Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tuesday Chatter-New Plot?

Yep, still searching for that elusive plot which will catapult my new book (if I get it written) to the top of the best selling heap. Not likely? That's right. Plot alone will not a best seller make. Readers want to find a character they can sympathize with, maybe even identify with. At least so we writers are told. And since that is true for me, I bet it is for many other readers. No namby pamby character, either, he or she must be ready and willing to fight for what he or she wants. I expect even readers who don't exhibit that characteristic want to read about characters who do own it. Do my characters have it? I'm not sure I know. I hope so. And if not, I hope readers will tell me so I can try to improve.
.* * * 
   Many of us writers wrack our brains to think up new plots for our deathless prose. Forget it. It’s all been done. The best a modern writer can hope for is to put a new twist on a good old plot.
What 90's television sci-fi adventure series and fifties comedy series have the same plot structure? Give up? Gilligan’s Island and Star Trek Voyager are the two, though they are wildly different on the surface.
   The Captain, Gilligan and a half dozen or so pleasure yacht passengers only expected to be on their trip through balmy waters for three hours. The one hundred eighty nine member crew, and their holographic doctor, on Voyager started a shakedown cruise in space. They thought they’d be among the stars for a few days at most. In both cases, an unexpected calamity extended their trips far longer than their expectations. Though probably the actors, writers, producers, etc were quite happy those trips lasted as long as they did.
   Several books and columns on writing that I’ve read recently suggest taking a look at the classics for inspiration if you’re stuck on what to write about. The premise of star crossed lovers, such as Romeo and Juliet, is at the base of a lot of romance stories and novels. One of the most notable that comes to mind was printed over twenty years ago The Bridges of Madison County was, unexpectedly, a wildly popular tiny book. Though mostly we moderns like for the lovers to wind up still alive, and together, by the end of the book.
   Sherlock Holmes would probably retire to a castle in the Highlands if he were a practicing detective these days. He might feel lost among the countless PI’s, former police detectives, caterers, and other women and men of various ages solving crimes in print.
   Readers still love to read about fictional dark deeds of the gentry a la Lady Chatterley’s Lover. A writer’s imagination might have to work overtime to outdo the real life stories available now, and bringing megabuck advances for their first person authors.
   The next time I’m stuck for something to hang a plotline on, I’ll dust off my own modest classics collection or take a trip to the library. Hey, if something worked for Doyle or ol’ Will it’s good enough for me.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Friday Rambles-Writers, Actors and TV

Television is still as popular as when I wrote the column below, about six years ago. I really can't say that the quality has improved, personally it seems the opposite is true. Be that as it may, my viewing habits are still about the same, though what I watch is received via air channels, not cable or satellite. I do miss the music channels, but the two or three I listened to are not worth the annual small fortune I'd have to pay to receive them. Mostly I watch old television series hits during the still less than twenty hours a week I turn on the set. Only on Wednesdays do I indulge in a current craze-binge watching. I loved JAG when it was a prime time series for several years and still do. So I have enjoyed JAG reruns on MeTV's 'The Dayshift' this summer. Sigh. The network will probably end the series before I'm ready to let them go again.
* * *
 I seem to write about television regularly for one who, on average, watches it probably twenty hours a week, compared to the thirty-five to forty national average. Fifteen to twenty minutes of my daily tv fare is watching local news and weather. I almost always switch it off or to a music channel rather than watch the sports reports. My household was chosen recently to keep a Nielsen journal for a week. It would probably be a safe bet to say we were one of the far outliers toward the zero end of television watching.
    I attempt to keep in mind when and on which channels my favorite shows are scheduled and turn the set on at those times. I seem to have lost track of the summer replacement Rookie Blue. I watched the first couple of episodes but don't remember what day. If any reader watches it, please let me know.
    I'm also pretty set in my ways about the authors I read. One of those favorites is David Baldacci, who just happens to be a Virginian who hails from Charlottesville, I believe. Several of his books formed a series with ex-Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, who both resigned when the persons they were assigned to protect were killed. After five books I could find no more and wondered if Baldacci was finished with the pair.
    Then I saw a commercial during my limited hours of television. King and Maxwell were coming to the home screen in a new series called King and Maxwell. I caught the first episode, almost by accident. I was and am delighted, if I can only remember when the show comes on! Part of my delight is because of the actor cast as Sean King. I've been a fan of Jon Tenney since he was Kyra Sedgwick's FBI boyfriend and later her husband on the long-running The Closer series. When Sedgwick left, by choice or not I don't know, that show morphed into one called Major Crimes. I do not watch it even though many of the same characters did stay. To me, Sedgwick was the show. Maybe because I've lived in Alabama and her character moved to California from Alabama.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Tuesday Chatter-Music and Crayons

