Here There Be Ghosts (Cleveland, GA)

Saturday was a wet dishrag of a day here in Northern Georgia.  The Cherokee Spring Pow Wow we’d been looking forward to for weeks was washed out.  Our favorite hiking trails were rivers of red mud.  No movie was calling us to the theater.  For some reason I can’t quite explain, the drab nothingness of the day inspired us to drive around looking for a new resale store in the vicinity of Cleveland, GA.

A few wrong turns, and we ended up here…

The Kenimer-Telford House in Cleveland, GA

Have you ever driven past an old, vacant house and felt some inexplicable, deeply visceral connection? Well, I have.  But don’t look for me to be featured on the next HGTV restoration/makeover show.  I don’t think I want to be tied to one single distressed property, but I can’t seem to stop the possibilities from bubbling through my brain whenever this strange connection beckons.  I see a treasure trove of unborn stories:  ghost stories (obviously), historical fiction (real history is rarely juicy enough for my tastes), unsolved mysteries (imagine how many ways someone could hide a body in that house), love stories, horror stories…and on and on and on.  Such is the blessing and the curse of an overactive imagination.

Here’s the story starter that bubbled up with this house:

This is not your typical ghost story.  It’s more of a love story.

It all started when Daddy left us for a man named Barclay T. Parker and Mother fell in lust with a house.  But not just any house.  No, it had to be a big, messy, crumbling 1870 Colonial in the deadest, ugliest part of Georgia.  No one in their right mind would want to live in this nightmare of a house…even without the ghosts.

 

Listed at $199,000, it's been listed on Realator.com 1248 days. Bad economy or bad vibes?

 Yeah.  I don’t know where I’m going with that snippet.  Probably nowhere.

Ideas, ideas everywhere.  So many ideas! If I sat down today and wrote out every story idea in my journals, I don’t think I could get through them all in 10 years.  Possibly not even 20 years.  Isn’t that ridiculous?

I never suffer from a shortage of new novel inspirations.  When I see classes devoted to helping aspiring authors find story ideas, I just shake my head in bewilderment.  I cannot imagine a world without a plethora of potential stories.  And I am certain I’m not alone in this embarrassment of riches.  For me, the really tricky challenge is to focus on one particular intersection of ideas and inspirations that will produce a finished product that I don’t want to feed to the shredder three months, or even three years, later.

But suppose you’ve found that perfect novel concept.  It’s the story you were born to write.  Even then, writer beware!  No matter how fabulous or mesmerizing the current novel you are crafting, there will always be a fresher, sexier story idea waiting to capture your interest and lead you down a deep, dark rabbit hole.

And that brings me back to the crumbling, romantic 1870 Colonial property that hooked my imagination so unexpectedly on a murky Saturday afternoon in Cleveland, GA.  Yes, it was whispering to me of untold stories and I let myself wander down that path briefly, because it’s fun.  Then I asked myself, Can I plug any of this into my current work-in-progress?

A little brainstorming, a little creative association, a little game of What if? and wham!  I ended up with a great plot point for my current project.

Sir Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

An overactive imagination can be both an opportunity and a difficulty, but I choose to be an optimist.

 

 

 

Star Wars – It’s a Big Sprawling Space Saga

Somewhere in space, this could all be happening right now…

Huh?  That sounds a little too much like the opening of a Twilight Zone episode.  Oh wait, I’ve got it!  Try this tag line on for size instead:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Where do I start?  If you are a Star Wars fan, there are so many comments that could apply to that trailer:

  1. Thank the maker for John Williams!  This is a little taste of what the movie would have been without his soundtrack and, frankly, it doesn’t leave me hungry for another bite.
  2. White lightsabers?  Where are the colors?  How will I know Good from Evil without the colors?
  3. Apparently this is before they came up with the memorable Star Wars font design?
  4. Yet another example of a movie trailer created by studio drones who don’t actually understand the movie they are trying to convince people to go see.  How did they manage to make one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time seem so mundane?
  5. Why isn’t Darth Vader breathing?

It’s no secret I love Star Wars.  I wrote an entire novel focused on the front lines of 1977 Star Wars fandom.  So, obviously, I had to post the original theatrical trailer.

However, I have an ulterior motive for posting this.  Any basic research into the history/trivia of the original Star Wars trilogy will uncover a story that all creative storytellers need to embrace.

