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Writers: You’re Doing it Wrong.

If you have not read Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds post this morning (or any of his blog posts) do it now! 

Today’s post made my day in more ways than I can possibly say. Yes, yes I am a hopeless TerribleMinds fangirl, but this was just what I needed to read this morning as I waited for my caffeine drip to start taking effect.

The Post:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/01/13/delilah-s-dawson-25-writing-hacks-from-a-hack-writer/

My Thoughts:

Recently I have been facing a crisis which has reared its ugly head many times in my adult life. The ominous crippling question: What the hell am I supposed to do with my life?!

**insert overdramatic down on the knees hands to the sky breast-beating gesture here**

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That statement is a bit over-encompassing, to clarify, I have a great life. Almost every aspect of it is just what I always wanted except one: my JOB.

Look up the word “disillusionment” in the dictionary and you will find a picture of me with two useless diplomas in my hands, empty pockets, a boulder of debt strapped to my back and a pathetic expression of betrayal on my face.

Since I graduated I have begun and ended more dead end, miserable jobs than I care to admit to. Every position has been a bandaid, just a paycheck to hold me over until I figure “it” out, but of course none of them had any hope of solving my career conundrum. I have a wide array of skills and experiences, the problem is interest. Everything that holds my attention enough for me to give a rats ass hair about is a field which holds no hope of earning a proper salary. I spent the first half of my working life in theater (because lord knows that’s lucrative) now the passion of the decade is writing, same problem.

Think of me what you will, perhaps I have been a little naive to have believed that my passions can also be my work, but I will say with absolute certainty that I work my ass off and take ownership of my responsibilities. I am married, I own a home, I pay my taxes, I fork over my monthly pound of flesh to Sally Mae. I am in full understanding that I will not be quitting my horrible job to hole up in a writers cabin and belch out novels of such profound quality that my admirers will be lining up to kiss my  keyboard calloused fingertips.

I digress. This week I have been shuffling around in January-colored self pity because my current employment position is reaching its end (it was never meant to last longer than three years, it was to be fair, what I signed on for)

I would love nothing more than to just devote the rest of my life to doing something I actually (go figure) enjoy doing, but I’ve realized that at this juncture it is just not possible. The writing will have to remain corralled into what little free time I can steal. I have no choice but to sign onto another job, whatever that will be, that will potentially be just another bandaid.

Anyhow, Delilah S. Dawson’s 25 Writing Hacks From a Hack Writer totally made my day, it gave me a tiny sun-shiny, tap dancing, ray of hope in my winter gloom. I may never have a job that I will be able to answer with confidence when asked, so what do you do? (Screw you Judgey McJudgerson!)  Hell, I may never publish a damn thing. But I will write. The illusive “They” will never take that away from me entirely.

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Lies They Taught Me in Theater School

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A friend of mine posted this link this morning and I nearly fell out of my chair laughing… and crying. I imagine there is probably some of the same disillusionment happening with graduate writers as well! Just thought I would share, for any fellow recovering theater geeks out there. Happy Friday!!


http://www.backstage.com/news/11-lies-they-taught-you-theater-school/?utm_campaign=Editorial%20Posts&utm_content=10783550&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

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I’m Turning all Elphaba Over This Buisness

So I FINALLY had a vacation over the holidays (it’s been since last march since I really had a break from work because I took time off for the wedding. Which, lets face it was no relaxing break!)

I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of the five upcoming days I had completely to myself. I bought myself a copy of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ( yes, I am desperately behind. I work 13 hours a day, and am attempting to write a novel in my ‘free time’ gimme’ a break!) and also a copy of Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments. Geek-tastic!! 

So of course, which just seems so befitting of how things work for me, our TV decides to take a trip to the great boob tube playground in the sky.

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So, because clearly I am a glutton for punishment, what do I decide to do?! Remodel our entire home office!

To take a small glimpse into my insanity for a moment, here is how it basically went down…

“Hmmm, I have nothing to do. I should be writing.”

*walk into the office*

“You know what this room needs? A marker board! But I have plaster walls, hanging one sucks! Marker board paint! Perfect!”

*Several hours and a trip to Lowes and Home Depot later…

“Uugh! the wall is not flat at all! There are dings all over the place… I hate the color of this room… the window looks like crap… so do the baseboards and that cabinet is horrible… that’s it! It all goes!”

Fast forward to the end of my vacation:

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Why do I do these things to myself?! Well because I get an office that is going to be blood red that’s why!

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Anyway, this is going to take longer than I thought…

So I am nose deep in this office project and what does my favorite blogger of all time (Chuck Wendig) grace my inbox with this morning?!

