joanne Weck Author Page

Monday, September 16, 2013

TAKING A HIATUS--WHEN YOU NEED TO REFUEL

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." Alan Watts






You can't pour from an empty pitcher. Sometimes its necessary to back off and spend time meditating and regrouping. Too much sound and fury. Too many messages. Too much information results in an emotional overload. I needed a retreat and I took one. I retreated into the back of my very deep cave where I folded myself into a fetal position and shut down for a month. Not literally, of course but a metaphor that expresses my withdrawal. Silence, peace, solace.

Now back, full of energy and ideas I have revisions to write, new ideas to implement, and a blog to revive. Dreams have blossomed in the quiet days, filling my brain with many new possibilities. I have a half completed memoir, two novels that need revision, short story contests to enter. Look out world. Drum roll, please. Onward and upward. (Have I convinced myself yet?)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

INSPIRATION? ADAPTATION? INTERPRETATION? OR RIP-OFF?


Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.  Aaron Sorkin  




How far should a writer go in "borrowing" from others? When does "BORROWING" veer from inspiration to transgression?

 Watching Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's beautifully realized adaptation of Tennessee William's Streetcar Named Desire,  my sense of deja vu was so strong  that  I expected the Stanley character to fall on his knees at any moment and bellow"Stella!" In the final moments when the Blanche clone sits alone on a park bench mumbling to herself, I anticipated the arrival of a white-coated doctor to whom she would murmur, "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers."

I had the same uneasy feeling  and sense of confusion when I recently read The Flight of Jemma Hardy by Margot Livesey, aware suddenly that I was rereading Jane Eyre, albeit in a slightly different time period, with a slightly different setting, and different names.

It's a respected practice to find inspiration in another writer's work, to adapt, or update a great story. The account of the great flood in Gilgamesh was retold in the Old Testament as the story of Noah, and the Bible, itself, has been an inexhaustible treasure trove for character and story. In East of Eden, Steinbeck powerfully updates the story of Cain and Abel and many other stories have been reinterpreted, updated, or re-imagined. Movies famously adapt or reinterpret. Clueless cleverly updates Emma, one of Jane Austin's most beloved novels.

Still I find myself questioning the legitimacy of adaptations that so completely follow the character development, themes, and plot of the original work. When is it homage and when is it outright theft?

You think about it while I get back to my writing--a novel inspired by WAR AND PEACE.   WRITE ON!

Monday, August 5, 2013

WRITING FOR YOUR LIFE (AND SANITY)


“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” ― Graham Greene


Today I'm considering the ways writing for oneself are valuable.
Psychologists and psychiatrists as well as students of human nature agree that simply formulating and penning (or typing) one's thoughts and feelings is therapeutic. The desire to share what has come from your mind is another choice and may have different outcomes, but most writers agree that they write for themselves first.


It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around. —Stephen King

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. —Aristotle

Did you ever admire an empty-headed writer for his or her mastery of the language? No. So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head. —Kurt Vonnegut

In short, you have only your emotions to sell. This is the experience of all writers. —F. Scott Fitzgerald

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. —Joseph Chilton Pearce

Writing--and this is the big secret--wants to be written. Writing loves a writer the way God loves a true devotee. Writing will fill your heart if you let it. It will fill your pages and help to fill your life. —Julia Cameron

A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from human lips; not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself. —Henry David Thoreau

I'm sharing these insights today to remind myself of why I write. WRITE ON!


Thursday, August 1, 2013

HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL WRITER


“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” ― Bob Dylan


How do I define success? Not as the world might define it. If I feel successful, then, to my mind I am successful. If I am spending my time (or at least a good part of my time) doing what inspires me and makes me happy, then I am successful.

 I'm not saying that there aren't publicly recognized signs of success-- sales records, public acclaim, great reviews, film adaptations, fans who wait breathlessly for the next book, and a six-figure income.

But if I were holding out for these marks of success, it could be a long painful wait. If, however, I allow myself to indulge in the positive feelings of success immediately, I can  feel successful (and inspired) when I sit at my computer and write for my minimum of two hours. I can feel successful when I have another short story (The Killer's Kid in firstwriter) chosen for publication. I can feel successful when I get a (albeit small) royalty check for sales of my novel, CRIMSON ICE from AMAZON.

I choose to label myself a successful writer because I am enjoying my writing life every day. Perhaps someday before I die I'll hit major, recognized success as a writer (a la J. K. Rowling) but even if I don't, I count myself lucky to be able to write and so I declare that I AM A SUCCESSFUL WRITER! Join me and shout out loud and clear: I am a successful writer! WRITE ON!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

WRITERS AND TECHNOLOGY--HOW DO YOU WRITE? HOW DO WE READ?


“Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don't abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book."  Patti Smith




JOANNE (Liebhauser) WECK

joanneweck.com/ 
I wrote my first poem in a school tablet in pencil. I bought a special notebook for my first diary (which I insisted on calling a "journal" to ensure the serious nature of my entries) and I wrote with my special,  favorite ball point pen.

When I got my first after-school job (as a waitress) I saved my tips for a my first typewriter, a portable Smith-Corona. I taught myself to type on it. That little blue machine made me feel like a "real writer" and served me through  high school and college.  I even used it to write my first novel. The only problem--every draft (and even every edit) involved retyping--the entire page, even the entire novel. Perhaps that was good for my writing education but when I got my first word processor  I was ecstatic. I could actually edit in the machine! 

I understand that some very successful writers still write on yellow legal pads or in notebooks with pens and/or pencils. They say it makes them feel closer to the words.

But I'm in love with my MacBook! I'll say it again. I"m in love with my MacBook!

I love the ease of working on it and editing and printing from it. I love hearing the words I've written spoken (albeit in a robotic voice) to me. But I love it not only for writing but also for downloading and reading ebooks, and for listening to audiobooks. Technology has changed my (reading and writing) life. 

Don't get me wrong, I'll still love the feel (and smell) and look of a real volume or even a paperback in my hands. I want my own novels and short stories published in hard copy as well as electronically, but to my mind, technology has only freed me up to concentrate on the ideas, not the physical effort of getting it down! WRITE ON!

Friday, July 26, 2013

ONE SMALL SUCCESS--ONE GIANT ENCOURAGEMENT



This is the email I got yesterday, a lovely surprise since I had almost forgotten that I had submitted the story.firstwriter is an online journal on a website that lists nearly every opportunity for writers and includes its own contests. Through the information they've supplied I've submitted (and published) about 14 stories including several previous first place wins  and runners up in their contests. CHECK IT OUT!

Dear Joanne Weck,

I'm pleased to let you know that your entry, The Killer's Kid, has been chosen as one of ten Special Commendations in our Ninth International Short Story Contest. Your name is currently listed in the previous winners section at http://www.firstwriter.com/competitions/poetry_competition/previous_winners.shtml (follow the link for the Ninth International Short Story Contest), and your work will be published in a future issue of firstwriter.magazine. At the time of publication, you will be sent a voucher which will allow you to take out an annual subscription to firstwriter.com for free -- or, if you are already a subscriber, you will be offered competition entries up to the same value.

Congratulations, and thank you for entering our competition.

Kind regards,

J. Paul Dyson
Managing Editor

Monday, July 22, 2013

THE WRITING BUG


“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”  Ray Bradbury


This is my aim and goal but it can be quite a challenge, especially when traveling or on vacation. There are times when I want to leave the journal or the computer behind and spend the day on the beach, sailing, exploring, hiking, going to plays, films, or concerts, letting the wind blow through my hair.

However, if I spend a day without at least a journal entry I feel a certain lack, as if I've forgotten to take my vitamins or brush my teeth. Something important left undone. Before the end of the day I find myself ferreting out my journal and scribbling a few lines, or opening my computer and rereading and editing my previous day's work.

Does this insure "a pleasant career"? I couldn't say. What I can say is that is satisfies something in my soul. What it does is remind me that  I write first of all for my own satisfaction. What it says is that a habit perpetuates itself. So, even though I am in Florida, instead of my home state(s) of Pa and NJ, trying to play and forget about "working" I find the writing bug still biting. It's like a mosquito's bite, creating an itch that has to be scratched. WRITE ON!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

WHAT DO READERS WANT?

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” — Joyce Carol Oates

joanneweck.com

Joyce Carol Oates, one of the most prolific writers of our time, must know. I know I try to write the story or novel that I would want to read--one that transports me into someone else's skin and soul. I generally attempt to create an empathetic protagonist, one the reader can comfortably identify with.

 However, at other times I also enjoy inhabiting the persona of persons very different, people who are capable of total self-absorbtion at the expense of others,  who are capable of conniving, of wicked behavior. Perhaps this is why I get the criticism, at times, that my characters aren't "likable" enough. However, as an admirer of the works of Oates,  Zoe Heller and Nabokov, I aspire to accomplish what they do--drawing the reader under the spell of even a most repulsive characters.

I am currently (re) editing a novel to minimize the less attractive traits and increase the likability factor of the two main characters in my work-in-progress because my agent's assistant suggested that neither was likable enough.  Although my purpose was to portray two difficult people (each with a great deal of baggage) forced to engage with one another and adjust, and in the process to learn to open their hearts and become more empathetic, apparently (to her at least) it is necessary to draw the reader into the story with characters who start out with more immediately engaging qualities.