  • Star Wars went through an amazing number/variety of rewrites and edits before becoming the blockbuster fantasy space saga beloved by millions.  In case you have not heard, All writing is rewriting.
  • Everybody, everybody, everybody (including George Lucas) says they believed Star Wars would not be a success…and I’m here to tell you they are all lying to some degree (else millions of dollars would not have been spent & the movie would never have been made). When someone gives you commercial reasons why your story will not sell, ignore them.  When someone tells you there’s something wrong/missing with your story, listen up.  When they tell you exactly how to fix it, smile and nod, then find your own true solution.
  • Sometimes you need to accept less to make more.
  • If current technology doesn’t support your story, create new technology that will…you might just pave the way for other storytellers for years to come

Even if you have no interest in Star Wars, I think every aspiring author should watch the Empire of Dreams documentary.  It’s all about believing in a story beyond reason, beyond fear, beyond all the “expert” opinions on why your story will never sell.

Does anyone actually remember seeing this Star Wars trailer prior to the May 25, 1977 release of the original Star Wars (Episode IV, A New Hope)?  What did you think when you first saw it?  What movie were you paying to see when you saw this trailer?  I’d love to see some comments on this.

Write Outside Your Comfort Zone

If left to the whims of my own tastes and preferences, I would probably never attend an Appalachian Trail Festival.  The latest developments in trekking poles, canister stoves and buffalo jerky do not make my heart sing.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love to hike!  But I’m a day hiker, or a section hiker in AT parlance.  We drive up to the Appalachian Trail (or one of the many other amazing National Forest trails in this part of the world) and hike for a few hours on a weekend when the weather cooperates.  The views…the wildflowers…the waterfalls…it is all glorious!  And when the sun starts to dip low, we drive home to prepare a home-cooked meal and a cuddle up in a soft bed.

North Georgia News Flash: Dahlonega (GA) was designated as an Appalachian Trial Community last December.

Unless you are planning to undertake the 2200 mile trek from our own Springer Mountain up to Baxter Peak in Katahdin, Maine, you probably missed the big announcement.  I know I did.  But an enthusiastic group of local adventurers quickly put together a special event to celebrate.  This weekend (March 18 – 20) was Dahlonega’s first annual Trail Fest.

My guy was very excited by this event.

I was…willing to check it out.

While he was attending his first lecture (on the Benton MacKaye Trail), I quickly skimmed through the extreme advendors (yes, I made up that word) before scuttling away to read my Kindle and sip a Perrier at Le Petite Cafe.  When the waitress asked what I was doing all alone on a lovely Saturday afternoon, I explained that I was not really alone.  I was just giving my guy some space to enjoy the Trail Fest.  With a knowing smile, she winked and said, “No need to say another word. Why do they always assume we’re interested in that sort of thing just because THEY are?”

Something about that struck a sour note with me, just discordant enough to get me off my lazy bottom and walking back to the Trail Fest.  Thank goodness!  I got there just in time to join a guided hike to the Findley Gold Mine.

If you didn’t know Dahlonega was the site of a major gold rush in 1829, 20 years before the California Gold Rush, I’m not here to lecture you on American history.  Quite frankly, I’m not even remotely qualified.  However, the gold mining lore in this region is fascinating.  And so incredibly rich in possibilities! No, we didn’t find any of the precious yellow metal stuff on Saturday’s hike, but the experience was priceless.  We actually got to slosh through the muck into an abandoned gold mine, get up close and personal with hibernating brown bats (not to mention a rather large dusky salamander) and experience the pure black darkness of the tunnel before re-emerging into the sunlight.

Later that day, we listened to the Nimblewill Nomad (AKA hiker and author M.J. Eberhart) describe his adventures on America’s scenic trails and watched a film about hikers who quit the AT after the first week. The next day, I rushed back to the Fest to hear a lecture on Cherokee Beasts and Spirits (and now know not to nibble the spirit food of the dazzling Nunne’hi).  I learned about the beneficial predator beetles being raised and released at North Georgia State University to save our Hemlock trees from a terrible threat.

Gold and ghouls and bats and beetles, oh my!  My brain is swimming with so many story ideas right now.  Where to start?

I repeat, I probably would not have gone to this event on my own volition.  I was definitely outside my comfort zone.  Generally, I hate that advice about getting outside your comfort zone to find happiness.  It conjures pictures of jumping off cliffs, or swimming with great white sharks, or walking 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine in 6 months just to feel alive.

As a writer, I think it’s not really necessary to participate all of those wild, extreme adventures.  Sometimes you just need to show up and listen to the sort of real-life characters who dare to stretch the boundaries.

