Saturday, May 30, 2009

Your Story is Right in Front of You

By Keith Fisher

Angelica wiped the counter of the condiment area, and bent over to tie a garbage bag closed. She felt someone come into the café and looked up.

David stood at the doorway wearing sandals over bare feet, tan cargo pants, and a free flowing white linen shirt. Tendrils of long black hair protruded from under a painter’s hat. David couldn’t hide the bad boy stubble he wore on his face. Her heart beat faster at the sight of him. She had been raised to a higher standard, but this man held the key to the incessant pounding of her heart.

He leaned his head to one side, as if trying to see sideways. His eyes seemed to see right through into her soul. Her knees grew weak as he sauntered, catlike, almost like a dance toward her. Her hands trembled in anticipation. His outstretched arms seemed to indicate an unasked question.

She put one arm around him. After all, she was at work, and had to try and keep a standard but she knew she needed more. Angelica put her other arm around his waist and felt his spine as her hands glided up and down. David circled her shoulders and neck with his arms and he pulled her close.

His scent wafted into her soul and destroyed any self-control she ever had. She would’ve followed him anywhere, if he’d asked, but he didn’t ask. He pressed his lips to hers and the soft touch, almost silky, brought memories of imagination when she dreamed.

This scene although it needs lots of work, was inspired by an exchange I witnessed in a café. The girl’s face reflected surprise when she first saw him, happiness at seeing him, then passionate joy in his embrace. I was surprised, because they seemed to be from two different worlds.

I’ve preached about this before, but these kinds of exchanges happen in front of us everyday. All we need do is put on our writer’s glasses. Or see things through writer’s eyes. Look up from your notebook. Your next scene might be playing before you. Write your impressions. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination. Use the scene in your current work, or save it for later.

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

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What's the Story?

By Keith Fisher

Several years ago, our government set aside one day a year, specifically designed to remember those who died in the service to their country. Since then, Memorial Day has evolved into so much more.

Now, it’s a day to remember all our loved ones who’ve passed away. It’s a day off from work, a three-day weekend. The first real warm day to get outside.

In my family, we used to set aside part of the weekend to visit all the dead ancestors and place flowers on their grave. When my Grandfather died, my mother inherited his list. Grandpa visited every grave he knew about and since he raised peonies to sell, he gave the extras to his ancestors and placed color on their graves.

A few years ago, we started a tradition in my father’s family. After placing flowers on Grandpa’s grave, We’d go to the family home and visit. A picnic would ensue on Grandma’s front lawn.
There were times over the years, when camping and fishing were the order of the day, and vacations were sometimes planned during that time, but we always migrated back to family members and the comforting feeling of being connected.

This year will be different for me. It’s the first Memorial Day since my father died. His headstone has been placed, waiting for the onslaught of those who miss him. I took a picture last year of Mom and Dad at his father’s grave. Who knew that we would be visiting him this year?

I’ve witnessed some interesting traditions practiced in cemeteries over the years including big family picnics on the grave. I’ve seen "super sized" fast food left on graves. Candy, letters, pictures, and solar walkway lights. The latter gave me cause to wonder for awhile when I passed the cemetery on the way home from my writers critique group.

I stopped one day, and discovered the lights. What a great idea, I thought. It was a nightlight in case the deceased woke in the middle of the night in unfamiliar surroundings. I guess it could be interpreted as an eternal flame?

Whatever your tradition, for a writer, there’s a plethora of new material in cemeteries at this time of year. Almost always, I field the question: "Where do you get ideas to write about?" Here’s a great source. I recommend you go alone, unless you have kids who can entertain themselves and stay out of trouble. Take a lawn chair along and set it up on Grandpa’s grave.

Look around you. Humanity is unfolding before your eyes. Watch people from the time they get out of their car. We tend to show our hidden personality traits when we grieve. Some traditions are as individual as the people who perpetrate them. My uncle told a joke once, at my grandfather’s grave. It hadn’t been long since Grandpa died and the tree was still small.

The story is told that an American visited Japan and witnessed the tradition of leaving food on the grave. The American callously asked, "When do you expect your dead loved one to sit up in their grave and eat all that food?" The answer came succinctly, "Oh, I don’t know, about the time your ancestors come up and smell the flowers I guess."

There are millions of stories in the cemetery. Take along a voice recorder or a notebook. My friend, Kim Thompson, recently told a story about watching a young couple bury their child. She told of the feelings she felt. And several scenarios came into her writer’s mind.

