You “Knead” to Try Anyway

Recently, my nephew got me hooked on The Great British Baking Show, which I watch through Netflix. Have you seen it? This show has been on for years, and I just learned about it. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it involves amateur British bakers competing in three baking challenges each week.

Their efforts, at least in season 1, were judged by Mary Berry, who writes cookbooks, and Paul Hollywood, a well-known chef. I wasn’t familiar with either person. They both frighten me. Paul has a piercing stare. Mary Berry makes me think of the “prunes and prisms” comment of Mrs. General in Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens.

The judges and hosts (Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc) of The Great British Baking Show

Each week, one person is voted off. Standard reality TV stuff. Twelve started the show. I’ve watched several episodes of season 1, so I’ve seen several people voted off.   

If you decide to watch the show, I would advise you to have some baked goods on hand. Otherwise you’ll be extremely hungry.

What I love about the show is the fact that the bakers are told to bake something within a time limit, but aren’t given any other instructions. Like one week, they were told to make a Swiss roll. Another week, they had to make a “self-saucing pudding.” I would have stood there, staring stupidly at the hosts. But the bakers rose to each challenge using their creativity.

One week, one of the bakers threw a slight temper tantrum after a mishap with his dessert. Instead of showing the judges what he had, he tossed his dessert in the garbage, rather than present something flawed. The others watched, horrified, as he stalked away.

Actually, I can see why he did that. The judges never hesitate to tell the bakers what’s wrong with their creations. “This is a mess.” “This tastes burnt.” “You should have left it in five more minutes.” But because the bakers love to bake (and love to be on the show), they willingly put themselves out there.

I can’t help thinking of the process of writing. A writer sits down to write without being given any instructions. Oh, there are tips here and there on world building and creating memorable characters. But a tip can’t really guarantee that a book, a screenplay, or a poem will turn out well. After completing the work, he or she then might show the work to a beta reader or an agent or an editor and run the risk of scathing criticism. But a writer puts himself/herself out there, hoping someone will love his/her creation.

Have you ever thought about writing something totally outside of your comfort zone—like many of the challenges the bakers faced on The Great British Baking Show? You might fail or you might succeed. But does failure mean you shouldn’t try, even if you’re not sure about what you’re doing?

Like the baker who threw away his presentation, I’ve thrown away whole novels, because I thought their flaws were too great to fix. But with one novel at least, I’d like to start over with new characters. I still like the basic idea of the novel.

Watching The Great British Baking Show reminds me of the value of taking risks and trying something new, instead of always playing it safe. Even if I don’t exactly know how to do something, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try it.

How about you? Facing a challenge? What will you do?

Kitty thinks she could have been a contender on The Great British Baking Show. For obvious reasons.


Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Judges and hosts photo from pbs.org. Cake images from badartbistro.com. Pie image from clipartbest.com. Swiss roll from youtube.com. Composition book from dreamstime.com.

A Crisis Point

This past weekend I went with some friends—Me, Myself, and I—to see Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thoroughly loved it.

There’s a scene in it where the hero, Peter Parker, reaches a crisis. That’s not exactly a spoiler. If you know the hero’s journey model, you know that a hero usually goes through a crisis before the end of the story. I have to quote a line here from the movie in order for the point I wish to make in this post to make sense. So, if you don’t want spoilers of any kind, stop reading at the bold and start back up again at the next bold point.

⭐ SPOILERS!!! ⭐

After Peter messes up so badly that he has to get help from Iron Man, Iron Man decides to take back the suit he had given Spider-Man to use while fighting crime. Peter declares, “I am nothing without this suit.” The sign of someone in crisis.

⭐ END SPOILERS!!! ⭐

In The Writer’s Journey—Christopher Vogler’s look at mythic structure as discussed in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces—Vogler talked about the ordeal or crisis a hero faces. This is part of the hero’s rebirth.

