Getting Started

It's been a while since I've done a post on writing.  I haven't stopped writing, in fact, I've been writing more regularly this past year than any year before in my life.  But writing doesn't yield an image to post on the blog, or anything that I can share at the moment. prettyrose_small

(Meanwhile, the roses in the backyard are blooming.)

The most difficult part about writing is actually sitting down and writing-- at least it is for me.  Once I've gotten past the hump of starting, writing is usually easy.  The words tumble out, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

I've found a few ways over the hump.  I do yoga or some sort of exercise beforehand.   (Working out the stiffness in my muscles seems to help me work out any stiffness in my brain as well.)  I write in the morning, when my mind is fresh.   I pull up the playlist for whatever chapter I'm working on, and listen to music.   My imagination wakes up,  boosts me over the hump, and I can write.

The playlist for the chapter-in-progress:

Sansa's Hymn - Karliene ReynoldsDevil's Backbone - The Civil WarsMy Featherbed - Karliene ReynoldsYoung and Beautiful - Lana del Ray

Here's an excerpt from a wonderful essay by Susan Cooper (author of The Dark is Rising series), about how she gets in the mood to write:

Writing is one of the loneliest professions in the world because it has to be practiced in this very separate private world, in here.  Not in the mind; in the imagination.  And I think it is possible that the writing of fantasy is the loneliest job of the lot, since you have to go further inside.  You have to make so close a connection with the unconscious that the unbiddable door will open and let the images fly out, like birds...

It makes you superstitions.  Most writers indulge in small private rituals to start themselves writing each day... The very first half hour at the desk has nothing much to do with fantasy or even ritual: It's what J.B. Priestley used to call "sharpening pencils" -- the business of doing absolutely everything you can think of to put off the moment of starting work.  You make another cup of coffee.  You find a telephone call that must be made, a letter that must be answered.  You do sharpen pencils...

Finally guilt drives you to the manuscript--and that's when the real ritual begins.  (I should go back to the first person, because in this respect everyone's different.)  I have to start by reading.  I read a lot of what I've already written...even though I already know it all by heart.  I read the notes I made to myself the day before when I stopped writing--those were the end-of-the-day ritual, to help with the starting of the next.  During this process I've picked up one of the toys scattered around my study, and my fingers are half-consciously playing with it: a shell, a smooth sea-washed pebble... I have been known to blow bubbles, from a little tube that sits on my desk, and to sit staring at the colors that swirl over their brief surfaces.  This is the moment someone else usually chooses to come into the room, and I can become very irritable if they don't appreciate that they are observing a writer seriously at work.

What I'm doing, of course, is taking myself out of the world I'm in, and trying to find my way back into the world apart.  Once I've managed that, I am inside the book that I'm writing, and am seeing it, so vividly that I do not see what I'm actually staring at...

We cast spells to find our way into the unconscious mind, and the imagination that lives there, because we known that's the only way to get into a place where magic is made.  "Open sesame!" I am shouting, silently, desperately to the door of my imagination, as I play with the pebble I found on a distant island beach, as I stare at the wall.

-Susan Cooper, "Worlds Apart." Origins of Story: On Writing for Children.  Eds. Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire.

Good luck to everyone starting a project--of any kind.  The hardest part is to actually sit down and start.  If you can do that, you can do anything, provided you have enough patience and persistence.


Working Titles

My brilliant new writing schedule is working so far.  Here's a quick update on my current projects: WWII Manuscript :  Finished.  181,000 words.  (Yikes, it's long.)

Still out making the rounds with agents.   This novel is an odd animal, so I'm expecting it to be hard to place with an agent/publisher.   Traditional publishing is a long process.   Working title: Jacob Have I Loved.  (Yes, I know there's already a book by this title.)

Vampires Manuscript : In Progress.  25,500 words so far.

Vampires, Manhattan, and musical theatre.