I watched a man come to the cemetery once. He parked his motorcycle under a tree and made his way across the lawn. He looked at the ground at all the headstones. Then sat down in front of one. I watched his conversation proceed. It was obvious to me that he’s been having a hard time dealing with his loss. He missed his loved one, and I suspect coping with life was getting harder every day.

As a writer, I imagined the tragic death of a young wife, the end of a dream. The promises broken and hopes crushed. I imagined the death of a best friend. The broken promise to attend college with him.

I’ve heard stories of people actually dancing on graves, pouring the contents of a bottle of whiskey on the grass, and one true story of a man taking a sledge hammer to a headstone. The police didn’t arrest him because he promised to replace it. Can you see the drama? Are the stories percolating in your head?

When you get tired of sitting. Walk around a bit. Look at what people leave on headstones. Look at the headstones themselves. Sometimes there is a life story carved in that rock.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's in a Name?

By Keith Fisher

Until recently, (long story), I did a lot of multitasking at work. I work in document preservation, digitizing records, and I kept facebook open in a small window on my desktop. Staying in touch with my world at 3 a.m. is not difficult. Most of my facebook friends sign off around midnight.

Occasionally a friend or two will be up because they can’t sleep, or they’re burning the midnight oil. I’ve been meeting writers who are part of my network but I didn’t know them very well.

I talked to Susan Corpany Curtis one night, because she lives in Hawaii and there’s a time difference. Anyway we chatted about our books, and she pointed out something I’d thought of, but never really paid attention to.

When you’re plotting a story, How do you come up with names? If you’re like me, you start at an arbitrary point in the alphabet, and begin listing names in your mind. When you come up with one, you compare it to what’s already been written. You determine if the name matches your character and you make changes if it doesn’t.

Character names are tricky. It’s almost as important as when you chose a name for your children. Someone read from a book of funny baby names at work the other day, and I can’t believe some of the cruel jokes perpetrated by attention starved parents who probably shouldn’t have been given the keys to a new baby anyway.

Of course, you can write myriad situations, caused by an unusual name. Just like Johnny Cash did in his song A Boy Named Sue. Naming a boy, Sue, or a girl, Henry would help you write new plots.

Often, when we pick a name for a child we think about the generations who’ve passed and sometimes we honor them by giving our child a namesake, sometimes we give them pieces of our own names. My brother has the same first name as my father but we always called him by his middle name. It caused problems, though, whenever someone official, or legal, would call and ask for the name, we always assumed they wanted Dad.

When we pick names for our characters the considerations are different. If we name a son after the dad, it’s confusing for the reader. So, we think of vastly different names for each character, and we often try to find gallant or sexy names, something that stands out. We want the reader to fall in love with the name. We pick Trent, and violet. Brady, and Bambi. There are many websites with baby names that will help for the other genres, but writing fantasy is different. It’s not easier in fact it’s probably harder because you have to invent.

I have a problem with using names that almost rhyme. Like in my WIP (work in progress), I have characters named Debbie, Leslie, Jenny, Brady, and Ruthie. Just to name a few. Do you see the problem? They all end with the EE sound.

The thing that Susan pointed out, however, was when authors pick names they like, but they don’t consider the era. Would you give a name like Ethan, or Olivia, to a character born in 1908? You might, but while those names were ranked three and six in 2008, they didn’t make the top one hundred in 1908. These facts are from the social security website.

When Susan reminded me of the problem, I took all the names from my current work in progress and ran them through the website. First I had to determine how old I wanted them to be and I gave them birth years. Of course, because of the EE sound, I planned to change most of the names anyway, but I discovered from their birth dates, I’d misnamed some of them. I have the luxury of living for more than fifty years so I remember most of the eras I write about, but even with personal knowledge, I still falter.

As I said above, there are many websites that provide baby names, but I recommend the Social Security site. It’s easy to use, and the data is from government records. I would wait until you’ve written the book then go back and find the names that need to be changed. You might find a name that fits your character better than the one you chose originally and it will be from the right year.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Oh! and don't forget today's the day for the Launch party of Tristi Pinkston's new book Agent in Old Lace. scroll down to my last post for time and place.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I Love Being a Writer

By Keith Fisher

Even though my fellow blogckers seem to be evaluating why they write, I want to add my few words. I am a writer, because I can think of no other way to satisfy this need I have. To fulfill the mission, and polish the talent my Heavenly Father gave me.

