A BELA LUGOSI RETROSPECTIVE

Absolutely love this.

ALFRED EAKER

13TH CHAIR (Tod Browning 1930) lobby card. Bela Lugosi

According to Bela Lugosi‘s official bio, before coming to America he had been a star on the Hungarian stage, appearing in major Shakespeare productions.  Several biographers, however, have disputed Lugosi’s “star” ranking during that period.  It seems most of his roles had actually been small ones.  Regardless, Lugosi enlisted in the Hungarian army during the First World War, was wounded several times, and later had to flee Hungary during a tumultuous political climate which was unfriendly to his leftist leanings.  After a stay in Germany, Lugosi arrived penniless in the States.  Eventually, he made his way to the New York stage and began appearing in plays and silent films.  In 1927, Lugosi was cast in the role of Dracula in Hamilton Dean’s famous stage play.  With that, Lugosi became a major star of the stage, and stardom brought him numerous female fans, including Clara Bow, with whom he had a brief affair.

13TH CHAIR (Tod Browning 1930) lobby card. Bela Lugosi
In…

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Thirteen Things I’m Grateful for as a Writer

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On the occasion of my thirteenth blog post, it is time for a list. The following thirteen things are dear to me as a writer. If you took any one away, who knows where I’d be?

 

  1. Computers/word processors. It’s a simple thing, but being able to move chunks of writing around on a manuscript is priceless. If I had to type on a typewriter, I’d probably still write, but I do love computers.

 

  1. Eyes that work. This might sound trite, but I mean it. I know sight-impaired people who do write, but I’m soooo grateful for my eyesight.

 

  1. A day job that pays the bills and still allows for writing time. I’ve been lucky.

 

  1. Parents and relatives who brought so many books into my life from pretty much day one. Special shout out to my Aunt Glenna, wherever she may be, who gave me a Dr. Seuss book for Christmas and my birthday for years. Also to Dan, who gave me my first Vonnegut book.

 

  1. Teachers and others who taught me. Not just about writing but about life and what it means to be a good human being. Some taught by example and others by patient instruction. Thank you for not giving up on me.

 

  1. My early friends. The ones who wanted me to tell them stories and were my first audience. Thank you for laughing, getting scared, and asking for more.

 

  1. Writer friends at all levels. I learn from and commiserate with you all. Only other writers truly get it.

 

  1. Non-writer friends who encourage me and keep asking me how the writing is going. Even when I seem bored talking about it, I do appreciate your asking.

 

  1. A life partner who cooks and does chores while I’m writing, who reminds me to eat and doesn’t grumble (much) when I jaunt off to retreats and conferences…constantly. Thanks, B.

 

  1. Critique partners who genuinely want me to succeed. I love you guys. A lot.

 

  1. Retreat friends. Ahhhh. The retreats. Possibly my favorite part of being a writer—writing from shortly after dawn until long after dark, eating and talking with other writers, total immersion. A big thank you to the retreat friends who took me in and the B&B folk who make it possible.

 

  1. Cats who know the #1 writer’s cat rule: No feets on keyboard. Good kitties.

 

  1. Writers organizations. Groups like Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Pikes Peak Writers, and Northern Colorado Writers have played the largest part in my becoming a writer, finding writing friends and critique partners, learning about the craft and the business of writing, introducing me to agents and editors, and boosting my confidence and motivation. Everyone involved in these groups rocks.

 

2014 was a wonderful writing year. Thank you to everyone who was a part of mine. Love and hugs!

Happy Everything!

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For many of us, the time to set goals for the coming year is approaching. I tend to set my goals near the solstice. Something about the earth shifting the northern hemisphere back toward the sun jazzes me, whether I actually feel the shift or not. I have some of the usual goals for 2015: writing goals, which altered dramatically this year, allowing me to focus on a manuscript I’d thought was finished; workout goals, which died a horrible death in 2014. (Hello elliptical machine! Did you miss me?) But a new group of my goals for the next twelve months will orbit around letting go.

My mother-in-law called my husband several times over the past couple of weeks to wrangle gift wish-lists from us. I have mixed feelings about end-of-year gift giving. It is fun, but most people seem to end up with things they don’t wholly want or need. It makes me think of a book a friend recently suggested, structured around clearing out possessions, keeping only things that bring joy.

This idea intrigues me. While I periodically deep-clean my house, de-cluttering, packing up boxes to donate to ARC, I’ve never approached this ritual with such a specific criterion. The idea set down in the book is a familiar one: by clearing away objects that do not bring you joy, you’re not only happy-fying your home, you are making room for more joy and inviting more positivity and success in your life. A recent fortune cookie reminded me of a fine definition for luck: being prepared for success when it comes.

And not only objects are calling out for a clearing away in my life. Attitudes and habits bear examination. I recently allowed myself to be drawn into a couple of disputes on Facebook that wasted my time and energy and even hurt people. I have not been meditating or journaling enough, and I think it shows.

