True Crime and True Grit

Ted Bundy

Why did she do it?  Why did Ann Rule write about Ted Bundy, murder and mayhem and become so popular in true crime?  I want to warn potential victims. Many of them are women, and many of them are battered women. It’s a cause for me. When I look back, though, so many of the books I’ve written are about wives who just couldn’t get away.” said Ann Rule before her death.

In honor of author Ann Rule, who just died, I am focusing this post on writers interested in stories about True Crime. And I say that because I can relate to the story below of how Ann Rule unwillingly found herself writing about a serial killer, Ted Bundy, a man she knew and a story which launched her fame as a true crime writer. She never wanted to write true crime but she became known as one of the very best in her field.  Many writers  start out going in one direction and find themselves down the line writing stories they never set out to write.

I have found this past year I have been approached by more people writing true crime than memoir, novels, science fiction or comedy put together. Serial killing, corporate crime, political assassinations and stories about sociopathy, psychopathy and legal annihilations that make Gone Girl a walk in the park have crossed my desk more than any other genre. So, as a psychologist, true criminals pique my interest. Getting into the head of someone who is unthinkably inhumane has a curiosity factor that draws readers from every demographic. Is it voyeurism? Is it the perennial draw of the dark side of human behavior that makes true crime an unstoppable genre? These are complex questions.

So in honor of those who write true crime what better advise to take but what Ann Rule points out is needed to break into true crime writing. Below is a little about her life, and some tips for those writers who aren’t faint of heart and will stay up till the wee hours staging a courtroom, dusting a crime scene, observing at trials and flirting with the pathology of a Dexter, Hannibal or Ted Bundy.

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Ann Rule in 1984 with "The Stranger Beside Me," her best-selling 1980 study of the serial killer Ted Bundy.

Ann Rule, 83, Dies: Wrote About Ted Bundy and Other Killers    

By William Grimes

Ann Rule, whose 1980 study of the serial killer Ted Bundy, “The Stranger Beside Me,” set her on the road to writing dozens of best-selling true-crime books praised for their insight into criminal psychology, died on Sunday at a medical center in Burien, Wash. She was 83.

Ms. Rule’s articles had been appearing in the magazine True Detective for more than a decade when, in the mid-1970s, fate delivered her biggest subject to her doorstep. She was working on a book about a series of unsolved murders in the Seattle area when the police in Utah arrested the man they believed to be the killer, a former law student named Theodore Robert Bundy.

The name did more than ring a bell. In the early 1970s Bundy had been a close friend and colleague, answering the suicide hotline with her on the night shift at the Seattle crisis center where they both volunteered. The rest is history.

 

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Breaking Into True Crime: Ann Rule’s 9 Tips for Studying Courtroom Trials

By: Zachary Petit —written by former WD managing editor Zachary Petit—that’s full of tips and advice delivered by Rule.

Bestseller Ann Rule had a heck of a journey to becoming a writer—something she never really wanted to be in the first place. “All I ever wanted to be was a police officer,” she told the crowd in her ThrillerFest session “How to Stalk a Serial Killer and Tell the Gruesome Tale: All You Need to Know to Write Great True Crime.” “The one thing I knew I didn’t want to be was a writer.” Rule thought it was all too hard—heck, you’d have to rewrite what you already wrote.

As a kid, she would visit her grandpa, who was a sheriff, but to see him she’d have to go to the jail. There, she was given the job of bringing prisoners their meals. From an early age, she was fascinated by crime—not the how, but the why.

“I think that we come to our genre naturally,” she said.

Following her passions over the years, she took any ridealong with law enforcement she could get. Attended classes. Got an associate’s degree in criminal science.

And along the way, she began writing, collected innumerable rejections, and penned pieces for true detective magazines, which she realized could pay the bills.

“You have to write about what you know about,” she said.

Back then, not even her children slowed her down. “Unless the kids were actually fighting on top of the typewriter, I could keep writing.”

And then there’s the famous story that led her to her first book, her breakout The Stranger Beside Me.

Her brother had committed suicide, so she decided to volunteer at the crisis clinic in Seattle. The clinic paired volunteers with work-study students. At night, they’d be locked up in the building all alone together. Her partner was a psychology student getting paid $2 per hour.

His name was Ted Bundy.

After his crimes became apparent, Rule attended Bundy’s trial, and the rest of the story is history, amazingly documented in The Stranger Beside Me.

Her writing passion went on to encompass documenting the suspects and victims involved in crimes, and describing their lives before their paths crossed—along the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

In her presentation, Rule pointed out that pros are always saying that you only have a 1/10 of 1 percent shot at becoming a professional writer. But she decided that she was going to be in that 1/10 of 1 percent.

“You can’t let the naysayers make think you can’t make it, because you can,” she said.

If you want to be a true crime writer, Rule said the best thing you can be is immensely curious. And, you should go to trials—something anyone can do. From a life spent in courtrooms, here are Rule’s tips and etiquette for doing just that.

