You know what I miss? I miss those 2:00 AM hours in the 1970s when I’d get home from my job as a bartender and
immerse myself in my nightly ritual. I’d turn on my Garrrard turn table, unsleeve an album, usually Aretha Franklin’s ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’ – you thought that was a Carol King song didn’t you? Well, she wrote it but it was originally written for Aretha. Anyway, then I’d pour a glass of Chardonnay, light a cigarette – yes, I smoked then – sit back and listen to the crackle of the diamond needle as it tripped the tracks, scraping the vinyl waves in search of her soulful words. I miss that sound.
“Lookin’ out on the mornin’ rain I used to feel so uninspired….facin’ another day made me feel so tired….you are the key to my peace of mind….when my soul was in the lost and found….” Lines like that stirred my damaged heart and blue soul. I’d take off my hoop earrings, slip off my platform shoes, prop my feet up, inhale what then was the seductive taste and aroma of cigarette smoke, drink in her voice, those heartrending words, the comforting wine and commiserate with my female counterparts in the stillness of my two room flat – often in front of my art easel; an oil painting I could never finish staring back at me.
The line, ‘when my soul was in the lost and found’ hit home because that was how I felt. There was no one making me feel like a natural woman, but I longed for that, for him, whoever he would be. The 1970s were a lonely time full of heartache, foxy nightlife and cunning men, shadows that when the sun rose withered back into the cracks from which they came. There was nothing in my day life worth the morning sun, so it was in those wee hours when I examined my soul so lost in the hope of being found.
Aretha’s song touched me when she sang it, and it affected me again when Carol King serenaded every American woman with her own words that became an anthem of sorts for my generation.
As much as I felt my life was dead end when I was a wise twenty-three year old, just knowing someone out there understood and had gone through what I was going through lifted my spirits in those lonesome hours between nightlife and sunrise.
Some thirty-years later I was thrilled to see Carole King live, at a shareholders meeting for a company in which I had purchased stock with a small amount of hard earned money. She sang, of course, You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman, and as I sat there, a happily married woman and a (minor, with a capital M) shareholder, I smiled at my road traveled and was again warmed by the words that helped me keep moving forward and guided to me to the discovery of the strong ‘natural woman’ within. It was a moment for me, a 20-20 hindsight thing where I felt like lighting a cigarette (though I hadn’t smoked in thirty-plus-years), pouring a glass of wine and hearing a real vinyl recording of my timeless anthem.
Instead, I settled for a latte and an autograph.
If I were to write a memoir, that would be what they call a ‘memoir moment’. What are your memoir moments? What were you doing? What were the smells, sounds, feelings? Go way back in time and pick one. Then write it, honestly and with all senses. Be brave. Expose yourself. Happy writing.
Cool, my #Author / #writing instructor #interview w/@EdmondsCC is out, have a looksee…
Types of Heroes
(Adapted from Chris Vogler, 1999, pp. 41–44)
What kind of hero are you writing?
Willing, active, gung-ho heroes: (Tarzan, King Arthur, Luke Skywalker, Wonder-woman)
- committed to the adventure
- without doubts
- always bravely going ahead
Unwilling heroes: (Frodo Baggins, Spiderman, Han Solo)
- full of doubts
- needing to be motivated or pushed into the adventure by an outside force
- usually change at some point and become committed to the adventure
Anti-heroes: (Billy the Kid, Jack Sparo, “Bride” from Kill Bill)
- specialised kind of hero
- may be outlaws or villains from the point of view of society
- audience is in sympathy with them
- they may win in the end over society’s corruption
Tragic heroes: (Darth Vader, Brutus)
- flawed heroes
- never overcome their inner demons
- brought down and destroyed by inner demons
- may be charming
- their flaw wins in the end
Group-oriented heroes: (Nemo, Simba)
- are a part of society at the beginning
- journey takes them to unknown land far from home
- separate from group – have lone adventure in the wilderness away from the group
which they eventually rejoin
Loner heroes: (Indiana Jones, Incredible Hulk)
- story begins with hero apart from society
- natural habitat is the wilderness
- natural state is solitude
- journey is one of re-entry into the group, an adventure within the group, then a return to
Catalyst heroes: (Teacher from Dead Poets Society, any mentor)
- central figures who act heroically
- don’t change much themselves
- main function is to bring about change in others
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Often when contemplating the creation of fictional characters – what makes them do what they do, or what makes them who they truly are – I’ll watch movies or read books about damaged people, because (as we all (writers) should know) flawless characters are boring and no human makes it very far in life unblemished.
Today I watched the first movie that received high tributes for one of my favorite actors, Tom Hardy who can play anything because of the depths he is willing to go into the human psyche. Anyway, the movie is Stuart: A Life Backwards. The synopsis: A writer takes a backwards look at the life of his unlikely friend Stuart, a homeless alcoholic who experienced a traumatic event in his childhood.
I laughed, I cried and I came out of the movie with even more (if possible) admiration for my favorite actor. This movie was based on a true story. And even though it’s impossible to put mere words to the human experience that rises above verse, we as writers can aspire to hold a mirror up to our characters and reflect what we see in the world – and if we delve into our writerly craft – what they might see in the world. This character Stuart was charismatic and abhorrent at the same time – abhorrent because it can be difficult to look at the things we find disturbing; homelessness, disease, drug addiction, violence and fear. Tom Hardy danced like a skilled ballerina around each of these issues of the human condition. His (character’s) loud abrasive communications with the world were a beautiful soul-sick opera.
My head is spinning with ideas on how to write more compelling characters, characters who can dance on fire and whose hearts sing to the universe for mercy.
Oh, and if you haven’t been watching the new Tom Hardy TV series titled, Taboo (2017) you’re really missing out on some GREAT characters. Well, I’m off to create.
