Wednesday, March 28, 2012
The call came late last night.
Never sleep with your cell phone near your bed when trying to finish a good dream.
"My daughter won't come out of the closet, you creep. That sleaze David Boyer's still at it and now she's too grossed out to read. Thinks Boyer plagiarized Doctor Seuss. What are you going to do about it?"
I sat straight up in bed. It was happening all over again.
"Ma'am," I said, "have you filed a report with the Attorney General of Indiana?"
"Fat lot of good that's done so far. Where's that book you've been working on about serial plagiarists if you're so smart?"
I slid into my jeans, turned on the light and saw they were on backward. It's important to label your clothes "Front" and "Back" if you're an emergency plagiary responder. I made a mental note.
"Sorry about the delay. I was looking for a new title due to recent events. Plagiarism is so widespread now I thought I'd call it American Sleaze instead of Indiana Sleaze."
"What kind of plagiary reporter are you?" she asked. "You take nine months on a new title? I gave birth to two kids in nine months."
She had me there. In my defense, I'd finished two novels and was closing in on a third. Besides I was giving the Assistant Attorney General of Indiana a little maneuvering room. And I'd been working on the alien/Boyer connection, but the government's denying everything. That's how I knew I was on to something.
"Well?" she snapped. "How many kids too grossed out to read is it going to take for you to finish that book exposing creeps like David Boyer?"
"Ma'am, I'm not the plagiary police."
"You got the rest of us writers stirred up- you better be something."
"I'm a good investigative reporter," I said. "Maybe I could put those skills to use."
It's true. I claim full responsibility for covering Bigfoot's march to Vincennes, Indiana to howl at Boyer.
"Then finish that book! At least you'll expose him."
I took a deep breath.
"I'll do it," I said. "You're right. I got everybody stirred up- time to finish the job."
"Put your pants on straight first," she said and hung up.
Before I did that, I got some duct tape and stuck it over the camera lens on my cellphone.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Well, maybe not.
I just said that so you'd feel good. Frankly, I think the woman in the above photo is faking it, too.
What's that? My characters didn't make you cry either?
Ouch, that hurt!
But wait a minute- do we really have to make our readers feel emotion? Maybe that's not as important as it used to be.
But let me ask you- could you do it if you had to? Could you make your readers cry?
Friday, March 23, 2012
Pirates can't write worth a damn.
But they're always giving advice and pushing that bottle of rum at you.
Don't do it. Don't take even a sip.
Years at sea and most of them don't have a gold doubloon to their name. But they go on and on about buried treasure and stormy seas. Slapping the tavern table and spilling the rum everywhere. Eyes darting around the room looking for danger while whispering to you about bloody battles and captured damsels. Dead men tell no tales and skeleton fingers pointing the way.
They push their witch's brew at you.
Strong female characters. Strong male characters. Fatal flaws. Characters just like the ones you've seen on television and movies. Just like the ones you've read about in other books. Actually, that's where they get them.
You're almost convinced. Pirates know their writing, don't they? They sound like they really know what they're talking about. They have an eye-patch over one eye and the other is lit like a lantern you can follow with confidence to the shore of writing success.
Look closer, it's actually a skeleton holding that lantern.
Pirate writers, you see, are just skeletons. There's no meat on their bones. There's no meat on their character's bones. They're not real. They're simply pirated from the stories and scripts that someone else created. That's why we call them pirates.
They don't do what real writers do.
It's why so many characters in so many books, TV shows and movies seem alike.
Readers are desperate for truly original characters. They don't want Fool's Gold from pirates.
Don't be a pirate writer.
But while it's just you and me here, tell me how close the characters you create are to those you've read about and watched on either TV or the movies.
Don't be nervous, it's just the two of us talking. Are your characters really yours? I don't mean to say you stole them. I just want you to examine how original they really are. Is their dialogue something you've already ready or heard? Their mannerisms?
Think about it.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Imagine the horror!
This reporter was informed that writer Ferrel Moore was just bilked out of $10 over at Indiegogo.com, where Indiana Sleaze David Boyer posted a project under a fake name. It looked like a real screen project. It looked like it was a project put up for a really good cause. Mr. Moore apparently wanted to help this desperate screen-writer (now that we know it's really David Boyer in another cheap disguise we can guess why he's desperate), but now, alas, he is forced to report this scam to the authorities.
