Around the Web: Dirty dancing, kinky robots, fear of family spark changes

Every day I scour the Internet and my news feeds for story writing tips and advice. But every once in a while I come across some stranger than fiction articles that compel me to read further. You never know, some of the articles or ideas may just become fodder for a story later on.

Just when you thought you’d heard of everything…

A Gorham, Maine high school announced this week it will no longer hold student dances because of today’s tendency by students to participate in risqué dance moves, also known as grinding. The sexually suggestive dirty dance moves are making parents and dance chaperones uncomfortable. The ban follows on the heels of a similar ban by Hopkinton High School in Massachusetts last year.

Continue reading

Writers: Roll the dice to see where your writing life takes you

The Los Angeles Times recently surveyed writers participating in the L.A. Times Festival of Books about their path to literary success. The result can be seen the creation of a unique board game that lets you play along.

The board game cites interesting results along the way, including:

  • the age respondents decided to be a writer
  • 51 percent kept a diary
  • 25 percent who got an MFA in creative writing
  • most influential books in youth (Grapes of Wrath and Portrait of a Lady)
  • 58 percent of writers make a living from writing
  • how respondents published, whether with a major, traditional publisher; independent publisher; or self-publisher
  • 64 percent had books rejected
  • age in percent that they had their first best-seller
  • percent who teach creative writing

The game itself awards points for writing or winning a contract or agent, but deducts points for falling into a social media hole that keeps you from writing to losing points in a computer crash. I played the game and scored 33 points, which translated equates to: “You’re Ernest Hemingway. You’re celebrated, but not by everyone.”

Hmm, I’ll take it.

Give the game a try. (But subtract 10 points for allowing it to keep you from writing.)

 

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/20

I tried to keep the distractions to a minimum today and limit my time online so that I could do a little bit of writing. Couple of things did catch my eye and they are listed below for those interested in a bit of writerly advice or an interesting read:

First up is a thoughtful article about the psychology of flow in storytelling. There’s a fine line between keeping a reader’s attention and losing it altogether, and this article explores how writers can strive to keep that reader turning the pages.

One of Geoff Dyer’s top 10 tips for writers is to keep a private diary or journal. I started a daily journal back in December and kept forgetting about it. I’d add a few thoughts every couple weeks or so and try to recall all that had transpired in between. I haven’t touched it since April. On the other hand, I have at least been posting from time to time in this blog, so there’s that.

If you’re struggling with what to write next, actor Brett Wean recently shared how improvisation can provide your story the spark it needs.  The article addresses screenplays, but obviously can be put to work for your novel in progress as well.

In case you missed it, July 17 marked the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, “the eighth wonder of the world!” The Hollywood Reporter celebrated the occasion by reprinting an article published the day after the Southern California park opened on July 18, 1955. Admission, by the way, just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

Sticking with the theme of anniversaries, today marks the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing.

And finally, author and NASA engineer Homer Hickam (of October Sky fame), shares his writing advice on his website at Homer Hickam online.

If you see something worth sharing, please do in the comments section!

REVIEW: Flamboyant characters drive story of The Marauders

Bleak doesn’t begin to describe life in the bayou in the pages of The Marauders, by Tom Cooper. The novel follows the journey of several individuals who are trying to eke out their place in the world in the aftermath of the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast. Even with the promise of easy money from BP–looking to settle claims before they become even heftier in cost–most of the characters have little to look forward to other than days of drudgery on shrimp boats or doing menial hard labor.

The Marauders-largeCooper, himself a native of New Orleans, paints a realistic portrait of the hardships his characters endure, easily putting the reader into the scene. It’s not a place anyone in their sane mind would want to embrace and, fortunately for the reader, it’s one that can be left by just closing the pages of the book. For his characters, such an escape is unattainable.

It’s Cooper’s characters, however, who keep readers wanting to turn the page.

Readers are introduced to a one-armed shrimper turned treasure-hunter, a teen wanting to forge his own way apart from the drudgery of life his father offers him, a pair of common criminals looking for an easy way out, and a pair of marijuana growers. It takes a while for their paths to cross, and for the story to really get going, but when they do the suspense is palpable, and sometimes humorous. (SPOILER: There’s one scene where the pot growers lock an alligator in the room with our one-armed shrimper.)

The Wall Street Journal describes the tale as “Sad, grotesque, hilarious, breathtaking”. I’m not sure about the latter description, but the novel is certainly intriguing and entertaining. It’s not a crime thriller per se, with shoot ‘em ups and car chases, but rather a story about characters and the choices they make, both criminal and otherwise.

