Yak Shaving 101 by Rosemary Lord

just-rosie-3Rosemary 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.

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 What, you might ask, is ‘Yak Shaving’?  Where do I start…?

I was writing a new chapter in my next book, when I needed some research information that I could not find online. (If only I wrote about the present day, I wouldn’t need all this specific research – I could make it up.)  A visit to my local library was needed. So… I got dressed and headed out. I knew my car had the little orange light flashing, so I would have to get gas first. But, lo and behold, the universe had another idea. I had a flat tire. So I called the AAA and waited. My spare was flat, too, so the AAA guy towed me to the local Tire place. Eventually, I was able to drive my car away, go get some gas and head to the library for my research. I found the book I needed and copied my notes. It was a reference book, so I could not take it out.  After which, I was hungry. I can’t think or write when I’m hungry. So on my way home, I had to stop by Trader Joe’s and buy some food, before heading home to cook, eat, then pick up where my writing left off –  many hours later.

This is known as ‘Yak Shaving’ – when you find yourself doing something as irrelevant as shaving a yak (don’t ask!), instead of the goal you set out to accomplish.

It’s a term invented by MIT student Carlin Vieri and made famous by blogger Seth Gordon, who told his own tale of, “the seemingly unrelated, endless series of small tasks that have to be completed before the next step in a project can move forward.” There!

Hey – maybe I can absolve myself from the  personal responsibility for not finishing my current book: I have the Yak Shaving Syndrome.

But writers are known for procrastinating. Sometimes we find it is essential to clean out our fridge, before we can write that next article – or re-pot those pesky plants in the garden, before we write the next pages. Essential stuff, eh?

But then, we could turn Yak Shaving to our own benefit. When you’re writing a novel – especially a mystery novel – you usually have a vague idea how it ends, and maybe an overall feel about the way you want your characters to interact. So perhaps, if you’re stuck, you can work backwards.  Think about what has to happen just before the end. How you resolve your different characters storylines at the finale. What has to happen just before that?  And what has to happen before that point in your plot – and so on. Yak Shaving in reverse.

I digress. Because one can easily get distracted by all the Yak Shaving things life throws at us. Finding the perfect printer, the best notepads on which to write your literary gems, sharpening your pencils to perfection, then choosing just the right font when you finally get to type it all up.  I get so busy and distracted by little things that I have to constantly remind myself, what is it I really want to accomplish or be doing?

Remember that old saying: ‘When you are up to your neck in alligators, it is easy to forget that your original mission was to drain the swamp.”

 

How Rough Will You Go?

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko Johnston

Miko 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.

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Last summer I created a four-part seminar, “The Rules, And How To Break Them” for this blog. My intention was to show how crucial it is to learn the guidelines and formulas in writing fiction, because once you understand them, you can work around them.

There is a singular exception in my opinion, one rule that should never be broken: always treating your work in a professional manner – using standard formatting with readable fonts, and correcting your copy before showing it to anyone.

I still believe that. I set my Word docs to one-inch margins, double-spaced, usually Times New Roman or Cambria 12 point font. I check my work for spelling, grammar and punctuation before presenting it to a critique group or beta reader. What I present is never perfect, but I catch and correct a lot more errors than I let through.

Not everyone follows that policy. I don’t understand why. Pages with odd or odd sized fonts and single line spacing can be difficult to read. I don’t take issue with the occasional extra or dropped word, a few typos, or missing dialog tags. Writers who’ve caught an error after the fifth proofing of their work know it can happen.

However, when I have to review pages that are hard to read or overloaded with avoidable mistakes, I feel more like a teacher correcting papers than a writer offering critique. In fact, too many errors distract me from the writing, from finding the real gems within the pages as well as the core issues with character or plot.

I recently submitted pages from my third novel to a critique group with the up-front warning that they were a first draft. I’d been struggling with how to develop the story, which plot points to follow and which to drop. Even so, I made sure to present the material as though it was my final draft – proofed for typos and other errors. Their feedback was extraordinarily helpful, but I doubt they would have been able to provide so much insight if I hadn’t done my cleanup first.

Some writers I’ve worked with over the years don’t agree with me. They’ll submit a rough draft and make corrections after the critique. I’ve even heard some say they don’t care about grammar, punctuation and spelling – they can hire someone to do that for them. What professional would admit to being unable to handle some of the most basic elements of their job?

Doesn’t submitting sloppy work unchecked for common errors not only show a disregard for one’s own material, but disrespect for the readers?

