Archive for the ‘My Kitchen Table’ Category
WARNING: THIS IS A NO-EDIT ZONE…
I wrote the initial WRITERS AND MEDICAL ISSUES post and received the following email from author and friend, Sue (SUSAN) KRINARD (www.susankrinard.com). Because it contains valuable information that could be helpful, I wrote and asked her permission to post it. She graciously agreed. (Thanks again, Sue!)
So what follows is Sue’s personal response to my initial post.
SUSAN KRINARD’S EMAIL RESPONSE: posted with full permission
I’m not sure if you’ll get this message sent this way, but wanted to let you know that I had pretty bad carpal tunnel and found a cure for myself, a treatement for Myofascial Pain Disorder or Syndrome. I won’t go into details, but it proposes that the basis of carpal tunnel is NOT in the wrists but in the shoulder, where the fascia and muscles become too tight and bear down on the nerves that reach around the clavicle and continue into the fingers. Working with my shoulder virtually cured my carpal tunnel, and allowed me to avoid debilitating surgery that probably wouldn’t have done much for me.
Myofascial therapy also works for back problems and many other muscular-skeletal disorders related to writing. It helped me with headaches, back and shoulder pain, since you’re addressing the muscle and fascial trigger points, where there is spasming and chemical buildup that then “refers” to other parts of the body (neck, for instance, to the fascia and muscles in the head, which cause headaches). Sounds very new-agey, but it’s actually a recognized medical condition and therapy going back some forty years or more. It’s just not well known.
The baseball size knots your friend has might very well be fixed with Myofascial therapy. I can’t guarantee anything, but I’d urge her to try if it she hasn’t already. (I also have had these knots, and they’re all considerably less problematic now.)
A note to Vicki’s readers: you can reach me through Aids4Writers@yahoogroups.com or via the contact page on this site any time.
WARNING: THIS IS A NO-EDIT ZONE…
One doesn’t typically think of writers being subject to health challenges due to their work. But writers are prone to several medical challenges that are writing-related, or work-related. A few of the more dominate challenges follow:
1. Carpel Tunnel. Like anyone else who spends a lot of time at the keyboard, writers are inclined to suffer from carpel tunnel challenges. There are a lot of excellent web resources on this, so I won’t go into detail here, but I will mention that many writers have found it helpful to wear wrist braces while working. They’ve also heralded the benefits of taking regular breaks to rotate and rest the wrists.
2.Lower Back Strain. This is due to long hours of staying seated, too often without breaks for stretching, and poor posture. We do tend to hunch over the keyboard which causes a misalignment of the spine. So do take regular breaks to stretch and strive for good posture. There are specific exercises that will strengthen these muscles. Consult your doctor and check out lower back strain on www.webmd.com.
3.Eye Strain. Everyone in this business seems to suffer from eye strain. I suppose it’s inevitable, considering how many hours each day writers stare at screens or at manuscript pages. But we should take regular breaks often, and focus on distant objects. This helps the muscles. Be sure to have your eyes examined annually. This is one thing you don’t put off and let get out of hand.
4.Repetitive Stress Syndrome. Most think of this as something that challenges the fingers and wrists, but it can also strongly impact the neck and shoulders. As I write this, two writing friends are on mandatory rest from computer activity. One gets baseball-sized knots on the back near the shoulder blade. The other can’t turn her head due to stressed neck muscles. When working, if your muscles tense, stop and exercise them–and if your doc says stay off the computer, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to check email or watch videos. It means stay off the computer. Heeding medical instructions is wise. It can spare you long-term injury, not to mention pain and suffering.
Preventatives/Recommendations suggested to me by my docs:
I’m sharing this not to dispense medical advice but so you can see typical challenge recommendations.
1. Make your workstation ergo-friendly. Is your keyboard at the right height and distance from you? Is the screen positioned properly so it doesn’t strain your neck or your eyes? For guidelines, visit this link: ERGONOMIC WORK STATION
2.Exercise. Back, tummy and chest muscles are particularly vulnerable. When we sit and slouch, which most of us do, we strain the lower back and push the tummy outward. For exercises you can do at your desk, visit this link: DESK EXERCISES
A couple of personal tips from the trenches:
Walk. Long-term sitting can cause circulation challenges, particularly to the legs. Take breaks and walk.
Drinks. It’s easy to get on coffee or soft drink kicks. Limit coffee and opt for water instead. Your kidneys will love you. Your skin, the body’s largest organ, will, too. I love coffee, so I know this one can be challenging. But when you’re lost in la-la land, in create-mode, a cup of hot water works, and seriously, I don’t consciously note the difference.
Fiber. If you walk and drink lots of water, great. If you eat well balanced meals and get enough fiber, great. Odds are, with so many foods being refined, you’re not. Monitor what you eat and run it by your doc. I thought I was getting sufficient fiber and discovered I wasn’t.
Alcohol. I don’t use it at all, but many speak of the benefits of 4 ounces per day of red wine. What I do know is that I’ve read many reports speaking to too many writers becoming alcoholics. I don’t know if this is due to the challenges or the demands of the creative nature trying to successfully merge into bottom-line business or something else entirely, but when you’re on notice that many in your chosen field are vulnerable, it’s common-sense wise to be cautious.