A crisis is defined by Webster’s as “the point in a story or drama at which hostile forces are in the tensest state of opposition.” We also speak of a crisis in an illness: a point, perhaps a high spike of fever, after which the patient either gets worse or begins to recover. The message: Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. An Ordeal crisis, however frightening to the hero, is sometimes the only way to recovery or victory. (Vogler 161)

I teared up at the scene from Spider-Man that I mentioned earlier, because it hit close to home. For most of my life, I’ve been writing stories and other things. But lately, I haven’t been able to write much at all. Anything I attempted seemed strained. Even writing a blog post has been difficult. Most of my friends are busy with their books. But I got nothin’. Some of this is due to the steadily mounting rejections I’ve received for my fiction books or criticism I’ve received for nonfiction work. But to be honest, it’s mostly due to self-doubt—feeling like a failure. So, I freeze up every time I think of writing anything—even this post, which took twice as long as posts usually take.

“I’m nothing without writing,” I found myself declaring. I had reached a crisis.

I knew I had two choices: (1) to believe that declaration and continue to go on a downward spiral; (2) to get up again and find out what’s really true about myself.

After some soul searching, I got up. Instead of writing, I’ve been doing other things. Like making miniature rooms out of paper and fabric. (Um, I’ve always been a little quirky.) Like taking photographs of flowers. Like crocheting. Like hanging out with friends. Like watching great movies. Like babysitting. Like taking walks and enjoying the wind on my face.

    

I think you already know by now that what I’d believed about being nothing without writing wasn’t true. I’m more than what I do or don’t do. I’m still who I am—me, warts and all. Life will go on, whether I put pen to paper ever again or not.

I’m reminded of the phoenix and how it had to die in order to be reborn. This season of my life has been a kind of death and rebirth. Old as I am, I still needed to be reborn; still needed to see life anew.

Who am I? I’m L. Marie. Daughter. Sister. Friend. And right now, that’s enough.

Is it me, or do you see a face in this tree, like a person saying, “Ooo”?

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

Spider-Man: Homecoming movie poster from heyuguys.com. Phoenix image from clker.com. Photos by L. Marie.

Finding Dory in You (and Me)

If you saw Finding Nemo (2003) and the sequel Finding Dory (2016), you know that Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is a blue tang with short-term memory loss. In the first movie, she accompanied a clownfish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) on an impossible journey. In the sequel, she went on yet another impossible journey that I won’t spoil here.

    

I thought about Dory recently, because I acquired this Dory vinyl figure.

Dory had some of the funniest lines in Finding Nemo. Though her character was endearing, I found her a little annoying, because she would rush off without thinking through anything. That aspect didn’t change in Finding Dory.

On the Dory wiki, I found this description

[H]er optimism proves an invaluable quality to help overcome the impossible. To Dory, the glass is always half-full.

Marlin, the doubtful dad ruled by fear, is pretty much her opposite. While Dory’s motto could be, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” a good one for Marlin is, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”—Murphy’s law. I can relate to that.

I’m like Marlin—cautious to nth degree. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. After all, some of the greatest achievements come through taking a risk.

Dory knew that. She would rush into action, never once doubting that she could accomplish what she set out to do.

In Finding Dory, two characters in trouble asked each other, “What would Dory do?” They admired Dory’s ability to think outside the box and persevere through incredible obstacles.

I have to admit that Dory’s can-do spirit annoyed me at times. But if I’m honest, I have to say I’m not really annoyed with her. I’m annoyed with myself. Can do? It only takes one rejection to turn my can do into “I guess I can’t,” which leads to “Nope. Not trying that again.”

But Dory never met a challenge she didn’t accept.

With Independence Day coming up on Tuesday, I can’t help thinking of the risks taken and the battles fought to bring about this independence. What would Dory do? She would have taken any risk to be free.

So it’s time for me to shed my Marlin approach to life. Time for me to turn the “Not trying that again” into “You know? I think I will.”

What about you? Do you think of yourself as Dory—can do, will do? Or Marlin—don’t try and you won’t fail? Or are you like Nemo—ready to do whatever Dory does? Or maybe you’re like Becky—just carrying a bucket ’cause somebody asked you to? (See the movie if you’re wondering who Becky is.)

Maybe, like me, you’re inspired to find the Dory in you.

(Having internet problems right now, so I will sign off for now.)

