Northern serenade

IMG_2481

St.Petersburg, Russia

Helga’s Post # 47 — It was the best of times.

Still, it feels good to be back home after a month of Northern Europe and Russia. A month without my trusted laptop and only occasional Wi-Fi. A month of walking, gawking, even stalking.

Yes, even stalking. After all, I have an excuse. I’m a writer. I have to collect images to be filed away in my mind for future use. One cannot have too many images saved. So I spy when I can. I would walk behind an interesting person or group of people, trying to glean as much detail as possible before they disappeared. Trying to listen to their speech, making up a story of their background. Amazing what plot ideas come about when you do that. People’s details prompt you to speculate about their lives, their background and their character. Before you know it, you’ve got a fictional character planted firmly in your head. A plot idea will surely follow.

We criss-crossed ten cities in ten countries in 14 days. Walking on uneven cobblestones laid by people who lived five hundred years ago or longer. Some of these cities were founded a thousand years ago. A different language is spoken in each of those countries, the total area of which is a fraction of that of Canada. (I am only referring to Northern Europe, not counting Russia).

Fortune teller. Riga, Latvia

Fortune teller. Riga, Latvia

If visitors are asked what most impressed them about these countries, they would probably answer it’s the magnificent historical buildings and architecture. Impressive indeed. Beyond words in fact. What impressed me equally though was the rich literary history of the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, and of course Russia. This is what most of this post is about.

Think about it: some of our most treasured stories when we were kids likely had their roots in some of these countries. Take Danish author Hans Christian Anderson. Who hasn’t read (or had someone older read to you) The Little Match Girl, The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes, to name a few. More recently, Denmark has produced some excellent crime authors, including Peter Hoeg (Smilla’s Sense of Snow)

Changing of the Guard. Royal Palace, Stockholm

Changing of the Guard. Royal Palace, Stockholm

Sweden, not to be outdone, gave us Astrid Lindgren’s beloved Pippi Longstocking, and of more recent past, Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander.

Or take the paintings that inspired literature and fiction. Like the famous painting by Dutch painter Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, which spawned American author Tracy Chevalier’s novel by that name.

Moving on along the literary path of the cities we visited: Jo Nesbo from Norway. He is famous for his crime novels about Detective Harry Hole, but he is also the main vocals and songwriter for a Norwegian rock band. Huge multi-talent here.

On our wanderings through these cities we came across many beautiful bookstores. Yes, bookstores! People over there still prefer printed books to Kindle, and shopping in person to online. I watched with a sense of nostalgia, being reminded how our own reading culture has changed in recent years.

The list goes on. Interestingly, over the past decade, crime novels set in the Nordic region have become best-sellers in the U.S. and Canada, and given rise to a number of blockbuster movies.

And that doesn’t even include Russia, which is a totally different kettle of fish. The country has produced some of the highest regarded literary giants. Aside from the obvious classic writers, Russia has some very good crime fiction writers. Boris Akunin is one, having written Murder on the Leviathan and over 50 others. His wry, fast-paced, intricately plotted detective stories toy with the conventions of classical Russian literature. The Fandorin novels, which first appeared in 1998, have sold thirteen million copies in Russia alone. They’ve been adapted for television and film, and have made their author well known and wealthy.

Not surprisingly, Russia also has some great noir writers, including Alexander Anuchkin, Igor Zotov, Irina Denezhkina and Anna Starobinets. The genre must have something to do with the long and bleak winters. Or their history. In general, we thought Russian people seem less friendly and relaxed as their European neighbors. When we arrived in St.Petersburg we were warned not to engage the immigration officials in conversation. ‘Not even a one-liner or zinger’.

They made up for it with their magnificent palaces and churches. There is simply nothing like it anywhere. But you’ll have to go there yourself to find out. It’s worth it! It’s like entering a fairytale. Gold and glitter everywhere in a setting of magnificent gardens and fountains. And then there is the Hermitage: One of the largest and oldest museums in the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. Its collection includes more than 3 million pieces of art. To demonstrate its size, people say that if you spent one minute looking at each piece of art in the Hermitage museum it would take you eight years to get through the whole thing.

Mind-numbing. Incomprehensible. As it must have been to the common people of Russia. The reign of the Romanov Dynasty, started in 1613, came to an end with the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Their elaborate palaces have since become museums.

