Friday, February 19, 2016

Character Creation: Twitch

Once, in a writing workshop, the topic of character creation came up - specifically, how similar or dissimilar our characters are from ourselves.  It was a fascinating conversation, and one that really draws a line between the beginning writer and the professional.  Writers beginning on their journeys, or so the conversation went, have a tendency to try to create - or to create unintentionally - characters that are very similar to themselves.  Fanfiction writers, it seems, are particularly guilty of the sin of fictionalizing themselves and placing those characters into tales as the saviors or love interests of the established characters they have chosen to write about.

Writing a character so close to yourself, it seems to me, is dangerous for the writer.  Not in any real-world peril - but more in terms of making it hard to distance yourself from rejection.  If you're writing a novel and the protagonist is a thinly-veiled you, or a you-that-you-wish-you-were, how easy is it to take even constructive criticism?  How much will it sting when the novel is rejected?  Our written works are our babies anyway - but to have them be an extension of ourselves is risky to our creative hearts, thick skins be darned.

So I set about to create a character who was the virtual opposite of myself... just to see if I could.  To see how difficult it would be to get into the head of someone intentionally Other.  I created Twitch, who I saw as a sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH protagonist.  Her story hasn't gone far, though I keep thinking I'd like to play around with it... it's mired in the planning stage right now... but I found that I truly liked Twitch, the sassy, anti-human, who-needs-romance leading lady.

Well, a lady of a sort...


Let me start off by saying this:  I do NOT like you.  No, really.  I really don’t give two whiskers what you think of me, or if you think I’m out of line for saying it.  It’s true.   I really, truly, can’t stand you people.  But it’s nothing personal.

Okay, it’s REALLY personal.  

I am a rat.  Yes, a rat.  Not a mouse.  Not a hamster.  Nothing that you human types would consider remotely cute and fuzzy.  A rat.  R - A - T.  Rat.

I do not wear clothes.  When I was a little squeak, I read some human book where the mice and moles and badgers and all were dressed up as monks from the Dark Ages - robes, sandals, the whole shebang - and lived in a castle of some sort, just their size.  Unbelievable.  Besides the walking on two legs, which is insane if you want to get anywhere fast, ROBES?  SANDALS?  Seriously?  

And don’t get me started on Beatrix Potter.  Puh-leaze.  

For the record, NO animal wears clothes, except you humans and those humiliated little dogs some of you insist on dressing up like dolls which is, really, incredibly disturbing.  So - no clothes.  Real animals don’t need ‘em.  Fur is more than fine, thank-you-very-much.

But back to the point.  I am a rat, and if you have issues with that, I don’t want to hear about them.  No “eww, that tail” or “gross, a rat” or any of that turd-drop stuff.  You don’t like rats?  Fine.  There’s the door.  Don’t catch your tail in it on the way out.  I couldn’t care less, because - as I said before - I hate you people.

You can’t blame me here.  Rats - decent animals going about minding their own business, trying to find food, shelter, water, and raise the next generation.  Humans - not so decent animals who can’t seem to pass a rat on the street without screeching, stomping, throwing something, or trying to kill it in any one of a thousand barbaric ways.  Humans have been waging genocide on rodents for centuries… poisons, traps, tortures, you name it.  And then, if that’s not enough, you’ve bred an entire population of rats purely for your own scientific tortures.

If you were me, would you like you very much?  Didn’t think so.  And don’t give me “but not all humans are evil.”  Not all rats are filthy disease carriers, but that doesn’t stop YOU people, does it?


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Working Alone, Together

Writers have a reputation for being solitary creatures.  It's part of the great nature tome of archetypes - the lone writer, like a lone wolf, majestic and proud.  Writers, it is said, need a still, silent, private place in which to get the work of writing done - time carved out late at night or in the predawn hours, supplemented with long walks alone through the fields and woodlands.  It's certainly a romantic notion.  Charles Dickens subscribed to it, as did William Wordsworth and Jane Austen, and many other great names. But even without long, solitary rambles, writers need, at the very least, a Virginia Woolfian room of their own in which to sequester themselves and get on with writing.

I've never bought into it for myself, honestly.  I hate like poison to be alone.  Being by myself is different - I can do that in a populated place - but being alone, being surrounded by the absence of other human beings, is deeply unsettling for me.

