Monday, April 29, 2013

LIfe of Pi -- a Good Movie , a Great book !

  Several weeks ago  friends, Patty and Phyllis  recommended I rent the DVD  movie Life of Pi, both said it was very good and  worth watching. Phyllis said she also read the award winning  book by Yann Martel  and liked it very much.  So, heeding their advice,  I rented Life of Pi .  My husband and I watched the movie last night, and like my friends,  thought it very good.

   Gary and I were immediately  carried along with the narrative of the story - a cargo ship sinking, a young boy who looses his family and is lost at sea with the likes of a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger ! Yikes ! It  seemed almost unbelievable, yet,  I believed this was as it happened - especially when Pi said something about 'Pi's Ark'.  I was totally captivated through it all - it never dawned on me that the author was presenting an allegory, in the Biblical sense. Not until the end of Pi's second account of  his story. It was only then I had my 'ah ha' moment. The animals weren't animals at all, but real life human beings that had to deal with their circumstance in life - challenging, and sorrowful  as it was.

   In 1974 I was travelling in Europe , and had been away from home for some time, I'd often get letters from Phyllis  telling me she thought I was probably spending too much time in churches, an not experiencing real life, and  encouraged me to get out and live, live, live !

    Sadly,  my maternal grandmother died two weeks after I arrived in London. To hear my mother telling me this horrific news over the transcontinental phone  was devastating, and needless to say put a damper on my trip. To know my mother's sorrow,  and not being there to give her comfort was heart wrenching.    I was in complete shock as grandma had not been ill, she was only 57 years old. Without luck I tried to get a flight home in time for Grandma's funeral.  Very kindly,  family and friends said Grandma wouldn't want me to come home, but  continue my stay in Europe as it was something I had dreamed of for so long. I was less certain, and just felt sad.

  When I finally wrote  Phyllis,   it was a make believe letter that had the sound of truth, so much so, that she called my mother telling her she was sure I was in some harm. I told  about  my harrowing experience of being  kidnapped by bandits from Albania , dumped into a large wicker basket and thrown into the back of a Citroen bus. I  wrote I was then driven many  miles,  making several turns - first a  left, then right, then left again. I could hear voices talking , but couldn't understand what they were saying as  their language was foreign to me.  My letter went on and on telling Phyl about two big black things standing by my side. When Phyllis read that line to my mother, mom knew then  all was okay, as it was a line I shamefully  clipped  from James Whitcomb Reilly's poem Little Orphant Annie.

  By no means am I attempting to  compare  or associate my letter   to Martel's wonderful , well written, well received  Life of Pi. Not in the slightest. Only  to make the point writers do take real life situation that are hurtful and sad, hard to understand or explain,  and create imagined characters and situations  to help them more easily share their anxiety, worries, fears  - as well as their faith and hope that all will be well.

  I wasn't really kidnapped , but for those few days after learning of my grandmother's death, and not being able to get home, it seemed I was kidnapped by distance and time, and so my story/letter developed the way it did. 

   Yesterday afternoon I stopped by the library and checked out Life of Pi.  I can see why more than seven million copies have been sold - Yann Martel knows how to write a story !

Friday, April 26, 2013

Love Scenes and (the writer)

When she writes loves scenes, Janet Evanovich sits alone in her dedicated writing room, drinks a glass of champagne and nibbles from a bowl of M&Ms. Her Stephanie Plum series of murder mysteries are rapid fire and have a dose of sex but she finds them difficult to write. How do you write love scenes or do not write them because you are hesitant?

There are many rules about writing love scenes and surprisingly most of them apply to Christian romance novels as well as “bodice rippers” and those general romance stories by Richard Paul Evans, Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, and Nikki Arana. (Forget the hard-core stuff. I do not know any authors and do not want to comment on it.)

1. Know your audience and yourself.
Write what you are comfortable saying.
Write the scenes your readers expect based on the plot.
Use words that appeal to you and fit the plot.

