When Last We Met…

On Sunday, July 25, 2010, the Magic City Writers met and reviewed the beginning of Lindy’s novel, The Night Things.    

The meeting was small; just Kathryn, Lindy, and Myself.  Nicole was unable to attend, as was our hoped for new member Emily.   

Before describing what happened, let’s talk about  the food.

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

As snacks we served three types of cookies: peanut butter, chocolate chip, and oatmeal raisin.   In a word, yum.

For dinner Kathryn made a very good Cobb Salad, using the official recipe from the The Hollywood Brown Derby, home of the original Cobb Salad.  She even hand made the salad dressing that is supposed to be used on it.  It required a bit of tweaking (chicory was impossible to find, and blue cheese was substituted for Roquefort ) but the result was delicious.  Great job, Kathryn.

Just for the records, the salad consists of water crest and romaine lettuce, tomato, bacon, chicken, hard boiled eggs, avocado, blue cheese, chopped chives, and tuna.  

The dressing’s ingredients do not live up to their combined taste, so I shall not bother listing them.

Later we were suppose to have either watermelon or ice cream for desert.  I regret to say that we were so sated from dinner we forgot to have desert.

Oh woe is me.   Now we shall have to eat these items later in the week. 

An Now What We Did

Lindy knew that her submission was a rough, first draft.  She asked we only give her general comments.   i.e. Focus on structure and plot problems, not so much on details or grammar.

I think my idea of general comments was a lot closer to her concept of line-by-line edits.   For that, I apologize to her.

The consensus was that The Night Things contains many strong elements, and that Lindy needs to flesh out or rewrite certain portions.   Some parts were quite good, and other parts needed more work. 

After reducing Lindy to a shadow of her former self, we did writing exercises based on an idea of Kathryn’s.  Her idea was to practice our ability to describe items based only on how they feel. 

One at at time, we each put odd shaped objects into a box and closed the lid so the others could not see what it was.  We each reach into the box and felt the items, never looking at them.  Afterwards we wrote a few sentences describing what we felt.   

This was a great idea.  It required flexing unusual writing muscles and focusing on subtle details.  This was a very useful exercise for me, and I think for the others as well.  Another great job, Kathryn.

The Remains of The Day

After dinner, we retired upstairs and watched a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff on a movie called Jack Frost.  This movie hammered and glued a number of Russian folklore stories together into one of the dumbest movies in history.  Basically it was a deranged mixture of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Sleeping Beauty with liberal doses of the Baba Yaga myths.   Needless to say, at times we laughed till we cried.

Afterwards I retired to write this post, while the others went their separate ways..

Coming Attractions

We set the date for the next meeting to be Wednesday August 11 at 6:00 pm.  This time, we shall eat dinner first, then rip to shreds my fifth chapter, Through Persuasion and Force,….   

I am especially looking forward this, because I just finished a complete (and much needed) rewrite of this chapter.  At the moment I am feeling quite proud of myself and need to be taken down a notch.   I feel certain the others shall oblige me.

Until my next post, take care and have fun.

When Last We Met…

On Sunday, February 21, 2010, the Magic City Writers met and reviewed nothing.  Which is not to say we did nothing, but I am getting ahead of myself.  

The meeting was small; just Kathryn, Lindy, and Myself.  Nicole was unable to attend again, though she is hopeful that she will be return to the group in the not too distant future. 

Now onto the food.

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

We went for a simple fare this time.  I grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken on the grill while Kathryn made tater tots.  We took advantage of the slightly warmer weather to eat on gazebo and enjoy the garden and waterfall.  As a snack we had ice cream on popsicle sticks.  A very tasty meal with plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week.

An Now What We Did

Since no one had anything ready to submit, we did a variety of writing exercises.  Lindy brought an art book and we took turns picking pictures and writing whatever the images inspired.  Later we listened to songs for inspiration.  

The exercises displayed our propensities,strengths, and weaknesses.  We allowed ten minutes per exercise, which for me is enough to generate a few brief paragraphs at most.  Kathryn  in the same time wrote well over a page.  Lindy was somewhere between the two of us.  My writings and Lindy’s tended to have dark themes, while Kathryn’s were more light-hearted. 

I tried to focus on character development, my greatest weakness as a writer.  I also made special effort to “show, not tell”, i.e. to describe the character’s actions and use dialogue so that the reader discerns their emotional state without being explicitly told what that state is. 