A great article on blue tangs: http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/06/03/480556852/please-lets-not-find-dory

Finding Nemo poster from funny-pictures.picphotos.net. Finding Dory poster from disneymovieslist.com. Becky from ohmydisney.com. Marlin from beafunmum.com. Dory vinyl figure photos by L. Marie.

Two Articles—One Connection

Last week, I read two online posts I hadn’t realized had a connection until a friend pointed it out. Here are the links to both:

http://writerunboxed.com/2017/06/19/heartened-by-wonder-woman-the-case-for-sincere-storytelling/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-ya-gets-wrong-about-teenagers-from-a-teen_us_594a8e4de4b062254f3a5a94

The first post included a quote by the director of Wonder WomanPatty Jenkins:

I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied from sincerity, real sincerity, because we feel like we have to wink at the audience because it’s what kids like.

Before I reveal the quote from the HuffPost article, let me ask you a question: What do you think a typical teen is like? Is she cool and confident—queen of her domain?

Or is she awkward, shy, hopeful?

That was a trick question. Is there really a “typical” teen—one that represents every teen on the planet? Nope. With that in mind, here’s the quote from the second post:

[N]ot all teens are adorable, wise-cracking, defiant, sarcastic little squirts. . . . Most of us teens are awkward and spend bus rides thinking up comebacks for arguments that we lost hours ago.

In other words, many real teens are not as cynical as those found in fiction books. Many are sincere—the connector to the Wonder Woman post.

Both posts fed something within me. I’ve seen Wonder Woman twice at the theater. The first post helped me realize what I especially love about the movie: the sincerity of the main character. Oh, she kicks butt with great skill. But (hee hee) she has a genuine interest in helping others.

The second post reminds me of teens I know. Sure, they sometimes grumble about what’s boring. (Read the post above, and you’ll see what this teen finds boring.) But they also talk about what they want to do to make a difference in the world. They have hope. This brings to mind something else the teen author of the above post said

I have something to say that may shock an inexperienced YA writer: I do not automatically and inexplicably hate any of my classmates. . . . In my school, most people like each other!

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I hear you caution. “What about all those teens who bully other teens or shoot those who bullied them?”

Please note that the teen who wrote the above article mentioned her school, not all schools. I also was bullied as a teen back in the day when everybody had a stegosaurus for a pet. I also know teens today who have been bullied. But there are many, many teens who don’t bully others or shoot them.

Also, not every teen has the expectation that in order for a movie to succeed in entertaining him or her, the main character has to be cynical—always ready with an apt, sarcastic quip. They can appreciate sincerity. Men too, if you took note of the author of the first article.

Both posts remind me of what I love: writing about people who aren’t sure of themselves; who get scared or feel lonely and tongue-tied. And yes, some of these individuals are antagonists who harm others because of the pain they feel inside. But they aren’t the quipping sort. In their own way, they are sincere.

Please don’t get me wrong. I appreciate good sarcasm. I’m just not the kind of clever writer who can produce it with aplomb. I’m too earnest and awkward to be convincing.

So lately, I’ve been tempted to give up writing fiction, feeling pushed aside in a world craving something other than what I’ve been writing. But these posts give me hope. They remind me that maybe someone is looking for what I’m writing.

Patty Jenkins photo from slashfilms.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Macy Macaron (fourth photo) and Gemma Stone (third photo) are Shopkins Shoppie dolls by Moose Toys.

Make ’Em Feel Something

A book I’ve been slowly going through these days is a writer’s craft book called The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. If you know anything about Donald Maass, you know that he’s a literary agent who has read thousands of manuscripts. He’s also written other craft books.

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Over the years I also have reviewed for publishers and other venues more manuscripts than I can count. But sometimes I found myself puzzling over why a manuscript didn’t work for me. Right off the bat, Maass’s book gave me insight with this quote:

When a plot resolves, readers are satisfied, but what they remember of a novel is what they felt while reading it. (Maass 4)

Many times, I did not feel anything while reading a manuscript. Even stellar writing, Maass mentions, can be a turnoff if a reader does not feel anything while reading a story. So the point of Maass’s book is to help writers create the kind of stories that cause readers to experience the journey—not just read about it. In other words, the kind of stories that make readers feel something.