Flashback Friday – The 1977 Trinity

Here’s a 70′s Flashback trivia question…

If I tell you I just read an article about “The 1977 Trinity,” what am I talking about?

A.  Charlie’s Angels!  Sabrina Duncan, Kelly Garrett and Jill Munroe, those three little girls who went to the police academy.

B.  Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi…everyone knows the first movie in the original trinity was released in May 1977!

C.  Three personal computers – Commodore PET, Apple II & Tandy Corporation’s TRS-80 – were launched in 1977.

D.  Onion, bell pepper & celery – the trinity of Creole and Cajun cooking were first introduced to the American television public on The Galloping Gourmet.

Don’t know?  Here’s a hint…..

Wow man…Dazzling color displays? Balance my checkbook? Create my own Pong games?!?! What will they come up with next?  More than 6 TV channels?  Far out!

(PS – If you just wanted a hand-held calculator with scientific functions and memory instead of some crazy home computer gadget, you needed to shell out $25.00.  That was the cost of the Texas Instruments TI-30 Calculator in 1977.)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day Uncle O’Grimacey!

A mini crisis this morning (missing keys) kicked the holiday clean out of my mind.  Then I noticed all the DUI task force vehicles strategically parked along my morning commute to work.

First thought:  What in the world are they doing out before noon on a Thursday?

Second thought:  Oh! It’s St. Patrick’s Day!  Green beer breakfast anyone? 

Never fear.  There is one frosty beverage that will let you celebrate the wearin’ of the green without posing any danger to public safety or your driving record…

Oh yeah!  Do you remember Uncle O’Grimacey?

Personally, I loathe the Shamrock Shake. But I adore the silly McD’s character who used to pitch the toxic green goo. I hear he’s now been labelled as an offensive Irish stereotype.  Well, piffle. Granny Slay used to tell me I’m Scotch, Irish, English, German heritage (with a wee pinch of Native American); so I reserve the right to continue my adoration of Uncle O’G…and men in kilts, but that’s a post for another day. 

Does anyone know where I might purchase an Uncle O’Grimacey shirt that is not “Adult/Mature” content?

YA Romance?

For a good solid chunk of my adult dating life (6 years), I maintained online dating profiles at Match.com & eHarmony.  During those years, I rewrote my profile statements a ridiculous number times.  One thing always remained constant: every dating profile I ever published included the fact that I was an aspiring YA author and a voracious reader of YA literature (usually with the explanation that YA = young adult for the not-so-literary gentlemen who might actually possess other redeeming qualities).

The following is an actual communication I received on Match.com (though usernames have been changed):

From: SomeCluelessGuy@talkmatch
To: YAWriterChick@talkmatch
Date received: October 10, 2006
Subject: Let’s Meet

Dear YAWriterChick,

I enjoyed reading your profile, but I’m confused by your reference to young adult literature.  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  I seem to remember there were some books about teenagers in my high school’s library, but I found them all stupid and soulless.

Would you like to meet for coffee?

In my opinion, there are three ways to respond to this type of message:

  1. Click the “Not Interested” button, delete the message, spend the next hour looking for at least 3 profiles that tweak your interest, and compose quick, friendly greetings to the 3 lucky guys.  (Very healthy!)
  2. Fire off a “What kind of moron would send this?” response, report the poor hapless fool to the Match.com authorities, then stomp around your house gnashing your teeth and cursing the heavens because you are stuck in this idiotic dating pool. Seriously consider complete celibacy for the rest of your life.  (Not so healthy)
  3. Laugh hysterically, click “Not Interested,” forward a copy of this message to all your single friends with a “Can you believe this guy?” introduction, and save a copy so you can pull it out in response to everyone who asks, “Why are you still single?” (In other words, my response.)

Please note:  This is NOT a rant about online dating or the dating pool in general.  This is a love story.

Act One:  Trisha meets YA

I have no memory of a time when books and storytelling were not a huge part of my life.  When people ask, “When did you fall in love with reading?” I’m speechless (a nearly impossible feat).

My grandmother kept a two-foot-high stack of mystery novels from the library next to the kitchen table that needed to be refreshed every two weeks.  My mother would cart home paper grocery bags filled with used/borrowed romance and mystery novels.  (I distinctly remember scrambling over a mini-mountain of those books in order to climb in bed with her after a bad dream.)  Even my grandfather, a man forced to quit school after fifth grade, used to read every inch of the daily newspaper before starting any activity for the day.

