Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Hallows of Writing Characters

By Keith Fisher

I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my critique group lately. We’re naming characters after each other. It’s fun to see what kind of person will get my name next.

Tristi used it for the son of her main character in Secret Sisters. He’s a good man, and I like him. Nichole wrote a character with my first and last name. He’s a very intelligent kid, so I’m flattered. I guess I should worry, though, if a villain gets my name, is it a sign that I’ve offended them? I resisted the habit, for a while, but I succumbed the other day, and named a character after Kim. I’m so ashamed.

I think every writer models characters after parts and pieces of people they know, or have known. I’ve heard writers say they use rotten in-laws as antagonists. What a great way to get even for unkindness. Be careful, however, your nemesis might figure it out. Even if you honor your friends, the line between offence and flattery can be thin. You never know who might be offended.

Most us, when we write, put ourselves into plots we would never be able to live in real life. It would be easy to name our protagonist after us, because, aren’t we really playing make believe? Which brings me to the point.

I went to the Halloween parade at school yesterday. I took pictures of some of the more creative costumes. The originality fascinates me. There were the standard witches, goblins, and super heroes, but some of the mothers put a lot of creative effort into the design. One little girl played the part of an old lady. She not only looked the part she acted it out perfectly.

All Hallows Eve has turned into a wonderful holiday. We can be anyone, go almost anywhere, and do almost anything. For one night, we can be all the characters we write about. At times like this, I wish I wrote fantasy.

Good luck with your writing—Happy Halloween—see you next week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Meat & Potatoes, Corn, Peas, and Beats

By Keith Fisher

No, I didn’t spell it wrong. Let me explain, but first, Theres a book lauch party in Fillmore today. Click on the link at the bottom.

In critique group this week, we heard a story about a writer who explained the need of adding potatoes to a manuscript. In the simile, the manuscript is dinner, the dialogue is the meat, and the narration is the potatoes. Some writers are carnivores and their meat is spectacular, but they have to go back and add the potatoes for a well-rounded dinner.

That is the syndrome I’ve fallen into, chopping the narration, making the dialogue stand-alone.

In Writer’s Secrets, published by LDStorymakers, Linda Paulson Adams compares the bits of narration to the glue that holds the dialogue together.

I was told in critique group, parts of my dialogue needed beats. This is a common suggestion for me. I know what it means.

In the book, Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, we learn. Beats are little bits of action interspersed through a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes—the literary equivalent of what is known in the theater as stage business.

When beats were mentioned, the lady who’d told the story about meat and potatoes said, “hey what are beets?” We had a pot luck dinner at critique group this week. So, by the time we got to my chapter, It was late, and we were getting loopy. We all leaped to the comparison of the meat & potatoes story, and the beats. Someone said something like, “Beets? Okay, lets get our vegetables strait.”

We were left with explaining the concept of beats, not beets. I always think of rock n roll. The beat makes the rhythm easier to play. Beats interspersed with good dialogue keeps the reader going, and removes the stumbling blocks.

Whatever vegetable or binder you prefer, leaving them out makes a reader stumble. If it’s hard to read, it’ll get tossed. But Keep in mind, as Linda Paulson Adams said, using too much glue, can ruin the project. Beats, potatoes, or beets can also be overdone.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.
Come to the book launch Click on the picture and I'll see you there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

All Hallow's Eve

By Keith Fisher

It’s that time of year again. I’ll be getting dressed up to sit on the porch reading or writing while the kids come and help themselves. A couple of years ago, I read Harry Potter, dressed as see no evil, hear no evil . . . well, two out of three ain’t bad. I put some funny teeth in my mouth, and taped a head on each shoulder. One head wore a sleeping mask. The other wore headphones. All three heads wore wigs. The costume was cute, and I got a lot of reading done.

Last year, I dressed in lights and did some writing. This year has me stumped. Not the costume, but the writing. My work in process has kicked me in the behind many times. It’s currently called The Bed and Breakfast and I keep finding problems. The ladies in my critique group have been patient lifesavers.

My Brother’s Keeper has been sidelined. In my efforts to be a good writer, I ended up making the narrative choppy so I need to take it apart and rebuild it. Eternal Tapestries has gone through at least a dozen rewrites, and I’m waiting for inspiration. Each rewrite made it better. Soon, it will be the story I wanted it to be.

The Trophy is written, but I put it on the back burner while I worked on The Bed and Breakfast. The Only Key, All that Glitters, and Shadow Boxing are in different stages of development. They’re waiting for other things to be finished. Season of Promise, a sequel to Eternal Tapestries, is written, but I’m going to add more to the story.

There are thirteen books in my project file and eight other projects that are only story ideas, so far. There are three short stories, a dozen articles, and a pile of published blogs. There’s a stack of books I need to review and another stack I want to read for fun.

So I contemplate. What should I write on my porch this year? As you can see, this blog isn't about goblins and spooks. Since Halloween marks my progress over the year, this is and update about my projects.

