Write with the Monitor Off

blank monitor screenGary, one of the members in my Dublin writing class also is taking an on-line course with Jessica Barksdale, who was one of my instructors when I started writing years ago. I continue to go on her retreats in summer and she is still an inspiration. Jessica’s assignment that Gary shared with me was to turn off the monitor and type. Gary followed directions and ended up with an eight hundred-word story, endearing main character, a poignant arc, and minimal rewriting needed.

The inner editor doesn’t have a chance to interfere. Gary said he did worry whether he had his fingers on the right keys, but he kept on going. It’s worth the time to do the exercise. What is produced can be a success.

Let me know if you try it.

Writer Interview with Sharon Lee

Old fashion ice boxSharon Lee has a short short story and a memoir essay in my anthology, Written Across the Genres.

The short short is called “Coming Home” and is filled with sensory details of a cold winter day. The memoir essay, “Hide and Seek”, is about helping her five year old brother hide in an ice box and her struggle to get him out when he cried that he couldn’t breathe.

Here is an interview with Sharon:

Julaina: How did you get the idea for your story?

Sharon: As an adult, I have come to realize the close call to loosing my brother when we hid in an icebox.

Julaina: What is a writing day like for you?

Sharon: Early morning is when my best ideas flow. It’s easy to completely lose track of time and write for three to four hours without noticing.

Julaina: What do you enjoy about writing?

Sharon: Writing for me unleashes all kinds of stuff and I find it stimulating, healing, and very fulfilling.

Julaina: What is the difficult part of writing for you?

Sharon: Sometimes the right words elude me, so I go on and come back to it later. Then the words untangle and my thoughts flow freely again.

Julaina: What are you working on now?

Sharon: My plans are to complete my first novel by January 2015.

Julaina: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Sharon: Follow your passion, write every day, and never give up.

Julaina: Thanks, Sharon. I’m looking forward to your novel and more short stories.

The Rhetorical Device Ekphrasis

Dog with rhetorical deviceEkphrasis is a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relates more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness. Any of the visual arts can be used to highlight the vividness of what is happening, or what is described in a poem or descriptive prose. The visual arts then may enhance the original art and so take on a life of its own through its brilliant description.

For example a painting of a sculpture: the painting is “telling the story of” the sculpture and so becomes a storyteller as well as a story itself. It is the spirit of the story or poem that is retold with another medium in an authentic way and the original is impacted through synergy. (Information from Wikipedia.org./wiki/Ekphrasis.)

The Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club has a Winterfest every two years where members send in photography, painting, sculpture, quilting, or whatever the member creates. A few assigned members choose one piece of art from each member to put on the Tri-Valley website and the other members write a poem, essay, or short story for any piece of art they choose. The written works are put up on the site with the piece of art for display to all the club members.

I entered photographs I had taken of the inside of several tulips from a friend’s garden. Notice tulips from their insides and see how different each one looks. I’m curious which of my photos will be chosen and what a member will write about it. The visual,the tulip, will be impacted by the writing.painting on body

Women's National Book Association Event

Lori Noack Afghan writing projectNovember 1st at the Temescal Branch Library in Oakland, Lori Noack will discuss how the Afghan Women’s Writing Project provides a platform for Afghan women to share the stories of their lives. She is the Executive Director, Marketing and Development, and brings to the Afghan Women’s Writing Project several years of writing, editing, arts management, and nonprofit leadership experience as executive director of the Sunriver Music Festival (Oregon) and Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), editor of the Sunriver Scene; founder of Lori Noack Arts Management and of the Written Word. In 2009, she earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of San Francisco.

*The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was founded in 2009 in defense of the human right to voice one’s story. Online writing workshops partner international writers, educators, and journalists with English-speaking women in six Afghan provinces. Poems and essays are published each week at awwproject.org.

*Founder of AWWP Masha Hamilton was the winner of the 2010 Women’s National Book Association Award! “Her activism reveals the depth of Masha’s commitment to the world of literacy and books beyond her own career. She is a sterling example of what the WNBA Award truly intends to honor—meritorious work in the world of books beyond her profession,” states Valerie Tomaselli, WNBA New York Chapter President.

California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch Members' Books in Library

CWC members books whole windowCalifornia Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch members’ books are displayed this month at the Pleasanton Library. My anthology, Written Across the Genres, is on the top shelf to the left.

I’m working on having a copy for check out in as many libraries as possible but it is a long process. So far, Written Across the Genres is available for check out and is in the permanent archives at the Boston, MA, library.

I’m waiting to hear back from the Foster City Library and the Oakland District Libraries for inclusion. As a member of Women’s National Book Association, I want Written Across the Genres to be available to people who can’t afford to buy it.  I’m happy that those of you who have stories, essays, novel excerpts, and poems in the anthology will be widely read.Tri Valley books close up

Billy Bob Thornton on Master Class

Billy Bob ThortonIf you have a chance to see Oprah’s Master Class with Billy Bob Thornton, I highly recommend it.

