Saturday, December 27, 2008

So this is Christmas

by Keith Fisher

In 1971, John Lennon recorded a Happy Christmas song that always haunted me. Here are the lyrics from the first stanza.

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

Every time I heard, "And what have you done?" I always thought about whether I’ve done my part to end war and poverty. Every year, I came up short. Each year, after the dust settles and the wrapping paper goes in the trash, I look out at the abundance and I know I could do more. There was far less this year than years before, but still, I could do more.

But this year, I was struck by another meaning: Another year over and a new one just begun. I look back on my writing year and I’m happy. I’ve got four books finished one at the publisher, one in critique group and the other two in the wings. I’ve started plotting another book and I’m writing three blogs a week. Getting paid for writing. Things are looking up. A new, year has just begun and I hope that this year will be the one that I look back on as the year it all came together.

Christmas was two days ago, the world is shifting gears for New Years but I’d love to play Nichole’s game.

My favorite Christmas stories are not published per se. They are from family history and bear remembering. Like the time in Southern Alberta when my great grand parents, ordered Christmas from a catalog. Shoes for the kids, it was all they had. Christmas Eve came, and no shoes. They received word there was a package for them in the post office in Cardston, but the storm was too much. The kids would be devastated. My great grandmother prayed. Suddenly a man appeared on the porch. He was completely covered in snow, but he’d brought the shoes for Christmas. He was their neighbor and was coming home from Cardston. He felt inspired to go to the post office.

As for the other stories about Christmas,

A Christmas Carol.
It’s a wonderful life.
Luke II
Polar Express
National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

I know. The last one is a movie. And it’s unusual, but it brings a smile to my face and often, that’s just what I need.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I Found Lincoln on My Couch

By Keith Fisher

I spent a lot of time as a child, lying on my back gazing at clouds. I’d imagine wild animals, odd shapes, and people’s faces. I’m sure you did also. It seems to be a childhood occupation on summer days. How many of you also spent hours making faces out of a floral print on furniture? How many of you looked at wallpaper and saw people staring back at you? I remember the old man with the long nose, and the elephant with square ears. My childhood was filled with images of this kind.

Recently, I caught myself staring at the floral print on our living room couch. There was a hole in my plot, and I sat there brainstorming, when it happened. The image of an old man grinned, and pointed out other images from the recesses of my mind. The experience reminded me of my childhood and the vivid imagination I once had.

I was delighted to see how many faces inhabited our couch, but then, my adult mind began to erase those shapes. The floral print returned and my mind went back to the task at hand. I discovered, however, that every time I used my imagination to solve the plot problem, the images returned.

A week or so later, I sat in the same place at a different time of day. The light had changed, and a different shape appeared. I looked at a representation of Abraham Lincoln, not the man, but the carving on Mount Rushmore. I realized the images change in relation to the environment, and my mindset. I recognized the need to exercise my imagination is essential to good writing.

So how do we tap the wonderful power that turns clouds into creatures? I thought of an exercise that works for me.

Look at the picture I attached here. What’s going on? Well of course, you say, it’s when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. But, look at the picture. Why is Jefferson standing? What’s in the clutter on the floor? I see crinkled and torn parchment, a discarded quill pen, and a book. One of those discarded parchments has a seal on it. Is it important?

Why would Jefferson discard an important paper with a seal on it? Books were expensive in those days. Why would these men toss one on the floor? What’s in the book?

Look at the faces. Adams looks distracted. Franklin looks displeased. Jefferson looks almost like he’s going to cry. And why is there a model of a ship on the shelf?

There isn’t much written about the actual writing of the declaration. We can make judgements based on what we know about these men, but if we examine other pictures. Wherever we find them and try to answer the questions, the foundation of a story will take shape. Our imagination will kick in.

It might be as simple as picking a path through difficult terrain in the forest, or finding the best fishing hole in a picture of a mountain stream. Whatever your imagination conjures, the story will be there. Write it down. If it’s really good, and the lighting is just right, you might be writing the next great American novel. Even if it isn’t, remember the satisfaction of spending the day making images out of clouds. That’s what writers do everyday. The satisfaction comes in using your imagination. Each one of the people in the picture below has their own story. What are those stories? Use your imagination.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week

Saturday, December 13, 2008

And Do it with Words

By Keith Fisher

I’m a graphics guy. I may have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. I was a kid at the beginning of the media revolution. Television in all its glory was just getting started. I sat in a dark room with the whole school as we watched parts of President Kennedy’s funeral (at least I think it was) on a black and white screen with terrible reception.

