Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Power Struggle

Back in 1985, Huey Lewis wrote "The Power of Love" and there are some very interesting concepts within the lyrics.  For instance, the first stanza has:

The power of love is a curious thing 
Make a one man weep, make another man sing 
Change a hawk to a little white dove 
More than a feeling that's the power of love 

Let's think about the words and what they mean.  Do you see a theme within those words? Now let's take a look at the chorus:

You don't need money, don't take fame 
Don't need no credit card to ride this train 
It's strong and it's sudden and it's cruel sometimes 
But it might just save your life 
That's the power of love 
That's the power of love 

Again, some pretty hefty thoughts there, too.

Now why am I lingering over a song from almost 30 yrs ago?  One, it was a great tune.  Or, as those who are still alive and remember "American Bandstand" would say "It sounds groovy, has a great beat and is easy to dance to. I'd give it a nine."


There is more.  Look at it from a writer's point of view.  Love.  There is more to it than just making out or having an erotic sex session -- which by the way, erotic sex is not love, or so I've been told.

Still, nonetheless, as a writer, we must coyly place love into our tales in some manner.  Even a tale of the knight seeking to slay the dragon has love involved - love of country, king, and if lucky, the maiden.  Space science fiction must admit to love in some manner.  Yes, you can claim a sole man, marooned on a planet, bitter and mean, won't have love. Again, the opposite of love is hate, or in this case, bitterness.  Remember, all coins have two sides. There is always Yin and Yang.  Opposites attract.  Need I continue?

Love can be a subtle influence in your story or be the axis it revolves about. Re-read the first verse of the song. Notice how love can change a person?  As a writer, your character must evolve.  Love can be a part of the catalyst to this change. How many times have we seen the strong, almost tyrannical father break down and cry when love of his child suddenly hits home?  As Huey Lewis says - It is more than a feeling that's the power of love

Your character can develop and with love as a guiding power, change to be the hero you want.  If you look at the chorus, you'll see other possibilities for twists.  Look at line three - It's strong and it's sudden and it's cruel sometimes.  Wow.  Love is strong.  Love is sudden.  Love is cruel.  Now you tell me there isn't a possible story there!  It has been used as a theme repeatedly; think of Romeo and Juliet.

In my current "work-in-progress" I have two main characters - a teacher and a student.  My student has a love of his faith and lifestyle (Amish) and there is admiration and love between the teacher and the student plus there is a love theme between the student and his ability to sing.  Still, nowhere in the story do I have anyone spouting "I love you" but yet the power of love is flowing throughout the story.

When I began writing, I was told repeatedly "There must be conflict."  So, why can't the conflict be the power of love?

Until next I ramble on...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

So You Had A Cup of Coffee

I'm on Twitter, FB... okay, I'm on the whole gamut of social media.  I've friended just about everyone and anyone.  Maybe that is the problem.  Perhaps I should be pickier, more selective, etc in who I allow to associate with me.


But really.  Do I need to know you just stopped at Big J's local java shoppe for a super-sized double mocha vanilla-hazelnut frappucchino latte... or whatever?  Thank about it.  NO!

It seems today's social media allows us to post every insignificant detail of our life (did I just say that out loud?) with everyone whether they want to know it or not.

Okay, so you don't do that.  Good for you.  Oh, wait a minute.  I saw your name come scrolling across about umpteen times.  You've written a book and are hustling it on Twitter like every five to ten minutes. No, I am not about to spend $.99 at Amazon for a totally sensual, erotic 32 page romp.  And I am not going to buy your unedited, poorly formatted $2.99 wonder that you wrote in 30 days during last November's NaNoWriMo and you self-published during December.  I'm glad you wrote a book and I commend you for your accomplishment but...

So you didn't write a book.  You're a marketer for Twitter's side apps that allow you to track your followers and unfollowers and what ever else the magic program will do.  OR you're hustling vitamins, houses, health related living, crocheting, politics, cruises etc etc etc.

So what is social media all about?  Why is it there?  What do you use it for?

Me?  I, when I remember to do it, will hustle one or two of my books.  I post about my free writing tip that I put out each Monday.  I also mention this blog site.  And I also mention little tidbits of my personal life for review - like sharing an anniversary dinner with my wife, spending the days spoiling the grandkids, sometimes waxing philosophical or being melancholy about the past.  Sometimes on facebook I will give a rant about something that just irked me... but trust me, not on everything that "wads my panties" or I'd never get off the computer.

