Humor and Laughter, Not

I write suspense/thriller stories. While there is humor interjected in some scenes it’s not like anyone is going to pull one of my books off the shelf looking for a good laugh. Ain’t happenin’.

Quirky shows, smart writers of smarter dialogue, natural comedians—all of these I enjoy. But these things are being covered well by my fellow Mysteristas this month.

So I decided to put on my Thriller Writer hat and dig a little.

What’s not to like about humor and laughter?

Turns out, there are a few things:

  • What about the bully in school? The target of derision is laughed at because everyone else wants to ‘fit in’ and the bully is laying down exactly what those rules are;
  • I go back and forth with Don Rickles and other comedians like him. While we can see flashes of huge, raw and tender compassion (and hear about it being part of his personal life), he was known professionally for mean comments that tore people down by splitting open their failings and splaying the wounds. Would he have been successful today? I sincerely doubt it;
  • Mental health issues abound in our society (don’t get me started on why I believe they’ve grown to such remarkable levels), but there are adults who find suffering human beings funny. There are adults who are still the kids in the background when the bully in grade school makes fun of the different kid;
  • How about when humor becomes a part of how to handle the job? Law enforcement officers who deal with deeply bad ‘products’ of our society on a daily basis, first responders who see the horror of a tragic event, ER staff who’ve come to the point that “treat ’em and street ’em” is about all they can emotionally handle? Does that make disrespecting another human being okay?

We’re living in a time and place that feels tenuous. Our daily news is filled with bad things we do to one another locally, and fear of what might happen next globally. So finding something that’s light and fluffy and silly can be a survival mechanism.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

But when you’re ready, when you’re feeling stronger, push out just a bit. Replace the fear you feel with love. Tear a piece of the bad thing away, stare it down, and laugh in its face because you’re better than whatever it represents. You know what’s right, you’re good, and you’re gonna win in the end.

It’s all better with friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Perfect

“If only I’d known” is the topic for this month. Every Mysterista has posted something spot on. Here’s maybe a slightly different slant…

If only I’d known

how loved I would be for the last four decades by an amazing man, I wouldn’t have stewed and fretted and lost sleep over Steve Smith. Or Dennis Peacock. Or (OMG, I can’t remember his first name!). Did you spend hours and hours thinking about a love that really wasn’t?

If only I’d known

wisdom would come to me when I was ready to receive it, I wouldn’t have read any self-help books. They only served to frustrate me. Probably stunted my emotional growth in the bargain. Do you agree?

If only I’d known

I’d eventually find my passion, I wouldn’t have looked wistfully at the bright-eyed energy of others who seemed to be living out their dreams. For me, working a job and paying bills was satisfying on one end, but it put me in a full set of blinders on the other. When those blinders began to slip is when dissatisfaction slipped in. But that dissatisfaction provided my incentive to search. Know what I’m talking about?

So now, what I know is simply to trust. Don’t stew or fret. Don’t be frustrated or wistful. Walk without blinders and receive whatever appears. What I am to know will come to me when the time is right.

Today is perfect.

And truthfully, I don’t want to know what tomorrow brings. I’ll just trust it will be right for me, even if it presents a challenge.

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

It’s Complicated

“It’s Complicated” is easily my favorite relationship status descriptor. The implication is some kind of wonderful mystery with messiness and possible mayhem thrown in. Imperfection. Confusion. Humanness. Honesty.

For writers, it’s story material. I read those words and my imagination is engaged.

Loss mixed with hope. Vulnerability tossed with trust. Heartache pressed up against triumph. Assurance balanced with insecurity.

I dare you to name one relationship in your life (that matters) where “It’s Complicated” doesn’t apply to some degree.

There’s no one on this planet who makes my life better than the man I’ve been with for more than half of it. He’s my rock and my rudder. He also has the power to throw me into the middle of a storm should he choose to do so. He’s my soft place to land or the provider of a swift kick to my butt—often at the same time—because one or both is perfect. While our relationship is strong without question, it has its complicated moments.