This sucker is moving along now that I have a writing schedule that works.  I've been writing bits and pieces of this novel since I was in high school.  Serious frustration has led me to seriously considered scrapping this project, but guilt keeps me committed.  Working title: The Majestic.  (Look!  A movie already used this title. )

Norse!Quest : In Progress.

I'm writing this on the weekends to reward myself for surviving another week of writing about vampires.   Odin, Thor and Loki go on adventures.  And Ragnarok happens.   Also that time Loki had the brilliant idea of putting Thor in a wedding dress to get Thor's stolen hammer back.

Here, have an Odin:


A Bit About Writing

I like to read more than I like to write. Unfortunately, most of the stories I want to read haven't been written.  These stories exist in my head.  When a story nags at me, I start searching books in hopes that somehow-- impossibly-- somebody else has done all the work and written it down for me.  It would save a lot of time.  I could skip all that trouble of putting thousands of words on paper and go straight to basking in: "Oh yes.  That's it.  That's the story."

Sometimes I can't find a book that scratches that itch.   I let the itch fester for a while.  If it goes away, fine.  If it doesn't...

The old saying is that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

I hope that the stories I want to read and end up writing because I can't find them anywhere else-- I hope they scratch another reader's itch, that someone will open a book I've written and say, "Yes!  That's it.  That's the story."



The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Pauline Baynes, 1950.

I am haunted by doors.

I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a child and since then I have never entirely given up hope (even as a grown-up person) that  someday I will open a door and find another world on the other side.

Oddly enough, the first time I read that book, I felt the strangest sense of recognition, like I already knew the story.  I'm not saying I could predict the plot-- all those twists and turns were new to me.  I mean that I came upon the book and recognized it as an old friend that I happened to be meeting for the first time.

I did not read the Harry Potter series until after I graduated university.  I knew almost nothing about the books while I was growing up-- other than that they were wildly popular, and involved magic.

So when I opened Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, with the idea that I would finally see what all the fuss was about, and have a few days of entertaining reading.

Within the first few pages, the same sense of recognition come crashing down on me.  I knew this book.  I had always known this book.  It was my old friend, my friend that I had never met before.

All my life I’ve wanted to be the kid who gets to cross over into the magical kingdom. I devoured those books by C.S. Lewis and William Dunthorn, Ellen Wentworth, Susan Cooper, and Alan Garner. When I could get them from the library, I read them out of order as I found them, and then in order, and then reread them all again, many times over. Because even when I was a child I knew it wasn’t simply escape that lay on the far side of the borders of fairyland...There was a knowledge―an understanding hidden in the marrow of my bones that only I can access―telling me that by crossing over, I’d be coming home. That’s the reason I’ve yearned so desperately to experience the wonder, the mystery, the beauty of that world beyond the World As It Is. It’s because I know that somewhere across the border there’s a place for me. A place of safety and strength and learning, where I can become who I’m supposed to be. I’ve tried forever to be that person here, but whatever I manage to accomplish in the World As It Is only seems to be an echo of what I could be in that other place that lies hidden somewhere beyond the borders.
-Charles de Lint
Perhaps this is the reason why I write.  I must go on building doors for others, until my own door opens.

Illustration by Pauline Baynes from the 1978 HarperCollins edition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lews.

Quote by Charles de Lint from

There and Back Again

"There are no original plots," said a boy who thought he knew everything. He was a seventeen year-old artist, and as world-weary and cynical as only teenage artists can be.

I strongly objected to what he said.  But I was a few grades younger, and I was shy, so I kept my mouth shut.

Really, there are no original plots, like there are no original babies.  If you ignore hair, eyes, gender and personality, all babies are pretty much the same.  And all books, from War and Peace to a Harlequin romance like The Billionaire CEO and His Virgin Secretary, have certain things in common, even though one is full of confusing Russian names, and the other is full of confused secretaries.

Supposedly all stories can be boiled down to two basic plots.  The first is A stranger comes to town.

Pride & Prejudice:  "My dear Mr. Bennet, have you heard?  Netherfield Park is let at last!"