I'm walking a fine line now between writing the novel I wanted to write and writing a novel that my agent will want to represent, thereby giving it a better chance of going forth into the world to actually be appreciated by readers, who of course, have the final judgment. It's a challenge. But I'm up to it. (I think.) WRITE ON!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

IT'S A MYSTERY--WHY DO WE LOVE SUSPENSE?


“It is only through mystery and madness that the soul is revealed” 
― Thomas Moore






Why is it that everything we strive to avoid in real life--screams, violence, bloodshed, gunshots, robbery, kidnappings, and murder are so fascinating when they appear between the covers of a book or on the screen?

What is it about suspense that makes us sit up late at night, turning the pages unable to put the book down or clutching the remote, unable to click off that terrifying late night drama?

Is it because our ordinary lives are too sedate and we crave to vicariously experience the thrill of danger without actually being in danger? Or is it, as some experts have suggested, a way for humans to deal with their guilt at our current existence at the top of the food chain?


Whatever it is, I love the thrill of reading a well plotted mystery, identifying in turn with the person in danger, the sleuth who cleverly interprets and connects the most fragmentary and elusive clues, not to mention the ruthless villain who perpetrates the most vile crimes. 

That thrill, however, does not match the thrill (and challenge) of writing a well plotted mystery full of ruthless villains, evil deeds, screams, gunshots, kidnappings, bloodshed and murder. In the process of final editing my second mystery I find it difficult to regain the perspective of the first time reader, trying to decipher the clues, discovering who will be the victim and who the perpetrator. 

At this stage I have to depend on friends to give me feedback--is the protagonist interesting and engaging, the plot twists believable, the outcome satisfying? Another edit. Writing is rewriting. WRITE ON!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

TELLING LIES. . . .TELLING STORIES

As a child I had a vivid imagination. I loved to invent my own stories of animals that were smarter than humans and imaginary folk who lived underground. I created characters who were brave and beautiful, who had incredible adventures, defeated monstrous enemies, saved others from destruction and, naturally, lived happily ever after.

My younger sister was enthralled by my tales, but before I began each one she would ask me, "Is it a really true story?" To ensure her interest, I had to say it was.

Some would have perceived not only my assurance that my tales were "true" but also the stories I spun for her as telling lies. To my mind the truth included not only things that had happened, but also things that could have happened.

This obsession planted the seed of my desire to become a writer. At some point I began to write my stories in a notebook, filling up school tablets with my dreams and lies. Sometimes I wrote them as plays and forced my siblings, cousins, and friends to perform.

Writing was the most gratifying of my activities, as gratifying as reading everything on the family bookshelves. To this day I am grateful to my grandmother (who died when I was five months old) for her eclectic and generous tastes. The library she bequeathed us held books of adventure for boys, fairytales and romantic stories for girls, as well as poetry, most of the classics and Shakespeare's complete works.

I'm sure my early stories were highly derivative suggested by my reading, but I formed a habit of writing. I never doubted that I could join the ranks of "real" writers. I still suffer from that compulsion and that delusion. WRITE ON!

  http://joanneweck.com/JoanneWeck/AUTHOR__J.WECK.html

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

GIVE YOURSELF AN ASSIGNMENT. . . . .AND A DEADLINE

“A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it's better than no inspiration at all.” 
― Rita Mae Brown


How does a writer keep herself inspired? Can she even depend on "inspiration" to keep her writing? In school I frequently put off my assignments until the night before they were due, then "pulled and all nighter" to get it in on time. Generally I surprised myself with the rush of creative inspiration that resulted from putting myself under such pressure.

Since those days I've learned to get the nudge that I need by giving myself an assignment--I will write at least three blog posts per week. I will write for at least two hours per day.  I will finish editing my novel by August. I will have an outline for a new book by October. I will send out three stories by Friday. I will contact my agent (again) this month.

 Although I am both the teacher and the pupil I find that writing down my goals makes me take them more seriously. Even if the two hours of writing does not always produce the marvelous results I hoped for, I feel successful because I've met my commitment. More often than not, however, I find I am truly immersed in my writing and I go on to complete the page or chapter I'm working on after my alarm rings to say I've completed my assigned minutes.

Inspiration comes from just showing up, sitting in the chair and getting it down. WRITE ON!

http://joanneweck.com/JoanneWeck/AUTHOR__J.WECK.html

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A WRITER'S HATS



“Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. Some bottles drown, some come safe to land, where the notes are read and then possibly cherished, or else misinterpreted, or else understood all too well by those who hate the message. You never know who your readers might be.” 
― Margaret Atwood


A writer has to own many hats in today's publishing world.  Writing itself isn't enough. A writer must also be a promoter, a marketer, a public speaker, and perhaps even her own publisher.