  1. You can usually get a press pass, but there’s often a deluge of writers trying to obtain one. Rule calls the prosecutor’s assistant.
  2. Study the witnesses, watch the jury, and soak up the entire experience.
  3. Try to obtain the court documents from the court reporter or the prosecutor, or purchase them.
  4. Observe the other reporters in the room, and analyze what they’re doing.
  5. If you’re sitting out in the hall with potential witnesses, don’t ask them about anything. You can comment on the weather or the courtroom benches being hard, but “Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth pretty shut.”
  6. Don’t take newspapers into the courtroom.
  7. Know what you’re getting yourself into. “You don’t want to start a nonfiction unless you’re really in love with it, and usually you want a go-ahead from an editor.”
  8. Absorb detail. “When I’m writing a true-crime book I want the reader to walk along with me.” Rule describes the temperature, how the air feels—“I think it’s very important to set the scene.” As far as the writing, you can novelize, but keep all of your facts straight.
  9. Don’t use the real name of a rape or sexual crime victim in your writing. (Though Rule has written about a few who have asked to have their names included.) As Rule said of her subjects at large.

“I always care about my people. And if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.” Ann Rule

 

 

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Writer’s Block Demystified

garfield

Writer’s block “is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which a writer loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.”

Now that I read this it sounds like some category found in the diagnostic manual for psychologists to refer to, like paranoia or phobias. Is writer’ block some condition that they just might be coming out with a new drug for? Surely not. But writer’s everywhere have a fear of the dreaded WB anyway.

I hear from countless writers that they struggle with writer’s block, wait for the moment it strikes like a migraine headache or simply live in fear that one day they will be in the final stretch of writing a novel or a story and be stricken down by the an inexplicable moment when there are simply no words. So I thought I would take a few minutes to debunk this mystery and myth.

I am not saying that this does not occur for many writers. But the writers it does not ever occur for are those who write from inspiration and passion. When a writer is not engaged with the subject or the story, then writer’s block may become an inevitability, just like boredom. Staring at the page with no words coming and then getting sweaty palmed is only a symptom that there is no creative edge happening, no inner fire pushing the words out onto the paper and that instead the mind is in analytical mode.

Writer’s who never experience writer’s block are those who are inside of their writing, channeling the words, the characters and the stories in ways they don’t even know where the words come from, with little concern for editing till the final draft. And the key being that the writing they are doing is not a brain job it is a heart song. Now that may feel foreign to those who write for a living and for other people as part of a paid job. There is little room for being personally inspired when you are critiquing a medical journal article or court reporting. But when you sit at the page simply because you are busting with energy to see what will happen, what scene will write itself, you anticipate which muse will take control and you allow expression to be the goal.  That is when writer’s block is not an issue.

Yet, for a writer to commit at this level, to allow intuition, passion and story to run the show and allow the mind to go on vacation for a little while, or at least till the final edit, miracles happen. Writer’s block is about only one thing: Not knowing what you are inspired and moved to write. When you locate that in your own intuition and act on it no matter whether you know the destination of your writing or not, you will write like the wind.

writers block

30 Books to Read by 30

 

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Some books are best read at a certain age. Even the novels and memoirs you might consider timeless — Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye or Joan Didion’sThe Year of Magical Thinking — can serve a special purpose if consumed during a particular phase in your life. That particular phase is, of course, your 20s.

The much celebrated, sometimes maligned, decade is an undeniably impressionable one. You’ve happily exited your teens, slowly freeing yourself of the weighty angst you carried throughout high school. You might have one foot in college and the other in a career, even if you’re well beyond graduation, nestled comfortably in a new job — maybe even a relationship. But you’re probably not settled — financially, emotionally, spiritually, artistically. You’re aching for a philosophy, for a template for adulthood; anything that will anchor your constantly evolving life to solid ground.

Cue the 30 books you should read before you turn 30! From Alice Munro to Ralph Ellison, these are the books that are best read in your 20s, when you’re restless and hungry for new ideas. Whether you’re just starting the decade or about to leave it, you’ve still got time to put a dent in this literary bucket list. Enjoy:

1. Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munro

At long last, Munro’s short stories have been given their due acknowledgment as some of the best crafted by a living writer. Her characters are humble, witty, relatable; her tales read like conversations with an old, self-aware friend. Her novel, too, is among the best coming-of-age stories. Following young Del Jordan on adolescent adventures with her Encyclopedia-selling mother and her best friend Naomi, the interwoven tales are set in a small town, but will remind almost any reader of their own first encounters with isolation, lust and ambition. -Maddie Crum

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2. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

In this hauntingly elegiac book, Woolf evokes the painful inevitability of time’s passage. The Ramsays are enjoying a summer on the Isle of Skye; the children, husband and guests are all effortlessly entertained by the bewitching Mrs. Ramsay. Time passes, and we revisit the house, but it’s empty and left open to the elements. Losses have been suffered that could not have been foreseen in the idyllic days documented in the first section. To the Lighthouse captures the agony of loss contained in growing up, and reminds us all, hopefully, to be grateful for the blessings we may often overlook when we’re feeling young and invincible. -Claire Fallon

lightouse

3. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Didion’s memoir begins when, one evening, just before dinner, her husband unexpectedly suffers a heart attack and dies. What follows is an honest and impassioned story of the author’s first year without him, from the fallacious thoughts saying he’ll return, to the small daily rituals that will never be the same. Grief is not often talked about in detail, but this book captures its essence. -Priscilla Frank