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: "You're a wizard, Harry."

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:  "Suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her."

The Hobbit:  "Gandalf came by."

In essence, the stranger is a disruption of everyday life.  It doesn't haven to be a mysterious person.  It could be  a tornado.  A pretty girl at a party. The birth of a child.  Something happens, large or small, an d nothing will ever be the same again.

The second plot is this: The hero takes a journey. 

This often follows the arrival of the stranger, or the strange event.  The hero's life has been shaken up, and now he must do something about it.  In books like The Neverending Story and The Hobbit, this is a literal journey.  The hero trudges from one end of the earth to another, a literal there and back again.  In other books, this is a figurative journey through that much more terrifying landscape-- the human heart.

I believe BOTH of these plots will exist in almost every story:

1) Something happens to shake the hero out of the status quo. (The stranger.) 2) Now the hero has to do something about it.  (The journey.)

So the boy who thought he knew everything was right.

And he was totally, totally wrong.

Writing a Looking Glass World (Part II)

There's another problem that often appears in retelling an old story. It fades like an overexposed photograph, or a copy of a copy that gradually loses detail and color.  If your adaptation is less powerful than the original-- if it doesn't have that same twist of horror or joy that makes a reader catch their breath-- then something's wrong.

Let's look at another frequently adapted tale: The Ballad of Mulan.


Mulan is an ancient Chinese ballad that tells of a girl whose aged father is drafted into the army.  To save his life, Mulan disguises herself as a man and joins the army in his place.  It's a tale of courage, and a daughter's deep love for her father.

Here is the original ballad's account of Mulan's decision:

Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek, Mulan weaves, facing the door. You don't hear the shuttle's sound, You only hear Daughter's sighs. They ask Daughter who's in her heart, They ask Daughter who's on her mind. "No one is on Daughter's heart, No one is on Daughter's mind. Last night I saw the draft posters, The Khan is calling many troops, The army list is in twelve scrolls, On every scroll there's Father's name. Father has no grown-up son, Mulan has no elder brother. I want to buy a saddle and horse, And serve in the army in Father's place."

Probably the most famous adaptation of Mulan is the 1998 film by Disney.  Here is the animated version of Mulan's decision, told without dialogue, through music and images.  I still get chills when I watch it.

Last, let's look at an example of an adaptation that goes through all the motions of being faithful to the original, but has about as much heart as a well-oiled robot.

Wild Orchid, by Cameron Dokey, is a novelization of Mulan intended for YA readers.  Here is Dokey's account of Mulan's decision:

If I had been a son, I could have gone to fight in my father's place.  My father could have remained home and our family could still have kept its honor.  But I was not a boy; I was a girl.  A girl who could ride a horse...A girl who could shoot an arrow from a bow made for a tall, strong man and still hit her target... A girl unlike any other girl in China.

I must not let my father go to fight, I thought.  I will not.

...And so I would do the only thing I could to protect both my father's life and our family's honor: I would go to fight in his place.  I would prove myself to be my father's child, even if I was a daughter.

Wild Orchid is a decent book.  Dokey obviously did a good bit of research.  But it reads more like what the author thinks Mulan ought to think, rather than the story of a terrified girl who does the impossible to save her father.

I've forgotten nearly all of Wild Orchid, but I still remember Disney's Mulan, weeping in a thunderstorm.  A girl who is small and powerless.  A girl who stands up and steals her father's armour.

So when you write an adaptation, stop and ask yourself if you're going through the motions.  Are you writing about Mulan, or are you Mulan, hands bleeding, knuckles white, hands clenched around a sword?

If not, shelve it.   Lock the story in a drawer and forget about it for a month or a year.  Then take it out and try again.


Translation of the Ballad of Mulan from Image of Mulan by Zhou Wenju from the Smithsonian Institution.

The Screenplay: Day Eleven

Writing a hero is sometimes more difficult than writing a villain.  By hero, I mean the main character of the story: the protagonist.

