Friday, April 20, 2018

How Do You Capture the 1980s in Writing?


Since I am writing something set in the 1980s, the decade I grew up in, I was glad to have found this post

From the post (click above to read more, including interviews with each of the authors):

Alexander Chee: Edinburgh tracks a boy’s long journey forward from a youthful trauma in the ’80s.


Caleb Crain: Though Necessary Errors is set in Prague in the years 1990–91, it has 1989’s Velvet Revolution in the rearview mirror. 

Eleanor Henderson: Ten Thousand Saints follows an adopted druggie teen who discovers the straight-edge punk scene of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1980s after a personal tragedy.


Grady Hendrix: The lurid thriller My Best Friend’s Exorcism uses the moral panic over “Satanic” metal bands in the ’80s as the framing of its demonic tale.


Michael Kun and Susan Mullen: Their highly anticipated We Are Still Tornadoes, set in the summer of 1982 and told in a series of letters, tackles the relationship of Cath and Scott, who grew up neighbors and find themselves adrift after graduating from high school.


All of these sound good. I now want to read some of them. It's so easy to get tempted by books just by reading about them on blogs. One of these books is told in letter, the format known as the epistolary novel, which was what I was looking for to begin with. I was never a fan of most heavy metal music, but such music is definitive of the '80s.  As is the punk scene  mentioned in the plot of another of the books in the post.

Earlier this week, I mentioned two references I'd made in my book-in-progress that some people may not remember, but that they fit well into the plot. The plot is about getting braces, the before and after, something I cannot seem to recall ever being told in a story. This was one of the reasons I choose this plot line. It was something that carried a stigma back in the 80s and in the decades before. It was not unusual for kids to get teased for their orthodontia, one of the things that Martin, the protagonist of my book, is fearing as he nears getting braces. It was also something I had been wanting for years to write about in a book, so one set in the 1980s  seemed appropriate (The graphic novel Smile is the only book I can recall that told a similar tale). And I wanted to try the epistolary format, namely in the form of a diary. I have seen characters with braces in books, but in most such books, it was just a detail, not a major part of the plot. I do think this is one way to recapture the decade in a novel. 

Another reason I choose to write about the 1980s was to hope to get readers to see what life was like before cell phones and the Internet. Does anyone remember using The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature to look for newspaper and magazine articles on different topics for research papers? This was something I used in my story. (It also came up in my memoir). This maybe a better-known reference from that decade. I had also been toying with the idea of writing a YA/MG novel, and was finding it hard to formulate fiction around the current technology. And I read a lot of historical fiction, and this is the perfect decade for me to write about.


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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Making References in Stories That Some People May Not Know

Those of you who have written stories, when you make references to other works, such as TV shows, books, movies, songs, etc., have you ever referenced anything that may seem obscure to some people? Or have you encountered such a reference that you needed to look up? It has occurred to me that did just this in my book I am currently working on. In fact, two obscure references in one chapter.

First, this one:

Earlier this year as I was looking through the TV Guide, I noticed a listing for a show on some cable station about dentistry. One night it said that Kim Fields, the black girl from The Facts of Life,  would be talking about braces on that night’s episode. She has been wearing them for some time now.  In real life, not just on the show. Again, I hate that show because that one girl is named Blair, so I don’t know if I would have watched this dentistry program if we had cable.  If I could go on TV like that, I’d say how much I hate having braces. 


I do not for sure know what cable channel or program it was, but I do recall seeing such a listing in TV Guide one summer night night back in the 1980s, the setting of my novel. Though I did not have cable at that time either, I do think it may have been the Cable Health Network, an early cable channel that was the precursor to the long-running cable channel Lifetime, and a program called  Dentistry Today. Both of these I do recall seeing listed in TV Guide back in the day.  If any of you had cable then, does any of this ring a bell to you? 

I found this image of a
billboard advertising the Cable Health Network.
Even if this might not be a well-known reference, the recollection of  the listing I had seen in the TV Guide just fit quite well into the story.

Then this reference:

Today I was looking through the books on my shelf in my bedroom coming across one I got from one of those book-order forms we would get at school each month.  One was called Banana Twist. I’m not sure why I ordered that one. I never looked at it much until today. As I flipped through the book, I saw that the boy in this book has braces. Well , that’s good, thought. I should love this story. 

This appears to be a hard-cover edition, but
I had the paperback edition with this
cover design.