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4. In Persuasion Nation, George Saunders

Saunders packages together satire and sci-fi so adeptly, in short and digestible spurts, approaching everything from contagion to commercialism. And he doesn’t shy away from the horrific future he seems to feel is just a stone’s throw from our own era. It’s a dose of unreality everyone under 30 (and over, for that matter) should experience. -Katherine Brooks

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5. Ulysses, James Joyce

This hefty, heady masterpiece about a single day in Dublin revolutionized the modernist literary scene. Read it to ruminate on perception, to relate to the father-searching angst of young artist Stephen Dedalus, or just to remember how much you experience in 24 hours. Investing in a companion book (or college course) would not go amiss. -Colton Valentine

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6. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Ah, the catastrophic voyage from youth to adulthood. Nobody seems to capture it as accurately, if sarcastically, as Franzen. Three siblings each attempt to navigate the rough waters beyond their hometown, where things aren’t so stable lately, either. Egotistical middle kid Chip has dismayingly been barred from academia; career-driven Denise is caught up in affair (or two); seemingly stable Gary has been feeling drearier than his pristine home will have you believe. At the very least, The Corrections is a smart, funny break from your own quarter-life or midlife crisis. -Maddie Crum

corrections

7. Middlemarch, George Eliot

Eliot’s great gift as a novelist was her breadth of empathy, which stretched wide enough to cover spoiled society brats and humble farmers alike. In Middlemarch, we see the emotional education of a varied cast of young people — naively idealistic Dorothea, selfish Rosamond, ambitious Dr. Lydgate, goodhearted rake Fred Vincy, and more — as they take the first steps toward shaping the rest of their lives. Eliot deftly impresses on readers the need for personal maturation, and the possible consequences of making poor choices early in life, but all with a warm understanding that acts as a balm to those of us still struggling toward adulthood. -Claire Fallon

eliot

8. The Sabbath, AJ Heschel

Heschel’s compact gem explores the history and significance of the Jewish tradition of Shabbat. Yet even for the non-religious reader, the book offers a gripping and timely meditation on the holiness of time, as relevant as ever in today’s space-dominated world. Whether or not you’re practicing or Jewish at all, this book will show the immense import of a day of rest. -Priscilla Frank

sabbath

9. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

On the surface, Yanagihara’s prose follows four friends fresh out of university, fitted with romanticized character arcs that intersect and detach in familiar, post-collegiate ways. But beyond the glamour of making it to — and flourishing within — the fantasy world that is Manhattan, the author picks away at our ability to understand grief and depression, challenging the reader to be more and more empathetic. And your 20s is a better time than any to hone the oft-overlooked trait of empathy. (Bonus: The books is physically hefty at over 700 pages, but ravenously readable.) -Katherine Brooks

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10. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

A wake-up call for any young adult on how race and gender burrow deeply into (adolescent) psychology. The novel’s treatment of endemic prejudice is frighteningly applicable to 2015, and it hones your ability to pick apart the ways that prejudice manifests in our supposedly pure sense of beauty. At the same time, Morrison manages to coat even the most appalling actions in impossibility gorgeous words. Her style is purple prose done to perfection. -Colton Valentine

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11. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

The first in a mysterious Italian author’s series about the intertwined lives of two female friends, this novel not only brings to life the pleasures and difficulties of intimacy, but also the stubborn nature of fate. As narrator Elena and her childhood comrade Lila attempt to escape the violent, patriarchal strictures of Neapolitan life through education and romance respectively, they learn that doing so would require much more than objective success. -Maddie Crum

elena

12. White Teeth, Zadie Smith

White Teeth crosses generations, following two war buddies, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, and the cultural struggles faced by them and their families in a rapidly changing England. Jones’ biracial, brilliant daughter and Iqbal’s rebellious sons form close friendships and blossom in different strengths, but their paths to adulthood are strewn with pitfalls — like a profound longing for acceptance that any young person, and any immigrant, can likely relate to. Adolescence is awkward for most of us — even girls, so often presented as nubile and lovely in art — and Smith takes the fumbling insecurity, physical self-consciousness and shifting identity and unflinchingly lays it all on the page. -Claire Fallon

whiteteeth

13. I Love Dick, Chris Kraus

I Love Dick is part diary, part theory, part fiction, part autobiography, part confession, part manifesto. Kraus’ story begins when she and her husband embark on the strange, erotic exercise of sending love letters to the man Kraus wants desperately to sleep with. Kraus’ book urges women to be exposed, paradoxical, desirous, even destructive — anything but quiet. -Priscilla Frank

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14. Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, ed. Dan Wakefield