My very first purse contained two items: a tube of Bonnie Bell strawberry lip gloss and a library card.  Before I could actually read, I would carry around picture books and make up the stories to “read” out loud to any audience that would sit still long enough to listen (poor Gramps with his newspaper was a frequent target).  I read through every Nancy Drew before fourth grade and worked my way through most of the Newbery Award list before middle school.

Like most girls, my first YA novel was written by Judy Blume.  Oh my…so delicious!  So real!  So naughty!  I read every book she wrote before diving headlong into YA novels filled with angst, mystery and romance.  The only detention/demerit I ever received in junior high school was from a science teacher who caught me reading a YA novel instead of paying attention in class.

Act Two:  Trisha forgets YA

I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened.  Somewhere around 9th grade, I think.  Perhaps I thought I was too mature and worldly to read about other teenagers.  Perhaps I just ran out of YA books and needed fresh reading material. Whatever the reason, I moved on to Stephen King, Victoria Holt, Mary Higgins Clark, Anne Rice and other mainstream adult authors.

Act Three:  Trisha rediscovers YA and finds true love

When I signed up for a correspondence course on Writing for Children and Teens, I wanted to write middle grade novels.  Books like MRS FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS.  Those were the stories I remembered with great awe and admiration.

In the first assignment, I was provided with 3 black and white illustrations, told to choose one, then asked to write a short story based on the illustration:

  1. Gummy-looking bears dancing near a bathtub (Puh-lease)
  2. Two kids in overalls standing on a farm (I don’t like farm stories.)
  3. Two teens, a guy and a girl, locked in what looked like an intense argument in front of the bus station (oh, the possibilities!)

In the next assignment, I wrote about a high school art student plagued by voices and the incarnation of an Egyptian goddess.  After my third submission (in which a miserable older stepsister finds a suicide note in a library book), my instructor told me I was a YA author and suggested some books to read.

NOOOOOO…..that simply could not be!  I wanted to write novels like THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS and HOLES. I wanted to be a Newbery contender some day.

Well, I calmed down (eventually) and read her suggestions.  The world tilted.  Angels sang.  I could not put the darn books down.  Then I joined SCBWI, went to that fateful first conference, and learned all about the glorious, magical, ever-expanding world of YA literature.  My fate was sealed.

If you are an adult who loves to read fiction and thinks YA literature holds no allure, nothing but vampires and mean girls…oh my goodness! I truly feel pity for you.

It’s been 6 years since I rediscovered young adult literature.  The romance is still alive.  Yes, I read plenty of “grown up” novels too, but it’s rare for me to feel the sort of connection I feel with Melinda in SPEAK, or Pudge in LOOKING FOR ALASKA, or Charlie in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.

It is not always easy to balance my passion for YA novels with real-life romance.  Men who are intrigued by my literary aspirations tend to ask why I don’t want to write “real” novels.  Men who don’t appreciate books leave me cold (and almost certainly think I’m a bizarre creature.)

I’m the sort of woman who loves to take myself out to eat.  I’ll order a nice dinner, drink a glass of Pinot Noir, and become absorbed in the romance of a Sarah Dessen novel or giggle out loud to the slapstick antics in SPUD.  (Bizarre creature indeed!)  Unfortunately, it’s a well-known fact that a single girl sitting at a restaurant bar with her nose in a book must be in want of a pick up line.  That said, nothing scares away an unwanted suitor like flashing the cover of a YA novel; especially one entitled BOY MEETS BOY. (Seriously, all single women should keep a copy in their purse.)

But don’t worry.  This is not a tragic story of star-crossed love.

In case you are wondering how that whole online dating profile thing worked out, let me share a ray of hope:

From: OneGreatGuy@talkmatch
To: YAWriterChick@talkmatch
Date received: November 1, 2009
Subject: Hello

Dear YAWriterChick,

I enjoyed your profile and believe we have much in common.  Please check out my profile and let me know if you would like to chat further.

PS – Are you aware that the Dahlonega Book Festival is this weekend?   Here is the website : http://www.literaryfestival.org/
If you are attending and would like to meet for coffee, that would be great.  Even if you are not interested in meeting, I think you would enjoy the festival.  There’s an impressive list of authors on the schedule as well as at least one literary agent.

Happily ever after?  Maybe.  I’ll let you know in a few years.

