Writing Comments

From the Valley of Blue Tarps – Sandy’s Mark

As I prepped for NaNoWriMo another event would significantly affect my life and leave an indelible mark.
Blue Tarp village
On Monday October 29th hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey coast and moved inland leaving behind a trail of devastation. That evening I parked myself in front of the TV to watch the news as long as I could. Somewhere after 7pm the power finally went out for good after flickering a few times. It would not return again for 5 days.

That night I barely slept. As Sandy pounded all night like a determined boxer, I kept reminding myself that our brick house had been standing for over 100 years and would continue to do so long after this storm passed.

The next morning I woke to the most eerie silence I had ever heard in our neighborhood. For being on the main street, there were no cars, no traffic of any kind. No one was out, most had bugged out the day before. I surveyed the property and found some damage to the slate tile roof but not significant. The huge tree in the front yard lost several big branches, but the tree was still standing. A few drain spouts were down but easily repaired. And there were leaves everywhere, especially in the pool. The damage wasn’t major but I was still stuck without power for days.

For the rest of the week I slept in a house with no lights (just flashlights & candles), no heat (just layers of clothes and blankets) and no hot water (thankfully there were showers at work). I had a gas stove so I could cook food and I tried not to open the refrigerator. I charged my cell phone, laptop and other electronics at work.

Then came the strange part. As I tried to put my life back together, make repairs to the house & property and stay in touch with family & friends, I realized that out of everyone I knew, I was the only one still without power. My friends and family had moved on with their lives but I was still “living with Sandy” and her aftermath.

Even at the end of the week when the power was finally restored, it still seemed as though I was living in a different “reality” from those that had not been effected by Sandy. One friend even planned a “we survived Sandy” party which I obviously declined to attend and they eventually canceled. Many of my normal routines were disrupted and it took a while for me to find a new rhythm.

As the weeks passed andhelp-sandy-victims I began to form new routines, I still felt a sense of loss. The experience had changed almost every aspect of my life and I somehow felt like a different person. Even though I had not suffered anywhere near the level of loss as those on the Jersey coast, I still felt changed.

For weeks after Sandy I continued to drive to work and see the countless blue tarps covering the damaged rooftops in my neighborhood and surrounding areas. It was somehow comforting to see the blue tarps and know that I was not the only one effected. I was not alone in the valley of blue tarps.

But I would be okay.

Needless to say that without power for the better part of a week my hopes of competing in NaNoWriMo this year were taking a back seat to real life. I made some attempt to write after the power came back but my heart wasn’t into it.  I fell so far behind that I never really had a chance to reach the 50,000 goal. In hindsight it was a bit of foreshadowing of what was to come for the “Tin Man” project.

Whether you were or were not impacted by hurricane Sandy, please say a little prayer for those that were effected. And if your wallet can spare to send a few dollars toward relief efforts, please do.  You have our sincerest thanks for anything you can do.


NaNoWriMo Approaching – Planning Ahead

Plan AheadOnce again this year I intend to participate in the NaNoWriMo writing contest. I learned so much from last year’s event and the year since, resulting in my “Tin Man” story. I have expanded the original story idea into a possible trilogy and plan to write the 2nd installment during 2012 NaNoWriMo. However I am not leaving anything to chance.

Last year I outlined my initial concept for “Tin Man” just before writing it during 2011 NaNoWriMo. I felt a little guilty about going into the contest with a “head start”. But later I learned that it was actually a smart move. Instead of plodding around haphazardly for 30 days, counting words toward the 50,000 goal, I was instead moving in a specific direction to a tangible goal. It helped me tremendously.

Others had the same idea and planned ahead too. But some did not and relied on “seat of your pants” writing and inspiration to direct their story. About that … yeah. Not so smart. While some folks seemed to have a talent for storytelling and were able to pound out scene after scene, others were meandering all over the place with no real sense of direction.