Then there’s my mother. My sister. My dad. My mother-in-law. My bonus kids and granddaughters. My bonus mom and added siblings. Friends who hold pieces of my heart and pets who staked pieces of it out when they died.

If not complicated, what?

This past Sunday I sent my manuscript to my editor. I had tears in my eyes. I love my continuing characters, but I’d also come to love the three young girls whose turning points were within the confines of this story. In the future Jayla, Alexis and Livvy will only come up in passing, if at all.

I made them up.

They’re real.

It’s complicated.

What about you? Do you enjoy reading about complicated relationships or do you like them laid out and easy? How does that contrast with your own life?

 

It’s better with friends (even when it’s complicated).

Fresh Beginnings

After successful endings, there’s almost nothing more exciting than fresh beginnings. A new book to sink your teeth into, the tingling that comes with creative inspiration for a new story, meeting someone who you know is going to be a great friend and turning the page from one calendar year to the next.

I love beginnings. It’s goals that tend to freak me out. They make me feel challenged and perhaps inadequate. If I don’t set them high enough, I’m a slacker. If I set them too high, I prove I’m a failure.

Serendipitously, I came across an article that suggests while goals are good for planning, they’re not actually beneficial for achieving. Instead, focusing on your system, or process, is the key.

Here’s what James Clear (isn’t that the perfect name?) says about the difference between goals and systems:

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

And then he asks the question:

If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?

Cool, or what? Anxiety and tension flew from my psyche when I read this. It’s really another way of checking the steps you take to reach your goals, but he makes one more point that really hit home for me:

Goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress.

I used to be a Weight Watchers leader. One thing that became abundently clear is that when a member set a goal of losing weight to attend and event (usually it was a reunion or a wedding), once that event was over they stopped losing weight.

Clear says the solution is to release the need for immediate results and focus instead on long-term.

I want to write stories readers want to read. While I have a small tribe waiting for my next book, I want a bigger tribe. That takes more well-written books (each better than the last) and more marketing. But it’s my daily system, my ongoing process, that’s key… and always will be.

Then I came across this (the “serendipitousness” continued):

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This lovely gem arrived on my doorstep yesterday. It includes pages for writing and publishing goals in general, and specific goals related to words written, books written, books released, social media, newsletter, website, income, etc.

It doesn’t forget personal goals or even shopping lists. There are weekly plans and quarterly assessments, but beneath it all there’s the feeling that a system, a process, is key.

Here’s the link to James Clear’s article, Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on  This Instead.

And here’s the link to find out more about the Author Essentials 2017 Planner.

That brings me to something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. Our community of writers and readers is special. While we write or read alone, we gather in bookstores and libraries and blogs like this one. We lift each other up and we push each other forward.

Here’s to 2017. We’ve got this.

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

 

 

 

The Pretty Package

I love wrapping presents. Once a year I take out my glue gun, find all kinds of three-dimensional objects to affix and go to town. If I did my job right, the inside of the package will meet the expectations the outside created.

But honestly, once I jazz up the outside I lose interest (a little) in what’s on the inside. Will my husband appreciate the golf shirt as much as he appreciated the awesome ribbon and pinecones glued to the perfect wrapping paper? Suddenly what’s inside doesn’t seem as important as what’s on the outside.

It is not that way with books.

Right now I’m working through manuscript revisions based on feedback from beta readers. For this story I have seven readers: four successful authors in my genre; one who could be an editor if she didn’t manage a small real estate empire; and two readers who practically begged me to allow them to participate in this process. As of now, I’ve completed just one set of revisions. That means I have six potential revisions to go before I send it to my editor… and get involved on an even larger scale.

Soon it will be time to get on the schedule for my cover designer. I’ll give her a couple of highlights about the story and she’ll get out her glue gun. We’ll go back and forth until I have a cover I love.  With luck it will fairly depict the story and be good enough to attract readers who aren’t already supporters.

