Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Film Festival Magic

In an effort to support a couple of local screenwriters I know, I attended the Sandpoint Film Festival, held at the Panida Little Theater in Sandpoint early in November. I found the film festival, my first, captivating from the minute the lights dimmed.

I was treated to four hours of entertaining short films on every conceivable subject. A few were funny, a couple were charming, several were informative documentaries, one asked us to believe in the existence of faeries, and one (think sitting down at Olive Garden with a room full of Zombies) was downright scary.

Sandpoint Film Festival First Place Winner

Il Remore Della Neve (The Noise of Snow), a beautifully filmed and touching tale about a man who cannot bear the noise of today's society, by Andrea Marini of Italy, took first place. This 9-minute short captured other awards this year, including Best Foreign Film at the California International Shorts Festival in Los Angeles.

First the facts
Short films, often called "shorts" are productions that screen in 40 minutes and under. Films over 40 minutes are considered to be feature films. Contest entries for the Sandpoint festival were required to be 20 minutes and under, and the majority of entries fell in the under 10-minute category.

Filmmakers make shorts to showcase their skills, to inform, to entertain, or to introduce a longer production. Called "trailers" these introduction shorts are the previews of "coming attractions" that you see at movie theaters or on television.

Then the entertainment
The Sandpoint Film Festival premiered 32 films during their day-long event. I attended the afternoon and evening "blocks" of movies, consisting of 18 short films made by many local filmmakers and others from places as far away as Minnesota and Italy. Budding filmmakers of every age entered the contest: teenagers, church groups, music groups, computer animators, retired folks, and many others who just wanted to share their "story."

Before each showing, festival organizer Janice Jarzabek spent a few minutes interviewing representatives of the film, including producers, actors, cameramen, and/or writers. She often asked what the "inspiration" was for the film, or questions about the production. Hearing the motivation behind the films both fascinated and inspired me.

I found the varied subjects the filmmakers had chosen to write about fascinating: suicide prevention; a spoof on serving the waiter's hands to a diner in a turn-of-the-century melodrama; an alcoholic finding redemption; kids who get sucked into a television to join a violent video game; a free spirit dancing in a park; a music video dedicated to those who've lost a loved one; a lambast on women's lib (women playing baseball is sacrilegious); and short documentaries about a women tugboat captain, a chief of police with a cleft palate, and a 50-year old woman who took up ice-climbing.

Juliette Johnson, Sandpoint, created a 2-minute computer-generated animation that offered a humorous look at Idaho stereotypes. "Idaho" won the audience choice award for lines like: "Would you like a free gun with that latte?"

A second entry that tickled everyone's funny bone was "Caffeinated" by Dan Walden, a comedy about a guy who can't get his morning coffee-fix due to a series of unfortunate mishaps. Shot around Sandpoint, this 8-minute film won both an audience choice award and the third-place festival prize.


Sandpoint Film Festival 2nd Place Winner
Ana's Playground

An electrifying tale about children living in a war zone, "Ana's Playground," written and directed by Eric Howell, took second. During the past year, this powerfully written film has won film festivals and awards across the nation and rumor has it that the film is on the short list for an Academy Award in 2012.
The film is an allegory about the moment when a child is forced to choose between ideology and humanity while living and playing in a dangerous war environment. - Eric Howell
Info from Ana's Playground website: Production of this 20-minute film was made possible entirely through charitable donations, and the producers are offering the film as a fundraising and publicity tool free of charge to non-governmental organizations working to improve the lives of war-affected children. The film’s promotional materials and screening events are intended to provide exposure opportunities for these groups. Click here to learn more about Ana's Playground.

Now for the magic
Entertainment magically became inspiration. I attended the film festival in support of others, but, in some mysterious way, I received a gift while watching their cinematic creations. The inspiring, funny, serious, irreverent and touching films shown at the Sandpoint Film Festival revitalized my writing spirit. On the way home I thought of several story ideas that could be made into short films. Probably pie in the sky, but what the heck, watching those amazing and imaginative films got my creative juices flowing again. And, as Martha would say, "That's a good thing."

Check out all the 2011 Sandpoint Film Festival entries.

IWL Book Sale
The Coeur d'Alene Chapter of the Idaho Writer's League annual Christmas Book Fair is coming up on December 15th from 10:00 am - 3:30 pm. It's a great place to look for unique Christmas gifts and support local writers and authors at the same time. I want to add Anna Goodwin's first psychological thriller, "Justice Forbidden," to my collection of books by local authors, so I'll be going. See you there.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The joy of prosody: iambic pentameter

Today we have a guest post from Coeur d'Alene poet Elizabeth Mastin. Elizabeth's passion is learning about the great poets and studying the craft of writing good metrical poetry. For the past several years she has shared her love of all things poetic with the members of the Coeur d'Alene Chapter of the Idaho Writer's League through their monthly newsletter.