It will soon be a new year. I have a new datebook. I’m completing a huge writing project and have a new notebook, preparing to work on the next manuscript. Along with these, I will strive for a new viewpoint, a new approach, a new stance. A recent episode of Masterpiece Mystery had Sergeant Hathaway recognizing a marble bust of Euripides, who said, “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.” They’re wise words, and words to ponder. Another wise person once wrote, “Babies, you’ve got to be kind.” I sometimes forget how true these words are.

So these are some of my new goals: to be kinder and listen more than I speak. I will stray from them, certainly. When I do, I hope to find my way back to them without damaging anyone.

Happy holidays, if you celebrate them. Happy solstice.  I wish you all a new year filled with love and joy.

 

Formulaic is a four-letter word.

At least I’ve never heard it spoken with positivity. Even before I’d heard the word, when I wrote magical adventure stories for my friends in seventh grade, I shirked patterns and motifs; I pushed boundaries and wrote a lot of crap, but it was all pretty original—as original as we can be after everything that’s been written before us.

 

This fear of formula and drive to be different kept me from taking too much writerly advice as a young artist. In college, avoiding the formulaic kept any craft book geared toward genre writers out of my hands. In grad school, the only writing books I read were dense tomes on rhetoric and what story meant, as opposed to how to tell a story. Even after I broke free of my strictly-literary chains, I slid books back on the shelf at the first mention of word-count limits, genre expectations, plot point placement, tropes… I viewed these guidelines as rules. What art had rules?

 

But stories are designed. They’re intended to take us someplace for whatever reason, from simple escape to learning something important about what it is to be human. All great art does this. I read a few terrific craft books like Self-Editing for Writers and Wired for Story, but still steered clear of books that gave advice on how to bring a story together. I could write stories. I’d put out some very good ones. I’d published over a dozen, some in respected journals. Of course I knew how to bring it all together. Yes, books are looooong. It’s easy to get sidetracked. I knew I was sometimes tangential, but I knew what my book was about. I didn’t need a formula. I did not need a map.

 

This summer, my manuscript was a finalist in the Sandy Writing Contest. I attended the Crested Butte conference with a niggling feeling. I’d done well in a contest or two before, had had numerous manuscript requests from agents and editors, and had other writers love my opening pages, synopsis, and premise. The end rocked. Still does. But the middle. I knew I had middle issues. Second act-itis, literally. Act two was swollen. When I received my next request from an agent, I decided to give the manuscript a good critical read. Nothing, I assured myself, was wrong with it that a week-long revision couldn’t fix.

 

As I read, however, that niggling feeling grew into a certainty: I’d been shopping a book that wasn’t ready. Every chapter from the one-quarter point to the three-quarter point read wrong to me, with problems ranging from inactive villains to murky character goals. Considering how to begin again, I felt overwhelmed.

 

One writer I met at the Crested Butte conference was Stuart Horwitz. His book, Blueprint Your Bestseller, sounded interesting, detailing a revision process that required printing your manuscript and actually cutting it to pieces, separating each of your scenes. His mantra was, “Ninety-nine good scenes in the right order.” Or one hundred and ten, whatever. He kept stressing that this process was a method, not a formula. After I took the time to think about this distinction, something clicked.

 

Many of the methods and processes I’d shunned over the years had nothing to do with conforming and everything to do with getting your story straight, something I needed urgently, and Horwitz’s book fell into my hands at exactly the right time. I decided to use the method in Blueprint Your Bestseller, which has you track your manuscript’s theme and major story components to keep you on point, while stressing fluidity rather than rigidity. This helped me keep my follow-the-directions gag reflex under control. I did cheat—I did not physically chop my manuscript up, but I did cut a lot and re-ordered most of what was left. I’m working on the revision, feeling fantastic about this book for the first time in, well, maybe ever. My theme, discovered via Horwitz’s method, is deeper, more meaningful, and yet simpler than I’d ever imagined.

 

So my point—and you probably already know this, but if you’re bull-headed about it like I am—not all processes for writing novels are formulaic, molding your story into a pattern, however loose. Many are methodical, giving you the tools to tell a great, meaningful story without any dots to follow or lines to stay inside. I still resist the formula. I have embraced the method.

 

We’ll see what ensues.

This is Halloween

…not quite, but we are getting there. My decorations are up, mine and the handful of neighbors’ who celebrate. If asked what we’re celebrating, most of us would talk about the holiday being simply fun. Halloween is the answer I give when asked what my favorite holiday is.

 

But technically, I don’t celebrate holidays, not in the strict definition of the term meaning, “holy day.” Different cultures and religions take part in an array of traditions, feasts, and activities on and around October 31st, calling the day or the evening by names like The Day of the Dead, Blue Christmas, Samhain, or Hop-ti-Naa. I grew up calling the last evening of October Halloween, but even that name has religious origins.

 

My favorite day needs a new name.

