Tony’s Writing Tips: Remember every scar

 

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” – Stephen King.

 

I was e-mailing an Antipodean writing friend the other day. I’d sent her the first page of my WIP and explaining a little where it came from, when that quote from Stephen King popped into my head.

A little backstory: The first page of my WIP has a character shoot someone. It’s a kicker of an opening, but what I was telling my friend was where it came from. I’ve never shot anyone in my life (You’ll be delighted to know), never even held a gun, loaded or otherwise. Air pistol and air rifle – shot at a few empty cans – but never a gun.

The shooting isn’t the important part, and not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the person who did the shooting, which will – trust me on this – get me back to the quote at the top.

I have a not-seen-in-years cousin in the police. More years ago than I can date, he told me (or my dad while I was listening) that he’d had someone point a gun at him. At the time, he was as professional and calm as his training taught him. But he said after the incident, he was still shaking hours later.

So my character shoots someone, calmly and professionally, as they were taught. Then they realise what they’ve just done and the effects hit them.

Which brings me to my point (told ya!) and the quote above: Writers never forget anything.

We can, indeed, point to every scar and tell you its story. In detail.

Everything we’ve ever seen will probably end up in one of our stories somewhere; from the shop assistant who compulsively stretches her sweater cuff over her wrist (Eight Mile Island) from someone who loves rainstorms (Over the Mountain). Everything gets stored and sifted in a writers head and pulled out when we need it.

I’m very lucky in the regard that I have a pretty good memory. I do remember the most obscure occurrences years later – even if I can’t accurately date them. It’s not so useful for real life – I can’t remember how to fold bath towels for instance, which drives my wife mad every week.

But if you don’t recall things as well, then write it down. Or sketch it. Or scribble yourself a note when you come across something. Do whatever works so you remember it.

You never know when it’s going to be useful.

 

Monkeying Around…

The lovely Story Reading Ape let me swing by and post on his blog today, why not drop in yourself to find out some more about the characters and inspiration behind my books in The Ambrosia Sequence?

http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2014/02/09/guest-author-melanie-cusick-jones-discusses-the-hopes-daughter-series/

Best of all, take a look around his blog while you’re there for lots of great tips, features and guests, on all things reading and writing. (Oh, and for the Monday Funnies too! 🙂

Tony’s Thoughts: My writing playlist…and why

Playing music when I write doesn’t always work for me. My home and my “office” are pretty quiet most of the time, apart from – to quote Belinda Carlisle – the sound of kids on the street outside.

So when I listen to music when I write, it isn’t necessarily because it’s something I want to hear anywhere else. It’s more like it’s another barrier between me and the outside world, another way of getting through the hole in the page where I write without distraction. Earphones and an MP3 player are essential…I don’t want anything to distract me once I’m in there, don’t want to pop back out of the document I’m working on and fiddle with my computer’s media player.

In a way, I can listen to anything…because there comes a point when I’m listening to it and not consciously hearing it; tracks will zip by on my MP3 and I won’t even notice when one starts and one ends until the end of the playlist.

Having said that, if I stick on Beethoven’s Ninth symphony and I’m still writing at the end of it, that’s a solid piece of work; that sucker’s 78 minutes long. I sometimes air compose towards the end, something I always do when I come across The William Tell Overture. It’s too catchy not to. (Trivia of the day: A recording of Beethoven’s Ninth was chosen as the run length of a CD).

Anyway, I have things on my MP3 I never listen to other than when I’m writing. Ten symphonies by Joseph Haydn, and one by his son Michael. Four Beethoven symphonies and 1st and 2nd piano concertos, tons of Mozart. I’ve been getting into some Salieri as well.

I tend to prefer longer pieces of classical when I’m writing, but I have some soft rock on there as well – some Belinda Carlisle (My wife pointed me towards The Go-Gos, and I’ve been having a blast with them), some Bryan Adams. A whole playlist of “Late 20th Century”, 80s and 90s stuff. A long list of 50s and 60s, and The Beatles.

