Write What You (Don’t) Know

anne-rice-novelist-quote-i-do-want-to-go-another-way-to-writeUnder the stress of writing for both business and personal, I am experiencing something that I have encouraged others to do for some time.

If you’ve ever read any of my work (and maybe I should just start a new page and SHARE something once in a while), my style is much like my blogs:  easy going, sassy, fun and a test ground for obscure vernacular. I usually stay in the same vein,  the same comfort zone. Middle-aged heroines, slightly evil protagonists, a little mystical, a little macabre.

But now and then I take a stab at writing things that make me uncomfortable — things I don’t do well. Murders, politics, modern day drama. I do this because it’s important to push my comfort zone just to see if I can adapt. To take a step on the other side of the fence.

I find myself doing that at work lately. Emails and FB posts about products are a lot more cut and dry than free form poetry. I can’t use too much humor or any sarcasm, lest the readers get the wrong impression of the company. Which is how it should be.

But writing these straight-laced entries is more of a challenge than I thought. It seems I’m almost too straight-laced. It has been suggested by my work mentor and friend that Facebook is more a social interaction, and that I can promote products while keeping it fun.

Can you be a different writer for different situations?

Have you ever tried to write third person when all your life you’ve been a first person kinda writer? Have you ever tried to write research findings with a straight face while letting loose with sex scenes in your current novel?

It’s not as easy as it appears to be.

We all have a personal slant to our writing. Throw a bunch of papers from different writers on the table and most times people will know who wrote what. That’s good from a reputation standpoint. But what if the group wanted you to throw something strange and different into the mix? Could you?

There are so many different worlds to try out. And in the privacy of your practice room,  nobody has to read your writing but you. Try a story from a different point of view. From someone who grew up in the Old South. Someone who lives in an isolated village in Norway. From someone who has been abused. From someone in the 1800s who had to go to work in the mines at age 9. From a serial killer.

It is good practice to get into other’s heads besides yours. Even if you’ve never been to Norway, a little research goes a long way. Surely you’re not a serial killer, but what about their justifications?  The point of these exercises is not precision — it’s practice.

I’m about due for a wrong-way-turn short story. I’ve written about places I’ve visited or driven past, my characters are half-visions of me, and I feel safe in my middle-age-heroine cocoon.

And writing descriptions about sheep clippers and paint brushes just doesn’t take me far enough away.

 

How Do I Write “It”?

dogFellow writers, readers, stencilers, painters, sketch artists, graphic artists, scrapbookers, sculpturers, jewelers, poets, screenplayists, and all other creative muses! Lend me your ear/ideas/thoughts/minds.

I have been writing since I wrote my first love story with Paul McCartney. I’ve written several novels through the years (sounds so impressive, although I’ve never been published).  Be that as it may, at this tender age of middle- pre-old age, I’m having a moral testing, so to speak.

My first novel had no sex and no real violence. The sequel had a little more sex, and just a wee bit of violence. The third one had a bit of creatively written sex, and off-camera violence. I’m not prudish — it’s just that the stories didn’t need gratuitous S&V.

Now I am working on another story. Girl goes into “another world” that’s not what it seems (of course). I’m thinking of having one of the heroine’s new friends murdered.  Her murder is important to the direction of the story.  I also want her to be murdered right after she has a baby.

Now (again) — I am not a murderer. I am the person who picks up the worms in the driveway after the rain. I love puppies and unicorns. And the thought of popping someone off unnerves me. I don’t want/need to be graphic — I don’t need to describe it in detail, if at all. But I want my character to be well loved for the few chapters she’s around.

Why is it so hard for me to murder someone? And how do I get passed this?

Do I name her after an old boss who I can cheerfully say I hated? Should I give her such a weird name that no one can feel sorry for her?

Pretend characters are just that. Pretend. A character. Made up. Make believe.

Then why do I feel like I’m murdering a friend?

Any advice you can share will be most appreciated. In the meantime, I’ve got to start sharpening my knife/hatchet/sword.

Who knows when I will pretend to need it.

What Is True Success?