But now the time has come for getting back to writing my novel without delay. Serious writing, that is.

(The painting below is to help Joe with writing sex scenes)

Titian, Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Titian, Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Confession Part 1

Joe’s Post #50

imagesCAEI7Y1ZI have a few confessions to make. Writing confessions. This week…

<< No, no, that’s not it. I mean, it may be true, but that’s not what I want to confess.

This is something much darker. Much more embarrassing.

I have a hard time with sex scenes. Wait, that came out all wrong. What I meant is that they are difficult for me to write. I’m actually not bad at romantic scenes, or flirty scenes, but when it comes to inserting X body part into Y body part, I get all red-faced and gigglie and that scene dies an ugly, boring death.

I think it’s because a sex scene is the last bastion of a secret phobia I have. Shhhh. (It’s of being judged.) I honestly don’t care if you read a scene I wrote about someone dismembering someone else (which may say some scary things about me) or a scene about emotional loss that’s linked to some very personal real-life experiences. No. But I DO seem to worry if you read what I write about a penis or what I call a certain female part I can never really find a good name for.


What would my mom say?

My grade 1 teacher?

My grocery store bagger?

OMG, he wrote what?

teacherWhat’s worse is that the line if pretty far out there now. In the old days, like 2009, erotica was erotica. Porn was porn. The romance might be the odd kiss and cuddle, often with a few somewhat explicit details and humor (Diana Gabaldon is great at this.) But holy heck, read 50 Shades (or in my case, I read Sylvia Day‘s book, Bared to You), and you’ll see that bar is now way, way out there. The things those women write about… wow.

Don’t get me wrong, not every book needs a blindfold, a banana, and a chandelier, but the fact that I can’t seem to write one bothers me. The fact that I won’t even put words in this blog that make me blush kinda says it all.

With this confession, however, I can’t say 10 hail maries and it’ll be ok. I can’t ask for forgiveness. What I need to do, what I will do, is do what I do when I’m afraid of something – I go do it … and do it … and do it, again, until I’m over it (with the exception of leaping off of tall buildings which, I imagine, is pretty much a one time event.)

Zip-lining, done. Dentist, done. Coffee date with super cute girl, done! So, sex scenes. You’re next.

Any advice?

Serial effects

Karalee’s Post #44

I love to write in the mystery thriller genre and many of my story ideas seem to center around serial killers and toying with weird reasons that make them do what they do. It probably helps that I have a medical background and a few psychology courses under my belt.

 A couple of years ago my son had a serious bike accident  and loosened and lost teeth as well as a lot of facial skin. Consequently today I found myself sitting in the dental surgeons office while my son had his four wisdom teeth extracted and scar tissue on his top lip removed. It didn’t feel strange at all when I began to think about how my son got to this point in his young life and how we are dealing with the repercussions of his injuries and how to prevent further difficulties. In other words, what should we do to deal with the serial effects of his structural foundation?

You see, some of my son’s difficulty is due to having an under-bite, which means that his lower jaw is longer than his top jaw. Therefore when he flew forward off his bike his lower jaw hit the tarmac hard, and with no protection from his teeth coming together properly, a bottom tooth was knocked out and two top teeth loosened. It was inevitable that contusions, lacerations, and skin loss occurred as his soft skin scraped along the rough road surface, but his structural flaw means that he’s still prone in the future to jaw joint pain and over-wearing of his teeth.

At the present he is left with soft tissue and dental damage that needs further repair. We could work on these issues, but he would still be left with a structural flaw. So, do we leave it and see what happens, or go into preventative mode and align his teeth and jaws and his jaw joint (the TMJ)?

Our choice is prevention.

Today was the first step, then it’s braces for a year followed by jaw surgery (apparently it’s not as bad as the braces) after which the structural flaw will be corrected and he can live happily ever after.

Again, with my serial thought process in action, I started to think about how I  develop my own characters and the flaws they have and the repercussions of them. It is a daunting task and one that I delve into, but not quite deep enough to prevent me going off on tangents that are often time consuming in my writing process and have unintended side-effects that really don’t work well with my story (like a bike accident eventually leading to jaw surgery).  

