Category Archives: Writing Process

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.

Sunday Funday: My Tribe of Princesses (No Pink Allowed, Unless You Are A Pink Lady)

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Sunday Funday: My Tribe of Princesses (No Pink Allowed, Unless You Are A Pink Lady)

I totally refuse to buy anything pink or Disney Princess for my niece or any of my children’s friends. I’m SICK of pink everything and I’m sick of Disney princesses.  Like Candy Crush Saga and scary horror books, pink and princesses are fine in moderation (all four make it difficult to sleep).  Given it’s #maythe4thbewithyou and Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood, I’ve been thinking a lot about which fictional women influence my writing. I’m not going to say anything literary here, nothing related to my English or creative writing degree, so flee now if you are waiting for a Shakespeare shout out.  If you’re a fan of pop culture,  here are five fictional women who have somehow influenced my writing and have helped shape Marina Konyeshna, the main character in my trilogy. Heck, they have all inspired me personally, too:

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5. Stephanie Zinone.  The gum-smacking, cigarette-smoking, pants-hiding, motorcycle-loving star of Grease 2 was my idol growing up.  She wanted a Cool Rider AND went bowling.   Hey, I was on a bowling team!  So that made me halfway cool, right? I would have given up my  Sunday morning cartoons to be a Pink Lady.  Stephanie learned her lesson that she was missing out on love by having narrow expectations and she got the cute, Australian boy, too.

4. Julie McCoy from The Love BoatJulie McCoy from The Love Boat???? Are you wondering if I took too much Allegra today?  Come on, Julie was the problem-solver of the ship, had sensible hair, wore sensible shoes, and was the princess of everyone’s heart on that ship. I wanted her job – she got to go to Puerto Vallarta and meet Charo!  She was a career gal, traveling the world.  My friends voted her the actress most likely to play me in a Peace Corps Western Russia Six movie because I was the event planner for our group. What an honor! Julie worked with purpose and always had a smile in the stickiest of situations.

3. Wonder Woman. She wore an awesome headpiece, had magic bracelets, and flew a plane, an INVISIBLE plane, nonetheless (How about all of the birds that flew into that one? What a mess. Did WW even have a crew to clean that up?).  She was a butt-kicking brunette in a world of bleached blondes.  Now that I’m older, I am in awe of the garment architecture that kept the girls up and her tummy in.  I  even wore a Wonder Woman bathing suit during my first trip to Disney World.  Take that, princesses. Didn’t need you then, either.

2. Batgirl. Forget tea parties with my stuffed animals. I’d put on my mom’s leather, high-heeled boots and re-enact the scene where Batgirl had to fend of her attackers with her hands tied behind her back.  With my own arms held behind my back with an invisible rope, I clipped, clopped, and scuffed my way around the linoleum floor in the dining room, kicking invisible Bad Guy hiney.  Until my mom told me to put her darn boots back in the closet already.

1. Princess Leia.The swing set in the backyard wasn’t just a swing set, it was the Millennium Falcon. And when it was time to play Star Wars, I made sure I always got to be Leia (Sorry, cousin Bonnie. Yes, I was a brat. This apology is about 35 years late).  Leia was a multifaceted bad-ass.  The was the  shrewd princess in her “Help Me Obi Wan Kanobi, You’re My Only Hope” hologram.  She was the gun-slinging warrior in this.  A hottie in this (Yes, she was a slave here. I get it. My feminist side is hitting me upside with a light saber as I write this.  But she owns it somehow.).  And the gracious, elegant diplomat here.  She had it all going on.  Leia was goal-oriented, surrounded herself with great friends, and was well-spoken. It wasn’t her fault she made out with her brother – family secrets stink.  To this day, I hope I channel some of her intelligence and strategic thinking as I make my way through this crazy life as a writer and teacher.  The most important thing I take from her is that we can’t do it alone.  We all need our tribes, our Hans, our Lukes, our R2s, our C3POs and our Wookies.  In HOPE YOU GUESS MY NAME, Marina can’t get through the geocaching competition without the different skills offered by Gilly, Kendra, and Arman.  Without our tribes, ladies, we are nothing.

