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Cancer Awareness Month

In a tribute to those we’ve lost to cancer and those who continue their brave battle, and to promote cancer research and awareness, I want to share how cancer has affected me personally.

No inspirational quotes today to prime the pump.  There is nothing which makes up for the loss of a parent, much less two.

My father died in 1969 as I was just beginning my journey into adulthood.  He died three weeks before his first grandchild was born.  So two people were deprived of the opportunity to know a man of character, honesty and integrity.  I believe my son would have benefited greatly from knowing his maternal grandfather who had a terrific sense of humor, a wonderful gift for storytelling, and an unshakable belief that family comes first and if you take care of the people you love, your family both of blood and friends who are chosen “family”, all other things will fall into their rightful place.

My parents were married after knowing each other only six weeks during World War II.  He abandoned his high school sweetheart, who’d promised to wait for him, and ignored the wishes of his family.  She outright defied the dictates of her strict parents and upbringing, for the man she fell in love with “the first time she laid eyes on him”.

They were married just shy of twenty-five years, when my Father became ill with cancer, and died six weeks after his diagnosis.

My mother survived the loss of her husband, known to be the love of her life, but barely.  The first year was the worst, and she suffered such a devastation of spirit, I thought we might lose her too.

They were madly in love with each other every day of their marriage and everyone around them knew just how it was for both of them.  The had a date every Saturday night and spent time with each other paying attention to their relationship as well as their family.

I learned different things from each parent, just the way it should be, and all the things they taught me were valuable lessons.  From my father I got three unbreakable life rules:  1) try to never lose your sense of humor, 2) value your education, 3) believe in the impossible, it makes things possible.

For several years after my Father’s death I still wanted to pick up the phone to share things he might agree with me were odd, or funny, and so I miss him still today, some forty odd years later.

During times of real stress, I know my Father is still with me, since I’ve seen his spirit in the house where I grew up.  I haven’t lost my mind, and I’m not the only one, my little sister still lives in that house and she’s seen him several times.  My Father, gone but not forgotten, still looking out for his loved ones.

So take a moment, share a thought, reminisce and use the link to donate to the cause.  Support cancer research and let’s working on keeping those loved ones close, as long as we can.

God Bless to all the Dads both here and in the hereafter.

Advice for aspiring authors

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

― Thomas A. Edison

Have you ever considered giving up?  Good news, you are not alone.

I’m going to give you a few example of others who almost pitched in the towel and left the writing to others. .  . almost. Thank goodness they didn’t give up.

Most recent, during an interview with Writers Digest, author Joe Hill (The Heart Shaped Box, Horns, NOS4A2, and the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts) talked about his journey toward publication.  He didn’t tell his agent who he was because he wanted his writing to stand on its own merit. In other words, he didn’t want anyone to publish his novel because he was Stephen King’s son.

The list is long and varied.  Mystery author Agatha Christie collected 500 rejections in four short years.

The quality of the message associated with rejection is also often disheartening and horrific.  Her’s a paraphrase of a rejection received by author Zane Grey, “you have no business being a writer and should give up”.

Sometimes the ability to choose the correct or enthusiastic publisher or agent eludes us, but the person who believes in our work as much as we do is out there.

The authors of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” were informed that anthologies don’t sell.  Can you believe that?  Thank goodness they didn’t.

C.S.Lewis collected 800 rejections for “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and  Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejections for “Gone with the Wind”.

Author Paul Coelho sees a limited 800 copies of “The Alchemist” sell, but with a new publisher, the number climbs to 75 million in print.

Fourteen agencies reject Stephanie Meyers “Twilight” which went on to spend 91 weeks on the NYT.

L. Frank Baum, told his works was “too radical a departure from juvenile literature”, finally sells “The Wonderful Wizard of  OZ”.

Louisa May Alcott was told by a publisher, “you should stick to teaching” which, thankfully she did not, and is still in print 140 years later.

Even the esteemed Beatrix Potter, the beloved author of “Tales of Peter Rabbit” was rejected so often she chose to self publish.  From its original 250 copies to 45 million.

The Christopher Little Literary Agency collects twelve rejections for author J.K.Rowlings’  “Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone”, until the eight year old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor insists on being allowed to finish reading the manuscript.  This led the way for this series of books which now has 450 million books in print.

The message here is clear.  Rejection is a part of the writing life.  We all experience it in different ways, at different levels, and with or without rancor.  But persistence is the key to success.  The willingness and the ability to come back and try just one more time can be the difference between life an author, and life wishing you’d finished the last book.

Building Character

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

Helen Keller

In fiction, much like real life, character is built by one’s life experience.  The ability to engage with a character without showing their life story  right up front is a basic skill ever writer learns. Sometimes the hard way.

Short stories differ from novels and novellas in that  the time to establish character is less in a short story and therefore, a different type of telling is used, usually dialogue exchange.  Characters can tell you a lot about their fellow travelers on the fictional journey and should be used accordingly.

But in the longer piece of fiction, characters are built, and many aspects must be addressed.  Such as, physical description.  What does your character look like and how will you let the readers know?

What does your character sound like?  Is the voice strong?  Commanding?  Authoritative? Or is the voice meek, mild, submissive, or even absent?

Is the character a person with a gentle touch, or more like a” bull in a china shop”? Is the behavior which determines their presence intentional or accidental?  Are they aggressive or just clumsy?

For the more intimate moments, the writer should let us know how others respond to the characters we build.  Reaction, though limited and more focused, is often poorly interpreted.  This is a significant problem with single or first person point of view.  Your narrator is often reactive to the behavior of other characters and can easily misinterpret the behavior or intentions of others.

During the intimate physical exchange or even during the “dance of attraction” don’t forget to let us know how your hero and heroine stimulate each other, touch, sight, or smell.

Olfactory response is the earliest indicator of recognition for us humans, and often invokes powerful memories which in turn stimulate neurological responses.  Intimate and even unknown fears are sometimes triggered by the sense of smell.  So if you’re looking for an opportunity to motivate your character to one of those little “turn around ” a deep-seated fear connected with a specific odor might serve.

Don’t forget the motivation comes from the history of the character you built,  and that is the path through which the great story is achieved.  You can only hope to thoroughly engage your reader with a spell binding character, well motivated, and easily identified  with, before you can craft a story that won’t be put aside.