First of all, the reader/audience has to empathize with the hero.  The hero is lonely-- we have been lonely too. The hero struggles against all odds-- we've also felt that the world is against us. The hero triumphs-- we hope we can triumph too.

Shrek is a hero. Why is a foul-smelling ogre so beloved by audiences that he got four movies and a spin-off? Because most people have felt like foul-smelling ogres:  misjudged and shut out. But Shrek finds true love.  If an ogre can find true love, maybe we can too.

Second, some authors make their heroes impossible paragons of virtue.  Stanislavsky said that when an actor plays a villain, he needs to find the one drop of heroism in that villain's blood. Likewise when an actor plays the hero, he needs to find that drop of evil, that hidden selfishness.  The same goes for writers.

Third, most heroes are an "everyman." Though the hero is surrounded by eccentrics, he is usually fairly normal by comparison-- like Alice in Wonderland. "We're all mad here," says the Cheshire Cat. But Alice is certainly less mad than anyone else.

Viki King believes that all heroes are self-insertion-- meaning the author sat down and stuck themselves into a story.  It's easy to see where self-insertion goes wrong.   Just look at Eragon, the annoying kid who has OMIGOSH!!1 A DRAGON and MAGICAL POWERS!!!1 and a HOT ELF CHICK!!!1.  Or Bella Swan, who has a vampire and a wolf-shapeshifter kissing her feet, even though she's about as interesting as a bag of turnips.

This is why heroes are so difficult to write.  They can become so much of an everyman that they lose all originality.  They can become so much of a self-insertion that the author becomes blind to how boring they are.  They can become so sympathetic that they have no spines or faults left.

So give your hero some crooked teeth and a short temper.  Give him a redeeming quality- a sense of humor or a weakness for baby ducks.  Suddenly he's a person.  Suddenly, he can carry his own story.

Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Day One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten.

The Screenplay: Day Nine

A minor character is taking over my screenplay.  His name is Renatus.  He is a moody middle-aged magician.  Renatus' niece, Nix, was intended to be the heroine, because people generally find nubile young girls more interesting than moody middle-aged magicians.  (Or so I hear.) I've had this problem before-- a nobody character suddenly sprouts horns or feathers and becomes ten times more interesting than the intended hero.   What does a writer do when a character declares his independence?

Some people  stuff their characters in a box and make them behave.  I don't, since my writing has always been character-driven (i.e. the characters shape the plot, not the other way around).

This is draft three of my opening scene.  (Read the first draft here and the second draft here.)


A group stands in a circle in a cold mountain crevasse.  One long bundle lies just outside the circle: the shape of a body wrapped in cloth. Snow and ash swirl in the air. By torchlight, two DIGGERS are attempting to cut into the icy ground. RENATUS watches the diggers, shivering. LORENZO stands beside him, with his cloak pulled over his arms and chest.

FIRST DIGGER The ground’s hard as iron, my lord. We can’t get any deeper, not until spring.

SECOND DIGGER It’s deep enough.

LORENZO Aye, it’s deep enough. Let’s be done with it.

RENATUS (huddled inside his cloak) Keep digging.

Lorenzo and the two diggers eye each other. Lorenzo pulls Renatus aside.

LORENZO Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but this is going to be one hellish storm. We’ve got to be moving.

RENATUS I’ll not have him left for the wolves and vultures. He can’t have a proper burial, but I’ll not have anyone disturbing his rest. (loudly) Keep digging!

LORENZO (even more quietly) You don’t owe him anything.

RENATUS I owe him everything.

LORENZO He was a traitor and a coward-

RENATUS Coward. Yes. Coward enough to speak the truth.

The diggers have given up. In spite of their best efforts, they are doing nothing but chipping at the ice at the bottom of their shallow grave.

DIGGER 1 Maybe—if their lordships would use a bit of magic, just a bit of fire to melt the ice—

RENATUS Hell take you all!

Renatus seizes a shovel and hits one of the men with it, then attacks the ground himself. The diggers cower in fear. The torch bearers all take a step back.