Is this known plagiarist, who has in the past sold books with stories he stole and put his name on, now guilty of fraud? Or just insipid bad taste? But is pretending to be someone else while asking for money without revealing his deviant past in the publishing industry a legal issue, or evidence of moral vacuity? At the very least he has violated the Terms of Service of Indiegogo.com
Someone should tell them that. This reporter wonders who will first spill the beans to them.
In further developments, now that Mr. Moore donated, he says he'll have to ask his attorney whether David Boyer the serial plagiarist has crossed another line or not. While, of course, he's filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
This reporter sends a big thanks to b.thoughtful for letting writers and readers everywhere know about his new scam. I learned it from her post at http://b-thoughtful2.blogspot.com/2012/03/david-boyer-wants-your-money.html
If anyone else has donated money online to the Indiana Sleaze while he is hiding under a fake name, you can file a complaint against him at www.ic3.gov (the Internet Crime Complaint Center). Hopefully the state will someday award him an orange jumpsuit.
The twenty-fifth place runner-up in the David Boyer Look-Alike contest agreed to stand in for Serial Plagiarist David Boyer in the headline photo for purposes of this article.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
My instructor for many years was Ninja Grandmaster Robert Law. He is a darkly complex and dangerous man. His teachings left an indelible impression on me and I will be indebted to him always. He taught me all that I needed to know about writing.
One day, he asked me to clench my hands into fists and stand just close enough to a wall so that my fists touched it.
"Turn your head to the right and then turn it back to face the wall," he said. "What do you see?"
"The wall," I said.
"Not that, you dumb-ass," he said. "Look at your fists."
They were a quarter inch from the wall.
"Now turn your head to the left and back. Now what do you see?"
"They're touching the wall."
"You figured out why?"
"No," I said.
"When you do, you'll know a lot more about the way a ninja thinks than you do now."
Here's the short form: understanding body dynamics is the key to ninja techniques.
What does that mean for writers?
It means that a writer has to understand how their own mind works in order to write well. That is the reason for years I've said a writer should first understand the way he thinks, imagines and feels because this knowledge is critical to good writing. Deal with the creator first and the creation will follow.
The Witch's Brew is to concentrate only on the story and ignore the writer.
It is the writer, after all, who produces the story.
Know what excites you, what makes you cry, what makes you laugh, what makes you angry. Understand your need for justice and your need for recognition. What drives you, what slows you down.
If you understand these things about yourself, you will have a compelling narrative voice.
Friday, March 16, 2012
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds..." Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Wile E. Coyote, Supergenius. I like the way it rolls out. Wile E. Coyote, Supergenius." Wile E. Coyote
Sometimes you just have to scrape them off the windshield.
The ones who shuffle mindlessly down the street with nowhere particular to go and the only word they can spell correctly is "hungry."
But they should have seen it coming. This reporter saw it coming. Writer's rear ends are getting much larger.
They drank the witch's brew, the one labeled "I don't have to leave this chair. Google will save me." So now they wander the literary streets wondering why their writing doesn't ring true. Doesn't sound authentic. Sounds kind of like it was made up. Actually, it was made up.
Worse yet, Hemingway was right. People that never leave their writer's chairs get kind of big on the back end.
"This is great," one zombie-ized writer told me. "I can write stories that happen anywhere in the world. I don't have to travel, I just use Google Earth."
She asked to remain anonymous, so I'm leaving her name out of this interview so I can blackmail her later. I mean use it to advantage later. I hope she doesn't read this.
"But do you truly get a feel for that country?" I asked. "Enough for your reader's to trust you? To allow you the convincing narrative authority enabling them to suspend their disbelief and enter completely into your story? And do you have to keep eating Doritos while we talk? Don't they have a million calories per bag?"
She twirled a wild lock of red hair and smiled.
"Honey, most of my readers watch Keeping up with the Kardashians. The rest of them actually don't believe Dancing with the Stars is rigged. And I can eat all the Doritos I want, dear. I just ordered the Brazilian Butt Makeover so calories don't count. It said so on the infomercial."
"You don't seem to like your readers," I observed. "You get all the information in your books from Google and infomercials. Is that why you have a Ginsu knife as the murder weapon in one of your murder mysteries?"