One WriMo I spoke to during a Write-In last year admitted that while he was far ahead of us in word count, he knew that afterwards he would be dumping @ 60-80% of his writing efforts during the first edit and that his final draft would probably not look anything like his NaNoWriMo end product. That’s a lot of words being sacrificed to the delete button!

His point was that the NaNoWriMo process was a means to an end, helping him to flesh out an idea and learn what works and what doesn’t. If he could come away from the whole experience with a small kernel that would eventually become a great story, then the exercise and the sacrifice was well worth it.

I hope so.

That’s a huge investment of time and typing. And to me my free time has value and I don’t like wasting it. So I intend to thoroughly outline my “Tin Man 2” story before November 1st comes around, so I can spend the month in a worthwhile endeavor. Hopefully by the time December 1st rolls around I’ll have a nice rough draft to work with.


Tin Man excerpt – Part 1: The night before

Waving an empty glass and with a smile a big as Montana, Isaak Manzur tried to get the attention of the lovely young waitress with the long hair. Finally a large grey bearded older man stepped up to the bar and took Isaak’s glass, refilling it.

“Don’t forget to settle up your tab while you’re here. It’s getting up there and you know my policy about carrying a debt past the end of the month.”

Isaak’s smile disappeared but he nodded politely at the bartender and owner of the establishment. “Sure thing Evert. I’ll take care of it tonight. Say…” he paused to look around for the object of his interest, “who’s the new girl?”

Evert ignored the man’s query and instead dropped a napkin in front of him with a 3 digit number written on it. Isaak’s eyes went wide and he decided that he wasn’t quite drunk enough to dish out that much cash.

As the night dragged on, the beers and whiskey began to loosen the tongue on the long haired, mid-aged man. On cue Isaak lit another cigarette and started talking to anyone else sitting at the bar about his conspiracy theories. The regulars at the dusty out of the way bar and grill, largely ignore him. Even Evert has heard Isaak’s banter numerous times before. But to the new folks, especially one young and well endowed waitress, it was all news.

From the other side of the bar Atiana tried to focus on her tables and the numerous drink orders, but Isaak’s words captivated her. For the young people that were spared the war service, they were eager to hear all about it. She was part of the first generation that had to learn abtavernout the war second hand, from the veterans, unlike all those that came before her.

“They have all kinds of new technology now, left over from the war, and they are itching to use it here on our home soil.” Isaak rambled on. “They monitor everything from your personal e-mail, telecom communications, bank accounts…”

“They can do that?” She finally blurted out, unable to contain her curiosity any more. “Isn’t that illegal?”

Isaak smiled and tried to hold in a burp. “Yeup and nope. They’re the government. They don’t need our permission to spy on us.”

“But the war is over and Marshall Law was lifted more than a year ago. Congress would need to pass a law to give the government that ability.” Atiana rambled on.

The conspiracy theorist was surprised by the young woman’s knowledge. Wow, boobs and brains! “Yeah, well if they were following the rules they would. But they don’t need permission from Congress when they still have their secret weapon.”

A few groans were heard echoing through the bar and Evert rolled his eyes anticipating the next topic.

“What secret weapon?” The naive waitress replied, ignoring the groans around her.


Book: Manuscrito encontrado em Accra

Manuscrito Encontrado em Accra     (Manuscript Found in Accra)

by Paulo Coelho

To be Published in November 2012

This “trailer” for his book was created by a friend of his. Very ingenious! Get a Portuguese/Spanish speaking friend to translate.


The music is fabulous! 🙂


When They Don’t Understand Why You Write

Do you ever get that cold feeling that people think your writing is a waste of time? Do your family & friends make snide comments about you being the next Stephen King? Do most people you know think that the only reason to write is so you can make money?

I share a home with my partner and a cat that thinks she is the queen of the universe. I also have a job that keeps me busy during the daytime hours. For the longest time I did most of my writing on weekends or in the late night hours when I could not sleep. In those alone hours when it was just me and the computer …  and occasionally, her royal fuzz ball … I could easily lose track of time pounding my ideas on the keyboard before sleep or something else took the thoughts away for the moment.

