ARE YOU WATCHING FOR YOUR SHIP? – Marilyn Armstrong

Are you looking for your writing voice?

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

I was out in Arizona talking to a Blue Corn Navajo lady who made jewelry. She had carefully given me her tribal affiliations and all I had to say was “Eastern European Jewish,” which lacked panache. I don’t seem to have much of an ability to show a lot of dash in casual conversation. Whatever talent I have, it’s more introverted.

Nonetheless, it was a good conversation. I casually said I was ” … waiting for my ship to come in and hoped it had a fortune on board for me.”

She asked me, seriously, whether I’d been out on the docks looking for my ship.

Looking for my ship?

She said “Yes, you have to watch for them. Otherwise, they can pass you by and you’ll never know you missed it.”

Navajo … the sky really does seem bigger.

I’m sure I forget for years at a time…

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What to Read this Weekend

Cage Dunn: Writer, Author, Teller-of-tall-tales

Of course it’s a push  – I want to let you know that Not On The Cards is going free this weekend. Only this weekend. Which means, go there this weekend, rapido, and get it. And if you do get it, please do a review.

There are many reasons I like to see the reviews – and none of them have to do with how it boosts sales (although people keep telling me the only way to get good sales is to have many, many positive reviews – oh, and keep writing).

What I look for is how people respond. I aimed the story at a particular segment of the reading world. When I read the reviews, I can determine whether I shot wide, hit the mark, or … any other options would be a kick to the backside, right? I need to know how it’s received by the…

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Puppyzilla

Butter wouldn’t melt in Hannah’s mouth. A puppy brings such glorious days! These days  she’s settled down. Although she has moments of regression, like stealing tissues from the bin. But we didn’t name her ‘puppyzilla’ for nothing, let me tell you.

This is Hannah… as the puppy from my book, where all her antics brighten the page, including the destruction of my wedding shoes. Glorious puppies, heh?

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Writing is easy, isn’t it?

Have you ever thought, “I could write a better book?” as you read your latest book? If this sounds familiar, it could be a sign you possess the drive to be writer. The question is, do you have the perseverance too?

Writing fiction is like creating fine art. Or like a chef creating a ten course degustation menu. Or like the determined Olympic athlete.

Did the Michelangelo sculpt David in a few months? No. It was 2 years. And he was only 26. So young? Let that be proof … age should never be a barrier to talent. However, does a Michelin star chef say, “I’m going to open a Michelin-starred restaurant,” and overnight expect success? No. The journey can be decades. How about the athlete? Will training an hour a week cut the grade? Will talent be enough? If it is enough, if this does happen, I’m yet to hear of it. Please correct me, if I’m wrong. Although decades of learning is a rule, it’s a rule made to be broken.

Writing too requires more than just “writing”. Everyone was taught to write in school. To express ourselves. And yet, more is required of a fiction writer. More than mere expression. A writer needs to know an endless list in order to craft an entertaining novel. They need to understand basics of grammar, genre, how to flesh out a character (if character driven), how to plot a plot (if plot driven), then there’s things like ‘show-don’t-tell’ (which goes against the grain of the way we were taught in school), subtext, dialogue, point of view, foreshadowing, worldbuilding, conflict, subplots and voice. Just to touch on the major points.

Does this happen quickly? No. Not usually. Don’t get me wrong, all writers need to all shoot for a great novel first go. But writers need to utilise the tools available to them. To learn as fast as they can. Is it an easy apprenticeship? You tell me… talking to fictional characters (in our heads or aloud), battling isolation, forever questioning the crap you’re spewing onto the page (or keyboard) – sometimes for years. Is it worth it?

Who will write the next Harry Potter? Honestly, writers are more likely to sprout pink hair. But that doesn’t mean they can’t try. Someone will. That doesn’t mean a writer should stop writing, shouldn’t believe they’re writing the next Harry Potter (or whatever book you admire). A writer needs to forever learn. A writer needs to write like they’re writing the next Harry Potter. A writer needs to persevere.

For me, that perseverance involves typing with three fingers on my left hand (I’ve improved, it used to be one finger). Next time you want a challenge, try figuring out how you do a capital ‘P’ with one hand, lol! Only a love for writing and a love for creating keeps me on track. May a similar love guide every writer. And next time you think, “I could do better?” Ask yourself, do you possess the perseverance needed to finish that book?

Books are puzzles

Have you ever asked yourself… what makes a good book? What makes you engaged? Everyone is different. We all respond to different things. But, at the root of every good book, we become engaged.

As humans, we’re curious. Ever driven slowly alongside a road accident? We want to see, to know, even if we know it’s none of our business. Because we’re human. Curiosity is ingrained… its in our blood . Some of us are stronger than others, some of us can fight the magnet of morbid curiosity, but only the strong-willed succeed.

