Do Something Different

      

   

     

If you saw the 2018 Sony Pictures production, Searching, starring John Cho and directed by Aneesh Chaganty (who also co-wrote the film with Sev Ohanian), you know it had an innovative approach to telling a story: using the screens of smartphones and computers. Let’s face it—a movie about a man searching for his missing daughter sounds pretty common right? (CoughcoughTakencoughcough) But with this film, the filmmakers subverted convention by telling the story a different way.

While this format might not be everyone’s

it is a unique way of telling a story.

Sometimes, you have to


to breathe new life into a genre.

I can’t help thinking of novels in verse or even epistolary novels (where a story is told through letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, emails, or even tweets). These formats are great ways to experience the beauty and variety of storytelling.

What is the most unusual format you’ve seen someone use to tell a story or to get a message across? What intrigued you about that format? How did it inspire you to try something different (if it did)? While you think about that, check this out. This is a wrapper from a Halls Breezers throat lozenge. I love that the company included a pep talk on each wrapper.

   

A great video on the production of Searching can be found here at the Lessons from the Screenplay YouTube channel. It has spoilers though.

Searching movie poster from flickeringmyth.com. Envelope gif from figuringitouted.blogspot.com. Cup of tea from worldartsme.com. Halls Breezers image from gethalls.com/breezers. Other photos and screenshots by L. Marie.

Armed and Dangerous

See this?

This is a sword. It might not look like it, but it is. I use it to slay the elements.

You hear that, Winter??? You’ve thrown what you got at me. Minus 11-degree temperatures with -20 windchill. Snow falling every day. Freezing rain on top of that some days. Days when I have to scrape snow and ice off the car sometimes two or three times a day. But you will not get me down! No, no, no! You. Will. Not. Break. Meeeeeeeeeeeee!

This is my fighter pack.

Yes, that is a cup from Starbucks. It is a hot mocha. Got my sword and my gloves. And my lemon loaf cake. And I’ve got books to keep me warm. (And soft blankets.)

   

See these? My babies! I call the one on the left Darth Vader. And the one on the right has a space helmet vibe. How apt that these are space heaters.

   

Don’t let this sunny day fool you. It got to ten above (-12 Celsius) that day and sixteen on Sunday. The forecast calls for more below zero weather with snow.

   

Ha ha, Winter! You think you’ll break me. Think again!

Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? It hammers at you, crusts you over in disillusionment with its icy winds.

So I bought this the other day.

It may not look like much. But the title on the package says something to me. Not to the surface me, but to the bone-deep me that needs a good word every now and then. It reminds me to keep dreaming even through the crusty moments. Dream big dreams, girl. Not just dreams of warm, sunny days to avoid giving in to the winter blahs but dreams that say cold, dark days like this won’t last forever. That there’s something beyond those midnight blue-hued days where you’re kicking icicles off your car. Off your heart.

Yeah, I know. Sometimes the iceberg of life is way too much for your little boat. And my little pep talk, with its mixed metaphors, is only a tiny splotch of Sunshine Yellow paint on your Great Wall of Despair. I don’t want to make light of anyone else’s pain. This pep talk is really to remind me to keep going, even when I don’t want to.

So, Winter, you won’t have the last laugh! Not on my watch.

Oh yes, Winter. I’m armed and dangerous. Don’t mess with me.

Even Kitty has a found a friend during the cold days. Though I don’t think this poor cat knows what she’s gotten herself into.

Photos by L. Marie.

Perfectly Plated

I watch a lot of YouTube videos (like the Tasty and BuzzFeed Channels) and Netflix shows (The Great British Baking Show) on cooking. You’d think I would be a culinary expert by now. Naw. I’m still just an average cook.

        

When I was a kid, my parents had insisted that I learn to cook. I don’t mean throwing a frozen dinner into the microwave or oven. I mean baking a chicken, preparing rice, sautéing onions, baking biscuits—that sort of thing.