He talks about growing up with two brothers, working in a pizza place, living on pizza everyday with a treat of one doughnut on Fridays, and how he became an instant star in the movie Sling Blade. Best of all, I liked what he said about his grief after his younger brother died.

I enjoyed his performance in The Judge as Dwight Dickham, the prosecuting attorney. I didn’t recognize him in the movie at first. Since Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are the top stars and were outstanding, not much is said about Billy Bob Thornton. As a supporting actor, I thought he was great.

Has anyone seen The Judge or Thornton on Oprah’s Master Class? What are your opinions?

The Judge Movie

The movie The JudgeThe Judge is on its way out of the movie theaters but it’s worth a comment or two. Robert Downey, Jr., as usual, is a study for facial expressions. In each scene, he goes through several emotions, anger, determination, frustration, surprise, and more. If the sound track was turned off, the viewer could figure out the script by watching Downey, Jr.’s face and actions.

Robert Duvall at eighty-three years old, plays Downey Jr.’s father with his usual transformational style in which he totally inhabits the character of the aging judge. The on-going conflicts between the two are intense and believable.

As writers, a good exercise would be to watch the movie if you haven’t already and then watch it a second time with paper, pencil, and the remote. Stop the movie when Downey, Jr. or Duvall have a moment when their expressions tell all. Jot down how their faces look and what their mannerisms show without speaking.

When a work in progress slows way, way down as mine did today while I tried several ways to express Jill’s actions, expressions and thoughts, a notebook of descriptions after watching The Judge would be helpful. In my novel, Norman remembers an agonizing fight with Arctarius, Jill  empathetically feels his pain, and all I could do was type and delete, type and delete. Maybe my muse learned something from the movie tonight and will help me out with the same page tomorrow. Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr.

Ann Patchett and Her Dog Sparky

Ann Patchett with SparkyAnn Patchett is the author of six novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and State of Wonder. I’ve read each one. She’s one of my favorite authors. I met her in Danville at a reading event for her collection of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Today I heard her interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Ann talked about her dog, Sparky, who works at her bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville, Tennessee. Sparky greets customers with a big tail wag and drops to the floor to show his spotted tummy.  He sits on laps, plays with the children, and helps create a positive association with reading and with dogs. Sparky isn’t the only store dog. Ann’s co-owner, Karen Hayes, brings Lexington to help at the store too. Sparky and Lexington

When asked what her work day is like, Patchett said she takes Sparky out for a walk, makes breakfast for her husband and Sparky, and starts to write at around 8:30. Non-fiction is easier for her to write than fiction. When she wrote Bel Canto, she played an aria that the character, Roxanne Coss, sang in a particular scene, otherwise, she doesn’t like to listen to music when she writes or reads.

Ann edited Best American Short Stories 2006. She says “A short story captures the very specific moment in time when things turn. In a novel, that could be many years. In a story, it pulls those years into a single instance.” In 2012, Ann was named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people in the world.

Ann Patchett in winterAnn Patchett's Sparky sitting in bookstoreAnn Patchett's Sparky

Here is a link to Ann Patchett on the Colbert Report. Worth watching since she has him speechless. thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/tqad40/annpatchett

Subtext in Writing Fiction

subtextSubtext in dialogue give readers a glimpse into the characters’ underlying feelings. The words they say may mean the opposite of how they feel or how they act. Subtext is the truth which sometimes the characters don’t realize and sometimes they do but they keep it hidden. Readers need to sense the truth from the subtext. If writers tell all in dialogue, with one character complaining enough to reveal everything she or he fears or plans, there’s no secret for the reader to discover later. Real life people hide their flaws and fears and so do characters.

Through subtext writers give hints to the reader that adds to the enjoyment of the story. We want the reader to wonder what is going on underneath the characters’  words and actions, to sense something isn’t right, to suspect he or she means the opposite. However, the readers need to trust that whatever it is will be revealed later while they have fun guessing along the way. It’s the writer’s job to use subtext without frustrating the reader and to follow through with the thread of the underlying meaning. Subtext can be shown with body language, gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, actions and reactions. Metaphors can contribute to subtext. Readers often understand the subtext unfolding since they can relate to the character’s feelings. Real life experiences broaden the ability to read between the lines.

Have you used subtext in your work in progress? Or, have you recognized it in the story you’re reading or the movie you watched?

Ursula K. Le Guin Book Recommendation and Quote

Ursula K. Le GuinUrsula K. Le Guin’s birthday was on October 21st. She’s eighty-five years old. She writes mainly in the fantasy and science fiction genres. Her book titled The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination has her 1992 essay “Dogs, Cats, and Dancers: Thoughts about Beauty” in it. Since I like all three, dogs, cats, and dancers, it’s a hook for me.

She said, “A child’s body is very easy to live in. An adult body isn’t. The change is hard. And it’s such a tremendous change that it’s no wonder a lot of adolescents don’t know who they are. They look in the mirror — that is me? Who’s me? And then it happens again, when you’re sixty or seventy.”

I like this quote by Le Guin: “My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world, and exiles me from it.”

Do you have a favorite Le Guin book or quote?