Stick with me and come along for the ride. I’m in a learning period right now, but I expect to come through it with many fruits of my labor. At least, The Bed and Breakfast, My Brother’s keeper, and Eternal Tapestries will find a publishing home.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Am I Not a Man

A book review by Keith Fisher

Since I was given an advance reader’s copy of Am I Not a Man--The Dread Scott Story, and asked to read and review the book, I’ve been captivated. The story behind this, perhaps, the most famous court case in United States history brought tears to my eyes.

I must admit I had preconceived notions about the book. With Schindler’s List, Dances with wolves, The Work and The Glory, and countless others. Many books play upon our sympathies, and I was prepared for yet another, but I found the effort in research was obvious throughout, and a refreshing weaving of fact was presented.

I delighted in the staging of a conversation between two of my personal heroes, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. They both regretted making compromises in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution respectively. The hypocritical feelings of many were expressed in that conversation, along with other story lines throughout the book.

The thing that impressed me most, however, was the way the story leads the reader into the realization that our country was given two opportunities to abolish slavery. Both were during the drafting of two of our greatest documents.

Since those warnings were left unheeded, it becomes clear, through the reading of this book, the hand of a Higher Power took matters into His own hands. Dred Scott was the instrument. His lawsuit was the catalyst. Abraham Lincoln was the instigator.
Yes, I recommend the book to everyone. The expressed humanity will delight you---the historical information will educate you.

I’m told there will be illustrations in the hard cover release, but I became curious. I searched the Library of Congress, and found the attached newspaper article. It illustrates the attention the country was giving the case. This is a family of obscure slaves that turned the Supreme Court upside down, and helped set in motion the emancipation proclamation

You can preorder your copy here
You can read about Valor Publishing here

Saturday, October 10, 2009

To Sequel or Not to Sequel

By Keith Fisher

In Hamlet Act three, scene one, is perhaps the most famous question in all of literature. To be, or not to be. That is the question. In this poignant scene the character is debating the disadvantages of suicide. Kind of like the theme song of Mash, Suicide is Painless, but I digress.

I was in the zone the other day, and working on my story was thrilling. The song, Back in the Saddle Again, written by Ray Whitely, and played by Gene Autry & The Cass County Boys comes to mind.

So, there I was, writing pearls of literature, when I realized I left two story lines open-ended. When I wrote the draft, it didn’t bother me. In this book, I’ve written over twenty-five characters, six POV’s, and fifteen interlacing story lines. So, to leave a few plots finished, but not ended, didn’t seem bad.

Suddenly, one of the characters showed me plots and stories leading in different directions than the ones I had planned. In the beginning, I never intended to grow this particular character. Her name is currently Sharon, but I’m sure she wants to change it. Anyway, I intended that she would have a short part in the story and move on. As the draft unfolded, Sharon ended up getting more depth and sympathy from me. I ended her story on a positive note and led the reader to a natural conclusion.

In the zone the other day, Sharon wouldn’t leave me alone. I now have three interlacing plots for a sequel and I am left with a choice. To sequel, or not to sequel. That is indeed the real question. If I don’t write the sequel, I have to go back and re-write the direction Sharon’s story went. It wouldn’t be hard, take out a couple of minor characters and send Sharon back to New York, but she doesn’t want to go.

Now, I sit here, staring at the plots I drew on my whiteboard. I’m getting more excited to write the sequel than I am about finishing the original. Sharon smiles as I write that, because she knows me. She knows I won’t let it go . . .

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Remembering an Old Friend

By Keith Fisher

In my life, something often happens to make me pause and reflect. I never know what it will be, the birth of a child, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. In March, I had one of those experiences, and since I’m the author of this particular soapbox, I want to use this blog to tell you about it.

During my daily trip to the hospital to visit my dying father, I crossed the lobby to the elevator and bumped into a woman I hadn’t seen in at least twenty-five years. She was the mother of my good friend, Sterling, and I tried to help her remember me.

She told me her son was dying of cancer and he lay in ICU upstairs. I stepped into the elevator to visit him on the way up to see my dad. My mind went back to the seventies, to a time when life was a mixture of parties. Before I grew up and rediscovered the Church.

I met Sterling, right after he’d been discharged from the service. Another friend told me Sterling had once been his Sunday school teacher, and Sterling had served a mission too.

My friend seemed aloof from all that, and he loved to party. He personified the saying, eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. I quickly discovered he was generous to a fault. It didn’t matter if I didn’t have money, if Sterling had some, we partied. Sterling got a job driving a truck and he took me on a few trips with him.

One time on a trip to phoenix, we spent a week in a motel waiting for a load. I learned a lot about picking grapefruits on the motel grounds, and I learned a lot about my friend. We finally got a load out of San Diego, and headed south. Sterling pulled over in the middle of the night on the way to Yuma, climbed into the sleeper, and told me to drive.