LORENZO (quietly giving them a few coins) For your trouble. You did well enough. Start ahead, we’ll be behind you.

He gives directions to the torchbearers and stewards, in the end, leaving only himself, one steward, and Renatus. who is still hacking vainly at the ground.

LORENZO Renatus-Renatus... Come. I’ll help you with him.

Renatus bends over the grave weeping.  After a moment, he stands and together they carry the long bundle and place it into the grave. They take the abandoned shovels and spade dirt and ice over the body.

LORENZO The snow will keep him until spring. We can come back then and give him a proper burial. (reluctantly, glancing at the one steward who remains holding the child) ...What about her? Are you going to finish it?

Renatus turns to the steward, who holds a bundle.  The bundle moves and reveals itself to be a child of two.

RENATUS She knows nothing.

LORENZO Father would—

RENATUS Father is dead. I am head of the house. Give her to me!

The steward hastily hands over the child.

LORENZO But if she knows-

RENATUS I’ll not kill a child! Not for you, not for Father, and not for any man on earth!

He stands by the grave holding the child, who is so wrapped up that only her eyes are visible.


RENATUS Get out of my sight!

Renatus seizes a torch with one hand and brandishes it towards his brother and the steward. The child lets out one long wail. Unnaturally bright fire cracks like a whip, singing their cloaks.

LORENZO Hellfire and brimstone—

He seizes the trembling steward and pulls him down the trail. Renatus cradles the child tenderly. He drops the torch onto the grave. Fire blazes up, sparking with gold and blue and purple, until nothing but fire can be seen by the camera.

Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Day One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight.

The Screenplay: Day Seven

Though originally I planned to follow How to Write a Movie in 21 Days to the letter, I am now hopelessly off track, mostly due to the fact that the daily assignments got so HUGE that I couldn't keep up.  For example, Day Seven's assignment is:

Guess what?  You're going to write thirty pages today...This will probably be the easiest day so far.  You are not allowed to write for more than three hours.

According to the book, at the end of Day Seven I should have finished my complete rough draft of a 120 page screenplay.  Yeah...not happening.  In fact, after re-reading what I've written so far, my screenplay feels as if it's skimming along the surface of character development and story.  I don't like this.

I should explain that my ideal storytelling device is an 800 to 1,000 page novel along the lines of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or Gone with the Wind or The Count of Monte Cristo.

I don't know how to instill a 120 page screenplay with the depth of plot and character found in a 1,000 page novel.   I don't even know if that's possible.

Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Day One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six.

The Screenplay: Day Four

Since I was still having trouble wrapping my head around the stylistic essence of the screenplay, I thought of a simple solution: imagine it's an RPG.   For non-nerds, that acronym stands for role-playing game.

Yes, I used to do a lot of text-based RPGs online, and they were nothing but description and dialogue, like this:

**The Fellowship emerges into a swamp full of  itchy insects.**

Frodo: I hate mosquitoes!  *scratches madly*

Strider: We don't call them mosquitoes in Middle-Earth.

Frodo: What do we call them?

Sam: Skeeters!

Strider: Midge-flies.

Pippin: ARRRGH!  *disappears under a wave of swamp water*

Frodo: I hate my life.

For some reason, thinking of a screenplay as a formalized RPG makes it much easier to write.

I could go study how Shakespeare used description and dialogue in his plays.  That sounds much more cultured and intellectual.  But to be entirely honest, I have spent more hours pretending I lived in Middle Earth than I have reading Shakespeare.

Read Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Day One, Day Two, Day Three.

The Screenplay: Day Three

Having become convinced that the book is trying to flatten my creative drive under the weight of impossibility, ("Today you're going to write thirty pages! Have Fun!") I put the book aside and tried to make some reasonable goals. First goal, finish the screenplay by the end of the month.  The book says the screenplay must be 120 pages long.  I have 16 pages written, 104 left to go, and there are 17 days left in the month.  104÷ 17 = 6.1.  So if I write 6.1 pages per day, I'll finish it.  That's reasonable.

