Category Archives: Writing

Out And About

I need to get out more.

Not just for my own well being, for fun, or for a vacation or anything like that.  It’s for my writing.  When I put it like that, it just sounds like a big excuse for going somewhere, doesn’t it?

But…because the characters in my novels aren’t going to be living and interacting with each other right here where I’m living and working, it’s important that I accurately describe the places where their stories take place.  And, though I’ve moved around a lot, and had the opportunity to see a large number of unique areas, it helps to have a refresher on the details that I haven’t seen in far too long.  At least in my mind – justification made.

Fortunately I do have a writer’s memory and everything from the past seems to stick in some part of my mind – even the parts that I’d probably prefer to forget.  It’s all there to be pulled out, either when it’s needed, or to show up unwanted.  They’re all usable in writing though.  But there’s just something about actually being there in some of those places you remember and experiencing them again that can inspire on a whole other level.

The last time I went back to the town that I called home as I grew up, I took a number of pictures from around the area.  Places that I saw most every day as I was going to school and wishing my way out of that town are now more important than ever and valuable for me to be able to picture again.  It’s small town America.  It’s Midwestern values and main streets.  And many things that are part of that town would fit for different locales in future scenes.  And taking in as many details as possible, and refreshing all of those memories, can only help for years to come.

It’s not just home though, but everywhere that I’ve been.  I can vividly remember sitting by the edge of Lake Cadillac, watching the fireworks explode over the still water on a particular fourth of July.  I can picture my last game at Wrigley Field and watching the Cubs lose in extra innings as I sat in damp clothes caused by a half hour rain delay.  I can feel the breeze as I walk around Lake Harriet on a late summer day, and hear the sounds of bicyclists as they called out to pass on the left as we would follow the trail.  They’re great places and great memories I can always draw upon.  But I’d still like to go back and experience things again to completely freshen up the memory.

Either that or check out Vegas, the coast of Maine, London or the Caribbean…  Places I’ve yet to see.  I don’t think I have any future scenes from a planned novel going on anyplace like that though. Hmm…maybe it has nothing to do with writing after all.  Maybe I just need a vacation.

But for now, Graham wants to go outside.  So we’ll take a walk down to the creek and wander over to the edge of the woods.  And I’ll take in the warm air, the cool breeze, the smell of fresh-cut grass and the sight of the setting sun and the rising moon as they pass each other in the sky.  And I’m sure there are plenty of places in the novel for things like that…

Hey, It’s Good ‘Ol Whatshisname!

I’m horrible with names.

Not bad, horrible.  I’m one of those people who dreads the moment of meeting someone new. Because my mind perfectly hears – “I’d like you to meet–“, and then immediately switches gear at that point to plan out my response instead of listening.  Right as their name is being said, I’m formulating which assortment of words I’m going to use in my first statement to this new person. “Nice to meet you”, “Good to meet you”, “Pleasure to meet you”… They’re not complicated phrases at all, so why am I spending so much mental energy to ensure I don’t make a disastrous first impression by accidentally saying “Meet to nice you”, or “Nice to pleasure you”?  And yet, my mind immediately clicks off into that direction on the exact word before their name is spoken.

Knowing that I do this doesn’t help me at all.  It’s a problem I’m completely aware of and still can’t stop.  So if I meet you and don’t actually use your name in conversation until I’ve heard someone else use it at least eighteen times, please don’t be offended.  It’s not you, it’s me.

I know I’m not the only person with this problem.   And fortunately some people are even worse.  I once visited my sister at college and she introduced me to the pastor of her church.

“This is my brother Drew,” she said to him.

“Wow,” he replied as he reached out to shake my hand. “My name is Craig too.”

Unfortunately I’m horrible with the names of characters in the books I write as well. They’re my creations, right?  So I should easily be able to decide “You’re Audra McKinney, you’re Richard Bucklew, and you’re Edgar Ott. Sorry, just deal with it.” But I’m hesitant. Like I’m going to offend them by accidentally using the wrong name and they might not correct me, causing me to always call Jason “Erik” and being laughed at behind my back. Wow, that sounds like quite an issue when I type it out… 🙂

So right now the main character in my current novel is “[Name]”. That’s it. I’m on chapter 31 and every time he’s mentioned, he’s [Name]. I don’t want to use a working name in case it’s not right and it sticks forever.  Awkward.