2. Make sure the scene adds to the story line.
Gratuitous sex just to sell a book or to nab a publisher is tawdry and  
demeaning to you and the reader. Write love scenes not sex scenes.
3. We all know the rules of building tension in a plot.
Sexual tension needs to be built up from the beginning of the story. You must show how the characters’ relationship gets to the point where they make love.           
Write the characters to have an attraction at their first meeting.
Keep them thinking about each other in a slightly sexual way.
“He noticed her lips right away.” “She loved men with red hair and he had long, curly red hair…. and a red beard!”
            There have to be consequences of having sex further into the

4. Balance your scenes between emotions and physical acts.
            Write so the actions are not too distracting.
            Rarely do characters have sex just for sex’ sake.
Understand that most of your audience knows how its done.
Make it part of the tension of plot as well as tension in the scene.
            Sometimes sex is not necessary for the story.
            Decide if the scene will be fast and hot or slow and romantic.

5. Use the five senses to enhance the setting.
            Are they in her childhood bedroom that is soft and pink and
            smells of her shampoo? Are they in the woods and
            the gentle breeze through the pine trees sounds like waves and 
            the air smells like fresh rain? Are they in a hotel room or car?
            Use descriptive nouns to set the scene. It can’t all be about
            body parts or actions, or it is boring and readers skip it.

6. Do not make the scenes long.

7. Make sure that the readers know that eventually these characters will make love. An out-of-the-air scene is not helpful.

8. Write love scenes from one person’s point of view. The other character can think about it later in order to give the reader the other half of the couple’s feelings about what happened.

9. Do not let the sex scenes overpower the main plot. It should add to the plot but not be THE element of the story. 

10. Avoid clich├ęs and foolish names for body parts.

11. Write the scenes as they are scheduled into the story. Do not save them for the last and insert them where you thought they would fit.

12. Have some fun. Think happy thoughts while you write even if you write in the closet by candlelight.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Phrases Beyond Their Expiration Date

Daniel D. Stryker Huffington Post 1/2010
The English language along with almost every other language except those used in remote regions of the world is in constant change. English is the most widely spoken and written language at 480 million people. Mandarin has more speakers, collectively 1.1 billion, but not as many people able to write Mandarin; it also has hundreds of dialects usually not understood if one is in a different geographical district of China.

The use of the Internet by millions of human beings and several gorillas has seen the English language, in particular, change the swiftest. English, British and American versions, is considered the premier language of the international business world. It is also the favored language used on the Internet. These factors make for rapid changes in the meanings and spelling of English words (but not nearly as fast as changes in punctuation). Chat rooms, Internet games, thousands of blogs on all subjects contribute to the dispersion of the English language. People want to fit in so they copy current slang words and colloquial phrases. Many of the current faddish words and phrases are just that. They come and go mainly because (a) they were stupid in the first place, (b) people tire of them quickly, and (c) new words pop up that are quickly repeated so as to make the speaker or writer appear on the cusp of what is in vogue.

There are several blog and web sites that list words that are falling out of favor. Today I compiled my own list. True, it is prejudiced. Some words or phrases I have never liked and so want to see them banished forever. Others I feel have reached their "expiration date." They are old, stale, not funny, no longer appropriate because their meanings have changed over time, or they are hackneyed. I think  the people who use them are too lazy to think up something intelligent to say or write in its place.

LOL        emoticons        cray cray        fiscal cliff        epic        trending          

And I went like....and he went like         It is what it is        Ombamacare         YOLO

OMG             "You guys" regardless of gender of people you are speaking to

 What the.... ?!       on the same page        I've had it up to here        meh     WTF

F bomb       -gate        vajayjay        sharing        let me be clear     take a meeting

take it to the next level        that's so gay        bitch        red/blue states        narrative

chillax       connect the dots        kick the can down the road    at the end of the day

more important       I personally         Me and Joe went        that being said       24-7

the race card       it goes without saying        Awesome!        spread the wealth      

spin doctor        so and so "rocks" a .....     I  hate when....        I hate that...  

arguably        it's not rocket science        bucket list        spoiler alert    man cave

my bad        babe        baby in reference to an adult      wardrobe malfunction

signing a letter "Best," ( best what?)         it is a good read   legitimate rape

the opposition (meaning anybody of a different political party regardless of their stance)

trickle down theory        my bad        Oh my God...seriously?    wasted

he graduated college     he's in hospital     the reporter is on scene      rachet

no problem (in place of you're welcome)       think outside the box     bro  

I know right     winter blizzard warning     I (heart) anything   dude

my friend on the other side of the aisle (Congress)       jeah    ping me

Monday, April 22, 2013

Kudos, Goodbye, Earth Day and Writing

It is Writing North Idaho's honor to send kudos to our own Jennifer Lamont Leo for winning first place for her recently completed novel in the Inland Empire Christian Writers Conference. Congratulations, Jenny! We are so proud of you.