I was nervous, I didn’t have the right kind of driver’s license, but I drove an eighteen wheeler, with a two-stick transmission. That’s 5 on one and 4 on the other. I learned from watching him, He slept and I grinned, a lot. Yeah thats me driving the truck. I was 24 years old, and I still had hair on top.

In the hospital, Sterling was hooked up to dozens of machines. I barely recognized him through the oxygen tent and his body was resting. I was at a loss. What do you say to a dying man you haven’t seen for over twenty-five years? His Nurse said he’d had a hard night, and a bad time of it, so I let him sleep, intending to return. I never did.

With Dad dying upstairs in hospice, my thoughts were directed toward my family. Dad died shortly after that, and I was assigned to make funeral arrangements. I had to write an obituary and take some pictures to the mortuary, but I happened to glance at a newspaper and found a death notice for Sterling. It listed birth date, death date and the time of a graveside service. No funeral, no obituary, no frills whatsoever.

The service was scheduled for that day, and I still had to request the grave opening for Dad. I dressed in a shirt and tie, and went to Sterling’s service. What a day! I stood there watching a few relatives and church members. They seemed surprised to see an old friend. There were two of us.

We waited for half an hour and finally, Sterling's body arrived. His mother opened the pressed cardboard casket and we said goodbye to a man who’d been one of my best friends.

We lost contact with each other over the years. I got religion and went on an LDS mission. He drove truck and got on with his life. When I knew him, Sterling had dozens of friends. At the service, I wondered where they were. I talked to the only other old friend and he told me he hadn’t seen Sterling in four years. In order to quit drinking, he had to distance himself from Sterling, and the bad influence.

He confirmed what I already knew. Sterling was a good man. He really cared about people. He worried about his nephews and his sister. Sterling gave away more money than he ever had. Here was a man who, even with all his faults, deserves to be remembered. I decided to write this memorium. I'm just sorry it took so long.

Now, I visit Sterling’s grave and I wish he could be remembered the way he deserved. I hope his old friends will think of him now and then. I look at the grass-covered earth that is his final resting-place and I think of a poem by Sam Walter Foss. It’s in the public domain so I will include it here:

House by the Side of the Road
By Sam Walter Foss

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat
Nor hurl the cynic's ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

My friend Sterling wasn't perfect. but then who us is? He served a mission for the right reasons, and he served his country. Sterling was kind and generous, Sterling was a friend to man.

In memorium

Sterling Franklin Larsen 1951-2009

Good luck my friend. May all your roads be paved and may you find the sunrise over the next hill.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Wuh Tey Pebla

By Keith Fisher

“She leaped up from the bench, fell on his neck, and kissed him.”

Does this sentence seem wrong somehow? Does the title of this blog make sense? I’ll talk about the title in a minute, but the sentence was written into my WIP and I brought it to critique group this week. The whole group found fault with it.

Heather said it was old language. “People don’t write that way anymore.”
Tristi said it sounded biblical, and unless I’m writing scriptures I should think about changing it. I must admit, the scriptures are probably where I got the phrase, “fell on his neck”. I wrote the phrase to avoid repetitious words, but I also, thought it sounded clever.

This isn’t the first time my group found a problem with my old speech patterns. I usually cover, though, by saying I’m and old man, what do you expect. It makes me realize I use phrases and figures of speech that just aren’t used anymore. Some of my dialogue comes from the time period I grew up in, but there are ways of talking that are getting discarded in academia.

I recently attended a writer’s workshop and listened to Annette Lyon talk about grammar. Besides being the author of There, Their, They’re-A No Tears Guide to Grammar, she’s a self admitted word nerd. Words and proper use, is a hobby for her.

In her class, she answered some of the most pressing questions such as me/I, also Em dashes, en dashes, and hyphens. When Lay/lie came up, I was reminded of the LDStorymakers Conference when a man said some of the old conventions are being dropped in the publishing industry.

So, in this day of quick emails, and text messaging, I wonder if technology is causing us to lose our ability to communicate properly. It’s true. We have lost the art of letter writing. When I read simple letters written in the nineteenth century, subjects of which would be sent in emails today, it’s fascinating to read the language. Much better than books I read, the letters are almost poetic.

There was an episode in the original Star Trek series that emphasizes my point. The Enterprise crew encounters a world where the inhabitants speak simple English but nobody, except the chief, can read. At one point he speaks the sacred words from an ancient parchment. He starts by reading “wuh tey pebla” or something like that. Well, of course Captain Kirk recognizes it and begins to quote, We The People. The society had suffered atomic warfare and lost their language over many centuries.

I know it’s important to communicate with my readers. So, in my speech and writing, I’m endeavoring to keep up, but I still let old speech patterns, and sixties language slip into my writing, but I wonder about the rising generation. My daughter adds colorful messages to her sentences that I didn’t understand at first. Things Like BTW, OMG, TMI, and FYI. You may recognize these as short ways of text messaging, but I don’t text. Like the lost art of letter writing, how long will it take for us to eliminate words? Will our children pick up a copy of A Tale of Two Cities, for example and not be able to read it?

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