So many things make us happy; so many things make us sad. So many times we wished we  had turned left instead of right; so many times we are soooo glad we did turn right instead of left. Sometimes I get really sad that I’m soon going to turn 60 — where has my life gone? Other times I look back and am sorry my mother never made 54. I’m sad that I had breast cancer; other times I’m so glad they found it when they did.

Life is packed with highs and lows, yellow and blacks, snow and scorching heat. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s always been about. For us, for our grandparents, for George Washington and Kublai Khan and St. Joseph. I’m sure they all had a hundred things they wanted to do at one time, too.  Just like us. We all want to be appreciated for what we’ve done. What we’ve become. We all would like to think that our time here on Earth has been for the Greater Good.

This is not a confessional blog; this isn’t a tell-all or a bad news bomb.  I’m sitting on my sofa this cold Sunday afternoon, looking at the bare treetops in my front yard. Of course, you know me — I’m also watching football, eating lunch, doing laundry, getting ready to write some in  my latest novel, wondering what I’m gonna wear to work tomorrow. I’m also thinking about the fun I had with my grandbaby this weekend, thinking of taking some drugs for my achy legs, and feeling guilty I haven’t played fetchie with my dog today.

That’s really what this blog is about. Sometimes I feel I should be pushing this blog harder, trying to share the Word with more readers. Other times I think I’ve run this horse to the finish line, and should start a new creative venture.  Yet more often I think  I’ve let my writing simmer on the back burner for so long it’s started to dry up and stick to the pan.

How do you know if you’ve succeeded at what you tried to do? What is the measure of success? Big paychecks often are an indicator;  good health, always. Waking up every morning is a success all on its own. Family? Kids? Making the perfect apple pie? All of the above are successes if never done it before. Success has always been measured from the heart first, from the masses second. And often it takes on a meaning more cosmic than one thinks. I think I make the best spaghetti sauce this side of the Mississippi. If you don’t agree, does that mean it’s not good? Of course not. All it means is that I can eat it all myself.

Writing is the same thing for me. What is being a successful writer? Have I ever been published? A short  story here or there in the past 10 years. Have I won awards for my creativity? No. Have I ever I gotten a call or email from a publisher? No. Do I think I’m a successful writer? Yes. Definitely.  I’ve had people say positive things about my stories; I’ve brought smiles and tears to readers.  I’ve written 4 novels, 1 novella, 32 short stories, 42 poems, 84 blogs, and 3 novels in-progress. I think that’s being successful. Why? Because Ive continued to do what I love, no matter what the  result. I’ve had fun making friends, creating worlds, and trying things that make me uncomfortable. I encouraged people to believe in themselves, given life to middle-age heroines, and never killed off  the main character.

There are still so many paths to follow, worlds to explore. And that’s only after I play with my grandbaby, fetch my dogs, pet my cats, cuddle my husband, go to work 40 hours a week, clean my house, grocery shop, get together with family and/or friends, and dozens of other responsibilities. Life has only so many hours, and I’m still struggling on squeezing a few more out of every week.

So what this all boils down to is that I’ve driven the Humoring the Goddess train long enough. Hopefully I’ve encouraged you to believe in yourself, have fun with your life, and laugh as much as you can. There are so many things you can’t change, so why not toss your hands up and laugh and move on? You’ll know the things you CAN change..that little voice in your heart/head/soul is always there to remind you. Your job is to listen.

I have enjoyed entertaining you all these years more than you know. I have learned so much from you. I might try another blog, or finish one of my novels, or sit and spew poetry until I feel nauseated. I’m sure I’ll be back and visit sometime. If I start something new I’ll post it. I will look foward to hearing from you and YOUR projects. You will always find me at my email world…  humoring_the_goddess@yahoo.com.

There is always a path ahead of you. Always. It’s up to you which one you take, or how often you turn left or right. In the end, none of that matters — the only thing that matters is that you keep walking.

Keep Humoring the Goddess…and Loving your Life…

Claudia Anderson

Everyone’s Life is a Best Seller

Did you ever think your personal life had enough twists and turns to put Scarlet and Rhett to shame? Did you ever think that your cousin Teddy or your Great Aunt Miriam would be fodder for a story that would be passed down generation to generation? What about that celery-and-water trick your dog does? Or the straws-in-the-nose trick performed by your own kid?