For my friends in Europe, I mean this type of biscuit.

Not this.

But I’ve never been very innovative in the kitchen. Not like my sister-in-law, who loves to experiment. (I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t worry.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I watch a lot of videos featuring culinary artists—people who went to school to master the art of food preparation. Other than the taste of a dish, nothing showcases a chef’s artistry like a well-plated meal. What do I mean by that?

According to an article entitled, “A Basic Guide to Food Presentation” at Webstaurantstore.com (click here for it):

People eat with their eyes, and creative and thoughtful plating enhances both the look and taste of your food. Focusing on presentation also allows chefs to showcase their creations and demonstrate to guests that they’re getting their money’s worth.

The article from which that quote came from has great tips on color and contrast, choosing the right plate, etc. That’s why you’ll sometimes see chocolate drizzled on a dessert plate, or your entrée artfully presented with the vegetables tucked up nicely. (Unlike what you see in the photo below.)

My usual idea of plating. Get your grub on, y’all.

  

The real deal done by experts

I love that chefs go the extra mile to make a dining experience special and to make food preparation an art form. While I’m unlikely to drizzle chocolate on a plate anytime soon (I’d much rather drizzle it in my mouth), I am inspired to go the extra mile in what I write.

I’m not sure what the literary equivalent of plating might be. Perhaps it starts with a resolve to write the best piece you can.

Speaking of resolutions, onto the winner of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s novel Dirt Cheap, which was discussed in this guest post.

        

The winner, according to the lovely random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Congratulations, Laura! Please comment below to confirm!

Henry’s idea of plating—just candy in a bag, baby! (I hear you, Henry!)

Pillsbury biscuits from betterbatter.org. Tea biscuits from clipartkid.com. Tasty YouTube logo from YouTube. BuzzFeed logo from siliconangle.com. Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Plated desserts found on Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

It’s Puzzling

I can thank Jill Weatherholt for my new puzzle obsession.

Actually, it’s not a new obsession—more like an awakened obsession. I used to love putting jigsaw puzzles together when I was a kid. Back then, I gravitated to the 1000-piece puzzles, particularly if they had an image by artist Charles Wysocki. There was something comforting about his paintings—these visions of simpler times.

One of Charles Wysocki’s paintings turned puzzle

I breezed through Target the other day and happened upon some puzzles made with images of his paintings. They brought back memories of many autumn days of my childhood and the large piece of cardboard on which I would assemble my puzzles. But that day in Target, I selected a puzzle with a different image—one that reminded me of summer. (Yes, in the photo above and below, those are ice cream scoops.)

I’m an edge builder. I gather all of the pieces of the edge and put those together. With that framework, I work the rest of the puzzle. What is your strategy for putting jigsaw puzzles together?

I’m sort of the same way as a novel writer. By “sort of,” I mean that I only partially work on an outline—the framework of a story. I’m a hybrid writer—pantser and plotter. I usually work through some of the plot off the bat. But the rest comes as I write. Still, I find it helpful to know the boundaries of the story—what pieces need to be there and how they might fit. Like with my main character. I have to know who I am writing about.

I ask myself: Who are her

Friends?

Enemies?

Family and extended family?

Pets?

How will any relationship conflicts work thematically with my main character’s desires? How much of her back story will I include? How is the setting emphasized? These (character, setting, plot) are the puzzle pieces that I and other novelists sift through as we draft.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t coin the usage of the puzzle metaphor in regard to writing. But as I work on a puzzle and a novel (not at the same time of course), I can’t help being reminded of the connection between the two.

The puzzle metaphor sounds nice and neat, doesn’t it? But if you’ve worked on a book, you know that writing is often messy. So the puzzle metaphor is apt in another way: we’re puzzled about how we’re going to take our mess—all of those pieces we come up with—and make a cohesive whole out of it. As with many difficult puzzles, we often have to roll up our sleeves to solve them. But the satisfaction of seeing the whole puzzle put together is worth it! (And no, I didn’t finish the puzzle above. Look at the first photo. That is what the finished puzzle is supposed to look like. 😀 😁)

Charles Wysocki puzzle from puzzlewarehouse.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Shopkins Shoppie dolls and Apple Blossom by Moose Toys. Black Panther figure by Funko. Shuri action figure by Hasbro.

