The Most Important Work of A Writer

I volunteer at my son’s elementary school.  Eighty-five percent of his classmates are learning English, along with this rigorous Kindergarten curriculum. And yes, it is actually a hard workload for a five-year-old: book reports, addition and substation, spelling tests.

I’m not sure about you, but my first schooling experience pretty much consisted of naps, magical story-times, and snacks.

Helping these kids with English, led me to think deeper about my writing. I wondered if my writing would translate—the way I intended it—in other languages.  Although hundreds of books are translated, thinking about my novel in a different language never crossed my mind. I imagine an author would need a ton of guidance to make sure the translation is as close to the original as possible.

writing

As writers, we can tend to spend an exhausting amount of time looking for the perfect word to capture a scene or emotion. But how important is this to the story? Especially if it has potential to reach worldwide status.  I’m sure the writing style changes a bit during the translation process. But there is one thing that never changes.

Many writers ask, “What’s more important, the writing or the story?” I ran across a statement on Tumblr that gets us closer to the answer. A student sat in a presentation given by  Brian Doyle and here’s what they posted:

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing author, and an even better man named Brian Doyle. There are a few authors named Brian Doyle, but this one is the author from New York who wrote “Mink River” and “The Plover.” He talked about his own life and how he writes and what his process is, and it was all very standard for an author visiting a group of college students, but then he said something that really caught my attention. He said this:

“I don’t call myself a writer or an author. I call myself a story catcher. I don’t come up with stories, I live them and I take them and I keep them in my pocket until I need to tell them. I do this because stories are important. They are what we all live for. Stories are all anyone can know about anyone else. And so I challenge you to find the story that matters. Because behind everything there is a deeper story. When 9/11 happened everyone wrote about the brave firemen who rushed back into the buildings even though there was no chance that they could save everyone. Everyone wanted to write the story about the terror and the fear and the loss of an icon. But behind all the fire and tire and white ash is a more important story. Everyone tells the big story. No one tells the story about the family that sets four places at the dinner table, and has to put one plate back. I challenge you to find the important story. Find the story that really matters.”

The Story wins! 

Sky, fog, and clouds on a textured vintage paper background with grunge stains.

It’s been proven for centuries that stories are all we have, they confess the human experience. From The Great Gatsby, The Kite Runner,  Alice in Wonderland, all translated in several languages. But why? Because these stories captured a generation and continue to do so today.

I don’t know any teenagers reading original Shakespearian language for fun, but most enjoy stories from that era. We love them—like Disney, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, MacBeth, are here to stay.

So, the most important work of a writer is this: write in a way to help readers listen to the real story. It’s the story–even over time—that doesn’t change, but can change the world. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

 

Sources:

blog.writeathome.com 

http://modern-major-cannibal.tumblr.com/tagged/Brian-Doyle

letswritetogether.wikispaces.com

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Guilty–WIPpet

This month I’ve started editing the sequel to my debut novel, The Hall Speaks #fallsemester. It hasn’t been horrible, but I wish I could say that I’ve been working on it everyday and making great progress. Last week was full of student chaos–all fun, but nonetheless exhausting.  So, spending time with my characters got put hold a few days. I have one more major event that I’m planning and after that, I’m hoping the semester will slow down to a manageable pace.  🙂

Onto my WIPpet for today, March 19, 2014. My brain is loaded so I’m doing easy math, just adding it all together.

3+19+2=24 sentences or so, and 2+1+4= blog post 7

I thought it would be helpful to share exactly I write about since my premise is fairly unusual.  In short, my books are about Residence Life culture, specifically resident assistants (RAs).  They have this unique experience of living at their job with co-workers (other RAs), customers (residents), and the boss (Hall Director). As you can image, this set-up makes everything interesting. Especially on the relationship front. Boundaries are crossed, lines are blurred to a nonexistent level.  But who can blame them? It’s hard living with anyone without things getting personal at some point.

And this topic brings us to RAs Carly and Ethan that share a past, but still  must work together. And I’d like to add my choice of actors to play these rolls this week.  I usually don’t imagine the face of actors when I write, but what the heck! I wanted to add something fun to this weeks WIP excerpt. 🙂

karen-gillan-10
320_33569890389_571855389_1622798_4884_n_large.jpgEthan

In this scene they are in winter RA training. Carly is looking to finally get some answers from Ethan.