"I love my readers. My readers worship me."
"But you don't really go out and experience life so that you have something to share with them. How can they trust you with matters of emotional truth if you don't really have a life? You never seem to leave your computer chair. Aren't you just recycling third party information? Why don't you get up from your chair and see and smell the towns you're writing about and talk to the people you're writing about?"
She actually recoiled in her chair. I felt terrible. Clearly I'd reminded her of past experiences, where she actually saw her friends instead of Facebooked them. Times when she actually walked city streets to know what they were like. Those were the days when she knew the nuantial difference between the word "mean" as it was used in "mean city streets" and as a participating adjective in the movie title "Mean Girls."
I was about to apologize when I saw her on Facebook cutting and pasting conversations.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Collecting dialogue for my next book," she said vaguely.
"You don't write your own dialogue? You cut and paste it from Facebook conversations? You have no feelings, no writer's heart. You can't write about reality," I screamed, "if your only reality comes from a computer monitor. Dialogue should come from your created character's heart!"
Without looking up she said, "You get some good dialogue off of Twitter sometimes, but you've got to really look hard."
I left the interview with a journalistic epiphany- when zombie-ized writers throw themselves against the windshield of your life, this journalist says to just keep driving.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
It's hard to write good fiction.
Very few of us write great fiction.
Fewer still write great fiction capable of truly transforming reader's hearts and minds. We're afraid to try, and, really, we don't think we're up to the noble task. So mostly we join writer's groups, live in fear of critiques and workshop, workshop, workshop.
Instead of exploring the world around us, dissecting it and imagining how to put it together again in a better way, we network with other writers, agents, editors and publishers.
We measure our success or lack thereof in number of positive Tweets, number of likes and/or comments on our Facebook page, or number of blog visitors measured by the great Bean Counter of the Internet- Google Analytics.
The thrill and exaltation of writing our first novel fades when no one much pays attention. It turns to mortified rejection when it's first rejected by an agent. By the sixth or seventh rejection, our writing life may be measured in terms of how many milligrams of Valium the doctor prescribes or how many glasses of wine we imbibe on any given day.
In between this Dark Night of the Soul and our first real success, many writers develop the Lemming Syndrome. If there's an emotional cliff anywhere within miles of where they live, they feel compelled to do the Zombie Walk to it and jump off, making sure their reputations crash to the bottom with them.
The Lemming Syndrome occurs mostly when we know that we want to write, but realize we really aren't good enough yet to write something of lasting value. That's when we commit the terrible sin of trying to teach others to write.
When as writers we have done this to the point that we realize we are as welcome in writing circles as relatives who belch fire, we panic and commit the most heinous of writing sins: we begin to blather away in public about politics. We have drunk from the Witches' Brew. We post political materials on Facebook. We are enraged by the "Opposition Party." We make fun of their candidates, deride them as "small-minded" or "dangerous" or "out of touch." We scream slogans we'd be ashamed to hear other primates promoting. We Twitter like there's no tomorrow. Each election is the most "...important of our lifetime." We not only agree, we shout it from the rooftops. It's safer than taking a risk with our writing.
We do this because we're too lazy to write novels that will change the hearts of minds of others. We're afraid. It takes too much work. It's risky. We are not, after all, Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Harriet Beecher Stowe or John Steinbeck. What if nobody likes our serious writing? What if it's politically unpopular? Better stick with genre.
The same writers who are proud to the point of stridency about hyperactive addiction to discussing endlessly the political evils of our world, do very little in the way of creating powerful fiction. Talk is cheap. The cost of great fiction is your heart, your soul and your mind. You must invest everything into it.
"The Grapes of Wrath" took a toll on Steinbeck.
Are you wasting your time writing ubiquitous fiction? Is it because you no longer believe in the power of fiction to change hearts and minds? Or is it just your own fiction you doubt? Leave the socially powerful writing to the very talented few, you say. Leave the heavy lifting to the strong writers.
Someday, you say, you will write a "social novel." One that will change the world. Or maybe just not embarrass you.
But it has to be later, you say. It's 2012 and we have to discuss politics and talk and talk and talk.
Why not write?
What will that change? you ask.
If you aim low, you can never fall too far.
And you've forgotten why you write. That's what happens when you drink the witch's brew. You quit believing in yourself and the muscular power of the written word.
