CANNIBALIZING YOUR LIFE

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

CANNIBALIZING YOUR LIFE

One of my favorite quotes, attributed variously to writers Philip Roth and W. Somerset Maugham, is this: “Nothing bad can ever happen to a writer. It’s all material.”

I take comfort in that reminder when bad things happen in my life; at least I might someday squeeze a story out of the experience. I might think, “So this is what it’s like to be stuck in a hospital ER.” Or “So this is what it feels like to watch someone you love get sick and die.”

Do you ever find yourself taking notes, mental or otherwise, during some traumatic event?

Not to be morbid, but those moments of sheer pain or grief or terror, if captured when they’re fresh, can add depth and authenticity to your writing.

Many years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Inoperable. She was in her 70’s and knew she didn’t want chemotherapy, so she entered a hospice program. As I watched her fade away, sometimes in terrible pain, sometimes in a morphine fog, I didn’t jot notes in my journal as I sat by her bed. But when the dreadful process was over and she’d been laid to rest, I did journal the experience. The entries weren’t poetic or well thought out, but my raw emotions seeped onto the page so that years later I could pull out my journal and refresh my memory—from a safer distance.

I fictionalized my mother’s dying in my novel Mending Dreams—not to capitalize on her suffering but to try and redeem it, to acknowledge her courage. Many people who read the book have told me, “I could tell you’d been there. I have, too.” I like to think they derived some comfort from knowing they weren’t alone, from understanding “It’s not just me. Other people have felt this, too.”

Writing about life’s darkest moments gives me a slight sense of control and helps me get a handle on my pain or grief or anger or fear. And using personal experience, even if I disguise it, adds a layer of credibility to my writing.

Knowing I might eventually write about a painful incident, I try to be more observant. If I’m going to go through this experience, at least I can record it, do it justice, and convert it to something useful after my emotions have cooled.

I’m not the only writer to do this. Here’s another quote, from the late Nora Ephron, a writer I truly admire: “Everything is copy.”

She should know—she turned the failure of her marriage to Carl Bernstein into a very witty memoir, Heartburn, which went on to become a hit movie. And she was able to give her ex a little payback for the infidelity that wrecked their marriage.

So what about the flip side? Does this mean that nothing truly good can happen to a writer? I don’t think so. I journal many peak experiences too, and try to capture the good feelings before they dissipate. Those entries come a little easier.

Heck, you know life’s going to throw us some curves. We might as well use them to make ourselves stronger writers.

 

 

 

A Literary Journey in England by Rosemary Lord

06694-rosemaryatburbanklibraryjpgRosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!

She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

A Literary Journey

I didn’t intend it this way. It just happened. I was visiting my family in England on what, I reflected later, turned into a very literary journey. ……

Firstly, as I travelled the tube (subway), trains and buses, I was surprised to see so many passengers reading. Actual books. Hard backs and paperbacks – and some kindles. Ian McEwan, John Grisham, John Le Carre,  Lee Childs, Linda Green were some authors I noticed. On a lighter side were Santa Montefiore, JoJo Moyes, Dawn French and Fiona Gibson. An interesting, different selection from what we see in L.A.

A stop British Library on Euston Road, where purses or bags go in a locker. No pens/pencils allowed either – in case you have an urge to doodle on the Gutenberg Bible.

Catching up with my friend Marie Rowe, we wandered around Seven Dials, near Covent Garden. Agatha Christie wrote, The Mystery of Seven Dials. Then to Foyle’s Bookshop, famous for Literary Luncheons. Moved down the road from its’ 100 year old,  rickety, wood-lined shop, it now gleams white and chrome and boasts 4 miles of book shelves. Across the road is the site of Marks and Co, the antiquarian bookshop star of the movie 84 Charing Cross Road. It closed in 1970 and is now a MacDonald’s.

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A Limehouse victim?

