C is for Characters and Connections

masks

When I was young, I developed an infatuation with the theatre and I decided I wanted to be a scriptwriter and actress when I grew up.

As a matter of fact, you might remember an earlier post about my first venture into writing which happened in fourth grade when myself and a couple of girls from my class decided to create our own play one day on the playground. I’m not sure what prompted us to do this. If memory serves, it was Melissa’s idea so maybe her parents had taken her to see a play recently and this inspired her to create her own? Maybe it was something we had talked about in class? I don’t know. It seemed like fun so I went along with the idea. I was always big into make-believe.

Our fourth grade teacher was impressed enough with our efforts that he allotted class time for us to perform our play in front of everyone. I don’t remember what our play was about and I don’t remember how big of a part I had in it but I do remember quite clearly falling in love the day I stood in front of the class even if I wasn’t sure exactly why I felt this way.

That moment sparked something inside me and ignited an obsession to write. I wrote pages and pages – all plays. In my mind, I fantasized about performing in front of my peers again although the other girls in my little group went back to jumping rope or playing tag on the playground, their careers on stage short-lived. There wouldn’t be any more plays performed in fourth grade.

It didn’t deter me. I kept writing. I kept imagining.

When the opportunity presented itself later in high school to study theatre with a small group locally, my parents agreed to let me go for it. I was always a quiet person so I’m not sure that many people believed I had much hope on the stage but I was determined enough to give it a try. As it turned out, I surprised us all, myself included.

I joined the group with big expectations … and a lot of fear. After all, the other kids in my group were far more outgoing, a little bit older, and certainly more experienced when it came to being on stage. Aside from my brief stardom in fourth grade, my stage credits went to torturing parents as my friends, cousins, brother, or anyone else I could coerce into engaging my obsession and I performed whatever I had come up with for the day.

I learned a lot about the theatre, not just acting but what goes on behind the scenes as well. And of course, the experience would not be complete without actually performing something. Our director chose a series of monologues written by students around our age called Sometimes I Wake Up in the Middle of the Night and assigned us each a character with our own history and experience which we as actors helped to create and develop. My character, Lisa, was the youngest of the bunch and the most naive.

Unlike most plays that tell a story and the characters interact with each other, our series of monologues meant that each actor had her own space on the stage and when it was our turn to speak, we took over the audience.

I suppose I could have been terrified and sure, on opening day, a part of me was. Family and friends would be attending. We’d made posters and shared them across the community. The newspaper wrote an article about us. When the curtain opened, there would be people occupying those seats, a lot more people than my fourth grade class. Those people had paid money to watch us perform so they’d have bigger expectations than a group of kids getting out of a math lesson. My director had her doubts that my quiet personality would fill the stage and so did I.

But you know what? Something magical happened what I stepped onto that stage. When the spotlight hit me, I came to life. I wasn’t nervous anymore. I wasn’t me anymore. I was Lisa and when I spoke about my loneliness and fears of the dark, the audience responded and I felt a strange connection that I’d only just hinted at before. By the time the spotlight went down after my first monologue and I sat in the darkness, I couldn’t wait until the spotlight returned to me so that I could continue to share my connection between Lisa and the audience. By the end of it, I’d impressed my director, my cast members, and the family and friends who’d come to see me and I’m pretty sure I’d done my part to satisfy the members of the audience that didn’t know the quiet Stephanie behind Lisa.

I’ve never stopped writing but every once in a while, I wonder to myself what keeps me going. After all, 90% of what I’ve written has never been shared and probably never will be. Being on the stage is very different from writing a novel but essentially storytelling is the same. The basic drive is bringing to life characters that will make the audience feel some sort of connection. On the stage, that connection is immediate. In a novel, I won’t know when you gasp or laugh or feel sad but I can hope that emotions still exist on the page. There is a dialogue that exists between the writer and the reader. In some way, our worlds come together and we share some common bond, even if it is only temporary.

Which books do you think have most successfully created connections with readers?

What’s Up?

The sky, of course.

And besides that, it might be a good time to give you an idea of what to expect from me in the days ahead. I’m participating in two challenges, one new and one old, and I’m pretty excited about both of these.

First of all, in October I’m trying a blog challenge courtesy of Jane Ann McLachlan. I’ve never participated in a challenge to write blog posts before but I’ll do pretty much anything for a little inspiration when it comes to writing. Jane’s challenge interested me right away because I’d already been in a nostalgic mood and thinking about putting that to use in my blog. Her challenge will help to focus that nostalgia for me.