While I’m a doc in philosophy, I’m not a medical doc, so keep in mind these aren’t professional recommendations. These are tips from one writer to another, sharing. Do check with your doctor for professional recommendations.
Now, to the above, I want to add something I’ve been meaning to blog on for a long time. To give you the key to the door that can’t be opened…
THE KEY TO THE DOOR THAT CAN’T BE OPENED
“You can’t do it.”
“You’re not smart enough or strong enough or rich enough or wise enough or pretty enough or cool enough or talented enough or ….”
Choose what you’ve been told you can’t do.
Write it down. Title this: “Things I can’t do List.” Set it aside for a second and consider…
Who told you that you couldn’t? Why did they tell you that? Why did you believe it?
Clear on all that? Great. Now answer this–and take your time. Think about it before you answer…
Do you still believe it? Why?
Enlightening little exercise, isn’t it? Challenging things we’ve accepted on autopilot–sometimes for most of our lives?
Understand that we’re all vulnerable to “negative old tapes” playing in our minds. Whether they originated with parents or peers or others in our lives who played a mentor or a respected friend, it doesn’t matter. The point is they’ve programmed us to believe certain things about ourselves that have become true because we’ve taken those messages in and convinced ourselves that they’re fact.
The fact is they’ve become true because we’ve chosen to make them true. Remember being told that you couldn’t do this or that, that you’re too weak to do “x” or you’d be foolish to become a “x” or that you’ll never amount to anything?
Everyone has negative old tapes. And because some of them start when we’re so young, we tend to take them in at face value and believe them. Our belief in them sets our expectations–and, in the case of negative tapes, sets our limitations.
Here’s the thing. Regardless of how long these tapes have been playing in our heads, we can choose to assess them and reassess them at any time. As adults, we might realize the reason that person of authority in our lives said what they did. It’s a reflection of their expectations and the limitations they’ve set. They’ve simply extended those things to us. It’s up to us whether or not we receive them.
They give. We receive. If we embrace, then we create these circumstances by virtue of expectations and limitations. But we can refuse. We can say, you know, that might be true for that person, they might believe this about us, but what they believe is insignificant. What we believe is critical.
We are souls in a mortal body and if one thing has stood the test of time it’s the irrepressible nature of the human spirit. People do the seemingly impossible. Overcome amazing odds to accomplish wonderful things. We consider it extraordinary but that’s because of the nature of the accomplishment not because it happens infrequently. People move mountains that others said couldn’t be moved all the time. They do it because they first believed that they could and then took action to do it.
So when those negative old tapes start playing in our minds, we need to remember that. We believe we can, then we take action to make it happen. That’s the key to the door you’ve been told can’t be opened.
Now, for the final part in this exercise…
Pick up a pencil. Flip it end for end, like you have your thoughts on those negative tapes. Retrieve the “can’t do” list you created earlier. Now, letter by letter, erase everything on the list that you were told you can’t do. All of it.
Now flip your pencil again. Lead down, write: “I choose, I act, I accomplish.”
I once heard this type exercise referenced as “dumping your hard drive” (your mind) and “reformatting your disc.”
Isn’t that just totally appropriate for writers? We create something from nothing routinely. When then shouldn’t we get rid of negative old tapes and reformat our discs to include those things which encourage us to create and manifest the best in us?
Many say that the physical condition of a person is the manifestation of the emotional and spiritual condition of a person. I believe they’re three parts that comprise the whole; how can one not impact the other two? Balance. Harmony. These aren’t just concepts, they’re important elements in our health and well being.
To do our best, we need to work to be our best on all fronts. None of it comes without effort or attention and that requires our time. I hear the groans. Time-crunched already, that’s the last thing one wants to hear. But here’s the thing: neglect one of the three and the whole suffers.
These three parts of us are not separable but merged like a drop of water is ocean. The ocean is in every drop, inseparable from the whole. We need to take care of us–all of us–so that our droplet of water stays merged… and healthy.
©2008, Vicki Hinze
There’s currently an enormous buzz about copyright infringement and book piracy–and it appears that a significant number of authors are victims, which makes agents and publishers victims, too.
Reports are coming in about websites allowing uploads of entire books. Some are very cooperative on taking them down once they’re notified that the work is copyrighted. Some are not. They do not include a search feature from the home page that one can access without becoming a member. And there are reports of of some hiding the work behind adult sites. If you want to search to see if your work is on the site, you must buy a lifetime membership to the adult porn site.
Suggestions I’ve seen on checking to see if your work is affected include running a search on Google, Yahoo or another major search engine. Search the author’s name. But also search the book title. And be aware that there are also reports of the author’s name/title being corrupted. i..e., Jane@Doe or Jane&Doe or Jane-Doe or Jane.Doe.
It’s troublesome to me, and I’m sure to other authors, agents and publishers who all have a vested interest in this, that the copyright of our works isn’t being protected. That these uncooperative sites are deliberately infringing and taking subversive actions to do so.
Unless we come together and collectively protest this, we’re all going to suffer the consequences.
If laws need to be changed, then we need to encourage our writing organizations to work to change them. Everyone in the process–authors, agents, publishers–needs to be diligent about reporting these sites so that we collectively can act against the theft of our works. Authors need to invest the time to check their works, see if they’re being stolen/pirated.
Waiting and allowing this to go unchecked is not in our best interests.
