Tuesday, May 24, 2011

From a spark to a flame

I'm sure Freud would have something to say about this. Or perhaps there is a dream weaver out there who could shed some light on the subject. Or maybe, just maybe, a dream is just a dream.

(Quick trivia: was the movie Inception inspired by The Princess Bride? Answer below.)

I have this reoccurring nightmare where I'm about to finish school and there is a class I need to complete to graduate, but I haven't been there all semester--in fact, I'm not even sure when and where it meets. But, I have hope that if I find it, I can take the final and perhaps pass. Most often than not, it's an English class.

Quick side note: being dyslexic, I was always a terrible speller growing up. English classes often have spelling as part of their curriculum, so rarely did I get a good grade. I never thought I'd get my minor in English, let alone become a published author. However, as I got older, I came to realize something: there are these wonderful people called "editors" (shout out to Tristi and Kayla!) who let my imagination run wild without having to stop every two minutes to wonder if I typed something else that sounds like the word in my head. Example: my first drafts almost always have "has" in place of "as" and vice-versa--and bless my dyslexic mind, I just don't see them.

But back to dreams. There is also the reoccurring one where I can float just about an inch or so off the ground. And if I concentrate hard enough, I can actually get myself to rise higher--sometimes so high I can levitate over large objects, like walls or buildings.

What does this have to do with getting ideas for writing? The Hidden Sun was based on a very vivid dream I had one night. I woke up and remembered it well enough that I could share it with my wife. In doing so, I remembered it even more. She said, "That's interesting. You should write that down."

So, I did.

Then I got thinking about what happened to the characters before and after the dream. And, tada! I had my first idea for a book.

For me, I often get ideas for books or storylines or blogs from dreams--of the day or night variety. I have an app on my smartphone where I can jot down little snippets. Most of the time, these ideas are "sparks" that get fanned and have fuel added to become a flame.

What's been a lot of fun for the current book I'm writing is that it's based on a song from Chris de Burgh called The Mirror Of The Soul. While the story in the song itself is compelling, I needed to add things to it in order to flush it out into a full blown book. In this case, I'll listen to random songs by Mr. de Burgh and use the stories or even a line here or there for inspiration. (And yes, I got permission from his manager, publisher and even Mr. de Burgh himself before I proceeded)

As for the other dreams? To psychoanalyze myself, I'd say my dream of failing a class is tied to something I've forgotten to do, either in real life, or in my writing, that is very important. And for the levitating? Well, perhaps in a world where many people are trying to push you down, and tell you that you can't do things, it's my mind telling me that I can if I just try.

Trivia Answer:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Counterpoint on King's Advice

I read recently that Stephen King said (and I'm seriously paraphrasin') Don't write down idea's because IF they are good idea's you will remember them anyway-and if you don't remember them-they weren't good idea's.


And here's why.

YOU as the writer won't/don't/can't know what is going to resonate with the reader and move them.

Sure, sometimes you'll think, hey this will work or that will work--but other times a little aside that has little conscious meaning to you as the writer will strike a nerve and move someone-it will resonate and rock their perception and the readers perception of your story is the readers reality.

I know because I have done it. Small tweaks in stories have changed characters into some readers favorites-and that would not have happened if I wasn't taking notes and later perusing them and putting that stuff into the book. I call it Tetrising things in.

It's all well and good for King to throw out that particular advice but the reality is we all forget things and will continue to forget things and at King's age - How many things has he already forgotten? How many sparkling gems has he potentially trod over? I suggest it isn't even a potential-its absolutely already happened countless times.

So I advise, in contrast to a million dollar writer (because he is wrong), take notes because YOU will forget.

The Muse can be fickle, don't ignore her, don't think she'll call back later with the same message, and don't forget to map the journey she is asking you to travel on.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deadline: how an old enemy became a good friend


I've always hated that word.  It reminds me too much of words like "homework" and "chore."  You know, those really nasty concepts that could ruin entire weekends.

It took a long time for me to realize how important deadlines are.

Before I was published, back when I wrote only fiction, deadlines were a rather aloof topic.  People would ask when I would write a book or get a story out.  The truth was that I didn't know.  I always answered in vague timetables like "later" or "this year."