I think the thing for my MP3 is familiarity. I’m listening while I write because the music is familiar to me and I don’t have to focus on it. I’ve heard it a thousand times before, so it doesn’t have any surprises. There’s stuff on there I listen to when I’m not writing, but most of it…most of it is the equivalent of white noise.

And sometimes I even have to turn that off because it’s simply too distracting, and sometimes it’s too easy to get distracted rather than writing – I spent a good few hours on Saturday playing with my playlists rather than writing, for instance. I wrote my last three books without a soundtrack, but I did stick it on when I went back to editing. Book Five feels like a soundtrack novel, and so far it is. It’s early days yet.

I know some people do it for the rhythms, assigning a piece of music to each character, and that sounds like fun and something I wish I could do. You’re a better multitasker than I am if you can focus that well. For me, it’s another wall between the world and the page, and sometimes you need all the walls between you and the world outside, so you can get into the rabbit hole and fall forever.

Tony’s Thinking…Might as well face it, you’re addicted to writing

Today I was waiting for a very slow (It was still going 8 hours after I started it…) progress bar to finish. I’m used to this; working in computers is often a slow and patient business, and luckily I’m a slow and patient guy, or I wouldn’t be in the job I’m in.

Anyway, while I waited, I thought I’d write something off the top of my head, just to pass the time. Came out with a pretty good 1100 word story which I might publish somewhere.

The subject of the story is a bored housewife who takes up writing to pass the time, and on a whim sends her novel away to an agent. I won’t tell you the ending, but it got me thinking:

Is writing addictive? Is there a compulsion to write? I was twiddling my thumbs, and the first thing I thought of was: I’ll write something.

I’d just finished a seven month project to write a 35k novel (Update: That turned into Eight Mile Island), and here I was again: writing.

Here am I writing about writing, for heavens sake.

At least if I’m addicted – or obsessed – it’s quite a benign addiction; can’t see myself knocking over a fast food restaurant so I can find the money for more pens, for instance. But I would like to have some sort of life apart from hitting keys all day!

It’s fun ‘teaching’ it to people, and seeing their work and sharing it, but isn’t that just feeding my addiction?

I know I should be out there doing other things. I think there’s something called…ummm…’Fresh Air’, is it? I’d like to try that one day, just to see what it’s like. I think it comes with a side dish of ‘Exercise’, which sounds awfully strenous.

There are benefits to this addiction as well, I know. There aren’t many addictions where you earn money rather than spend it, and the more time you spend on your addiction, the more it earns you.

I’d love to earn enough to pay my mortgage, even if that wasn’t enough to take up writing full time (At the minute, I’m working on buying a new fridge!), but I can’t really imagine myself writing full time…what would that be like? How strict would you have to be with yourself to think of what you do as ‘your job: writer’, and not goof around on the internet all day. (Speaking of which, how are my sales doing on Amazon…).

So, in conclusion: Am I addicted to writing? Is there a cure? Would I want to take it if there was?

Now I have another story idea…an injection that stops creativity…

See what I mean?

Guest Post…Why I Wrote a Memoir

Our guest post today comes from author Laura Dennis – her second feature with us this weekend following yesterday’s Indie Author Spotlight ! Let’s find out more about her and her book Adopted Reality

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Why did I write a memoir? The simple answer is this: My story had to be told. It had to get out of my head.

ADOPTED REALITY is a September 11 memoir unlike any you’ve read. It’s a thrilling, psychological adventure that follows the ups and downs of bipolar, and examines relationships biological and adopted. The book follows my journey to understand myself, to learn to exist between the highs and lows, and ultimately to discover my own ADOPTED REALITY.

Before I could write, there were two issues in the way: Secrets and Time

A few years after my 2001 bipolar breakdown, I worked as a sales person for a successful medical device company. It was a fast-paced, stressful job that required high performance. I didn’t tell anyone about my bout with mental illness because I didn’t want people questioning my ability to handle responsibility.