Also, authors who write articles, short stories, non-fiction: check your work. Some of that is also being discussed.
Ask your writing organization or group to spearhead an offensive to this theft. The longer we wait, the greater the challenge.
©2008, Vicki Hinze
The prospect of creating a new series of novels can be both invigorating and intimidating.
Which it proves to be depends largely on how the writer’s mind works. If s/he tends to get ideas for books in clusters, the process still isn’t easy, but it does seem to come more naturally.
Does that mean if you’re not a “cluster” book thinker, you can’t create a series? Of course not. It just means that you’ll need a method to do so that works in harmony with the way you do think.
What follows is my “cluster thinking” method. It’s a process I’ve refined over seven series, four of which are published. The remaining three are works-in-progress.
1. Decide what “theme” or element you want to carry through the series. That could be a place, a person, or a theme. For example, in the SEASCAPE series, the Seascape Inn, was the recurring setting. The healing that happened there was a continuous plot element that was at the core of each of the books. In the WAR GAMES series, the S.A.S.S. unit and the villain were the recurring elements. Battling wits and terrorism were the recurring plot elements.
2.Draft your basic novel credentials. Targeted market/genre? Word Length, Number of Novels in the Series–all of the general information required to construct the novels consistently and in harmony with the readership you hope to attract. This helps the writer stay focused and also helps editorial and marketing when you shift to selling the series you’ve created.
3.Create your main recurring characters. Who they are and what they do goes a long way in defining their conflicts–internal and external–and where they’re most apt to do those things. Create character sketches on these main characters. Spend some time with your Protagonist and Antagonist. The more you know about them, the more they feed your individual novel plots. That includes tone and setting, or physical aspects as well as emotional ones. Include a brief physical description (or photo representative of the character), their goals, internal and external conflicts and whatever it is that motivates them to act. You should also know what they love and hate and why as well as their personal history. All of those things are fodder that generate plots.
4.Create your secondary recurring characters. Likely you’ll have a few in roles as mentor, confidant, friend, who will play pertinent secondary roles in multiple books. Get to know them so that they too are distinct. Other secondary characters will be added to the existing ones as the series progresses. Be sure to add them to your sketches to save yourself a lot of time and trouble trying to find what you’ve written about them previously.
5.Create your recurring settings. As well as the physical location (I draw a map) you need to keep track of recurring specific settings, such as the layout of a house, an office, or whatever building(s) appear in many of the novels. For example, if you’re writing medical thrillers and the hospital is used repeatedly, then draft out the floor plan and what is located where. This will keep you consistent within the novel and from book to book.
6.Create a brief overview of each of the novels in the series. Two or three pages that focuses on each novel, paying particular attention to characters, conflicts, and resolutions. Think of this as an expanded book cover blurb. By doing this work at once, you can better set up for future novels and include elements that create firm foundations for future conflicts.
Check your character arcs for consistency and character growth.
Determine whether or not you want an over-arching conflict. One that appears in some form in each of the novels but isn’t resolved until the end of the last book. This might be a villain who appears to be caught in each book but proves to still be on the loose (as in my WAR GAMES series). Or like in my LADY books, a villain who attempts an attack, is stopped in the novel, but the villain isn’t apprehended. In a romantic series, you might have a secondary couple’s relationship build over several novels in the series and then do a book where they’re the main characters. If you can build in related elements such as these, you more closely connect the series and readers do tend to like that. The caveat, however–and it’s a significant one–is to make sure each novel is a complete and satisfying read standing alone.
Why is that so significant?
Some series catch on after a few books. Readers begin reading with book 3 or book 4 and then go back and read the first two or three. So it’s imperative that a reader new to the series in book three or four not be lost. If they can’t follow the story, or there are so many characters they can’t follow along, you’ve greatly diminished the odds that they’ll enjoy this book and all but assured they won’t seek out the previous ones.
As you’re writing the novels, add to the listing of specific characters and settings you’ve used. Let those sketches in your novel notebook be liquid and fluid aids. Yes, it takes a few minutes to jot down what you’ve placed where. But it’s far easier to flip open the notebook and check the sketch than it is to thumb through the books to discover that information.
I mentioned the notebook. A novel notebook is a 3-ring binder where I keep everything that has anything to do a novel/series. It’s all together and organized so I don’t waste time looking for stuff I can’t find, which tries my patience. If your patience gets tried by this, you might want to run to my online library www.vickihinze.com and take a look at the article HOW-TO-BUILD A NOVEL NOTEBOOK. It’s a simple system that’s worked very well for me for a long time. When the book or series is done, I just empty the notebook into a big envelope and label it, and everything is together and the notebook is ready for the next wave!
Creating a series can be daunting, but it can also be a lot of fun. Its challenges are just the type to intrigue and invigorate writers. One of the biggest challenges is that we’re eager to get started and we don’t want to slow down and do background work that no one will see except us. But in that work hides many time-saving hours. So I hope you’ll invest in it. It will spare you grief. And I hope these tips on creating a series are ones of value to you.
©2008, Vicki Hinze
Life, they say, is what happens while you’re otherwise occupied.
I’m not sure if I believe that, but I do believe that you can miss life by being occupied. We can get caught up in crisis living and miss the turns on our personal paths that are most meaningful.
What do I mean?
Honestly, I’m grappling with what exactly I mean, so we’ll just talk it through together, since the matter is very much on my mind this morning due to two significant events.