My brother Ted and I took the Docklands Light Railway to Limehouse in London’s East End. The setting for many historic mysteries, Limehouse – on the northern banks of the Thames – is the former site of China Town and opium dens. Remember the jazzy Limehouse Blues? Thomas Burke wrote Limehouse Nights, Dickens set books here and Peter Ackroyd  wrote Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.

The Docklands were reclaimed and developed in the 1980 s  with smart high-rises and apartments. Vintage narrow-boats moor next to fancy yachts.

Walking back along the Thames, the river bank is littered with flotsam and jetsam – where many literary bodies are washed up. The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping was a  smugglers’ haunt. Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens imbibed here. On the sands behind, the gibbet where pirates were hung, remains. Further along, at London Bridge, are Nancy’s Steps, where Dickens had Bill Sykes chase poor Nancy in Oliver Twist.

Another day took us to Oxford, setting for Colin Dexter’s novels about Inspector Morse – and the historic Bodleian Library.

Next, a family outing to Rudyard Kipling’s House, Batemans, in Sussex. He was 36 and world-famous when he found this 33 acre estate. Now a National Trust property, we saw the room where he wrote the Just So Stories, Kim, Puck of Pook’s Hill and more. His large writing table overlooks a serene garden. His Nobel Prize on the mantle-shelf, the faded sofa is where Kipling lay in writing mode. Inspired, he would jump up and hand-write pages. His secretary would later type out his words on the small portable typewriter that sits on a side desk.

He wrote The Jungle Book when he lived in Virginia with his American-born wife, Caroline. Kipling was born in India, his great inspiration.

England was freezing, so my siblings and I flew to sunnier climes in the Peloponnese, Greece. Perfect, sunny weather. We visited the village where Nicolas Katzenzakis wrote the book based on local character, Zorba, who found celluloid fame with an iconic dance on the beach.

We visited the house of the late English writer and war hero, Patrick Leigh Furmor. ‘Paddy’ wrote successful books about The Mani, this area of southern Greece. The film Ill Met By Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogard, was about his wartime heroics.  His overgrown, red-tiled villa on a pebbly beach off the beaten track, is presently being prepared to open as a museum.

I could go on. It was a wonderful trip and over too soon. But I returned to Hollywood with a case full of books and a replenished Kindle. Travel is supposed to broaden the mind. For me, it feeds my soul.

Fun with Writing by Miko Johnston

MikoJ Photo1Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

Fun with Writing

Have you ever read a book that got you scratching your head and wondering, how did this mess ever get published? Perhaps the story started out great, then took a turn for the worse. Maybe at some point it read like a different author took over. Or the book was laughably awful from Once upon a time, but since you’ve always liked the author you stuck with it through the equally bad they lived happily ever after. This has happened to me too often, so I want my revenge!

Thanks to the inspiration of these bad novels, here’s a few writing exercises you can do on your own or with your writer’s group that will not only help sharpen your writing skills, but may provide a few giggles and even a groan or two.

I. BOOK DOCTOR

First, find a truly awful book. Unfortunately, it’s not that hard, but if you’re stumped, pick a genre and Google: worst (publisher) ever, or just: worst (genre) book ever and see what comes up. (Hint: I tried this using a well-known publishing company; their name is synonymous with Romance, though ironically, a synonym for ‘clown’.)

Then find a few paragraphs, a page or a short scene in the book that stands out as excruciating. Look beyond mistakes like spelling or grammar, you want prose you need a steak knife to cut through, or a decoder to comprehend. Now here’s the hard part. Read it a few times to determine exactly why it’s so awful – awkward phrasing, clunky dialog, too much or too little description – and try not to laugh. That might be the hardest part.

Then rewrite the passage in a way you think improves the work. You’re not looking to change the story, but to make it comprehensible and entertaining, introduce what’s missing – tension, clarity, recognizably human behavior.

You can do this exercise on your own, but it’s especially fun to do with other writers. Then once everyone finishes laughing over the original version, they can compare notes and see how each one reinterpreted the dreadful pages.