But bipolar tendencies weren’t the only issue in play. As an infant, I had been given up for adoption. In the State of New Jersey in the late 1970s, adoptions were closed, records were sealed. Birth moms were told to hide their pregnancies and after relinquishment, to get on with their lives, and to forget about the baby.

When I did reunite with my birth mother and her family in 2001, I still didn’t feel 100% accepted in my biological family. In fact, my biological father wanted nothing to do with me. It took ten years for me to feel comfortable revealing these very personal details. Still now, I worry what people think when they read the book, specifically family members biological and adopted.

It wasn’t just the ten years I needed; I literally needed time to write. My daughter was born in 2008 when I was still working in sales, travelling 50% of the time (and even taking my daughter with me!). As the economy headed into a recession the following year, I stopped working and soon found out I was pregnant with my son.

In 2010, with a toddler and a baby in tow, my husband and I escaped to his hometown, Belgrade, where I actually found some time to write. While my children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool for a few hours each day, my memoir came pouring out.

 

Why not just fictionalize the story?

If I wrote a novel based on this particular story, it would lose its impact. A good part of the memoir deals with a bipolar episode I had in which I manically believed I was a spy for the Illuminati who was responsible for the attacks on September 11. In this psychotic state, as my mind rapidly deteriorated, I believed I had flown a plane into the North Tower and somehow survived.

I have a very vivid memory of these delusions, and writing a novel about it would have turned the delusion into just another spy story. On the other hand, ADOPTED REALITY sheds light into a psychological effect of trauma. Specifically, I was so grieved over the loss of my uncle on 9/11, my mind tricked itself into believing I was at fault.

The other element was my adoption. Writing about how I felt growing up, knowing I was adopted, trying to be perfect, these were life experiences whose impact is all the more relevant when coming from a place of truth. For example, the day I met the brother of my birth mom, this burly, quiet man pulled me aside and said, “I want you to know. You were always part of our family; we were always thinking about you. You were always my niece. We just didn’t know you, that’s all.”

This small, seemingly insignificant detail takes on a deeper meaning when the reader knows the conversation really happened. This is the power of memoir. In sharing the stories of our own lives, readers can connect to us and find shared experiences, feelings, and hopefully, new insights.

People have contacted me to say they struggled with mental illness, or that they experienced the happiness and sorrow in adoption—personally or indirectly, through a family member or friend. Even if readers don’t agree with everything I say, or everything I did, it’s amazing to see how a memoir can touch others’ lives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, too!

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Want to know more? Check out the links! 

ADOPTED REALITY is available on Amazon.com and Smashwords.com.

Like Adopted Reality on Facebook

Visit my website at AdoptedRealityMemoir.com

Tweet on Twitter! @adoptedreality

Or just send me a plain-old email!

laura@adoptedrealitymemoir.com

Tony’s Thinking…On Losing a Story

A few months ago, I’d just finished writing another novel, and was wondering (maybe dreaming would be a better word) what would happen if I was suddenly granted my wish…to be a full time writer and at that a famous full time writer. Kind of suddenly discovered like JK Rowling, people everywhere reading one of my books.

What would my life be like? Imagine that…never having to leave for work in the morning and never having to drive through snow or rain or rush hour traffic. To sit at my desk all day and (to quote Steven Spielberg) ‘to dream for a living’.

But it wouldn’t be all regular royalty cheques and a quiet home. I know I’d get easily distracted, sitting there in an empty house. I’d be forever checking my Goodreads reviews, my Facebook friends. There would be constant pressure to Tweet my every move. Not to mention the endless meetings and flying to Hollywood to meet with Mr Spielberg for the movie deal, and the endless parties and other things I’m sure I’d hate. Would be tough, I’m sure, having to fly to the Caribbean and lie on a beach.

I digress into my fantasy there, but thinking about how my life would change set me thinking about a story, as such things do. I imagined a housewife, bored with her life. She has everything she ever wanted: beautiful home, devoted husband and adorable kids. But still she’s bored. She’s always defined by how other people see how she relates to her family. She’s always a wife, or a mother…never just her.
Finally, she starts writing one day, just to slay the boredom and the incipient feeling that life has more to offer her. She writes, and she writes, telling no one – this is something just for her. Eventually she writes a novel and sends it to an agent, and they accept it, but still she tells no one what she’s doing.

