Technical writers or non fiction writers scribble to pay the bills and for the love of the analytical or the exercise of truth or deception.
Fiction authors write to illuminate their world or escape it.
Whichever kind of writer, it's all about staying alive and helping or entertaining others.
The Writing Life
Like most writers, I have a love of reading and the power of words. When I was younger, I read everything I could get my hands on, but I don’t consider myself well read. I consumed books like a starved person, so quickly I hardly knew what I had read. By some strange process of osmosis, I learned from everything I read, but I cannot give you an erudite discussion of characters, plots, or authors. I can only tell you it’s lodged some where in the core of my being and informs my writing.
In addition to reading, I’ve spent a life time writing---from that first elementary school composition to my college days when I studied French literature and wrote explications de texte. Along the way, I fell into technical writing--to put food on the table and pay bills. In the 90s, I had the good fortune to take a dialog class with Sol Stein, former owner of Stein & Day publishers in New York and a prolific author. That led to his California-based writers’ group, Chapter One. It was a rigorous, ego-bruising experience, but I was intent on learning everything I could about fiction writing. A few years ago, I also had the good fortune to study with another writer, Louella Nelson, an experienced romance writer and teacher of fiction writing. She provided a different perspective and balance to my writing.
My novel, Dreaming of Laughing Hawk, a mainstream, Sixties era novel, is available on Amazon in print and ebook (also available in Canada, Europe, Japan, and Brazil). Download a free sample. If you like it, I hope you'll download the book and post a review on Amazon.
Exciting news! My novel, DREAMING OF LAUGHING HAWK, has just received a Compulsion Reads endorsement. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Compulsion Reads, this company specializes in reviewing independently-published novels, such as mine, and endorses those novels that meet its quality standards based on the fundamental qualities of good storytelling. Many books that the company reviews don’t earn their endorsement, so this is a big deal for me. You can find my novel listed in the Compulsion Reads Endorsed Book Library at www.compulsionreads.com/books. And, of course, it is on Amazon in print and ebook
in Canada, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Brazil.
Please check it out when you get a chance. As always, I really appreciate your support and I'd love it if you would post your review comment on Amazon and share this post with your friends. Thanks!
The latest movie release entitled Gatsby as everyone knows is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel entitled The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby received mixed reviews in 1925 and sold poorly. Gatsby the film has certainly received mixed reviews. I don't know how it's doing at the box office, but it certainly left me with mixed feelings.
I really don't know how to react to this film. It struck me mostly as a cautionary fairy tale about decadence and idealism. It all seemed rather superficial to me--the characters, the storyline, and, yes, even the decadence and Gatsby's obsession with beautiful Daisy Buchanan. A loud, flashy surreal fairy tale. (It's also available in 3D, if you care.)
I went and pulled The Great Gatsby off my book shelf. I must have read it eons ago, but for whatever reason, it didn't even leave a faint memory with me. I picked up the book and skimmed its pages. It's a slim book--barely 150 pages, but it reads well. The dialog is strong and I like the narrator's voice (Nick Carraway) much better than the onscreen version. Perhaps that's why The Great Gatsby now sells 500,000 copies annually. Overall, the novel seems more powerful and real than the film with all its noisy high life and expensive homes and cars. In fact, the film made me restless and ready to depart. The one thing that kept me there was Leonardo DiCaprio. He's an outstanding actor and he was able to infuse life into a story that just didn't work. I did have to overlook his too often repeated phrase "old sport." Maybe that's just circa 1925, but in 2013, it's a little annoying.
So you decide. If this was meant to be a morality tale, it didn't hit the mark. Everything about it was too superficial. If it was intended to wow you with sound and sight, maybe. Gatsby just feels so much less than it could have been in my opinion. But now maybe I'll reread the novel.
Lately I’ve noticed that a lot of people are complaining how overwhelmed they are feeling in their daily lives. I’m not talking about the usual stressors—food, shelter, family, work, death, disaster, etc. I’m talking about that general malaise one feels in the midst of living the good life. Everything has become too fast-paced and hectic. Our brains have become a shivering mass of misfiring neurons that can no longer cope with multitasking at work or home or the enormous amount of information or sensory input. Memory fails. Brains lurch and grind to a halt as they search for the right word, the elusive name or face, the forgotten task. Of course, there are a few souls, you know them, who think that being stressed out and frantic is a sign of their significance at work, at home, and in the universe. The faster they spin and make you spin, the greater their self-importance. They are happily unaware of how ineffective and unproductive they really are and how much unnecessary stress they have introduced into the lives of everyone around them. The rest of us suspect something is wrong with the way we are living our lives. We want to put on the brakes. At work and at home, we are expected to be more productive, more efficient, and capable of the Big Juggle. Our hearts are in revolt.
