Thursday, June 28, 2007

Writing Contest for Moms

I ran across a link to this writing contest at another blog and thought I would pass it on. Letters From The Heart is hosting a writing contest. If you follow the link, all of the rules and guidelines are there.

Basically, they are looking for heartfelt letters from mothers to daughters. Though it's not exclusive to traditional mothers and daughters, it can be from mothers to girls they mentor, adopted daughters, daughters-in-law, or spiritual daughters. I thought I'd pass it on here, as I know a lot of the bloggers who visit are moms and writers.

I hope it's of use, and good luck to all of the entrants.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Literary Pomposity; Are you a book snob?

I had a professor once who lectured endlessly about reading material, claiming that the amount of reading did nothing if the material was ‘trash’. His point being, if you did not read great literature, or worthy authors, then reading a library’s worth of substandard literature would still leave you, well, substandard.

Lovely thought, isn’t it? Are you scanning your bookshelves at this reading, with a bit of color on your cheeks, wondering if your selection of great intellect is above par? Well, if you are, cut it out. Personally, I sat in that class, smiling and nodding like the rest of the students who truly needed the decent grade. (ie, someone that pompous does not take kindly to being publicly denounced). But the question still remains; who decides the merits of great literature better than you, the lowly reader?

Reading tastes are subjective; what may qualify as a classic in the public or literary consciousness, may not be enjoyed as such by the reader. Often, mainstream top sellers are viewed with disdain by elitist scholars, or at least by pseudo intellectuals, but perhaps they miss the point. If so many people enjoy a work, then it must say something, and to extend the point, isn’t reading for enjoyment’s sake enough?

Then, too, there always seems to be a number of people that truly believe unless you can quote the ‘greats’, unless you have a working knowledge of, say, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Chaucer, well, the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? Okay, unless you know the classic artists' works, they believe you unintelligent, or at least not as intelligent or educated as they are. Now, I’m not saying these works aren’t a great thing to study, I actually am an admirer of the classics but, of note, many people regurgitate these writings without truly putting their own thought into the process. It’s a shallow depth of understanding that can study a work, repeat standard literary critique, and be done without putting conscious rational analysis into the process. Can this be better than reading a newer book, or one considered trash?

Also amusing to me, Shakespeare was once considered trash, I’m sure many of you are aware. It was rank enough for the groundlings, and theatre performers were not viewed in a good light at that time in our history. So perhaps the critics now are wrong – perhaps some of the trash will be considered classic in a new generation….

Another discussion point, one favored by one of my favorite bloggers, Believin , how much does the reader bring to the work in the first place? It is the reader who brings so much of the analysis and feel to a novel. A careful reader with a vivid imagination is liable to take one picture away from a novel, while a reader prone to skimming and distraction may have a completely different idea of the work. Your experience, details of your life, they all go into your subconscious interpretation of a work.

For instance, have you ever had your heart broken? How did sad love songs, or for that matter, romantic love songs, affect you? Don’t you hear a song at a certain point in time and really identify with the words? Aren’t you possibly doing the same thing in your reading? So what is the reader’s responsibility in the novel?

I don’t know that I’d put any book into the ‘subnormal’ category. Certainly, I’ve read books that didn’t keep my attention, or were badly edited, or perhaps just not my speed. But someone enjoyed it enough to write it, and publish it. I’ve also read a few classics that I hated. I think the read can be about many things; experiencing a new place, winding through beautiful prose, learning a bit, experiencing emotion, thinking about the commonplace, thinking about the extraordinary…. But just as important as these, it’s about the enjoyment.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fleshing Out Characters Through Blogging; The Mollycoddle Experiment

I posted about this at my old blog on writingup, and it sparked quite a debate... I'd like to see where the conversation goes here. There is a link to the character's blog at the end of this post and I'd love any feedback, if anyone has the time or inclination to follow all of the threads. Writingup is back at this time, though I don't know how long that will last. As I state below, the character really plays in comments... if you sign in to an account there, you can go to Mollycoddle's page and go to the tracking tab - that will show you all of the posts she commented on, and you can follow her discussions. This was originally posted in the fall of '06 - but for fiction writers it's a very good experiment, so I thought I'd post it here for a wider audience.