Writing North Idaho is sad to say a fond goodbye to one of our own. Nancy Owens Barnes is leaving WNI as a regular contributor to pursue other adventures in her full life. She hasn't left us permanently as she will return as a guest writer  and occasional technical guru. Her insights into our craft of writing will be missed but all her previous posts are available by clicking on her name at the lower left sidebar. We have all learned from her posts.

We wish Nancy all the best adventures possible in her expanded life of writing, book promotions, travel, sailing on the  lake in her father's restored boat and spending time with family and friends.  Please visit her web sites and  Thanks, Nancy, for many jobs well done!       
Today, April 22, and every April 22 for 43 years, people around the world have celebrated Earth Day. It is estimated that this year approximately one billion people will participate in some act that shows our love of and respect for planet Earth. ("If you are talking about the Earth as a proper noun, as a planet or celestial body, then you can capitalize Earth and use no article (the): How far is Earth from the Sun? But it is also fine to leave it as lowercase and use the with earth if you are talking about it as the planet we live on: The earth rotates on its axis. It is ok to do the same with the sun and the moon. When you are talking about the ground or soil as a surface or stratum, then you must lowercase the word: The archaeologists excavated the earth at the site. The word earth is derived from Greek era. Here is something interesting - we never hear people say the Mercury, the Pluto - but we do say the Earth, the Moon. Using the definite article "the" in front of an uncapitalized [sic] "earth" has its roots in the worldview that we are separate from and fundamentally different.") []

It is globally considered a day to plant a tree, pick up roadside trash, beautify a park, or any number of other activities that inspire awareness and appreciation of the earth’s environment. Some interest groups have used Earth Day as a podium for their belief that there is unprecedented climate change happening world-wide and use April 22 as a tool to draw people to their agendas.

What does that mean to us as writers? If you are a poet, today is the day to write a poem about the view out your front window, the lake where you kayak, your neighbor’s flower garden or the clouds on a spring day. If you garden, why not think about adding a place in your yard where you can sit in the summer shade and write or edit? What better place to do the onerous job of editing than in nature’s beauty? It makes the task much more palatable. Use Earth Day as a writing prompt and compose a story that comes to mind. It could be set in the past, the present or the future.

English Point National Recreation Trail and Park is near my house. There is a five mile groomed trail that meanders through north Idaho national forest land.  Wooden benches are placed along various points. One of my favorites is a place that gives a magnificent view of Hayden Lake. I think that is how I will spend my day: a five mile hike with a long stop to view the blue lake, evergreen trees, nature and to write another post for this week.
Hayden Lake, Idaho, U.S.A.
An interesting story is how Hayden Lake got its name. During the late 1870s, the first homesteaders, a Mr. Strahorn (first name unrecorded) and three soldiers from Fort Sherman (downtown Coeur d'Alene, ID on Lake Coeur d'Alene, 7.5 miles south of Hayden Lake), Matt Hayden, John Hager, and John Hickey, settled in the area. Legend has it that Hayden and Hager, whose homestead was on this lake played a game of seven-up to determine who should name the lake. Hayden won the card game.

Celebrate Earth Day in your own way and enjoy what Earth has to offer!

Friday, April 19, 2013

What's a Writer to Do?

In the midst of my recent angst over the mandate to develop an author platform on social media, I stumbled upon a great post written by author Jody Hedlund in which she emphasizes, "Whether we self-publish or go the traditional route, a fiction writer's MAIN job is WRITING BOOKS."

Reading this post was like smoothing aloe vera on the sunburn of my overheated brain. I'll continue to develop my author platform, but I'm putting writing books and articles firmly back into first place on my priority list.

Read Jody's post here, and Step Away From the Tweet. At least until your first draft is finished.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Short Stories: The Literary Version of "We're Not Short, We're 'Fun Size'"

Lately I've rediscovered the joy of the short story. I've been reading a collection that I checked out of the library on a whim called Great American Short Stories: O. Henry Memorial Prize Winning Stories, 1919-1934.

It's been said that the early twentieth century was the golden age of the short story. Nearly every magazine, from the obscure to the most widely read, used to contain a short story, sometimes more than one. In recent decades, many magazines have stopped publishing short fiction. I don't know why--maybe it's a combination of changing demographics, a thirst for celebrity gossip, and a practical mindset that seeks "just the facts" in a how-to article or expose. Too bad, because I think the reading public would be enriched by a regular infusion of fiction.