The two events. I guess that’s a good place to start.
Event #1: a neighbor died. He and his wife had one child, a son. He was college-age, a smart guy with character and tons of potential. A few years ago, he was crossing a bridge and a car veered into his lane and hit him head-on. He had nowhere to go, and was killed. His parents suffered the heartache of losing their child and now his father has passed, and my heart aches for his widow. She’s buried her child and will now bury her husband, and she’s left to cope with the loss alone. I find myself asking how will she bear it, and praying she’s a woman of faith because, I’ll tell you, I watched my mother bury two sons and then my father and I know that her faith is what got her through it intact.
Event #2: all the tornadoes that hit in the last two days, and all the lives cut short because they did. Each of those people had lives and hopes and dreams and aspirations. I’m sure many had enormous potential and mile-long to-do lists, too. Things that just couldn’t wait, so they put their lives on hold–the things important to them personally–to do those “can’t wait,” or crisis-living things. Yet in the span of mere minutes, all of those things became insignificant. Every bit of them did, because in that twinkling, they lost their lives. All that potential and those hopes and dreams and aspirations went with them, too.
I can’t shake thoughts of them in those last minutes. When they knew what was coming and they couldn’t avoid it. What were they thinking then? When the realization hit them that they were going to die, what were their thoughts?
I’m sure there was fear. I’m sure there was anger and cries of, “But it’s too soon. I’m not ready yet.” And I’m sure there were regrets. Things done that they wished could be undone. Things left unsaid that now would remain unsaid. Self-recrimination on priorities and perspectives of what most mattered now shifting.
I’m not sure of the nature of those regrets, but I wonder… Were any of them thinking of the crisis-living things they simply had to do before the storm?
We all have duties, responsibilities and obligations. Often so many of them that we keep pushing aside high-priority personal items. It’s those things I wonder how these people felt about at that twinkling moment.
I know that during crisis moments we often see most clearly. Our focus becomes laser sharp, intense on the matter at hand and we give everything–our all–to whatever is on our minds at that moment in time.
I know that on the other side of crises, people who have experienced those moments and survived often make a sharp turn in their lives. They consider the crisis a wake-up call and redefine their lives. They take a look at their priority list and turn it on its ear. They shun crisis-living and adopt personal priority living. And often that personal priority living has to do with dreams they’ve carried with them for a lifetime, or maybe hints of that dream that in that moment of intense clarity came sharply into focus.
This has me calling the question: Can we reach that twinkling moment, that point in time where we have laser focus and gain that clarity without experiencing a personal, life-threatening crisis?
We can. It isn’t hard to mentally place ourselves in the positions of others who have been there and done that. And if we do, then we have the opportunity to learn from their experience. We might not share all of the emotional impact that they endure, but we can grasp and project and imagine, and gain deeper insight and understanding. We can awaken and seek wisdom in this way.
There is always merit in seeking wisdom. In looking at our own crisis-living items and personal priority items and weighing what we’re doing. There’s wisdom in evaluating these things when we aren’t in crisis because we still have an opportunity to change them.
For some, they’ll choose the status quo. Life’s comfortable and they don’t want it any different. That’s their choice, and I’m sure there’s comfort in having weighed the matter and made the call. The peace that comes with knowing you’ve considered it and you’re doing what’s right for you.
Some will redefine aspects of their lives. Of those who do, some will stick with those new changes and some will slide back into the old. Their choice. Again, better because it’s come as a result of deep thought and not of apathy.
Some will challenge every single thing that has been a part of their lives and make significant changes. Life-altering, life-defining changes. Of these, some will be reborn into a life very different from the one they’ve been living, and they’ll thump themselves for waiting so long. Some will wonder what they were thinking to do this at this point in their lives, in their careers. Regardless, they will choose from a broader, more insightful perspective.
You know, I don’t think what’s significant is the path one takes so much as that one takes it with a deeper awareness of life. Taking it deliberately. Intent on taking it. That is a good thing.
Whether that awareness brings a person to a point on their journey where they move straight ahead or turn on a dime, veering sharply in a totally different direction, well that’s a choice. But the awareness, and all it brings to the person, well that’s a gift.
Yes. Absolutely, a gift. It’s one of those gems of wisdom that is home to solace and comfort and peace.
Now I know what I mean. And I’m going to reassess from this perspective. Will I stay on the current road or change directions on a dime? I don’t know. But I will know soon. Will you?
©2008, Vicki Hinze
We all have an internal compass.
It comes to us as flashes of intuition, gut instinct. Sometimes, when danger threatens, it raises the hair on our necks and arms. At others, it comes to us as a gentle knowing.
Some say we absorb signals subconsciously and instinct is nothing more than us becoming consciously aware.
Some say we suffer sensory input overload and it triggers the sum of our experience and knowledge and wisdom which makes value judgments and signals our internal compass to alert us.
Some say we are the sum of our experience and our reactions are solely learned. (i.e. touch a hot stove, get burned, never forget it and always associate touching a hot stove with getting burned.)
Others say these nudges are divine intervention, in the case of warnings, or of divine assurance, in the case of affirmations.
I believe our internal compass is all of that and more. And the more we trust it, the more aware we become and the easier it is for that compass to get our attention. It’s like muscles. Those you exercise perform better and more easily than those you don’t. The more we exercise our internal compass, the stronger, wiser and more honed it becomes.