II. WORST LINE EVER

Take a page (pun intended) from the many ‘bad fiction’ contests: redirect your masterful literary skill and write the worst line of fiction ever. Mind you, this is not about bad grammar or a weak concept. This is about truly pathetic prose. Skip piecemeal and terse; instead, head directly for convoluted and illogical, but in a funny way. Challenge your writer friends to join you and then compare. If you need inspiration, review the first paragraph of BOOK DOCTOR above.

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III. “RASHOMAN”

The classic Japanese movie tells a story from the point of view of several characters. If you are part of a writers group and would like a fun exercise, try this:

Select a well-known historical incident, or find a story reported in the news, one that involves multiple individuals, such as a crime. Establish the story in the omniscient point of view – just the facts, so to speak. Then assign a character to each writer, who then tells the story from that person’s perspective. If any of the characters intersect, then the writers documenting their stories can work together to create those scenes. If you’re feeling extra-creative, make up your own story. Afterward, read all the individual accounts and see how well they link together, and how much they may differ.

IV. CREATE AN INDIVIDUAL CHAPTER BOOK

Remember the old game of telephone, when you whispered a story to someone and then they whispered it to the next person, and so on? By the end of the line, the story usually bore little resemblance to how it began.

I once belonged to a writers group that decided to produce a novel this way. They came up with a basic premise, really an idea to launch the story. Then one member wrote the opening chapter and passed it along to another writer, who created chapter two. By the end of the book, the story had emerged in an unusual way. The writers found the challenge of following and continuing the threads already written to be intriguing, but very challenging. They chose a science fiction genre, which allowed a degree of latitude in creating each successive chapter.

Although their book followed a linear storyline, it might be easier to create an episodic novel, similar to TV shows like “Route 66” or “Highway to Heaven”. If you try this, I would recommend selecting one genre and sticking to it. If dragons or flying saucers appear in the middle of your contemporary political thriller, it may get chosen for the next BOOK DOCTOR.

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Tell us of your experiences with these or similar writing projects.

An Interview with "Rubes" Cartoonist, Leigh Rubin by Jackie Houchin

A cartoon is a mini (micro) short story, often told in a single panel. Astonishingly cartoons tell the “beginning, middle and end” of a story in a single line! How does a cartoonist DO that?  

Okay, okay, I know, a “picture is worth a thousand words,” but still, you have to envision the picture, and then create that “line.”
Leigh Rubin – a man I met decades ago when I went to his family’s print shop for some business cards – has created the now nationally syndicated Rubes® cartoons. Most times his cartoons are tongue-in-cheek, plays-on-words, or puns. Sometimes, you have to think about them for a minute to “get it.” But don’t good stories and books do that too?
Hi Leigh, thanks for stopping by Writers in Residence.
Take us back to the beginning of your story. Your first paperback collection was published in 1988, how did your signature cartoon series originate?  What gave you the idea for animal (and vegetable) humor? 
I had been walking through a drug store in 1978 and passed by the greeting card section. There were these very simply drawn cards with very fun and silly puns called

“Animal Farm” by Sandra Boynton. They were terrific and much different than your standard Hallmark card. It was at that moment I thought “Why don’t I start my own greeting card line?” 

I had been working at my folks print shop since high school so I knew how to run a press, do layout and design, etc. Of course I was majoring in advertising arts in college at the time so everything just sort of clicked. I started the card line in 1979. 


Skip ahead a couple of years….I was getting burned out doing both the card line and working at the print shop. 

I happened to be doodling around and made my signature character into a musical note. Then I started writing silly little puns to go along with the notes and Notable Quotes was born.

Jump ahead a couple more years and I was doing a book signing at a bookstore in Lancaster, California, with my first cartoon collection of Notable Quotes. The entertainment editor at the paper had written a little feature about the event. He and I became friends and it wasn’t long after that he asked if I’d like to draw a cartoon for the local paper. I jumped at the chance. 

On November 1,1984 the first Rubes® was published

At first you were self-syndicated. What does that mean? (Leigh is now represented nationally and internationally by Creators Syndicate.)

