Coffee Klatch

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

The key to developing a successful writing career is developing the habit of sitting down to write every day even when you don’t feel like it. I have been trying to do that. Some days, my brain feels like wood and I can’t seem to make myself do it. Some days, I have a long day of teaching and I can’t seem to find the time. Every week, though, no matter how I did on my goals the previous week, I vow to begin anew. Last week, I wanted to write four blog posts but only did two. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t do, I need to start focusing on what I did do. I sat down and wrote two blog posts. I also finished my character profiles for my latest novel. Maybe, I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to do, but I did accomplish those things. This is the third Monday in a row that I have written my Coffee Klatch post.

This week, I will continue to squeeze out time to write. I will sit down to write even when I don’t feel like it. I will remember that every day is a new beginning and each day I will begin again.

Killer Preoccupation

“When are we going to finish watching that show?”

“What show?”

“You know. Our new favorite show–MindHunter.”

“Our new favorite show? Like we have something in common?”

“Sure. We have a lot in common. We both have a son. We like to read the same writers. I’m a serial killer. You’re ….”

“Hold on there.”

“I was going to say, you’re studying serial killers.”

“I’m only studying serial killers so I get you right.”

“We’ve discussed this before. You can’t get me right. I already exist. You’re just channeling my reality from another dimension.”

“Not this again.”

“Anyway, when are we finishing our show?”

“I already finished it.”

“What? Without me?”

“Well, you were busy. I’m surprised you even like the show. You’re the one that said that what they say about serial killers is all bullshit. MindHunters is all about how they came up with the bullshit. The FBI agents who interviewed all those serial killers. They based all their theories on serial killers on those interviews.”

“Not everything is bullshit.”

“Like what?”

“Like, how all the serial killers try to control the interviews even though they no longer have any control. That’s spot on. That’s why we do what we do–for control. We control who gets to live and who gets to die. And we’re intelligent. We have to be to do what we do and not get caught. Of course, all those serial killers aren’t that smart after all.”

“Why not?”

“They got caught, didn’t they? They’re sitting in prison spilling their guts to FBI agents. That’s not too smart. And they’ll die in prison, too.”

“So you’re smarter than all those guys, huh?”

“Fuck yeah. I haven’t been caught yet, have I?”

“We’ll see.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Never mind. I found a new series. You’re going to love it. It’s called I Am a Killer.”

“Shit. You need a new hobby.”

Coffee Klatch

I have to keep reminding myself that I am seeking balance in my life, not perfection. I want a life where I have time to do the things that I love and also finish the tasks that I’m obligated to do. Last week, my goal was to begin building balance into my life so I am not working on one thing all the time. The first thing I did last week was to make time for my writing. I am reading a book called Manage Your Day-to-day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind. So far, I’ve gleaned two pieces of advice that have helped me start on the path to balance. The first thing was to build a routine around my writing and to show up everyday to write, whether I feel like it or not. The second piece of advice was to do my creative work during the time of day when I have the most energy. I put both of these pieces of advice into place last week. I made a time to write every day and I sat down to write whether I felt like it or not. Both these things helped me to write several blog posts, to begin planning my second novel, and to continue revising my first novel. Once my block of writing time was over I was able to take a break and then get to work on the work I needed to do for my classes. Even though I spent the morning writing, I still had energy to work on my lesson plans for my classes.

I was also able to begin developing a content calendar for my blog. I know I want to continue with the “Coffee Klatch” entries on Monday, and I got a couple of ideas for other weekly entries. One day a week, I am going to critique something (last week was romance novels). This week, I am going to review a Netflix series I just finished called MindHunter. Since another goal in my life is to create a healthier lifestyle, I am going to include a weekly entry about health and wellness topics. That will give me some help with developing ideas. I was going to post my new novel, but I am not to the drafting stage. I am still planning and finding out who my characters are, but I may do some entries about the process of writing.

This week, I am going to continue carving out a chunk of time for my writing. My goal this week is to write four blog posts this week. I also want to finish developing the characters for my new novel and finish revising chapter two in the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo.

Hypocritical Writer

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post about how detrimental romance novels are to our realistic views of love, relationships, and commitment. Yet here I am embarking on another project for #NaNoWriMo–a 50,000 word romance novel that I will write this April during Camp NaNoWriMo. I could write the sequel to the thriller I wrote in November, but I am currently revising and editing my novel, Sins of the Father, and I am elbow-deep in blood and guts. I need a light-hearted writing project that would remind me that there is more to life than gore and serial killers.

