Stories with a Purpose

storytelling3

I keep a collection of books – it’s not a large library collection, rather a smattering of interesting topics, in addition to all my medical texts, herbology books, and notebooks. I also own two trilogy sets (one fiction, one nonfiction) that I read at least once a year. They are Native-themed books that provide much-needed life lessons when times are trying and they remind me of what’s really important. For some reason, I rarely read self-help books; to me, they seem preachy in some way (even if they’re not) and I don’t feel they’re speaking to me. I believe each of us has a path in this life so self-help books, for me, only serve to muddle my truth, which is different from the self-help authors’ truths. I don’t know, I was never much of a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kinda gal. But hey, if it works for you, read ’em if you got ’em.

That said, I do own a book by authors Richard Leider and David Shapiro titled “Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose.” I’ve read other books they’ve written and found them to be enlightening because they present the information in a way that forces me to think more deeply. This particular book deals with the dilemma of becoming an elder (usually around age 55, which I have surpassed) in this modern, white-dominant materialistic, youth-obsessed culture and what your role is, if you have or make one, in your community. Traditional cultures (Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples around the world) continue to revere elders, as they understand the importance and sacredness of having lived a longer life. So they ask, what role are you playing in your community? I ask, are you sharing your stories so others can learn and grow?

Youth is more valued here in the U.S. but we have much to learn from our elders. As many know, experience truly is the best teacher. Wisdom can only come with age, from having lived one’s life. Turn on your TV and count the mindless shows that dominate the air waves: post-apocalyptic zombies, reality (not really) shows, cheesy soap operas, and remakes of movies (sometimes remakes of remakes) since Hollywood seems to be running out of original ideas. They teach little that is worthwhile and only serve to numb our minds and disassociate us from our realities. Which is why, in this current culture, it’s vital for us, the writers, the storytellers, to share stories with purpose. Our stories will serve to teach, guide, and open the hearts and minds of our readers and ground them in the history of us as a species and from many cultures.

Ask yourself: Who am I? Where do I belong? What is my story? What is my life’s purpose? These are not necessarily self-centered questions; instead, they invite introspection as to our historical circumstances and to the lives we are born into, in a particular period or place or time. By recalling our stories we become connected to both past and future. Even if you write fiction, as I do, sprinkle in social issues, cultural issues, moral issues; let your characters represent forgiveness, healing, and light in the face of violence, aggression, and darkness.

As Leider and Shapiro write in their book:

“The form of purpose matters little; the desire to benefit future generations is crucial.”

Write on!

 

Talk to Text: A Writing Lesson

My mind whirls at a pace my fingers simply can’t keep up with, so getting my thoughts down on pen and paper or on the computer can be difficult at times. Then an idea came to me: what if I tried talk to text? Speaking is one of my better skills, so why not? Nowadays most computers and cell phones offer some version of this (Dragon, Voice Recorder apps, etc.), making it easier to get our thoughts, ideas, and writing topics more organized. Or so I believed.

As I recorded this thought string, I found myself at a loss for words, except for the ums and ahs, of course. (It doesn’t help that I was walking down a busy street, running an errand, while I did this. Not recommended.) Ironically, I don’t normally use ums, ahs, or other filler words during a recording or live radio broadcast because they’re annoying and make me sound less intelligent. I’m not at a loss for words – most of the time – but trying this talk to text, for some reason, has me stumbling and mumbling.

It’s also good practice for enunciation and how you come across in an interview, which can make or break book sales. (Note to self: do I really sound that nasal? Ugh.)

It’s a good experiment to record your book or article ideas; then you can go back and listen to the quality of your words and better understand your thought process. We speak and write differently and using the talk to text will help flush out the filler words as well as provide a template for the writing process that is unique to each of us. Even if you’re writing from a narrative point of view, it’s important to watch for and listen to word flow in the story.

Go ahead, give it a try. Hope you have better luck than I did!

 

 

Every Life Has a Story…

One of the ongoing contentious issues where I live is how to deal with the considerable number of homeless citizens. Our city has estimated that there are several thousand folks, at any given time, in this difficult and frightening situation. I frequently pass snacks from my car window to a homeless vet or other individual and have even purposely sought out hungry homeless (that’s redundant) people  in my area to pass along a leftover sandwich or drink. I often consider trying to talk to one of them, to find out what happened.

