Category Archives: Howling at the moon

Call Me Crazy – NaNoWriMo

So I’ve been living in picture book world for a few years, now.

And while I’m still busy analyzing and perfecting my craft in that arena,

(Mini craft lecture: Great picture books are as compressed as poetry, containing a world in about 500 words or fewer, leave 50% of the story to the illustrator, are paced strategically through language and page turns, evoke emotion through image, active voice, and characterization, and end in way that’s surprising yet inevitable. Easy, right?)

I could no longer ignore that tiny voice in the back of my head that wasn’t a picture book character, but a character from a YA/new adult novel.

She’s been bugging me for years. And now that her whispers have turned to curses, I’ve decided to listen. Five years ago, I tried NaNo as a pantser. I failed. Miserably.

This year, with a little encouragement from another blogger and writing coach, Kate Johnston, I decided to take the plunge again.

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Only this time with a little planning. I know who my characters are, but five years ago I just let them run wild. So that’s what they did. They rambled. They wandered. Aimlessly. They got lost.

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I got lost, then I wadded up my Scrivener file and tossed it in the trash. Failure.

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This year, I’m going to start with a plan. A structure. A beginning, a middle, and an end. How I get there during November will look more like pantsing, but when I’m finished, that pantsing will be contained within October’s plan. Call it plantsing.

We’ll see how it goes. Wish me luck!

Luck

And I’ve gotta tell you, I’m afraid of failing. Gulp. But it’s like that with all challenges, right?

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If you, too, would like to take this on, give Kate’s website a look. I think you may find a tool or two to help you out.

Happy pantsing, planning, or plantsing! Cheers!

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Rabble Rousers & Hooligans – Win a Doodle!!

Last year, the Dogpatch *forced* Mike Allegra to draw the cutest salamander, named Sully, for Laurel’s poetry gig. What can we squeeze outta him this year? Hmmm? Go ahead, enter the competition. You know you want to….Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.43.21 PM

Win A Doodle! Woo!

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Nobody Will Die, Maybe—Scaling El Capitan

The flickering headlamps halfway up the wall of El Capitan caught our attention as we stopped to look at the full moon shining across a meadow in Yosemite Valley. It was Saturday, January 3rd, 2015, and the climbers appeared to have covered about a third of the 3,000 foot wall since they started eight days ago.

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If you haven’t been following the story in the New York Times, two climbers have been planning and practicing the free climb ascent of El Capitan for the past ten+ years. This is now the real thing. If you’d like a better perspective of the size of this monolith and their undertaking, the NYTimes article provides a terrifying composite image showing the climbers on the wall.

Anyone see a parallel between this ascent and writing a book? Our advantage over climbers?

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We can’t see the size of the wall in front of us.

We’ve planned and practiced and tried and failed on numerous attempts. We’ve achieved smaller goals. We’ve said that if we don’t make it this time, there won’t be another. We’ve faced odds that would make a grizzly bear shudder, and still we are on that wall, refusing to give up. OK, so maybe we’re not facing death should we make mistakes with our climbing harnesses. For we climb WITHOUT harnesses.

We’ve got shredded fingers reminiscent of carcasses put through the meat grinder. We’re swaying in gusty winds. We’re facing the uncertainty of our uncertainties in the blackness of bitter, star-filled skies.

The night we saw the climbers, the moon underscored just how insignificant their goal was to the universe.

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But it was important to THEM.

So that’s what I take away from this effort. A refusal to give up. A determination to do something that leaves others shaking their heads in disbelief.

Why climb the wall? Because it’s important to ME. When it’s no longer important, I’ll stop.

Until that happens, you can find me taping my fingers, casting a shadow, tapping away, and laughing at the man in the moon and his distorted sense of reality.

That’s MY new year’s resolution.

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Litquake Alert!

Got libations? Survival gear, including ibuprofen and rehydration tablets?

Ready. Set. Let it shake!!!!!

900 authors from all over the San Francisco Bay Area, the U.S., and the world.

Friday marks the 15th anniversary of Litquake, the best literary festival on the Left Coast. Sell-out shows include “The Best of Craigslist,” where writers give dramatic readings of found literature culled from REAL posts on Craigslist.  I’ve got tickets.

I’ll also be at “Drivel,” where some rather famous writers read some of their less-than-stellar prose.

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Who could resist?

Interested in poetry? Try “A Flight of Poets” or maybe “Dark and Stormy: Contemporary Swedish Poetry.”