This:

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His brand spakin’ new writing SHED. GODDAMNIT!

I want one…

Read the post if you think this to be as drool-worthy as I do.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/01/04/witness-the-power-of-this-fully-armed-and-operational-writing-shed/

*Walks away with sad little red paintbrush in hand*

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A Few of My Favorite (Halloween) Things

Happy Halloween Dear Reader! This is my favorite holiday of the year, and here are a few (in no particular order) of my spooky/silly favorites!! Enjoy!

1.) The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (Film)

I first saw this movie on TV when I was a kid, I’m not quite sure what it is about it but It has stuck with me. It is a very silly movie, it stars Don Knotts so of COURSE it’s just plain silly but for some reason parts of it scared the crap out of me when I was little! It has stuck with me ever since, and I love it!

2.) The Woman in Black (Novel)

The woman in Black by Susan Hill is one of my favorite novels of all time. It is also my favorite horror story, and I have read/watched a lot of them. It’s quite a claim for a not so well known book. Here is why I love it so much. It is SIMPLE. No complicated supernatural history, no M. Night Shyamalan plot twists, no pushing of the grotesque envelope to see how many people we can nauseate. It is the best example I have found of a good old fashioned ghost story, and because of it’s simplicity it is as eerie as heck. Susan Hill’s story also became one of the most brilliant theatrical productions of all time (in my opinion) and later a film starring Daniel Radcliffe, although admittedly I have not watched it.

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3.) Most Anticipated Horror Video Game: Silent Hills

I am a huge video game fan. I am a huge horror game fan. I am a huge Silent Hill fan. I am a HUGE Guillermo del Toro fan…NORMAN REEDUS! Need I say more?!

4.) Creepiest Classical Visual Art: Goya’s Black Paintings

A group of fourteen paintings by the great artist Francisco Goya at the end of his life, including the infamous “Saturn Devouring His Son.”

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Sure one could argue that there is creepier art in the world than Goya’s mysterious fourteen, but these paintings were painted originally on the walls of his HOUSE and weren’t put onto canvas until later. His two story house outside of Madrid was called the Quinta del Sordo, the deaf man’s villa, and these creepers served as its wallpaper! It was said that they were a direct reflection of the artists terror and anxiety over his own aging and encroaching insanity…perhaps painting the walls with some nice flowers would have been a better choice.

5.) Most Interesting Local Haunt: Danvers State Hospital

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The Danvers state hospital (also known as the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, and the Danvers Lunatic Asylum) was built in 1874 designed under the Kirkbride plan* and opened its doors in 1878. An enormous facility with several outbuildings housing both male and female patients separated into different wings of the building by their sex and case severity. Thus giving the facility a unique architectural design and inspiring it’s nickname “The Wagon Wheel.” This unique design with it’s bizarre brick and cobblestone tunnels can be seen in the horror film Session 9, which happens to be one of my absolute favorites (which I will not get into now, because we would be here all night!)

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There are many, many spooky yarns that are birthed in America’s condemned asylums, and like the others, Danvers has its share of vengeful spirit stories. Especially since Danvers has always been rumored to be the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy.

Not only was Danvers a home for the treatment of the mentally ill, but it also housed a training program for nurses that began in 1889, and a pathological research laboratory in 1895. By the 1920’s the hospital was running clinics studying mental defect in children. Over that time several reports were made siting various inhumane treatments of patients, and unethical research practices, including various uses of powerful drugs, shock therapy, the use of straitjackets, and of course lobotomy. It is also not too bold to say that the majority of these practices were not used to treat patient’s ailments, but as a method to keep patients under control.

The hospital’s original layout was designed to hold five hundred patients, with maximum overflow space of about one hundred. By the 1930’s and 40’s however, over two thousand patients called Danvers home and overcrowding was severe. Patients were stuffed in all wings of the facility and living in the attic spaces and the basement. 

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In the 1960’s such treatment in America’s hospitals finally became extremely controversial, and there was pressure to seek alternative methods. Deinstitutionalization was sweeping the country and community-based mental health care was replacing the large government funded hospitals. Danvers State Hospital’s population began to steadily decrease.

Later massive budget cuts served as her final coffin nail, wards and facilities were closed off by 1969, and lie abandoned. By 1985 most of the hospital was shuttered, and the Kirkbride administration building finally closed its doors in 1989. The remaining patients were moved to the Bonner Medical Building , an outbuilding across the campus, until June 24, 1992 when the entire Danvers State Campus closed for good.