Many Moms

Hope all you moms out there had a happy Mother’s Day! I couldn’t be with my mom on the day. But I sent her something I crocheted to say, “I love you. Thank you for being my mom.”

Orchids come out to play on Mother’s Day.

While at the craft store last week (I’m at the craft store at least three times a week), a woman said to me, “Are you a mother? Hope you have a happy Mother’s Day.”

I told her I was not a mom. She looked stunned and said, “Oh I just thought you were since most women are mothers.” I didn’t explain to her that I couldn’t have children. But as I walked to my car, I felt as I had failed somehow, since I couldn’t do something “most women” could do.

Don’t worry. I mentally slapped myself the moment I opened my car door. The act of opening the door was a reminder of how easily I could open the door to depression simply because of what someone said. I’ve done that too many times before.

So instead, I gave thanks for my mother, grandmothers (now deceased), sisters-in-laws, mothers of my sisters-in-law, friends, and the women who have been like mothers to me. Like my mother’s best friend, who lived several houses away on the block I grew up on in Chicago. She was the kind of neighbor who cared enough to correct me when I did something wrong.

Or like my fifth-grade teacher, who worked me harder than any teacher I’d had up till then, because she saw potential in me.

I think of my aunt who emails to see how I’m doing every once in a while. She doesn’t have children either, by the way.

Moms come in so many types besides biological. I think of writer friends who are “manuscript moms.” They helped me raise good manuscripts by beta reading them, giving helpful suggestions for changing them, and by reminding me of what’s good about them. And I have non-writer friends who mother me by inviting me to their homes for dinner or who send tea or other goodies to me in the mail.

But I also can’t forget that holidays like this can be difficult sometimes. One of my grandmothers died right before Mother’s Day years ago. So, my family attended a funeral instead of celebrating Mother’s Day. I can’t approach a Mother’s Day without thinking of her. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve lost a parent or a child or couldn’t have children at all. If so, perhaps Mother’s Day is a struggle for you too. Just know you’re not alone in that.

When you think of Mother’s Day, who are you thankful for? Maybe you don’t have a mom or a significant female in your life, but are thankful for your dad or some other surrogate parent. Feel free to comment below.

These friends (Olive, Barbie, and Babette) have made a pact to spend Mother’s Day together. Though single (and yes, happy in their singleness) and without children (except for those they babysit), they’re surrogate moms and mentors to others.

Photos by L. Marie.

How Do You Know You’re in the Flow?

Ever have a time when you were writing or doing something else creative, and you just couldn’t stop? Words or ideas poured out of you, and you had to implement them. We call this a state of flow. (And yes, I wrote a post about this five years ago. I’m taking a different angle on it this time.)

According to Wikipedia,

[F]low, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, formerly the head of psychology at the University of Chicago and currently the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, is known for his study on flow. Flow, according to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, is also known as ecstasy. And no, I’m not talking about drugs here, though in his 2004 TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi explained that “ecstasy is essentially a stepping into an alternative reality.” You’re so in the zone, it’s like you’re watching yourself create. You don’t notice anything else—hunger, weariness, etc. Csikszentmihalyi added, “[T]his automatic, spontaneous process . . . can only happen to someone who is very well trained and who has developed technique.”

I asked several writers how they know they’re in a state of flow.