With books it’s what’s behind the wrapping that counts. But the wrapping can make the discovery of the gift easier.

Readers, what attracts you to a cover? Have you been disappointed because the “wrapping” was better than the “gift”? Have you read a book you liked that had a so-so cover? If so, what in the world made you read it in the first place?

It’s all better with friends.

Pushin’ It

There have been a lot of fantastic ideas on atmosphere this month. We’ve all pushed it around and come up with some great thoughts and images. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the posts of my “blogglings”, I encourage you to get another cup of coffee, or whatever you’re drinking at the moment, and check them out.

Here’s what I came up with when I pushed the idea of atmosphere around in my head:

Sure, atmosphere can be setting. Are we in the Sonoran Desert or the Colorado Rockies or the jungle in Peru? It’s gonna look and feel different. It can be era—is the story set in the 1700’s the 2000’s or the 2300’s? It’s gonna look and feel different. It can be weather, that whole “dark and gloomy night” trope. You get it, it’s gonna look and feel different.

Three guesses where I’m going.

I think at its core, atmosphere is emotion. What is pushing through the skin of the character? Is it fear? Lust? Happiness? If I write the scene right, I can change a sunny day at a backyard birthday party into an atmosphere that’s heavy and painful and foreboding… through emotion.

Recently I finished the first draft of my new manuscript centered around three young girls who’ve been trafficked. It’s a subject that carries its own atmosphere, but when I begin the initial editing/revision process (later today after I schedule this post) one of the things I’ll be looking for is some kind of atmosphere on every page.

Atmosphere is that ethereal element that puts a reader right inside the story. They might be observers (it’s often safer that way) but they’re at that backyard birthday party when things go south and everything changes.

Yeah, the wind might come up and the balloons might come loose, but it’s the emotion that took place just before and the emotional reaction the wind creates that fully builds the atmosphere.

Agree? Disagree?

It’s all better with friends.

 

 

The Texture of Language and Character

(Note: I wrote this post for our September theme of texture. Due to scheduling confusion, it didn’t appear but I kind a like it so here it is… a little late.)

 

Awhile ago I discovered the awesomeness of streaming through the power of my Prime membership. There are a lot of plusses: watching commercial-free episodes on my own schedule is huge; the ability to see and feel character arcs; then of course there’s the pause feature, and the ability to go back and see a certain scene again.

Over time I’ve noticed something else.

When I first started watching Deadwood I was shocked. It’s set in the late 1800’s, and I know for a fact no one ever dropped the f-bomb on Gunsmoke. It felt course. Raw. Unfinished. 

Then I began to get used to it. I got past the language and began to see the characters. Care about them. Feel their struggles, their failures and their triumphs. The characters were course. Raw. Unfinished.

And then I began dropping the f-bomb more frequently myself. In my writing and in conversation. The first couple of times I said the word aloud I’m pretty sure I surprised the people I was with. I know I surprised myself. If that’s a word you’re not used to, it’s impossible to unhear it.

I had managed to not fall into the Downton Abbey folderol. (Get that last word? Definitely not a Deadwood word.) I streamed that series and slipped into a pattern of thinking and speaking that was smooth. Refined. Polished. 

As were the characters. (Granny had some of the best lines!)

We often hear about sharp dialogue. My memory may be off, but I think Gilmore Girls was known for it.

George Pelecanos is a best-selling author I don’t read. I tried one of his books, The Night Gardener, and while I thought some of his characterization strong, the language put me off. After Deadwood, I might give him another go.

There is texture to language. And character.

A character who is flat simply needs more texture. A history that gives them vernacular. A language of their own, of their times, and of their heart.

Can you tell? I just finished re-watching all of Downton Abbey. (The f-bomb is unlikely to drop any time soon.)

What about you? Have you felt the hard edges of words from characters who are on the edge and hide little? Or the silky feeling from those who are restrained and might hide volumes?

 

It’s all better with friends.