Second goal, follow the rules and then throw them out the window.  The book lists a lot of rules about the hero's turning point, the crisis, etc, and the precise pages on which these events must occur.  But trying to rigidly follow the hero's journey will only result in a catastrophe like the last three Star Wars movies or the Inheritance Cycle (apologies to any Paolini fans).   I'm going to follow the rules-- and then go back and break them when I revise.

So I'm off to write my 6.1 pages for the day.

Read Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Day One, Day Two.

The Screenplay: Day Two

Today the book graciously informs me that I am going to write twenty pages in three hours.

Twenty pages, three hours.

While I'm at it, why don't I make bricks without straw?    I've always felt that I can't progress in a story if the beginning is wrong.  It's like adding another layer of pyramid on top of a crumbling, uneven foundation.  Eventually the pyramid will fall down.  Or it will turn out lopsided.

This monstrous task makes me want to waste the rest of the night reading Inspiring Dog Stories.

So tonight I am going to defy the book and do what it tells me NOT to do: go back and edit, starting with the opening scene.  Read the first draft here.



Red rooftops bake in the afternoon sun. Wind tosses dust and dead leaves across the roof. NIX’S HAND grabs a leaf. She opens her hand and the leaf lies in her palm. CAMERA PULLS BACK to show NIX, a plain girl of 16. She balances on the pinnacle of the roof.

BELINDA (O.S. from below) And when you fall and break your neck, I suppose you’ll expect me to feel sorry for you.

NIX Watch!

The leaf lies in her palm. Nothing happens. BELINDA and PEARL watch from the courtyard below. Belinda, 17, is plump and wearing yards of ribbons and white lace. Pearl, 5, is rocking up and down on her toes.

PEARL Are you doing magic, Nix?

BELINDA No, she isn’t. Come down! You can fail on solid ground just as well as on that roof.

NIX Uncle Lorenzo says heights inspire great feats of magic.

BELINDA (hands on her hips) Uncle Lorenzo also believes the earth is flat and that the ghosts of all the rabbits he’s ever eaten live under his bed. If you don’t come down, I’ll—

Pearl runs for the ladder leaning against the wall. She is half up the ladder before Belinda or Nix realize what is happening.

BELINDA Pearl, come back!

Meanwhile, Nix has still been staring intently at the leaf on her palm. There is a spark. Is it real or a trick of the light? The spark jumps out of her hand.

NIX (shrieks in triumph) LOOK! Look, both of you, I-

Pearl totters along the roof towards Nix. She slips, and grabs Nix’s skirt. Nix loses her balance and she slides down the clay tiles, twisting her skirts. She scrabbles at the tiles with her hands, and grabs a pipe. Nix dangles half off the roof, with Pearl clinging to her. Belinda watches from below, horrified. She runs for the ladder.

BELINDA Don’t let go, don’t-

Under the deep shade of a laurel tree in the courtyard, PASCI rouses himself from sleep, with two cats curled up in the dust beside him. Pasci wears rather grimy white clown’s blouse, frilled collar and trousers. He yawns and dabs his sweat with his collar.

PASCI Little birds are singing. (Lazily he walks over to the ladder, which Belinda is dragging towards Nix and Pearl.) Allow me, lady.

Pasci walks below Nix and Pearl and spreads out his arms dramatically, offering to catch them.

PASCI Smallest bird first.

Pearl lets go of Nix and falls in to Pasci’s arms, giddy and laughing. Pasci sets her on the ground and holds his arms out for Nix.

NIX I think I’d rather take the ladder.

PASCI Brown bird, brown bird, fly down to me.

Nix takes a deep breath and allows herself to tumble down into Pasci’s arms. He staggers, but catches her.

Better?  I think so.  Belinda and Pearl are important, so I might as well introduce them right away.

Read Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Day One.