There's an antidote.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Intergalacticians are famous for their hot, steamy, romantic scenes. Before earth writers got hold of the script and changed it, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was so humid alien movie goers were issued raincoats at the doors of their favorite floating theaters. By the time it got to earth, it was a cure for sleep apnea.
What's happened to earth writers?
Scientist bored with global warming and unable to grasp the complexities of lunar cooling are now hoping to acquire substantive federal grant money to study this issue.
"There's a fortune in figuring this out," said Dr. Itis of Buffalo Wings University. "Our initial double blind survey on why American writers turned tepid revealed an obsession with tropes, themes and stereotypes."
This reporter likes to record details accurately, so I delved further.
"Doctor, what exactly is a double blind study?"
He looked at me incredulously.
"Why, it's where twelve blind researchers record their observations and report them to twelve more blind researchers. All twenty four researchers then deliver the report to the supervising scientists, or, if they lose it, something of approximately the same weight."
"Aha," I said.
"American writers crank out the same stuff over and over again. Our most recent survey revealed that they're afraid of originality. Terrified of it, actually. They feel there's risk involved and American writers don't like risk. That's why aliens write better love scenes. Many of them lack genitalia and are therefore not bound by our preconceptions."
"No genitalia?" I gasped.
"Besides the element of risk, why are American writers so afraid of originality?"
This was the moment of truth. He actually straightened his crisp white lab coat and raised his chin before he spoke.
"They've been to so many writing workshops and group critiques they haven't had time to wonder what originality is. The modern American writer is very busy with such activities and has little time to be creative."
I took a step closer.
"Are you certain of this doctor?"
Dr. Itis leaned toward me and whispered, "Absolutely. I chumped the U.S. government for $180,000 to conduct the study."
Now that, I thought, is real originality.
Thursday, March 08, 2012
What type of music do you listen to before you write? While you write? Charles Gramlich, PhD. could write a book about this topic. In fact, send any questions to him!
Why? Because music changes your body chemistry.
It's the best way to kick in your creative juices.
It changes your blood chemistry, your brain chemistry and kicks your creative mind into gear. Some researchers believe its a dopamine thing. The following study linked the feeling of "chills" in listeners to music that really got them going:
"... the number of "chills" the participants got was correlated with the activation specifically in the nucleus accumbens, which suggests that the intense pleasure we get from them is due to dopamine signals in this area.
"The whole things shows that music can produce a nice increase in dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. Whether that's a "high", is another question. They couldn't really quantify what kind of a signal they were getting from the dopamine, other than that they got a significant change. Drugs like cocaine produce increases in dopamine in the nucleus accumbens of up to 300% of baseline, and drugs like meth can go even higher than that. Was intense pleasure when listening to music in the same category? Probably not. But that doesn't mean it doesn't feel good.
"The whole study gives us a nice biological basis for our physical responses to music, but it also raises questions. WHY have be evolved such that music effects us this way? What is the function? Is it just enhancement of emotion? If so, how does that work? Is it familiarity with the music, knowing that a part you like is coming up? Does it have anything to do with language and the tones which we utilize in our voices for things like language?
"We don't have these answers yet, but maybe someday we will. Until then, when you're listening to some great music and get the chills, you know what's happening."
Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, & Zatorre RJ (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature neuroscience, 14 (2), 257-262 PMID: 21217764
You can find the complete write-up on this at: http://scientopia.org/blogs/scicurious/2011/01/31/this-is-your-brain-on-music/
But it begs the question- can the pleasurable effects of music improve our creative writing? Can music help us be more imaginative? I believe it is absolutely the most effective method of ramping up the production of our creative juices. It's not just the pleasure. It's the beat. The beat gets us moving, gets us feeling, switches us over to the side of our brains that works with visual imagery.
Some writers complain that music distracts them from writing. When I write, the rest of the world disappears. I can feel music. I can feel my mind and my body kick into gear. And then I'm off to that other world. The world where my story is the measure of reality. The world where I forget white time it is, what day and month it is. Music can't distract from that.
Stephen King uses music to get his creative juices going. In his book on the craft of writing, he even gives us an overview of what he listens to when he writes. He's still the King (no pun intended) of horror and, oddly enough, what he listens to seems to contribute to that. He doesn't listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra when he writes.