Liz has two poems published in an anthology entitled Empty Shoes, a book assembled to raise money for the hungry and homeless in Wisconsin. She also has a poem published in The New England Waldorf School Literary Review, a poem in Parchment and Quill and another in the Montana Writers League’s Holiday Anthology.




The joy of prosody: iambic pentameter
by Liz Mastin


Just what is prosody? "
An interest in metrics is crucial for the conscientious poet": William Bauer

In his book: all the fun’s in how you say a thing, Timothy Steel defines prosody as “the study of meter,” but, he continues, “it also has a broader application than just metrics. The word prosody comes from the Greek word prosoidia, (tone or accent, modulation of voice, song sung to music). The random house dictionary of the English Language describes meter as the science or study of poetic meters and versification. This suggests, says Steele, that prosody not only includes the topic of meter, but also such related topics as stanzaic structure and rhyme.

According to William Bauer in his book writing metrical poetry, “the fundamental nature of every language determines its meter (the underlying rhythmic structure of language). The purpose of meter is to create a comforting sense of structural order and, if possible, a recognizable up-and-down or back-and-forth rhythm or beat. Poets and literary theorists have generally assumed that the natural pleasure derived from this underlying rhythm relates to the rhythms found in the natural world such as waves of the ocean, the in and out of breathing, and, most significantly, the human heartbeat.”

Lub dub, lub dub, lub dub, goes the heart, comforting and steady. It only follows that our language would be highly influenced by this rhythmic beat. Our heart beat could be considered to be a continuous iambic beat. Iamb is the name given to one particular arrangement of soft and hard beats that make up the meter of iambic metered poems. According to William Bauer, the iambic beat is the basis of our language, so the carefully placed iambs within our poems should not prevent the language from sounding natural.

Iambic pentameter is a steady Lub Dub across the line five times, penta meaning five. It is generally notated this way: 1. _ / 2. _ / 3. _ / 4. _ / 5. _ / Each set of lub dubs constitutes one metrical foot. The steady two beat pattern in iambic pentameter goes: 1. short long, 2. short long, 3. short long, 4. short long, 5. Short long --syllabic accents.

An example of the iambic pentameter line could be Shakespeare’s line:

But, soft! What light through yon- der win- dow breaks?
_ / _ / _ / _ / _ /
Notice that the second syllables: soft, light, yon, win and breaks, receive a hard accent. A good practice is to write your own lines trying to stay true to the iambic beat. To demonstrate:

“I’d love / to write / a bright / and thought / ful poem.”
_ / _ / _ / _ / _ /
Liz Mastin Bio
Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead City, Arizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

Her overriding quest is to accurately learn the craft of writing good metrical poetry. Helping her to accomplish this is both her ongoing study of the great metrical poets, and the study of many books on how to write metrical poetry. She advocates gaining a greater proficiency in grammatical skills and encourages vocabulary building and at least a passing knowledge of Greek Mythology.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

She looks forward to sharing with others the important rules to proper metrical poetry that some may not have realized. For example, a poet should not rhyme a plural end word (of a line) with a singular end word. Rhyming words may be feminine or masculine. Techniques such as enjambment can add much interest. A good working knowledge of foot and meter is important. Other techniques such as withheld image, similes and metaphors, the importance of the last line, are all a part of writing good metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.

What a Plan
What a plan, that at night,
All grows silent until light,
Then from trees to which they cling,
Birds open their mouths and sing.

Next seabirds, break the peace,
Piping up on gull-white wings.
They’re off to search the rolling seas
For swimming schools of bright sardines.

Soon hearty workmen, tough as nails,
Bring to shipyards gray lunch pails.
They’re thankful for the coming day
And for the work that genders pay.

As bright sun shines, the day moves on.
Congenial workers form a bond:
Talk and laughter is agreed upon,
All begun with birds at dawn.
by Liz Mastin



Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving: A Word of Action

Although the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday each year brings reminders of Pilgrims, parades and football, for many the season also brings fond personal memories—those of gathering with others for a Thanksgiving meal. Whether we celebrate with family or friends, it is a time to consider and be thankful for the wonderful people and good fortune in our lives.

Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.  
---W.J. Cameron

Below is a fun poem about Thanksgiving family gatherings written by English born American poet, Edgar Albert Guest. Guest came to America as a boy in the late 1800s and became Poet Laureate of Michigan, and was referred to as the people’s poet for his folksy style. I hope the poem brings you fond memories, as it has done for me.