Self-syndication means that instead of a syndicate, which is a company that markets and hopefully sells your cartoons, that you (the cartoonist) have the pleasure of being rejected first-hand instead of the newspaper or publication telling the sales rep for the syndicate that they are not interested in your cartoon .

It also means that you “get to” make the sales, send out promo material, do the billing, chase down the people who owe you $$ and experience all the pleasure of running your own business.

Readers are always interested in process. Novelists and short story writers use the question, “What if?” to jump start their imagination and get the creative juices flowing. Describe how a cartoon that “delights millions daily” comes into being at your hands. 
My average day starts with a cup or two or three of whatever coffee my wife happens to brew that day. (I’m not all that picky.) It’s all downhill from there. If I didn’t wake up in the night with an amazing flash of humorous inspiration (yes, it still happens now and then) then it’s all just “winging it” with a mixture of doodling and daydreaming with a heapin’ helping of erasing thrown in for good measure. 

Call me old-fashioned but I still actually physically draw with a pencil on paper. There is something very satisfying with holding an original piece of art. Equally satisfying is tearing up the paper you struggled with all day because the gag didn’t turn out as funny as it was originally envisioned. 

The same cannot be said for drawing on a tablet. If you are unsatisfied, hitting “delete” does not give the same “take that you crappy drawing” sense of satisfaction. (Ah, the sweet sound of paper being torn in half!


Eventually, sometimes sooner than later, a workable concept will magically appear on the paper. An average day is one cartoon. A good day, two. An extraordinary day, three – though honestly, after two I call it a day. After all, there’s always tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that, etc.

  
Producing up to seven fresh cartoons weekly could get stressful. Do you ever get “dry?” What do you do to prime the pump?  (This might help “writer’s block” sufferers.)

As I mentioned, priming the pump consists mainly of intense mental calisthenics (aka “daydreaming”). If I don’t pick up the pencil then “ain’t nuthin’ gonna happen” so it’s best to just START. The sooner that happens the sooner an idea will manifest itself.

“Do I ever get dry?” Well, let’s just say that some days are easier than others. But, no. writer’s block is never an option for me.
You are also an entertaining motivational speaker for businesses, colleges, etc. I attended one and came away almost believing I could be a cartoonist! 
Describe what you do your demonstrations.

I like to think of myself as a “sit down comic.” 

Being in front of a live audience and telling jokes or sharing observational humor, going step by step through the creative process, connecting the dots, and of course some live doodling is great fun. It gives me the opportunity to connect with people from all walks of life with whom I would never have the chance to meet otherwise. 


What I hope that people take away from these live events is to find inspiration in their own lives by seeing from a slightly different and perhaps even humorous perspective, what would otherwise be mundane or unremarkable situations. 

I’ll bet you’ll never guess how funny flossing could be until you think about a sheep or a spider doing it!

Do you have any advice for newbie and hopeful cartoonists, writers and artists just starting out, or those struggling to get published?  

Advice you say? Well, yes. I do have some for what it’s worth. 

If someone you know tells or sends you a letter of rejection don’t take it personally. See if you can find out exactly why that person turned you down. Get the specifics if possible. 

One of my earliest letters of rejection came from a syndicate that loved my gags but thought my drawing needed work. I listened to them and really upped my game. That one reject coupled with some valuable constructive criticism made a huge impact on me and on my career.

Thanks, Leigh. And anything else you’d like to say before you leave? 

Say, would this be a suitable place to plug my latest book, which you can actually get for 25% off? It’s called Rubes® Twisted Pop Culture,and contains over 30 years of my very favorite pop culture cartoons-from Mickey Mouse to the Beatles to Godzilla and hundreds more! 

It would make a fabulous Father’s Day, graduation, belated Mother’s Day, birthday or any day gift!   Here’s the link and a preview:  Rubes.CartoonistBook.com

Besides creating comic humor for newspapers, Leigh has produced books of cartoons, magnets, greeting cards, e-cards, tee-shirts and box calendars. Be sure to visit also his web site and peruse his witty collections and books.   http://www.rubescartoons.com/