Here's what I most enjoy about short stories:

*They can be read in one go--maybe two at most. I'm often tempted to read a novel in great gulping waves, either to find out what happens next or merely to reach "The End" and call it done. A well-written short story can be read through once, twice, three times, with new insights, details, and turns of phrase appearing on each pass. 

*The author of a short story is forced to write succinctly, to squeeze the most out of every word. That economy of language makes it both a pleasure to read and a lesson in how to make music with words and phrases.

*I find that short stories often pack a greater emotional whallop than novels. I'm not sure why this might be. It seems counterintuitive, but with less space to build backstory and no room at all for tangents, the reader's focus is undiluted on anything but the author's intended one-two punch.

Here are just a few of my current favorites:

The Waltz and Big Blonde, both by Dorothy Parker. One story is funny, the other's sad. In each case, Parker's trademark rapier wit shines through.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce. I first saw a film version of this story in high school. The memory still haunts me years later. A story of similar mood that affected me deeply is A Trip to Czardis by Edwin Granberry.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. A classic bone-chiller.

White as Snow by Kay Boyle. An tale of grace and dignity in the Jim Crow era.

If you'd like to take a crack at writing short stories, or to refine the ones you've already written, I recommend The Handbook of Short Story Writing, Volume II.

Do you prefer to read short stories or novels? Why? If you enjoy short stories, what are some of your favorites?

Monday, April 15, 2013

An Introvert's Guide to Building an Author Platform

Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, oh my!

Recently I finished writing my first novel, and I've begun the harrowing process of sharing it with potential agents ("sharing it" sounds a little more on top of the process than "sending it out on a wing and a prayer," a more accurate description.) While early feedback on my story has been positive, one criticism I receive is that I lack an author "platform," meaning that nobody in the reading public knows who the heck I am.

I rather like it that way. In real life I'm an introvert (an INFP, for those who give credence to Myers-Briggs). INFPs are supposed to make good writers, and one of the reasons, I would guess, is that we love to work alone. As an introverted person, platform-building is hard to do. Putting myself out there feels uncomfortable and unnatural.The term "platform" is supposed to bring to mind the stage from which a speaker addresses an audience. But hey, aren't gallows built on platforms, too?

Legend has it that once upon a time, an author could toil away in her writing room, spinning literary straw into gold. Every so often she would send a completed manuscript to her fairy godagent, who would shop it around to publishers. When a book was published, there'd be a brief flurry of activity where the author would leave her desk, put on her dancing shoes, and attend the ball of book signings and author tours. But soon enough she'd be back in her cozy garret, hard at work on another manuscript, grateful to kick off her dancing shoes because they pinched.

Those days are no more, I'm told. Now an author must sew her own ballgown and hire her own coach and footman before anyone will even think of inviting her to the ball. In other words, she must emerge, blinking, from her garret and let the world know she exists.

The nice thing is, much platform-building can be accomplished from inside my garret via social media. The Internet is an introvert's best friend. Just as writing an e-mail feels more comfortable than making a phone call, interacting via social media feels more comfortable than making small talk in a room full of strangers--which is essentially what it is!

Think of each social media application as a "plank" in the platform. With the plethora of social media available, choosing which one(s) to use is like trying to drink from a firehose. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, novelist Susan May Warren recommends choosing three forms of social media and doing them well, rather than trying to do them all. I've chosen four: a website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Another author might choose LinkedIn or other applications--it depends largely on which audience you want to reach.

When it comes to constructing a platform, I certainly haven't found all the answers. What I can do is share what I've learned so far, and report back now and then about what tactics, if any, have proven most effective. Here are my examples:

AUTHOR WEBSITE: What to write about before there's a book to promote? The target audience for my historical fiction consists largely of women who enjoy reading and learning about "the olden days." While I do post some info about my fiction, I also post about all things vintage: fashion, food, music, books, trends, historical tidbits, etc. My goal is to build an audience of potential readers who are interested in the era I write about (early 20th century), so that when my novel is published, those who also enjoy fiction will be primed to read it.

AUTHOR FACEBOOK PAGE: I've built a Facebook page, separate from my personal profile, exclusively for building my author platform. Its purpose, again, is to connect with potential readers and point people to my author website.