As writers we need to satisfy a reader’s curiosity. That doesn’t mean telling readers what’s going on. That’s boring. We need to drop clues. Don’t tell a reader your character is angry, show a reader they are. Let the reader have the satisfaction of deciphering whether or not those ‘flared nostrils’ mean the character is angry. Even better if your dialogue shows anger. Or maybe use subtext and make the ‘flared nostrils’ a contrast to what’s being said. Give the reader even more opportunity to become engaged.

And this ‘line-by-line’ showing is just the tip of the iceberg.

A reader needs hints and questions raised throughout the books they read. I don’t believe genre changes a reader’s basic need. They don’t read for purple prose. They read for enjoyment. To feel. Reveals scattered in a book keep a reader satisfied. However, there needs to be balance. Hints v reveals – it’s not easy to juggle.

I find it easier to imagine I write a giant puzzle. I want a reader to enjoy themselves. To help ensure I do this, I ‘show’ most of the time (I let a reader decipher how a character is reacting), I plant questions so a reader can wonder and I scatter my prose with moments of description that allow a reader to see a picture only they can see. I (hope) I don’t give too much detail. I want a reader to picture what they imagine, but by giving a few details. Not by telling. Not by reciting a list (even if that list is a ‘showing’ list). The ‘showing’ list only manipulates a reader and detracts from their enjoyment. The more a reader has to figure out, the more they should enjoy your book. Think Harry Potter. You can think what you like about J K Rowling’s writing, but her books are popular for a reason. J K Rowling knows how to engage her target audience. I admire that.

In a first draft, writers needs to tell themselves what’s happening. Think of Terry Pratchett’s famous quote. In subsequent drafts, a writer needs to go back and start layering in hints and questions. Add in the showing. This part is the fun bit. This part is where you drop clues for the reader. The more clues, the more a reader should enjoy reading your book. Of course, there are moments when telling is necessary. Again, learning this is a balancing act. It’s all part of the joy of writing. And that should start with entertaining your reader. Of course, not everyone’s goal is to give a reader enjoyment. Writers, ask yourselves, ‘what’s your goal?’

I expect it to take many books to learn every skill out there, and then some. I plan to savour the journey. How about you?

 

Books about locked-in syndrome I’ve read or own

Locked-in syndrome is a rare condition. If you survive the event causing it, then your chances of dying in the first four months are 90%. I’m really, really sorry if that’s doomsday to anyone going through this. However, that’s what the doctors told my family. I’m just quoting the professionals. I wasn’t told anything. Having experienced a brainstem stroke resulting in Locked-In syndrome, I can understand why the doctors tell families this. It damages you’re ability to cough. So eating any kind of food is life threatening.

However, if you’re frantically looking for anything about locked-in syndrome, please know everyone has a different experience. These are a few books available. Click on the picture to follow the link to Amazon:

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This is the leading account of Locked-In syndrome. I’ve tried to get a copy in Australia. I couldn’t. An American friend mailed me a copy. I can’t be sure which countries it’s available in, but it’s not available in Australia.

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Kate is now a doctor, so this is an encouraging perspective.

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This Kate still makes the journey between America and New Zealand.

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Peter is now studying to become a speech pathologist.

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Lastly, my own addition to this illustrious company:

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I wish you the best.

My kind of sleep

Everyone shifts unconsciously in their sleep. Well, those without a disability. But for me? I’m fortunate to sleep in my own bed. No hospital bed. Yet, I have moments where my swallow doesn’t work properly and I wake coughing and spluttering – in the wee hours of the morning. Shane always rushes to sit me up. Oh, how I love waking him at that hour, especially when he has to be up at 6:30am. Not.

I lay on my right side. My kind of shifting involves trying to roll on my back. Even then, I can’t completely lie flat on my back because my butt is stuck in the position for lying on my side. So, lying on my back is often a twisted affair. I never fall asleep like this. For two reasons. 1. If I fall asleep on my back, I wake morbidly weak (even more than normal) and getting off my back requires mammoth effort. I grunt and snort and wake Shane. If you haven’t already guessed, I unintentionally wake him as much as a newborn babe. 2. My swallow can’t keep up with the saliva produced on my back. It’s too much of a choking risk. I only manage around 5 minutes.

Did you know, when you can’t shift your weight you get pressure marks or sores? My skin is soft. That’s lucky, you think. Well, no. It’s a curse. If I wear pyjamas or underwear, I get welts where the creases of clothing were. Itchy as hell. Just on my right side. Half the time, I can’t even reach to scratch. An taunting itch I can’t scratch? Let’s just say, I used to the torment.  My saving Grace? They disappear throughout the day. In time to start all over again.

I worked hard over the course of my hospital stay to advance from a hospital bed to a normal bed. If you want to see how, check out my book here. It’s only $US0.99 for this week. The transition was fresh in my mind when I wrote the book, otherwise I’d share but I bound to forget details now.