Part of that experience is fostered through helping to immerse a reader in a character’s emotional journey. Have you ever had a hard time writing an emotional scene? I have. Usually while drafting, I only scratch the surface, especially if a character feels a complex array of emotions. Consider how you felt on an extremely emotional day.

emotions

So, writing emotional content does not come naturally to me. But Maass cautioned

While it’s fine to fill pages with what is natural and easy for you, it’s also critical to get comfortable writing what isn’t natural and easy. (74)

I want to get better at writing emotional scenes. This means I might have to rewrite a scene over and over until I break through the wall of resistance within myself.

Something else that inspired me to get better at writing emotional content is a quote from another book I’m reading. In one of the forewords to The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie, written by Tracey Miller-Zarneke, director Chris McKay and producers Dan Lin, Phil Lord, and Chris Miller wrote

When assembling these [LEGO] movies from the beginning, we always start with an emotional question to explore over the course of the story.

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They actually asked more than one question to shape their main character’s emotional arc. One of these questions was a what-if question. (I won’t share those questions, since doing so would involve a spoiler.) Sure, the filmmakers want to entertain people with their production. But also they want people to feel what the character feels along the way. This inspires me to carefully consider the what-if questions that are the basis for my character’s emotional journey.

the-lego-batman-movie-2017

How do you feel when you have to write scenes with high emotional content? Is it easy for you? Hard? If the latter, what do you do to press onward?

If you don’t write stories, consider the last book you read that really moved you. Why do you think it did?

Maass, Donald. The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2016.

Miller-Zarneke, Tracey. The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie. New York: DK/Penguin-Random House, 2017.

The LEGO® Batman Movie poster from xemeston.ir. Emotions image from taringa.net.

Writing Tips from Pokémon Sun and Moon

If you read this post, you’ll recall my mentioning that I’d almost finished this post. Well, here it is, finally. Bullet undodged.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s a joke title if ever I heard one. Why doesn’t she just get to the giveaway winner already? Patience, my young padawan. That will come in time.

In case you’re wondering (even if you aren’t, I’m still going to tell you), Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon are two versions of the same videogame developed by Game Freak for the Nintendo 3DS—one of the many ways Nintendo celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Pokémon franchise in 2016. I have both. Each game has its own variations.

pokemon-sun-and-moon

Because of the popularity of Pokémon Go, even if you didn’t play it, you’re probably familiar with the concept of catching Pokémon to collect and train.

Starter Pokémon

Starter Pokémon

Essentially the game is a hero’s journey. The hero—you—leave home and battle several threshold guardians (friends, island captains, and kuhunas) in order to reach your goal—becoming the world champion Pokémon trainer.

pokemonsun4  img_4181

One of the most fun things about the game is that as your character explores, he or she finds useful items either on the ground, or they’re given to your character by others in the game. These items help your Pokémon grow stronger, which is your main goal as a trainer. But knowing which ones to use at different points in the game is part of a winning strategy.

pokemon-sun-and-moon-tm-jpg-optimal

Videogamers love clues that can help them figure out how to succeed in the game. So what does this have to do with writing? Well, consider the fact that readers also like to be successful. They like clues that help them make predictions about a story’s outcome. Which brings me to writing tip number 1: Foreshadowing is a way of cluing the reader in on what’s upcoming. A character in your story might say something that triggers an “ah-ha” moment in the reader and helps him or her anticipate what could happen later on. So, foreshadowing is how you help a reader win in the game of reading.

Tip number 2 probably goes without saying. But I’ll say it anyway. Make each threshold increasingly difficult to help your characters grow. This is what’s known as upping the ante or raising the stakes. As you start off Pokémon Sun or Moon, the first threshold guardian is challenging, but far less challenging than the ones later in the game. But at each level, your Pokémon are growing stronger. By the time you reach the end—the final five trainers—your Pokémon should be at a level where they are able to successfully defeat the five. So, overcoming increasingly difficult obstacles makes your characters grow.