Reading a compilation of letters so specific and intimate, spanning decades of one person’s life, gives a 20-something (or me, at least) a sense of the passing of time. Vonnegut’s collected correspondence offers readers a glimpse of the rougher sides of his experience as a professional writer; the balancing game of maintaining relationships with loved ones and friends, colleagues and critics. Most importantly, it proves in one way or another that real life, the stuff of nonfiction, propels forward, even after the most unmanageable moments of anguish. -Katherine Brooks

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15. The Symposium, Plato

A gorgeous examination of beauty, love, and education told in a series of speeches (“encomia”) by Greeks who become increasingly intoxicated as the night goes on. It’s both a dose of idealism and a reminder to never take anyone, even Plato, too seriously. Recommendation: read in one Starbucks sitting, then walk outside and prepare for transcendence. You might just enter the world of forms. -Colton Valentine

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16. Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

On its face, Offill’s slim novel is a sparse reflection on infidelity — the forces that bring people together, and the forces that wedge them apart. But the author’s magical command of language infuses her story with scientific metaphors, lyrical observations about what it is to be human, and hilarious anecdotes about yoga pants. -Maddie Crum

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17. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Every now and then, you’ll read a book that will pick up your worldview and shake it like a Boggle board, leaving everything in a somewhat different position that before. Invisible Man is one of those books. And it’s great to shake up your worldview as soon as possible rather than go through your life playing the same letters. (Right?) Invisible Man excavates the psychological damage inflicted by racism, as well as the economic and physical toll, as its increasingly bitter narrator endures countless betrayals and indignities both in his native South and in Harlem, where he ultimately moves. The unseen trauma festers into a rage that saturates his every fiber, leaving us questioning the structures of our society and the hidden causes of seemingly inexplicable pain. -Claire Fallon

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18. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a love story, following two teenagers in Nigeria as they grow up and leave their country of origin. But more importantly, it’s a sharp and raw portrait of contemporary race relations, depicting just how different an experience it is to be African in America and to be an African-American. Adichie’s hilarious, sparkling prose make her characters so true to life you’ll learn big lessons about relationships and gender dynamics without even trying. -Priscilla Frank

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19. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

In the moment, Ng’s book is a thriller, one that tells the story of a high-school girl’s abrupt death amidst the rumor mill of a 1970s-era college town in Ohio. The story lingers as a familial portrait, though, one that reflects on the roles our parents, siblings and children reluctantly play in order to keep the nuclear unit afloat — and the impact of the secrets we all keep from each other. While the novel is just over 300 pages, it packs a punch, spanning the early murmurs of feminism as well as the racial biases of 20th-century White America. Overall, it’s a stunning glimpse into the generation that preceded Millennials. -Katherine Brooks

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20. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

“To understand just one life you have to swallow the world,” says protagonist Saleem Sinai. The novel charts a group of children endowed with magical powers who were born just before midnight on the eve of India and Pakistan’s division. Its scope is massive — reaching through generations and decades of political intrigue — but it focuses the telling of history in the tragedy of individual lives. Rushdie’s novel is an exceptional introduction to postcolonial writing. It asks us why we tell stories the way we do, and then proposes a some fantastical alternatives. Be prepared to swallow its world. -Colton Valentine

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21. The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

Barnes’s Booker-winning novel is a short, emotionally demanding read about nostalgia, and how we process and make sense of our wending memories. Middle-aged protagonist Tony has allowed himself to become comfortable with his life as a cordial divorced man, until an unexpected letter forces him to rethink his friendships of yore, especially his connection with the intellectually serious Adrian Finn. In doing so, Tony — and Barnes — sheds light on the relative nature of time, and how we determine what we value most. -Maddie Crum

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22. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

Every reading list should have some Robinson on it. The pre-30 years are a particularly apt time to read Housekeeping, her first novel and the only one not set in Gilead, Iowa. The tale is narrated by Ruthie, a young girl who, along with her sister Lucille, is left with an itinerant aunt after their mother takes her own life. An aura of the uncanny hovers over the lives of the threesome, as their aunt struggles to stay in town to care for the girls despite her wanderlust and obvious disconnect from society. Housekeeping makes vivid a sense of displacement and identity confusion that will cut right to your soul. -Claire Fallon

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23. Delta of Venus, Anais Nin

Nin’s collection of short erotica is one of the first from a female perspective. They were originally written for a private collector, who directed Nin to leave out the poetic language and focus on the sex. However, Nin’s evocative voice sparkles throughout in the bewitching and nasty tales touching on themes from masculinity to incest. -Priscilla Frank

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24. Lesabéndio: An Asteroid Novel, Paul Scheerbart

Written in 1913, Lesabéndio is equal parts philosophy and science fiction that mines an eternal debate: what is more valuable, construction in the name of science or creation in the name of art? For those pondering a professional future beyond their humanities educations, Scheerbart weighs the importance of technical discovery, aesthetic progress, and collaboration between artists and scientists. Bonus: Lesabéndio is one of the most original alien characters out there. -Katherine Brooks

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25. On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche

Perhaps the most polarizing philosopher on record, Nietzsche outlines a controversial ethical theory that will leave you well-equipped to spar with pseudo-intellectuals. His writings inspired a great deal of 20th-century thought — and a lot of late-night dorm conversations. So even if you hate him, it’s worth working through his ideas to articulate why. Spoiler: it’s actually far more complicated than “God is dead” nihilism. -Colton Valentine

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26. Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner

Lerner, most recently of 10:04 fame, forayed into novel-writing from poem-crafting (much to the delight of story lovers!) with Leaving the Atocha Station. Narrator Adam is a poet living in Spain on a fellowship, but more than writing he spends his time wandering around museums, smoking, and pursuing women. Comically self-effacing, Adam is restless youth personified. Aware of his flaws and shortcomings but unable to correct them, he instead invites the reader to witness his wanderings and musings firsthand and unfiltered. Lerner manages to make a potentially self-indulgent story a delicate portrayal of youthful idealism. -Maddie Crum

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27. Persuasion, Jane Austen

If you get to 30 and haven’t read any Austen… well, for shame. One of the creators of the modern novel, Austen isn’t just historically important; she’s acutely observant, laugh-out-loud funny, and full of timeless truths. Any of her major novels would be valuable reading, but don’t miss Persuasion. Her final completed novel, it lacks some of the vibrant hilarity of her earlier hits but makes up for it with its hopeful spirit. It’s a quiet story of youthful impressionability, living with regret, and finding second chances, full of wisdom for those of us suffering life’s first knocks and looking back on our first big mistakes. -Claire Fallon

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28. The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe

If you hate modern art, you will love this book. Even if you love modern art, you’ll probably love it. Wolfe’s irreverent takedown of art-world bullshit will make you feel so much better about your lukewarm feelings for Damien Hirst. Even if you disagree with Wolfe’s overall cranky message, it’s the best way to learn a lot about art while also laughing very hard. -Priscilla Frank

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29. Girls to the Front, Sara Marcus

Music nerds, assemble. No one should leave their 20s without understanding the impact of riot grrrls on contemporary culture, be it art, music, or feminism in general. Read this book, listen to every band mentioned, and relish in the DIY, “Rebel Girl” ethos of Kathleen Hanna and her ilk. -Katherine Brooks

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30. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

A stark tragicomedy featuring two characters that wait and wait and wait some more. Language and relationships break down, hope fades, and we’re left wondering whether Godot is a mere symbol for the absence of modern spiritual salvation. Beckett may not offer much hope for your 20-something uncertainty, but at least his work reminds you that the rest of the world is also waiting for something miraculous to happen. -Colton Valentine

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The End of Books?

books on the street

The End of Books
By ROBERT COOVER, NYTimes, 1992

“In the real world nowadays, that is to say, in the world of video transmissions, cellular phones, fax machines, computer networks, and in particular out in the humming digitalized precincts of avant-garde computer hackers, cyberpunks and hyperspace freaks, you will often hear it said that the print medium is a doomed and outdated technology, a mere curiosity of bygone days destined soon to be consigned forever to those dusty unattended museums we now call libraries. Indeed, the very proliferation of books and other print-based media, so prevalent in this forest-harvesting, paper-wasting age, is held to be a sign of its feverish moribundity, the last futile gasp of a once vital form before it finally passes away forever, dead as God.

Which would mean of course that the novel, too, as we know it, has come to its end. Not that those announcing its demise are grieving. For all its passing charm, the traditional novel, which took center stage at the same time that industrial mercantile democracies arose — and which Hegel called “the epic of the middle-class world” — is perceived by its would-be executioners as the virulent carrier of the patriarchal, colonial, canonical, proprietary, hierarchical and authoritarian values of a past that is no longer with us.” Published in the New York Times 1992

You might think that this article above was written recently but look again. The debate over books becoming obsolete began when my daughters were seven years old and the computer had just become a household option.

Now, 23 years after this article was written by Mr. Coover, much of what he says is true, but what is even truer is that the function of the book, the memoir, the novel and the poetry collection has been given new delivery systems and in small sound bites to fit our changing brains and lifestyles. As with the web series which is rapidly replacing the movie, texting that is replacing most of our oral tradition (like calling and having a long chat with your mother on Mother’s Day), E-Cards replacing that Hallmark cry your eyes card with a personal signature from your loved one, who may have taken the time to compose a poem or say something personal, now we let technology speak for us.
There is something very specific about a physical book and the story it contains. Books are like a treasure chest full of secrets as you move  from one page to another and even the font can be a thing of beauty. A book is something that is irreplaceable. There is a bit of magic in perusing Barnes and Nobel, even if most of the books are geared to romantically starved women and coming of age teens who cannot get enough vampire literature. The dimensionality of a physical book, the texture, the smell of the pages, the graphics, turning pages until the book slumps down on your chest before the night light is out, is brain food that technology cannot replace. Brain Food!

Much like writing with a pen or pencil verses typing on a computer, our brain needs proprioceptive input to fully function and to retain what we are reading or writing. Sensory data is necessary for our imaginative centers of the brain to light up. When we type on a computer there is minimal sensory data and we can simply zone out and skim life. As a result, our attention span withers and is not only shortened but so is retention and general interest: enter the need for the “soundbite. With texting, three-min videos, web series, and even Kindle, being fully engaged in writing or reading a book or story is reduced significantly.