********

#Carly

Carly watched as Janine walked towards them, wearing a colorful mess of clothes, smiling.

Janine held her arms out to the group as if waiting for a hug. “And to most of your residents that’s exactly what your transfer students will be like–strangers. Not starting the year with ya’ll is a real set-back socially, so it’s your job to Do It Like Grandma Does!”

The corner of Carly’s lip lifted, irritated. Ok I can totally zone out now… She peeked at Ethan next to her. Better idea.

She reached in her bag and grabbed a notebook; she figured it would look less suspicious, like they were taking notes on the presentation. She scribbled on the paper. Her handwriting hadn‘t been great since the accident but it was legible. She pushed the note under his elbow.

Ethan looked down, reading it.

Why didn’t you visit me? I know we didn’t end on the best terms – we had our ups and downs but I thought we were still friends. We’re cool, right? 

He sat there for a minute shifting uncomfortably in his seat, then picked up the pen and wrote:

I was working, sorry. And yeah, we’re cool.

Carly looked at Ethan as his eyes stayed on Janine. He was hiding something. She could smell guilt better than police dogs sniffing for street drugs. Having cheated on her boyfriend with Ethan last semester, she suffered from the guilt-disease for weeks. Whatever was going on with Ethan overflowed from his eyes, apparently affecting his vision. Since they’d gotten back from break, he hadn’t look at her–not really. None of it made sense.

Then her chest tightened as she gripped the sides of her new transportation. She groaned inwardly, hoping Ethan wasn’t getting all weird because she was in a wheelchair now. But that couldn’t be it, Carly decided. Ethan was lame sometimes, but not petty.

********

Always, thanks for reading! If you’d like to take part in WIPpet just go here.  Be sure to check out other WIPpets, I’ll be doing my rounds tomorrow. And thank you K. L. Schwengel for hosting! Happy reading and let’s all keep writing!

Photo credit: http://data.whicdn.com/images, http://doctorwho.fm/wp-content/blogs

How To Lose A Reader In 10 Pages

kateLet’s not lose them before we hook’em

Before I decided to self-publish, like any other writer-wanna-be I researched literary agents. On average, most preferred an outstanding query letter and the first 5 to 10 pages of your polished, glowing like the last lightning bug, manuscript. Those pages better cause the agent to miss their stop on the subway and compel them to contact at least five publishing houses because they are reading the next big thing. This may be a tab bit of an exaggeration but it sure seemed that way years ago when I was dating around the agent scene (I wasn’t into it much, only contacted two agents). The point is, that I kept running across this 5-10 pages requirement. Based only on a few pages–not even a full chapter, agents decided if a project was right for them.

For a new author this pressure is intimidating as all get-out—harder than trying out for American Idol. Most of the time they let the contestant finish their song. Writers do not get that luxury, many agents stop reading in the first paragraph if they spot problems.

I attended a writers’ conference that held a Gong Show for manuscripts. The host would read a manuscript and agents gonged when they lost interest. Out of 40 manuscripts only 1 made it through an entire page. I understand why they take this approach because the average reader wants to fall for a story immediately.

I get it, reading a novel takes commitment, time–it’s like starting a relationship. I jotted down feedback from this conference on what not to do, because in many ways agents represent the reader. And in real relationship fashion I’m going to share writing tips that also apply to dating.

