to have her at the turntable. We are good friends, colleagues, and writing partners.  When her book comes out, you will love it as much as I do.

Suzie Bichovsky has worn many hats. They include but are not limited to: author, educator, coach (non athletic), avid player of Barbie, owned by cats (not owner of), occasional cooker of chicken cacciatore, reader of books, beach aficionado, Halloween junkie.

Note: Suzie doesn’t actually wear hats because of fear of hat hair. She is seeking professional help in this matter.

Dipping My Toe by Suzie Bichovsky 

I’ve been a writer since my mom and I scribed the Dr. Seuss My Book About Me. My diaries contained truth combined with fiction – sorry, snoopers.  My pen name in high school – Suzanna Skye. This writing was private.

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Now, I’m dipping my toe into the PUBLIC writing pool. I’ve met with an agent to understand the End Game.  This sentence now unapologetically comes out of my mouth : “I’m working on a manuscript.”  I’ve included “author” in my bio; if you search me, you’ll find an embarrassing typo.  I’ll wait…

Here’s what I’m considering as I live my writing life:

I Am Writer, Hear Me Roar

Not everyone in my life wants to hear about my writing.  It wasn’t fair to have my husband listen to me read my writing aloud and then get huffy when he said, “Nice.”  That’s why I now have a writing partner.  We chat about all things writing and go on research road trips.  Still have to go to the CDC…anyone?

The P.A.

The Published Author was once in need of support like me.  Heather Harlen is supportive by simply saying, “I want to tell people about your (not finished) book.” Upon telling him my possibilities, Dave Tomar said, “That’s great!” and not, “You don’t have a degree in it.”  When I met Jonathan Maberry and shyly said I was working on a book, he gave me his contact information and said, “Writers have to help each other.”  He’s been true to his word.

It’s Your Story, Your Process

I’ve never felt as successful on a project as my current one.  It’s the first time I’ve written without doing the outline first.  I wrote opening vignettes for each character around a central theme and outlined after that.  I trust them to tell their stories and their voices are strong.  Writers are nodding.  My family is calling 911.

Love It or Leave It

I write because I love it and there is a tale waiting to be told.  Whenever I feel the pressure of the outcome, I walk away from it.  The second the joy of telling the story feels like work…I know there is plenty of time for that.

I don’t know if my work will be published or if I will photocopy it for Christmukkah.  But I do know that it is time to get my whole foot wet, and not just my toe.

 

If you’d like to contact Suzie, please go here.

If you are interested in sharing your writing wisdom with the world, please contact me here.

Guest DJ: The “Re” In Revising

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Guest DJ: The “Re” In Revising

viewprofileimageLet’s welcome another guest DJ to the writing party!  Patricia Florio graduated from Wilkes University with an MA/MFA in creative writing. She is the author of MY TWO MOTHERS, a memoir, and CUCINA D’AMELIA: MY MOTHER’S SICILIAN AND NEAPOLITAN RECIPES, published by Gina Meyers, Serendipity Media Press.  She has also published several short stories.  Patricia is a 2012 Norman Mailer finalist, and received a scholarship to workshop her latest memoir, SEARCHING FOR THE MAN IN THE GRAY FEDORA, in Provincetown, Massachusetts at the Mailer Center.

What You Think You Know!  by Patricia Florio

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Revisions are a way of life for a writer.  Just accept that fact and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy.  It’s exactly a lesson learned a few days ago when I received an answer from an agent.

Last summer, I was a finalist in the Norman Mailer 2012 nonfiction workshop.  While on location at Mr. Mailer’s home in Provincetown, Massachusetts with nine other writers,  we were introduced to an agent.  We had our “in.”

I had promised myself not to do anything foolish like rush to send out three chapters and a proposal until I felt comfortable I had  a finished product.  I took a whole year with my revisions, sometimes putting these chapters away, taking them out later in the month, and re-revising them again.  It’s the reworking, retooling, revising, readjusting, retelling of the story, even reselecting the order of the chapters, that makes the story move forward.

I really paid attention to every detail and then read my chapters out loud, sat down and wrote a proposal, not only for the prologue and three chapters I was sending, but for the entire premise of the book.  That’s what an agent wants.  Then I finally sent all 80 pages to the agent from the Mailer workshop via email.

A few days ago, I an email popped into my inbox from the agency.  SEARCHING FOR THE MAN IN THE GRAY FEDORA had been given to another agent for a second read.  Music to my ears as it had passed the first test.

And this is what Katherine (the second agent wrote):

“Thanks for sharing your work with our agency. Ike passed your writing to me for a second look, as I evaluate many of the new manuscripts here. There was much to admire in your voice and your premise, but we felt as though the narrative arc wasn’t quite strong enough; the storytelling felt, at times, jumpy to us. Of course, publishing is terribly subjective and another agent or editor may well feel differently.”

I took the words “much to admire in your voice and your premise” as a commendation for my hard work and determination.

And now the real work begins.

You can contact Patricia at patriciaflorio@aol.com and on Facebook here.

And if you have something to say about writing and would like to be a Guest DJ, contact me here.