 Everyone’s life is a best seller. If only we could get our story into print, onto the big screen, everyone would see how unique our out-of-whack our family and friends really are. The funny thing is,  if you take a look around you, you’ll see your story is not so very different from the person next to you.

 Take the world of the working stiff. Ninety nine percent of the people you talk to have someone they work with that drives them crazy. There’s always a co-worker who talks with gum or food in their mouth, has a vocabulary made up of five or six words, or leaves a trail of potato chip crumbs from their desk to the bathroom, or squeaks their chair back and forth and back and forth back and forth.  There’s someone who knows someone who knows someone who can get you a great deal, is sick twice as often and you or whose symptoms are enough to scare the hair off a rabbit,  or are the first to complain that they are overworked, underpaid, and misunderstood. (Wait! That’s me!) There’s a dozen stories right there.

 Then there is the world of family. A labyrinth of people, traditions and bloodlines that, for better or worse, are with us all of our lives. We have kids that cross the line between naughty and nasty, mothers who are martyrs, fathers who are dictators, spouses who are inconsiderate. I imagine we all have a brother-in-law or sister-in-law who is linked to the planet Mars. We have the sister that collects bobble heads, and the uncle who makes his own vodka from potatoes in his garden. We have cousins who like to ski in their underwear and others who pull out calculators for the tip on a three-dollar sandwich.

 There is always fodder for stories in everyday gossip. This one is cheating on that one, this one did this at work and that one had the nerve to do that after the party Saturday night. All the whining, cajoling, and caterwauling we do to ourselves and others is enough to make a bartender quit serving alcohol. I’m fat. I’m stupid. My brother-in-law is fat and stupid. I should have said grilled, not fried. I could have been prom queen. I should have been prom queen. My husband’s friend from bowling is the prom queen. We have enough dirt on ourselves that we could give Jackie Collins a run for her money.

 I listen to myself enough to know that one of me is enough in this world. I enjoy laughing at my own jokes, getting my own innuendos, but I think a book full of me would be too much for even patient readers. That is why everyone should show off everyone around us who march to the beat of a different drummer. There’s Grandpa with his howling hound dog Bubba, and your best friend who can quote all of the dialogue from Spaceballs. We all know someone who is on their third spouse or their fourth child; we have girlfriends with childbirth stories that make us shiver and in-laws with enough fishing stories to fill a library. I have an irritable acquaintance? You have five irritable acquaintances. You have a cat that sings? I have a chicken that sings.

 The world is not as big as you think. We all have people in our lives that we adore, all have people we could do without. The loves in our lives may be special and personal, but the irritations we experience are universal. Perhaps that is what connects us all. Our idiosyncrasies are their idiosyncrasies. My pain is your pain.

We all walk through life on thin ice, isolated, thankful for the little things. So to counter our fear of isolation, we fill our history book with memories of amusing personalities and odd family members whose unique experiences bring us larger-than-life characters. How else could you explain the uncle that wears boat shoes to a wedding? How do explain a child who wears the same pair of underwear for soccer games every week for four months? What can you say about one who has a room full of unicorns or a garden full of gnomes?

 Sometimes there are no scientific explanations for the phenomenon of friends and family. Write about them. Talk about them. People are strange. Be proud of those who color your life.  It is the spirally, pretzelly people in the world that make it interesting. Just know that your strange is no stranger than my strange.   We’re just all different cracks in the same wall of life.

 It’s just that some cracks are wider than others.

Cracks in the Sidewalk

The fireflies were out in full force tonight, their little behinds blinking, signaling, and flirting away in the dark woods behind my house. I took off my glasses and watched the blinking blurs zigzag through all dimensions, and I wondered — what did our ancestors see around them before glasses were invented?  I myself could definitely see faeries with their little lanterns just out of reach, being busy little beauties, doing whatever little faeries do.

 What else did our primitive ancestors see?