It's lucky that I happen to like hats. And hats (literal hats) seem to be stylish again. I see hats as symbolic more than simply stylish. Maybe this has something to do with the old movies I love, the characters and plots that intrigue and inspire me.

In the forties and fifties nearly all men wore the same brimmed style that gave them a certain dignity and authority, while women’s hats seemed to offer insight into their personality and character.

The seductress wore a glamorous picture hat with a veil. The plucky career women (or gal, as they were then called) wore a jaunty little number with a feather. The secretary wore a little peaked cap and the artistic type chose a wild concoction with peacock feathers or something equally exotic.

I sometime ask my characters to choose a hat . This leads me deeper into the story. A hat reveals and conceals. A hat is a disguise or a symbol. And that brings me back to full circle. As a writer you have to have a whole wardrobe full of hats.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

CAN YOU TAKE IT?


"Every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration. Constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought."   Margaret Chase Smith 





I meet with my writing group once a week. It's as vital to me as the time I spend actually writing. Why? Partly because it encourages me to have something new (or newly edited) every week. Partly because other writers who are enthused about their own work help to keep me enthused and upbeat about mine.

What's the downside? Well, nobody likes criticism. However, if it's constructive criticism delivered in a thoughtful and helpful way (and if others in the group agree) it can point out something I've missed, something I can improve, something that just isn't working.  Insights can come from the most unlikely discussions.

When I critique someone else's work I try to start off by mentioning something about it that I really liked. This isn't hard to do because I work with a talented group of (mostly) published writers. Although the genres we represent vary widely (from paranormal romance to thrillers to nonfiction to short stories to memoir to mystery) each person in my group gives feedback and shows the ability to recognize good (or flawed) writing no matter how the material differs from theirs.

Members of my writing group have been working together for at least six years. The size of the group varies. Some leave, some recommend and invite someone new (to be approved by the group) one, unfortunately, died, one who turned out to be a poor fit was delicately encouraged to resign. Week after week we meet, we discuss, we critique, we rewrite, we meet-- the group goes on, more than a critique group---a support group. WRITE ON!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

TRAVEL EXPANDS YOUR HORIZONS




“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It





I'm waiting to board a plane from San Francisco back to New York, a fairly regular flight. In the past few years I've also  managed to see something of the rest of the world. Sitting in airports, on airplanes, or on the deck of a cruise ship gives me the opportunity to observe my fellow humans and find material for character studies.

I surreptitiously take note of the similarities and disparities of  travelers-- the the details of facial and bodily structures,  styles of clothing and hair, interactions among family and strangers, minor problems and their resolutions.

The loud, elderly woman wearing the latest teen fashions, complete with huge earrings and purple hair makes me smile and speculate while her pre-teen granddaughter rolls her eyes and tries to put distance between them.

A youngish mother with squealing triplets appeals to her husband (immersed in his Wall Street Journal) to "Please, take one of them!" 

 Three young men, two with shaved heads and one with a Mohawk, all with earphones, lounge carelessly, bopping to music, eyeing the pretty girls who wander past, nudging one another, occasionally hazarding a greeting that has so far been ignored.

The grim middle-aged couple in look-alike tan shorts and red
tee shirts haven't looked or spoken to one another in the past twenty minutes.

I invent stories for all of them. Why are they traveling? How did they meet? What is the backstory of
a relationship gone stale? A woman desperate for attention and the semblance of youth? The young men traveling together.

I could put on my own earphones and loose myself in my music or one of the movies I've downloaded onto my computer. But that would interfere with my study of the the human condition and make it difficult to eavesdrop. WRITE ON!











Monday, June 24, 2013

WRITING THE ENDING


“The opposite of the happy ending is not actually the sad ending--the sad ending is sometimes the happy ending. The opposite of the happy ending is actually the unsatisfying ending.” 
― Orson Scott Card



    I like to go back to re-read the ending of certain novels I enjoyed. The first pages hooked me, of  course, but my overall feeling about the book depends on how satisfied I felt when I closed the cover. I want a novel to end at precisely the right point, neither too early or too late. Sometimes an otherwise enjoyable novel is ruined for me when a writer drags out the action beyond what I think is the perfect stopping point.

What does constitute a satisfying ending for me? One that has an element of the unexpected, that leaves me slightly off balance, with questions lurking to be mulled over.
   
 Unlike some readers who sneak a peek at the last pages while reading earlier chapters, I savor the smooth unfolding right down to the final words. If I am disappointed in the ending I am left with a sour taste for the whole work, and an irritation with the author.

