Fun Friday: The Joy of Writing

It’s been a long time since I felt this good about my writing. I’ve been working on my next book for going on three years, and only recently, in this, the third major rewrite, do I finally feel like the story is coming together. Plot pieces are falling into place. Character motivations are clear. Subtleties are coming out, and emotion is running high. As I type each scene, my fingers are deft on the keyboard. The words flow (mostly), and I find myself immersed in the world I’ve created.

I wish writing could always feel this good.

But it doesn’t—at least for me it doesn’t—not until I put in the hard work of writing and plotting and rewriting and re-plotting until finally, the story I want to tell emerges. I thought when I started this book that I knew what that story was, but I was wrong, and even though the story didn’t feel right when I was writing it, I still had to go through that process. I had to write crap in order to find out what the story was.

Unfortunately, this seems to be my M.O. With my first book, A Work of Art, I went through this same process. Outlining extensively, thinking I knew what the story was, only to totally re-outline and rewrite the entire book—not once, but twice. The third total rewrite ended up being the story I wanted to tell.

I’m following the same pattern with my work in progress.

I wish I were one of those writers who’s full of ideas. Maybe I am, but the ideas are lying dormant and I have to dig them out. Actually, as I write this, I realize that must be the case. Am I okay with that? I guess I have to be. Because even though I spent years painfully extracting words from my brain (knowing most of the time that they sucked), this feeling I have now—this feeling of the words flowing from my head to the page—that makes it all worth it.

Teens pit Harry Potter vs. Mockingjay at library workshop

Friday Freestyle By Faran Fagen

Identifying with the main character.
Resourcefulness.
Persistence.
Kindness.
These were some of the character traits listed by teens as part of a writing exercise at Thursday’s summer workshop at the Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
The exercises began with the group of teens listing a character trait from their favorite fairy tale.
Then, to keep them on their toes, writers Jonathan Rosen and Faran Fagen had the teens do a short story with a twist: rewrite the fairy tale with a main character as the opposite gender.
What resulted was a male Cinderella called Cinder, a merman Ariel and a female Beast from Beauty and the Beast.
The teen series concluded with Jonathan and Faran. Four other pairs of authors and aspiring writers gave workshops through June and July in the second annual series at the library.
On Thursday, teens also read their impromptu work on several writing exercises from Jonathan.
An alphabet game had the teens pair up and write a scene, solely in dialogue, with each sentence beginning with a letter of the alphabet in succession (A-Z).
Teens munched on cookies, candy and soda. Laughter filled the room as the kids struggled with some of the difficult letters like Q.
The workshop culminated in a contest. The group was split in half, and together picked a main character to praise.
After 10 minutes, a spokesman had to prove to the judges which main character was more compelling.
It was Hermione Granger versus Katniss Everdeen. Both spokespeople used several examples from their novels, and pointed out details (Katniss’s loyalty to her sister Prim for instance) that proved the likability of the characters.
In the end, it was a tie, and both groups got prizes.
A question and answer session concluded the final workshop.
One teen asked Jonathan how long it took him to write “Night of the Cuddle Bunnies”, his debut novel which releases in August.
He responded about seven months, but added that it was his fourth time writing a book.
We ended with a discussion about the process of writing, and encouraged the group to write as much as they can. And enjoy it from start to finish.

A closing panel takes place next Thursday to wrap up the successful series.

Where do you go to get ideas for a novel?

Some people I know have ten plots for novels buried in the back of their brain waiting to be hatched. I have a couple of ideas of in the wings, but they’re floating around without any concrete development. Truth is that a magnificent fully formed book doesn’t just pop into your head. Where do ideas for novels come from?

The news is always full of bizarre stories that make me wonder about the lives of the characters portrayed in the incidents that end up being broadcast. Take the latest news about O.J. Simpson. With all of the things that have occurred in his lifetime, I could find myself mentally working in a character arc. Mystery Writers are always keeping an eye out for a juicy crime story or headline to flesh out and expand into a good book.

Experience can often lead to ideas for a novel. An epic failure or huge success can be fodder for your next work in progress. Many people start by journaling and expand on the components from there. Or you can eavesdrop on a conversation in the park and expound on someone else’s experiences. People watching in the park can give you some great ideas for characters too.

Reading can lead to ideas of what you might want to write. Perhaps you want to expand on a theory someone else proposed, or you feel they got it wrong and you want to tell the story a different way. Reading across many genres can attune you to new ideas.