Prevention is the key to avoiding long and painful re-writes. An exercise that would be beneficial to me is that when I give a character a flaw, or a mannerism, or a distinctive physical characteristic I should:

  • jot down a few scenarios and see how the character would react and determine if that is what I want. Are the characteristics realistic?
  • see if the character is able to change the way I intend over the course of the story (and into another story if it is a series and I have a few ideas floating about).
  • modify my characters at this foundation level before it is too late and the serial effects of one incident leads down a path of no return that then will require a major intervention to repair.

Of course Donald Maass’s book ‘Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook’ is another option.

breakout novel workbook

Happy writing.

Someone smarter than me

don0027t-leave-me---final-cover

Joe’s Post #49 — As much as I love my CHEWASS system, I wanted to pass along something I read in Writer’s Digest. It’s from one of my fav writer guru’s, James Scott Bell. He has a much bigger brain than me.

The whole article is here. The 5 Biggest Fiction Writing Mistakes (& How to Fix Them). It’s awesome. But let me look at his 5 points for a moment.

1) Happy People in Happy Land – One of my earliest realizations. Was Harry Potter happy in Potterland? Nope. Was Katniss? Nuh-uh. Even Frodo, living in an idyllic little hobbit town wanted more, wanted adventure. So, all my stories – all my characters- always begin with something bad happening. Something that will change their world.

2) A World Without Fear – Another great suggestion. He talks about the fear of death, but I think fears drive us as much as hope sometimes. I love confronting my characters with their fears, smashing their hopes, threatening their lives or those that they hold dear.

3) Marshmallow Dialogue – So easy to spot in other people’s writing. So hard to spot in your own. Best advice, read it aloud. It’s embarrassing sometimes, but very useful.

4) Predictability – Ah ha. Another Bell gem. I started using this one on my rewrite right away. It’s such great advice. How can you make a scene just a little bit unpredictable? How can you challenge the reader to really, really read your story (without, you know, being all confusing and stuff?)

thCA7NKPBW5) Lost Love – Oh this is a good one. He talks about yearning. “We yearn because we feel a lack, a need, a hole in our souls. So yearning is about connection.” Brilliant. So, thought I as I drank my forth glass of wine, what do my characters yearn for? Not their ‘want’, their goal, their driving force. What, deep down, do they need in life? That made me think a lot more about my characters and the more I thought on it, the better my characters became. Try it out on your characters and see what happens.

I guess the point of this blog was that even during the rewrite stage, even after writing one or two novels, I can still learn something. I can still do better. I can still add something more to my writing to make it sing.

There’s only one first time

By the time I had reached the end of this post on Monday, we found ourselves in a cell hole. Cut off, incommunicado, out of touch. As much as I love getting away from civilization on our sailing adventures, we also leave behind some taken-for-granted conveniences. So my Monday post has become my Tuesday post.

image

Silk’s Post #49 – Grace Harbour is one of our favourite anchorages in Desolation Sound, an untamed jigsaw of islands and inlets that chokes the north end of the Georgia Strait up the coast from Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Strait separates the southern half of Vancouver Island from the mainland. The northern half is kept apart from the soaring mountains and deep fjords of the mainland coast by the narrower Johnstone Strait, with its swift currents and sometimes vicious seas.

I’ve been here before. It’s always enchanting, but no visit can ever duplicate the experience of discovering it the first time.

imageDesolation Sound was named by Captain George Vancouver on his voyage of exploration in 1792. Obviously, he wasn’t in a very good mood when he came up with such a depressing moniker. The islands that rise up from the sea, some separated by narrow passages with currents that run as strong as 12 or 14 knots, are called the Discovery Islands. Most are named for English or Spanish mariners on the voyage, as though Europeans were the actual “discoverers” rather than Johnny-come-lately visitors to a land that had been settled by the First Nations for 10,000 years.

But that’s the power of the discovery experience. There’s a certain magic in seeing or doing something for the first time that can never be duplicated. It doesn’t matter that thousands or millions of people before you have seen or done the same thing. The discovery experience is when something comes alive for you for the first time, and prior to that it may as well not have existed. The moment belongs to you alone.