Again, I'm not sure how many people will remember this book, but I know I did have it and did get it from those monthly book order forms we always got in grade school (I'm sure many of you remember those things). I also recalled how the main character's neighbor noted that the main character had braces. I tried searching for a reference to this line in the book but was unable to find any. But I know I saw this, and again, this recollection went well with the plot of my protagonist's anxiety over having to get braces and his subsequent adjustments to wearing them. 

On a side note, I appear to have invoked the TV Trope "Your Television Hates You," with these two references, but with a book instead of TV in one case, and seeing a listing for a TV program rather than the program itself. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

The One Thing That’s Holding You Back From Your Success

From Writerslife.org:

There will always be something stopping you from achieving your desired success and until you acknowledge it, nothing will ever get done. This is the fear that you’re not good enough. Maybe while you were in school, you failed and that hurt your confidence and because someone told you that you’re not good enough, you start to believe them. You give into their rationalization and settle for a safe job and a mediocre life because you don’t want to get out of your comfort zone and fully explore what’s out there. 
 There are many fears you can have while you’re chasing your dreams. This can include the fear of failure, fear of success, fear of what others will think of you, if there’s a fear in the world, you can relate it towards becoming successful. Fears are excuses as to why you’re not successful. You’re the person who is believing those fears and almost always, they never come to fruition. I get it, trying to become successful isn’t going to be easy but you have to start somewhere. The second you decide to start, you will be further ahead than the person who is still letting their fears get to them. 
Understand that when you put in the work, you will develop confidence. This is the confidence ofyou taking action. There’s no reason you should believe in yourself when you’re not taking actionand it’s ludicrous to think you would. You don’t have to accomplish every task in the entire world. Your empire is built over time and not through the course of a day. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in one day. It takes time to become successful. It’s through the day-to-day grind that you become resilient to whatever fears you had beforehand. Next time you start to find yourself doubtingyourself, take action!

I had been planning to rework what I have so for written on my novel this weekend and finally did so last night. I'm still uncertain how to end it, because I have several ideas in mind that I don't want to cram into one book. Therefore, I can almost see another book in the works. More on this another time.
had to push myself to begin to work on my book last night. Often I'll get ideas in my head, but never get them down. I can remember many times when I have done this and eventually forgot the ideas. Or started writing them without ever finishing or forgetting the whole thing altogether. I have an idea for my new book that I'm not sure about using just yet. I may have another idea instead. I'm trying to decide, but it's taking me some time. But I know eventually I will come to a decision. I guess it just takes time, and the amount of time it takes for each person will vary. 
As I had done with editing the memoir, when looking over the diary,  I continually found typos and sentences I wanted to change or words accidentally omitted. 
Now I want to try to end the book where I think it is appropriate to do so. I planned to email it to some of my fellow clients so they can read what I had written so far, but now I think I should finish it before sending it. And let them read my most recent revision. I had sent my mom's friend the previous version. This is another thing I'm having trouble deciding on. Making decisions like these is another thing that can hold you back.
But I'm glad I got this one idea begun. If not, I may have forgotten it forever. and I was glad I had written down a dream I'd had two months ago. I still think I may use that one in the future. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fun in the Sun Summer Reading Challenge

This one begins on May 1 and runs until the end of August.


Something happens to me when it starts getting hot out. Sure I want to slip on my flip flops, go swimming, and drink some iced lattes but what I really get in the mood for is reading a certain genre of books that are about fun in the sun! So I'm bringing back my seasonal challenge specifically for these books.

 The Rules:

  •  This short term challenge begins May 1, 2018 and ends Aug 31, 2018. 
  •  You may sign up anytime during the challenge. 
  •  I won't be creating different levels.
  • Read as little or as many books as you want. Even if you just read one book I want you to participate!
  • You may include books of any format including traditional books, ebooks, or audiobooks.
  •  Books may be any genre but must have a fun in the sun theme, a cover with these elements on it, or something in the title that is about the theme. This includes everything associated with spring and summer such as weddings, swimming pools, the ocean, beaches, lounge chairs, flowers, sunglasses, palm trees, vacations, the sun, a garden, rain, thunderstorms, heat and so on. 
  • If you need ideas visit my Pinterest boards for spring books and summer books. I will also be compiling a list of summer book releases here on the blog. Please check back here for the link. It will be up shortly. 
  •  You may reread books. Books may count towards other reading challenges. 
  •  Use the hashtag #FunIntheSunRC 
  •  If you could be so kind, please place the Fun In the Sun Reading Challenge banner on your blog to help spread the word. 