Another perfect example is the sand box.  Or should I say the absence of the proverbial sand box.  It used to be that the sand box was a canvas for the imagination.  Tunnels and towns, wet-scaped mountains, Tonka Trucks and little plastic figures made stories unfold and engaged the body the mind and the spirit.  Building and creating was the mission of the sand box.  Now we have video games.  Enough said.

A story is interactive, and a book should be a relationship you are having for several hundred pages. When did you last have a 500 page barn burner and not even get out of your Jammies or comb your hair all day? Please don’t say Fifty Shades of Grey!

The advent of the television series in the 1950’s, whether it was a half hour sitcom or a one hour crime drama like Dragnet is how we have become accustomed to a story one a piece at a time. Most of the time we are cooking, eating or texting all the while the story is unfolding on the TV. What we miss, what we are not giving ourselves by sitting with a real book, a well written and imaginative story, is priceless. But more than that it is essential for health. No longer indulging in the pricelessness of reading a book, finding that perfect story at the bookstore, and savoring our own imagination is part of why there is so much illness in our country. We fail to take downtime, to focus our creative energy, the have sensory input by writing with a pen or by turning pages. We fail to really read with our whole being and allow our imagination to take us into…the depths of ourselves.

We have replaced this essential relationship between reader and author with a hurried technological life that in fact may be more efficient and more can in fact get done in a day but we have traded a kind of neuro-stimulation of our brains, our eye hand connection, our imagination and creative centers for….expediency.
That is a costly trade since our body depends on all the brain firing that goes on when we are fully engaged. Not only fully engaged with ourselves, our book, our writing project, our characters but with each other and not our phones or Xbox. It is time to rethink how in fact technology is dumbing us down and freezing our brain from our own limitless passion and imagination.

Essay Guidelines and Your Red Mittens

vision can change the world

I promised to post some guidelines for those who are writing an essay to win a contest, especially the Inn in Maine.  Although I will be personally working with ten people on this contest I have had so many inquiries that I thought to help the best I could by including on my blog some thoughts for writing a 200 word essay.  There is wisdom included in the guidelines below from writers other than myself who have learned a few things about writing a short essay of this kind.

Feel free to post questions and please feel free to send me a bit about your story to share with my readers.  We can all use inspiration.

Dreaming big is what we should all be doing and without restraint.  I hope this helps to dream even bigger.

Essay Writing Information From Maya Christobel

Here are some tips on approaching writing your essay. Over the years I have gathered lots of great advice and experience, which I will jot down for you to help you launch your essay.

 

  • Short is all that much harder than long, but don’t worry. Write as much as you want and then you will slash a burn what is not essential.
  • Do not hurry. Allow the muse to whisper in your ear. If you hurry your mid will be in the driver seat and that will not make for a great essay.
  • Pay attention to what you might be afraid to say, what you were dreaming the night before you work on your essay, pay attention to your intuition and instinct and particularly pay attention to the visual images you have in your mind.
  • This is not a test. Write instinctively first, not like an English major taking a test. Thinking you need to do it “right” will never help you “write”.

 

Tell a story about you and about your dream: Be specific: The more personal the better. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Find the unique points of your dream and focus on them. Instead of saying something about loving your parents and wanting to help them run a B+B, say more than that: Say why you love them, what makes them so special and the perfect people to realize their dream. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut wrenching—it can even be funny—but it has to be real.

 

Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. I recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak. In fact take your iPhone or a recorder and simply tell your story and then play it back many times. This will help you focus on what feels right, what stands out and what may not fit.  Tell your story first to a best friend and see what she or he is moved by.

 

Consult your Heart: When you are limited to 200 words, which is not quite one page you will be doing a lot of thinking about what you need or want to write. My advice is to please write from your heart first. Do not focus on grammar or spelling or word count. Make sure you are answering the following questions:

 

  • Why does owning this Inn inspire you?
  • How would it change your life AND others.
  • What particular experience do you have that helps you run an Inn.
  • Why are you the best candidate? What makes you Unique?

 

Then Lead Your Essay with a Good Hook, this is most important.

When it’s time to start writing your essay contest entry, remember that the first sentence is the most important of all. If you can start with a powerful, intriguing, moving, or hilarious first sentence, you’ll hook your readers’ interest and stick in their memory when it is time to pick winners. Remember you are competing against 7500 other dreamers so that first sentence needs to stand out.

Write Your First Draft Essay

Now is the time to get all of your thoughts down. At this stage, it’s not necessary for everything to be perfectly polished; you’re just setting down the bones of your final essay contest entry. Try to hit the points you most want to communicate. If your essay is running longer than the word count limit, don’t worry about it at this stage, I will help you trim the fat.

 red mittens

Keep an Eye Out for “Red Mittens”

This is something I learned along the way that has been indispensable. The “red mittens” idea has to do with making sure you have something so unique and visual in the essay that they will remember you out of the crowd. It is like planting an Easter egg in the bushes. Here is a great piece of information.