TWITTER: I opened a Twitter account to build my author website and also participate in the larger community of readers, writers, publishers, agents, and lovers of all things vintage.

PINTEREST: I use my Pinterest account as a visual representation of my fiction writing, with boards dedicated to the Roaring Twenties, the Edwardian era, Chicago, history, etc., and pointing back to my author website.

I've barely scratched the surface of how to use social media to build an audience for fiction. I'll be returning to this topic from time to time, letting you know what's working and what's not. In the meantime, feel free to ask questions about platform building via social media and I'll try to ferret out some answers.

Introverts need author platforms too! (Tweet this.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Joy of Prosody: Dissecting poems of successful poets - John Milton

By Liz Mastin

While trying my best to learn how the great established poets wrote their most celebrated poems, I am consulting an anthology called One Hundred and One Famous Poems. The information inside the front cover states this book is a “true classic among poetry anthologies. It has sold over 4,000,000 copies and is perhaps the most widely read and respected anthology of all time.” It goes on to say: “It is replete with the masterpieces of the greatest poets ever.” Thus, I believe it is a very good collection from which to draw. 

These are the famous poems that endure forever imbedded in a reader’s mind. They are typically written in meter and form. Mankind loves meaningful poetry he can remember.  The poem I thought I would investigate this month is a sonnet by John Milton called “On His Blindness."

On His Blindness
By John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent, which is death to hide,
Lodges with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He, returning chide:
“Doth God exact day labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask; but Patience, to present

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work, or His own gifts; who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’re land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton became blind at the age of forty four years old. It was after this that he wrote “Paradise Lost.” In this sonnet: “On His Blindness,”  Milton talks about how man serves God, even if when doing his best, some men can only patiently stand and wait. John Milton, in his blindness, could only stand and wait and write his excellent poetry.

This is an Italian Petrarchean sonnet because of the enveloped rhyming scheme in the first two quatrains. This sonnet consists of two iambic pentameter quatrains, rhyming abba abba and a final iambic pentameter sestet, rhyming abcabc.

The first two quatrains pose a problem or question, and, the final sestet answers the problem or question.
This sonnet, as well as all true sonnets, is written in iambic pentameter with exactly fourteen lines.
1. When I       2. Con si      3. der how      4. my light spent.

Note: iambs have one weak stress followed by one strong stress. There are five iambs in iambic pentameter. 1. da DUM  2. da DUM  3. da DUM   4. da DUM  5. da DUM

 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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Advice to Writers: Never Give Up Hope

Root Bound Goes Into Production

The Coeur d’Alene Chapter of the Idaho Writer’s League begins every meeting with introductions and then the big question, “Who wants to share some good news about your writing?"  I’ve always yearned to share something big – like I finally wrote that book I’ve been working on for years.  Well, that didn’t happen, but I do have big news! 

The short screenplay I wrote for a screenplay contest in 2009 is finally going to be produced.  Hooray!  I originally wrote the piece, "Heading for the Big Time," as an entry for the 2009 Idaho Magazine Fiction Contest.  The 30-page short story was awarded the Publisher’s Choice Award by Kitty Fleishmann.  Later that year I changed the name of the piece to Root Bound and adapted it into a screenplay that met the criteria of the kNIFVES (Northwest Independent Film & Video Entertainment Society) contest. 

The 17-page screenplay languished until July of 2010, when it was chosen for production by the kNIFVES board.  Later that year the project was awarded a $3,000 Filmmaker’s Award Grant from the Idaho Film Office.  Exciting, right? 

But, who knew that the setbacks that cause projects in Hollywood to be postponed, interrupted, rescheduled, delayed, or heaven forbid, just plain cancelled; would happen right here in North Idaho?  First came the rewrites – then came the scheduling, crew, location and logistic problems.  The project was scheduled for production twice during the next two years, only to fall victim to final deferral when paying jobs interfered with this, pretty much, all volunteer project.  