The entire site lay abandoned, a decaying behemoth on its seventy-seven acres, until 2005 when the property was bought by Avalon Bay Development. Within the year demolition began. Despite protests from locals, a lawsuit and being registered on the National Register for Historic places, all of the outbuildings were destroyed, and most of the main ones, leaving only a portion the brick shell of the beautiful Kirkbride building. In January 2006 the construction of 497 apartments began.

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*Apologies for the unclear image, but this photo roughly shows the layout of the campus. The demolished sections are in red, the remaining in black.

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Here is where things get strange, as if they weren’t when this place was operational…

Mysteriously on April 7, 2007, a fire consumed the construction site at Danvers consuming four of the buildings holding the apartments and several of Avalon Bay’s construction trailers. The fire was so enormous it was said to have been seen in Boston, seventeen miles away. Stranger still, while the fire engulfed the areas under construction somehow the remaining Kirkbride escaped relatively unscathed. An investigation was launched and Avalon Bay provided a live webcam recording of the site, however the pictures mysteriously cut out at 2:03 AM the night of the fire. It was ruled that the fire itself must have been responsible for the camera’s dysfunction and no person was ever found to be responsible for starting the blaze. 

53e544a383eda.imageToday the Irreplaceable Kirkbride building looks at first glance to be untouched, but many argue that a beautiful restoration could have been made to the building instead of the (unfinished) modern internal structure that was cheaply erected in the Kirkbride’s belly. The only thing that remains of Danvers State Hospital are some blocked off tunnels that served as housing for utilities, it’s cemetery and the shell of the Kirkbride.

This past summer, June 27th, 2014, it was made public that Avalon Bay Communities Inc. had sold the property for $108.5 million dollars to the DSF Group. Thus far DSF has alluded to plans for a massive renovation to the property but has yet to confirm whether the remainder of the Kirkbride will remain untouched.

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* The Kirkbride Plan refers to a system of mental asylum design advocated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride (1809-1883) in the mid-19th century.
Images: 1.) Danvers State Hospital, Danvers, Massachusetts, Kirkbride Complex, circa 1893Public Domain 2.)”Rusted Passage” Photo © Tom Kirsch, opacity.us 3.) James Watts (left) and Walter Freeman performing a lobotomy. /Discover Magazine, Wikipedia 4.)Building Demolition & Identification Map,danversstateinsaneasylum.com 5.) Demolition of Danvers State Hospital ,danversstateinsaneasylum.com 6.) Danvers State Hospital Fire, Photo by Bradford Stevens, SalemNews.com 7.) Danvers State Hospital Cemetery, photo by: Kerri Anne's Photography 
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It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!!

Sorry… Couldn’t resist.

But no, I’m actually referring to National Novel Writing Month!! That insane crazy month of the year where you piddle yourself with excitement over the brilliant universe you have been imagining since last november. Where you squee with glee over your incredibly interesting characters, when you simply can not wait to gift the world with your literary monolith that will clearly rival the Harry Potter series. You have a cork board covered in arcane post -it notes that only you understand, you scratch ideas down on the dirty tissue you found in your purse because that idea was just too incredible to let slide by, you have created a cheeky handle and posted on message boards…

The countdown begins….

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It’s here!! You make yourself the perfect cup of tea, you’re wearing your best Hemingway turtleneck, you have adjusted your chair ten times and found the perfect Pandora station. You are ready to create your magnum opus.

30 days. 50,000 words. You got this.

Day 1: 

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You wrote a single page of stunning caliber. Ok yea so it’s just a page but you have like 30 days! Time to go eat cheese balls and play Skyrim… aww greasy orange controller noooooo!

End of Week 1:

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Ok sooo this is a little harder than you initially thought, sitting still for long periods of time, you’ve thus far discovered 3 major plot holes and you’re having traumatizing flashbacks to your english homework days, but eh, you’ve still got time. Just writing, no editing right? Keep at it kiddo!

End of Week 2:

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At this point you are thinking “This is the stupidest, most humiliating thing I have ever done…OK! the second most humiliating stupid thing I’ve ever done!” Your universe has been created ten times before by several authors who did it better, 50,000 words can not possibly be humanly attainable, your characters are the most boring people ever created and exist in a constant state of pity parting. “WHY?!!” you ask, “WHYYYY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF?!”

End of week 3:

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Day 29: 

Day 30:

Half asleep and dazed  you submit your final word count….

Wait…

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I did it? I DID IT! I WIN!! WOOOOOOOO!!

You thank Mom, Dad & the Academy, buy yourself a NaNoWriMo Tee shirt and tell everyone you know how National Novel Writing Month changed your life, how much you discovered, and what you accomplished. Then throw out your countdown calendar, sleep for a week straight and start planning for next year.