Steve Bramucci, author of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! (look for his next book this October) and managing editor over at Uproxx, said,

I recognize flow when I start to think, “This is brilliant! Have I accidentally stolen it from someone else? It’s too good of an idea NOT to have been written already! I must’ve stolen it! I’m such a hack!” At which point I google the idea furiously and, when I find it’s not stolen, I get this excited/thrilled buzzy feeling. Something akin to double fisting caffeine and green juice after a 6 am surf. I get tingly and overly emotional and write and write and write—only taking breaks to text my wife things like, “I really think I was destined to be a writer! I believe in my stories! I promise you this project will bring us financial security!” etc. If that all sounds insufferable, I’m sure it is. But it’s my process. It’s not what ends up on the page; insufferable processes can often lead to positive results.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of novels for young adults and adults, said,

It’s when I feel that I’m in the time and place along with my characters, hearing them speak, feeling the same things they do, following them as they move.

Laura Sibson, a young adult and middle grade author (look for her young adult novel debut in 2019), had this to say:

When drafting, I know that I’m in a state of flow when I’m not tempted to look at the clock or check email or social media. My environment drops away in the sense that I’m not super-aware of what’s happening around me. In those moments, I’m fully immersed in my story world and it feels like the real world. I can see it as clearly as I see the scenery outside my window.

S. K. Van Zandt, another middle grade and young adult author, said,

For me, it’s the unstuck feeling. It’s picturing a scene in my mind, the “what happens next,” and the words are just there, as opposed to seeing the scene and staring at the computer. I think the ability to get (and stay) “in the zone” has everything to do with knowing your characters and story well.

Jill Weatherholt, author of Second Chance Romance (look for her next book this July) and romance short stories, said this:

When I feel what’s happening to my characters so deeply that I’m moved emotionally and I become completely oblivious to my surroundings, I know I’m in a state of flow.

Charles Yallowitz, author of Warlord of the Forgotten Age and other books in the Legends of Windemere series, put it this way:

I never really thought about being in a state of flow. I’m usually just writing along until I stop. So it’s almost like a trance.

How do you know you’re going with the flow when you work?

If you want to check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk:

Kirstea, frazzled as always lately, took flow to a whole different level when she allowed her teacup to overflow.

My Little Pony Pinkie Pie and chicken figures by Hasbro. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys. Photos by L. Marie.

Snow, Snow, Slow Your Roll

I’m sitting here as I write this, gazing out of the window at a gray-blue sky. We’ve had day after day after day after day of snowfall. And more is on the way, according to my brother and sister-in-law, who within hours of each other, texted the happy news to me.

   

Yeah, I know. That’s what winter is all about, Charlie Brown. Snow falls. Temperatures drop.

   

Anyway, I was complaining to Barbie about this recently. She’s a good listener. Even put down her magazine and gave me her full attention. I was explaining how the snowfall has caused me to slow down while driving.

She gave me a look as if to say, “Like that’s a bad thing?” Snow-Fro the Shoppet also concurred. She would. She was made for winter.

I like to zip around town, catching every green light, making good time, getting to my destination quickly. But zipping down a road, heedless of what the conditions are like, is how accidents happen. Having had my share of winter accidents, I learned the value of taking it slow. When you live with snow and ice, you adjust to the pace of the season.

Revision is that way. I’m revising a young adult fantasy novel for probably the twelfth time. I want to zip through it, like I zip down the street when the roads are ice free. But that’s what I did before. And I’ve discovered several things I missed in the earlier revisions. Like the gaps in logic or faulty descriptions I constantly find as I read the chapters.

My revision cave, where, yes, crocheting and video watching also occur

One chapter took me two days to work through. Two. Days. So, no matter how hard it’s been and how long it’s taking, I need to give myself permission to keep at it. “Slow your roll, L.,” I remind myself.

Winter is here in all of its messy glory. Just like revision. I’m trying to be present in the moment and present on the page in this season of change.

The sun is out, like a kiss of heaven. Though the snow lingers and threatens, I can’t help believing that I can weather the snow and the revision.

   

Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel. Snow-Fro and Kissy Boo Shoppets and Fluffy Snowball and Terri Tennis Ball Shopkins are registered trademarks of Moose Toys. Photos by L. Marie.