Sunday, March 23, 2014

Are You an Excogitator?

Have you excogitated today? I have.

Be aware, symptoms vary and may not manifest themselves at all. You might stare out the window or at a blank wall. Perhaps you nod in agreement when no one has spoken, or shout and leap up from your chair. Tears could stream down your face. Your heart races and you might grin like a fiend or quietly make a few notes. Yes, the symptoms differ, from writer to writer.

Perhaps we’re not yet excogitating when that first flash of inspiration strikes. At that specific moment, when we delicately roll a new story concept across our palettes and relish the fresh aroma and heady flavor, then, we haven’t yet excogitated, but someday we spit and rinse then roll up our sleeves, and yes…it’s time to excogitate.

Writers wear so many hats: hero, villain, choreographer, world-builder, character assassin, landscaper, musician, politician, agitator, peacemaker, soldier, theologian - I could go on and on. So we’re all excogitators, whether we admit it or not. We think and plot and study. We invent entire worlds, individuals, and societies. We devise and concoct.

I’m an excogitator and proud of it.

I do wonder though, if I ever stop writing, does that mean I’m an ex-excogitator?

~ Folio

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Art Imitating Art Imitating Life

In Which Nora and Shannon Return Home

One question writers often get is: How much of you is in your main character?

With me and Nora, I can answer, not much. Nora is an avid environmentalist. While I’m concerned about the environment and I recycle, watch my water usage, take care to save energy and drive a fuel efficient car, I’m hardly an activist. Inspiration for Nora came while I lived in Flagstaff and worked at an environmental non-profit, The Grand Canyon Trust.

 This is me hiking in the Paria Creek on a trip with the Grand Canyon Trust

One way Nora and I are very much alike is in our love for Boulder, Colorado. My first experience with Boulder was in 1971, when my family moved there. I was in sixth grade and fell in love with the Flatirons. Downtown Boulder was the hippie epicenter and though I was too young to participate in that scene, something about Boulder resonated with my soul. We only lived there a year and we moved on.

When I got to restart my life, I chose Boulder in 2003. This time around, I spent as much time as possible hiking and biking in the mountains and the foothills before life took me away. I landed in Flagstaff, AZ. Not a bad place and the inspiration for the Nora Abbott Mystery Series. At the end of Tainted Mountain, the first in the series, Nora feels like she needs a place to start over. And where else would she choose but my favorite place, Boulder.

I was thrilled to steep myself in setting, picture the quirky inhabitants, bask in the shadow of the Flatirons, revel in the majesty of the Rockies. And then, wonder of wonders, I got a call from a former colleague recruiting me to join a startup. Me, Nora, Flagstaff, Boulder. Art imitating life imitating art.

For a few months I didn’t have to imagine Nora’s surroundings. I biked the same roads, hiked the same trails, drank beer in the same outdoor cafes. Wait, I don’t have a scene where Nora drinks beer on the Pearl Street Mall. I probably should have.

Alas, my stay in Boulder ended too soon. As one friend put it, I’m an itinerate writer. But Nora’s Boulder story is just beginning. She hit the shelves March 8th. If you’ve ever wanted to hang out in the People’s Republic of Boulder for a bit, get your heart rate amped by murder and weapons of mass destruction, and find out how a non-profit really works, consider picking up Broken Trust.

As for me, I’m currently writing from the windswept prairie of southwestern Nebraska. I don’t envision Nora winding up here anytime soon. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lessons from young writers

Part of my work is mentoring high school students in writing. Without exception the students tell stories that are worthwhile and interesting, even profound. The challenge is to coax their voice and substance past their barriers so we make contact. The other day I had a flash of insight: I should listen more carefully to my own advice.

A few lessons from young writers:

1.     Write as if you’re speaking. Many of us immediately erect a barrier between our readers and ourselves by becoming stilted and formal in prose. When writing, my students often start a sentence with “However,” or “Therefore…” I always ask them when they last said those words in conversation. The fix? Speak your words, and either record them or try to recall how you expressed yourself when you were speaking. I often ask them to read their creations out loud when they’re done. You never forget this lesson once you’ve ever read your own work aloud at a signing or other event. J

2.     You’ll probably know this one, but: cut to the chase/start with Chapter Three. Forget the background until you’ve hooked your reader.

3.     Reduce the number of points you’re trying to make in any one section. For maximum effect narrow your focus, like concentrating a beam of sunlight through a magnifying glass.

4.     Leave out excessive detail; it slows the action.

5.     Ask yourself, when you finish a piece, “So what?” If you think about it, even in fiction, the writing has to be pretty good to distract the reader from that question.

6.     Use quirks. Find something unusual, visually interesting if possible, and latch onto it. One student wrote a great piece about how much she enjoyed wearing pink and other forbidden colors with her red hair. It’s fun and unforgettable, and told the reader a lot.

Now, if I can just listen to my own advice!

~ Stormy

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Books Are Like Calculators

I read a few articles on traditional versus self-publishing in February's Writer's Digest.  The conclusion was: go with hybrid publishing, which is traditional plus self-publishing.  Of course that's easier said than done - getting that traditional book requires good timing, dynamite/clean writing, luck, a passionate agent with contacts, etc.  So I suspect self-publishing will end up being most of our initial options.  Then if we sell thousands, prove interest, we may be picked up by a publishing house. 

 I'm hearing about limited sales for those who typically would have made more.  I suspect that technology coming along at a fast clip is doing to publishing what it did to the calculator...lots of choices out there, some of the cheaper ones are of poor quality... but always cheaper and cheaper.  Would you rather build or buy a calculator that is intimidatingly large and costly or a tiny one that has engineering and graphing features?  It's the same with books, it’s so easy to do print on demand and e-pubbing now that yes, there's a glut of poor writing out there, but the product is cheaper because of that.  I have a little calculator that was a free giveaway…sound familiar?