Take reading. When you were learning how to read, you first struggled over the letters that formed the words. Then you struggled over the words. But as you practiced and learned to recognize them, the reading became easier, faster, and your comprehension of what you were reading grew.
When you were learning to type, you weren’t familiar with the keyboard and you had to look at the keys to verify their position to be certain of the outcome. You push P and get P. You don’t push P and get Q. Soon, you develop a bond of trust between your mind and fingertips and the keyboard. You know that when you push P that’s what you’re going to get.
If your internal compass warns that danger is afoot, and danger comes, then the next time that compass signals you of danger, you give the warning more credence. The more it proves accurate, the more weight you give it.
Our internal compasses give us insights not only on danger but on those gentler knowings. Where someone tells us something and innately we recognize it as truth. We don’t need hard evidence. We don’t need character witnesses or for verifiable events to affirm or to vindicate. We just know.
Most people acknowledge their internal compass. Many respect it, and some rely on it in all things. Writers typically fall into the last category, or grow into it. Why?
Because dealing with people, their motivations and conflicts, is ordinary business for writers. We couldn’t write a paragraph, much less a story, otherwise. So this routine work gives our compass-muscles a lot of exercise. It becomes honed and we naturally take that honed skill into other areas of our lives. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes as innate, normal reactions.
What does that mean to the writer when it comes to the work?
It means that writers usually craft characters with strong internal compasses, too. And that those characters use them.
Some characters, depending on their story role, might not heed their compass, but the protagonists, being admirable people readers respect and want to emulate, do. It’s odd for a worthy villain not to rely heavily on his internal compass, too.
These acknowledgements of and affinity with their internal compasses means the attuned writer instinctively creates 3-dimensional characters. Ones with depth and real-life qualities. Complex characters that aren’t just reflections of their story role but ones that give birth to their story roles. It is what it is because they are who they are. The result? Highly individualized characters and stories.
Characters intuit. Relate. Deliberately heed or dispute their compasses’ findings. They don’t ignore or disregard the compass; it’s too much a part of them to be ignored.
What can the internal compass do for characters (or people)?
In bogus situations, it signals the wisdom in skepticism and doubt. Have you ever had someone tell you something and even as they spoke, you knew it was a lie? That’s your internal compass at work.
Have you been in a situation where things were not as they seemed? No one told you they weren’t, but you knew all the same. How did you know? Say you detected an experience or event was staged. How did you innately know it wasn’t genuine? Your internal compass.
What about the person who says I’m sorry, but you know they’re not. That their apology is a machination or a manipulation to achieve a goal and not sincere? Or the person/character who deliberately undermines relationships because it serves their own interests–or they believe it does?
And you know it without evidence. All of it. Again, that’s your internal compass at work.
Everyone has an internal compass. It tells us right from wrong. It is the keeper of our conscience—and the guilt that parks there when we cross lines we shouldn’t cross. It signals our lines in the sand, our values being trampled or exalted, our judgments being confirmed or refuted. Our compass does all that and more, which is why it is critical to not neglect the internal compasses in our characters.
Characters emulate real people. Without an internal compass, the best character can only be a shadow of all s/he could be and should be. Seated in the compass is an integral part of our humanity.
We’ve all heard about the person about to take a flight getting a feeling s/he shouldn’t. S/he doesn’t fly, and the plane crashes.
We’ve all heard about the person who sensed an attack and either was or spared him/herself as a direct result of the warning.
We’ve all heard about the people who knew xyz was lying or cheating or having an affair and later was proven right.
Characters should have these experiences, too.
A common technique in fiction: when the female protagonist hears something and goes to investigate, and the reader (of the book) or the viewer (of the movie) is virtually shouting at the protagonist not to go down those stairs, not to go outside. We know danger is waiting. Sometimes the protagonist does, sometimes s/he doesn’t.
The character is ignoring his/her internal compass, but we’re heeding ours. That’s why we’re virtually shouting–and the conflict creates suspense that engages the reader.
We do exercise caution with this. We want the conflict and the suspense. We don’t want the reader to think our protagonist or antagonist is too stupid to live.
Remember in SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY when Julia Robert’s character returns home from the midnight picnic and senses someone’s been in the house? She innately knows it. But she still goes inside, finds the towels on the rack straightened (after she’d deliberately scrunched them) and the canned goods in the cabinet all in perfect order–not as she’d left them. Those things signaled every viewer that the abusive ex she’d fled was in the house. And every viewer feared what he would do to her.
If you look at that example, it shows multiple uses of the character’s internal compass. Intuited and learned.
The compass works that way for us and for our characters, and the more we trust it, the stronger it becomes.
And the stronger it becomes, the more deft we become as writers inserting it into our works.❧
©2008, Vicki Hinze
Today, over 300 bloggers, including bestsellers, Emmy winners, movie makers, and publishing houses have come together to talk about THE LIAR’S DIARY by Patry Francis. Why? To give the book the attention it deserves on its release day while Patry takes the time she needs to heal from cancer.
Before I talk about this book, I’d like to tell you a story about how this extraordinary day happened.
First, you need to know something about Patry Francis.