Photo by Tom Ezzatkhah on Unsplash

The challenge for myself is to write a romance novel that follows the features of the genre, but that is also well-written and engaging. My working title is Forget Me Not and revolves around a working mother whose son ran away to find the father he has never met. When she and her former lover finally meet, she realizes that he has forgotten all about her. I will begin posting it in May, so romance-haters beware! Or maybe check it out to see if I improve the genre.

Secret Obsession

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

At first glance, you may think this post is the beginning of a romance novel. The heroine is pursued by the lost love to whom she can never commit, because he will find out her deep, dark secret–that she reads romance novels. I have to admit that I, too, share the heroine’s deep, dark secret. I read romance novels. Why does reading romance novels count as a deep dark secret? Why can’t readers of romance novels proclaim to the world their secret obsession? The answer lies within the genre itself.

Photo by Jasper Graetsch on Unsplash

Romance novels have long been maligned for being formulaic and derivative. And I have to admit they are. They start with a heroine who has some sort of secret that she doesn’t want the world to know or she is facing an overwhelming challenge on her own. She is breathtakingly gorgeous, but doesn’t know she is. She often has a deep insecurity. In walks the love interest. Muscular and irresistible, he is the answer to all her problems. He sees her for who she is and looks beyond whatever imperceptible flaws she thinks she has. He oozes self-confidence yet is deeply sensitive and she is drawn to him like a magnet. There is some sort of conflict. A mystery to solve, a life-and-death crisis, maybe even a world to save. No matter what type of twist and turn the writer tries to insert into the story, the reader can rest easy knowing that the guy will get the girl in the end and help her solve her problems.

When I was younger, I read romance novels almost exclusively. I could go home at the end of a long, unfulfilling day at work and escape into an idyllic reality. The formula of the romance had a predictable and comforting rhythm. As I grew older, however, I began to grow tired of the romances I read. The books by writers, like Christine Feehan, whom I had previously loved, began to pall. Romance novels became dull and plodding. I could barely get through them anymore. I soon gave them up for more interesting novels. I discovered Dean Koontz and Thomas Harris, Kate Atkinson and Tana French, Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs. I began to yearn for stories that I couldn’t predict, characters that were dynamic and who sometimes lost their battles. Slowly, the genre of romance lost its hold on me, but every now and then, I find myself yearning for a simpler story. I want to know that, at the end of the novel, the guy will get the girl, and the world will be saved. No one will die unexpectedly and everyone, except the bad guy, will end up happy.

Right now, I am reading another romance series. It was free, so I thought, Why not? The plot is mundane–paranormal shifters looking for their one true mate while they battle an evil villain. The heroine or the hero sometimes rebel against the mystical connection they have with with their mates, but somehow fate pulls them together. As I slog through each book in the series, I ask myself, Why am I still reading this? Of course, the answer is to see what will happen. I am also a stubborn reader. Once I start something, I have to see it through to the end, but, with this latest series, I realized why I have stopped loving romance. The main problem with romance is not its formulaic plot or derivative characters, but its presentation of an idyllic world that can never be achieved by a normal human being. When we read romance novels, we are duped into believing that love is easy. If we find that one perfect person, we will not need to work at creating a relationship. There will be an instant attraction and compatibility. When we come back to the real world and remember what a real relationship is like, we become disillusioned. We ask ourselves, You mean I can’t look someone in the eyes, or smell their scent or hear their voice, and just know they are the one for me? I have to get to know them? I have to find a way to look beyond their flaws to the person who lives inside their imperfect body?

While romance novels give us a brief respite from our lives, they ultimately distort our view of love and relationships. When we immerse ourselves in the romance, we lose touch with what it really means to love–to accept someone, warts and all. To see that commitment is not about a mystical bond or instant connection, but a commitment to stand together against all the disasters and problems that life throws at us. And ultimately, to stay together when life becomes boring and it seems like the spark is lost. Sometimes, it seems that, to stay with our significant other, we have to save the sparks, but sparks are meant to die. They float above the campfire and fade into the night sky. We need to focus on what the spark leaves behind. Maybe, the spark is gone, but a committed romance is sustained by the banked coals of a shared life together. It might not be as flashy as a romance or as predictable, but, in the end, it fulfills us.