Thanksgiving

(Edgar Albert Guest, 1881-1959)

Gettin' together to smile an' rejoice,
An' eatin' an' laughin' with folks of your choice;
An' kissin' the girls an' declarin' that they
Are growin more beautiful day after day;
Chattin' an' braggin' a bit with the men,
Buildin' the old family circle again;
Livin' the wholesome an' old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother's a little bit grayer, that's all.
Father's a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an' to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin' our stories as women an men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we're grateful an' glad to be there.
Home from the east land an' home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an' best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We've come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an' be frank,
Forgettin' position an' station an' rank.

Give me the end of the year an' its fun
When most of the plannin' an' toilin' is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin' with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An I'll put soul in my Thanksgivin' prayers.


The Writing North Idaho bloggers are taking Thanksgiving week off. Our next blog entry will be posted Monday, November 28. In the meantime, we wish you all a warm and wonderful…


H A P P Y   T H A N K S G I V I N G  !

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Marking Our Place: Taking Twain’s Words to Heart

My earliest memories with books are those of sitting on my bed in our Oklahoma farmhouse reading The Tall Book of Mother Goose over and over again. I soon knew every poem and every detail of every illustration by heart. I kept the book for years, but over countless moves from one state to another it eventually disappeared. I recently ran across a copy of the original 1942 version by Feodor Rojankovsky for sale on Amazon. I purchased it, wanting to hold it in my hands again and to share it with our grandchildren.


After my Mother Goose days, the The Wizard of Oz thrilled me, Daphne duMaurier’s Rebecca and Don’t Look Now intrigued me, The Grapes of Wrath and The Good Earth fascinated me, I explored the Australian Outback in The Thorn Birds and laughed out loud at Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth. But, although these and other books entertained me, I eventually began to see beyond the surface of the page and understand how books could impact my life in a deeper way. One of the first sparks of this realization was ignited by my Grandmother Viola who, more than thirty years ago, sent me a homemade bookmark.

She had cut a long rectangle from plain white piece of cardboard, punched a hole in one end, threaded a piece of green yarn through the hole, then knotted the ends and added a spidery tassel. Along the length of the bookmark, in aged arthritic jerks, she inked this Mark Twain quote:

Those who do not read have no advantage over those who can’t.

She mailed the bookmark to me in a 35-cent paperback copy of Human Destiny by Pierre Lecomte du Noüy. And like instructions one might leave a house sitter, she had taped a note across its front cover which stated, “Worth reading thoughtfully.”

Viola

My grandmother lived her message of the importance of reading. For as long as I can remember she read voraciously, always sitting tall in a hard, straight-backed chair in her living room, reading daily until, eventually, the clouds of cataracts became too dense. As I grew older I enjoyed sitting and talking with her at length because she knew so many things about so many topics. Having come from a time when children were often told not to speak until spoken to, my grandmother had entered the world through books, discovering that books documented life—its mysteries, its dreams, its facts, its ideas.

With the influence of my grandmother, school and others around me, I learned that reading can take us to new horizons and expand our thinking about what is possible in life. It shows us how others live and have lived in other cultures. It takes us to places we may never visit. It exercises our minds and stretches our ideas; improves our vocabulary and creativity. It grows our knowledge base and builds our self-esteem. It improves our memory, writing skills, and allows us to compare our thoughts and ideas with others. It is an excellent, inexpensive, and easily accessible resource for self education as it helps fill in the blanks of the world around us and shows us the possibilities of want we can become.

On his website Natural Bias, lifestyle coach and consultant Vin Miller makes this point about the value of reading in his article titled, How Reading Can Change Your Life:

Many scientists and other types of researchers spend much of their lives chasing down the answer to a single question. If we had to go through this much effort every time we were faced with a significant challenge, chances are that we wouldn’t accomplish much. Fortunately, many of the world’s most intelligent people share their many years of wisdom in books that cost less than what most people earn in a single hour.

Today people experience books in a variety of formts that include print, audio and digital forms. Many public libraries are now lending ebooks. And, thousands of free literature classics and instructional materials are available for downloading and reading from other sources. Some popular resources include:




I keep the bookmark my grandmother made hanging on the wall beside my desk. I don’t pretend to read as much or as consistently as she did, but her memory inspires me to keep moving forward. The bookmark reminds me of her influence and how she has helped me mark my place in life. She understood that books hold the world between their covers and it is ours simply for the taking.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Writing Life: How do I know when my novel is ready to query?

Today we have a guest post from Elizabeth Lyon of Editing International. Elizabeth has been a freelance book editor for over 20 years and is a good friend to Idaho writers, having offered weekend workshops on multiple occasions in Coeur d'Alene. She has helped more than 60 writers to gain mainstream publication and a dozen writers to self-publish e-reader or print-on-demand books.