Probably the best read, and most treasured, memoir of this coastline is The Curve of Time, written by M. Wylie Blanchet, an adventurous widow who used to bring her five young children upcoast for whole summers in the wilderness aboard a small boat back in the 1920s and 1930s. Here’s one of her descriptions that, to my ear, sounds like love at first sight:

“The mountains grew higher and higher, and gossiped together across our heads. And somewhere down at their feet, on that narrow ribbon of water, our boat with the white sails flew swiftly along, completely dwarfed by its surroundings.”

The first time is when all your senses are in overdrive. What you are seeing or doing is brand new, and you gulp it down greedily. Maybe fear motivates you to pay attention, or maybe wonder or delight – depending on the circumstances. Your senses take in the big picture and the vivid details at the same time, and your brain processes them at light speed and files them in your memory cache.

This memory cache is a wonderful survival mechanism because it allows us to recall what we’ve learned and not have to learn it all over again every single time. However, it also makes the second-time experience less dramatic than the first, because we call on our memories instead of entirely relying on our senses.

Whenever we experience a “first time” it’s like seeing the world through the fully open eyes of a child again. It’s when we’re completely “present”, in the moment, engaged and excited by novelty. Isn’t this why people love to travel to new places, to recapture this feeling?

So what does this all have to do with writing? I think the mental and emotional state of “being present” is essential to all art – writing, visual art, performing art, all of it. It’s what separates the fresh and original from the tired and trite. If we can train ourselves to truly be attentive, with mind open and senses alert and unfiltered, our observations will be sharper and more insightful, and our writing will be more alive and gripping.

I think the ability to bring all our faculties to the present moment stimulates and feeds imagination. Some writers seem to have a natural gift for this creative state of mind. We read their scene descriptions and we’re absolutely “right there” in the story. We find surprise and delight in their original plot twists. Their words carry us to the equivalent of real life “first time” experiences.

You know when you’re in the hands of one of these master writers and storytellers. It’s when you can’t turn out the light and go to sleep, even though your eyes are burning and the alarm clock is set to wake you in a few short hours. Or when you can’t stop yourself from reading passages aloud to the person next to you.

imageThe analogy of writing as a journey of discovery is far from original, but not less true for being something of a cliche. Capturing the spirit of the “first time” remains an elusive art. And it keeps us at the keyboard, searching for the words that will bring our story fully to life with the authenticity and originality of the discovery experience.

A Tale of 4 Cities

Helga’s Post #46

This will be a short post, if I manage to post it at all. At the moment I am on the Baltic Sea en route to Riga, Latvia. Wi-Fi is in short supply and if available so slow it’s like watching paint dry on the wall.

No matter. I am having a terrific time.

Much of this post is sort of a travelogue, because my writing at the moment is taking a back seat to exploring northern Europe – and Russia in four days. But there is still a strong connection to writing, as I will try to demonstrate.

The first ‘tale of four cities’ is about Vienna, the city of my roots. We spent nine days there during a record heat wave that tipped the barometer at 40 degrees Celsius – for our entire stay.

Surprisingly, I actually had a fantastic time in Vienna. Aside from family stuff, we managed to escape to places where we could enjoy historical and cultural sights without the danger of fainting from the heat – thanks to the odd air-conditioned place. The beauty of the historic buildings dating from the monarchy simply takes one’s breath away. What’s even more interesting is that epoch’s juxtaposition that gave rise to the monarchy’s critics (expressed in the Secession and it’s many artists like Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt among others). And then there is the magnificent architecture of ‘Jugendstil’, and the 169 or so museums.

Our outings included an operetta performance at an open-air theatre near the Hungarian border, a mere 90 minute bus ride from Vienna. As serendipity would have it, this was the exact location of my first novel, ‘Closing Time’, where my protagonist Stefan Bartok helps defecting Russian nuclear scientist Dr. Tibor Molnar escape to the West during the Cold War. It was as if time had stood still: the same squat houses with thatched roofs, some with stork nests, just the way they were at the time of my novel in 1958. That trip renewed my commitment to do a serious edit of ‘Closing Time’. I had put the manuscript on the back burner when a bunch of rejection letters from agents made me lose interest and confidence. I will do my best to prove them wrong.