Coffee Klatch

Since I finished the 50,000 word challenge in November, I have been having trouble posting on my blog. It was so easy to finish a chapter and post it that I got out of the habit of finding new ideas to write about for my blog. I have been told that I need some sort of content calendar to keep my blog alive and commit me to writing regularly. I discovered that people write blog posts tagged #weekendcoffeeshare. Many of them are posted on Mondays and talk about the writer’s previous week and week-end. While I’m not a coffee-drinker, I wouldn’t mind a little metaphorical coffee and a chance for some conversation. I am working on a couple of goals in my life and need some accountability. The #weekendcoffeeshare would give me a weekly forum to write about my progress and my challenges while creating a laid-back and relaxing vibe of a simple conversation.

For the past couple of months, I realized that I have let myself be consumed by work. When I sit down at my computer, I am not getting ready to write or blog, but am focused solely and lesson planning and grading. I realized that I need to find some sort of balance so that I am not working all the time or avoiding work all the time. I need to give myself time to write and relax as well as to work. One of the first things I am doing to begin building this balance in my life is to put self-care first. I tend to put off exercising and eating right. Today, I got up and exercised first thing. Yesterday, I committed to eating healthy and planned a grocery list that would support this goal. Lately, I have been grabbing whatever is easiest or most convenient and this is taking a toll on my health. I am also focusing on eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Even though I need to lose weight, I am focusing on taking care of myself rather than dieting.

The next goal I have is to resume writing every day and making time for writing. Usually, I sit down at the computer and begin working on my lesson plans and grading right away. When I finally have time to write, I am often too tired. Today, I made time for my writing first. It seems that no matter how long I spend grading I am never caught up. I am caught in a vicious cycle that I need to break out of. By making time for the things I want to do every day, I will have more energy for the things I have to do every day.

Next week, we’ll see how I do. Thanks for having coffee with me. I’ll see you next Monday!

Plugging the Holes

My son likes to watch a YouTube channel called How It Should Have Ended (HISHE). He likes to watch the remakes of his favorite Marvel movies. One of his favorite videos is the remake of Spider-man 3. He loves it when Bernard finally tells Harry that Norman killed himself. Harry fires him for not telling him the truth sooner. Many stories and movies have holes like these. If Bernard had told Harry at the end of the first Spider-man movie that Norman had killed himself, then what would happen in Spider-man 2 and 3? Harry wouldn’t make a deal with Doc Ock to bring him Spider-man and he wouldn’t need to attack Peter in Spider-man 3. Without those holes, the trilogy would become a stand-alone movie. Or would it? Maybe, the writers could have taken the Spider-man series in a totally new direction. Who knows what they would have come up with?

What if writers actually worked harder to plug those holes? Would the stories they came up with be deeper and more satisfying? In the plan of the novel I am currently working on, I decided that one of the main characters would be kidnapped. I didn’t want the protagonist to find this character too quickly, but I also wanted the kidnapper to use the victim’s phone to call the protagonist. In my original plan, it would take the protagonist too long to find the cell phone using cell phone towers. I discovered, however, that the police can find the location of a cell phone pretty quickly. Since the protagonist in my novel was not only the sheriff but also the account holder of the cell phone, she would be able to track the kidnapper even faster. How could I plug this hole? I could have the kidnapper, a devious serial killer, be too dumb to know that the sheriff could track the cell phone in a matter of hours. That led to a new hole. If the kidnapper is also a devious serial killer who has never been caught, how could he not know how long it took for the police to track a cell phone? In the end, I decided to plug this hole by having the kidnapper use the cell phone to lead the Sheriff and her deputies to his latest crime scene. Because the kidnapper no longer had the cell phone, the sheriff could no longer track him and the victim. Her problem became a lot more difficult to solve.

Writers might want to take their work in a particular direction that requires certain plot holes to remain in their stories. They might think that the direction they have chosen is the best way to go, but what if the hole, itself, is a warning that a story needs to change? When I plugged up my plot hole, the danger to my victim ratcheted up a notch and even led him to do something he didn’t think he would ever do. My story took a completely different direction. The plot hole in a story might exist, because the line of the story is flawed. By avoiding the plot hole, the story line can be strengthened.

Prodigal Son: Chapter 1

Elijah sat back and stared at the computer screen. Flexing his aching hands, he read the words he had typed, “extra set of hands for hire.” Three long years it had taken him to get to this point—to be able to read, to be able to write, to be able to use his hands. Madison said he didn’t have to work, but he knew she and Hal were having a hard time making ends meet with all his medical bills and the new baby coming. Whenever Madison convinced Hal to talk to him about working, Hal would pat him on the shoulder. His grey eyes that could be cold like a killer’s would get a warm twinkle, and he’d say, “Just make sure you keep up with your school work, son.”