What if you worked for years as a waitress and then went home at the end of the day to your husband and four kids, and in those rare minutes of free time, you dared to dream that one day you might write a book? This is the story of my friend, Patry – a story that leaves out years of false starts, revisions, and rejection slips. It’s a story that writers know intimately, though the details are different. Every one of us is well acquainted with the struggle of getting a story on paper, of honing it and believing in it enough to send it out, only to receive rejection, or worse, silence for our efforts.
Imagine, after many years, you beat the odds. You finish that book. You find that agent who sells your manuscript. Your dream is about to become a reality. But just as your book is due to be released, you discover you have an aggressive form of cancer.
Patry’s story struck such a deep chord with many of us, not just because she is our friend, but because those of us who know her or read her blog have relied on her company through the ups and mostly downs of trying to write and sell a book. She is our buoy. She has shown us time and again her great gift for shedding light in the dark. Even her blog post about her cancer showed this – in her greatest time of need, she was still somehow comforting all of us and showing us glimpses of joy.
Patry is part one of this amazing story.
THE LIAR’S DIARY in paperback.
Now you need to know something about Laura Benedict:
On New Year’s Day, or thereabouts, Laura wrote to me, calling my attention to Patry’s publication date. “Perhaps we could do a ‘Patry Francis/Liar’s Diary’ blog-o-rama or carnival or something to promote the book?” she wrote. “I’m such an amateur at this stuff that I don’t know what’s possible.”
I didn’t give a moment’s thought to what we might try to pull off, or how; I simply said, “Yes! Let’s do it!”
It’s very important to me that Laura is recognized for her initial gesture – not just because she’s a great and generous woman, but because it says something about the strength of the heart over the kinds of power most of us are without. When you see the amazing outpouring of support and the high-profile people who joined this effort, remember it started with one small voice.
Laura is part 2 of this amazing story.
THE LIAR’S DIARY in hardcover.
Now let’s talk about you:
In less than one month, over 300 bloggers, writers, readers, and just big-hearted people signed on to take part in this day. I am overwhelmed and grateful for every single person who said yes or helped spread the word, but let me reserve some enormous thanks for the people who traded hundreds of emails with me to put this together: Karen Dionne of Backspace, Jessica Keener of Agni and The Boston Globe, Dan Conaway of Writers House, and Alice Tasman of the Jean Naggar Literary Agency.
What began as a personal gesture of caring for a friend became an astonishing show of community – writers helping writers; strangers helping strangers; and most surprising of all, editors, agents and publishers, who have no stake in this book, crossing “party lines” to blog, to make phone calls, and to send out press releases.
This effort has made visible a community that is, and has been, alive and kicking – a community that understands the struggle artists go through and rejoices in each other’s successes. It’s a community made up of many small voices, but – guess what? – those many small voices can create some noise. So while today is for Patry, it’s also a symbolic gesture for all of you who work so very hard for little or no recognition, for all of you who keep going despite the rejections, and for all of you who have had illness or other outside factors force your art or your dreams aside. We are in this together.
Time to talk about THE LIAR’S DIARY.
Whether you like text, audio, or video, I have a taste of the book for you. Let’s start with an audio clip of THE LIAR’S DIARY. This audio clip comes courtesy of Eileen Hutton at Brilliance Audio.
This video for THE LIAR’S DIARY was created by Sheila Clover English, C.E.O. of Circle of Seven Productions, who was moved by Patry’s story and volunteered her lightning-speed creativity!
Here are the publisher’s words:
Answering the question of what is more powerful—family or friendship? this debut novel unforgettably shows how far one woman would go to protect either.
They couldn’t be more different, but they form a friendship that will alter both their fates. When Ali Mather blows into town, breaking all the rules and breaking hearts (despite the fact that she is pushing forty), she also makes a mark on an unlikely family. Almost against her will, Jeanne Cross feels drawn to this strangely vibrant woman, a fascination that begins to infect Jeanne’s “perfect” husband as well as their teenaged son.
At the heart of the friendship between Ali and Jeanne are deep-seated emotional needs, vulnerabilities they have each been recording in their diaries. Ali also senses another kind of vulnerability; she believes someone has been entering her house when she is not at home—and not with the usual intentions. What this burglar wants is nothing less than a piece of Ali’s soul.
When a murderer strikes and Jeanne’s son is arrested, we learn that the key to the crime lies in the diaries of two very different women . . . but only one of them is telling the truth. A chilling tour of troubled minds, The Liar’s Diary signals the launch of an immensely talented new novelist who knows just how to keep her readers guessing.
And now, here are Patry’s words, which I lifted off her blog: “Though my novel deals with murder, betrayal, and the even more lethal crimes of the heart, the real subjects of THE LIAR’S DIARY are music, love, friendship, self-sacrifice and courage. The darkness is only there for contrast; it’s only there to make us realize how bright the light can be. I’m sure that most writers whose work does not flinch from the exploration of evil feel the same.”
Ready to buy the book? Why not buy one for yourself and one for a friend? And if you like it, tell people!
Here are links to THE LIAR’S DIARY at
Barnes & Noble
You can also buy directly from Penguin to save 15% (after you add the book to your cart, just enter the word PATRY in the coupon code field and click ‘update cart’ to activate the discount).
A very long list of those who are taking part in THE LIAR’S DIARY Blog Day:
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Patry Francis is an International Thriller Writers member with a new release and is unable to interact with readers at this time, as she is healing from cancer.