 

 

“Vortex” Review by Jacqueline Vick

As writers, it’s tempting to remain focused on our own works-in-progress, but savvy authors know that one of the best ways to remain fresh is to read other books in our genre.  It’s also a good idea to move a step outside of your comfort zone when composing your reading list. Consider it a mental stretch. I’ve been gorging on mysteries, and though I usually stick to golden age, British traditional, and humorous, I recently picked up a crime thriller to round out my list. Here’s the scoop:

Vortex
Paul D. Marks
Timeless Skies Publishing

It’s apparent from the first page that Paul D. Marks writes stories that move. Fast. Hard-to-put-down fast. Which is probably why he has a Seamus Award for his novel, White Heat.

Vortex, protagonist Zack Tanner returns from Afghanistan to find that he isn’t the same shallow, fun-loving man that left Los Angeles for an adventure in the army. Unfortunately, no one else seems to have changed. Not his girlfriend, Jess, who is forever dreaming of stardom, nor his best friends and fellow soldiers, Bryan, Carlos and Matt.

Well, maybe Carlos and Bryan have changed. They believe that Zack has possession of something they desperately want, and suddenly the friendly banter takes a sinister turn. And the chase begins.

Marks, known for his love of Los Angeles noir, honors the moral ambiguity of that genre with a complex hero who straddles the line between being the good guy and being the guy who simply isn’t as bad as the rest.  Zack, who functions as the point-of-view character, presents an authentic voice reflecting the difficulties a soldier might experience when faced with his former life.

The supporting characters ring true, and you won’t know whether to love them, pity them, or hope they get bumped off before they cause additional damage. You can never be sure who’s on Zack’s side.

Marks knows the Los Angeles area well, and whether the scene takes place in the affluence-surrounded-by-grunge Los Feliz neighborhood, on the touristy Santa Monica Pier, or zooming up the famous Pacific Coast Highway, it feels as if you’re there.

The only problem with the novel is that it ends, because you won’t want to lose touch with Zack Tanner.

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Jacqueline Vick spent her childhood plotting ways to murder her Barbie doll. Mystery writing provided a more productive outlet.

 You can find out more about the “Barbie Death Ritual” at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.

What Kind of Music Pumps Up Your Writing?

headshotJacqueline Vick spent her childhood plotting ways to murder her Barbie doll. Mystery writing proved a more productive outlet. She is the author of over twenty novels and short stories including the Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery series.

 

 

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I have a confession to make. I work, think and play best to…silence.

I know, I know. I’ve tried. I had Foster make a compilation of super sappy music for those moments when the protagonist was going through an emotional moment. You know. Those heart-wrenching songs that you listened to in high school after breaking up with your boyfriend that made you feel as if someone understood your pain. (Not realizing that this was mere child’s play compared to the traumas that came with adult life.)

It helped set the mood a little, but I found that I was turning on Brian Eno’s ambient music instead.  Something soothing, but not enough to put one to sleep.

Brian Eno’s “The Ship”

Or chants.

Meditative Gregorian Chants – Male Chants

Female Chants – The Benedictines of Mary “Advent at Ephesus”

The problem with meditative music is that it goes best with meditating, not the frenetic thinking that goes with working out a new plot.

When I listen to music, which is not often, the songs make me think about when I first heard that song, or what a good guitar rift that was. I’ll pretty much listen to anything except pop music and anything with a thumping beat that makes my ears ring. Electronic dance music? Not a chance.

What about you?  Is there music that brings out your writing productivity?

 

 

 

Don’t Be a Sisyphus by Rosemary Lord

just-rosie-3Rosemary 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.

 

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“It’s not where you start – it’s where you finish…” wrote Dorothy Fields, lyricist for the 1973 Tony Award winning Broadway musical Seesaw, which was based on the William Gibson play, Two for the Seesaw.  “…It’s not how you go, it’s how you land.”

As great as the musical and Michele Lee’s Tony Nominated performance were – I’m not so sure about that…

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

As we wrap up 2016, how many of us look back at the journey we each took this year? Journeys are adventures. Even if it’s literally a train, plane, bus or car journey we’re taking. Just think of people you met along the way, places you saw. This is, after all, where many of us writers find our inspiration.

For my fellow bloggers, 2016 proved to be a year of amazing writing success, with novels, short stories and blog reports abounding. I am so proud of you: brava!

Some of my 2016 journeys took me back to Europe, spendingtrip-of-a-lifetime-2009-240 time with my siblings (there are five of us), their kids and our cousins. This is a new commitment I have made since I lost my wonderful husband, Rick.