Jane’s challenge presents us with this theme:

“Write a memory or reflection for each of the first 25 years of life. It can be a personal memoir from your life, a reflection on turning a certain age, a recollection of someone else at that age, a poem or a photo, on the ages 1 to 25.”

The challenge?

To write at least 25 of these posts in the month of October. (Eeeks!) Admittedly, this is going to be a tough one for me.

From what I gather, flexibility and creativity in this theme are welcome so it won’t have to be just be a boring rendition of, “this one time at band camp…”

I’ve not found an official linky list or sign-up sheet for this challenge but if you click on the link I attached above, you’ll find all the details that you need to participate if you so desire.

Once we make our way through October, it’s November! November! November! Don’t know why I’m excited about November? Have you been living under a rock? November is National Novel Writing Month, aka Nanowrimo. You can find the details and sign-up on the official site HERE.

(Add me as a buddy while you’re at it. My user name is StephIngram.)

The challenge?

50,000 words in the month of November!

I know a lot of fellow writers who plot and plan, fill out outlines and character sheets, and have a pretty good idea of what they want to write before they sit down on November 1st and let the words start flowing but me? Nah. I embrace the challenge wholeheartedly. I look at Nanowrimo as my time to PLAY! When I sit down on November 1st, at first I might have a scene in my head or the seed of an idea starting to take root but I won’t know who my characters are and I won’t know what sort of mischief they plan to get up to over the course of the next thirty days. I realize some writers consider this reason for heart palpitations and cold sweats but to me, it’s pure bliss.

I just want to write and create and not care about whether the end result is actually reader-worthy. (As a matter of fact, history proves that it won’t be.) But that’s kind of the point, right? The rest of the year my inner editor gets to tell me that what I’m writing isn’t good enough or try to push me into a direction that I feel like I should take, rather than want to take. During November, it’s goodbye editor and hello fun.

And let’s face it, the Nanowrimo forums and community offer new friendships, encouragement, and inspiration for the entire month. Writing 50,000 words in a single month in and of itself isn’t really anything special or exciting but doing it alongside a multitude of other like-minded people is what gives it that special sparkle. (Don’t believe me? Try it! I dare you…)

To make it even sweeter, this isn’t just any old year for me doing Nanowrimo. This is an anniversary of sorts. This is my 5th year!! I first discovered and participated in Nanowrimo in 2008. I didn’t know what to expect that year and I didn’t expect to write 50,000 words but I surprised myself and I did it. By the end of it, I was hooked and I went on to win in 2009, 2010, and 2011. This year will be no exception.

So, what does this mean to you? Well, in essence, it means that once you’ve suffered through a month of reminiscing with me about my first twenty-five years of life, I’m going to drag you straight into the madness that is Nanowrimo. Consider yourself warned.

So… Are you with me or against me? What challenges will you embrace over the coming months?

Walking the Plank

Over the course of the week, I’ve inevitably hit a high and a low and gone back and forth a few times. The problem? The edits on my current work-in-progress are nearly complete and I’m faced with putting it in the hands of readers (or not) by blog posts, self-publishing, traditional publishing, or smoke signals. Which one will be most effective? Which path ultimately steers me in the right direction?

Not sure. That’s pretty much what it all boils down to. I’m so close to setting the story free that I’m getting cold feet on committing to any direction at all.

It’s been an entire year since I self-published The Between World and a lot has changed in my world since then. I didn’t have a plan when I finished that first book. I didn’t have a fancy smancy “platform”. I didn’t bother with blogs or meeting new friends on Twitter. I didn’t even have an official author page on Facebook. (I did have a book page though.) I really had no idea what I was getting myself into and I paid a price for it. I’ve been trying to work it out ever since and hopefully (fingers crossed), I’m in a better place than I was on the publication date of book #1. I still have so much to learn and so much to do … but maybe I’m starting to find my feet.

Ghosts Don’t Wear Silk Stockings is very different from The Between World. It’s quirky and (hopefully) fun. It deals with demons and ghosts but it doesn’t take the subject too seriously. I don’t wallow in spectulations of the after-life. Not that I really did that with The Between World either but still, Nina and Yalen were a different cup of tea with literally the entire universe hanging in the balance. If they didn’t work things out by ‘the end’ then the world could have ended as we knew it. Yalen and Nina rarely found themselves in a light-hearted situation.