Here are some endings that linger in my mind:

     "Tell your aunt," he said, "that you met a poet who was looking for the Belle Dame Sans Merci, and who met you instead, and who sends her his compliments, and will not disturb her, and is on his way to fresh woods and pastures new."
      "I'll try to remember," she said, steadying her crown.
       So he kissed her, always matter-of-fact, so as not to frighten her and went on his way.
       And on the way home, she met her brothers, and there was a rough-and-tumble and the lovely crown (of pliant twigs, ivy and ferns, roses and honeysuckle fringed with belladonna) was broken, and she forgot the message, which was never delivered.

From Possession by A. S. Byatt


"The dying sometimes speak of themselves in the third person. I was not speaking that way. I said: I am bleeding. I am going to bleed to death. And I will be lucky if I die before he returns.
     Give me my Scallop shell of quiet.
     You know, they did not print the whole of the Indian song in the subway. Only a few lines. But I know the poem.
      "It's off in the  distance. It came into the room. It's here in the circle."
      I know the poem.
      She knows the poem.

(From In The Cut by Susanna Moore)


 Then ended. But I see no reason to announce the news. Let viscid history suck me down a bit. When the season is right I'll return to whatever is out there. It's just a question of what sound to make or fake. Meanwhile the rumors accumulate. Kidnap, exile, torture, self-mutilation and death. The most beguiling of the rumors has me living among beggars and syphilitics, performing good works, patron saint of all those men who hear the river whistles sing the mysteries and who return to sleep in wine by the south wheel of the city.

From Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo




When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer, it seems that in those days I ate my lunches, smelled another's skin, noticed a shade of yellow, even simply sat, with greater lust and hopefulness--and that I lusted with greater faith, hoped with greater abandon. The people I loved were celebrities, surrounded by rumor and fanfare; the places I sat with them, movie lots and monuments. No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything.

From The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon


 I prefer endings that carry a slight electrical shock or feature an element of ambiguity instead of having every last detail wrapped up and tied with a bow. WRITE ON!

Friday, June 21, 2013

WRITING FOR STRANGERS

"I write for myself and strangers." Gertrude Stein

"Every novel is an equal collaboration between the writer and the reader and it is the only place in the world where two strangers can meet on terms of absolute intimacy." Paul Auster

When I write I'm not thinking of my future "audience". I'm creating a world for myself, playing at being god, making people live, love, fight, flee, die. I create the story I want to inhabit for the duration.  Only later do I think of the readers, for the most part strangers, with whom I want to communicate.

It is while writing my second draft that I become aware of my reader's participation. Have I created the details of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing that will draw them into the reality of each scene? Is the plot moving swiftly enough to keep them engaged, but not too swiftly for them to keep up? Do the characters emerge as individual, unique, sometimes quirky, memorable, yet realistic human beings?

As a child I escaped to other worlds through reading.  I didn't realize for some time that there  was a writer behind the curtain. The worlds simply existed for me, the characters as real to me as my parents and siblings. Later, after I began to understand that certain books appealed to me more than others, I became curious about the writer.Who was this person behind the book? How could she speak to me across the years, the distance, the absolute differences of experiences?  I was drawn into the idea that I, too, could create my own worlds for others to share in. The dialogue begins when the reader opens (or downloads) the first page and steps into the world I've created. WRITE ON!


Thursday, June 13, 2013

FINDING YOUR OWN VOICE


"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." Louise Brown 






I believe that writers become writers partly through reading other writers, great writers, genre writers, popular writers, writers of every stripe. You can't learn to discriminate without comparisons. Imitation, especially when you are starting your writing career, can be a great learning exercise. Attempt to write in the styles of authors you admire, but don't get stuck there. By reading and writing, reading and writing, you will eventually find and recognize the emergence of your own unique voice.

The most difficult part of this process, I believe, is accepting that your voice is valuable, that its very uniqueness is what gives it power. You may have traits and themes in common with other writers but your voice, nonetheless, will be unlike any other.

This voice, your unique voice will emerge from your own early experiences, your family life, your region, the patterns of language you heard and spoke, the religious and family rituals in which you participated. Your voice may emerge from your roots, your schooling, your reading, your life. Don't denigrate it because it is yours, the way many people fail to appreciate their innate talents.
"If its mine it can't be valuable." Instead treasure it. Praise it. Use it. WRITE ON!

Friday, June 7, 2013

REVELATIONS, EPIPHANIES, CLIMACTIC MOMENTS!


“If you have a story that seems worth telling, and you think you can tell it worthily, then the thing for you to do is to tell it, regardless of whether it has to do with sex, sailors or mounted policemen.”
—Dashiell Hammett, 


How to write a "true" novel, create realistic characters, settings, plot, and tensions, and keep the readers' interest without becoming melodramatic? (Melodrama being characterized by sentimentality, hysterics, over the top emotional intensity and language and action).