Lately, my inbox has been flooded with questions and comments on the Smart Bitches and Cassie Edwards situation. So rather than respond privately to each of these things, I’ve elected to post my thoughts here.
First, I have no comment on the specific situation. I’m not directly involved. I don’t have all the information required to form an educated opinion.
In general, I believe that uneducated opinions do nothing constructive and too much that’s destructive. So I work at avoiding forming them.
It’s in everyone’s best interest, in my humble opinion, to leave determining guilt or innocence to those who do have all information and the credentials to interpret it fairly and accurately.
I’m not an intellectual property attorney. I’m not a literary attorney. I don’t know the ins and out of the law to a degree sufficient to make a determination that is just or fair or right or legal. So I leave it to the intellectual property and literary attorneys to do so. That’s their job, and most are very good at it.
Like everyone else, I am interested in the outcome.
Like everyone else, I am listening and learning and sorting through to discover truth.
All who write fiction, historical or contemporary or anything in between should monitor. We all research. We all want to be accurate and to not knowingly infringe on others’ rights. To that end, we need to understand those rights so that we act legally and morally and ethically.
To that end, no, I won’t state x was right and y was wrong. I will say that all parties involved should be treated with dignity and respect–which is my personal philosophy in dealing with anyone on anything. And I would repeat that philosophy to those who encourage me to virtually blister the ears of either side. But that’s my philosophy and my choice.
Each of the individuals involved in any way on this issue must make their own choices and choose their path–how and when and if they choose to participate in discussion, to comment, to complain or justify or whatever.
We must be careful not to tread on the rights of others to make their own choices. It’s important to remember in situations such as this one that there are larger issues at stake. That doesn’t minimize the significance of these issues but it doesn’t negate the bigger issues, either. And this issue might or might not rise to the level of the bigger issue.
So that’s my bottom line on this specific issue and all I have to say about it.
My hope is that everyone will be fair and just, retain their own dignity and grace, and treat all of the people involved with respect.
If collectively and individually we can do that, then those who can will sort this out. The right solution will be had. Many will learn things that benefit them, so the result will be informative and constructive. And the matter will be resolved.
Very often good can come from difficulty and challenges. It’s seldom painless, but it doesn’t have to be made more painful.
So to those who asked for my advice, here it is: Please refrain from forming an opinion at this point. Please withhold commentary and damaging remarks. Give those in positions and with the knowledge required to make good and fair and just calls on this time to do so. Wait patiently. Monitor. Learn.
And remember that when it comes to opinions, everyone has one. Some will prove right, some wrong. If we form our opinion based on the best information available from the most informed minds available, then we’re best serving ourselves and others–particularly those involved in the challenge.
Doesn’t everyone involved deserve that?
In my humble opinion, they do. They really do.
©2008, Vicki Hinze
My husband is a multi-medium artist. One medium is pottery. I enjoy watching him work with the clay and have since he was working with Raku one day and I was helping him quench the pots.
You take these red-hot pots out of the kiln and put each one into a small metal garbage can that’s got shredded newspaper in it. The pot sets the paper on fire. You get this burst of flame, and cram the lid on the can. Then you wait.
At the duly appointed time, you use long tongs to remove the pot and use water to quench it. Only then do you know what you’ve actually got.
He says Raku is like Christmas. You don’t know what’s inside the package until you open it.
Interestingly enough, people are the same way. Only in getting to know them do you expose their layers–some would say, their true colors. Like the Raku, as you process these layers, you see changes and differences that alter your perception and your reaction to what is and what’s revealed.
What you thought and what you come to know is often two entirely different things.
And in that, there’s merit for writers, particularly in creating characters.
We learn the nature of people through observation and revelation. What they want us to see, and what they can’t avoid revealing. And with each new insight, we observers place a value on that aspect of their character. Our opinions, judgments, values become measuring sticks for others.
Don’t bother saying, “I don’t judge.” We all judge and measure.
Most people (and therefore characters) are a blend of “good and bad” in our eyes. Whether they fall on the overall good or bad list depends on how they stack up as an entity. An example…
We meet x and admire his open attitude. He’s friendly and fun.
But as we watch x interact, we see that it’s an act. He isn’t genuine.
This changes our perception of him. We saw attributes that are now liabilities. Who wants to interact with someone who isn’t genuine?
But then y tells us that x is shy and he really has to force himself to be open to others. It’s very hard for him, yet he’s working on it.
This changes our perception of x again. We admire the effort. We relate to the struggle. Who among us hasn’t struggled to overcome something difficult for us?
And so it goes. With each new revelation, our perception can alter in ways we gauge to be favorable or unfavorable.
And this is the key to creating complex characters.
There’s an article in my writers’ library on this site (www.vickihinze.com), CREATING UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS, that focuses intently on the how-to side of creation, so I won’t repeat that here. Instead, what’s on my mind this morning is the value of that complexity in characters.
In my life, I’ve met many people. Most, as I said, are a combination of good and bad traits (in my eyes). I explored these perceptions and how they influence us in REFLECTIONS, the fall feature article, also on my writing website. What I didn’t get into in any depth there was the ability of others to manipulate our reactions to them. That’s an important tool in fiction.