Different is good and I’ve had a lot of fun writing something that I hope is suspenseful but still fun at the same time. I hope I’ve offered the reader a few good laugh-out-loud moments that will stick with him/her. But now I’m starting to worry too… what if I’ve tried too hard to make it fun and in the process just turned it into something silly? What if the readers just roll their eyes and put the book down to move on to something better? What if anyone that dares to read this story makes a mental note to never pick up another book I write thinking that I obviously must not take my craft seriously?

What if the men in white coats come knocking and lock me in the rubber room?

GASP! It’s a gamble. If I self-publish this thing, I’m putting myself out there on the pirate’s plank, blindfold and all, holding my breath, waiting, and just hoping. Do I sink or do I swim? When I put chapter one out there and had little response, I guess I hit the panic button even harder and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take the risk that this would be the end as I know it.

I’ve strongly considered the possibility of submitted the story to a traditional publish and run the risk of it not seeing readers’ hands until a year from now or longer and that’s assuming I have any hope in the traditional realm at all. (I like to believe I do with a little effort.)

Problem is that I’ve gotten quite comfortable with the Indie publishing world and being that I like to control, it suits me. (I am an Aries, after all.) Someone has been kind enough to tell me that I don’t necessarily have to have it one way or the other. In this case, I could have my cake and eat it too. But really, what it boils down to is being afraid of the story hitting rock bottom and not being able to take it back and I’m going to have that fear no matter which path I walk.

So, bottom line? Ignore me. I’m moving full speed ahead as originally planned. Edits are going very well and with the husband out of town all week, I’ve had plenty of time to get ahead of the game. How the book will be received by the world, does it really matter? I am sharing a story that I love and I’m bound to find one or two who share my unusual sense of humor and that’s what makes the writing all worthwhile.

I’m back on track and ready to take the plunge…

Thanks for sailing the stormy seas with me. It’s a pleasure to have you on board. 🙂

Why I Love Twitter

I love Twitter. This might sound like a really odd way to start a blog post but allow me to explain.

Twitter is a social networking site that is especially top-heavy with writers. Sometimes I scroll through all the many writers that I’m following (or thinking about following) and I feel a bit overwhelmed that there are so many of us in the world. It’s exciting on one hand that so many people dedicate their lives to the thankless, yet creative pursuit, of creating new worlds and stories and helping to bring to life the characters that we love and depressing on the other hand, that we’re so likely to be lost in an endless sea of other creators.

Writing is an amazing form of art. We create something new out of nothing.  A builder is given tools and materials and he approaches this with the experience and skill to create something new, beautiful, and probably useful. But when a writer writes, he isn’t limited by the materials with which he’s given. A builder will never take a couple of sheets of plywood and a few 2×4’s and end up with a house … but a writer, on the other hand, could create an entire empire with his talents. That’s pretty amazing.

So how does this relate to Twitter?

In most professions (including my former incarnation in the banking world), working meant having set hours, going to an office, and being accountable for the work you’re supposed to do. True, that could be said of writing as well, except for maybe the office part. But in most other professions, there is usually social interaction as well. When I worked in an office, I looked forward to seeing my co-workers in the morning. (Maybe I’m just weird.) I looked forward to chatting about our weekends, venting about a tough day, or just sharing a good laugh. When I quit getting up and going to the office every day, those were the things that I missed the most. Those were the things that were the hardest for me to give up.

I never wanted a career in banking and I’m thankful for the opportunity to focus on my writing at this stage in my life so I’m not complaining. I like the fact that I (more or less, depending on the kids) set my own hours and goals. These are super cool things, trust me! But for the first couple of years, I didn’t actually produce much. I didn’t feel accountable to anyone or anything. I longed for social interaction with my co-workers. I felt lonely.

I suppose you could say that Twitter sort of filled that void. Sure, online interactions aren’t quite the same as walking into an office and saying hello face-to-face or chatting around the water cooler, but I’m getting to know fellow writers and making new friends. I enjoy having the opportunity to share knowledge, experience, and in some cases even commiserate when life doesn’t go quite as planned. When I say on Twitter or in this blog that I’m going to complete something, I feel a sense of accountability and an obligation to do it.

Sure, most of you that I interact with on Twitter will never actually read my work. That’s okay.  I don’t actually expect you to and it really isn’t the point. I’m not on Twitter as some sort of fancy marketing plan (although of course, I do hope the extra exposure will ultimately attract readers that may have an interest in the types of books I write).