The novel is Cooper’s first, though he has numerous credits in literary magazines like the Oxford American, Mid-American Review and others. He has been nominated for times for the Pushcart Prize.

NOTE: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Beware of frozen food cups and bare feet

They should put a warning label on those new Stouffer’s Cheeseburger Mac cups. One that reads: Caution, Frozen Mac and Cheese Cups Can Cause Physical Injury if It Should Roll Out of Your Freezer and Drop on Your Bare Foot.

Ouch!

That’s what happened to me this morning as I opened the freezer to fetch a Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowl. In doing so, the Mac and Cheese cup plummeted several feet and landed like a rock on my fleshy bare left foot. And it left a mark!

Now I don’t typically go strutting around the house in my bare feet, mind you. Not after my brother walked into the leg of a stationary bicycle in the middle of the night this past spring and promptly broke his little toe. And especially not while our house is a disaster zone of clutter. No, I usually wear my sneakers (slippers provide no more protection than socks, really, which is to say, none at all.) But for some reason, today I defied the gods and strolled into the kitchen sans socks, slippers or sneakers.

And I paid the price.

Fortunately, the frozen food cup landed on the top of my foot and not on one of my toes. Otherwise I might be off to have an X-Ray of a broken appendage like my brother did on his toe. Not that the hospital was able to do anything for my brother’s broken toe, by the way. All they did was wrap it up with tape against one of his straighter toes and send him on his way with a $900 hospital bill to go with.

(So what do you think hurt more in the end? Hospital bill or broken toe?)

I lucked out. I only suffered a small red mark and a stinging feeling around my wound, which has since subsided. No ice packs, broken appendage tape or emergency room visit needed. It probably won’t even leave a scar, so I won’t be able to make up a neat shark story like Brody and Quint in Jaws. Dang it all.

I can at least share my harrowing experience with my reading audience. And, since this is a blog about the writing life, here’s the lesson to be gleaned from all of this: Real life incidents are sometimes stranger than fiction.

I see this experience as perfect fodder for a quirky character in one of my books who goes around wearing steel-toed boots wherever he goes, even in the middle of the night to raid the fridge. Maybe he even sleeps with them on.

Hey, sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up!

Picking up where I left off…

Earlier this year I began work on a mystery/thriller novel. I created character sketches and bios. I filled up a corkboard with sticky notes describing key scenes and character arcs. I invested in Scrivener and learned enough about it to actually start using it. I wrote about 18,000 words.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Mom got sick. Real sick.

And the writing just didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered. Nothing but helping mom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver two months, mom went from a fully functional, independent woman in her 70s to a hospital bed, to a rehab program, to a short-term rehab center, to a nursing home. She never made it to a hospice program because for some reason hospice said she didn’t qualify, even when the doctors only gave her two weeks to live.

My brothers and I were by her bedside almost constantly. When we weren’t by her side, we were taking care of the house, her dog, her bills, etc. We dealt with doctors, nurses, therapists, and a pushy social worker who kept reminding us that she was about to go on vacation so could we hurry up and get mom’s paperwork signed.

We immersed ourselves in online crash courses in Medicare, cancer, brain tumors, hospice, rehab facilities, nursing homes, radiation, chemo, oncologists, powers of attorney, living wills, and last wills and testaments. We took turns caring for her dog, who was more confused and alone than almost any of us.

On Aug. 17, Mom closed her eyes one last time.

We’re still grieving. We’re still dealing, each of us in our own ways.

But we all know we must soldier on. We all must pick up where we left off.

There’s work and there are bills.

There’s that thing called life.

Only, it’s not that easy.  

In my case, I have to wonder: How do you return to a cast of characters and a storyline you left two months ago like nothing happened?

The story I started earlier this year seems so distant now, so pale in comparison to all that has transpired. The story seems only vaguely familiar, yet oddly unfamiliar after all this time. The characters seem like old friends, yet strangers at the same time.

Are they worth revisiting? Are they worth getting to know all over again?

Is the story worth finishing?

And if so, how do I begin to reacquaint myself with them? How do I pick up the pace, the flow of things, so that it feels fresh, yet natural? Like I’d never left them? Do I start over? Or do I pick up where I left off and just hope for the best?

I ask, but I already know the answer to my questions. I think I just had to write it here and make it official. To reaffirm my answer to myself, if nothing else.

I will carry on. I will write on. I will pick up where I left off. I will finish what I started.

It’s what Mom always taught me: Never give up.

I love you, Mom.