Excerpt from Sandra Grauschopf: Contests & Sweepstakes Expert

“In her fantastic book, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Terry Ryan talked about how her mother used “Red Mittens” to help her be even more successful with contest entries. To quote from the book:

“The purpose of the Red Mitten was almost self-explanatory — it made an entry stand out from the rest. In a basket of mittens, a red one will be noticed.”

Among the Red Mitten tricks that Evelyn Ryan used were rhyme, alliteration, inner rhyme, puns, and coined words.

While Evelyn Ryan mostly entered jingle and ad-type contests, the Red Mitten theory can be used to make any essay contest entry stand out. Your Red Mitten might be a clever play on words, a dash of humor, or a heart-tugging poignancy that sticks in the judges’ minds.”

 

Then Revise Your Essay for Flow 

Once you have written the first draft of your essay contest entry, look it over to ensure that it flows smoothly. I will be helping you all along the way to make sure that you say what you need in compelling ways and that it flows. Is your point well made and clear? Does the essay flow smoothly from one point to another? Do the transitions make sense? Does it sound good when you read it aloud? Remember this is a final piece of writing and at the beginning you just need to get all your feelings and thoughts on paper even if it is five pages.

At this point you and I will cut out extraneous words and make sure that you’ve come in under the word count limit.

In Stephen King’s book which I believe is one of the best out there, On Writing, he talks about a rejection notice he once received that read: “Formula for success: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” In other words, the first draft can always use some trimming to make the best parts shine.

 

Now Put Your Writing Away

When you have a fairly polished first draft of your essay contest entry, put it aside and don’t look at it for a little while. If you have time before the contest ends, put your essay away for at least a week. Let your mind mull over the idea subconsciously for a little while and see what else bubbles up.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sent in an entry and then thought of something that I should have added to make it perfect. Letting your entry simmer in your mind and heart gives you the time to come up with these great ideas before it’s too late.

 

Finally, Revise Your Essay Again and Again

Now is the time to put the final polish on your essay contest entry. Have you said everything you wanted to say? Have you made your point? Does the essay still sound good when you read it aloud? Can you tighten up the prose by making any additional cuts in the word count? And let people you know read it. They will have great ideas. You don’t have to use them but you may want to.

If possible, this is a good time to enlist the help of friends or family members. Read your essay aloud to them and check their reactions. Did they smile in the right parts? Did it make sense to them?

And ask a friend to double-check your spelling and grammar. Even your computer’s spell check programs make mistakes sometimes, so it’s helpful to have another person read it over. I will do that with you but you will want to have another person in the wings that is great at this sort of thing.

The Magic Bullet: The Power of Your Intention

What I encourage you to do is to not focus on winning but focus on learning more about yourself, your dream, more about listening to your “deep voice” and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and honest. You can do that with a tiny story, with humor or with a quote.

And I encourage you to do the envisioning that will make your intention to win the Inn a reality. Cut out a photo of the Inn, paste it above where you write. Do a daily visualization of you owning the Inn, people coming, joy happening, you feeling successful and happy. This is your most powerful writing tool

Happy writing!

I have a dream

Procrastination is the Name of the Game

procrastination

“The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing.” ― Alan Dean Foster

“Like most writers, I am an inveterate procrastinator. In the course of writing this one article, I have checked my e-mail approximately 3,000 times, made and discarded multiple grocery lists, conducted a lengthy Twitter battle over whether the gold standard is actually the worst economic policy ever proposed, written Facebook messages to schoolmates I haven’t seen in at least a decade, invented a delicious new recipe for chocolate berry protein smoothies, and Googled my own name several times to make sure that I have at least once written something that someone would actually want to read. Lots of people procrastinate, of course, but for writers it is a peculiarly common occupational hazard. One book editor I talked to fondly reminisced about the first book she was assigned to work on, back in the late 1990s. It had gone under contract in 1972.” Megan Mcardle

I teach writing workshops and classes and it is inevitable to hear a writer say, under their breath and hoping no one will hear, that they in fact battle a million and one distractions in order to sit down and become a productive writer. Then whether the battle is won or lost, what the end product generates is self doubt, and self criticism. Well let’s all just stop that. The common issues regarding procrastination for writers are captured by the quote above made by Megan Mcardle.

But, the problem of procrastination can be as simple as working from home and the phone ringing and jumping up to answer it, putting that load of laundry in, having to get up and walk the dog or the most common issue being the uncertainty about what you are writing and welcoming every single little tiny distraction that exists in order to avoid the fear, the lack of clarity or the horrible feeling of being stuck.

What we use to procrastinate must serve us in some important way. Procrastination is what is called an “avoidance technique” and it is your job as a writer to look it square in the eye and fess up to what you might be avoiding. In the end, procrastination is all about being uncertain about your self as a writer. Whether it is about inspiration, self concept, constantly comparing your writing to others or the loop that is going all the time in your head that says something like this: “what the hell are you thinking writing this book?” the ultimate outcome is a kind of stalling out and waiting for a magical elixir. But, procrastination comes in many shapes and sizes.