Google whatever your heart desires, and see what comes up. Strange accounts, love stories, happy tales and bizarre capers are all waiting to be expanded. You can plot them out inserting your wonderful hero and dastardly villain while at the gym or driving your car.

Whatever your method, writing is a process. Even the most extreme plotters end up changing things as they go along. So pick a nugget of something you’ve heard or seen and get started on your next tale.

Do you ever lie to yourself?

Sometimes I lie to myself.

When I’m waiting for news on a project, sometimes I lie to myself. Sometimes I tell myself it’s already sold to an editor who loved it. Sometimes I envision the letter I’ll get. The launch party I’ll plan. Sometimes I lie to myself and allow myself  that amazing feeling of being happy about my writing.

Some people would say this isn’t lying at all. It’s simply envisioning the future, putting it out there, for the benevolent Universe to provide. Sometimes I believe that, too.

But then the days turn to weeks and the weeks to months and how do we sustain ourselves in the meantime when all we can see is the next five minutes and the emails that don’t miraculously appear just because we’ve closed our eyes and believed our intentions?

We just keep writing. The next book. The book after. The one we always wanted to, even when we thought nobody would want it, because nobody wants (fill in the blank) this year. Good thing, too, because this year is going to turn into next year and then the next and then maybe this book, the one we want to write will get noticed.

And it’s the thought that the only thing we can do is keep writing that feels so beautifully simple. Because sometimes the lies do come true. Most times they don’t. Most times that particular editor doesn’t take the book or doesn’t even respond. At least not on our timetable.

I was watching a Winter’s Tale this weekend (for the fifth time) and I loved the part when Lucifer says demons  don’t understand the concepts of now and time.

Writers definitely don’t.

Because sometimes the it-didn’t-sell blues is just the it-didn’t-sell-yet blues…yet. Man, I love that word. Yet.

So we keep writing, counting our progression in terms of word counts or chapters or drafts or revisions. And at some point that writing amounts to something. Maybe it’s not a deal. Yet. Maybe it’s not an agent signing. Yet. Maybe it’s just the time that it takes to get better or to see more or to understand entirely. But until then I’m gonna be honest with you, I’m probably going to lie to myself.

I’m doing it right now.

Right now I’m telling myself that this book, the one I’m working on now, that I wrote initially six years ago. This is that book’s time. Right now. Good thing, too, because this book has me distracted enough to not check my emails every five minutes concerning my last book. The one I started last year. The one that hasn’t sold. Yet.

I always say Writing is a bad boyfriend, and it’s true. But right now, Writing believes in me. Truth is he always has. Through every draft and every revision and every rejection, He has shown back up, held his hand out with a really cute expression on his face as he asks. “Wanna dance?”

And my answer is always the same.

Writing distracts me from everything bad in my life. Writing listens to all my sad stories. The funny ones, too. Writing tells me other people will want to hear them. One day. Maybe not this day, but that’s cool. Because Writing may be an audience of one, but he always, always throws roses on the stage for me when I’ve dug so deep I’ve spilled blood all over the place. Writing bandages me up and tells me we can always paint over that damage.

Writing is always, always there, even when I stay away, even when I’m sure I can’t do it anymore, even when I’m at my lowest with this whole process. Writing tells me all I have to do is write the next word. The next scene. Writing tells me I just have to keep going. Because even with all the times I’ve lied to myself, I know Writing never lies to me. And if I’m going to be honest with myself, I’m going to have to admit that Writing makes my life better. Even when he makes it worse.

Writing’s like that. Complicated. Deep. Difficult. Demanding. Gut wrenchingly honest. So when he tells me to get back in that chair and do the work, I listen. But I don’t tell him that the whole time I’m still telling myself little lies…I can live with that.

What I Learned on Vacation

Well, it’s my turn for Fun Friday (I’m Melody Maysonet, for those of you who may have forgotten), and since I just got back from a Caribbean cruise, I thought I’d share some interesting tidbits about some of the places I visited.

But before I do that, let me just say that I was so distracted (and excited) by my upcoming vacation that for the weeks leading up to it, I had horrible writer’s block. I literally sat in front of my computer for hours writing and rewriting the same few paragraphs. So frustrating!