While manipulators and people who attempt to control us are not welcome in life, they are there, and most of us have to deal with them, or choose to not deal with them. That makes including them in our fiction favorable. After all, fiction is all about conflict.
Manipulators and control freaks make formidable fictional characters. Some people do these things–manipulate and control (or attempt to)–which are by and large considered negative, destructive and unwelcome traits, with the best intentions. They are attempting to be a positive and constructive influence. To encourage the best.
In your characters, these people would be those serving story roles as the interfering friend, the well-meaning parent or co-worker. Someone who is trying to “help.” The object of their manipulations and attempts to control might not want it, need it or ask for it. But in their eyes, they’re the object’s appointed savior, so to speak. Saving the object from dire consequences or even from him- or herself.
We (as readers) understand this, but we still don’t like what they’re doing. And typically, we don’t like them.
Then there are those who manipulate and attempt to control others for darker, self-serving reasons. They too make formidable characters. Typically, villains. While they still have positive and negative traits in their repertoire, their intentions are not to save the object of their machinations but to use, abuse, manipulate and control to serve their own interests. They are attempting through falsehoods to be a negative and destructive influence because it serves their goal.
Now these characters (again, typically villains), don’t see themselves or what they’re doing as bad. They might even see what they’re doing as noble and just. It isn’t, and readers and other characters see the truth, but the villain typically does not. Usually because s/he’s hiding behind someone or something else. (i.e., many psychotics hide behind God. Claiming their methods are insignificant because they’re doing His will.) Bizarre to rational people, but to the psychotic, this makes total sense. And we (as readers) understand this. We don’t agree, but we do understand. We might even admire the mental acuity in it, but we’re never going to accept this twisted rendition as normal, rational, or acceptable. Yet understanding is enough. And it is there where the villain obtains his strength.
If you create a black-hearted bastard as a villain–a character who is all bad and has no redeeming qualities–then you and the reader know exactly what to expect. He will give his all to doing his worst. Why? Because that’s what people do. So when he does his worst, he’s only living up to expectations. The outcome of his actions and the consequences are foretold. Anticipated. No surprise. And that equates to no suspense. And to little interest.
It also robs the villain of his humanity. No one is all bad (though admittedly some try hard to be). The bottom line is that this villain is boring, dull and flat. No matter how horrific his actions are, or how twisted his mind is, he can’t surprise or stun or shock us. He’s stripped of that ability by his lack of redeeming qualities. And just like a person with those qualities, that sum makes him weak and ineffective.
But what if this blackhearted bastard is a normal man. Good and bad, soft and hard, tolerant and intolerant? What if he’s clever? Twisted to those who dig deeply enough to see his core, but normal to others who don’t, or who haven’t?
This villain has strength and constantly surprises because we don’t know what to expect, we are not signaling ahead on his actions or reactions, and we don’t know what buttons must be pushed for him to do his worst. We don’t know his worst. More interesting? Definitely. Stronger? Absolutely.
And because he is, he can carry more story weight.
Complex characters are all about character, yes. But they’re about motivations and internal conflicts, too.
In the past two decades, I’ve created a lot of characters, a lot of villains. And the ones that chill readers’ blood are the ones who successful fool most into believing they’re rational, reasonable and normal at the onset. As the story progresses, and their true colors are exposed, (revealing in bits their inner conflicts and motivations), they become greater obstacles until such time as the protagonist vanquishes them.
That exposure elevates the worthiness of the protagonist to be the protagonist. (If a villain is weak, it doesn’t take much of a protagonist to put him in his place. If he’s strong, it takes more. If he’s even stronger, it takes even more.) And that satisfies the reader’s need to see justice.
Often in life, we don’t see justice. In stories reader’s want it, and being aware of it, authors usually give it to them.
This doesn’t just apply to villains. The reverse is also true. We meet a character we think is a bad person and discover through the story events that they’re a good person. And sometimes we create characters that are an intricate blend and even the author isn’t sure whether or not a character is a hero or a villain until the very end of the book.
If you think that can’t happen, I’m telling you it can–and has happened to me. There was a secondary character in one of my military thrillers that seemed good, then bad, then good, then bad and then I just didn’t know whether he was honorable or the worst kind of bastard. I had to completely write the book to find out.
The secret was revealed in his motivations. In his internal conflict. And here’s the part that makes this worth sharing…
When I went back and looked at just his character in relation to the novel, I saw what spurred each and every twist in perception. His motivations, goals and conflicts were intact and in place. Subtle strokes I hadn’t deliberately inserted were there, too. I thought, at the end of the book when I discovered which he was, I’d have to extensively rewrite to make him credible and consistent. I didn’t have to change one word. Not about him.
I would guess that it’s because I got to know him as a person before I started writing him, and when subconsciously he nudged me in a direction other than the one I intended, I followed.
That doesn’t sound logical, I’m sure, to non-writers, but writers know exactly what I mean. If the writer is prepared (knows the character’s story function and gives him/her traits, attributes and skills to perform it), early on in a story, the characters take over. And sometimes they know where they’re going and who they are even if the writer consciously doesn’t know.
Anyway, creating characters is like slinging pottery. That’s what I wanted to say. The artist has some control, but in the end, there are surprises. Some are pleasant, some aren’t. But as it is when dealing with people and revealing those layers or true colors, even those who aren’t pleasant are usually interesting.
©2008, Vicki Hinze