Kate says it all

Kate says it all

  1. Explicit Intro: On average, talking about sex when first meeting someone isn’t a good idea—definitely off-putting. Opening a novel with an explicit sex scene is a big no-no as well. Now, with Erotica, the rules may be different but I image the reader isn’t thrown into a steamy bedroom scene in the first line.
  2. Showing Off: Ok, raise your hands if you like dating a show-off? Huh, I don’t see any hands. Unless you’re writing for writers or masters of the English language, the reader just wants a good story. To be entertained. Why use a twenty-dollar word when a five-dollar one will work?
  3. TMI (too much information):  Sharing all your business on the first date is an easy way to lose the interest of a potential partner. Where’s the mystery? What’s there to wonder about? It’s nice having to work a little when getting to know someone. Same applies to writing. Information dumping in the beginning doesn’t create that I-can’t-wait-to-see-what-happens response. Actually, it does the opposite–a real snooze-fest!
  4. Lack of Authenticity: No one can be you better than you. It’s really awkward being on a date when the person isn’t being themselves. Be true to the character and story by writing realistically. And it’s totally fine to do it your own way.
  5. Pacing: There’s a natural flow to good conversation just like there’s a natural flow to good storytelling. A good balance between summary and scene makes for enjoyable reading!  
  6. Hot-Mess: Showing up for a first date dirty and looking a hot-mess, will not go over well–unless it’s a rock climbing date. Being prepared and put together helps people to take you seriously. With a novel, having a ton of grammatical or spelling mishaps in the first few pages is unacceptable. 

As a writer it’s important to know what makes readers lose interest in the first 10 pages, and not do them. And there’s many more but six is plenty. To be honest, readers can lose interest with a perfect manuscript just because they have options.

America, at least, is full of the OEEB (Overly Entertained and Easily Bored). Scrolling through Netflix, trying to find the best, most suitable entertainment for my mood, can take more time than just watching a Walking Dead episode. My Kindle is a small library—and that’s the norm for young adults. But I still think it’s important to watch and read new stuff, even stuff I don’t think I’ll like.

I can’t tell you how many books, televisions shows, movies, that in the beginning turned me off. I had good reasons too: slow-paced books, cheesy movies, irritating characters. Then, after a while, I got hooked. At some point, I forgave the flaws and felt captivated by the story, the characters changing, or the moral dilemma.

Growing up I wouldn’t touch a fantasy novel, they just seemed weird to me. Because of a neighbor who shoved a fantasy novel in my hand I began to read my first fantasy/sci-fi series. The first chapter—I wasn’t feeling it. After the third chapter or so, I couldn’t put the book down.

These are just a few books/shows/movies that won me over.

  • Harry Potter series
  • Supernatural
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Walking Dead
  • Friday Night Lights
  • Les Miserable
  • Inception

So, this is my plea to the Reader. Novels aren’t perfect because imperfect people write them.  So, if the pacing seems off or it has fancy words or it’s a genre not of your liking, basically if it doesn’t’t hook you in the first 10 pages, keep reading. Most people are not a fan of insta-love, it’s always better when the characters grow and fall in love over time.

I take the same approach reading now. I don’t have to love a novel right away. I give it time to grow on me because I might just fall in love during the process. And finding things I love is always worth the journey it took to find it.

tumblr_inline_mxmfp8fj4q1r6ywxdFinding a book I  love–True Fandom!

Photo/Gif Credit: www.huffingtonpost.combysandradi.wordpress.comgiphy.com

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

Intruder-WIPpet

March came with another snow storm. I’d like to think being stuck inside would lend itself to me getting more writing done, but I have children. So, I typically spend those snowy days trying to keep my little boys from breaking things. They’re use to being in daycare–I’m use to them being in daycare. However, I do love the special, unexpected time with my high-energy boys. Just yesterday we watched Pinocchio–Disney never gets old, and they loved it!

I’ve designated this month to editing the sequel to The Hall Speaks. I’m so looking forward to spending time with my characters (my number one fans). There’s a runner’s high but there’s also a writer’s high. I get into a zone, the endorphins are flowing, and nothing can distract me from their story. After writing, I actually feel more energized, confident and genuinely happy.  My posts may get sporadic as I rewrite and edit, just saying. 🙂

On a side note, I’m loving social media. I’ve been able to meet some of the nicest, most interesting people ever. Recently I ran across a post on Tumblr for Res-Life: The Musical. It’s nice finding others interested in promoting Residence Life.  They’ve raised close to 4,000 for this short film which they’ll be working on for the next few months. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on their progress.

Now onto my WIPpet! As some of you know, RA Sage gets caught in a horrible situation. Things get personal as he deals with the repercussions of  doing his job. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so it’s just a small section. Sage isn’t the kind of guy to shrink back, so he takes protecting himself to a whole different level.

March 5, 2014, so I came up with 14 multiplied by 3=page 42 and 5+3=8 sentences or so.  Enjoy!