The Experiment

Having finished the first draft of my novel and wanting to leave it simmer for a while, I decided to pull up an old character and flesh her out. The idea was simple; start a blog from the character’s perspective and see where she goes. The novel I started for this character was in third person, and obviously the blog would have to be first person, but I thought that writing from her eyes might give me a better handle on how she thinks and who she is. I saw this challenge as something akin to method acting, becoming the character in blog the way an actor might live as their character while shooting a movie.


The character I decided to use was something of a puzzle for me. I like her, she has a lot of heart but, as a marketer might say, no hook. She’s not a writer, dancer, or impressive professional. She has no outstanding talent. She is the everyman. While I decided that a story about your average person, without the sensationalism that accompanies some of our famous literary figures, could be fantastic. The problem in the writing was that her surrounding characters became overpowering. They all had hook, they couldn’t help it really, they just were that way, but poor mollycoddle got lost in the shuffle.

Surprise, Surprise

When starting this experiment, I fully expected to flesh our little Molly out by blogging from her perspective. I half-heartedly thought that no one would notice her, lost among all the many other blogs of writingup. What I found was astounding; my character fleshed herself out; not during the course of my writing her little blogs in her first person perspective, but from chatting with all of the other bloggers here! The comments section was where she really played, suddenly she just blossomed and chatted and showed me more of her world as if it was the most natural thing.

It was fun, because there were blogs that Molly was reading that I had a reaction to, but couldn’t comment that way in her persona. Why? Because she disagreed with me. (No, I’m not schizophrenic) There were bloggers that Molly met who I had never read before, what fun it was to find some of those.

Did it work?

Did it work? Was my experiment a success? I can say it was. I know the character better, but more than that, I think she was relatively convincing as a whole person. I noticed that many of the bloggers who I had interacted with as myself, responded to Mollycoddle in a completely different way. Some took her under their wings, and were mothering and nurturing to her – which I thought was wonderful, because Molly as a person is really very lost at this juncture in her life.

That was not the intent of the experiment; to see how other bloggers reacted to her. Though that became the most profound tool in judging her success as a formed character. The difference in this type of immersion writing comes from the fact that you have to write on your feet - the character has to react, in her own mind, rather than in the writer's vantage point.

I invite all of you interested in the process of it to take a look at Mollycoddle’s Blog most especially her character in comments. I’d love to hear any feedback on how well fleshed out she is, or where I’ve fallen short (I noticed more than a few discrepancies myself), or just a discussion about the process itself.

I am ending the experiment, not because there wasn’t more to learn but because my schedule has become too hectic and I’d like to get back to my revisions, which leaves no time for Molly right now. I will, I believe, pull that character back out at another juncture, and will, of course, let you all know if she goes anywhere. Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear what you think.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

My Dream Image - Thank you, Mig!!!!

Mig at Pamil Visions created this wonderful piece for me from a photo. I thought I would share it on my blog. If you follow the link to Mig's post, 'Let Me Unleash Your Dreams', she explains a bit about dreamcatchers and the meaning behind the wonderful artwork. Plus there's another excellent piece there which you all might like to see.

Thank you again, Mig. You do fabulous work.

Miscellaneous post about boozing squirrels

My friend sent me this lovely boozing squirrel in a comment on myspace a few days ago... her comment ran something along the lines of, "They're playing again today, better start drinking early" For those of you who are not Cubs fans, you might not get this... but we had a bit of a rough patch... er, em... okay, we'll they're the Cubs we have rough patches continually and then, being Cubs fans, two or three wins will bring back our eternal optimism...