I’m so grateful these five fictional women were a bigger part of my influences than the warbling princesses looking for a Prince Charming.  There’s room for all of these versions of what it means to be a girl/woman but let’s get our girls caring more about strength, purpose, and fierceness rather than being pretty princesses.

Who are your Sheroes? Tell us in the comments below:

Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Best Practices Conference Resources

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Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Best Practices Conference Resources

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Here are some of the resources I mentioned today at the Penn State Lehigh Valley Best Practices Conference in my session about being a new writer in the digital age.  Please post any other writing resources you’d recommend in the comments.  Please keep in touch and celebrate your successes!

 

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with my writing, find more resources, and learn about new writers.

If you are interested in guest blogging, please contact me.

Happy writing!

On Living The Writing Life:

30 Indispensable Writing Tips From 30 Famous Authors

National Writing Project

Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project

Write Nights

Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group

Bethlehem Writers Group

 

Building Your Digital Author Platform:

WordPress

Suzie Bichovsky’s Dear Universe

Medium

My take on Medium

Facebook

Twitter

Twitter For Teachers Part 1 (or for anyone who wants to know what “hashtag” means)

Twitter For Teachers Part 2 (or for anyone who wants to know more about Twitter)

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My Name Is Heather, And I Haven’t Blogged in Almost Two Months

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My Name Is Heather, And I Haven’t Blogged in Almost Two Months

Build that digital platform! Build that digital platform!  Tweet!  Facebook!  Post on Medium!  Connect connect connect! Retweet!  Facebook!  Like that status!  Post something witty!  Go go go go go go!

Digital Burnout.

Digital Burnout.

Ah, shut your yap already, Internet Age.

I haven’t posted here since January 26th.  Naughty, naughty writer.

I guess I needed a digital time out. And this is the right time to resurface here.  I love my blog, writing for you. It’s fun. It stretches my writing in different ways.

And sometimes I am so sick of the computer and so sick of thinking about my digital interactions,  I just plain can’t.

So I didn’t.

Oh, I’ve been writing.  I’m drafting my sequel and wrote a guest blog, which was so fun.  (The guest blog, that is.  Drafting is sometimes more like pulling ideas from your head with the tweezers from Operation.) I even edited an upcoming book from Northampton House Press.  It’s a gritty and beautiful novel about three generations of women trying find their way despite the family legacy of dysfunction.

Reading was also key to my digital resuscitation.  I got lost in Laurie Loewenstein’s UNMENTIONABLES,  finally  read PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, and basked in Southern sunlight as I read a book from the SWEET TEA series. These are a few titles that have helped me rejuvenate my creativity.

This digital hibernation has helped me narrow my list of what I want to do in the coming months and helped me think about what matters to me as a writer.  It also gave me time to just decompress.  It gave me time to hang out with my husband, who deserves a medal for his infinite patience as I make a go of my writing career.  In fact, he’s downstairs, sick, and all I want to do is make him tea and sit with him.  But it’s now time for me to finish this post and continue drafting.  My main character, Marina Konyeshna, is in another one of her dangerous messes, and I have to get back to the action.

Fired up. Ready to go. Caffeinated, too.

So I’ll get my writing done and then start my day.  Plus, my husband can catch up on all of his tv shows about men in motorcycle gangs and Viking clans without me rolling my eyes.

So, dear writer friends, stop reading this and take a digital break.  Your brain and your heart and your creativity and your loved ones will thank you.

2014: The Year of Writing Dangerously

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No risk, no reward.

Safety zone is nice, safety zone is boring.

So this is why I’ve decided that 2014 is my year to start writing the nonfiction I’ve been wanting to write.

Here’s my first journey.  It’s a very personal one.

If nothing resonates with you, consider yourself very fortunate.  If something resonates with you, please know you are not alone.

If you liked it, please hit the recommend button at the bottom of the piece and share it with others.

Thanks for reading.

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.