 No wonder ghouls and Bigfoot and ghosts were so much a part of our history.  Puffs of mist, the meeting of warm air and cold, could easily be mistaken for a ghostly apparition. Everyone thinks squirrels do nothing but chitter throughout the day. Few know that their agitated squeal outweighs that of a crow at times. Why wouldn’t that sound be translated as a banshee in the dark?

 Modern day humans have lost touch with the mystic, the magical, the moronic. I suppose it makes more sense to know that moving lights across the night sky are airplanes and not spaceships, or that the little furry thing scurrying behind the rock in the yard is a striped chipmunk and not a hodag.  But what’s the harm in thinking unicorns hide in the woods or the blinking bug derrieres are faeries with lanterns in the dark playing hide-and-seek? That the hill in the distance is really Mordor? That the path that disappears into the woods is really a bridge to another time?

 I know writers tend to exaggerate when it comes to telling a story. But I’m talking about all of us and our ability to spin tales and our willingness to make things up as we go.  We should test the bounds of physics, chemistry, religion, and countless other logistics that humans have taken so long to create. In the hands of a master puppeteer, a wooden creation can take a life of its own. What is so wrong with dancing along with the puppet? To step on the cracks on the sidewalk instead of over them?

  I look at my grandbaby – everyone’s grandbaby – and admire their ability to pretend. They don’t know the difference between a box and a rocket ship, between a plate filled with noodles and plate filled with worms. We are always so quick to correct, to point out the truth, that we leave little room for imagination to grow. Of course we want our kids to know the truth. But through the effort of correction we also close the doors to maybe.  When those doors are closed, especially if they are slammed shut, we often cannot get them open again.  We have to “know” everything as if our lives depended on it. Indeed, we need to “know” not to stick our fingers in an electrical socket or to stand in the middle of the highway. But you know I’m not talking about that kind of knowing. We know lightning is an electric discharge from cloud to cloud or from cloud to earth seen as a flash of light. What ever happened to Zeus’s bolt from Olympus? And why can’t clouds be pillows?

 Those who have lost the ability to pretend have lost a valuable part of their personal development. We are brought up to understand right from wrong, how things work. That part is important ― that part assures our survival. But so does pretending. A little twisting of reality doesn’t hurt anyone, especially if it is shared in a positive, good-natured way. We tell our kids that the tooth fairy takes the tooth under the pillow and leaves some monetary reward behind; sooner or later they figure out the truth, and chuckle that they were so gullible. So it is with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, too. And as far as I can see, there are no mental scars in those who once believed.

 Sometimes it’s just fun to get carried away with reality, make up your own stories, your own tales, of who, what, where, or why something “is”. The truth will always be the truth in one realm. But there was a time when truth was something totally different from modern days. Who’s to say that crop circles aren’t made by aliens? What’s wrong with “believing” that carrying an acorn will bring you luck and longevity, or if your right ear itches, someone is speaking well of you, but if your left ear itches, someone is speaking ill of you?  There’s nothing wrong with a little nonsense sprinkled into your daily repertoire. Nothing wrong with spinning tales of angels bowling when it thunders or thinking dragons once roamed the earth. Make up your own stories. Create your own myths. Pretend that the lady in the grey coat you always see in the park is really Coco Channel. That the car parked under the tree in the alley is really Al Capone’s getaway car. Tell stories of ancient heroes or pixies or the Civil War. Are they true? What does it matter?

 According to Reader’s Digest (http://www.rd.com/family/encourage-your-childs-imagination/), encouraging imagination builds self confidence (develops confidence in one’s abilities and their potential), boosts intellectual growth (helps to think symbolically), improves language skills (people who pretend do lots of talking and thinking, helping to boost vocabulary, improve sentence structure and enhance communication skills), develops social skills (explore relationships between family members, friends and co-workers and learn more about how people interact), and helps work out fears (pretending helps gain self control over confusing feelings).

So the next time you see something out of the corner of your eye, or gnarly branches that look eerily like monster arms, have no fear. It’s only Gandalf, Nessy, Frankenstein, and Apollo all knocking on your door, wanting to come in. Let them.

As long as they don’t stay for supper, you’re all right.