Okay, all of that is off the point. I lurved the squirrel.... and, as those of you who were also avid Miss Snark fans can attest.... this is probably a quite fitting tribute to the absence of Miss Snark and Killer Yap... So here's the question of the hour - is he drinking in victory celebration or from loneliness?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mom and More

As the title tag of my blog would suggest, the major topic of choice for me at the moment is the whole conundrum of who we are as people. Okay, more truthfully, who I am. When I had my first child I took on the mantle of motherhood. That's not a bad thing and it's rather unavoidable in the circumstances. But, instead of being, 'Merry', the goofy, quirky, literary demon, who gets lost while driving (as I live under the delusion that all expressways lead where ever I'm going). Instead of being someone who writes well, argues often, laughs at the absurd, bends a few with friends, likes to shoot stick, yells at the tv during Cubs games (also unavoidable), and has many more layers - I became the one thing. The only thing. Somebody's mom.

Kate N Mia's Mom paid me a really high compliment yesterday. She said how I can write well and be a mom was remarkable... (I thank you with link love - it's also a compliment you should pay yourself). Even though it is a compliment, it brings me back to what has, over the past few years, become a running theme for me. Why do we have to be one thing? I'm not heading for a feminist rant here, but I don't know any men that cease to exist as people the minute their first child is born. My husband is a father of three. But the only people who view him primarily as a dad are his own children. To everyone else he's the same person he was before, or whatever he's evolved into for them in the last ten years.

Maybe it's because he doesn't take the responsibility of full time parenting. Maybe it's the way the world turns things, and makes you fall into this or that category. Maybe it's because in the nearly ten years since my first child was born I have built my life around that role of motherhood, because it is my primary career. That's my full time job and it has no retirement date.

So, while I've been wandering around in prose, some of you may have stumbled through, thinking, 'So what's her friggin' point?' You can be a mom and still be a person. You can place raising your children as the highest of your priorities and still harbor dreams and chase ambition. I'll take it further still, you owe it to yourself and your children to be everything you can be, to do all that you can do, and to chase your happiness. My kids need my time and love and effort, and they get that. It means writing in the middle of the night and not having what some other lucky writers have - peace and quiet and support on their journey... That I can hack, right now it's a balance and that's okay. But putting them first doesn't mean I give up on me, it's only a detour.

I'm somebody's mother... But I'm not your mother, so you shouldn't see me as a mom, see me as a person. If you're going to judge me, judge me for me, not my label. If you're a writing mom, dad, just a blogging fool, and you have an opinion here, let me hear it - I'd love to discuss.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

I Hate Freelance Writing Today

I hate freelance writing today... whine, whine, moan, moan.... I have a bunch of articles and an e-book edit due out, none of which are painful, but I’m itching to get back to my edits.

In a perfect world, I could work eight hours a day on just my fiction. I keep picking it up anyway, it’s just flowing so well right now and I hate to stop working on it. But then, the freelance will pay in a matter of weeks, where the fiction won’t even be ready for submission for a few months – and there’s no guarantee of payment at all there.

I wasn’t supposed to work on the fiction at all yesterday, but I wound up allotting myself one hour to work on the chapter I was on.... that hour turned into the whole day, because it was just flowing so well. I’m in the editing process and the first few revisions get the story out, but at this stage of the game it’s all about making sure that the reader is involved, all of the plotlines are going the right way and none of them dead end or waver. I’m cutting all of the back story, which seemed so necessary in the heat of creation but I know only serves to pull the reader back from the experience.

As a means to pat myself on the back some, the chapter I just finished was torture to write originally. It bored me to tears, but had to be in because it introduced key characters. I’m sure those of you who write have been there – you know what has to be said, and where the characters should go, but it’s torture getting it on the page... Well, after a full day of tooling re-tooling, playing and finagling, I love this chapter... it brings you right into the character’s head without spoon feeding at all, and if you’ve read my posts before you know that’s my main flaw in writing.

So what’s on the agenda today? Finish the e-book edits and send, get a leg up on the articles due out this week, and not touch the fiction until after I hit my quota if at all.... And what’s sitting in front of me right this second? A hot cup of coffee and my next chapter.... maybe just one hour on my fiction first.....