Professional journalist tells all…

I have spent most of my writing career in journalism. Even though I have "written stories ever since I can remember" (as I have often said before on this blog), the greater portion of my published work has been in the newspaper and magazine industries. Both on staff and freelance. Not only has it been my bread and butter now, and again, it has also been an amazing crucible for learning the writing craft. Mostly because, when you work for somebody else, you get assignments. And you tend to have other people telling you how to do them.

I learned some amazing things in my journalism career. They were million dollar experiences. Maybe I better explain that better. Let's just say they were the kind of million dollar experiences you wouldn't trade for that much money, but you wouldn't pay a nickel to go through them all over again. Some of them (the best, really) were obtained under such embarrassing circumstances that it would be something of a career-buster just to reveal them. But I have a feeling everybody has a moment, or two, like that in their past. Whether your dreams revolved around writing or real estate. After all, we're only human.

Which is why I'm going to expose myself and "pay it forward" for anyone who is so determined to make it in this business it has become more important than the Holy Grail for you. It will probably ruin my reputation. But if I could have gotten even a fraction of this kind of information in my early days, it wouldn't have taken me so long

to break into this industry. Don't get me wrong, I'm not promising to reveal any up-until-now-unheard-of-secrets (hey-- if you know any of those, let me in on them). I'm just going to point out some of the swamps I stumbled into, and the "R.O.U.S.'s" I had to personally deal with out there that others might want to avoid. Especially if they want to come out on the other end of this writing forest instead of turning back.

Since it's going to cost me, though, I' don't plan to let go of these gems lightly. Heck, no. I'm going to string them out -- beginning to end -- all over the blogosphere. Each of these things came hard to me, so, I plan on leaving a trail instead of just dropping them on the road. That way, only the truly determined ones will follow. And for anyone that sticks with me through the entire month of October… hey, I've got a gift for you. One of two, actually, you can take your pick. So, without further ado…

The first lesson I learned about being a "real" writer, is over at Rachelle Gardner's blog for today (the one about regrets), buried in the comment section, about thirty down. It's a true story. As all of them will be. But I learned something really important through that particular experience. So… for "anyone who has ears to hear, let them listen…"


Meanwhile, leave a comment back here, and I'll put you on my list of contenders. The person with the most "finds" wins. And -- hey -- no drawings. Everybody that finds all of them wins, even if I have to buy out the store. Ready? Then "the game is afoot…"

PS… Oh, yeah… and I'm giving out bonus points for anyone who knows what "R.O.U.S.'s" are.

What's happening on the farm today... Oh, my gosh, fall is finally here! Time to change the window picture on the website, bring in some firewood, and get out a nice big stack of all those books I've been putting by to read. I actually have fresh bread baking in the over even as I write this. But -- alas -- there are no animals but horses and dogs on the Sweetbriar at the moment. And two-thirds of everyone's gardens around here were burned up in all that intense summer heat. Thank heavens we have a "famine chest"...


Thinking about not writing…

One of the hardest things for me to settle in the creation of my stories is character motivation. For a long time, I didn't even know this. But the more I worked at the craft, I noticed a pattern began to emerge. It always popped up in the same form, too, something I call a "plot knot."

This thing was like a ball of yarn that got tangled up worse at the end. And over the years, I backed myself up into some terrible corners, having to find my way through one maze after another before coming up with solutions. My muses were not always helpful at this point (sorry, everybody), because they had a way of sending us all off on wild thought tangents that invariably ended up being nothing more than beguiling distractions that detracted from the figuring side of my mind,

"It's called brainstorming, my dear, and people have been doing it since the beginning of time."

Yes, thank you for that, Professor, but I don't have all of eternity to explore every possible scenario. Especially when faced with deadlines. Then one day it occurred to me. I cannot come up with with any decent motivations for anything, unless I know who it is that has to be motivated. Thoroughly. To have a living breathing villain, for instance who was so real a reader could fairly feel that wisp of breath down their own neck… Well, I couldn't just snap vices out of the air and glue them onto stick-figures with the usual details. No. I had to know something about them in a much more gripping way.

It isn't enough that my heroine is being stalked by a deranged person. No, I must know that this deranged person wants something that they cannot have, even if they catch her. Because it was the trust someone else put in her, that they felt should have belonged to them. (and, yes, I know the plural is improper, but I don't want to give away gender). I'm talking about a real plot knot for a real book. I am just thinking things out here, which is what this blog was originally begun for.

