advent · historical fiction · Stories · Uncategorized · Writing Craft

Tell All the truth, but Tell it Slant

Write what you know, ever heard that advice before? It helps to locate and ignite an author’s passion. Ona Russell, the California Writers Club, Inland Empire Branch, February speaker, found a scrapbook of articles about her great-grandfather, a celebrated judge in Toledo, Ohio. Intrigued, Russell’s research unearthed family secrets and inconsistencies. Her own mother’s birth date was incorrect, the judge struggled with mental disorders, and a mysterious lady, Sarah Kaufman, legal assistant to the judge, appeared in many photos. Russell fell in love with these uncelebrated personalities from the past. Eventually, Sarah Kaufman became a sleuthing protagonist in Russell’s own historical mystery novels, a trilogy set in the 1920’s.

Part of her storytelling is true, based on the articles. Some of the storytelling is fact, based on research, but Russell worked hard to highlight the “slant,” the re-invented tensions and conflicts. Russell explained that excitement is created in the margins of the truth, in the details, in the spots where the story pauses and shifts gears. Generating a narrative from this blend of truth, fiction and fact is a tricky balance for writers, whether the works are memoir, science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction because all the world-building elements have to be credible to the reader. For Russell, this credibility is key. She said the way to engage the reader is by establishing credibility with an authentic setting, with historical details, with nuances and a pace that is true to the era. This means eliminating everything that does not move the story forward, research, back story, even a favorite character. A writer should look for things to emphasize, create complexity, and sacrifice anything that is not relevant to the story.

This except is from the Fresh Ink March 2016 issue. The title “Tell all the truth..” is from a poem by Emily Dickenson.

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Article · Creativity · Stories · Writing Craft

How to Write when Life Bites, Like a Shark

Amber Victoria was a guest speaker at the California Writers Club in September. She introduced her topic about illustrating and publishing her children’s book, Twins European Adventure, by enumerating all the small towns she called home. This was followed by a lengthy resume of everything she loved about her education, interests, hobbies and life. Just as worried if, and when, she was ever going to talk about books, she veered into the oddest transition. She talked about her childhood fear of sharks, a fear so debilitating that she trained in competitive swimming to gain confidence.

And then it clicked. A swim race was like writing, she explained. How you talk to yourself is what gets you across the finish line. “Don’t negate yourself,” she warned, “or you will never finish.” Writing means you’re an independent entrepreneur and since it’s about learning, every step takes you towards an obstacle. You will find a way around it. Don’t be afraid of launching yourself in too many new directions, it may feel as if you are stalling, but, in reality, you are developing something new.

Victoria took a breath, and shared another obstacle, a very personal one. She is dyslexic. I was intrigued, dyslexia would be a significant obstacle when writing a book! It explained something else too. While coordinating the presentation schedule I noticed that the quality of her texts and email was uneven. At first I assumed she was a typical Millennial, perusing ebusiness on the fly. I even wondered if English were a second language. I did not catch a single error in her PowerPoint because her personal narrative was so compelling, but an English teacher spotted several distracting mistakes.

“Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.”

Victoria shared a motivational quote from the Dalai Lama, “Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” Grammar issues would not be a surprise to her, and if a comment about grammatical imperfections were passed along, it would not have discouraged her. Belief and mindset was key to Victoria’s concept of success. She reminded the audience that bestselling authors received bad reviews. She mentioned a fellow writer who ranted about recommendations he disliked. She cautioned the audience, “You have to make sure you don’t absorb advice in a way that makes you the kind of negative person you hate.” Keep writing, she urged. Write what feels closest to your heart. Ask yourself, what is the outcome? What does my audience need to hear? What are the “what ifs”? Where are the morals and emotional growth issues? What are you teaching? And to whom?

She finished by giving specific examples of how her past influenced her present work, adding technical tips about the market for children’s literature. Her talk picked up speed and held together with verve and impact.

An audience member described Amber Victoria as an angel. “I embrace how she keeps inspired in her life, what an accomplished soul! What a blessing to have her on the planet and hear her speak about her love and putting it on pages.” Proving, once again, that when a storyteller effectively communicates his or her vulnerable moments, they leave their audience with the most memorable impressions.

Article · Memoir · Stories · Writing Craft

Why write in the first place?

“Why write in the first place?” Paula Priamos, a professor at University California, San Bernardino, questioned her students, all intermediate level writers. The responses spun around the notion of self-expression, the importance of free expression without judgment and how writing is a calming, enjoyable way to articulate ideas. For a few people it was also tied to compulsive need, or to practical goal like developing a skill that they were “half-way good at”, or the opportunity of a portable job. Paula discovered that self-expression it is essential to all writers.

writing gives people a sense of empowerment because it gives voice to something that would not otherwise be heard.

In her keynote address at “Another Bloomin’ Writers Conference” in early May, Priamos argued that writing gives people a sense of empowerment because it gives voice to something that would not otherwise be heard. This was true for Priamos. Her memoir “The Shyster’s Daughter” exposed family secrets. Writing was not an easy process, sometimes she felt she ‘ripped out her heart and left it pulsing on paper.’ Her memoir was a very personal tribute to the “no-name” women who endure traumatic experiences. When the book was published and people (including family members) thanked her for sharing, Paula realized that her writing had given a voice to the weak.