Tip number 3 goes with the second tip: Make your antagonist three dimensional. Duh, right? A three-dimensional antagonist As you play Pokémon Sun or Moon, you’ll run across a surly kid named Gladion who demands to battle you every now and then. He’s often rude to you. But he’s not just a bully. Gladion has a very poignant back story and an interesting motivation, which you learn during the course of the game. Knowing his story helps you begin to understand what makes this kid tick and even empathize with him. And that’s the reaction you want from a reader. You want them to care about your antagonist, even if he or she is horrible to your protagonist.

pokemon-sun-moon-trailer-screenshot-12Okay, I’ve lectured you enough. If you read the interview with Andy Murray (click here for that), you know I’m giving away a copy of Mythos, the volume in which Andy has two short stories. His publisher, Michael Kobernus, kindly offered an ebook of Folklore, book 1 of the Northlore series. Too cool for school!

Andy Photo    image

coverreveal

The winner of both of those books is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congratulations, Charles! Please comment below to confirm, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide your snail mail address and the email address you use with Amazon. I’ll forward the latter to the publisher for the Folklore giveaway. Thank you to all who commented.

Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon logos from segmentnext.com. Starter Pokemon image from inthegame.nl. Gladion image from capsulecomputers.com. Obtaining TM image from gamerant.com. Hau image from usgamer.net. Professor Kukui photo by L. Marie. Book covers from Nordland Publishing.

The View in the Darkness

img_3709I haven’t wanted to write this post, so rather than talk myself out of it, here goes.

I’ve had the kind of season people describe with idioms like “the bottom dropping out” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop—whoops, there it goes.” In the last few months, my electricity was switched off due to nonpayment. Internet also. The landlord sent polite notices asking for the rent. I often wondered where my next meal was coming from. When you lack money or a job that pays regularly, you can expect this sort of thing to happen.

You can also expect to field a lot of advice from well-meaning people, who assume you’ve lost control of your life and need them to step in to fix it. “You should apply for this job,” I’ve been told so often, that if I had a dollar for every time I heard it, I could buy real estate.

Oh, I have applied for many jobs. Case in point, I applied for an office manager job at a nearby college a couple of months ago. I had to take four tests for that. I think I broke a record for how low I scored on the Windows Excel test. (The last version of Excel I had was the 2003 version.) Needless to say, I did not get that job.

Anyway, not long after that, a friend and I were headed into a grocery store (a store known for their gelato section, where you can buy a small cup for $1.25) for our bimonthly chat when we spotted a guy who is a friend to both of us.

“What’ve you been up to?” I asked.

“I just got a new job,” he said.

“Oh, where?” I asked.

And then he named the college and the department. Yep. The job I did not get. But I was happy for him. He needed work too.

So yes, I have applied for jobs while using the library’s wifi. (And yes, I applied for a job at that library three times. Didn’t get those jobs.) I networked. I auditioned for writing projects (mentioned in this post here), only to have to wait and wait and wait.

When your lights are off, candles become very precious. Now, I’m not into candles like some of my friends who love the mood they create. So I’ve tended to shove into cabinets the ones I’ve been given. Well, they came in handy this time.

I thought about how the pioneers in the days before electricity were able to do so much without it. I also thought about scenes I’d written in novels where the people had only firelight and a few precious candles to use for light. I totally had the lighting all wrong in my twenty-first century-used-to-electricity mindset.

One thing about being in the dark—you can’t help noticing the shapes of things in shadow. You also tend to appreciate any sliver of light you can find.

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I couldn’t read for long in the dark, even with candles, so I had to turn to my imagination. I told myself stories—something I used to do every night. When had I gotten out of the habit? I’m not sure. This was a nice habit to reclaim.

Anyway, my time in the dark didn’t last long. I received a check for something I can’t really discuss in public, but could tell you a little about in private. The check enabled me to have the lights turned on. And just last week, one of the projects for which I auditioned was finally approved with me as the sole author. And it pays well. 🙂 My landlord will be happy. I have a tight deadline on that one though. But I’m grateful for the work. Want to know something funny? It involves writing stories—a lot of them in fact. One hundred to be precise for kids ages 4-7.

It seems my time in the dark was helpful after all.