Finally, I got tired of my own procrastination and started working for a local newspaper.  That's where I learned how to write and how to write fast.

No longer could I tell someone "I'll write it later" or "this year."  Stories were due often a few hours after I interviewed someone.

At first, this terrified me.  I had always told myself that I could write a really good story if I were given more time.  I'll admit that sometimes that's true, but procrastination is never the answer.

In 2010, I pushed myself to the limit by signing up for what became a 22 part series for my newspaper.  I had always wanted to do a series, and I was thinking big--something that would really make me stick out.  I wanted to profile prominent Mainers for their success across the state.

This meant I would have to snag interviews with busy hard-to-reach people, write stories and turn them in well before my usual deadline.  My editor wanted it to be a front-page series, so there was no fudging the dates.  I agreed, and to this day, I surprised myself.

I took this picture in 2010 when I interviewed author and actress Victoria Rowell. It made the front page along with my story.  Everyone I knew was shocked that I got to meet her. In Maine, she's known from her roles in prime-time series like "Diagnosis Murder" and "Dumb and Dumber" with Jim Carey.

During that time, I interviewed people like Victoria Rowell from "The Young and the Restless,"  former Maine governor Angus King, UFC Fighters Marcus Davis and Tim Boetsch, and New York Times Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen, among many others.

I churned the stories out as fast as I could because half my time was spent scheduling interviews, some of which never worked out.

But more importantly, I learned more about myself and what I could accomplish.  I just needed a deadline to do it.

Here's a pic of UFC fighter Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch (right) in action.  Due to his training schedule, I wasn't able to meet Tim, but he spoke to me over an hour on the phone.   His UFC record is an impressive 16-4.  He knocked this opponent, Mike Patt, out in the first round at UFC 88.

I learned that there are too many stories that need attention.  As a writer, each one is a step in improving your craft.

Writing is a lot like lifting weights.  If you want to see results, you don't start working out the night before your big date.  You have to do it consistently over time.

Sometimes you won't lift that much.  Sometimes you might drop the weights.  But what matters is that you're doing it.  Only by lifting weights do you see results, and only by writing do you finish a story.

The thing I hated most--the deadline--helped me finally become a writer.  Now with more than 200 articles published in various newspapers and magazines, I've come to recognize the deadline as an ally in the continuous battle against procrastination.

If you need to organize your ideas, make a deadline. Nothing will light a fire like that.

If you want to write fiction every week, create a writers group.  Nothing will make you write more than sharing your work with others on a regular basis.

Only writing will make you a writer, and if you're anything like me, you need a deadline to make you write.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Don't Expect Lightning to Strike Twice

People often ask me "Where do you get your ideas?"

I'm sure most authors get that on a pretty regular basis.  I sometimes tell them "Ideas R Us."

Honestly, I'm not sure where ideas come.  The idea for "The Canticle Kingdom", when working at Target arranging stuff on the shelves. I didn't have on my thinking cap, and I wasn't even thinking about writing.  The brain is strange in that any little thing, a snatch of conversation, a strange image, even a song can spark an idea.  You can't really predict when these ideas are going to hit, but you can be prepared for them.

The know the old saying that "lightning never strikes the same place twice"? That's often true for ideas too.  And just like lightning, they can come quickly and powerfully and then be gone just as quickly.  If you are serious about writing, make a plan of where you are going to keep your ideas.  Always carry something around with you that you can write on, or can store your ideas in.  When one strikes, capture it as soon as you can. The shortest pencil really is longer than the longest memory.

Once you have that idea captured, make sure that you put it some place safe where you can easily get at it later.  I have a file which I back up on my computer that has all of my snatches of ideas so that I can visit them later when I'm looking for a new project.

You may never know how much an idea could be worth.  Just think it J.K. Rowling had failed to act on the idea for Harry Potter.  That idea was literally worth millions of dollars.  I'm not saying that all ideas are equally valuable, but if you don't preserve them, you'll never know.

This week on my personal blog, I outline a few important lessons learned at a book signing and reveal the cover for my upcoming release "The Last Archangel."  Stop on by!