Granted, I am probably the most socially dependent introvert you're likely to meet.  I need people around me, and always have, to feel secure enough to go about my own business.  As a child, I needed to hear my family moving through the house, listening to television or radio, talking softly, in order to fall asleep.  Even now, I often resort to listening to podcasts to help me bridge the divide between wakefulness and slumber.  When  I'm working, that trend remains very much the same... I need to have people nearby in order to achieve the state of peace  I need in which to write.  That doesn't mean I need to be interacting with people, mind you.  That's entirely different; I can't be chatting away and writing at the same time.  I also can't get a darned thing done if the surroundings are too loud or chaotic.  I've tried many times working in Starbucks, for example, and depending on the background music and the clientele, I may or may not be able to focus.  But when it comes to my work, whether it's writing or doing the grunt paperwork of teaching, I generally find that I'm at my best when I have a steady "white noise" of people to ignore.

At the moment, I have fled my too-quiet home for the comparative bustle of our local library.  Even with the radio on and my dogs and cats to keep me company, home was too empty without the bodies of my husband and son filling their usual spaces.  Here, in the library atrium set aside for laptop use, I can hear the chatter of the librarians and the passing of patrons, the clatter and thump of books being returned, the steady tic-a-tic-tic of other laptop users in close proximity.  It's comforting, these lives surrounding me.  I have not said a word to the patrons nearest at hand - the girl playing video games on her laptop, the gentleman with a stack of career books perusing job sites.  I don't need to, and, in fact, feel any greeting would be an intrusion.  We have not come to this place to socialize.  We are aware of one another, alert to the presence or absence of someone close by, but have gathered here to be alone.

Alone, but together.

It's my favorite place to write.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Out of the Cold

I'm a firm believer in the power of a kind word.  Words, after all, are in my bloodstream, in my soul.  It's how I hope, one day, to make a living.  Still, this classic Peanuts strip kind of hits me where I live.  I can definitely relate to Snoopy, fellow writer that he is.

Shivering in the cold, Snoopy needs something... warmth, shelter.  One could, of course, wonder why he's sitting out there in the snow to begin with - he has a dog house - but for whatever reason, he is not availing himself of it.  Schroeder and Charlie Brown, seeing this, feel moved to offer comfort and warmth of a spiritual nature.  In their warm clothing, hats and mittens and jackets insulating them from the bite of the wind and snow, they speak their hearts - then go, leaving Snoopy to, essentially, wonder, "WTF?"

Snoopy doesn't need to be told, "Be of good cheer."  He needs a JACKET.  He needs to be brought inside.  He needs to find physical warmth, not spiritual consolation.  It would be easy to point fingers at the humans in the equation and say, "You should be taking care of him!  You see he's cold - do something, don't just SAY something!"

But that's not the way this works, this being out in the cold.

Really, what Snoopy needs is to get his furry butt off the ground and into some place more congenial for sitting.  As do we all.

It's easy and tempting to daydream about being published.  To envision the agent or the editor who will sweep in, like some knight out of a fairy tale, and scoop up our words, bestowing the boon of publication on us.  We may imagine ourselves as that fairy tale protagonist, a Goose Girl or Cinderella, a Little Match Girl, toiling away at work we'd rather not be doing - teaching, office managing, waiting tables - and waiting for someone to see past the dusty reality to find our true writer selves within.  We, like Snoopy, are sitting out in the cold, gazing wistfully at the published authors and rows of chosen manuscripts transformed into books, waiting for someone to invite us in to the warmth and shelter of our dreams.

But that's not the way this works.

Like Snoopy, we need to get off our furry butts and get moving, if writing is our heart's work.  We know all too well that it's not just a matter of writing and waiting.  There is work there, market research and searching and questing for the editor or agent who has space in their roster for us.  It may be more work than we feel we can handle  -most of us are, after all, already working one or more full time jobs to support our lives and families- but what's the alternative?  To sit, like Snoopy, out in the cold?

To wait for someone to come and tell us, "Be of good cheer" or "You're an awesome writer - just keep at it"?

No.  If we're going to get published, we have to do the hard work of it ourselves.  We need to get ourselves into that warm, sheltered place - even if we need to build it ourselves.  But don't fret too much.  Once we're moving, working, writing our hearts out, there will be people who see that and offer their words of support and encouragement.  And those words will actually mean something, paired with our own efforts.

Be of good cheer.  It's hard, but we can do it.  

Be of good cheer.

The Gift of Time

My husband gave me a lovely Valentine's Day gift yesterday.  He removed our son from the computer, gave him something else to do, and turned to me.

"Go write," he said. "You're always looking for time to write.  Here- go write."

It was better than roses.

Of course, muses being what they are, mine promptly deserted me, leaving me to pick a bit at pieces I'd already written and set aside for revision - but as with so many things, it's the thought that counts.