Romantic Writers’ May Challenge is letters—embedding other kinds of text within prose or poetry that support the storyline. Here is mine, weighing in at around 720 words. Full critique is welcome.
Maritza seated herself on the sand and watched the early morning waves slap against the beach. She kicked off her sandals and dug her toes into the sand. Lately she had been having dreams, little surviving fragments of dreams that made no sense. Dreams were a rare occurrence and the ones she could remember were just irritating reflections of the frustrations in her waking life. When she was young, dreams were wild and colorful, full of adventure. Some dreams were warnings of things to come that helped prepare her. Some were just bizarre entertainment. Now something was starting to stir within her like a long-dead volcano come back to life again. Maritza wrapped herself in a blanket and placed a small notebook and pen on her lap.
Except for a few religious surfers, I am on the beach this Sunday morning all by my lonesome, wrapped in a blanket until the sun deigns to burn through the gray. The cold sand clings to my toes like sugar as I watch a couple of sand pipers chase the ebb of the tide. I pour myself a steaming cup of coffee from my thermos and clasp it between my hands for its warmth and to inhale its heady aroma.
It’s been years since I’ve seen your face, but lately you’ve been knocking on the doors of my dreams and so I am writing you this letter. You probably know that I will never mail it so I expect you to read my mind as you always could. Are you looking over my shoulder?
I am not one to remember my dreams any more. What for? Most of them are nonsensical because my brain is numbed by the meaninglessness of my daily routine. Such is the life of a cubicle rat. But every now and then, when I awake and my brain tries to erase my erratic dreams, traces of your footsteps remain. Why have you been visiting me? What do you want?
I remember when you were a coworker who somehow sensed my vulnerability, that pain one carries around when death severs a complicated tie to someone you love and hate. No one else would have guessed, but you are a mind reader. Well, I could tell you had your issues too, but you were not one to share your feelings. It didn’t matter. I could see right through you. Perhaps we helped each other. I could not have healed without your wisecracking humor, your steady hand.
Over time, you became my mad obsession. I embraced that obsession because it sustained me, but I also struggled to free myself as I knew I must. Some things are not meant to be. My obsession embarrassed you as well as myself, but the moment I tried to snuff it out, you deliberately reignited it. You loved the game, but not the consequences. We amused ourselves with our game of hide and seek. We could have made serious mistakes, but we chose not to.
Eventually we both realized that we needed to move on. Somehow we had managed to help each other in our own curiously clairvoyant way and then it was done. I remember saying “I don’t want to ever see your face again” and I meant it, not in an angry way, but in a final way. Of course, you were not there when I said it, but I expected you to understand. You did. You were just waiting for me to catch on. Two people cross paths and strengthen each other in invisible ways and then move on. End of story.
So what’s up my friend? After all this time, I sense you lurking on the back roads of my mind and there is something you want to tell me. I would never expect you to pick up the phone or send me an email. I will watch for you in my dreams.
Maritza held the letter between two fingers and let it flap in the breeze. Then she took the letter and tore it into tiny pieces. She walked to the edge of the water and tossed them into the waves. “I’m waiting for your response, old friend.”
Following is a short story about our tendency to put blinders on when it comes to certain areas of our life. Some of us are blind about our families, our friends, lovers, or children. We do not want to see unhappy events that are coming our way or the dark side of someone we know.
In 1990 my best friend Mahnoor and I were giddy with senioritis. Mahnoor and Theresa. We were inseparable. We couldn't wait to graduate high school and we were caught up in all the excitement. Where would life take us? Who would we fall in love with? Were our SATs good enough to get us into the college of our choice? In Mahnoor’s case, she was concerned that her family would not let her attend college even if she had good scores and grades. Her parents wanted her to marry a cousin; Mahnoor insisted she needed an education first.
Mahnoor Haddad was an exceptionally beautiful girl from a strict Muslim family. She had doe eyes fringed with the longest eyelashes I have ever seen. She needed no makeup. Every morning her brother Khalil walked her to the bus stop to make sure she safely got on and every afternoon he was there to meet her bus. Always her head was covered with a scarf to conceal the long, glossy, dark curls. Mahnoor wore long-sleeved blouses and long skirts or dark trousers. As soon as she got to school, the scarf came off and she rolled up her sleeves. Sometimes I would bring her a change of clothes for the day. She was forever diving into a restroom to quickly change clothes upon arriving at school or leaving for home. I called her a quick-change artist. She laughed. We also changed her name from Mahnoor to Noor because some of the kids thought it was funny to call her Manure. Nothing in life mattered, she said, as long as we were friends.