So, I not only need to know the why, I must know the exact incident that led up to it. I even need to know the other person involved, just as well, because I have to know why they denied my "now stalker" this trust in the first place. And I probably even need to know a few related incidents that led up to this particular rift between those two. All of which has nothing to do with my heroine, or her current situation. This is her journey, not the other's. What's more, the particular scenes in which she and this stalker interact will not really amount to that much in relation to the whole book. However…

When I am stuck as to the where, how, and why of the physical plot -- at any given point (but especially the end)-- I realize the answer lies in MY interpretation of those characters. How can I "know what they're up to" if I don't watch and calculate what's going on, in the same way I would have my eye on a naughty child? If I know them that well, then I will have an idea what they are up to. I might even catch them in the act of things because I already knew they were headed in that direction just by watching their former behavior. Because I know how they think.

But why is this stuff so important if I'm not going to write any of it down?

Because it now gives me a reservoir of ideas to draw from that are specifically tailored to my story. I'm no longer wandering all over the place, I'm narrowed down to only several different ways this thing could work out. And they are very clear to me. In fact, if I can manage to do a good enough job with the writing end, they should be just as clear to my reader at this point, too. But neither of us will talk about it. And I certainly won't write any of this information down in the actual story. Oh, but it will be there. A little pulse of a current between their brain and mine. And -- if I'm good enough -- we will end up knowing the same things without a single word being traded about the matter. Then should I be so lucky as to achieve a response of, "I knew it! I just didn't see it coming…"

Well, then all this time spent in thinking of what I am not writing… this stuff I never intended to write down in the first place… will all be worth it.

What's happening on the farm today... we are making arrangements to move the goat herd. Permanently. It is a sad situation for "the Sweetbriar" but much better for them, as they will be able to stay together and be in a lovely place with a kind and loving family. All this because we are planning some long trips over the next few months, and caretakers for a herd of goats are hard to come by. So, it couldn't be a better solution. That is, unless you were striving for perfect...

In Shine Out..

How often, growing up, did Mom remind me "beauty comes from the inside," and I would just roll my eyes because she really didn't understand. Easy for her to say, because she had been born beautiful on the outside, and given (who decides that stuff, anyway?) a fantastic personality that could boost her right up over the top of things. Those advantages stood her good her whole life.

Then, somewhere during that teenage gangly stage, when I was convinced the deepest mysteries of life were beauty secrets, I heard something really crazy about Marilyn Monroe. She said her "magnetism" came from inside her, and she didn't need to wear make-up, or be dressed to kill just to turn it on. She could turn it on and off at will. She was even known to enjoy demonstrating this out in public, occasionally, before she got to the studio where they would fix her up for the set. She could literally stop people in the streets, but it didn't impress me. What -- are you kidding? It wasn't like Marilyn Monroe wasn't born with a few jump-starts, either.

All that was the same sort of stuff rich people tell you when they say, "Money doesn't bring you happiness." But to that I could only quote what James Stewart said in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, after he had just tried to kill himself… "Well, it comes in pretty handy down here, bub!" Back then, it seemed to me that people who were -- shall I say -- blessed with certain advantages (we have-nots would have given our souls for, and often did), hardly even valued them. However, I began to notice they could be just as obsessed as we were over other things they didn't have. Hmmm…

Not long after that, I ran into a cosmic life change. An infusion of energy so strong it poured through all by itself, sparking anyone I looked at or touched along the way. What's more, this stuff was like radio-activity, because it has been years and years since that happened, and it has not lost its power to this day. Is it beautiful? Yes. Magnetic? Like you wouldn't believe. Has it changed me? You bet. I am now convinced that my mother and Marilyn were absolutely right.

Whatever you have on the inside, shines out.

What's happening on the farm today… No let-up on the heat (107 in the shade by 10am this morning), and now wildfires. The last one was only 10 miles away, and we could smell the smoke. What would I take if we had to leave in a hurry? What should I take? Last time during a tornado scare, I tried to stash the family heirloom coffee set, that belonged to Ulysses S. Grant, into a suitcase and busted one of the legs off the sugar bowl. Fixed it with super glue (not taking it on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, anyway) and definitely not telling my mother. So, now I don't do that, anymore. One file of important papers and our passports, and we're out of here. Still, I don't know how many times I woke up last night having to step out onto the porch and try to judge by the smell how much closer it was. But -- hey -- it's out, now, and all's well. Glory!