Personally, I found the exercises quite helpful and refreshing change of pace from our normal editing process.

The Remains of The Day

Lindy left relatively early and Kathryn and I retired to watch Juno, a quirky movie which we enjoyed.  Before Lindy left we agreed to meet again on March 7th, and placed the onus of turning something in on me. 

Oh, joy.

I guess that means I need to get off my ass and force myself to start writing ASAP.  Which, of course, is part of the purpose of the group.

Until next time, have fun and party down.

When Last We Met…

On Sunday, January 31, 2010, the Magic City Writers met and reviewed (again) chapter four, …And Strikes Down The Inner Circle, from of my epic, Gods Among Men

This is the first meeting of the group since November of last year, the holidays and bad schedules making previous attempts to meet impossible.   I hope we can maintain a bit more regular schedule for the next few months.

Nicole was unable to attend this meeting, and will likely miss a few more meeting before she will be able to turn once again to writing.   Her presence and insightful comments were missed.

As you can tell from the current date, I am more than a little late getting the post about the meeting finished.  The week vanished rather quickly under a blizzard of bills, the return of Lost, and laziness on my part.  I apologize for the delay.

Much occurred during the meeting, but  first lets talk about the food.

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

The food was excellent.  (Is it ever not?)

Kathryn and Brant made a marinara sauce following a recipe Brant calls “Keep throwing chopped up vegetables and tomato sauce into an 11-quart pot until they threaten to overflow, add a pint of garlic and other spices, then simmer for the afternoon”.  This recipe never turns out the same way twice, but is always tasty.  Once ready it was served over angel hair pasta.

As a pre-dinner snack, we ate a piña-colada/French bread pudding that Kathryn had made the day before.   Delicious without ruining our appetites for dinner.

Changing The Editing Format

Lindy suggested a change to our normal chaos-driven format for going over reviews.  Always eager try new things, we  followed a pattern she has had some positive experience with lately.

First each person, one at a time, lists all of their positive general comments.  After everyone has made their positive general comments, each person lists their negative comments.   During this period,  the author being reviewed sits quietly taking notes, not interrupting, save perhaps to ask for clarification. 

After all general comments are finished, the group begins making specific comments about sentences or paragraphs, or ask what the author was smoking when they wrote something.

I think this technique has much to be said for it, and I look forward to trying it out a few more times before passing final judgment on it.  One immediate advantage is that we made it through the general comments faster than normal and got into the line-by-line edits relatively early.

And Now Back to Ripping My Chapter Apart

Actually this was one of the less brutal sessions for me.   There are lingering problems, but  far fewer structural problems than in reviews of my previous chapters, or of this chapter when it was last reviewed.  

Everyone liked the center section, and were especially fond of a minor character whose personality and role was significantly improved during my last rewrite.  There was the usual complaint that I am too plot constrained and often do not have the best characterizations.   A failing of my writing that continues to plague me, but there was overall improvement even in this area.

I walked away with a list of specific suggestions that will be easy to incorporate, for the most part, and which will make the chapter stronger in the end.  I doubt there will be a need for me to resubmit this chapter to the group again.

The Remains of The Day

Lindy stayed around and worked on some art homework.  She left relatively early, after which Kathryn and cleaned up and dallied in individual pursuits for a bit. 

Later Kathryn and I gathered to watch a mini-series off our NetFlix Instant Queue called The Color Of Magic.  This is a fairly faithful adaption of the first two books for Terry Pratchett comedy/fantasy Discworld series.  While this might not be to everyone’s taste, we enjoyed it immensely.

We plan on meeting again near the end of February to review a submission of Kathryn’s. 

Until next time, have fun and party down.

What Price Art?

Recently, Nicole said something that spawned a rather wandering chain of thought in me.  She was talking about the post I wrote entitled The Hidden Danger of Epic Tales, and said something like, “It is the first story you try to tell that inspires you to write in the first place.”

My brain, as usual, worked too slowly for me to pick up on that train of thought and pursue a conversation about it at that time.  Instead the idea planted itself in the back of my thoughts, somewhere between the mold and the mushrooms, and began to germinate.

Beginning in the Middle

I doubt that many people, when they first start to write, think of their story from beginning to end.  I certainly didn’t.  Instead it starts with a character, or small set of characters, and some scene that seems compelling at the time.  An idea half formed, with no beginning or end.  A theme or genre may be in mind, some grand ideas, but nothing concrete.