Then last year for NaNoWriMo I informed my partner and her worship (aka the cat) that I would be focusing a lot of my free time on this writing “contest” and would not be very available, so deal with it. I think I was a little more tactful than that but you get the overall idea. During the month of November, the laundry piled up, dinner consisted of take out or delivery, the carpet wasn’t vacuumed etc … and her highness had to rely on someone else to clean out her litter box. My partner tolerated the domestic disruption but I think it was only because I had promised it would last just one month.

Then December rolled around and I still had the writing bug. I may have hit the 50k mark but my “Tin Man” story was far from completed. I continued to work on it when I could steal away some time. Then the comments started up: I thought that contest was over? Are you still working on that thing? Is it done yet? Can you put it down long enough to get caught up on the housework? etc etc. Oooo yeah, the negativity was there in spades. And it wasn’t just my partner. Any one I had told about my little writing project was treating me like their crazy cousin.

Was I crazy?

It’s true I wasn’t going to get rich from my writing. I might not ever get published. And even if I did get published, who’s gonna read my stories? So was it really a waste of time?

These were tough questions. Over the last few days and weeks in 2011 I considered the reasons why I write and I asked myself if it was worth it. I found that the longer I went without writing, the more I craved it. The ideas and thoughts didn’t stop flowing. I ended up spending every waking hour thinking about my various stories and how to develop certain parts.

I could not stop writing. Not for anyone. I don’t really care about being published or not.

I write because something inside of me compels me to. I have stories inside of me that are anxious to get out. I can’t leave those voices alone in the silence.


Book: Fifty Shades of Grey

I thank the folks in my local LGBT group for introducing me to this trilogy about a love affair between a dominant man and vulnerable young woman, with lots of kinky sex throughout the book. It was a hot topic during one recent discussion on LGBT in media … more like a side conversation since it’s not an LGBT story (but it does have some BDSM). There were supporters of the book series and detractors and a lot of folks in between. The enthusiasm for the books inspired me to look into it more.

Wow! Having a #1 Best Seller as your FIRST NOVEL!

Before buying the Kindle edition of this book, I did some research on it. I was impressed. “Fifty Shades of Grey” was E L James‘ first published novel, and it hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. Wow! I bow my head in respect and hope the literary gods would similarly bless my writing efforts. I wanted to learn how she was able to accomplish this literary feat on her first try, so I could hopefully be equally blessed.

Like most of us, E L (Erika Leonard) put her writing dreams on hold for work and family. She is a former TV executive, wife and mother of two living in West London. “Fifty Shades of Grey” is her first published novel, but it started out as a piece of fan fiction. (Hmmm… sounds familiar. My SOW series started out as Star Trek fan fiction.)

From “Twilight” to Spotlight

Initially written as “Twilight” fan fiction in 2009, she was asked to remove her story from the fan websites because it was thought to be too erotic …. eh, really? (Such light-weights!) I have only started reading it but I would not exactly call it erotica. I think that’s more hype than anything. Unless “Twilight” fans are sexually immature & sheltered, but I have a hard time believing that.

After getting the cold shoulder from fan sites, she reworked the story, changed the character names and posted it to her own website. It became a viral hit using mostly word of mouth and social media for publicity. HAH! Take that nay-sayers!

In May 2011 she published “Fifty Shades of Grey” for the first time as an e-book thru a small publisher (The Writers’ Coffee Shop) based in Australia. The 2nd and 3rd books soon followed in e-books and print-on-demand: “Fifty Shades Darker” in September 2011 and “Fifty Shades Freed” in January 2012.