City # 2: Amsterdam. Totally different in every aspect. It’s a city interwoven and connected through countless canals. Transportation is largely on boats or bicycles. Of particular note is the liberal attitude towards recreational drugs and the sex trade. The smell of marijuana wafts through most of the city, indoors and outdoors. Seed shops compete with sex toy shops on every corner of the vast Red Light District. Sex trade workers liberally display their wares behind shop windows, even when we walked by in the early afternoon. There is even a monument honoring prostitutes. Not surprisingly, Amsterdam too is the setting of countless novels, from thrillers to mysteries and more.

On to City # 3, Oslo, Norway. Land of the Vikings, dating back to the 8th Century. Today, Oslo is Europe’s most expensive city. No breaks for tourists, as I learned after visiting the famous Vigeland Sculpture Park, spanning 80 beautifully landscaped acres with over 200 sculptures of intertwined human figures. Awesome doesn’t even begin to describe it. So after hours of wandering and shooting pictures, a visit to the washroom was inevitable. Problem was, an attendant guarded it’s entrance like Cerberus and demanded payment in Norwegian Krone. I had none. I started negotiating, then reasoning, then pleading. The jerk wouldn’t budge. (I am planning a scathing letter to the Norwegian government and the King, as well as a review on tripadvisor.com). Things got more urgent. Suddenly someone behind me held out a hand of coins to the Oslo toilet jerk to pay my admission. I offered to repay him in Euros, but he simply said, “it is my honor to help.”

Wow! My hero for the day. An act of kindness I won’t forget. (I hope he reads this blog)

City # 4: Copenhagen. Another magnificent city with lots of waterways, canals, castles and museums galore. Best of all, the longest pedestrian shopping street in the world! And bicycles everywhere. Millions! They have right of way, and not only to cars, but pedestrians! I nearly got run over by one speedy cyclist who yelled at me in a tone that made me assume it wasn’t a compliment. Luckily, I don’t speak Danish.

And the journey continues. Interestingly, I don’t really feel like a tourist. I look and observe like a voyeur on the prowl. I constantly keep my eyes and mind open to collect material for my writing. And there is so much to gather. Whether it’s setting, or sounds and smell, or food, or people. Especially people. You have no idea.

I hope I can find a hot spot tomorrow to publish this. My next post will be from Russia. With love – if all goes well.

Do you know a writer?

thCA8YL2JU

Joe’s Post #48 — We’re not easy to spot. We’re hidden everywhere. In hair salons. In movie theaters. In gyms. In the office cubicle next to you. Some of us are odd looking. Some are gorgeous. But make no mistake, all of us, yes all, are a bit odd. We’re writers after-all.

Because to even do what we do, well, we have to be a little off. A little bit different. A little bit Coo coo for coco puffs.

Or as I like to say, “I live in my own little world”.

So let me give you an insight into spotting one of us.

1) Look for a laptop. We love laptops. We get all twitchy and nervous if we don’t have one in our hands, our laps, or on a table in front of us. We can be found with our laptops at the beach, in coffee shops (duh), sitting on steps, on airplanes, in cars (sometimes while driving), at weddings, at parties, in bed, or on a couch while watching TV.  Older school writers might be found still using a pen and paper, but these are rare sightings indeed and you should approach with caution.

2) We read. A lot. We’ll often be seen with a real book in our hands. Or a kindle-ie thing. But we love to read. It’s what makes us want to write. A few guarantees, if you see someone reading a 900 page fantasy novel, it’s a good bet they’ll have written a novel about an elven maiden and a handsome barbarian. If you see a book group, at least one of them will have a romance novel secretly under construction.

3) We have some very weird things on our computers. Links to autoerotic affixation. Biker Wars. The world’s fastest cars. How to Make a Bomb. Desert locations. Pictures of guns and Russian brides and female ninjas. Now only one of those will be for personal fun, but the rest are for research. I swear.