Lyon has authored five books about publishing and writing, including Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction, A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, and Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore.

“The Writer” magazine featured Manuscript Makeover as one of the “8 Great Writing Books of 2008,” describing it as “perhaps the most comprehensive book on revising fiction.”

________________________________________

How do I know when my novel is ready to query?

Brace yourself.

Stop sending out queries. Am I serious?

All writers are blinded by subjectivity. Few books are ready for publication but the writer is the last one to know this. What a conundrum!

Let’s assume that you have done everything you’re supposed to in order to have a completed, ready-to-publish manuscript. That means you’ve done several critical actions first:

• Finished your novel,
• Revised it multiple times,
• Gained feedback from a critique group or a circle of readers,
• Read Manuscript Makeover then
• Revise it another 3 or 5 or 12 times.

In addition, to gain marketing savvy you may have boosted your chances of winning in the marketing game by:

• Attending conferences to gain a quantum leap in understanding of the industry,
• Meeting agents or editors and pitched your book (trial runs on marketing),
• Entering contests, and
• Bagging publication of short stories.

You may be thinking, “That’s a huge amount of work. I’d rather be writing.”

Consider this: why should you expect to gain the prize—a contract, money, and recognition, if you have not fully pursued the education and apprenticeship that are prerequisites in other professions such as playing in a symphony, practicing law, or performing brain surgery?

Let’s say you have done most of the above items. You may even match the following demographic profile:

On average, novelists who break in have 4 novels sitting in a drawer.
On average, they have spent 10 years of writing, studying, and marketing.
On average, they have a million words under their belt.

To flip this serious blog around, many writers do see publication of first novels (or memoirs—equally difficult to write and publish), after spending only a few years, and some do nothing that is advised and succeed.

When you’re ready to query, sometimes the only way to find out if your book makes the grade is by jumping in. The proof is in the pudding. Test the market. First, you’ve got to write the query that gains a request to see your pages. Read The Sell Your Novel Toolkit. The query should be 5 to 7 paragraphs, the shorter the better. I’ve seen 3 do the job. If you are sending the query in the mail, your pitch must fit on one page—and don’t forget that SASE. Most agents now want e-mail queries. Some require submission via forms on their websites.

Edit and revise that query till you are sick of it. One writer I know spent 40 hours, literally, on her query. A successful query, in my opinion, gains 3 positive responses out of every 10, and that is what her query produced.

Now, test your query’s effectiveness by sending it to 6 agents via email. If you get rejections, revise your query. Be Teflon coated and let rejections slide away. If you get requests, send exactly what is requested and no more. If you get a request to mail your manuscript or a partial, add a 1- to 3-page synopsis—and an SASE.

Next, send out another batch of 6 or 12 or 30. Revise your query; subject it to scrutiny by critique group members or your resident OCD critical friend. Change the order of paragraphs. Amp it with stronger verbs and a stronger hook. Shorten sentences. Draw your hero in a way that shows original characterization.

Since many agents (or their assistants) read only a few paragraphs of a query or a few pages of a novel before they hit the delete key or slap the form rejection into the SASE, consider hiring a professional editor to do a critical read-through or full editing of 50 pages and a synopsis.

Obviously, I’m a big believer in using professional freelance book editors either prior to querying or after you know that your novel is apparently not making an agent yell “Eureka!”

When have you reached the flick-it-in time? You’ll have to decide. Maybe after 30 rejections. Or after 50. Or when Catnip walks over your keyboard and won’t let you send more.

History is rife with novelists who believed in their work and were soundly rejected only to self-publish, or find that one enthusiastic agent after 400 rejections. Some of these books later became bestsellers or Pulitzer winners. Traditional mainstream publishing is often too elitist, passing up books that deserve publication and are fully professionally written, and simply might not guarantee the bottom line return the publisher is seeking. A plague on all their publishing houses.

So what if your novel is ready to be published?

In that case, make it happen. You deserve to complete the circle from idea to creation to a book you can share. We are artists; we deserve an audience. With print-on-demand and e-book technology, the costs are relatively small (do your Google homework) and the satisfaction immense. With completion, you can move on to your next novel and eat your icing too.

_____________________________________

Note: Elizabeth will be monitoring this post over the next couple of days and will be happy to respond to your comments.

To contact Elizabeth go to www.elizabethlyon.com or e-mail her at elyon123@comcast.net.




Saturday, November 12, 2011

Guest Post from Kelly Sullivan

What's Inside - Simple Pleasures, #23 of 30

“There must be something in there”, I thought to myself. I turned it all around and admired it. It was simple. It was beautiful. I was intrigued by the thing I could not see; that beautiful thing inside. The one that I was sure existed, but could never see without breaking it apart.