The French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette who wrote Gigi, used her French bulldog, Souci, to procrastinate writing. She would pluck fleas from Souci’s back and hunt for them in her fur until the grooming ritual prepared her to move on to other procrastination techniques like cuddling with Souci and swatting flies. Only then would Colette begin to work.

Graham Greene, who wrote The Quiet American, needed a sign from above to begin working on a piece. Obsessed with numbers, the English playwright and novelist needed to see a certain combination of numbers by accident in order to write a single word. He would spend long periods of time by the side of the road looking at license plates and waiting for the hallowed number to appear.  Now that is navigating by the sigs and by coincidence.

Wherever he traveled, Charles Dickens decorated his desk with nine objects. The bronze toads, green vase, and the statuette of an eccentric dog salesman surrounded by his pups comforted Dickens when he hit a mental block, and helped him feel comfortable enough to work anywhere.  Now this is bordering on being Obsessive Compulsive but OCD has its place in history with a slew of famous writers.

Victor Hugo, who wrote novels like Les Miserables, did more than buy a new bottle of ink in preparation to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame. With a deadline looming, Hugo locked himself inside his house with nothing on but a knitted gray shawl that reached down to his toes. The uniform suited his productivity, and he completed the novel weeks ahead of the deadline.

Some people dream of lounging all day, but Truman Capote really did. His workday began in bed or on a couch where he would write on a notebook rested against his knees. He always kept cigarettes and whichever drink was appropriate for the time of day—coffee, tea, or sherry. Boy do I relate to this. Not the cigarettes and Martinis at the crack of dawn, but I get out of bed and put on my favorite tea at 6:30 am and then crawl back in bed with my laptop on my knees and write until 10am every morning. If I do not do this I am a basket case and cannot get my barring’s for the whole day. I put music on every time and listen to soundtracks of my favorite movies while I write. The theme from Bourne Legacy gets me every time.

So you are in good company. You are not odd or unusual in your procrastination. And in the end you need to make friends with a pattern that is one of the most frequent issues for a writer. Know that procrastination is just part of the job. Get over it when you can and then laugh at yourself the rest of the time. You will get to writing, you will finish and you will be done in your own good time.

“We are so scared of being judged that we look for every excuse to procrastinate.” ― Erica JongSeducing the Demon: Writing for My Life

The Story Of My Life

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

Helen Keller, The Story of My Life

This was a frequent phrase around my home growing up: “Holy Moly, story of my life”. If I got a collections letter in the mail, or I hear that a great guy has a secret wife, that my brand new shiny car needs a transmission or that in fact I really didn’t win the lottery after all…” story of my life”.   A handy phrase to describe something quite familiar. But what’s in a phrase?

We each have one story that repeats itself over and over again throughout our lifetime. It is like we got handed a script upon leaving heaven and incarnating that acts like a blueprint for our lives.  I promise you, one central ever-present and every changing “story of our lives”. The casts of characters change but they fundamentally play the same role in our lives, year after year. Every new love, new boss or new dog is just like a mother, brother, father, betrayer, helper, teacher and is the best of ourselves or the worst of ourselves. The place, the reasons, the motives, the fears, and the outcomes seem to remain similar as well.

So, if you were to just pluck out of the sky a scenario that you recognize as so familiar that it is a “repeat story” in your life, what would it be? Would the themes be endless hope, deep despair, betrayal, running away, lost love and fighting for what is right, or would it be, men leave, women love you but die, or maybe the all too often, am I good enough, can I prove myself, or that there is never enough money or time or money or love or money or food, nourishment or support?  Could you be in Groundhog Day like Bill Murray where over or over again you love the wrong person, you lose everything you have and need to start again, you never feel smart enough or have enough, or ultimately are loved enough? Does the white knight turn into the villain or are you the one who rescues and heals the world? We all have one story.  The trick is identifying what the story is.

If we take the time to identify this story, which repeats itself over and over again for our learning and growth, then we have abundant power to change the story, but not before we look it square in the eye and say “Yes” this is MY story. For most authors who are seized with a story line and write until the days are a blur and who forget to eat or take a shower, most likely the book or story being written is a mirror of the writer’s psyche.  The soul gets wind that there is a supreme opportunity to work out some kinks in life if only the writer would hop too it and let it rip, fantasy or no fantasy.

Most writers have to cop to the fact that writing is therapy. Writing is sanity. Expiation. Transformation and atonement. Most writers on a good and honest day will say that the story they think is pure fantasy is really from their own life, their own fear, their own desire to be a hero or heroine and to rewrite what went so wrong, so long ago. It is a powerful moment when you can write a fictitious character that is not you in reality, so that this character can do all the things that you only wish to have done or said or experienced in your life. Why else do we write?

And when we can fess up that our own story is driving the bus, we can not only heal our lives but we can write a story that touches the collective nerve. That is what makes a bestseller.

In the end….the story will write you.