Which is where the story starts: she’s sitting at her kitchen table, looking at an advance from an agent and a publication deal that would free her from her domestic life forever. All she has to do is cash the cheque and make it to the airport, and her life is her own. The story is about how trapped she feels, and whether she’d be more free if she was suddenly flung into the spotlight.

I loved that story. I really felt for that woman and what she was going through. It might have been realistic if she just told her family what she was doing when they came home, but I wasn’t interested in that; I wanted to go through what she was going through.

But here’s the really terrible thing: I lost that story.
I thought I had it saved on at least ONE of the computers I use, or the memory sticks that hold my work, but I can’t find it. I must have saved it somewhere because (being the tech guy I am) I always hit save before I print. And I printed two copies: one for me and one for a writing friend.
I can’t find my printed copy, and I NEVER throw my work away. I have hopes my writing friend can find it and I can re-type it. I’ve even tried a file recovery…but nothing.

Why not recreate it? You might ask. That’s a hard one to explain…stories are ephemeral, flighty things, gone with a breeze. If I re-write it, it won’t be the same story. I know I won’t be able to recreate the same…intimacy…with the woman in the story, I won’t get into her head the way I did when I wrote it on a whim. I won’t know who she is as well as I did before.

I’ve never lost a story before, and it’s gone as though it never existed. And I feel bereft. I’ve lost a story and it feels like I lost a friend as well, and they’re such hard things to grasp at the best of times. I know all the arguments: hit save, hit save, then hit save again. I did. I do.
But this time it wasn’t enough. Farewell, lonely housewife.

I’ll miss you.

(Stop Press 18th June 2012: My writing friend found my story! Thanks Portia! You can read it here)

Guest Post…An 18-Year Quest

The fire that ignited the fuel of my 18 year quest…

A recent reviewer for The Bridge of Deaths wrote, “Would you spend 18 years researching anything?”  I smiled and my first thought was, these are the words of someone young. They were indeed the words of a woman in her early 20s. Time is a matter of perspective and at 52 18 years does not seem like a very long time to work on fulfilling a dream or reaching for something as important as the image and love of a grandparent.

In many of my earliest memories as a little girl are thoughts and desires to sit on a grandfather’s lap and to get to know a person that inexplicably I loved and missed. He died 20 years before I was born, and not all the stories about him painted the image of a perfect wonderful man, but I felt an amazing affinity to my mom’s dad.

Do you know the scene in the movie The Parent Trap when the twin who has never met her grandfather gives him a big bear hug and tells him she is creating a memory with the smell of pipe tobacco and peppermint? Well it was that kind of fire that ignited the fuel of my 18 year quest, a fire of longing and loving for a grandfather.

That type of fire I refer to is motivated by two very strong forces all of us possess; love and curiosity.  These two strong elements combined with determination are bound to get anyone to the finish line. There were understandably some big hurdles and roadblocks and I am not shy to admit that amongst them one of the biggest was my absolutely limited knowledge in HISTORY and especially history of the era I had to work with.

This particular hurdle had a solution that can be useful to many with problems for variety of career goals. The solution was simply this, a willingness to learn, work hard and well yes, one could call it study. In my case it was the self-imposed story of historical data. Some of you may have goals where there might be a class you can take or a workshop, it can be training physically or making lifestyle changes.  I can tell you this from my personal experience, if something is important enough to you give yourself the gift of setting the goal and reaching it.

May all the Bridges you cross lead to happiness and great success!

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About today’s guest: M.C.V. Egan is fluent in four languages, Spanish, English, French and Swedish. She lives in Delray Beach, Florida with her husband and teenage son. Author of The Bridge of Deaths, you can find out more about her work on the links below:

http://www.thebridgeofdeaths.com

twitter: M_C_V_EGAN