When a published writer gives a presentation they invariably disclose an underlying theme, the “why” for their writing. I anticipate this moment like the makeover reveal at the end of a reality show. Readers connect to universal truths, to the greater worldview that writers expose as stories. Writers like Priamos have honed their voice, exposed their hearts, and are passionate about their truths. Successful writers capitalize on this sense of empowerment. Empowerment gives writers personality and fuels their works. It is something to build a social platform around because it attracts fans.

advent · Intercultural · Iran · Memoir · Stories · Travel · Writing Craft · Writing Prompt

Writing prompt: Flood

When I think of floods, I think of the desert.  It’s an odd juxtaposition, water flooding the desert. I’ve experienced floods here in California, along the San Bernardino mountains, but the most startling floods were in the Middle East, when I lived in Iran in the seventies.

On our holiday breaks my family would leave Teheran to explore ancient Persian landmarks and ruins, caravanning with other expatriate families. Road trip! The desert landscape of Iran looks like the stretch from Palm Springs to Phoenix, or the road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It’s rough and stony terrain with a slow variation in rock color and the height of the hills–not sand dunes with palm trees. On our way to Herat, Afghanistan, we saw a single cloud dumping rain over a distant hill. The earth surrounding us was scorched into a flat, salty glisten, and the ribbon of road blended into mirages of lake water, simmering in the distance. To our surprise, a mile up the road there was a real flood over the road. Run-off from the distant hill had pooled to the flatter land below it, miles away from the original deluge.

One spring trip, in the Alborz mountains, spring waters had destroyed house made from mud bricks, washing out the road too. The villagers stood, leaning on their shovels, looking grim. Our western Dads, all engineers working in the oil and gas industry, went to help but they soon returned, frustrated and angry. Instead of digging channels to divert the waters away, the Iranian men responded “insha’Allah.” It was God’s will. There was no way to change or struggle against God. The better way was submission and acceptance.

When I read Biblical stories, all set in the stark yet unpredictable desert, and populated by small, tenacious family tribes, I remember that scene. Our Western minds want action, justice and solutions. If we are hard-working and true we can re-direct the floodwaters. We have a harder time with the notion of surrender, accepting that sometimes, like a flash flood in the desert, things really are in God’s hands, or to be more secular, outside of our control.

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This blog was written for www.yorocko.com as part of the Claremont Presbyterian Church Jesse Tree Advent Project. It posted there on December 3rd, 2014.

advent · Iran · Memoir · Stories · Travel · Writing Prompt

The Tale of the Advent Blog

My Pastor recently approached me, as a writer, wondering if I could set-up an Advent blog for the church. I struggle with my own blog and the California Writers Club website, so I declined. However, pastors are sterling negotiators and we settled on using the Youth Minister’s blog. I was then tasked to write, or find local talent, for a weeks worth of daily prompts.

Lord have mercy, the word is out! Church spies have infiltrated my blog, my Facebook account and are plotting new ways to reach out to the world. At the Thanksgiving potluck, members of the congregation commented with admiration, “I didn’t know you were a writer!” I had mixed feelings. I’ve been focused on writing for five years, I lead a weekly prompt writing workshop, but I felt caught—hiding my light under a bushel…

It takes a time to develop a voice as a writer, and longer for a writer promote and accept the label “writer.” Writers are a modest bunch, unwilling to shout out that they are scribblers, poets, bloggers, novelists or screenwriters. They write, but are not writers. What kind of equation is that?

The way out of this conundrum is to push forward, keeping writing, and to build a platform, an Internet presence. I tried the platform building formula out on myself. I sent out submissions to contests, submitted articles, maintained my blog, and showed-up at writing workshops and meetings. I stopped all other meetings or volunteer jobs unless they had to do with writing.

Over the past year, I’ve built up confidence and results. People, like my Pastor, introduce me as a writer. I have stuff published; I have a network of writers. I was able to find people, secular and church members, to try their hand at the Church Advent blog. It was not easy because the minute I mentioned “church,” the thrill of being a guest blogger disappeared. Seasoned writers looked sucker-punched, thinking they would not measure up. I was a little shocked that spirituality elicited such negative feelings. However, if they did write, their works were full of rich imagery, a testament to old symbols and ingrained stories.

If you show-up to your life in the guise of a writer, you’ll collect wisdom. You will sort through distractions, balance out challenges and find that unusual opportunities crop-up, creating a cycle of curious lessons, results, opportunities, and a writer’s lifestyle.

historical fiction · Stories

Elizabeth Swann vs Elizabeth Tudor

Funny how people watch the same movie, and walk away impressed about different things. I never much valued the role of Elizabeth Swann in the movie series Pirates of the Caribbean. Ms. Swann had spunk, fabulous costumes, and her sweet young face did not distract from the yarn spinning of a pirate’s tale. To me, the movie series was a Hollywood romp.  I never thought seriously about the role of Elizabeth Swann until I read the blog by D. Hart St. Martin:

A Swann for the Dawn and the Sundown.

Hart recently finished writing the last book in her latest Young Adult trilogy and the protagonist, Lisen, has to rally troops to battle. Hart was quick to note that Elizabeth Swann made an impassioned, heroic speech in the movie because female protagonists in traditional male roles are re-occurring themes in her works. When I think of  speeches from females, I think of Elizabeth, Elizabeth Tudor, delivering her Tilbury speech in 1588. Aware that she was a female leader and unable to lead her troops into battle herself, she urges her troops to defend England against the Spanish Armada. She declares,

 “I know I have the body of but a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of   a king, and a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any prince of   Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm: to which rather than any dishonor     shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one oeliz armadaf your virtues in the field.”

 

 

 

 

 

Whew, what a long sentence. But I’m not gonna lie, just re-typing the words makes me want to reach for my sword…