You might say, I grew up with the medium. I remember seeing many of the classic TV shows in first run, not re-run. Add movies, radio, vinyl records, and printed media to the mix and I was a media junkie. It all had an effect on my upbringing. Now we have so much more and the internet. We should be an educated people.

I recently commented on Sariah Wilson’s blog that I look for a graphic example to express my point in a lesson or talk. It’s all because of my media upbringing. I used a clip from the original StarWars to emphasize a point about seeking the spirit. I used Pinochio to show that the Holy Ghost will help—just whistle. I show Church videos that are made for the purpose of illustrating the lesson, and I use those videos, or parts of them, to illustrate other points.

A thought about this occurred to me this morning, when I was reminded of the latest session of my critique group. I often feel the need for further explanation when someone questions some part of my story. At those moments I wish I could use a graphic. If I could use graphics in my novel, the point would be expressed exactly as I wanted.

Alas, you say, I have missed the point. As a writer it’s my job to produce the graphic, and do it with words. If I do it right, my book could be the graphic someone holds up to emphasize their point.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

P.S. I’m giving away a Chuck Wagon Dinner bell at another blog. Come and play.

See, I'm hooked. I used a Graphic.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Don’t Forget the Shackles and Chains

By Keith Fisher

I’m the kind of person who has many different projects going at the same time, and every project has a pile. I sat down at my desk to write the other day, and began to look around. The piles had grown so high I couldn’t see over them, and I couldn’t remember what some of the stacks were for. Oh what a wonderful excuse for procrastination, and I took full advantage of mine.

My writing time was spent shuffling papers and making to-do lists. I leaned back in my chair and said "Ah, now I can write." I placed my fingers on the keyboard and the great concept I’d planned to write had evaporated from my mind.

As writers, I’m sure we have one thing in common. We all dream of the that perfect writing space. Be it office, studio, or game room. I always loved the television depiction of Dave Berry’s office on Dave’s World. An abundance of space, pinball machines, toys everywhere. I often put a picture on my desktop at work. It shows a castle, perched on a cliff, overlooking the Rhine River. What a great writer’s retreat. I’ve also shown pictures and talked about the oval office on this blog.

In all of my dream spaces, including the tower of a lighthouse, I have a comfortable couch that I can lie down on, and work out plotting problems. It’s also for talking to my kids. At a writer’s conference, Willard Boyd Gardner told the story of his office. He’d written Race Against Time, in pieces here and there at the kitchen table and so forth. When the book was published, he decided he needed an official writer’s office. So he built one. When he went in there to be alone and write, he found he needed the distraction of having the kids underfoot. He dragged the toys into his office and brought the kids in.

Currently I have an office I share with my daughter. It’s one way of keeping an eye on her internet use. There are pictures and plaques and awards on the walls. (There’s never enough wall space.) All in all, It’s cramped, but it’s not bad. I still want that comfortable couch, but it’s not bad. Still, I ask myself, how I can get inspiration for those great, new ideas, if I’m in the same old surroundings?

Don’t get me wrong I write in there. But lately I’ve been cheating on my office. I run away carrying my laptop. I find unusual places to write. I drive up to the mountains and support my computer with the steering wheel. I find parking lots with unsecured networks to post my blogs and check email. I write in cafĂ©’s.

I’ve been reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She recommends several unusual and exotic places to write. If I write in airport terminals, or the mall, I am never in need of a character. If the protagonist needs to talk to a police chief, I look around the room until I find the person I want. Then I describe that person.

When I do family history research, and I write about my ancestors, it often lends credence, if I happen to be in the places where my ancestors had the experiences I’m writing about. The same is true for the mystery novel. It’s hard to describe the smell of a place if you’ve never been there.

Putting authenticity aside, however, It’s great to get out of the office. I could redecorate or add on into the carport, but that would be procrastination. I’m reminded of the lyrics of an old song,

Come Saturday Morning
The Sandpipers Words by Dory Previn and Music by Fred Carlin
Peak chart position # 17 in 1970
Featured on the soundtrack of the film The Sterile Cuckoo starring Liza Minnelli

Come Saturday morning
I'm goin' away with my friend
We'll Saturday-spend till the end of the day-ay
Just I and my friend
We'll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles
And then we'll move on
But we will remember long after Saturday's gone

It’s Saturday morning. I think I’ll take my character friends and run away. By the end of the day, I might have a good first draft of a new novel.

Good luck in your writing---see you next week.