Mystery is a powerful thing. It can motivate us toward an outcome, or it can consume us, thirsty for an answer. How far we go to quench it is what separates us.

Some will bust it open demanding satisfaction. They may reach their goal of knowing, but will likely leave a lot of broken pieces.

Others may pick at it slowly, after careful deliberation and study, until a softening occurs and they can see what has been hiding. Hopefully they find sweetness; something worthy of their effort.

There are also those that would prefer to leave a beautiful thing undisturbed and just appreciate it from a comfortable distance, maintaining its beauty, keeping the mystery folded. This is the safe spot. They will never really know what’s in there, and they will never be disappointed by its content.

In the Buddhist religion, the seeds of the Chinese Lantern are used is an offering to celebrate the greatest mystery of all. This offering is made to honor our ancestors and thank them for their sacrifices. It is intended to guide them through death.

Perhaps we can use a seed or two in life. Just knowing that “there is something in there”, makes me want to see it. Will I bust it open, or pick at it slowly, or just keep it folded?

For now, I will paint.


For more information about Kelly, please visit:

http://kellysullivanfineart.com/blog 

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Flanders Fields


The famous poem written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, penned as a memorial for his slain friend, Alexis Helmer, pictured above, captures the essence of sacrifice. The chilling poem grew to symbolize World War One itself. School children in Canada were tasked with memorizing it, and reciting it at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. This year, as we remember the fallen, we know that they are all together now; there are no living survivors of what is often called, 'The Great War.'

It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. As my great grandfather was a committed pacifist, we can only surmise how difficult it must have been for him to see his only son go off to war. Fortunately, we have access to the letter he wrote expressing his thoughts:

The World Office,

Tuesday 1st February, 1916

My dear boy, I suppose you find it hard to think of yourself twenty-one years ago, but the dear little chap who used to love me so much and put his arms around my neck, and climb up on my knee, and play ball and do all the other little things which you won't think anything of until you have children of your own, are all on my mind. Well dearie, you are a man now and your own master as I have always tried to have you be. I may not have done as well by you as I hoped, but you are all I could wish in the main things, clean, truthful, brave and generous. I think you will have enough regard for the old days to keep these things in your heart all your life.

You are going on a high quest now, not for yourself but for all the world. I have never bothered you much with religion, but I want you to feel that you are at all times in the care of the Master and that He will be with you in times of difficulty or danger. Even though you stand in the shadow of death you need fear no evil for He will be with you if your heart is turned to Him.

The war has interfered with many plans I had for you. You are going to England but not as I expected. I do not know what another year may bring, but we are all in the hands of the Eternal. I hope you won't think of this as a sermon or a screed. It is just a loving word from your old Daddy to wish you all the best things in the world, and to kiss you goodbye as you go away and leave all the old times behind forever. Don't forget, no one will ever love you better than I do. It makes me all the sorrier that I have such a poor way of showing it.

God bless you dear, now and always.

Love, my dear boy, Your loving Daddy


By the grace of God my grandfather lived and came home to raise a family. A recent book, released in Canada last week, depicted many of his experiences in the war. He was at all four major battles: Ypres, the Somme, Passchendale, and Vimy Ridge. He was also a fly boy, and in this book, I saw a photo of him in his leather coat, leather hat and goggles. At one point, his plane was shot down and even though he was wounded, he managed to land it in an obliging field. He said it fell in circles as a leaf comes down from a tree.

His gunner tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "What is going to happen?"

He said, "You and I have had a lot of arguments about religion Wardsy, and in about forty seconds, we will find out who is right."

Mercifully, they managed to land and as they scrambled out of the plane, they saw a man waiving to them frantically. Feeling they were about to be rescued, they headed for him only to learn to their horror that it was a German. He pointed his gun at my grandfather's chest and pulled the trigger, twice at point blank range. Luckily, the soldier missed and my grandfather later told us that it was the force of his wrath and will that somehow steered the bullets into his coat, passing him by completely. After this brush with death, he was taken prisoner and later escaped. Eventually captured, he had to spend the rest of the war in solitary confinement.

To read of all these tales so many years later, to learn of the horrific carnage, and see photo's of his old friends and teammates from home, many of whom did not return, makes me so cognizant of the merest thread separating us all from life and death.

We have not lost sight of all the brave Canadians who died so far away from home. We pause in silence this Armistice Day, at eleven am on 11/11/'11 to remember all the fallen on all sides, and pray, as always, for a real, lasting and enduring peace.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Plot your Plot


Of all the books I have read about writing, this one tops my charts. As I am a right brained writer, something I have known about myself for quite some time, I found much help, encouragement and yes, sympathy in this marvelous book for those who share my affliction. A right brained writer is one who loves characters, thoughts, whimsy, and thinks their fool heads off, just for fun. Cause, effect, analytical action, and logical sequences are not the stuff of dreams. Not to worry, says Martha Alderson, the author of this wonderful book. The subtitle: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, was enough to activate my inner one click, add to cart, self.