If you’re still here with me almost 600 words into a boring blog post about why I love Twitter, then thank you! Thank you for indulging me and helping me to feel that I’m not writing in an isolated vacuum where nothing I create makes a difference.

And if you are still reading, and you are interested in my first book , The Between World will be available as a free download on Amazon this weekend. WOO HOO! Don’t miss it..

Happy Friday and Happy Weekend! See you again on Sunday for my six sentence contribution.

Writing from Start to Finish

If I have learned anything during my writing adventures, it is the fact that I never know exactly where to find the next story. Coming up with ideas certainly isn’t a problem. I’m bombarded by them all the time and I take inspiration from some of the unlikeliest of places. The part I struggle with most is taking those ideas and figuring out which to keep and develop and which to tuck safely into the notebook for later. Sometimes the choices I make don’t lead me down the right path.

Probably this is why it takes me so long to get from “Once upon a time” to “Happily Ever After”. Just because I’ve written in excess of 50,000 words, this doesn’t mean that I’ve written a story that is worth reading. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to slap a title on it and push it out into the world hoping for the best. Maybe I should? I don’t know.

I’m struggling with this more now because I’ve already spent months on a single story and I have written it in its entirety more than once already, altering the characters and the actions in order to achieve a story that I like. And I don’t. I don’t like it at all. Okay, so this isn’t completely fair. There are parts of it that I really like – love even. There are little gems here and there that I wish I could share with the world separate from the work in whole because they make me smile or chuckle. I wish, wish, wish that I could pinpoint what isn’t working and figure out a way to fix it, gosh darn it. Why does it have to be so complicated?

Admittedly, I despaired quite a bit. I wondered if I was even cut out for this crazy writing thing? Maybe it would be easier to just quit and move on to something else. What? I don’t know. I milled around the house for a bit, bored and restless, and itching to sit back down and write because well, I’m not sure what else to do with myself if I can’t get words from my head out of my fingers. (This is a strange affliction that I have.) So, I rationalized it by convincing myself that the real problem was a lack of focus and if I just kept at it long enough, I’d work out the problems in the story and I’d get this thing finished and ready for the world. (It would be a relief just to get it out of the way so I could move on to something else.)

Guess what? That approach didn’t work either. Forcing myself to write something is about as effective as not writing at all and the more I tried to push, the more I started to hate what I was doing. Ugh. Not a good place to be. If I’m not enjoying the words I pour into my story then it’s going to show. I’m not clever enough to cover it up. I started to ask myself what would happen if I publish a lackluster story? Could I live with disappointing my readers? No, probably not. I don’t have the heart to publish something if I’m heart really isn’t in it.

It became rather clear that I needed space between myself and the manuscript or else something bad was going to happen. Something that would ultimately end with my computer smashed to pieces. (And that’s just the start.) I didn’t want to give up writing entirely so I tried to appease the irrational creative side of my brain by working on a novella while I let my unruly novel simmer in the corner. I picked up something I’d started a long time ago and started playing. (I have better results when I tell myself I’m only playing.)

Funny thing happened. I’d abandoned this novella because I didn’t really know where it was going. (Typical problem for me.) I loved the start, got a little cloudy in the middle, and then jumped ship when I didn’t know where else to go. That’s okay. I enjoyed re-reading the entertaining beginning and I was intrigued by my own characters and the world in which I’d placed them. I wasn’t sure I could unravel the middle but I gave it some thought….

And came up with an answer! One simple plot fix in my novella and I started writing in a frenzy. Madness. All of a sudden, the characters became people and their situations drew me in closer. I wanted to know more. I answered questions. I created. And lo and behold, I fell in love all over again. That little story that I had hoped to develop into a novella has taken greater depth and meaning than the novel I left to simmer. Go figure. I was focusing on the wrong story all along.

I’m not really sure how I feel about this. I’m excited because I see so many possibilities that didn’t exist a day or two ago. I’m happy because I’m writing again and feeling productive. But another part of me is sort of frustrated that I wasted so much time trying to force one story when my heart belonged to another. Not that I’m in a big hurry but still… I like to think that when I’m done writing a story, I’m going to feel proud of what I accomplished but what I’m discovering is that there are no guarantees when I start a story that I ever really want to finish it.

Then again… maybe when I finish this one, that unruly novel in the corner will be ready to place nice? One can only hope.