Anyway, back to my vacation… We couldn’t dock at Curacao because of a tropical storm, so we sailed to our next stop, Aruba, which apparently isn’t susceptible to tropical storms and hurricanes. Who knew? Also, Aruba is a desert island (another thing I didn’t know)—complete with Road Runner-style boulders and huge cacti. (Yes, cacti is the plural of cactus, although cactuses is correct too—but I’ve always wanted to use cacti in a sentence.) Here I am in front of some huge cacti.

Probably our most interesting excursion was when we took a dune-buggy ride through the Dominican Republic. We knew (from past reviews of the excursion) that we’d be passing a lot of children who work in the sugar cane fields and who would be holding their hands out to the tourists. Our guide told us not to give the children money, so instead of money, we stocked up with lots of individually wrapped candies that we gave to the kids. It reminded me of drive-by trick-or-treating, although it was kind of sad, too, because the kids were literally fighting each other for the candy. My son, who is twelve and admittedly lives a privileged life, told me how lucky he felt after seeing how some other kids live.

Although it was enlightening to visit some of the Caribbean islands, the highlight of this trip was the ship itself—and spending time with my family. There were photographers all over the ship, and after awhile they knew to expect silly poses from us. Here are some of my favorites. (My husband is the one photo bombing me and my sisters. The other two guys are my brothers-in-law. (That’s another plural you don’t get to use very often—brothers-in-law (not brother-in-laws).


As I write this, the cruise has been over for a week and I’m back to real life. It’s always hard after a vacation to get back in the swing of things, but I’m happy to say that my writing has taken a turn for the better (or at least the easier) since my return. Maybe I needed that vacation.

What Makes your Spirit Soar?

Summertime is when we kick back, enjoy the long days and break from routine. I’ve been considering where we’ll go or what we will do on vacation this summer. Taking a holiday from the everyday, should be invigorating and fun. It got me thinking about what kind of things rejuvenate me, help me feel I’m ready for anything, make my spirit soar.

My number one is the outdoors. Whether it’s walking on the beach or hiking along the Appalachian Trail. I always feel great when I’m out in nature. I like the outdoors best when the air is warm. My approach to winter has significantly changed since I move to Florida. On mild days in the north, I used to love to be out cross-country skiing or ice fishing. But, snow skiing wins the prize. I get John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High when I go skiing. It thrills me to the core. The mountains are so majestic, and the slopes so open and inviting. In the mountains I feel a freedom that nothing compares to.

 

I’d like to think that I will try outdoor adventures more than most, but you’ll definitely not see me attempting something like free-climbing a rock face in Yosemite. I find camping in the wilderness an adventure though. We get so complacent in our sturdy, climate controlled homes, I find it exhilarating to be out in the wild. I never know what Mother Nature will send my way. We might see a family of bears or a moose swimming across the lake. She might show us a midnight dance of the northern lights, or give us a downpour that soaks the sleeping bags. It’s refreshing to be around that unpredictability for a while.

 

When I can’t get away, short term doses of total relaxation make me all mellow and happy with the world. Even working in my garden or enjoying someone else’s garden can refresh me and bring on a feeling of relaxation and contentment. Other fixes come with tame forms of Yoga, the kind where I’m not trying to twist my body into positions it wants nothing to do with. The meditative state associated with yoga gets me nice and Zen(ish). I need to work on that part because my mind is always going in too many directions. A relaxing massage is a nice departure too. My daughter knows this. She and her husband gave me gift certificate to a spa for Mother’s Day. (Woohoo!) A little yoga, a massage and an afternoon reading a good book are a delicious way to relax, renew and recharge at home.

Home or away, what do you do to rejuvenate and make your spirit soar?

Taking It Easy Is Hard

Well, it’s my turn for Fun Friday, and I have to admit, I had a hard time coming up with a topic, mostly because I haven’t been having much fun lately.

Part of my problem is, I’m the opposite of a procrastinator. I try to get things done as soon as they hit my plate, and I can’t seem to relax (or have fun) until they’re off my plate. I’m one of those annoying people who’s always early—it’s annoying even to me—and even if I’m right on time, I still feel like I’m late.

So I have to remind myself to relax, take it easy, stop and smell the roses and all that.

This tendency to get everything done right now affects my writing too. I’ve been spinning my wheels on a particular scene for days and I keep telling myself to skip it and move on to the next scene, but do I follow my own advice?

 

Absolutely not. So I write and rewrite the same paragraphs over and over, changing the wording just a bit in hopes that I’ll be like those million monkeys who can churn out a novel. (If you type enough words, something will come out, right?)