She writes of the Universal Story: "All of us face antagonists and hurdles, hopes and joys, and by meeting these challenges we can transform our lives. I have come to believe that every scene in every book is part of a Universal Story that flows throughout our lives, both in our imaginations and in the reality that surrounds us. "

As you read Martha Alderson's book, a strange phenomenon begins to take place. Perhaps my right brain is in a constant war with the left. For whatever reason, the more she described how to nail down the structure of a novel, the more flooded I became with ideas, snippets of dialogue, important scenes and all kinds of other inspirational brainstorms that I furtively jotted down and scribbled in the margins of this book. Why it served to fire so many synapses, I can only attribute to her skill. For instance, did you know, that the beginning of a book should be one fourth of the story, the middle, one half and the end, one fourth. Does that not sound easy?

Next comes the diagram. It makes me quiver. Geometry? I DON'T GET IT! I have to really counsel myself through this part. However, she has a list of words to go with it. Blessed, blessed words. It is a really complete set of instructions and I vow to tackle this plot beast once and for all. If I can manage it in the most difficult of contexts, that is, my own life, as I am working on a memoir, then it will be a snap into place in the next book which I will plot from the beginning. I guess I have always imagined that there is some inner plot master, or perhaps a heavenly soul who takes my hand and guides me through the swamp of my left brain wherein all my wanderings will somehow fit as pieces do in a complex jigsaw puzzle. Thankfully, my new friend and plot whisperer is about as good as anyone who can talk to horses, or dogs, and somehow manage to coax them out of their bad habits. She has reassured me that my affliction is perfectly common. Left brained writers set out with a plan, but the characters do not come as easily. Their books are everywhere, from the grocery store to the airport. If I can manage this challenge, I can wed my strength to my weakness, and then all my troubles will be over.

"As soon as the plot and the structure work, your focus can turn to making every word, phrase and metaphor perfect."

I'll get right on it!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Present Yourself With Pride




When glancing through the sports page recently, I came across an amazing statistic. Patrick Chan is now in the Guinness Book of World Records.  It happened at the World Championships, 2011, where he received the highest marks ever recorded.  This news is marvelous on many counts, but it personally meaningful to me. This marks a triumph for someone else, someone no longer on this earth, a man who is gone now, but never to be forgotten.  I am recalling my old skating teacher, Osborne Coulson.

To part the mists of time, I return in my mind's eye to Silver Blades skating club, nestled as it was in the borough of Etobicoke, in the west end of Toronto. The rink was absolutely as ordinary as any in existence at the time. The smell of hot dogs, and popcorn would hit full force when we entered the door. The drinks were limited to boiler plate coffee for the Moms and strange tasting soft drinks, with very little ice. The last thing we needed was more cold.

We took to the ice wearing skirts knit by our mothers and grandmothers. In my case, we were lucky enough to have a great aunt who contributed to this effort. Out I went with sweater, skirt, hat and mittens, all fashioned by loving hands. My first coach, in keeping with all efforts to put me on the road to championship, was the best to be had in the entire world. Ellen Burka by name, she had coached her own daughter into landing a perfect triple jump in competition. Petra Burka was the first to accomplish this amazing feat, beating the men and everyone else to the punch, and not only did she do it, she nailed it. Mrs Burka went on to coach many champions, but not yours truly here. At the age of eight, I was quite overcome by a fit of creativity. At center ice, waiting for my music to start, I suddenly got the daft notion to invent my own program. The judges, my parents, and my coach were all horrified with the latter refusing to teach me ever again. In the process of being disciplined for making such a crazy decision, I was told that without Mrs. Burka, I could forget, just abandon, any hope of becoming a Figure Skating Champion in Canada. I had to go down a notch in the coaching field. Due to my odd move, with a championship now out of the running, I had to figure out another way in which to distinguish myself. Without music, or dance lessons, it became a tall order, and the insurmountable problem of my young life. 

Into this sea of trouble skated Ozzie Coulson. I was in the process of working on my school figures, in silence, when he glided over and told me he would be my new coach. He was smoking a cigarette at the time, housed in an elegant gold tipped extender. His hat, a fedora, was enhanced by an extravagant feather sweeping skyward on the side of his head. A cashmere scarf around his neck over a white shirt and tie, an elegant overcoat, and crisp wool pants, he was just unlike most men I knew in my youth. I thought he was great! 

After telling him right off that he was to consider me soft in the head, and stupid on all accounts, he nudged me with his elbow. “You know what” he whispered. “I liked your program!”