Recently I was asked about what to consider before attending a writers conference. I have attended, volunteered, managed and been an instructor at conferences for over seventeen years, maybe longer, I’m old, I forget. Anyway, two Pacific NW conferences that I recommend are the Edmonds (WA) Write on The Sound (October) and the Willamette Writers (August in Portland OR) conferences.
To enjoy a conference you must first do your homework; what classes do you want to attend, what agents do you want to pitch, and most important, what do you want to learn? And I’d like to add to that list, how can you get out of your writerly comfort zone? Like if you only take workshops about utopian world building, this time take a class on how to craft a great sex scene. You’ll be amazed how widening your skill-set will enhance your writing. So give these things some serious thought and design the kind of experience you want: if you set your intention before you attend a conference you position yourself for success instead of disappointment, because who likes that.
Every conference has a personality, a theme and a culture unique to that conference. In Portland the Willamette Writers (WW) is a fairly large conference that takes place in hot August, hundreds of people from all over the country gather in an air-conditioned Portland hotel and cohabitate like college dorm mates. The focus is heavily on screenplay and fiction writing master classes and workshops where the amount of note taking can be exhausting – I mean seriously try to keep up with Larry Brooks or Eric Witchey at 8:00 AM after a late night pitch session – Don’t worry, there’s always coffee in the lobby.
WW is a great place to pitch your project; novel, memoir, or screenplay. I hosted one of the sessions a few years ago and had a blast. We had 60 nervous scribes pitching a panel of literary or Hollywood type agents. Even if you just watch and learn, it’s a priceless experience. The late night pitch parties, cocktail parties, or hanging out in the lobby bar or café are surprising places to garner tips and make connections. And let’s not overlook fun, I mean how often do you get to hang with your tribe, right….
Conversely, Write on the Sound (WOTS) is a smaller conference of maybe 350 participants from all around the country because it’s so easy with the train depot within walking distance. WOTS has an overall atmosphere of art and fall writing, education and the mentoring of like-minded souls – it’s like going back to school. It’s always in October, the sky is (more often than not) blue, the leaves are red and the wind off the Puget Sound is jostling through the streets. The classes are mostly in the old school turned arts building called the Anderson Center where the weekend is spent, writers as pupils in old fashioned school rooms, and breaks in the hallway where cookies and drinks await the rush of trading one classroom for another before the bell rings. One of my favorite things is the walk from the Anderson Center to one of the coffee shops or restaurants a few blocks away – the streets are filled with walking, talking writers in search of fuel, or cutting class to hang with a new writer friend. During WOTS the serene city of Edmonds is overtaken by enthusiastic and boisterous writers. The Friday workshops are roll your sleeves up and get to work events with (past) master instructors like Robert Dugoni or local celeb, Rick Steves – See this years line-up here. The Saturday night book signing and happy hour event is a great time to network, meet people, make contacts and then walk to a local wine bar and continue the evening talking about favorite authors or how to best write that elusive sex scene.
So, my best advice is to do your homework before you go, sign up (early) for the classes you want to take or the agents you want to pitch, get out of your comfort zone and attend a class or event you normally would not, talk to people, and have some fun. These are two PNW conferences where the quality of instructors, the organization of the conference and bang for your writing conference buck is always a good deal, time well spent, lessons worth learning, contacts worth making, and most importantly, unforgettable.
I just had to share this fabulous woman…In researching for the background of a (secondary) character in my WIP I stumbled onto Gertrude Bell and was gob smacked by this woman’s hootspa. She was described as an ‘outsider’, the ‘Queen of the Desert’ and ‘the most powerful woman in the British Empire in her day’. How inspirational! She was just what I was looking for. As always, it’s important to write female heroines and depict women (girls) as capable of
doing ANYTHING (and more) than their male counterparts. Thank you Wonder Woman, Senator Kamala Harris and my new favorite hero, Gertrude Bell! My protagonist grew up with a mother (1920s-30s) who traveled to Egypt and with her husband explored antiquities, pyramids and cultures of days gone by. My protagonist was a young girl when she traveled with them giving her a fascinating childhood. But then their idyllic lives were cut short when they were thrown into a concentration camp in 1939, as you can imagine. So in writing her brave mother I sought other women of that time period who traveled and explored along with their male colleagues. Why? Because the mother is the primary influence, and ultimate wound to my protagonist.
Bell (a perfect character role model) was born in County Durham in 1868, then went on to study history at Oxford. She met TE Lawrence 1909 at a dig at the ancient city of Carchemish, which would now be on the Syrian-Turkish border. Their first meeting was icy due to Victorian ‘traditions of snootiness, sexism and arrogance’ as well as Lawrence feeling ‘intimidated’ by meeting a woman who was ‘his intellectual equal’ and ‘spoke Arabic better than him’. But they became good friends. A couple years later Bell was recruited by British Intelligence during the First World War to help guide soldiers through the deserts, before being made Oriental Secretary in 1917. Even after the war she stayed on with the British Government as a diplomat helping to draw up Iraq’s borders and establish the state, and served as mediator between the Arab government in Iraq and the British officials supervising it.
Bell was far bigger than life and certainly the material of a great fiction heroin. Grateful for her journey, and grateful to have found her as my inspiration. Just had to share this remarkable woman.
You can read more about this fascinating woman here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4428004/Incredible-life-British-adventurer-Gertrude-Bell.html
In 2015 Nicole Kidman starred in a movie about her life, Queen of The Desert http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1837636/
A 2017 documentary about her life appropriately titled, Letters From Bagdad was released this year. Take a peek here http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6086614/videoplayer/vi3633887513?ref_=tt_ov_vi
I haven’t seen either of these films but plan to.