    •  Please link back to this blog, post about it on Facebook, Tweet about it, and so on to help spread the word.

    Here is what I am reading:


    Friday, April 13, 2018

    What Makes an Unsympathetic Character?




    I had not intended it to be this way, and this was just one person's opinion of what I had written so far, but when I let a family friend read what I have written so far of my '80s-set diary novel, she found the main character not to be very sympathetic. Again, I had not intended for it to be like this. She seems  to see as him as "extremely cynical and always seeing the worst about every situation," "always whining about everything,"and that he seems to show no empathy towards others. Would characteristics like this fit the "Unsympathetic Characters" description below (from this site)?

    Unsympathetic characters

    We seldom identify with unsympathetic characters as they represent those qualities that we dislike.

    Villainous

    Villainous characters are those who deliberately break laws, serving an often-selfish purpose in which others may well be harmed or abused in some way. They are the antithesis of the heroic character, embodying all that we find wrong. 
    We love to hate villainous characters as they give us an outlet for the dislike we have of others in our lives. We also like to experience the schadenfreude (pleasure at the discomfort of others) when they are punished.

    Foolish

    Foolish characters are the opposite of wise characters. They lack knowledge or lack the ability to use knowledge to good effect. They are not the same as the Shakespearian 'fool', who is actually a very wise character.
    We throw our hands up in horror or laugh at the fool, and are perhaps secretly grateful that there are others who more foolish than us.

    False

    The false character pretends to be something that they are not or deliberately tells falsehoods. They thus embody the socially distasteful deception and untruthfulness that heroes abhor.
    Like villainous characters, we like to see the false being exposed and receive just treatment. False characters may also remind us of our own guilty shortcomings as we navigate truth to our own ends. 

    Selfish

    Selfish characters do things for their own purpose and may well be careless and callous about how others are affected by their choices.
    Audiences are shocked at selfishness that goes beyond socially accepted self-interest and find glee in these people reaping the rewards of their lack of care for others. We may also see ourselves reflected to some extent in the selfish person's limitations and feel some balance of gratitude that there are others who are selfish and anger that they are reflecting us.

    Animal

    Animal characters are, to some extent, the opposite of human characters, displaying inhuman characteristics such as savageness and debauchery.
    We are shocked by such lack of even basic humanity and perhaps fear the possibility of such loss of self happening to us. 

    Again, this is just how one person sees it. I'm sure others may see it differently. I'm only trying to write what I have seen in other YA/Middle Grade novels, trying to make the character seem angst-ridden. One must be familiar with the genre of books to recognize traits like those. I had no intention to make the character seem selfish. And "only seeing the worst about every situation," this seemingly came about as I intended to show angst often shows by characters in YA/MG books. Martin, the boy in my book, is apprehensive about having to get braces, since in the '80s and the decades before, such a thing was often stigmatized. He makes a chart of why he's looking forward to having braces (straight teeth) vs. not looking forward to it (being called "Metal Mouth," "Tinsel Teeth," etc., not being able to chew gum, having to wear headgear). [Note: I tried to copy the chart from my document, but was unable to do so]. Does this seem to you like he's being overly cynical and only seeing the worst of the situation?

    The image at the top of the post is from this site. The post is titled, "Love Me Love My Flaw." The author states:


    How many people do you know who are perfect? No one’s perfect. We all have flaws – many of them. So characters in fiction need flaws too. Creating a flaw which works can be a real challenge, especially if you’re new to writing fiction.
    This is very true. I now think the character seems to be showing some flaws. The post then says:
    The Younger Your Character Is, the Easier It Is to Create a Flaw Which Works.
    Rita Henuber writes:
     I feel the younger the character, the more they have to learn and the more flaw possibilities. Consider the cattle baron’s only child, a daughter, comes home from her first semester of college and announces she is now vegetarian and the family are murderers. What’s her flaw? She’s immature and wants to fit in with her college boy friend’s group who are anti everything.
    The older a character, the harder it is to make him/ her sympathetic despite a flaw, because that flaw is part of the character. Few people change in any fundamental way once they’re in their 30s and beyond. Their character is set: that’s just the way they are.
    Your readers can empathize with a man who’s hot-tempered in his 20s, and gets in trouble because of that. Once he’s in his 30s, that flaw probably won’t work, unless he’s well aware of it, and is actively trying to change.
    I now seem to think  this is what I have been doing, even if making an unsympathetic character has not been my intent. 