Let's look at this logically.  I have approximately 3000 tweeps I follow on Twitter.  IF they tweet just once each hour, I would be viewing 50 tweets per minute.  Not totally outrageous but some heavy reading, nonetheless even when limited to 140 characters.  BUT, in reality, in about 15 seconds, I get assaulted with 27 (low side) to 130 (high side) tweets.  I checked it.  In one minute I saw over 350 tweets scroll by on my screen.  There is no way I could possibly keep up with that.

What does this mean?  You know that person who follows 27516? That is (1 tweet per person per hour) almost 460 tweets a minute.  Now let's look at somebody sitting at 100k or 300k.  Is there any way that person can view all the tweets?

If you bombard your followers with a tweet every 5 minutes, just think how fast that scroll is moving.

Now, facebook, on the other hand, is gamey, at best.  You put yourself out there and maybe people will respond, maybe not.  Trying to friend too fast will get your hands slapped and if you don't know the person or they claim they don't know you, well, you'll get your hands slapped.  Although they claim to be a social media network, what they really mean is, only your closest and dearest friends.  I look at it this way, I don't need to go online to tell my family and friends about me putting in a garden or some such nonsense.  I mean, I see them on a fairly regular basis.

I won't even start on other social media like LinkedIn, Pinterest, Shelfari, Goodreads, Google+ and the rest of the list other than to say, all the hype is what you make of it.

They call it "social media" but in reality it comes down to the bottom line as "marketing hype" for and by you.

Until next I ramble on...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Shoulder Editor

We've all had one, maybe two or more.  Those people who come up on your backside as you furiously type your story into the laptop.  They stand just far enough back that with your intense attention on the words, you don't notice them at first.  Then they strike...

"I wouldn't say that. I think Alicia should slap his face and tell him to get lost."


Or "Really? The old back massage to sex routine?  Poor imagination."

The person could be your child, your spouse, a friend, a lover, a total stranger depending on where you are at the time it happens.

My wife is subtle.  She will read over my shoulder and rather than comment directly that she doesn't think it will work, she does the ambush.  "What you working on?"  When I explain then she reveals that she has been reading over my shoulder and this or that just doesn't make sense.

Huh?  If you've been reading over  my shoulder for the last 10 minutes, then you probably figured out what I was working on.

My friend has a son who will read over her shoulder then give a critique, as he sees it from his intuitive sagely body of twelve years.  She had the perfect reply.  "Go write your own story."

I was writing on the bus one night when I was tapped on the shoulder.  "Don't you think Barry would hide from the guards rather than attack?"

A total stranger. She was polite enough to apologize for reading over my shoulder but my tapping on the keyboard caught her attention and then she shifted so she could see the laptop's monitor and started to read.

This is not the first time.  I write whenever I can -- totally disregarding where I am; be it a doctor's office waiting for an appointment, sitting in a hospital while surgery is being performed on a loved one, riding a bus, a train, a plane, or even just sitting in a coffee shop or airport terminal  If there is time to write, I write.

So, yes, I get a lot of "shoulder edits" from everyone.  Expect them.

Now, here is the secret.  Use them.

There is a caveat to my secret.  Use them IF it seems to improve the story.  I will come clean, the "old back massage routine" was in a story and the woman who read it and made that comment also suggested a different gimmick to get the girl.  I liked it and I used it.  Thank you Cassie of Downriver Bus Route 810.

I have come to use shoulder readers more and more.  Unfortunately, I am retired, so I don't travel as much on planes, trains and buses.  But I do, sometimes, still get to visit a coffee shop, a hospital waiting room, or some other place.  Plus my loving wife still offers advice from time to time, as do my four sons, their wives and, of course, my grandkids.

The first couple of times I was interrupted by a shoulder editor, well, I was a little irked.  How dare they read my stuff without my permission.  Now they are my first line of edits before I start sending it out to my close writing friends and finally to the big-time, pay-for-it editors.

Of course, there is a fun moment in shoulder editing.  If you catch them before they make a comment -- ask them what they think.  The little old lady sitting beside me on the bus kept looking at the screen, reading from time to time.  I asked her what she thought.  She prefaced her comments with "I don't normally read rubbish like that with all those fairies and things."  She bought a copy of my rubbish when it was published.

Until next I ramble on...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


R U in a rut?  Well, yes, those letters are in rut, but not necessarily YOU!

Everyone will tell you to watch out for the ruts in the road, to avoid the ruts in the road at all costs, etc etc.

But has anyone elver mentioned the ruts on that garden path?  Or that wooded path?  Not really the actual path itself but... well, let me explain.