 

Halloween is my New Years Eve, as it is for many pagans, the night that feels like an end and a beginning, a new turning of the wheel. It isn’t a holy day for me, connected to or concerned with any deity, but a day to reflect upon and celebrate the cycle of life and death. It is the end of autumn in the Celtic calendar, the calendar that makes sense to me. While some Halloween traditions were borne from religion, a blend of them set my senses alight:

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpooky decorations—Fellow enthusiasts understand me. If you don’t get it, I can’t explain it to you.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaunted houses—This is primarily the entertainment attractions. I’ve explored purportedly haunted hotels and houses and have been on several ghost tours, welcoming spiritly interaction, and have been disappointed. But I do love a good haunted attraction. I’ve been to some impressive over-the-top houses of haunts and some eerie ones, but my favorite is still the Haunted Mansion at Disney World.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScary movies—What can I say about this that I haven’t covered in previous blogs? I guess I haven’t yet said that I’m optimistically awaiting Guillermo del Toro’s haunted Mansion film, and I’m available to write the screenplay.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWeirdly cool desserts—I love desserts, and ghostly ones are a plus. I make a Graveyard Cake with candy bones mixed with bloody jam in each grave. Yum—bloody bone cake.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlickering jack-o-lanterns—Although some sources posit that these glowing gourds hark back to superstitions and fears I don’t subscribe to, I love them. One story is that jack-o-lanterns originated to frighten off evil spirits, but it seems like evil spirits would like them.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe idea of the dead being close to us—I love a lot of people who are dead, including my parents. I would give so much to talk with them again, rather than only to them.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWitches, skeleton, ghosts, and all manner of spook—I don’t know; I just like them, okay? It’s all about the spooks for me, in one form or another. So I think I’ve come up with my name for my favorite celebration day, just eighteen nights from tonight.

 

Allow me to wish you a Happy Spooksday! And a frighteningly wondrous Spooksnight!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Happy Thirtieth, Colorado Gold!

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My favorite conference turned thirty this month, the Colorado Gold, hosted by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in Denver. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve attended. But I think my first was in 2002. I remember being a little lost. I envied the people who knew everyone and wished I lived closer to Denver so I could be more involved. (I was over an hour away!) But I met my goals that year: to get a “send-it” from an agent and find a critique group.

Each year I attended, I felt a little more at home, less nervous, less isolated, making an effort to find other writers I could connect with. I learned to smile at EVERYONE. I kept getting send-its but no agent. I could write well and pitch well, but my story had holes. I had put in my 10,000 hours as a writer, but I needed 10,000 more hours as a storyteller. I’m still clocking those hours.

A couple of years ago, I decided these conferences were too expensive to simply get one send-it from an agent and/or editor who might not fall in love with my story. If I was going to keep attending, I needed to get more out of these conferences. I began to focus more on the other writers I met, on getting to know them and their work, reading their books and reviewing them, learning from everything they said and everything I read. So many dynamic, wonderful people attend Colorado Gold, writers who write a lot and still have time and energy to help a comrade with craft, give business advice, share a story and a laugh. I liked those people. I wanted to be one of them.

This is not a success story. Yet. I still don’t have an agent, but I haven’t given up, weary as I sometimes get. When lassitude sets in, I turn to my writer friends. Most of them have suffered from inertia at one time or another. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

This year, I was able to attend four writers conferences, all in my home state of Colorado. Colorado Gold is my favorite and has been for years. Most of my writer friends are there, and I encourage writer friends who aren’t regulars to attend.

If you’re a writer who’s never attended, consider this your personal invitation. And feel free to contact me with questions.

Next year, I might have to chop one conference from the itinerary. It pains me, but I think I need an actual vacation next year. You know when it’s time, and it is time. But if I have to miss one conference in 2015, the Colorado Gold will not be that one.

If you will be there next September, find me and say hello.

A Lingering Summer Slump

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People often talk of winter being depressing: the cold, the gray, the skeletal trees. I get it. But there’s something about summer that does a whammy on me, every year, no matter how much I try to psych myself out of it.

It could be many things. One night during my freshman year at college, I dreamed— vividly—that I would die on July 31st. When that day rolled around again, I eased carefully through it, and of course, I survived. I never truly believed the dream prophesied my death, but these fears stay with you sometimes. Every July, I wane. I grow lethargic.

But August first has come and passed, and still I slouch and moan. And I’m not the only one. I’ve heard other writers complain that this past month was a tough one to stay focused and motivated. Tougher than usual. I want to do less, move less. Have I joined too many social events this summer? Maybe. Do I need a vacation, a week away?

The spooks in me should be coming out. It’s August, which begins my autumn. The Celtic calendar has always made more sense to me, because the longest day hearkens the middle of summer, not the beginning. The longest night is the mark of the deep center of winter, not the start of it. But it still feels like summer. Could this longer-than-usual lag be a symptom of global warming?

I work in an air-conditioned room. During the day, it could be any season at all, and still I gaze at nothing and think of little. This is all probably just a hundred small worries and troubles, ganging up on me. But do I fight back? No. I sigh.

There, I just sighed again.

In thirty-six hours, I’m headed for the mountains, where maybe it will feel more like fall. I will retreat. For four days. We’ll see.

Do you suffer times like these? How do you slog through?