I could not believe my ears. Someone was on my side for once? This was too good to be true. That is how my relationship with him began.  At this point in time, I cherish every lesson I had with him, not only for what he taught me about the sport, but what he gave me about life.

“I want you to present yourself to the world with pride,” he said. He would lift his head, smile with a twinkle in his eye, and put his chin up. Sometimes people would make fun of him, or say in their polite way, that he, "certainly was different." Flamboyant was the term most often given to him, but he persisted in walking tall, beautifully and colorfully dressed. He brought a smile to the face of everyone in his midst. He was artistic, creative, and loved that quality in his pupils. He used to laugh his head off at my scathing imitations of others, or of the silly things I said and did.

When I saw him in later years, his eyes filled up with tears as I hugged him. He told me straight away that he was currently coaching a really, really good skater. He referred to Patrick Chan.

When Ozzie lay on his deathbed, Patrick held his hand. A clip shown in the last Olympics featured Ozzie telling Patrick, “I want you to show your pride.”

Any writer attempting to find an agent, or publisher and facing rejection. will be knocked sideways, more than once. It is not uncommon for a young scribe to have a drawer full of verbal assaults and they may start to doubt whether they should pursue this crazy life at all. Bless the people in our midst, the teachers who gave us encouragement, because we can never fully gauge the degree of influence. The meanest letters I ever had to read regarding my work, did not destroy my pride. Just as all those falls, where gravity overcame any efforts to defy it, over and over, and sent me smashing down to the ice, hurting and discouraged, did not stop me from skating. To this day, I still love it, and watching a skater like Patrick Chan who can land not one, but two quadruple jumps, in a short program, one who can make the toughest judges agree that they just saw the best ever, well, that is just as good as it gets. Watching Patrick's record breaking, perfect short program brought me unmistakeably back to the dramatic and jazzy moves, Ozzie taught me as a child. 

Patrick, I congratulate you. Ozzy, I love you and thank you. You had the heart of a champion.


Friday, November 4, 2011

The Library, Books & Movies





When I was a little girl a trip to the city library on Saturday afternoon was something I always looked forward to.   The hours passed quickly as I carefully pulled books  from the shelves ,  read their titles and  decided which ones to check out.  I liked taking  my choices to the librarian , showing her my library card ,  then  watching as she  stamped  the return date  on inside  page. 

 The library was orderly and quiet; There was a certain etiquette to be observed. No eating, or  loud talking.  When patrons did speak it was in hushed voices, like in church,   so not to disturb others that were reading, or studying  at the long rectangular table, perhaps doing research for a History or English assignment.

Visiting the library is something I’ve never outgrown, and still think of the library as someplace special.   A place of learning and information; a Community center. 

 According to Wikipedia libraries had often started with donation, an endowment or were bequeathed  to various parishes, churches, schools or towns.  Ben Franklin and friends  are generally considered the first to start a subscription library   in 1731,  allowing members to buy shares . Combined funds were used to buy more books—in return members could borrow books and use the library.   It was Andrew Carnegie, however who had the biggest influence  in financing libraries in the United States.  In the  years between 1900 to 1917, almost 1,700 libraries were constructed by Carnegie’s foundation, insisting that local communities first guarantee tax support of each library built.  In my opinion,   taxes well spent. 

 Most   city and county libraries have reading  programs for citizens of all ages . Coeur d Alene Library  is no exception , offering  Pre-school Story, Book Babies Lap,  Family reading, Lego Club,  a computer workshop and Pageturners  Book Club .

 I was at the library last week searching for  Barbara Belford’s   biography  Oscar Wilde, A Certain Genius,   and the novel the Irish poet and dramatist is  famously known for , The Picture of Dorian Gray.    With books in hand, I  was about  to exit through the center door when   I noticed a flyer posted on the bulletin board :  The Coeur d Alene Public Library Foundation presents Moving Books— The Written  Word Turned Into Film !   Movie’s are scheduled November 2011 thru May  2012.  Jane Eyre, Polar Express, Sophie’s Choice, All the King’s Men , The Lincoln Lawyer, Tangled and Charlie Wilson’s War.  

What a good idea.  Showcasing books turned into film.   I began thinking of other books  made into movies ; Ben Hur,  The Bishops Wife,  Breakfast at Tiffany’s , Gone With the Wind, Wizard of Oz; To Kill A Mockingbird, The Maltese Falcon, East of Eden.  It became a game with me as more and more books into movies came to mind: Little Women, Tom Sawyer, True Grit.  There are hundreds of them.    I then thought how interesting it would be  to  read the book prior to seeing the movie then compare the two by answering a  few  guideline questions;  How well did the movie adaptation follow the author’s story ? Or did the  movie script alter what the author wrote? How are they the same? How did they differ?
   