I'm retired now.  I was an energetic work horse in the work force... uh, back in my day.  But, I would find myself in a rut, the habitual rut.  Get up. Prep for work. Drive to bus stop. Ride bus to work. Greet the security guards. Walk into a usually empty office. Make my pot of coffee. Take my pills. Make my oatmeal. Pour a cup of coffee, eat my oatmeal and await the arrival of office staff. Like clockwork, the routine kicked in with variety added by which day it happened to be.  Monday: Office staff meeting. Tuesday: Division Manager staff meeting. Wednesday: Branch Manager staff meeting. Thursday: Office staff meeting. Friday: Executive staff meeting. Then the rest of the day would be that of handling office politics, doing some programming. Finishing the pot of coffee. Lunch alone. Waiting for the five o'clock whistle.  To make it even more mundane and repetitive - the same 6-8 hrs of music would play through the headphones each day.

To say I looked forward to fire drills, phone calls from non-irate end-users or a visitor to stop by -- yes, that would be an understatement.

At the end I think I even had established a routine of clothing. Monday: blue shirt, gray slacks. Tuesday: white shirt, dark blue slacks. Wednesday: tan shirt, brown slacks. Thursday: blue pin-stripe shirt, dark gray slacks. Friday: white shirt, dark green slacks. If you didn't know what day it was, a quick glance in my direction and you probably could figure it out. I'm not saying it was a routine.  No, it was a rut.

Now I'm retired.  There should be excitement. No ruts.  I'm ambling down those garden and wooded paths, enjoying the moments and all the things to make me stop and smell the roses.


Monday: wife does laundry. Tuesday: Sr lunch and 2-4-1 movie. Wednesday: Grocery shopping. Thursday: Cards. Friday: Sr fish supper. Saturday: Visits from kids. Sunday: Church.

The above is my friends' schedule.  I refuse to fall into that path rut.  I remember everyone telling me how much I'd enjoy sitting in my rocker on the front porch and just lazing the day away.


I garden my path.  Any rut I find there is where I let the water hit too fast and furiously.  The wooded path is really just a narrow lane going through the back of my property after I cross the bridge.  It wanders among the trees and bushes, always showing me something new each time. Sure I have a set of rockers on my porch and when I sit in them, there are usually another five or six people with me and we're having a blast sharing a joke or memory. And need I mention the big RV rig sitting beside the house?  Every chance I get, that thing is on the road.  Yes, I lamented the increase of gasoline prices but I have two choices -- sit in the rocker and stare at it or get in it and rock my life.  There are several local campgrounds and if you do like us, share the experience and costs, trips are well within the means of a retiree.  My wife's brother and his wife also have an RV.  We make our trips and share the expenses.  It is soooo simple.  Each person puts in like $100 and all gas and camping expenses come out of it. Souvenirs, restaurants and other items are handled independently.  Our last trip to California from Ohio - a 3 week excursion - cost us (my wife and I) only about $1200 for our share.

Maybe I am living in a rut. I travel, I write, I do things.  Maybe the rut is strictly how one looks at the moment of existence.

Shake things up!  If today is Monday, put on a pink shirt and black slacks.  Leave that packet of instant oatmeal on the shelf and go wild - have a Hostess cupcake.  Get involved with that little white squiggle on the chocolate icing.  Maybe you can't move those meetings around but you can certainly change the music you listen to.  If you listen to Metallica, put on some Mozart or instead of George Strait, give Phil Collins a whirl. Lady Ga Ga, Phil Phillips, Toni Braxton, Paula Abdul, Celine Dion, Tim McGraw, Justin Bieber or even Frank Sinatra can help you beat that rut.

For lunch, forget the sandwich or soup.  Try some shrimp, meatloaf, buffalo wings or try Thai instead of generic Oriental food.

Ruts are what you make of them.  With the proper alignment of your view, ruts are no more than just a minor bump in the road, barely noticeable.

So the next time you find yourself ambling down the garden path and realize you're in a rut -- stretch out, grab that rose (yes, thorns can hurt but nothing is without some pain) and inhale.

Until next I ramble on...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Truth! Get Over Yourself!

The officer's face is taunt with anger as he leans forward to snarl his response, each word punctuated in loathing and hate, "You can't handle the truth!"

Perhaps it isn't quite that dramatic when you receive another rejection notice but still, there is a truth there. As a writer do you live in a "Pollyanna" world where you actually believe your writing is so perfect that to change even one word would be catastrophically wrong? Then you really can't handle the truth.

First, let me give you a little advice.  GET OVER YOURSELF!

Trust me, nobody's written word is so pure that it can't be changed.  No plot so contrived that it can't be improved.

Once more addressing the rejection letter - whether it be snail-mail or email - you must learn to look at the reason it is rejected.

