Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Books, Inspiration and Stephen King

Since my last blog post, I have been immersed in getting WISH I COULD HAVE SAID GOODBYE out into the world, and a brand new novel is well on its way, slated to be done by fall of 2012. ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE, my second novel, deals with powerful life changes and first love, but does so with a humorous slant. I have to thank my awesome classmates and instructors at the University of Chicago for helping me become a better writer, and here's a brief look at what's been happening.

First, I am thrilled to announce WISH I COULD HAVE SAID GOODBYE was awarded third place in the Kansas City Romance Writers of America, Show Me the Spark contest. I have to give a big shout out to the all Romance Writers of America chapters who host contests all across the country all year long. And while writers may not always win or place, the feedback from fellow authors and editors is invaluable. I highly recommend to any writer to enter. Thanks to Stephanie Smith, all contests are all listed at www.stephaniesmith.com.

As a new debut author, while preparing WISH I COULD HAVE SAID GOODBYE for publication is exciting, the best part of my job is writing. One of the books I recently read is Stephen King's Memoir, ON WRITING. He's my newest idol and while I was reading it, I could be found with his book in my hand, running around the house saying, "He is so right, I knew I wasn't nuts, I can't believe he does that too."

I was also overwhelmed by how early Stephen King started writing and how writing became the art form he needed to help him recover from life-threatening injuries in 1999. I am always glad to see art get credit for making our lives better. Here's one quote from him that I now have pasted in my office: "Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

And speaking of art supporting life, I also have to mention a book by a fellow author. I met Harriet Claire Wadeson at one of my writer's groups and was shocked when she told us she was recovering from cancer at one of our meetings. Harriet is an Art Therapist who has won numerous awards for being a pioneer in the field. She's also a gifted artist and author. Her book, JOURNALING CANCER IN WORDS AND IMAGES is available on Amazon and I highly recommend it to anyone. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry.

While I'm gawking at Stephen King and admiring Harriet's book, I want to congratulate another friend on her new non-fiction book soon to be released in January called MASTER THE MATRIX: 7 Essentials for Getting Things Done in Complex Organizations. You can read the first chapter and get tips and tools on how to maximize work relationships at www.LeadershipMutt.com.

Finally, as the last post of 2011, I'd like to leave you with the top five things I've learned this year as a writer:
5) Listen to your gut.
4) Every writer writes a crappy first draft.
3) The art of writing cannot be taken lightly, otherwise it's just writing.
2) Roald Dahl has been known to re-write the beginning of a story hundreds of times.
1) Never let go of your voice.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I have to share a revelation that has changed me as a writer. Novel writing is a very individual process. Not one writer has the same system or method, which is why it is one of the most difficult forms of creative expression. Writers learn from other writers. And each writer must figure out what works for them. Some writers outline, some do not. Some writers start with plot, some start with character. You get the idea.

I have always known that character is vital to me as a writer. I have always started with character. The stories I have lined up to write all are character driven, and the novel I am currently revising, is character-driven. I am most passionate about what goes on inside a character's head and how they deal with relationships.

But where I went wrong is I did not analyze my characters enough. I didn't analyze them beyond the story and that's where I got into trouble. So, the last few months I have been doing a psychoanalysis of all my characters way beyond the scope of the story, using a variety of methods, including Martha Engber's Growing Characters From the Ground Up book.

As I reworked my characters and put them on the page, my writing instructors and fellow classmates at University of Chicago really honed in on what was working in the revision and what wasn't. Not only has the story line gotten stronger, but my characters are more alive. I've learned the characters must tell me the story, not the other way around.

So as I walked away from my day of writing yesterday, I felt like Mary Shelley. I totally get how Shelley created her Frankenstein. As a character-driven writer, that's what I have to do. Each time I tell a story, I must make a Frankenstein.

If you're interested in learning more about how to delve into character, read Martha Engber's book Growing Characters From the Ground Up. She has a website marthaengber.com where you can find out about her book and classes.

My advice to kids who are writing any kind of fictional story is this: Think about all the things a character likes and doesn't like. Know your character's parents and siblings and how they fit into the family. Also very important: Give your character something weird or unusual. It could be a habit, a pet, a hobby, anything that would make them realistic, yet very different.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Need a Jolt of Inspiration?

Okay, so now I'm officially an ice skating fanatic. I've always loved the sport, but since my daughter has been on a synchronized skating team, I've become so passionate about the sport that I am moved to tears at every competition. And, I'm not always crying because my daughter's out there. No sir-ee. I am not sob-specific. Sure, I cry for my daughter and her teammates, but it doesn't end there. I cry for other teams, other skaters, anyone on the ice...