He had a lot to keep up with. He had never gone to school when he was younger like most kids. He’d never even thought about school until he’d met Madison and Hal. His father had never…

He stopped that thought. He didn’t like to think about his father even though Dr. Ross said he needed to start facing some of the bad memories. She said they would haunt him forever until he learned to face them, until he realized he wasn’t responsible for the things his father had done.

Shaking his head, he focused on his Craigs list ad. He hoped someone would see his ad soon.

A couple of days after posting his ad, someone finally called him. A little old lady who needed some yard work done. He pulled up to the house on Emerson Street. The lady lived a couple of blocks from Washington Park. Unlike a lot of houses in the neighborhood, her house was really run down. The brown paint was peeling on the trim and one of her shutters hung askew. If you asked him, she needed a lot more than yard work. The yard was in pretty bad shape, too. The grass was at least a foot high, and the bushes in the yard were overgrown. Looking at the crumpled piece of paper in his had, he hoped he’d written down the address right. He was picturing a little lawn-mowing or maybe raking the leaves. He hadn’t pictured something like this. Slowly, he climbed out of his car. Madison and Hal had bought it for him when he turned sixteen. That was another reason he wanted to get a job. He wanted to be able to pay for his gas and insurance himself. He walked up the cracked sidewalk to the peeling screen. The mesh of the screen was ripped. Nervously, he knocked on the door. He winced a little at the ache in his knuckles. Little things, like knocking on a door, still hurt sometimes.

He could hear someone talking inside, then footsteps, as someone approached the door. The door opened and a beautiful girl looked through the screen at him. She had long dark hair like Madison’s and sparkling brown eyes. He swallowed. He kept his distance from girls. He didn’t know if he could trust himself around them, so he decided it was safer that way. That was another thing that Dr. Ross wanted him to work on. She kept trying to tell him that he wasn’t like his father, but he wasn’t sure he believed her. The girl frowned at him, and he realized that he was staring at her. He cleared his throat.

“I’m looking for Mrs. Roberts. I’m here about the yard work.”

“Grandma, the guy you hired to work in the yard is here.”

She opened the screen and let him in. He frowned. She just let him in without even checking to see who he was. He could be anyone, a psychopath with a razor sharp knife in his back pocket that he would…

He stepped into the house.

Prodigal Son: Prologue

Dear Drake,

I am in school now. I am learning to read and write. I don’t go to a real school. My teacher comes to our house. She gave me this cool computer, so I can write things down now. It’s hard. I’d rather play my 3DS games, but Madison said it was important to study. She made a deal with me. If I get all my work done, then I can play with my DS for an hour. Madison doesn’t know that I am writing to you. She told me that you didn’t want to hear from us, but I didn’t believe her. Hal told me he could get your address for me, and that he would mail the letter for me. You just can’t tell Madison. I think she would get mad that Hal and I have a secret that she doesn’t know.

I won’t be writing to you for a while. I’m having my first surgery in a couple of days. The doctor says that I’ll be able to use my hands once they get fixed. I’ll write to you again when I can.

Love,

Elijah

Deletion


Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash

After writing 50,000 words in a month, I’ve taken a little break from my novel. I thought that, on December 1, I would sit down and start revising, but I realized I needed a little break. I needed some distance from the piece. As a writer, it’s easy for me to become wedded to a concept–to believe that it is written in cement, unchangeable.

To produce my best work, however, I must commit myself to the idea that my novel can be erased with the click of the delete button. With one swipe, I can turn my world upside down. Right can become left. Left can become right. My main character can change gender, turn evil. I must warp my perspective.

My first consideration is changing my point of view. I tend to write in the limited third-person. I am most comfortable with this point of view because it distances me from the character and the action. I never have to come too close to the character, but what if I leaped into the character’s head? What if I became the character? What would he say if I allowed him to speak for himself?

Another consideration is removing an entire character–really using that delete key. What if I removed one of the main characters? Who would come forward that has been hiding? Would my story flip upside down?

When Picasso wanted to capture the essence of the bull, he did not layer paint on the page like Bob Ross. Rather, he stripped the unnecessary elements away until he laid bare the bones of the bull. With each rendering, he gutted his image until all that was left was the spirit of the bull.

How far am I willing to go to allow my creation to emerge? How much will I strip from my work?

Warm up the delete key–here I come.