    Wednesday, April 11, 2018

    How to Stand Out From the Crowd

    From Writerslife.org:



    We all know that one of the most significant challenges any writer faces is trying to be original. There are so many books out there, so many stories, and we can’t help but be influenced and inspired by the things we have read ourselves.
    Telling a genuinely original story is difficult, some might even say it can't be done. However, to make our stories successful, they do need to say something that hasn’t been said before. They need to have something about them that makes them stand out from the crowd.
    So how can you make sure that you aren’t just writing the same old stories, ones that will get lost amongst the sea of the work that is already out there? Here are some tips and methods to try to keep your work fresh and original.
    Use your intuition
    There is nothing quite as powerful as your intuition to help you make the right decisions about your work. If you are following your gut and your instincts, you’ll know when you are being lazy or not pushing yourself creatively. Always listen to that and you’ll rarely go wrong and keep your work as unique and original as possible.
    Don’t follow the rules
    With every story, with every genre, there are sets of ‘rules’ that writers are supposed to follow. Be a daredevil and break a few of them - or at least push their boundaries, their limits. Do this cleverly, go too far off-piste, and you might confuse and upset your reader, but remember, rules were made to be broken after all.
    Be honest
    The more brutally honest you are with your writing, the more authentic it will be. Try keeping a journal to make notes of the things you have done, the conversations you have overheard, the things you have observed and use these in your writing. No one sees the world through the same pair of eyes as you do. Use your unique perspective to make your book different.
    Ask yourself questions
    Throughout the writing process keep asking yourself questions. Don’t let yourself rest or be average. Always push yourself. Ask yourself how you can make that scene, that conversation, that setting more interesting, more exciting, more attention-grabbing. Keep asking yourself how your characters could be more unique, more unusual, more relatable. Do this before you start writing, as you are writing and after you’ve finished too.
    Be influenced, be inspired, don't copy
    We are never going to get away from our influences entirely, and it is okay to ‘borrow’ some ideas from other writers. However, there is a very distinct line between letting what you’ve read and loved kickstart your writing and just stealing ideas from other writers. The former is OK, the latter is a massive no-no, and your readers will call you out on it every time.
    Trying to make your work stand out can be tricky, and scary. It might involve pushing yourself, even going to places that make you a little uncomfortable and taking risks that may or may not pay off.
    However if you aren’t willing to do these things your book may never get its chance to shine, so be bold, be daring and do everything you can to make your book stand out from the crowd, if you do the rewards could be incredible!

    This must have been what was on my mind when I was hesitant about writing a memoir about depression and being on Prozac when I was inspired to write about this after reading the best-known account of the iconic medication. I felt I was stealing the author's thunder. But I was soon convinced that everyone has a different story to tell. That more than one survivor of the Titanic, for instance, should be allowed to tell their story, not just one such person. As it says above use your unique perspective to make your book different, something I was told in the beginning I gradually realized that I wouldn't be copying others, that I was just being inspired by them. Depression is a universal problem and everyone has a story to tell, even if some of what they went through was similar, if not identical to, that which others faced. 


    I have been working on the diary novel, but I'm not sure what really inspired me in that instance. I've read The Dork Diaries series, but have yet to read the Diary of the Wimpy Kid books. But my main character is starting to sound like ones in these books. I sent one of my mom's friends an email attachment of my story and she described the main character as being extremely cynical and unsympathetic, and "always seeing the worst in every situation." But that's just one person's take. My mom doesn't agree from what she'd read so far. I now need others to read this one to see what they think. 

    Nearly every story has been told more that once, but your voice is what makes it stand out. This was a lesson I learned when I began deciding if I wanted to begin the memoir.


    Tuesday, April 10, 2018

    More on the "Behind Bars" Analogy

    I'm still pretty sure I want to use the "behind bars" analogy for my book, despite how misleading it may end up seeming to some people. I then remembered seeing this cartoon on Facebook a year or so ago:


    And today, I saw this video on Youtube:


    Now maybe using the analogy of "behind bars" in my story title won't be so bad after all.