Hope your Valentine's Day was happy, too.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Blogging for Writers, Part 2

As I mentioned a few posts back, I'm working my way through a little book called Blogging for Writers.  So far, I'm fairly pleased with it - though it doesn't go deep enough into the questions and topics that bounce around my mind as I think about my blog.  Namely...
  1. Privacy vs. living publicly.  How does one balance the need for privacy in a full-disclosure culture?  How much can, or should, one blog about one's personal life?  In that light, how is it beneficial to blog about what you're currently writing - or even to blog bits of works in progress?  I live in fear of someone snatching my ideas, let alone my work... and my family worries about oversharing.  Not a great foundation for a writer's blog, that.
  2. Adopting the mantle of an expert.  In one chapter, the author highlights "the twelve types of posts" a writer's blog can, or should (I'm not certain here of the distinction), focus on.  Listed high on the list were reviews - of books, of other websites, etc. - and posts about the art and craft of writing.  I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with, or qualified to, attempt either.  I'm a writer and a teacher... but I'm no expert, and struggle mightily when it comes to providing salient advice even to writer friends.  As for reviewing... well, see my next conundrum.
  3. Everyone's entitled to (my) opinion?  Unless it's liberally laying on the praise when it's been well and truly earned, I'm not really that keen on broadcasting my opinions about what websites are hot, which books are must-reads, which authors are the most up-and-coming.  I have opinions, sure... but do I feel everyone is entitled to hear them?  Not particularly.  More than anything, I hate hurting people's feelings, even through the cushioning of the ether.  And I hate having my own feelings hurt when people snark back at my opinions.  A thick writer's skin I don't have yet... and I am firmly in the camp of Thumper's dad: If ya can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all.
  4. Kicking the wasp nest?  Another potentially blogworthy post, writes the author, is the controversial topic.  To be fair, she does make a point of noting that this sort of blogging is not for everyone.  Stirring things up can definitely garner readership - but it can also lose you readers, to my way of thinking.  Speaking personally, if I read more than a handful of posts I don't like, I unfollow the blogger faster than you can say Jack Robinson.  I'm guessing that this sort of posting is highly subject to the writer's personality, and is best attempted when one has followers to spare and a few won't be missed.
  5. Blogger or Wordpress?  That's it?  Primarily, my biggest qualm about this book is that it focuses exclusively on the two largest blogging platforms to the exclusion of all others.  Tumblr, for example, is given passing comment as a "minor blog platform" - and yet, my Tumblr account has over a hundred followers, while this blog has three.  Well, four - but one of them is me.  What really gives one blog platform cred over another?  And does it really make that much of a difference?
I suppose what I'm really looking for is a fairly obscure and very specific book... one called Blogging for Writers Named Chris Vrba Who Want Answers to Very Specific Questions.  If you happen to come across it at your local book store, let me know, would you?  Tankyouveddymush.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Need to Research

If I'm going to make this blog into my official website - my face to the online world, representing myself as a writer - I think I really need to do some research.  I need to read other blogs by writers I respect, see what sorts of things they blog about.  This will be hard.  I am easily intimidated by those who write better than  I do, those who are already more successful in the field of writing.  It's hard to imagine that Jon Katz ( or Derek Landy ( was once just a beginning blogger, not a successful novelist... and then too, they came to blogging after their books were already out and successful.  Is that really the best comparison for my project?

On the other hand, looking at other struggling and aspiring writers can be just as daunting.  After all, I want to read GOOD blogs, not lackadaisical halfway projects... and there are lists upon lists of the best writing blogs out there to choose from.  But how to choose?  Honestly, I don't have tons of extra time to spend scanning and searching for other aspiring writers of children's literature - writers, not illustrators or illustrator/writers.  Would just any good writing blog work, if the writer is aspiring?  Maybe... it would give me an idea of what to write about here, at least... but then, does someone who focuses on romance or adult fantasy blog differently than someone who writes for a younger market?

And there's still the intimidation factor I need to overcome.  It's one thing to be intimidated or cowed by an established author... it's almost understandable.  But the best bloggers, even if they aren't published, are still successful in their own ways.  They have an audience, which I don't (the handful of friends who will read this counts only in my heart of hearts, sad to say) and are, in that, virtually as successful and accomplished as any professional writer.  It's hard not to be jealous of someone like that, when you're fighting the same fight to get your work out there.

But I have to start somewhere, and research is always the best first step... whether it's a book or a blog.  And overcoming the intimidation and tendency to feel alternately jealous and cowed is a worthy goal.  Off  I go, then... virtual pith helmet on head, virtual machete in hand, into the wilds of the blogosphere, in search of my quarry: the truly inspirational blog.