4) If you know someone who wants you to read something they wrote, it means, well, they wrote something. Hence, a writer. But that best illustrates the most obvious of all writer traits. We want to be read. We are needy that way. We want to be read by our friends and family. By the guy who inked a Hitler mustache on our yearbook photos. By the girl who makes us a tall iced mocha. Oh, we may be shy, but that need is there. By reading what we wrote, you justify our very existence. (Oh, and when asked, just say you love it, that’s it’s the most amazing thing you’re ever read and you’d buy the book. I don’t care if you lie.)

thCA5NKTHM5) We get lost in our heads a lot. Hey, that’s where all the action is. It’s where the woman is taken in the arms by the man she loves and kissed like it’s the last kiss before the world ends. It’s where all hope is lost. Where tears are shed. Where characters are born and die. It’s often a nicer place to be than the world we live in. So we live there a lot. But that means we may have a vacant look about us sometimes. A blank, three stooges stare. It means we are somewhere else for a moment. Some may say this makes us socially awkward. I say, well, yes, but in our head we’re social gods (and very funny.)

6) We mutter to ourselves. We mutter quite a bit, actually. It’s a part of #5. But don’t be alarmed if you hear things like, “oh, right, petechial hemorrhaging, right, that’s why he wouldn’t strangle her,” or, “No, no, she wouldn’t do that on the elevator,” or “Wait, hold on, that’s not his finger in the box.”

7) Lastly, we write. A lot. Sure, we talk about writing. We go to conferences and workshops and critique groups. But, at the end of the day, we write. We sit in a chair, laptop in front of us, and we try to create a world, populate it with interesting characters then make bad shit happen to them. It takes time. It takes concentration. And it takes time away from doing things we love (and doing them with people we love.) It’s work. It’s what we do. But it’s also what we love. It may not make sense sometimes. It may not even make sense most of the time, but we write anyway. I hope our loved ones will forgive us.

So, if you ever see someone pounding away on a laptop, muttering to themselves, paying no attention to the world around them, with a book on the table beside them and a browser window open to “A thousand ways to dismantle a body with a spoon,” don’t panic.

Now, true enough, it’s just as likely they’re a serial killer, or someone truly insane, but it could just be they’re a writer. Trying to write something you’d want to read.

Give them a hug.

They’ll need it.

Especially if they’re a serial killer.

Anyone have any other ways to spot a writer?

Seven words that say it all

Karalee’s Post #43

I’ve taken the last few weeks off and it has been a family summer to remember. It’s been five years since I went to our family reunion on my mother’s side and once again I was reminded of why I left home. I’ve matured and moved on compared to many of my cousins, but I can also see where many of my own flaws come from. I had to laugh since I realized I was watching my family like reading a  book and analyzing how the author developed the story.

ice-cream maker

 

 

And some things are nostalgic, like making homemade ice-cream from an original ice-cream maker and my brother encouraging me to ride a motorbike like I used to in the country. karalee on motorbike

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in Vancouver I swam in the Kitsilano pool for the first time. It’s 137 meters long and has the most spectacular back-drop imaginable. Kit's pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a tire  blow-out brought me back to the reality of how life can change in an instant and how lucky I was to steer safely to the roadside where good Samaritans had my spare tire on within 15 minutes! Thank-you! 

tire blow-out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m also very fortunate to be able to spend time with my three children that are now young adults and finding their way in life. I’m proud of them and applaud their independence. 

  • my youngest son got accepted at UBC in the Sauder’s Business School with a major in Computer Science
  • my daughter bought her first apartment and got engaged (I forgot to take a photo. Too excited for her!)
  • my youngest son is playing in the junior finals in the Canadian National Ultimate Frisbee tournament tonight.

Allen Ulti 2013

 

  • Two weeks ago my oldest son played on Team Canada in the World Ultimate tournament

Kevin in Worlds 2013

 

 

And in case you are wondering where my title came from,  Seven words that say it all, Team Canada came second to the U.S., and when I asked my son how he was really doing after the game, he said:

“My knee hurts and my heart hurts.”

It brought tears to my eyes.

Seven poignant words that evoked great emotion. Now that’s how I’d like to write.

A bit of New Jersey wisdom

Silk’s Post #48 – Look, I’m from New York. Not the city, the suburbs. There’s probably a case to be made that huge chunks of Long Island (where I grew up), New Jersey and Connecticut are really all suburbs of “The City”. But Jersey is a planet unto itself.

Although I have some dearly-loved cousins there, I still tend to think of New Jersey as Noo Joisey. It’s not the place I automatically think of looking when I’m in search of wisdom.

But then I started reading How I Write by best selling author (and proud Jersey girl) Janet Evanovich.