An acquaintance of mine opened a rejection letter while I was visiting. I'd had the opportunity to read a small segment of his latest work being circulated and personally, I had my doubts.  Anyway, he read the rejection and then said "These publishers just don't get what I'm trying to say. They're obviously obtuse and stupid."

Hmm?  A publisher doesn't get what you are saying.

If you describe a roundish fruit that is bright yellow, longer than wide and I say lemon and you meant banana. Uh, yeah, the publisher isn't grasping your writing. If you place a lighted fifty foot icon on top of a three hundred foot building and state it can be seen from fifty miles away.  Yup!  The publisher isn't getting your vision. Also, if your double-spaced paragraph starts at the top of the page and runs to within two lines of the bottom, has no punctuation other than ONE period at the end of that paragraph.  Yes, one sentence, one paragraph. Hmm? I think the publisher might have some issues with your writing.

If your protagonist is washed ashore on a deserted island and has no memory of anything including who s/he is, you are going to have problems. To begin with, if they have NO memory, the jellyfish washed ashore beside your protagonist is going to be the master in this situation. The jellyfish has something of a functioning brain. Waking up with a wiped brain would put your lead at a terrible disadvantage where even seeing fingers for the first time could be a startling experience. This person wouldn't have motor skills nor would s/he be able to consider building a fire or even seek protection.

As a writer, you must do research.  Remember, the Earth (or any other planet) has a curvature. Even the flattest of the flat areas still disappear into oblivion at the horizon. Now I live about fifty miles from Toledo, Ohio to my east and Fort Wayne, Indiana to my west. I know those two cities have buildings much taller than three hundred feet tall and to this day, I haven't ever seen them from my home.  And, yes, if all the trees, structures and whatever were removed, I still don't think I'd see them. My community has a very tall castle-like court house and I know I can see it about five to six miles outside of town, especially in the winter and at Christmas time when it is decorated with lights... but at fifty miles?

Now about that paragraph.  I am not kidding. It was almost one full page of double spaced lines. The sentence started at the beginning of the paragraph and had a period at the end of the paragraph.  There were no commas, no semi-colons, no colons -- not even em dash.  When you write, learn to breathe. Does that sound crazy?  I remember an English teacher I had back in elementary school saying that. A sentence should not be any longer than what one can speak in a breath, or else add punctuation to allow the reader to get a breath. If you think she was wrong, re-read this sentence. You actually stopped at the comma. It allows you to gather the thought together and process that segment.

If the publisher isn't getting what you are saying, then the fact is obvious. You aren't saying what you think you are saying. If it looks like an apple, smells like an apple, tastes like an apple - then it is an apple. BUT, if it looks like an apple, smells like a grape and tastes like a grape with an apple consistency -- then it isn't an apple but a ®Grapple.

So what is the truth?  What is so terrible that many writers can't handle the truth?


Writers need editors.  Oh, don't even go there!  I don't care if you are an editor. The truth is there if you're getting rejects -- it keeps coming back to you.

This work needs edits!

I'm a writer. I'm an editor. I edit my stuff to the nth degree THEN I get a professional editor (not my high school English teacher or college professor) to perform the magic with it. Why? Simple. As an editor of my own work, I'm too close to my art. Those flaws I can spot in another's work actually disappear in my own masterpiece since each word I have chosen is perfect and flawless. I sent three chapters to my editor to review. This had been written, edited by me, sent to three alpha-readers (2 in genre, 1 not) for fixes and suggestions, re-edited by me and then sent to her. What I received back was appalling. Like any other writer, I expected back nothing less than "laud and magnification" of a work so outstanding I'd hear a chorus of angels. What I saw reminded me of a red marked up term paper with a C+ grade.

I reviewed the suggested changes, the flaws and saw the light of truth in all the red markings. I rewrote the chapters and sent a copy to a friend to read. She had read my original pass before my edits and alpha-readers had had their say. To say she loved the new version would be an understatement.

So, here is the truth.  Get over yourself.  Write the best you can then edit the crap out of it. Have a friend or two read and edit it. Fix it again -- don't ignore their suggestions. THEN get a professional editor to review and make suggestions to correct your work.  Note 1: Did you see the word "suggestions" in that last sentence? Editors are making suggestions to improve your work, not necessarily change your work. What they suggest is not carved in stone. Note 2: A professional editor is one who knows writing and the genre in which you write.

There are a lot of books out there in the market.  Some are books, some are good books, and even others are great books. There are no bad books -- just books that didn't have proper editing applied to them. More often than not, this applies to several self-published works with little or no editing performed.

Rejects are truths. Learn to handle them.

Until next I ramble on...