Revelations fuel the plot--think of the many novels you've read in which the revelation turned the entire story on its head--Rochester's wife in the attic, the diary in Gone Girl is a total hoax, Dorothy realizes she can go home. It is the characters' reactions that can generate real emotion (or fake emotion). Is there screaming, striking out, fainting, or a more quiet and genuine reaction--shock, shutdown, tears rather than wild sobbing? Go for the understated.

Epiphanies are characterized by a protagonist's sudden awareness or sharp insight that come about because of actions and conflicts that have brought her to this point. Often the protagonist must give up some former belief or point of view and must therefore make some change. It might that the character must admit a previous state of denial, or acknowledge that she has not been able to admit some desire until now, or wakes up to some need or aspect of identity.

Climactic scenes are of course what the reader wants, expects and keeps turning the pages in order to reach. It is the high point of the whole plot and if it is disappointing the entire book will be disappointing. The opposing forces must confront and clash with one another with a satisfying outcome. The stakes should be high for both sides. The movement must be fast, yet we need time to feel the emotions. After the climax the only thing left is the wrap up.
If I can master these, I'll be content. WRITE ON!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

PLOT IT OR WING IT?

“Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.” Stephen King

"Don't write the first page until you know the ending." Joyce Carol Oates

Stephen King says he likes to find his way as he writes. Joyce Carol Oates knows the whole story before she begins to write it. Even the experts disagree about what is the best approach.


My writing technique lies somewhere between these two extremes. I always have an idea about the overall plot but I am even more inspired by the characters who live first in my mind. When it comes to the actual writing of the first draft I fly more by instinct than plan. Even if I have a plot in mind it often veers away from my original intent. Characters suggest other possibilities than the ones I had in mind.

The most important aspect of any story I choose for a plot is that it has deep meaning for me. I may not be writing about my personal experiences but I am writing about issues that resonate deeply.  I find myself drawn to the same themes over and over.  My stories often express the need for family, for connections, concern for the protection and care of children, and the secrets that families keep. This concern resurfaces in short stories, plays, and novels, mysteries or literary, adult or young adult.

For me, like life, the essence of writing is the journey, as much as the destination. WRITE ON!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

SHARING IS PRIMARY!



I offered two days of free downloads of my novel, CRIMSON ICE, and was pleased by the terrific response. I believe that donating two days of downloads to readers is not just about getting something for free, but as an appreciated opportunity to share my vision with more readers, particularly readers of mysteries. I hope that those who downloaded and read this book will be kind enough to write a review on AMAZON!

I originally wrote this book as a challenge, although I didn't consider this my typical genre or style. However, I found a great deal of pleasure in the writing and in the response from readers, that inspired me to write a second in the series, which should be available soon.

CRIMSON ICE was originally published by a commercial publisher, but I will self publish the second in the series.

I will announce its publication here!
Thanks to all who participated.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Free Download of CRIMSON ICE on AMAZON until May 31, 2013!

This website is hosting : A spotlight on CRIMSON ICE, A Pocono Mountain Mystery and the AUTHOR; (ME)

JOANNE LIEBHAUSER WECK

   






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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

THE ETHICS OF EAVESDROPPING


"There's nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head." Thornton Wilder






Some would say it's unethical--snooping, spying, sneaking, and downright rude to eavesdrop on private conversations. Even King Solomon advises against it in the Bible, suggesting that one might overhear something he'd rather not know. However, I believe eavesdropping is one of the writer's most powerful tools. I like to listen in a store, in the airport, on a plane, a train, a bus, in a restaurant, or coffee shop where people gather.

I listen to that long-married couple, those teenagers, those lovers, that young mother and her child. A story will spill out. An argument will begin, escalate, or end. A relationship will progress or self destruct.  I listen not only for information but for rhythm and turn of phrase, musical qualities and edges.

How do real people speak? What emotions color their words? What is suggested by the way words are spoken? What is hidden and what is revealed? What is revealed by pitch, volume, tone, accent, pauses, or other sounds (sighs, grunts) besides that of the voice?

Why eavesdrop? Not to expose or use the actual persons but to transmute their conversations to my own writing. To familiarize myself with live voices. Then I can eavesdrop on my own characters and transcribe their authentic voices, not stereotypical language that I might find too easily.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

EMPATHY OR UNDERSTANDING. HOW LIKABLE IS LIKABLE ENOUGH?

"I have found in short, reading my own writing, that my subject in fiction is grace in territory held largely by the devil." Flannery O'Connor



Hardly anyone would call Flannery O'Connor's characters likable. She specializes in the odd, the evil, the weird, the strange--yet her stories are fascinating.  People are captivated by characters like Hannibal or Tom Ripley. At times we even root for the scoundrel to triumph. Yet conventional wisdom (and my agent) claim that it is necessary to create a likable protagonist.