I was surfing around on YouTube, listening to some of the musical artists of my youth. Could have been using the time for more productive activities, like finish putting away winter clothes, do a load or two of laundry. But, as they say, where's the fun in that? I realized I hadn't uploaded a blog post yesterday. Since I'd been into music, I thought I'd see if I had an old column with something about  music in it. Came up with the one below. It's still apt. I still haven't unearthed any musical talent in myself, Wal-Mart still claims to be lowering prices, but so far as I know nothing is yet free. I still wait in line more or less patiently when I have to. World peace? Nope, not yet on the horizon.
* * *
Did you ever notice how much truth there is in cliches, old chestnuts, old sayings, whatever you call them just before you quote one to somebody?

I like the thought behind this one, and hope those who have music inside them share with us while they're still living. Unfortunately for me, if I have any music inside, I've yet to find it. It's a little late, but I'll keep looking.
Most of us go to our grave with our music still inside of us.
This one resonates with me, especially when I'm a little short on cash. Which I've been a time or two. Okay, maybe more than a time or two.
If Wal-Mart is lowering prices every day, how come nothing is free yet?
My husband was one of those whose jollity was quite lacking when he had to wait more than a few minutes for someone or a movie or program to begin. I don’t like waiting for someone who's late, but since I try to carry a book, or something else to occupy me while waiting, most times I can endure without having a meltdown.

Ever notice that the people who are late are often much jollier than the people who have to wait for them?
Tears and laughter being almost universal this is one to take to heart. Except that the things you would smile about because they happened seem to fly past at the speed of light. While the ones you'd rather forget just linger and linger.
Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened.

World peace? Maybe we could take a lesson from a box of crayons. Nothing else seems to work.
We could learn a lot from crayons:
some are sharp, some are pretty,
some are dull, some have weird names,
and all are different colors - but
they all exist very nicely in the same box.

Friday, October 18, 2019

More Than One Dream - Part 3

I continued to be active in the writing group and have been instrumental in the production of three anthologies of members’ work. I joined another writer’s guild and now serve on its board of directors. The guild has partnered with a regional community college and we will host our fourth Writers Symposium this year. Along with several other board members I’ve served on the planning committee for the Symposium all four years.
As might be expected involvement with these activities takes time away from writing itself. I have managed a few more publication credits and did actually finish a novel, though not the first one I began. Fulfillment of my writing dreams gave me a feeling of validation as a person, something I could stand on. I am very sure God knew I would need that a few years down the road.
Less than a month after celebrating our fiftieth anniversary my husband suffered a massive stroke. He never regained use of the left side of his body and his condition steadily deteriorated over the next three years. The toll on my own health and mental state was heavy as I watched the strong young man I married become a shadow of himself until his final release.
I had managed to keep up some writing activities even while caring for my husband. But after his death it took about eight months before I could get my head back into writing seriously. An essay was accepted for a literary journal. I worked on another novel.
The first Christmas after my husband passed away I decided (a nudge from God? I think so.) to work on several short essays and pitch them to a local newspaper for a weekly column. A few days after I sent a dozen to the editor he emailed me to ask for a headshot to run with my column.
When the column first appeared in print I, trying for nonchalance, posted the news to my Facebook page. The paper has a website and my column is (edit: was) published on it as well, but I didn’t think to post the link. I signed off and took a shower. When I later signed back in to Facebook I was bowled over by the comments and congratulations from family and friends. A cousin had looked for the website and not found it. My sister-in-law found it and put it up for them. I am so grateful for the family God gave me and their unfailing support. Never once have any of them even hinted that I have some nerve calling myself a writer. That, too, I consider part of God’s gift in fulfilling my writing dreams.
(edit/update) The Writers Symposium I mention was quite successful and was an annual event for nine years, tho after the 4th or 5th, I resigned from the Planning Committee because it was going well and I tired of the long drive. This current year the Lost State Writers Guild, my local group, sponsored a one-day writing workshop (another long-held dream of mine) and many attendees requested that another be held next year.) 