The movie 42 is the biographical story of Jackie Robinson, America's first black baseball player. Go see it! It's a truly uplifting story and, yes, it does have a lot of coarse, racially charged language but we're talking about the late 40s and the 50s. It depicts how people spoke and acted in that time period. You can't have authentic art if you try to clean it up to be socially acceptable by today's standards.
You may not want your ten-year old to see the movie, but you teenager should see the movie. I noticed there were quite a few young people in the audience when I went to see the movie. I think the movie was a good history lesson for them. An eye-opener. Back in the 40s, racism was in your face--visceral, ugly, and without pretense. Today, racism is still here, but it is more covert. Its practioners conceal their true animus by carefully chosen code words and ingratiating platitudes. You only have to look at the treatment our first black president has received. No one is standing off field yelling the n-word at him (at least very few are), but you pretty much get the drift by the words they choose to conceal their prejudices. All in all, racism is alive and well and as mean-spirited as it has always been--just more clever and hard to pin down. Yes, of course, there have been many improvements. Some older people may still cling to the old prejudices they learned as children, but newer generations tend to be more accepting and open-minded about race. It's good that young people know the history of civil rights and the difficult road a lot of people had to travel to make life fairer for everyone.
For plain ol' lovers of baseball, it was also a good story. When the movie was over, the audience clapped their approval. Yeah, go see it. A movie doesn't have to be flashy. Everyone is hungry for a true story that touches the heart.
I retired in June 2012 from my position as a supervisor of technical writing. I had grown tired of living in a cubicle eight hours a day. All those years spent in various companies felt like a replay of the movie Office Space. Boredom with the same hum-drum tasks and the stupidities of office politics left me yearning for freedom. I plotted my escape: paying off the mortgage and working out all the details of finances and medical insurance.
The first thing I did upon retirement was to finish my novel, Dreaming of Laughing Hawk, which had been sitting on the back burner for so many years. I enrolled in a class to learn how to self publish my book and managed to get through the process without too many mistakes. Marketing the book is another issue. I hate standing in a crowd of millions and trying to get anyone to take notice of my book. Look at me! I wrote a book. Please buy it! My email inbox is filled with marketing offers from other authors trying to sell their books--sign up for this contest, click this link. There are all kinds of advice from different self-appointed gurus trying to sell a class, author services, or their how-to book. It makes my head spin trying to separate the good advice from the not-so-good advice. I admit to being resentful about this marketing game. I drag my feet and wince every time my husband tries to promote my book to neighbors and friends. I know--I'm whining and wandering off the subject of creativity.
Being creative is my obsession, especially since I retired. It's what keeps me alive. Let's face it, you never know how many days you will be given on this earth or when disease or disaster might strike and take away your abilities to do all the things you enjoy. My list of creative endeavors is long and there are not enough hours in the day--writing, painting, gardening, cooking, sewing, remodeling and on and on.
I see the world through this prism of creation. Creativity is a way to communicate with others by giving them something special. It can be as simple as cooking a good meal for someone or as complex as discovering a cure for cancer or raising a child. My obsession has made me more driven than ever. It seems that everything I touch is imbued with some kind of impatient magic. I am watching the clock, aware that time will run out on me sooner or later. A year ago this month my stepmother died. A month later my father died. These were big losses for me but especially for my stepsister. To compound her grief, she also lost her mother-in-law in that same period of time. Now a year later she has lost her husband to cancer. Four deaths in a year is a heavy burden for anyone to bear. It reminds me how precious the time is and how you must make the most of it for yourself and others.
So how do you make your time on earth count for something? What makes you feel alive? How do you separate yourself from the day-to-day drudgery and find that sweet spot?
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Dreaming of Laughing Hawk
Now available on Amazon (print & ebook)
DREAMING OF LAUGHING HAWK is the story of Elizabeth Leigh, a young woman who leaves behind the ashes of her unhappy, Midwestern upbringing for a new life in California. But it’s 1964 and neither the turbulent times nor the people in Elizabeth Leigh’s life make a Cinderella ending possible—least of all, a quicksand character like Mark Laughing Hawk.