The titles hit #1, #2 and #3 respectively, on the New York Times bestseller list despite it being sold mostly as an e-book! In March 2012, Universal Pictures won a bidding war for the film rights, paying $5 million for the trilogy. And as interest in the USA markets began to increase, Vintage Books picked up the license for the books and re-released a revised edition in April 2012.

Don’t we all wish our first novels could be this well received?!

But is it really that great a book series?

Eh… it depends on what you want out of it. Naturally. Some of my friends who are strong supporters of the trilogy, came right out and admitted that it wasn’t great writing. Most of the interest generated was due to the numerous and kinky sex scenes, depictions of BDSM and other unusual sexual tendencies on the part of the main characters. If that is all you are interested in, then buy the books!

However if you are looking for a literary masterpiece, then hold on to your money.

Critics have a lot to say as usual. Besides complaining about the poor writing quality, calling it anything from juvenile to atrocious, they also called it highly repetitive, using the same phrases over an over again. There were others that criticized the use of British English terms, even though the main characters were supposedly American. Some even went so far as to criticize the writer, calling her a “sexually deprived middle-aged woman“. Ouch!

Okay. From what I have read so far of “Fifty Shades of Grey“, these are valid points… except the name calling (so unprofessional). But I too (at one point) suffered from a lack of an extensive vocabulary to draw upon when writing. And while I think that I’ve improved a lot in that area over the years, I’m still self conscious about repeating words or not knowing more than one way to say something. The Thesaurus has become my best friend.

So what was E L’s excuse? No Thesaurus in England? And if she didn’t know how to write in American English then just make the characters British. There. Problem solved. I don’t think all these complaints, legitimate as they are, are all that terrible. Unless you are an English teacher, I don’t see the sub-standard writing in this book as a big hurdle toward enjoying it’s overall story.

Is it really erotica?

The trilogy is being marketed as romance & erotica. Hmmm… I don’t think I would agree with that. To me, erotica is an artsy mature portrayal of sex & sexuality, more high quality and a step up from pornography. But as with most things, its all subjective.

You might read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and be shocked by the sex scenes, or not. I wasn’t.
You might be stimulated by the main characters and their unusual situations, or not. I wasn’t.
You might be bored to tears, especially if your own real sex life is a lot more interesting that what’s mentioned in the book. I can see that. Maybe I would consider it erotica-lite.

So why is it a #1 New York Times Best Seller?

Well it’s obviously not the great writing 🙂

Some have suggested that it’s popular because of the taboo subject matter. The dominant/submissive relationship between the main characters is not something that is talked about everyday at the water cooler. And apparently the books are a huge hit with the middle-age (sexually deprived?) moms out there.

I’m still trying to figure this one out. Other than the obvious … sex sells … I don’t have an answer to this question.

So does this mean that anyone with mediocre writing skills can publish a #1 best seller?

Why am I busting my ass to improve the quality of my stories and writing technique if thousands of readers are willing to overlook those failings in favor of a good story? or semi-good story … mediocre story … maybe weak?

I don’t know the answer to that one either. I’m sure some books with mediocre writing and weak stories had become wildly popular and sold many many copies. I suppose it all depends on what is important to you.

Is hitting the Best Seller list your goal? Or selling thousands of copies?

For me just writing a great story that others can enjoy and relate to is my goal. But a $5 million movie deal would be great too! 🙂


The Inverted Pyramid – Begin at the End

Here’s another technique that I have found useful in my writing, the inverted pyramid. This method has been used by journalists and news services since the beginning of the 20th century. With the advent of the Internet, it is also being used as a model for web content writing.

With the inverted pyramid method, you begin with the end. Literally.

The whole point of the article is summarized in the opening sentences, and the remaining details follow afterward in descending order of importance.

Since many readers are impatient to get to the point quickly, this method gives them the goods right at the beginning. After that, they can stop reading at any time and still get the gist. This works well on the web where users tend not to scroll down the page to read the rest of an article.

However this method has it’s critics who consider it an “anti-story” … telling the story backwards. Since it gives away the ending up front, it’s not the best storytelling technique.