Rick and I were both always so busy in L.A., that in his latter years we had no time to spend with my family in England. I am making up for that now. Us ‘sibs’ spent magical days on the southern tip of Greece, in the Mani – away from the tourist crowds. Here we followed some of that Literary Journey I have previously written about: finding author Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house on the coast at Kardamyli, staying in the village where Nicholas Kazantzakis wrote about a local mine-worker, Zorba the Greek.  We had lunch in Corinth, watching the Corinth Canal operators open the bridges to allow large vessels through. In Greek Mythology, Sisyphus was founder and king of Corinth. (More about him later.) My travels in England took me through the worlds of Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Keats, Pepys, Kipling and so much more.  I saw a glorious production of E. Nesbit’s classic story, The Railway Children, at King’s Cross Train Station in London, where a portion of the tracks had been turned into a theatre, with the audience seated on platforms 1 and 2, facing each other. The play was performed on the actual railway lines between, with a ‘stage’ moved back and forth along the rails by stage-hands dressed as Edwardian railway porters, and a real steam train chunting in from the wings. Joanna Scotcher’s award-winning design was stunning.

Back in California, so much of my past year has been spent at the Woman’s Club of Hollywood, right in the heart of Hollywood. Here I have been working with a terrific new team to save this historic landmark, pay off a debt of over one million dollars incurred by ne’er-do-wells and bring amazing people back into the club, so that we might help the local community, support our charitable causes, restore the historical buildings and have fun at the great social and artistic events. We have a great series of writing workshops, of course, taught by Gayle Bartos-Pool!

But it’s a lotta work! Long hours, too. And, because the need for help here is so vital, I have neglected my writing. But I still poke away at it, snatching twenty minutes here and there to work on my second Lottie Topaz novel. The other things I intend to write swirl around my head – spilling as hurried notes in my many notebooks. I have also surprised myself by managing to write these Blogs. My fellow bloggers seem so much better at time-management than I! I have managed to attend some fascinating writers’ conferences too, where I get to renew old friendships with fellow writers – and meet new writers, editors, experts and publishers.

So here we are, as this year draws to an end, trying to make sure we have done all we set out to do. Remember those dastardly New Year Resolutions?  This crazy year-end rush to catch up as Christmas looms. No, I love Christmas – truly! I especially love the sentiment of the origins of this special time of year. But, now that I am supposed be grown-up, all the trimmings, demands and expectations tend to overwhelm. There’s that word again.

I long to have time to stretch out on my ever-so-comfy sofa and watch A Christmas Carol, Christmas In Connecticut, Miracle on 34th Street or Scrooge – with a hot cup of  tea and a mince pie. But there always seems so many things to take care of: phone-calls to make, papers to organize, to summarize, to complete. To Do lists ticked off and thrown away.  And this year has the added dread of ‘Mercury in Retrograde’ from December 19th to January 8th. This is when the planet Mercury slows down considerably and we mortals have all those challenges with missed communication, delayed deliveries, mechanical problems with computers and cars. Mercury Retrograde is supposed to be a time to slow down and reflect on where we are going. That’s what they say, anyway. It works for me. And I like having something other than myself to blame for emails that go missing or if my computer is playing up. So this year we have a double whammy.

That’s where Sisyphus comes into the picture. In Greek Mythology, evil sinner Sisyphus was condemned to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a mountain. Once he got to the top, the weight of the boulder forced it to start rolling down to the bottom, wherein he had to start again.  According to Albert Camus, the Greek gods felt that there is no more dreadful punishment than this futile and hopeless labor for Sisyphus. Hmmm.

Well, as we look forward to a fresh, welcoming New Year, I don’t want to be heading into 2017 with my same disorganized paperwork, uncompleted tasks and my long list of over-commitments. I just hate to say ‘no’ to anyone, believing that I must always help others, before I take care of myself. That’s the way I was raised. But I really want to start putting some of my needs first for a change. I don’t want to be Sisyphus, pushing that boulder uphill anymore.

So these next few days between Christmas and the New Year I will make time to watch It’s A Wonderful Life again for inspiration. I know I will be having several of those ‘good talkings to’ with myself – making sure that I, Rosemary, understand that this next year really will be different. I promise.

I really will use my time a lot better, so I can accomplish more. I really will delegate work at the Woman’s Club. I really will discipline my writing time so that I  turn away from distractions and complete this next Lottie  book and start the next. So that I really will complete those dozen or so short stories I have started, but that remain unfinished. And maybe I really will enlist some help with my paper work and especially my computer and Social Media skills. Please! I prefer phone calls to Face Book: sorry!

But this coming year I really do want to make a difference in my life so that I can ‘stop and smell the roses’ again.  I have decided 2017 is going to be a grand year, with wonderful changes for the better.

And I hope that for everyone 2017 will be a magical year. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Strange New World: Where Will Our Words Take Us Now? by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko Johnston

Miko 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.

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This blog is not about politics, but unless you’ve been comatose for a year, you’re aware of the recent U.S. presidential election and its outcome. It’s fair to say many are unhappy with the result, although it would be equally fair to say that it would be the case no matter which candidate won. Still, it’s hard to deny that this election represents a significant shift in direction for our nation, leaving many unsure and apprehensive of what’s to come.