In all seriousness, I couldn’t recommend this program more. I honestly believe it is one of the best things you can do as a writer, because it forces you to WRITE, To get over yourself, stop procrastinating and just put your ass in a chair. NaNoWriMo is well crafted and managed, it is nonprofit and supports writers from all walks of life. There are no rule police, nothing to prove to anyone but yourself and its FREE!

I’m calling you out Dear Reader. Challenge yourself this month. See what happens.

More information about National Novel Writing month can be found at:

http://nanowrimo.org/

Get Writing!

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Time and Place

Time and place, more easily umbrellaed under the title “setting”, is (in my opinion anyway) the most crucial element to telling a good story.  I don’t believe a story can hold any sort of dimension without a setting, nor can a story be any good without a well developed setting.

I was always a huge advocate for character above all else, perhaps because I was a stage actor for so long. I generally adhere to the notion that character alone can tell a great story, that a character’s story can be interesting on its own without a structured plot, or even very much action. When I say this I should probably make it clear that if a story is to be based on character alone without much attention to other elements, it had better be about an extraordinarily interesting and well developed character or the reader is basically finding themselves holding the clipboard trying not to nod off in a particularly grueling psychotherapy session.

So yes I stood on my soapbox and chanted  CHARACTER, CHARACTER, CHARACTER!! But then a small annoying voice from the audience speaks up and begs the question: Can a character exist without time and place?

Perhaps a character can, but a well developed character? Mehhh, probably not. At least I have yet to read anything that would prove that theory wrong. Also I openly invite any suggestions that present an argument to the contrary.

So you smell what I’m stepping in; setting is very important. Writing 101, DUH.

Developing a good setting, and making it feel organic, and fluid with the rest of the story, however basic the principal, is however, really frackin’ HARD! it is very easy to not have enough of a setting, so your beautiful characters seem to be floating in this half-constructed void. Or there can be way too much and you find yourself wondering why you ever began reading the tedious thing in the first place.

An amazing example of a great use of setting is Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I’m sure a few of you are groaning right now because you have had ten writing instructors hand it to you for Monday night homework, but deal with it because it’s incredible. Here is a peek:

” It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street. But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting it’s stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps – an eyesore among eyesores.” 

Two sentences. in two sentences it describes perfectly the time, and place that our story exists in, but *gasp* also gives you a perfect description of Miss Emily’s ENTIRE character. …. Damn you Faulkner, you beautiful genius.

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Seriously, look at that hunk of man. And those socks, WHOOO!

Anyway, I will now stand down, put away my deflated “Character Is All!” banner and, immediately start a Faulkner Socks Fangirl club!

Sorry.

No my point is we can’t avoid developing setting if we tried. And truly, who would want to.

The reason why I have been babbling on about this today is because I have hit a few roadblocks in my novel writing process. I feel as if I know my characters pretty well, I know what kind of groups and society they exist in, and I am clear on where I want their stories to go. However, I have changed the time period and geography of this novel at least five times!

I did not begin with an idea of where this story takes place, I had some ideas of a few elements sure, I knew I wanted the story to take place in the fall and winter, I knew that there were trees and dirt roads, and solitude. Much to my dismay, I keep reeling back over an over again to a period in time where Jack The Ripper-esque killers run amok and women are fawning all over fainting couches in their overstrung corsetry.

The last thing I wanted was to have my first novel be a historical bodice buster.

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…EW.

Mostly I wanted to just write the damn thing and I did not want to get stuck stoping every other paragraph to research whether or not they actually had toilet paper in New England privies in 1709.

(The answer is no by the way, no they did not. Not anything akin to Charmin anyway.  This segue also led me to discover the origin of the terms “corn hole” and “bung wad” riveting reading I assure you. Just check out Wikipedia, it holds all the answers to the universe, and it’s always accurate… that was sarcasm.)

Clearly I don’t get much writing done when I stop mid sentence at 8:00 pm and at 11:30 pm find myself searching the origin of other strange colloquialisms on Urban Dictionary, having completely lost my reasoning for having my character visit the bathroom in the first place.

Two concluding thoughts:

1.) People who write historical fiction, and write it well, deserve parades, with confetti cannons, and babies to kiss and baskets full of fluffy puppies.

2.) This project is way more than I bargained for. Indoor plumbing really wasn’t widely used in homes until the 1850’s?  Suddenly Jane Austin stories are not so sexy. (That factoid is a result of approximately 12 minutes of procrastination from writing this blog post.)

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The Practical and The Theoretical: Novelists vs Academia

This is what happens when students begin to ask questions:

http://m.mentalfloss.com/article.php?id=30937

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