Intruder

#Sage

Sage grabbed his book bag off the floor, unzipped it frantically, searching for his gun. His finger tips grazed the cold, hard plastic; carefully he gripped it in both hands, marveling at the black semi-automatic. He stood up, feeling the air move quicker through his lungs. In a fury he swung around, holding the gun out like he was about to shoot a target at close range. He felt as if the gun was just an extension of his body, as he turned to face his mirror. He blinked the wetness from his eyes as reality sunk deep into his stomach. They’d been in his house, unnoticed.

*******

Always, thanks for reading! If you’d like to take part in WIPpet just go here.  Be sure to check out other WIPpets, I’ll be doing my rounds tomorrow. And thank you K. L. Schwengel for hosting! Happy reading and let’s all keep writing!

Here’s a photo from an incredibly successful passive RA program with a great message.

RA program Mirrorless Monday.

RA program Mirrorless Monday.

I’m off to campus for the night. 🙂

Photo Credit: http://whatwecallreslife.tumblr.com

A Dream in Me and the Must-See Project

“No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid” ~ Lupita Nyong’o

Early on as an RA I knew my job would never be in jeopardy (with this economy I wish I had that kind of job security now).  The dean of students pulled us together to go over university budget cuts. I know, budget cuts in education—such a shocker. At the time, I hardly cared, being a sophomore, and more concerned with classes I needed to study for than sitting through another department meeting.  But a fellow RA asked the dean if we would lose our job, if that was part of the budget cut.

I can still see the peculiar smile that spread across the dean’s face as he said, “Oh, no—you don’t have to worry about losing your job.  Your position is irreplaceable.”

Those words really caught my attention. Just a few weeks into being an RA, I wasn’t really sure what the dean meant. By the sixth time I was on RA duty, I knew exactly why my role was so important.

RAs:

 Train twelve’s hours a day for a week or more during the summer, Spend all day moving in their residents, Live with their co-workers and customers (residents),  Handle more paperwork than most secretaries, Serve on-call, confronting just about any student or building issue, Counsels the homesick, confused, abused, and I-just-need-someone-to-talk-to kind of students, Write up the drunk student and befriend them at the same time by inviting them to a program, Teach all sorts of life skills, Make the building pretty with bulletin boards and door tags, Have lots of meetings, some at odd hours of the night, All this while getting a degree and trying to balance that thing we call, “life.”

Q: I mean, who does this?

A: My Dean was right, this role is so important to the university.

For one day, I wish every college student could experience RA life. It’s a unique, unforgettable, unbelievable college adventure.  So much so, I had to write a book about it—had to! RAs are some of the greatest students I know.

My dream is to see Reslife go mainstream, past the halls, past college life, and into living rooms everywhere. Even if my novels aren’t the breakthrough project to do it—I still want Reslife to be celebrated.  I’ve always thought Reslife would make a stellar TV show, it’s like a Glee meets Grey’s Anatomy dipped in a little Friday Night Lights. I know, I sound like a Reslife fan and that’s… correct.  It may be a small dream, but it’s a dream in me. So, I couldn’t be more excited to share with you, Res-Life: The Musical. Chad King, RA and director, created a story that takes place in the upbeat world of Residence Life. A team of dedicated students are helping him put it all together. Here’s the synopsis:

concept art by Anabel Boyanova

concept art by Anabel Boyanova

Starry-eyed resident advisor Oliver seemingly manages to have it all while looking after the first-year students in his hall. But when he is stuck on duty during campus-wide Date Night, an unexpected breakup with his boyfriend catapults Oliver into an emotional crisis.

Now, he must decide if his busy job is worth the stress if it means losing the love he so desperately wants. Meanwhile, his resident Leah struggles to make college feel like home. Singing, dancing, and important realizations ensue as both Oliver and Leah attempt to find love over the course of an unforgettable night.

For more details, check out Res-Life: The Musical on Kickstarter.

As with any film, funding is a huge aspect: stage set, costumes, equipment, and practice locations. This can all get pretty expensive, so they’re asking for support. Helping others live out their dream is a wonderful gift. However big or small the help, it provides the artist with hope. As artists, writers, and dreamers hope is something we always need!