The Screenplay: Preparation 2

This month I'm going through the book "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days," but the title ought to be "How to Write a Movie in 30 Days" because there are all these prep chapters to work through before I actually hit the "21 Days." First step today: create a logline.  A logline is a sentence that sums up a movie.  It's usually stuck on the poster in the theatre.  For example, the logline for The Village was: "Run.  The truce is breaking."   Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:  "Let The Magic Begin."  Sense and Sensibility: "Lose your heart and come to your senses."  (I love that movie.)


An Artificial Fire

The phoenix is burning.

Next step: collect visual aids.  Things that will inspire the setting and mood.  I made a Pinterest board.

Next, according to the book, I answer these questions:

My heroine's name is: Nix of family Incenda. She wants: Magic. She needs: Courage. In one word, this story is about: Courage.

Read Screenplay Preparation: Part 1

Music & Writer's Block

I am by no means an expert on overcoming writer's block.  When I sat down to write this post, I spent a good half hour checking Tumblr (must see if anybody's updated) and watching Youtube videos on facial masks (cuz, you know, maybe someday I'll go to a spa).  But there comes a point when enough is enough.  It's time to write.  Or else. I have various ways of breaking through this brick wall.

One is to push the computer aside and do something else.  Maybe I'll do something else for a week.  Or a month.  I believe stories are like pot roast-- they taste better after being left to simmer for a long time, then chilled overnight.

Another is to re-read what I've written, from the beginning.  I once heard that getting stuck in the middle of a story probably means there's something wrong somewhere.

Yet another is to go back to Youtube.  Not for facial mask DIYs, but for music.

While writing the Manuscript, I made a playlist of WWII era music.   Sometimes writer's block is simply this-- I've forgotten why I'm writing.  I've gotten so bogged down in details and research that I've lost the heart and soul of my story.

That's where music comes in.  It's all there-- cigarettes and Victory Rolls, bittersweet romance, the lushness of Glenn Miller's orchestra, the smoke of Auschwitz.

Here are a few of the songs I played over and over again, whenever I found my writing drifting off course...

The Holocaust in one song:

Romance heavy and lush as summer air:


...And after listening, I would remember why I'd wanted to tell this story in the first place. The brick wall of writer's block would crumble into dust, and I could write again.

"What passion cannot music raise and quell?" -John Dryden

Writing Smoke and Moods

When a story takes place during an era when nearly everyone smoked, the writer can use cigarettes, pipes, and cigars to say a lot about a character's personality-- what they're feeling, what they're thinking. A lot of my characters in The Manuscript smoke.

A cigarette can give away a lot about your character.  Instead of saying, "Rick was a sneaky man," as a writer, you can use Rick's cigarette to imply this.  For example, "Rick smirked through the smoke from his cigarette. "

Smoking can also be seductive.  Instead of, "Slim decided it was time to seduce Steve," the writer could say, "Slim didn't look at him, but brushed her lips against the end of her cigarette like a kiss."

Smoking can be innocent and playful.  For example, "Marilyn giggled until she nearly dropped her cigarette, scattering ashes all across her blouse.   She didn't care.  She was having too much fun."

While researching the post-WW II era, I dug up some advertisements for popular cigarettes.  Advertisements can tell a writer a lot about how people wanted to see themselves and what they bought.   Ads were meant to sell something.  Which means as quaint and naive as the ads may appear today, at the time they were created, those ads had to work.  (If they didn't, nobody was getting paid.)

My favorite cigarette ad:

Please note: I am not encouraging anyone to take up smoking.

Meet the Manuscript

You are looking at the product of 7+ years worth of work. I first conceived the idea back in high school. It pursued me through college, but only in the past few years have I begun seriously working on it.

"It" is a novel. A 181,611 word novel. Saints and angels, I NEVER thought I'd finish!

I've got some beta readers who will be plunging into this epic story of post-World War II Berlin-- with all its nightmares, beet jams, bureaucrats, and coffee substitutes.

These are a few of the photographs I collected for reference. (Most of these have been in my computer so long I no longer remember the source.)