I learned a lot during the long wait – patience mostly – but working with kNIFVES president and director, WJ Lazarus, was a valuable experience for me and I mostly enjoyed the process.  Then 2013 rolled around.  By now the grant had already been extended twice and WJ was as busy as ever in Hollywood.  I was ready to throw in the towel.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit.
There's no point in being a damn fool about it. - W. C. Fields

Then, miracle of miracles: kNIFVES vice president Robynn Sleep resurrected Root Bound.  She signed on kNIFVES members Michael Notar as line producer and John Bateman as Director of Photography; and suggested we ask a few local directors if they would be interested in the project.  Within a few weeks, Spokane’s Rebecca Cook agreed to direct.  In 2012, Rebecca directed The Birthday for the Inland Northwest’s 50 Hour Slam Film Festival.  The 15-minute film won both the “Hip Clip” Audience Award and the "Slammy" Online Viral Award. 

That did it!  Root Bound was officially in preproduction.  As of today a full crew of experienced filmmakers has been put together and auditions for the cast will be held soon.  In conjunction with the workforce training focus of kNIFVES, a workshop will be held in May and filming will take place the first three weekends in June, ending with an exciting day at the Big Back-In Lawnmower Race in Spirit Lake, Idaho.  With a new director on board, I’ve been busy doing a few minor rewrites and scouting locations - what fun.   

If you are interested in screenwriting or any aspect of filmmaking, kNIFVES is a super local networking group.  Find out more about kNIFVES and the upcoming production workshop at

Root Bound Logline
A personal crisis arises for an up-and-coming newscaster after he follows the advice of media consultants to deny his Idaho roots in order to advance his career and take a spot on the national news scene.

“Script fun yet with much depth”. – Idaho Film Office

Root Bound Pitch
One criteria for the kNIFVES short screenplay contest was that the film had to be about the state of Idaho.  So I decided to write a positive story about Idaho that dealt with the idea of choosing to live your life with integrity.  I chose this storyline because I’ve never forgotten the pain a friend of mine felt when she was asked to deny her roots in order to move forward with her career.

Those of us who live in Idaho know it’s not much of a stretch to believe there are times we would be better off to deny our Idaho ties.  Our good reputation doesn’t extend much beyond our border.  Recent national news about “The Citadel,” a compound a group of gun activists want to build in North Idaho, recently caused yet another round of Idaho bashing. 

This screenplay turns all that negativity around.  It highlights Idaho in a positive light with likable characters, lots of Northwest flavor and some great Idaho jokes.  Why didn’t Mrs. Potato Head want her daughter to marry the famous newscaster?  Because he was a common-tater!

Root Bound can be produced at minimal expense – a snap for the KNIFVE’s production team with easy to find locations, few scene changes, and even fewer props – all great reasons to produce Root Bound – an entertaining short film with a positive message about Idaho and family ties.

Root Bound Synopsis
Root Bound offers a humorous look at a serious subject.  Denying something about oneself in order to move forward in life is a fairly common occurrence – and so is the damage that can cause to one’s personal integrity and sense of self-worth – and that’s exactly what happens to Idaho native Brad Spencer after he agrees to say he is from Seattle in order to get a job for a major television network news show. 

Brad’s first dilemma is facing his parents, both third-generation Idahoans, with the news that he has agreed to deny he is from Idaho due to the bad press that usually arises on the national news scene whenever the state of Idaho is mentioned – you know – white supremacy groups, Randy Weaver, Senator Craig’s infamous visit to the Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport’s men’s room.

Buoyed by positive advice from his childhood friend, Jake, Brad stammers out his decision on the last day of his visit before his big move to New York.  He can tell his parents are disappointed in him, but they don’t let him down; and the three of them get through the moment somehow.  Later that day, Brad sets off to his new life in New York, his excitement dimmed, but not extinguished, by his knowledge that he has somehow lost a piece of himself.

Once in New York, sporting a polished new look, Brad jumps right in, introducing himself to co-workers at his first meeting.  Their friendly acceptance allows Brad’s confidence to grow and he begins his first meeting with composure and self-assurance. 

Executive producer Ted Burns, Brad’s boss, gets right to work, introduces Brad then asks for story ideas.  Brad shares an idea about an Idaho inventor, then somehow later finds himself defending Idaho when co-workers make misstatements.  His words lead a fellow co-worker to ask him why he is such a cheerleader for Idaho.

Brad suddenly begins to feel uncomfortable, realizing he should stop talking about Idaho, but discovers he feels compelled to defend the state he loves.  His confidence is shaken, but not broken – that is until he finds himself chastised by the two co-workers he corrected during a break.  Suddenly he begins to wonder if he truly fits in.