Again, this isn’t about politics; it’s about writing. Major events have always influenced our culture, from books to visual and now social media. I wonder what trends and influences the new administration will have on writing in the future.

Biographies of the President-elect and the candidate formerly known as the presumptive President should be forthcoming, as will analyses of the incoming administration. It’s also safe to forecast non-fiction works devoted to the election, the mood of the voters that led to the results, and what the change in leadership portends for the country.

Let’s consider fiction. What sorts of themes will become popular and what will fall out of favor? I’ve asked several writers for their opinions.

Author and blogger Terry Carr predicts there will…“be less futuristic fiction”, instead we’ll have more “fiction that goes back to a simpler time… my kind of escapism.”

Gordon Labuhn, whose books range from mysteries to memoirs, suspects there will be more graphic sex and language than before as barriers to what had been taboo are lowered. He sees a trend toward attacking and weakening the media for any negative coverage of the new White House. However, when I asked him if this would put a chill on writing anything that might be viewed as unfavorable toward the President-elect, Labuhn was noncommittal.

Several writers I spoke with who prefer to remain anonymous agree that some people will turn to nostalgia and the safety of the past for escape from the present, as Carr suggests. And still others will lose themselves in lightweight comedies and mindless action as a distraction from the reality of here and now. I confess I did just that, on an overseas flight home, the day after the election.

One of the most considered responses came from writing instructor and fiction author Wayne Ude, who surmises, “Some may focus on what unites us as human beings; others on what unites us as Americans—not necessarily the same thing…(and) others will surely focus on what divides us.” He thinks one approach would be akin to Ray Brgrapes-of-wrathadbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or George Orwell’s 1984: “In light of a Supreme Court which has ruled that money is a form of speech instead of property and that corporations are entitled to the same rights as are human beings, a similar work might present a country which has become an oligarchy entirely controlled by the wealthy.” Another would be “the approach John Steinbeck took in The Grapes of Wrath, which was a very realistic exploration of the lives of people left behind by economic change…(and) a third approach might be satirical novels about the wealthy, in the vein of Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or, earlier, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s The Gilded Age.

I agree with Ude regarding political and social satire, which has long been part of our culture. I believe it will become more caustic now, and that debate will erupt over whether a liberal bias in the media or the words and actions of the new administration is the cause. This will create a more fluid divide between legitimate news and parody, which itself straddles fiction and reality. And while, like Ude, I expect big institutions that exploit the downtrodden will continue to be vilified, I hope we don’t begin seeing the downtrodden portrayed, not as heroes like in The Grapes of Wrath, but as villains. Casting certain groups as scapegoats during unsure times has occurred for centuries, but what’s different now is that it would effectively kill political correctness. I’ve never been a P.C. fan; I believe it creates a false impression of civility and holds its own biases. However imperfect it has been in balancing freedom of speech and protection from hate speech, why destroy it when you have nothing better to replace it with?

A clue to where we’re headed came in a recent news story. Executives at several television networks have decided to break with tradition and not take questions from critics at their semi-annual press conferences.  Many networks have come under fire for their lack of racial and cultural diversity, both on and behind the screen, as well as their depiction of violence, particularly against women. This is not new. Neither is the overrepresentation of well off, educated professionals as primary characters on most scripted programs. However I do think these concerns will go unchallenged by the new administration.

Will any of these scenarios come to pass? Ultimately it depends on how we writers decide to react to the new political reality. We can be cautious, or courageous. We can block out the real world and focus on the worlds we build in our stories, or we can bring some of that reality into our characters’ lives, no matter where they live, or when. As we are about to enter a new era, I’m asking writers: What trends in fiction do you foresee in the future? Will the change in leadership have any effect on what you choose to write about? And if so, how?

 

Collections and Anthologies – Get Your Writing Out There!

Most writers have those short stories hanging around. Sometimes they have been published through magazines, Amazon, or as blog posts. Don’t let them go to waste! (If you have the rights to them.)

This year, I’m putting together all of my short stories – those with a winter theme – and coming out with a collection to introduce my various characters. The advantages?

  • Readers who might not invest in an entire novel could be willing to discover new characters through short stories.
  • Every time a writer comes out with a new book, he or she increases the odds of being found online.
  • It’s a good reminder that books that revolve around a season or an event sell better: holidays, weddings, seasons etc.

I went to Book Boxed Set to buy my template for the cover. Thank you for coming up with this template!!  My collection will be called “Murder Takes a Chill” or “The Chill of Murder”.

In fact, take the survey to let me know which title you like better or to suggest your own. No personal information will be collected.

So, pull out those short stories and novellas, find a theme, and get them online already!

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Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.