And it's true- music not only jump-starts production of our creative juices, it can influence what type of writing we produce by influencing our brains.
Consider the following excerpt from a paper by Greg Mackay:
"...a study done by physicist Dr. Harvey Bird from Fairleigh Dickinson University and neurobiologist Dr. Gervasia Schreckenberg from Georgian Court College in Lakewood, NJ. Dr. Bird is very interested in the effects of sound and music on our bodies. I subsequently got a chance to meet Dr. Bird and discuss his work and his theories. He and Dr. Schreckenberg had teamed up to study the effects of music on laboratory mice. They subjected one group of mice to incessant voodoo drum beats, one group to Strauss waltzes and one group was kept in silence. The experiment used music played at low volume so that volume was not a cause for any behavioral changes observed. Over the period of the experiment, they tested the different groups to see how well they could run through a maze to get to their food. This was a measure of their cognitive ability - their ability to remember the maze over time.
Bird and Schreckenberg found that the group that listened to the voodoo music had a very difficult time with the maze that increased over time to the point where they were totally disoriented and unable to complete the maze. The other groups had no problem learning the maze, with an edge given to the mice listening to the waltz music. Even when the mice were given a break from the music for three weeks, the group that had previously listened to the voodoo music "still could not remember how to get to their food, while the others found it quickly with no problem," said Schreckenberg.
So don't listen to voodoo music when you want to be creative.
Matter of fact, what music do you turn on when you want to get your creative juices flowing?
Monday, March 05, 2012
Sunday, March 04, 2012
Some writers think imagination is like the wind. It comes, it goes, and we never know for sure when it's going to do either.
It's like getting in your car and waiting for it to turn on all by itself. You'd be late for a lot of appointments if you went about it that way, wouldn't you?
How about if you remembered to turn the key, but you never put any gas in it? It still wouldn't start.
Or maybe you let the air filter get gunked up with all sorts of crud. But, you remembered to turn the key in the ignition and you also put gas in it. It should still work okay, right?
But wait, the brain is different. It's not a car. It's mystical. It's not really connected to the body. It just hangs out in a writer's head.
Here's a few things to think about for those of you who want to look a little deeper into the creative process than most writers ever do. The brain needs a lot of things, but it really uses a lot of sugar. It needs blood flow. It really needs oxygen, too. And sleep.
Your brain won't work right if you don't pay attention to those requirements at a bare minimum.
How creative are you when you're dead dog tired? Remember all those stupid ideas for stories that sounded great until you re-examined them after a good night's sleep. And ask a diabetic how their brain works when their sugar is off. Here's two more: try reducing the oxygen to the brain and see how you function or maybe the blood flow. Wait, don't really do that. Do I have to throw in my disclaimer again about don't try this at home?
Don't take me at my word. Ask Google. See what kind of results you get.
You're imagination is part of your brain. Your brain is part of your body.
When writers think about ways to improve their creativity, they never think about how they treat their physical brain. It's a very bad mistake.
And the cayenne? It really gets the blood flowing. Blood carries oxygen and sugar to the brain. Your brain really likes that. A happy brain makes it a lot easier to be creative.
Thursday, March 01, 2012
The part where I say, "This is what I do and why, and here are my experiences with this approach." I'm not a doctor, so I'm not giving any of you medical advice. I'm not asking you to try these juices. I'm not asking your relatives or your children to try them.
Is it safe to talk yet?
Okay, then I'm saying it outright. Don't any of you try this. You might be allergic to what's in this drink. So don't do it. The earth might be allergic to you drinking this. Ask your doctor for medical advice before doing this, call the EPA and OSHA if you have any concerns it might hurt the environment and you might alert Homeland Security if you think drinking what I'm about to tell you might cause a mass panic.
We're clear on this, right? Don't do this. I do it. Don't you do it. Any of you.
What I do is take 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and dissolve it in a cup of very warm water.
One hour before I sit down to write, I stir it up again to make sure everything is dissolved. Then I drink it pretty much straight down. Sometimes it takes me two or three gulps, but I like to get it over with all at once.
Then I feel the heat. My blood starts to flow. My brain kicks in and asks what the hell I'm doing.
So what am I doing and why am I doing it?
There's a reason for it, see if you can guess what it is.