Adventure travel? “Into the Wilderness” or “Bicycle book tours,” depending on what your idea of adventure and travel really is.

Sci-fi? Try “Into Tomorrow.”

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Something from the heart? Try “Tales of Love and Longing,”  “Hot Flash Fiction,” or “Family Secrets.”

Something edgy? Try “Walk on the Wild Side.”

Need to feed you inner chef? Try “Sausages and Syrah.”

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The opening night party on Friday, October 10, will be celebrated quinceañera-style. Think pink taffeta and a shot or two of tequila. Oh, and don’t forget your tiara.

On the last night, October 18, the world’s largest Lit Crawl commences, 101 events in three hours. 

See you there!

FULL FESTIVAL GUIDE PDF

MAP AND GUIDE FOR LITCRAWL 

 

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Poetry is the Cruellest Month – Shakespeare’s Birthday

“Such comfort, as do lusty young men feel,
When well-apparell’d April on the heel
Of limping winter treads.” (Romeo & Juliet, Act. I. Sc. 2)
 
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The question was never, “To write, or not to write?”

Sonnet XCVIII

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
    Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
    As with your shadow I with these did play.

 

Sonnet XXIL

My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.
For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I, then, be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary,
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Thou gav’st me mine, not to give back again.
 

Happy Birthday, Shakes!!!

 

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Life and Death and Storytelling

 

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I have reached the age where friends and family members begin to fold their wings and end their buzzing against the windowpane. My parents’ deaths came in the form of old age, and while I miss them terribly, I know they were ready. 

But I don’t feel that same sense of consolation when the one who succumbs has not lived through their 70th decade. 

The other night, I found myself crying at the dinner table after learning that a woman in our neighborhood, with twin boys the age of our son, had died. I knew she had a rare form of cancer. But I also knew she was strong and fierce, maintained a positive outlook, and had been an unstoppable force for good in our community. She was young and smart and beautiful, and I hadn’t allowed myself to believe that she could die.

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But she did, and now my grief for her and her family was deepened by my own sense of mortality. I had to face the fact that I, too, could die at any moment. For she was one of US.

So how does death inform the decisions we make? What do we choose to do with the 1,440 minutes we have in the day?

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What we choose to do shows what is important to us, right?

Hmmm, not so sure. I spent the morning paying bills, but then I suppose that is tangentially important.

But what about dusting? Perhaps it’s important if you’re OCD or if you’re afraid you’ll be judged lacking by your in-laws or dinner guests. What do your characters choose to do with their time? Why do they make those choices?

Death plays a starring role in our lives, whether it’s quietly personal or a catastrophic event. How does this reality leak into your stories? Does death inform your characters’ actions? Do your characters feel immortal, on the brink of death, or somewhere in between?

How would your character choose to die? That “how” carries two meanings, both of which are usually mentioned in an obituary: cause of death, and who was with them when they died. Would your character prefer to die alone? with their dog? surrounded by family? Do they want to live fast and leave a beautiful corpse? Do they wish they could live that way, but something inside them foils those wishes?

Even if there’s nary a wisp of death blowing through your manuscript, it is still a silent partner, affecting your characters’ decisions.

And if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?

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Tree Plotting

Tree ClimberTree climber. Yep, that’s gonna be my next job.

Well, it’s gonna be the next job of a character I’m dreaming up ever since a guy scaled a 100-foot tree in my front yard and chopped it down with a chain saw.

My last job went pretty well – backhoe driver. The pay was great, the foreman wasn’t a bad sort, and I got a date with a hot red head named Mona. Things went great until they didn’t.

Tree CuttingSo I’m excited about this tree climbing gig. I do a lot of research. Take pictures, say “wow, I can’t believe he’s up there so high,” and then deny that any of my interest in the future potential character is at all tied to the general hotness of the tree crew.

I’m still in the creative stage, so it’s important to draw on any and all inspiration, right?

My other excuse is that I’m fifty and can start to blame lots of what I think, do and say on my age. (I reckon it would take about two and a half of them to make my age. So none of the professionals pictured in this story are named, to protect them from me.)

Tree ChoppingLike, thinking I can write about scaling a 100-foot tree with a running chain saw dangling from my belt with any degree of realism.

Isn’t that what we do? Write about stuff we’ve never seen and done, characters we’ve never been or will be, places we’ve never been.

Except for the writers who actually do those things and are those characters and go to those places.

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