Police, politicians, and the community express a wide variety of opinions on how to handle this devastating situation (they’re not, actually, they just spend time arguing about resolutions that never materialize). The constant harassment by police, who then dispose of the camping equipment, blankets, and other personal items, is a sore spot for the community and especially the homeless. While many of these less fortunate people have addiction and/or mental health issues, it’s not the same story for each person. It was because of this controversy that this occurred to me: Every life has a story and every story has a life.

As writers, whether fiction or nonfiction, for journalism or some other purpose, it is our duty to share the stories that bind us together as a race (humanity), a community (your area), and as predecessors to a new generation of writers/storytellers. We are responsible for being honest in our characterizations,  even with the creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters.

Go forth and listen to what people have to say. Get their stories. Then tell those stories in a way that moves people (emotionally, to take action, etc.). Don’t be afraid to tell the tough stories about misunderstood people (real or imagined). Use these stories to color your fiction work, whether they be shades of gray or bright pastels,  and paint each life/story as important because it is.

A friend once told me each person that crosses your path knows something you don’t.

What have you learned today that can be a part of a story?

 

Mood, Weather, and Technology

Hello All, I’m baaaaccckkk…

I know, I went missing for a bit there…that’s because I was busy packing up my life and moving to new digs while breaking in a new day job. The older I get, the longer it takes for me to unpack and get the rhythm of my life in order, including my writing (this blog, my novels, etc.). Here in NorCal we’ve been hit with a deluge of rain over the past six weeks (I’ve actually lost count as to how long this has been going on) and I am showing signs of wear. This much rain reminds me of Seattle; I lived near there for about five months many years ago but left because the weather was depressing and so was I from a lack of vitamin D. I don’t know about you, readers, but weather – especially consistent torrents of rain – quashes my ability to express myself in any uplifting way. That, coupled with the fact that I’ve yet to get internet in my new home, has made for the only dry season around here. So I am in both an emotional and technological desert, brought on by relocation and mood-deflating weather. What’s a writer to do?

Tomorrow is a day off from work and a state holiday. Since most businesses are closed, I plan to work on my novel (the sequel to Rescue on White Thunder), see if I can get any closer to resolving the main issue: the darn thing is too short. I’ve got to stretch it out, perhaps a sub-story, to make it at least as long as the first novel. I’ve had writer’s block on that subject for over a year. The upside is that the weather is supposed to be pretty stormy, meaning I’m staying in for the day. I have some movies to watch (no cable at the moment either, but I do have my DVD player); hopefully I’ll spend the morning and part of the afternoon writing before vegging in front of the movie screen.

I have to admit I haven’t missed the internet all that much. Nice to come home and not worry about checking emails (which I can do from my phone), updating the new residential address, or checking in with the latest round of idiocy from our new Il Presidente. My home is definitely more quiet and I admit I’m in no hurry to busy it up again. Except with some good writing…which I will endeavor to accomplish, in spite of the mood, weather, and technology issues.

 

Research: The Monster Over My Shoulder

I finally got some writing “juice” this past week and worked on a fiction novel that’s been sitting untouched on my computer for some time. While adding pages to the second chapter, I realized that certain pieces of information were beyond my grasp until I did some research on the subject at hand. Then I stopped writing.

Research – it’s a lurking monster for me, since I tend to procrastinate until the end of the book to begin the necessary research, filling in the many [bracketed words/phrases/ideas] peppered throughout the story. It’s where pertinent pieces of information need to be inserted – like details on the type of plane used in an aerial shooting, embezzling schemes and how they work (or fall apart), or researching the appropriate lingo used to describe a fire scene. The brackets are notes to myself to go back and finish that thought, get more information on that process, or add a character description. I complete an idea or part of the story best I can, add some brackets where more information/detail is needed, and move on. Most of the time.

Granted, the Internet makes research much easier and more accessible, on most topics. There are, however, still some areas of expertise best shared by experts in that field (for example, the type of plane used in an aerial shooting scene, how it flies, the gears, size of the engine, etc.). This is where I get lazy and it’s probably why some parts of my fiction works could use a little “lift” from more detailed descriptions.