I know everything about this character – the way his relationship with his father has impacted his decisions throughout his life, his continuing fixation with one of his ex-girlfriends, the reasons why can’t bring himself to replace the toaster. Everything.  Yet I still call him [Name].

It’s not forever. He’ll be given his name by the end of the book I’m sure. Until then, at least [Name] knows me as well as I know him and can be understanding about it.  And if not, I’ll just edit him to be a bit more forgiving…

“Pay attention to me,” she says.

It’s been a grey, rainy day here today.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about that at all. Rain inspires me. There’s just something about having weather that’s a little bit ‘off’ to kick in the creative energy.  Especially during those times when you’re driving through it to go to work instead.  Then the ideas really start flowing.  Call it bad timing…

Today would have been a great day to be sitting at the desk cranking out a few chapters while watching the rain steadily run down the windows. Or maybe to be sitting in a coffee shop in a comfy, overstuffed chair listening to the people come in and go out, shaking off the water and placing their orders for hot drinks. Especially since one of my characters has been not so politely requesting my attention.

Right now, two of my main characters are trying to figure out just what they’re pursuing together. They may be starting a relationship but it’s still in that awkward stage that could go in any number of directions. And I haven’t had the time to get back to them in a while.  And Marla’s not happy about that at all…

[Editor’s Note:  ‘Marla’ is the current name being used in the working manuscript and may change – based on whatever this character tells the author her name is.  She’s strong-willed.  Also, this working name may or may not be based on the name of a girl the author used to know in high school. Creative liberties and all that you know…]

(I always wanted to do one of those notes…)

Part of what makes writing so exciting are those moments when the characters’ personalities come out and they really start telling their own stories.  And Marla isn’t the patient type so she’s done that to me numerous times through the process so far.  She’s the type to say what’s on her mind and to make decisions quickly.   So she hasn’t been very happy about me sitting around and taking a pause in picking up the next part of the story.  And she’s been popping up in my mind and making that extremely clear.

I don’t blame her though.  She’s right.  There’s a date that really needs to happen, and a late night conversation about the past needs to take place as well.  A misunderstanding or two have to be faced and conversations with friends to get outside opinions from people who don’t have the whole picture.  Fun stuff like that.  And much more.

Once I pick it back up, they’ll lead me through it and take a number of different turns that will surprise me and take me off guard.  Since it’s still the rough draft, it’s just writing, not editing, and there’s the enjoyment of being led along the story, finding out how far off I was with my original expectations and plans.

I don’t take it personally that she’s demanding my attention.  Her story’s time is now, before the next one starts pushing its way forward in my mind and the next novel starts taking over my thoughts.  And before that, she’s got a lot of living yet to do…

Writing as an actual gig…

I’ve been writing professionally since I was five… Seriously.  Granted, there wasn’t much money in it, but my needs were few, my tastes cheap, and it worked out to be a pretty good overall gig.

To encourage creativity, my mother – a grade school teacher before she brought me and my sisters into the world – offered us a deal for some extra money. She would pay us for stories that we would write.  And, ever in need of spare change for such important items as candy bars and Star Wars figures, I continued to take her up on this over the years.  I even provided the artwork for some of the early classics, such as “Quentin and Blentin” and “Fido Finds a Home” (the latter being a shameless and utterly unsuccessful play for getting a dog of my own).

When I completed a new story, I would submit the pages to my mom for her review.  She’d take it to the kitchen table and read it through carefully while I stood nearby, nervously watching her face for any expression that would clue me into what she thought about my creation.  And, once she finished reading through it, she would take out a pen and read it again.

Spelling errors were the first to be circled, followed quickly by the grammatical ones.  She’d scribble a note if she caught an error using quotations or didn’t use paragraph breaks correctly.  And, if the story line was reminiscent of a book I’d recently checked out from the library or a recent television show, then the sale price was immediately impacted.  But, as honest as she was in her editing, she was always encouraging and positive, making it clear that you’d done something creative  and appreciated.

On the last page, she  would total it all up.  Something like:

Original Story – $2.50 (starting price completely dependent on her mood)

Spelling – 3 errors.  -.30  (My college-lined notebook didn’t have spell-check)

Total –  $2.20  Great Job!!

She started me out young and always seemed to have just the right amount of change in her purse for payment.  And my passion was lit.

But…did I sell my rights too cheap?  Well… At least it was enough to keep me in Snickers and Stormtroopers.  So who could complain with a childhood like that?