Meeting resumed, Ted asks for someone to cover the State of Idaho for their Amazing States Series.  Brad slumps in his seat as Ted says they had discussed Idaho before, but all they heard was potato and Senator Craig jokes.  He struggles inwardly as he fights the urge to tell the positive things about his beloved home state. 

Finally, Brad loses the battle.  His enthusiasm returns as he regains his confidence.  “Did you know that Sacajawea, Lana Turner, Picaboo Street, and Sarah Palin are all from Idaho?  Did you know that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the first draft of Tarzan while working at a stationary store in Pocatello or that 14-year old Philo Farnsworth invented television while tilling a potato field in Rigby, Idaho?”  He ends with “Idaho is not just about potatoes.”  There is surprise all around. 

Ted later spies Brad deep in thought and asks him how he’s doing.  Brad feels compelled to come clean and tells Ted that he is not the man they hired – he lied about his background.  Ted admits that explains a few things, but is not prepared when Brad tells him that, realizing he will never fit in, he has made the decision to leave New York.  He needs to be himself, not playacting at being someone he is not ... he needs to go back to IdahoTed pleads with him not to make a rash decision, they will make something work out.  

In the final scene, Brad is back to his roots and comfortable and competent as the Northwest correspondent for the national network.  He introduces a segment on The Big Back-In, a lawnmower race held in Spirit Lake, Idaho every Father’s Day.  He builds up the excitement of the event then roars down Main Street on a lawnmower himself.  At the finish line stand his parents and his friend Jake.  He’s home.  (For more information about The Big Back-In:

Monday, April 8, 2013

Truth - Truthy - Truthiness

Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, 
yet each one can be true. - Swami Vivekananda

How often has someone you know told a story or shared something that didn’t sound quite right to you?  "That’s not the way it happened," says the little voice in your head.

I have one sister who remembers everything much differently than I do … and I mean everything.  We argued about the differences between our shared memories for years.  Thank goodness we finally stopped squabbling after I read an article that made me realize that I had a right to my own memories – just as she had a right to hers.  Now in agreement that the way each of us remembers our past is “right,” we can reminisce with only a slight rolling of eyes. 

Truth: that which is in accord with fact or reality.

Writers must do their best to write the truth.  They must gather the facts, research supportive documents, organize the material and double-check specifics – all before writing a single word.  To this point, they have researched the truth and formulated in their head what they want to say. 

But once they begin writing, they weave their story together with their own unconscious biases, prejudices and judgments.  They choose what to omit and what to include.  They choose where to put negative or positive emphasis through description and emotion.  In essence, what they write is an edited version of the truth written as honestly as possible – but it is their truth, not the truth.

Those in the legal system recognize that more than one truth exists.  Once thought to be infallible, the courts now accept that eyewitness testimony is often different for those who witness a crime or an accident.  While most witnesses are doing their best to be honest and credible, they swear to conflicting testimony due to their own unconscious perceptions and ability to comprehend what they witnessed – their truth – their reality. 

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination – John Lennon

As a writer, it’s important to acknowledge that others recall things differently and won’t always agree with you.  It’s easy to get caught up in defending your words, but if you are able to step back and recognize they are entitled to their own perspective, you’ll be less hurt … and less combative.  You’ll find comfort in the knowledge that you’ve done your best to write your truth.  That’s the best you can do. 

Truthy: truthful; likely; probable.

During a screenwriting workshop, the subject of truth came up.  In the movie industry, by necessity, the truth takes a back seat to cinematographic content.  A novel has hundreds, even thousands of pages in which to make an impact.  A movie has a brief 90 minutes.  How many times have you, as a reader, been shocked at a movie’s storyline?  The fact is, there is not time to show every facet of the story or meticulously portray the characters in that 90 minutes; so the writer must condense … adapt the story into a watchable format. 

We learned that although movies may not be based on the factual truth, screenwriters do their best to tell the emotional truth of the original story.  We had fun with the word when someone in the class said that means that screenplays are "truthy."  And I guess that’s as good as it gets in the screenwriting field. I know you’ve read it, “This movie is based on a true story” – in other words, the movie is truthy.

Although rarely used, the word truthy was first used in the 19th century.  It appears in my 1951 Webster New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged.

Now for some truthiness fun.

Truthiness: a quality characterizing a "truth" that a person claims to know intuitively "from the gut" or because it "feels right" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. 

American television comedian and political satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word in this meaning during the pilot episode of "The Word" on October 17, 2005.  The word truthiness was soon on magazine covers and the topic of news shows across the nation.  