How do you approach research? Do you research as you write? Do you begin your research before you start the story? Do you hire an intern? (Nice to be able to afford that option!) Let us know!

Part of it is I have a bad habit of convincing myself that the experts won’t talk to me, because my work hasn’t made it to the NY Times Bestseller List. I have to get out of my own way and learn to approach the research with as much gusto as I do the rest of the story.

After all, the devil is in the details, eh?

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Yogi Berra

Lay Your Past to Rest

I’m a Tarot fan and I check my reading daily. Today I got the Judgment card. With Fire as its ruling element, Judgement is about rebirth and resurrection, and laying the past to rest. It got me thinking, as cards like this usually do. Along with the usual emotional basement of hidden/repressed childhood experiences I’ve yet to resolve, I find myself pondering the mystery of my unfinished works: a sequel novel (to Rescue on White Thunder), a coffee table blend of family tree/cookbook, a separate adventure novel, another nutrition book, and some miscellaneous works. Should I finish them or move on? There seem to be many starts but few completions. I desire to finish them but I don’t. Do you have the same experience? What would you do in this situation?

I particularly liked this part of the reading:

“There is no way to leave the past behind. Each step wears down the shoe just a bit, and so shapes the next step you take, and the next and the next. Your past is always under your feet. You cannot hide from it, run from it, or rid yourself of it. But you can call it up, and come to terms with it. Are you willing to do that?”

So each book I write shapes the next book I write? I suppose I could apply it that way. I’ve ignored my writing for some time now; working two jobs leaves little time or energy for tapping the imagination or doing the nonfiction research. But this message is more about making the conscious decision, and having the courage, to let go of whatever is not working. And that includes any unfinished writing. Perhaps unfinished work is meant to be an exercise, a way to stretch my mind and sharpen my writing skills. Perhaps it’s a way to find my voice, a way to come to terms with who I am as a writer and storyteller. Am I willing to let go? Only time will tell.

In the end, it will be best to lay some of it to rest, and focus on what is most likely to flourish (and allow me to grow as a writer). I wish the same for you.

Happy Holidays

 mistletoe

 

 

Is No Pain Really No Gain?

I know artists are supposed to write/paint/create from their pain, but it never works for me. If anything, it makes my writing worse, downright pathetic. What sounds good or interesting or adventurous in my mind when I’m sad, depressed, or stressed never comes out good on paper. Do any of you have this experience or can you work/create from pain? Do you feel that personal pain gives your work a certain je ne sais quoi?

The other morning I daydreamed instead of getting up to start my day at the usual time. I ran a scenario through my mind in relation to both a book I’ve contemplated writing (international suspense) and some life-changing events currently making my life way more challenging than I’d like (or can handle). The dialogue was West Wing-esque, one-liner banter between me and a male protagonist who I turned into not much of a protagonist after all. When I did finally arise, I thought about putting it on paper later in the day (I like to write after dinner, as I am now), because it sounded like it would be a good alternate beginning to the suspense novel.

The words flowed from my fingers. I struggled with a bit of the dialogue, trying to remember exactly how I’d envisioned it earlier, to get the feel of the scene just right. I tried to seamlessly weave it into the suspense book as a prologue to what I’d already written. That didn’t work. So I thought I’d try it out as a separate chapter that would explain my how main character got dragged into the mess happening in the book. That didn’t work either. As I read and re-read the three or so paragraphs, the words seemed lifeless, dull, and inadequate. The main character (a facsimile of me) sounded even worse on paper than what had been in my mind that morning. She was supposed to be someone down on her luck who happens across this man and together they become involved in a tangled web of deceit complete with mobsters, money laundering, extortion, and murder. I thought if I used my personal angst as the main character’s, she would come off as brave and high-spirited, facing danger and uncertainty. Instead, she came off sounding sullen and sarcastic, and completely unlikable. Absolutely paltry. Even I don’t like her and I’m practically her!

 I haven’t deleted it (yet) but I have decided to stick with the original opening. Maybe I can work it in somewhere, maybe not. Maybe I’ll keep it for now, as a reminder of what not to write. Or to not write at all when I’m not in a good place. For me, no pain is definitely gain – it’s when I have the most “juice.” Seems I write best when I’m feeling on top of the world and nothing or no one can bring me down.