After reading more books about writing than can be considered natural, I must admit that Evanovich’s unpretentious advice, presented mostly in Q-and-A format like a column of advice to the lovelorn, is a refreshing change. For what are we – the unpublished horde – if not lovelorn writers in search of an agent, an editor, a publisher, an audience?

Evanovich is a down-to-earth mystery series queen who freely admits to being a NASCAR buff, a cheez doodle addict and a disco music fan. She even claims to be inspired by Eminem videos and fantasies of seeing The Rock naked. So other than the fact that our birthplace zip codes are in the same time zone, and we both write, Janet and I probably don’t have a huge amount in common.

But what I love about her advice is her zero tolerance for BS. She’s hard-edged with a grin and a wink. Here’s her advice to a newbie writer who naively asked Evanovich what to do about her problem sticking with one story idea and her tendency to keep starting new projects instead, none of which seem to get finished:

“How about this – you start a book and every time you veer off in another direction, you imagine me standing behind you giving you a good smack on the head.”

In fact, almost all of Evanovich’s advice can be boiled down to this simple bit of New Jersey wisdom: Just quit your bellyaching and write already.

“Don’t get caught spending your writing time talking about writing, thinking about writing, planning your writing studio, shopping for comfortable writing clothes. Just do it. Write the book.”

Thanks Janet. I love the way you give million dollar advice using five cent words.

(I’m sailing around again, far from wifi, so forget the pretty pictures and links this time. Maybe I’ll add some tags and blog jewelry tomorrow if I can get a pipeline to cyberspace. Next week I’ll try to do something fancier.)

Joe on Joe one more time (and no, it’s not kinky)

conscience

Joe’s Post #47 — So, I thought I’d have a wee chat with myself. I do that sometimes. Apparently insane people do that, too, but whatever, I need to see where I’m at.

Conscience: Hey, there.

Me: Go away.

Conscience: Just wanted to know how it’s going? Getting lots of work done? Still on schedule to finish by Sept 5th and get that exciting new YA novel out there?

Me: Bite me.

Conscience: Oh dear. Come on, you can tell me, what’s up?

Me: I did a map.

Conscience: Oh glorious hallelujah.

Me: A pretty good one actually. A beautiful woman even looked at it and said, ‘I don’t understand how you can get lost in a parking lot and yet produce such an incredible map.’ Pretty cool, huh?

Conscience: You get lost in a parking lot.

Me: You’re missing the point.

Conscience: So this map, what, helps you write?

Me: Helps me world build. All history stems from geography, right, so I needed to make sure that I had my world properly envisioned. With mountains and rivers and pretty little trees for the forests and some place for my evil villain to hang out.

Conscience: Hooters?

Me: No. Hello, it’s a fantasy world.

Conscience: And Hooters is not? Hmmm. I think I’ll save that for another time. So, maps, good, I get it. And the writing?

Me: Maps are part of the process. Now, I have a richer history to draw upon. I even came up with a devastated part of the land where mighty magical was fought. The more detailed I drew the map, the more I knew about the world and the people in it.

Conscience: Let me repeat, ‘and the writing?’

Me: It’s coming along. I’m using the CHEWASS method, but it’s kinda embarrassing sometimes.

Conscience: Oh, how? Like getting-your-willy-stuck-in-your-zipper-just-before-a-public-speech embarrassing?

Me: Not quite, and who told you about that? Anyway, I had to rewrite a section where I completely forgot ‘want’, you know, a goal for my character. I mean, I completely forgot. What kind of writer does that?

Conscience: You, apparently.

Me: So, there was my main character, literally up a tree, and she’s just lost her brother and sister and does she even think about them? No. No she does not. Not until nearly 50 pages later. Now I ask you, how is that possible? HOW?

Conscience: You’re right, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Me: I know. But the good news is I’m spotting these things. The good news is that I’m cutting out the crap and making the story IMPOSSIBLE to put down, even adding… wait for it… emotion.

Conscience: Oh, be still my beating heart.

Me: So, I guess to answer your question, it’s a bit behind schedule, but I’d rather produce a quality product, one that will make an amazing series, than do less than my best. But don’t give up on me, that deadline is important to me.

exerciseConscience: Great! Awesome! So, ah, how’s the exercise going?

Me: Go fuck yourself.