Truthiness was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster.  Although the word appears in the Oxford English Dictionary and the Century Dictionary as a derivation of truthy, Colbert explained the origin of his word as, "Truthiness is  a word I pulled right out of my keister ..."  - Wikipedia
And that brings us to tonight's word: truthiness - The quality of stating qualities that one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.
Now I'm sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster's, are gonna say, 'Hey, that's not a word.' Well, anybody who knows me knows that I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true, or what did or didn't happen. - Stephen Colbert
Just FYI, truthiness also appears in my 1951 Websters New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged.  It appears then, that Mr. Colbert's claim that he created the term has a certain amount of, well, truthiness to it.

Good luck with finding your truth.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Get Ready for Get Lit!

 Literature is the thought of thinking souls.
---Thomas Carlyle

For authors, journalists, poets, and writers of all sorts, as well as bookworms and anyone interested in literary works in its many forms, Spokane’s 15th annual Get Lit! literary festival begins Monday. 

Get Lit! Programs include a literary festival in the spring as well as educational outreach projects throughout the year, engaging members of the Inland Northwest community in a celebration of the written word and encouraging discussion of literature, at all age levels.

The 2013 Get Lit! Festival takes place from April 8 through April 14, hosting over forty regional, national, and international authors in Spokane who represent a wide range of genres including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Fiction and nonfiction writers attending will include Joyce Carol Oates, Kim Barnes, Jess Walter, Christopher Mcdougall, David Shields, and many others. Authors will speak and perform readings at a variety of venues such as the Bing Crosby Theater, Gonzaga Univeristy, Aunties Bookstore, and several other places around Spokane.

The festival week will also include writing workshops which will be held on Saturday, April 13 at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park in Spokane. Registration is underway and space is limited to 20 people per session. 

Workshops include sessions on editing and revision, a novel workshop, poetry, crafting evocative prose, voice, etc.  The workshops also include a free workshop for kids (8+ yrs.) and a free teen poetry slam workshop.

Click HERE for the Get Lit! calendar of events.

Have Fun and Get Lit!


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

James Herriot: A Gift to Generations

Not long ago I purchased a book containing three of James Herriot’s classics. Even though I have long known of the popularity of Herriot’s work and had once taken a photo of Herriot’s former veterinary office when I was on a visit to England with my mother, I had never read his stories.

As soon as I began reading his work, I was delighted at his gentle conversational style, his humor, and the images he creates of the characters and quaint English countryside where he worked so many years as a veterinarian.

The classics were, of course, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and All Things Wise and Wonderful. The titles were inspired by the first lines of a children’s hymn and poem written by Cecil F. Alexander in 1848 titled, Maker of Heaven and Earth:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Born James Alfred Wight (commonly referred to as Alf Wight), Wight adopted his first pet at age twelve, an Irish Setter. The bond he formed with his dog led to his interest in veterinary medicine. He graduated from the Glasgow Veterinary College in 1939 and moved to Thisk in Yorkshire County, England in the early 1940s where he settled down, married, and began practicing veterinarian medicine.

Although the veterinarian had literary ambitions early on, he didn't begin writing seriously until the age of fifty with the encouragement of his wife. Because self-promotion for doctors and veterinarians was frowned upon in England at that time, Wight adopted the pen name, James Herriot, and wrote his books on a portable typewriter in front of the television in the evenings.

Wight's former Veterinary Surgery Clinic

Herriott released several writing collections in England. In the United States, his New York publisher combined these writings into volumes. Herriot’s first two books were combined and released as All Creatures Great and Small in 1972. This volume made the name James Herriot famous. Subsequently, All Things Bright and Beautiful was published in 1974, and All Things Wise and Wonderful in 1977.

His son Jim Wight, who was also a veterinarian and partnered with his father in later years, writes in the Introduction to the volume of classics I mentioned above:

James Herriot was a gifted writer, with the ability, through the use of simple words used in the right context, to convey to the reader his love of the countryside and his job as a country veterinarian. He was a great observer of human nature.

Wight passed away in 1995 at the age of seventy-eight at his home in Thirlby, near Thisk, Yorkshire. His tales of his veterinary practice and life in the English countryside have delighted generations of readers, and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Whenever you feel the desire for uplifting stories, read or reread some of James Herriot's wonderful work.