I attended two job interviews this week. In one, My boss asked how my writing is going. He knows I write fiction and he was being courteous. Of course I said fine, and told him of some of my triumphs.

With those successes, my mind began to dwell on the failures, and like many of my peers, I began to doubt. Then I remembered the other interview. Earlier in the week, that interview went pretty well. I was asked how fast I type. I answered that if I copy from a sheet of printed words, then not very fast. If, however, I type what’s in my head, then I’m pretty good.

I added, that I’m a freelance writer so I type a lot. I don’t think he heard my comment, or if he did, it didn’t matter to him. When the interview ended, I began to think about the rich rewards I’ve received from writing.

Sure, I get discouraged, who doesn’t? A while ago, after receiving a rejection, I left a message with my critique group and asked them to remind me why I do this. A few days later on face book, I wrote, "Keith is writing this morning. Its so quiet he can hear the incessant beating of his heart. It pounds the rhythm of his typing fingers and testifies of unfulfilled dreams. It shouts the marching orders. He must write, he must tell the story or die trying."

I got a few comments about that, but two struck me. Danyelle said, "Wow. You’re in a very inspirational mood this morning." Tristi, who’s in my group said, "And that right there is why you keep writing!!!" Yes, believe it or not, she used three exclamation marks.

Okay, Tristi was right. When things are going good, and the words just seem to fall together. Or, when the nature of one of my characters spurs me on to write the story before it flees from my feeble mind. When I can’t write fast enough, for fear the wonderful idea will be gone, Those are the moments I look to, and remember there must be something good about my writing, and that makes it all worthwhile.

I had a great experience at critique group Last week, and I’d like to share it. Now, if you’ve been reading my blog. You know I’m constantly battling with the wonderful ladies of my group. I’m writing a romance and doing a mediocre job of it. But when I read my chapter last time, I knew I’d hit the mark. I began to feel some of the same feelings I feel from reading the scriptures.

More than that, I’ve written two characters that touch me. I’m not sure why, but these two speak to me in ways that make it so easy to write their story. When I finished reading, I was told it was the best chapter I’d read from that book. Don’t let me brag. There were many things wrong with my writing, but I told the story in a way that people can relate to. That’s hard to do, by the way, when you’re a man, writing women’s fiction and you’re audience are women.

There is another reason I write, however,

On my other blog, I told two stories; one was the story of how my father was saved from death at Christmas, twenty-three years ago, and the other was about the feelings I had for him when he died recently.

At a Dutch oven convention, a man came to me and thanked me for writing that. Apparently I had expressed his feelings for his dad. We both were touched, and that, my friends is why I’m a writer.

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

P.S. Remember:
Come to the launch party for Tristi’s new book, Saturday May 16th, 3-5 p.m. at Provident Book in Pleasant Grove (661 W State Street) Refreshments, door prizes, sales ... you'll have a wonderful time! And bring a friend!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Post Script

I forgot to remind you about Tristi Pinkston's new book. I'll be reviewing it here, but in the mean time, she is having a contest/game on her blog to announce it. you can also pre-order at Here is the beautiful cover.

Tristi is in my Critique group and I think you will like this story. Check out the game and pre-order now.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What Is The Question? Keeping Tension in the story

By Keith Fisher

I once saw a demonstration of keeping tension in a story. The teacher had two people push against opposite ends of a baseball bat. They were asked to keep the bat from falling using only their fingertips. It wasn't easy, but the participants kept tension on the ends of the bat, and between them, they kept it from falling.

As a writer, I'm learning to keep tension in my stories. "But," you ask. "Why does a story need tension? I'm writing a feel good, religious story. I don't want a lot arguing and negative feelings in there."Tension in a story is what keeps you turning pages. If a character is in peril, and there is no clear way for them to get out of it, that's tension—it'll keep you reading. Of course our character can't stand on the edge of a danger throughout the book. He must take a breath.

We can write edge of your seat tension into a story by introducing a question that doesn't get answered until the end. Will Frank get over his toothpaste phobia and brush his teeth so Mary will want to kiss him? Will John Walton make it home for Christmas or will his family have to make do without him. Will Betty come to her senses and realize her parents love her, and the reasons she left home just aren't that important?

Will the psychotic killer make Henrietta his next victim? Will James stop the train before it gets to dead man's turn and save everyone aboard?

The questions don't have to be major, but they do need to hold the reader's interest. You can even weave in several questions. Just remember to tie up all the loose ends before the story is

finished. Good luck with your writing—see you next week.