70′s Flashback Friday: K-tel Dance Off

One of the glorious benefits of writing a novel set in 1977 is that it gives the author an excellent excuse to wallow in 70′s pop culture and laugh herself silly for hours.  All in the name of literary research.

Welcome to 70′s Flashback Friday.  Where I finally get the chance to share my excellent research from the decade of disco debauchery.

Do you remember K-tel Records?

I think my mom may still have a few of my K-tel 8-tracks in her basement.  And the commercials!  Do you remember those commercials?  Well, thanks to the efforts of the You Tube community, you don’t have to remember.  You can see them again in all their glory.

So let’s have a Worst 70′s Dancer contest courtesy of the brilliant marketing team over at K-tel….

Contestant #1 – Blond chic from Right On:

(Uh….paging Tony Manero.  Is Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever in the house?  We need some dance instruction here STAT.)

Contestant #2 – Machine from Music Machine

(Look guys!  The evil robot from Lost In Space got a new gig!)

Hmmmm….I can’t possibly pick a winner.

The (Not So) Secret Reason Why Every Serious Writer Needs a Blog

My first experience with a national writing conference was the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference in Los Angeles, August 2005.

Ah yes, I remember it well.

Four days of keynote speeches, breakout sessions, book signings and hopeful writers, writers, writers everywhere.  Honestly, at that point in my writing education, that conference was a waste of money.  I was still working through my first formal class on “Writing for Children and Teens” and there was no manuscript in my suitcase.  All I brought with me was a very strong passion to write the sort of YA literature I loved to read (more on that in later posts).

I remember being amazed at the number of attendees, all with anxious hopeful eyes that would instantly glaze over in dismissal when I told them this was my first conference and I wasn’t scheduled for a critique.  I remember pens scribbling madly every time an editor or agent described the sort of projects they were hoping to find.  I remember being in awe of the gorgeous art showcased at the illustrator’s portfolio show.  And I very clearly remember watching Sonia Sones, Carolyn Mackler and Megan McCafferty eat lunch at a nearby table and thinking YA publication was like an exclusive sorority I just had to join.  (Which was not a very comfortable feeling as I had never ever been a “joiner”).

There was a brief discussion in one of the breakout sessions about blogs.  (Back then no one used the term “social media” or, if they did, I didn’t know what they were talking about).  The gist of the discussion and professional advice boiled down to this:

  • Reading editor and agent blogs is incredibly valuable and important when an author has a manuscript to submit
  • Author blogs could be great resources too
  • If you had a great blog, it could help your writing career
  • But don’t, don’t, DON’T blog if you can’t do it well or if the time commitment will hurt your writing productivity

End of story for me.  No blog.

Fast forward to the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York.  (New York City!!!)

Instead of an illustrator portfolio show, I went to MOMA for the first time in my life.  Uh, WOW!!!  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

It seemed to me that most presenters and attendees at the 2009 conference were discussing “social media” and “platforms” more than the art and craft of storytelling.  Ugh.  Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m Granny Slay the Writer, still pecking away on my manual typewriter and terrified that all those nasty cyberthiefs are going to steal my ideas.  No!  I’ve been on Facebook pretty much since its first year, connected with my current guy through online dating (though he likes to tell people we met at a book festival, which is also sort of true), worked for several tech companies in the Silicon Valley and am learning to use all the amazing features on my new iPhone very well thank you!

Deep breath.

I finally heard one publisher say, “Blogging and social networking can be a great tool, but don’t let it interfere with your writing.  And don’t do it at all if you can’t do it consistently and professionally.” He went on to say that he did not ever want any of his authors blogging about the publication process (the edits and rewrites and marketing and art selection, etc) that goes on behind the scenes at his imprint.

And so that’s the message I plucked out of all the other chatter and held close to my heart for two years.

Fast forward to now.  Here I am writing my first blog post despite the terrible fear in my heart.  Why?  In the past few months I have read numerous articles, interviews and blogs (yes, I do read and follow some great blogs) that clearly show that most agents and editors who receive an intriguing query will Google the author’s name before reading and/or requesting the actual manuscript.  This disclosure is coming from professionals that I admire and trust.  If the agent or editor finds a good, solid blog as a result of that Google, the chance that s/he will give your manuscript serious consideration will greatly increase.

And that’s what it’s all about.  Period.

So…I took yet another Writer’s Online Course (Blogging 101) in the hope that I would prevent myself from creating a really bad blog.  And now, away we go!  Into the wild cyber yonder.