Taking the compelling first thoughts and turning them into a story takes time, so much time.  Time spent alone, with a computer or pad of paper, doodling ideas like an artist might randomly draw images hoping that art will emerge. 

The Price Paid

Most of that time is totally wasted.  Hours spent that will never come back, putting down words that are unworthy of the blank page they spoiled. 

Why do it?  Why not go do something more enjoyable?  Why not spend it with your family?  Why not call up friends and go out for the evening? 

Because the story will not let you rest.  Because you can’t stop wondering what will happen next in the tale you alone are trying to tell, and which you alone may read.  Because you are convinced that with the right words you can describe the images in your imagination, and nothing will detract you from finding those words.

The Profit Earned

It is not the completed work that writers strive for, so much as the sparkling sentence.  Don’t get me wrong, a completed work is the ultimate goal. 

But what drags you through the long nights and repeated attempts to write the same scene or chapter are certain moments that make you think, “Did I write that?” 

It is those moments when you see a few words, a handful of sentences; a paragraph, scene, or chapter and think, “I really like that.  I did that. I wrote that.” 

With those words you feel a justifiable pride.  At that moment you don’t care if anyone else ever reads one word of what you wrote.  The long effort was worth every moment it took to achieve.  You bask for a few seconds in a wonderful feeling.

Then you start trying to write the next sentence, paragraph, scene, or chapter.  And the frustrating hunt for the right words starts over again.  The feeling fades, but your remember it well.  And as the long hours pass you know, or at least hope, that you will again find the right words and experience that heady rush once again.

Later stories you might write for money, or other less noble reasons.  Some you may start and then abandon.  But the first story you write for the love of writing, for the want of skills greater than you currently posses,  is a special story that changes you in ways immeasurable.

It is the story you can’t walk away from, because it simply won’t let you. 

What Price Art?

Recently, Nicole said something that spawned a rather wandering chain of thought in me.  She was talking about the post I wrote entitled The Hidden Danger of Epic Tales, and said something like, “It is the first story you try to tell that inspires you to write in the first place.”

My brain, as usual, worked too slowly for me to pick up on that train of thought and pursue a conversation about it at that time.  Instead the idea planted itself in the back of my thoughts, somewhere between the mold and the mushrooms, and began to germinate.

Beginning in the Middle

I doubt that many people, when they first start to write, think of their story from beginning to end.  I certainly didn’t.  Instead it starts with a character, or small set of characters, and some scene that seems compelling at the time.  An idea half formed, with no beginning or end.  A theme or genre may be in mind, some grand ideas, but nothing concrete.

Taking the compelling first thoughts and turning them into a story takes time, so much time.  Time spent alone, with a computer or pad of paper, doodling ideas like an artist might randomly draw images hoping that art will emerge. 

The Price Paid

Most of that time is totally wasted.  Hours spent that will never come back, putting down words that are unworthy of the blank page they spoiled. 

Why do it?  Why not go do something more enjoyable?  Why not spend it with your family?  Why not call up friends and go out for the evening? 

Because the story will not let you rest.  Because you can’t stop wondering what will happen next in the tale you alone are trying to tell, and which you alone may read.  Because you are convinced that with the right words you can describe the images in your imagination, and nothing will detract you from finding those words.

The Profit Earned

It is not the completed work that writers strive for, so much as the sparkling sentence.  Don’t get me wrong, a completed work is the ultimate goal. 

But what drags you through the long nights and repeated attempts to write the same scene or chapter are certain moments that make you think, “Did I write that?” 

It is those moments when you see a few words, a handful of sentences; a paragraph, scene, or chapter and think, “I really like that.  I did that. I wrote that.” 

With those words you feel a justifiable pride.  At that moment you don’t care if anyone else ever reads one word of what you wrote.  The long effort was worth every moment it took to achieve.  You bask for a few seconds in a wonderful feeling.

Then you start trying to write the next sentence, paragraph, scene, or chapter.  And the frustrating hunt for the right words starts over again.  The feeling fades, but your remember it well.  And as the long hours pass you know, or at least hope, that you will again find the right words and experience that heady rush once again.

Later stories you might write for money, or other less noble reasons.  Some you may start and then abandon.  But the first story you write for the love of writing, for the want of skills greater than you currently posses,  is a special story that changes you in ways immeasurable.

It is the story you can’t walk away from, because it simply won’t let you.