Friday, October 11, 2019

More Than One Dream - Part 2

The acceptance of my story encouraged me to keep trying. I wrote essays and stories, submitted them, read books about writing. and attended my first writing conference. That conference helped me begin to think of myself as a writer, which even that first publication didn’t do.
I had bought my first personal computer when my company gave employees the opportunity. I was sure it would make writing easier and it did. I upgraded to a better computer and then the Internet opened up the cornucopia of instant knowledge and communication. Internet magazines, ezines, sprouted. A few accepted my stories, and then another print magazine accepted one.
I wanted very much to be among other ‘real’ writers, even though I still didn’t feel comfortable calling myself a writer. But something – God? – kept pushing me until I found a group and found the courage to go to a meeting. At first I didn’t tell them about my writing acceptances, the magazines were not mass circulation, who would care? Finally I did tell them and was amazed that they were impressed.
I learned of another larger writing group and joined it. The leader of the group and a few members had published books. I loved being associated with them and they actually accepted me as a writer. Several of us attended a writing conference out-of-state and the workshops galvanized me.
The first novel I had begun years before languished in a file folder. I began thinking of writing a book about my family, a memoir. But if I did how would I get it printed? Most vanity/self-publishing companies were very expensive. Eventually through the Internet I found a new self-publishing website that would format and publish one’s book and charged no upfront fees. Authors could buy as many or few of their books as they could afford instead of thousands.
Does the fulfillment of a dream always feel like you’re still dreaming? Did Joseph feel like that when he was finally released from his prison dungeon and made second in command under Pharaoh? Even when I held the first copy of Eight Miles of Muddy Road in my hand it felt as unreal as that first magazine publication. Later I found another company where my computer skills enabled me to have my books printed even more economically and have published two more.
(update)As of last count, 12 paperbacks and ebooks. Several more in pipeline.)


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

More Than One Dream - part 1

This post is the first part of a longer piece I wrote about my life and dreams. It was too long for one of my newspaper columns and I chose not to publish it in three parts at that time. I'm going to do so today and Friday this week and the last part next Tuesday. Just in case someone's interest is strong enough to want to read all of it! Most of the events in it have appeared in one form or another in my memoir, Eight Miles of Muddy Road or in other columns and posts.
* * *
    I always knew God gives dreams. The Bible is full of examples. In the Old Testament there is Abraham, told in a dream to leave his home country; his son, Joseph, dreaming his brothers would bow down to him; and the dream God gave Pharaoh and Joseph’s fellow prisoners. Jacob, who dreamed of a ladder to heaven. In the New Testament as well we find Joseph, Mary’s husband and his dream of an angel telling him to take his family to Egypt and then again when they could return.

     Are dreams from God today? If He gives us dreams while we sleep, are the dreams and longings in our hearts when we’re awake also from Him, too? I think the answer to both is – yes. Not all, of course. Sometimes it might be the cheese and pepperoni on the pizza we ate late in the evening. If we’re granted one dream, is that it? Or will God bless us with others? In my own life the answer to that question is also ‘yes.’
     A mother, grandmother and great grandmother now and can look back at a life filled with dream fulfillments, even though at the time I might not have fully realized it. We humans are so prone to attribute the realization of our deeply held desires as due to good luck, hard work, or just the way things worked out.
     I grew up dirt poor in rural Georgia. That I would ever fly in one of the airplanes I saw high above the cotton field was not a possibility even in my constant daydreams. But fifty years later my younger sister and I flew across the ocean as part of a group which toured Israel and also spent two nights in Rome, Italy. Forced early retirement from the job God provided twenty years earlier and a generous severance pay package made the dream trip possible.
     I dreamed that I’d grow up, strike out on my own, marry, become a mother. Time passed, I met a young man from Tennessee, we married, and God blessed us with a beautiful daughter. Amid the ups and downs of marriage, family, and job I always knew God was the Giver of answers to my dreams. But I didn’t consciously turn my dreams over to Him. And I had several that I never, ever mentioned to anybody.
     My older sister had dropped out of school and worked to help provide for our family of ten. I longed for college after high school graduation, but instead I found a job and also contributed to the family. Many years later came an opportunity for college, though I finished the last class needed for my degree after retirement.
     My husband loved to tell of my reaction when he told friends I’d earned my college ‘diploma.’
     I’d quickly correct him. “It’s a college degree.” God is indeed the fulfiller of dreams, but not necessarily on our timetable.
     I learned to read when I started school at five years old and immediately fell in love with books. That love only grew stronger as I grew up. Sometimes a fleeting thought that I might write something myself that would be published crept into my mind. No, too far-fetched. What did I have to say that anyone would want to publish? Or read.
     Over the years the thoughts of writing didn’t go away and I finally bought a used Underwood typewriter. I sent out a few things. Which were rejected. I worked on a novel, still unfinished.
     Sometime before my trip to Israel I had submitted a story to a small magazine. When we returned to the States we landed in Atlanta and I called my husband in Tennessee.
     We chatted a few minutes and then he told me, “A woman called, an editor. Something about wanting to publish your story.”
     It didn’t actually seem real to me until a couple of months later I held the magazine in my hand, my name and story title listed in the table of contents.

(next-part 2)