The Picture of Dorian Gray, the book I checked out at the library ?   I can't wait to finish reading it , then watch  the movie—  the written word turned into film !  

*** NOTE:  For more information about Moving Books at Coeur d Alene Library call 208 769 2380 or visit their website http://www.cdalibrary.org/

*** For a list of books made into movies  http://www.ocl.net/bookinfo/if/movies.shtml


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Playwright & Poet - Ben Jonson, Friend of Shakespeare


I’m sure  many today  are familiar with the quote, Drink to me only with thine eyes, And I will pledge with mine,  but I wonder how many know it was written by Ben Jonson  in the 17th  century.   It is the opening line  of his poem , Song: To  Celia. 

Or this  from Catiline. Act III. Sc. I ,  Bad men excuse their faults, good men will leave them

And  in his poem , To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, Jonson wrote, He was not of an age, but for all time !    These many centuries later we  still recognize Jonson’s words referring to  Shakespeare as being profound,  and true.

Perhaps the same could easily be said of Jonson, if his  notoriety had been more acclaimed throughout the years. Or if he hadn’t been overshadowed by the great Bard.  Jonson , best known for his plays Volpone, and The Alchemist, was a contemporary of Shakespeare —both  were poets, playwrights, satirists.   They were friends, but according to biographers, it was a  complicated friendship .  No doubt, Jonson being Shakespeare’s biggest rival, there was  competition between them. 


 It wasn’t until Shakespeare's death Ben Jonson become the leading literary figure of the Jacobean era  (  the reign of James I), and enjoyed popularity as writer of masques.  Citing Wikipedia,   the Masque was a form of courtly entertainment which flourished in the 16th and 17th century Europe. In England, Tudor court masques developed from earlier guisings, where a masked allegorical figure would appear and address the assembled company—providing a theme for the occasion—with musical accompaniment; masques at Elizabeth’s court emphasized  the concord and unity between Queen and Kingdom.  Ben Jonson wrote a number of masques.   His   works are usually thought of as the most significant in the form.   Jonson’s , Masque of Blackness  was written as the request of Anne of Denmark who wished the masquers to be disguised as Africans. For synopsis of Masque of Blackness visit  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Masque_of_Blackness

Jonson’s name  is once again  making news as Science Daily reports , Literary Detectives  Unravel Famous Ben Jonson Mystery (October 25, 2011) . According to the internet source a manuscript hidden among papers in an ancient  family archive sheds new light  on  Ben Jonson , detailing his famous walk from London to Scotland in 1618,  written by his  unidentified companion. According to the article,  the  newly discovered , 7,500 word manuscript helps reconstruct  a large missing piece of  Jonson’s life story.   Until now, it was thought Jonson made the trek alone.   Julie Sanders, professor of English Studies at the University of Nottingham says, “ His  encounters with the regional and cultural geographies of England and Scotland had a profound impact  on what he went on to write afterwards and the manuscript allows us new insight into his work and the society of his time.” 

 One of my favorite Jonson poems , Inviting a Friend to Supper  is  included in  Elizabethan and Jacobean POETS Marlowe to Maxwell, edited by W.H. Auden and Norman Holmes Pearson.   It begins,

Tonight, grave sir, both my poore house , and I 
Doe equally desire your companie:
Not that we thinke us worthy of such a ghest, 
But that your worth will dignifie our feast,
With those that come; whose grace may make  that
seeme, 
Something, which, else, could hope for no esteeme.

The ending reads,

Nor shall our cups make any guiltie men:
But, at our parting, we will be, as when
We innocently met.  No simple word,
That shall be utter'd at our mirthful boord,
Shall make us sad next morning: or affright
The libertie, that wee'll enjoy to night.

I've read these verses many times, and always smile as I so easily picture two friends enjoying each other's company, sharing a meal and happy conversation in the comfort and warmth of home. Thinking well  of  one another, free to be themselves. 

On a bookshelf at my mother’s house is a copy of an old  worn book that had been in her grandmother's family for a long time,  Poetical Album of Choice Reflections of Poetry and Song, copyright 1893.  It is where I first read Jonson's  poem, Song: To  Celia when I was just a young girl.    One of the entries is a   short biographical sketch of Ben Jonson  that seems more  an epitaph on a grave side marker,   “Rare Ben Jonson”  born in England 1574. Died 1637.  Man of marked ability and strong character, not displaying any finished style in writing, yet infusing a rugged strength, and showing a masterly grasp of the subject which made him one of the famous authors of his time. His drama and tragedies were popular, and he received a pension from the crown, but on account of his prodigal habits he died in poverty.







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