So why do I like it?

I’m not recommending this approach for the overall story writing process. Instead I use it for the initial stage of outlining and fleshing out the details of a new story idea.

Here’s how I do that…

  • First, begin with the end. Where do you want to be at the end of your story? (Some writers have even written the last chapter first.) If you had to summarize the entire story in 3 sentences, what would that be? This could become the official synopsis of your story.
  • Second, what situations or actions need to take place to get you to the end, from your starting point? Write all of that down as your major bullet points. These might become your chapter headings later on.
  • Next, add some detail to these major points. Not too much at first. It’s still too early to commit to anything too detailed that might end up changing several times during the writing process.

Once you have an idea where you are going, you can stop adding detail to this inverted pyramid outline and start writing the actual story. At any point along the way, give yourself permission to change the details and even the major plot points. And if you ever get side tracked while writing the initial draft, go back to the first step … and start with the end.


Back to the Forest – Hyper focusing

You’ve heard the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees“. Well when I’m writing, my (AD/HD) hyper-focusing “gift” sometimes causes me to miss the entire forest, trees too, and spend oodles of time on the leaves of every branch, of every tree, in the forest.

Earlier this month I met with my writing buddy Joe to compare notes on our respective writing projects. I vented a little about my inability to move forward on my “Tin Man” (TM) story, even though I was spending hours every week on it. After I showed him all the detailed info I had been working on, he gently pointed out that I had strayed away from “the forest”, from the bigger picture. He was right. It happens more often than I care to admit. 🙁

Now understand that hyperfocusing is not all bad. It has it’s place. It is tremendously useful for getting me into the writing “zone” and keeping me on the write track (pun intended). During NaNoWriMo I spent hours at a time banging away at the keyboard, oblivious to the distractions around me. The cat could have run past me on fire and I would not have noticed. I was a writing machine.

The problem happens when I spend hours fine tuning small, not so critical, scenes or details … researching every iota of dialog or element … and it’s not even a certainty that the info will be in the final draft. That uber attention to detail, at the expense of the overall story, is not good.

So after a brief chat with Joe I have set a new course back to the forest that I had forsaken. I will focus first on updating my overall outline for TM and then slowly move into the forest, one tree at a time. And I shall resist the urge to climb a tree. 🙂


Hispanic Pulitzer Prize Winner!

Hispanic playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play “Water by the Spoonful” about an Iraq war veteran struggling to find his place in the world.  Read more here.

The Pulitzer Prizes award the best in journalism and literary arts. Any time a Hispanic can win this prestigious award it is cause to celebrate in the streets … and roast a pig on a spit in the backyard!

Asi se hace mami!


XMind – Mind Mapping software

I’m a visual non-linear thinker and my thoughts/ideas usually come to me in random order. Therefore I like to use mind mapping software for many projects. It helps me to organize my chaotic ideas into a format that is easier on my brain and eyes.

With this type of software I can just brain storm, putting my ideas down as nodes without caring about what order they are in. Afterward I can look at all the nodes and group them where they make sense. If I change my mind about the order, it is easy to change. And if I have multiple relations between nodes, I can also show that connection. It’s great for creating a family tree or outlining a complex multi-step project.

For writing, mind mapping software is an indispensable tool. It helps with the overall structure of the story, getting me to organize my ideas before I start to write.

I use XMind mind mapping software. You can download a free version from their website. They also have XMind Pro for $49 which will allow you export the finished map into Word (and other options). Since I don’t use the export function the free version is fine for me. With it I create a visual outline that is like a skeletal frame work.

I start with a central theme, add major points (nodes), add subtopics etc. I can move them around until the arrangement makes sense. With a quick visual scan I can identify thin areas that need more material or superfluous areas that may not be needed.

Since it is visual it works much better for me than a linear outline. If you are also a visual non-linear thinker you might want to try it out.


step into my parlor