So tonight, the movie Rise premiers in theatres nationwide and if you are not familiar, it is a one night tribute to the 1961 U.S. World Figure Skating Team that perished with their coaches, family and friends on their way to the World Championships in Prague in 1961. The movie is based on the book written by Patricia Shelley Bushman, who herself was a former competitive figure skater. She recounts the months leading up to the competition, illustrating the drive, determination and passion that those skaters have, that all ice skaters share. Only the 1961 team never got the opportunity to compete.

The ultimate tragedy is that to this day, they don't know why the plane crashed. But the inspiration that I promised you at the beginning of this post? It lies within the surviors and the ice skating community. The crash took out so many key figures that the sport had to rebuild itself and did so with the same determination, strength, passion and committment that is evidenced at every level of ice skating today.

In reading about the movie last night in my daughter's Ice Skating magazine, I was moved to tears, unable to keep reading. My daughter is used to my sobs in the stands of an ice rink, but this confused her (I don't cry about everything, you know) as she handed me a tissue she had a puzzeled look on her face. "Wha..why are you...?"

"I can feel it. I can feel what it's like to love something so much. To sacrafice for something that is so powerful inside of you that you don't know why you do it, day in and day out, except that you love it. You love it more than life itself. And then, to never get the chance to shine, to get that moment in your life where your passion and drive and work pays off... it's just tragic."

So in the wake of tradgedy lies inspiration to carry on with whatever it is that you live for. There is hope. There is tomorrow. There is time.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why I'd Rather Be a Dog When It's Snowing

While throwing a tennis ball to my dog last week in a snow storm, I came up with a list of reasons why I'd rather be a dog than a human when it snows:

1. Dogs don't ever have to shovel.
2. You can play in the snow for a really long time and never get cold.
3. Dogs don't have to put up with people who don't know how to drive in the snow, stopping on a dime, so you have to swerve into a ditch to avoid rear-ending them.
4. You can sit and stare out the window at the snow falling for hours and no one thinks you should be doing something or that you've lost your mind.
5. Snow on your head will not give you a bad hair day.
6. You don't have to spend an extra ten minutes putting on ski socks, boots, a hat, gloves, a scarf, a face mask just to take a walk. All you need is a human and a leash.
7. If the roof of the house caves in from the weight of the snow, it doesn't affect your life - at all.
8. You love it when the kids have a snow day.
9. You love it when snow sand-blasts your face at 90 miles an hour from the snowblower.
10. If you had to eat yellow snow to survive, it really wouldn't be a problem.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How I Got My Nickname Toots

On my first day of Kindergarten, at Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Catholic School, Sister Irene called out, “Shari.”

I didn’t respond. Shari is my mother’s name. She didn't come to Kindergarten with me, did she?

Sister Irene called out my mother’s name again. I turned around and looked past the ginormous red apples made out of construction paper hanging down from the ceiling, everyone’s name printed neatly on each one, to see if she was standing in the back of the classroom, next to the bookcases, or in front of the crayon bins piled high with so many crayons I could smell the wax from where I was sitting criss-cross applesauce on the rug. Nope.

Sister Irene called out Shari for a third time, adding my last name now. So I raised my hand. I figured I should help her out. She must be confused.

Sister Irene replied with a smile, “Good morning Shari.”

I said, “No. My name isn’t Shari. That’s my mother’s name. My name is Toni.” I thought she looked a little old and possibly very hard of hearing, so I spelled it out for her. “T.O.N.I. Toni. That’s my name.”

Sister Irene planted herself in front of me, pushed her fists into her hips, and with her crucifix blinding me, she grimaced down at me.

I gulped.

When I got home, my mother showed me my birth certificate. She explained to me that my real name was Shari. Toni was just a nickname because my parents couldn’t agree on what to name me when I was born so they decided to name me Shari, after her. But my father was determined to name me Antoinette, so he called me Toni, and it stuck. She told me Toni could not be my name anymore, and from this day forward my name would be Shari.

I was devastated. Seriously? I had to drop the fun, easy to write name and replace it with my mother’s name? It's got an S in it. You know how hard it is to make an S? Yick. My career as a student was getting off to a really rough start. As if the stark realization that you had to wear the same hunter green and navy blue plaid jumper to school every day for the rest of your life wasn't bad enough, I was getting my name ripped away from me too. So much for identity.

I quickly figured out how to write my new name and moved past losing Toni, and although my father complied, he was still determined not to call me Shari. So he started calling me Toots. Everyone around me (except for my mother) began calling me Toots as well. I am still referred to Toots in my family and have even more nicknames, listed in no particular order: Roger, Shar, Shariberry, ShariAnne, Shari Junior.

Although Kindergarten meant complete identity crisis for me, little did I know that my life was pretty darn good at the time. Looking back on it, I wish I could have savored those first few years of school a little more than I did, because fourth grade was coming my way and life was going to get even more difficult for me.