Then a funny happened. I was reviewing notes for a class I’m going to teach on conflict, how important it is to every scene, and I realized—duh!—that’s what was missing from my scene. Yeah, my main character had a bit of uncertainty, but that’s not conflict, or at least it’s not enough conflict to sustain an entire scene.

After thinking about how to add conflict (while I exercised and knocked that off my to-do list), I spent the next two days writing the scene, and isn’t it amazing that it came so much easier? The scene’s not perfect, but that’s what revision is for. I have a bad habit of trying to do my revision while I’m still writing the draft, so even though I’m learning to take it easy, I’m still not quite there.

Is your Place Creepy or Cozy?

In an editor’s panel at Sleuthfest 2017, the editors agreed that next to voice, they found setting most important. It’s often said, when choosing a setting for a novel, to make your setting a character. Stephen King certainly did that with the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Being the master of horror, he continued the creepy sensation in Doctor Sleep. King had a bevy of evil characters buy the land where the Overlook Hotel stood before it burned and made the new Bluebell Campground their home turf. That got me thinking. Can a place hold the vitality of the previous residents be they good or bad? I decided to do some research.

During the Second World War, the Nazis invaded a town north of Kiev. They assembled all the Jews from the area into the town’s synagogue and ignited the building, burning to death hundreds of innocent men, women and children. The ground was barren, infertile, and with the chaos of the war the land’s story was forgotten. Years later in 1970, a nuclear power plant with four reactors was built in this town.  On April 26, 1986 one of the nuclear reactors had an explosive meltdown. That reactor had been built on top of the long forgotten synagogue, in a town we know as Chernobyl.

Have you ever noticed how some places are joyous and welcoming while others are uncomfortable or downright creepy? Dr. Alberto Villodo, a psychologist and medical anthropologist says there are ‘imprints’ left in a building or on the land by those who have been there before and those imprints affect the occupants. Those occupants are your characters. How do you want them to feel in their setting? House Beautiful, in an August 2016 article, offers ways to cleanse a house of negative energy. Each of those fifteen ideas could be used to affect the mood of your characters upward or down.

What other types of problems can be caused by one’s surroundings? The Chinese for thousands of years have believed that certain places where superior or luckier, and that features in the environment could affect a person’s health and well-being. The belief is that you should buy a house from someone who is moving up to a better house, not a house in foreclosure or sold because of divorce, and that antiques can bring the problems of a previous owner with them. The Chinese developed the practice of Feng Shui to cure some those problems. Getting hold of a book of Feng Shui cures might offer insight into the types of problems you could create for your characters.

What is the imprint you want to leave with your setting? A town filled with sorrow over the deaths that occurred there, a campground that’s as terrifying as the Overlook Hotel or a warm, cozy Victorian with a cat? Interview your settings when you interview your characters and find out what their backstory is. The psychological effect a place has on your characters can create a very memorable setting indeed.

Adding My Voice

As a victim of sexual assault, I should have known this already, but I only recently discovered that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), a national campaign that raises public awareness about sexual violence and also educates individuals and communities in how to prevent it. So in honor of SAAM, and to help forward the cause, I’m giving away five autographed copies of my critically acclaimed, award-winning book, A Work of Art, via this Goodreads giveaway. I’m also making a nice donation to SAAM and buying this t-shirt via their website. I’ll wear it proudly.

Admitting I’m a survivor of sexual assault didn’t come easily for me. I, like many other victims, have been reluctant to talk about something that society tends to see as a taboo topic, or an uncomfortable topic, or a topic you don’t bring up because you’re ashamed and you don’t want others to see you as weak. I told myself for years that I didn’t have it that bad. That others I know had it much worse. So why talk about it? Why make an issue out of it? Slowly, my views on that are changing. And certainly a part of me—something deep in my consciousness—wanted to talk about it…which is why (and I see this now) I wrote A Work of Art.

Research has shown that readers of literary fiction tend to be more empathetic people, but it’s easy to overlook the fact that books can play a key role in creating awareness of sexual assault violence. A Work of Art delves into the shame and insecurity that many sexual assault victims suffer from. It also deals with love—how victims of sexual assault sometimes have a skewed perception of what love is, and how sometimes we can love those who victimize us.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Work of Art by Melody Maysonet

A Work of Art

by Melody Maysonet

Giveaway ends April 23, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


Even if you don’t enter my Goodreads giveaway to win a copy of my book, I hope you’ll click here to check out all the good things that SAAM is doing and maybe add your voice to the cause.