My work in progress (a Knife to the Heart) features twins, one generous and empathetic, the other self-centered and conniving. Why am I more drawn to the less "likable" twin?

Perhaps there is a part of all of us that identifies with the dark side as much as the light? How to make an antagonist intriguing, evil, yet but not totally repellent?

In my novel A Bridge to the Moon (working title) I create two very difficult characters who come together in a situation neither could have anticipated. They are forced to come to terms with one another throughout the course of the narrative. I attempted to track the changes brought about by their interaction, forcing each of them to become more empathetic (and likable) as they overcome their conflicts. I'm still working on that one. WRITE ON.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

WRITING SEX SCENES--ROMANTIC, EROTICA, OR PORN?

"The main difference between erotica and pornography is lighting." Gloria Leonard

    Erotic scenes and sexually-charged portrayals are ubiquitous in our sex-drenched culture--in advertising, film, and TV. An ad for a handbag often looks like a scene from an HBO movie. No one would deny that sex is an important aspect of life. A fiction writer often finds it appropriate to depict characters engaged in a romantic or even a raunchy sexual encounter. This can be a way to portray the character's attitude toward the opposite (or same) sex, a particular member of the opposite (or same) sex, and  to reveal other nuances of character and/or develop the plot.

     But how does one find the right balance? How much to depict and how much to suggest?  How to create the scene without becoming clinical, pornographic, or worse, ridiculous? (The Literary Review hands out a yearly award to the author who has written the worst sex scene.)

     Seeking some guidance on the best way to portray a romantic encounter in one of my novels,  I picked up a book called "The Good Parts," excerpts of the most explicit scenes from various famous and not-so-famous novels. What I discovered was that isolated sex scenes, without the context of the rest of the novel, tended to be quite boring. If you don't have a background of the characters or their situation or relationship to one another, it becomes merely a recitation of "tab went into tab b".

     To me, writing a sex scene has a great deal in common with writing a scene of violence--less is more. Context is important. Characters and relationship trump action. Unless you're writing for a porn magazine, I suggest, keep the lighting low.WRITE ON!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A NATURAL-BORN TALENT

"I believe talent is like electricity. We don't understand electricity. We use it. You can plug into it and light up a lamp, keep a heart pump going, light a cathedral, or you can electrocute a person with it. Electricity will do all that. It makes no judgment. I think talent is like that. Every person is born with talent." Maya Angelou

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

THREE WOMEN FOUND ALIVE--REALITY IS STRANGER THAN FICTION


"Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense."
Mark Twain



The news today confirms the truth that life is stranger than fiction. If you've read the novel,  ROOM, by Emma Donague, no doubt, like me, you loved it but felt that the plot strained credulity. The idea that a woman could be held hostage by a monster for years,  in an inhabited neighborhood, and even give birth to a child during captivity seemed a bit of a stretch. Yet, apparently, three young women have been held for decades, undiscovered, and no doubt given up for dead by people who love them.

Now all the questions will bombard the victims: "Why didn't they escape? Why didn't they band together?" etc. etc. Only time and the process of investigation will reveal the truth.

Like many writers, I  am often inspired by news stories that intrigue and obsess me, sometimes using the skeleton of the story as in my current work-in-progress which involves the kidnapping of two sisters. I've struggled to make the situation believable, how they are targeted and how they manage to invent weapons from nothing to aid their escape.

In fiction, it is important to stick to a plot that is believable, probable, possible. Real life obviously doesn't have to follow that rule.

Monday, May 6, 2013

DOGS ARE PEOPLE TOO


“If you don't own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”  Roger Caras



In each of my novels and in several short stories one of the principal characters owns or relates to a dog. This is partly because I love dogs, but also because I find that dogs can help to illuminate the personality and values of a character and partly because I believe that each dog has an individual personality (or canine-ality) and character as well.
When I feature a dog in my fiction, I don't just write about a generic dog but a specific dog.  I often base the dog's looks, attributes, likes and dislikes on dogs I have known (names changed to protect their privacy) but the dog is also a part of the action, perhaps not a protagonist but at least a minor character who contributes to the plot.
This is true for any other animal as well, even if they never figure large in the story--it is important to individualize and make specific any horse, cat, mouse, pig, or animal who makes an appearance. I just happen to prefer dogs.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

AND THEN I DIED!

"Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead."W. H. Auden





More than a few years ago I died. Or almost died. An ectopic pregnancy burst a fallopian tube causing internal hemorrhaging. I fell down in a driveway, lost consciousness, and  felt life ebbing away. From terrible pain I transitioned into an an ecstatic state of bliss. I found myself floating down that river, looking up to a beautiful sky. Filled with wonder and exhilaration, I remember thinking, "Why are we so afraid of dying? This feels so perfectly safe, so right." Luckily (or unluckily) help arrived and I was rushed to a hospital. Every day since has felt like a gift. But when I try to remember and faithfully transcribe that moment of "death," the experience eludes me.  

How to write about death? It is part of life and all around us. Even though our culture tends to obscure ordinary death and glamorize violent death (while hiding its real impact) we rarely confront the truth, even as our grandparents, parents, and other loved ones leave us.

How does death affect the ordinary human being and how does a writer (who strives to depict reality as accurately as possible) write about it? Some writers imagine a conscious afterlife, imagine the person who has exited this world, (e.g. The Lovely Bones) still observing and sharing the tribulations of the ones they've left behind. Othe writers try to imagine the experience of leaving this life and passing on to a version of heaven or hell or other post-life existence, based on their beliefs. Some take a humorous interpretation with angels directing human affairs and leading souls to heaven.

 But as far as I know, despite the numerous ghost stories, "near death experiences" and more recent (questionable and optimistic) books such as Heaven is for Real, and Proof of Heaven, there has been no scientific evidence of anyone who has actually died, coming back to tell of the experience.

So how to write about death? If  you write in the first person, unless you want to veer off into fantasy, the consciousness ends with death. As an observer, have you had the experience of witnessing death? Of someone you knew? Loved? How did it affect you? Can you describe it in clear-eyed detail without making it maudlin or melodramatic?

Having held the hands of both parents as they died, I've shared in their last moments, yet it is a difficult task to write of their passing. (As you can see, I still need the euphemism of "passing.") My current novel depicts a suicide and another death, and as I struggle to present a truthful picture, I keep in mind the  adage that often guides me: "Less is more." As Hemingway suggested I strive to show only the tip of the iceberg. I stick to small specific details and hope the reader is capable of supplying the emotion needed.  WRITE ON!











Monday, April 29, 2013

MAKE A SCENE!

"Writing is nothing more than a guided dream." Jorge Luis Borges

www.joanneweck.com
If writing is a guided dream, then as a writer I need to make that dream vivid (but more comprehensible than the average dream). Thus the "guided."

Dreams often follow no logical sequence, but a fiction writer's work is to create a dream that draws the reader in and keeps him involved as it progresses through conflicts to climax to conclusion.

How does a writer guide a reader through that dream? By creating one scene leading into another, each one connected and vital to the overall plot.

As a screenwriter you must think visually and concisely, but you have only sound and visual images to work with.  In writing fiction you also have the opportunity to appeal to the other senses as well.

Not only must you make the reader see each scene you set, you can draw him in more completely by adding the sense of taste, of smell, of touch.

This is true for any writing, fiction or nonfiction, prose or poetry, but it is especially important if you are creating a world of science fiction or fantasy that has never existed in our "real" world. Concrete images and details of the senses can lure the reader into life in another dimension or onto another planet.

In my short story "Flight of the Fairies" (first prize winner in a Fantasy Gazetteer contest) I tried to create a very vivid picture of ordinary life to which I added an element of fantasy in the concluding scene. By basing the story in a realistic setting I created a believable familiar world so that as the story shifted into fantasy the reader followed. WRITE ON!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

YOUR LIFE AS FICTION. FICTION AS YOUR LIFE


“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
― George Bernard Shaw

A writer once said that anyone who survives to the age of twenty has been provided with enough material to write for the rest of her life. Every family has secrets, eccentric relatives, strong personalities, people who are generous, sensitive, thin skinned, vicious, prejudiced, unforgettable in some way.

Anyone who survives to the age of twenty has experienced joy, pain, betrayal, love, hate, jealousy, ecstasy, depression, danger and the situations that cause them. These are the raw material of any stories. Tragic stories, humorous stories, fantastic stories,.

Seeking for material for your writing, you need not look any farther than your own life, your own friends, your own family. This doesn't necessarily mean that you ought to alienate the people in your life by exposing their secrets, (although many a writer of memoir and  autobiography has done that).

To me it means finding situations and models from life. As a writer I can rework the family stories told over the years. I can combine the stories of two great aunts who were dramatic and unusual or were in love with the same man. I can imagine the life of an uncle who went to seek his fortune and disappeared forever. Naturally I change the names of everyone. Even when I write the truth as I see it, others seldom recognize themselves as the model for my stories. By the time I've crafted their lives and mine into fiction a strange alchemy has transformed them into something rich and strange. Don't be afraid to look for ideas close to home. WRITE ON!  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

BLOOD AND GUTS--HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH


"Violence is one of the most fun things to watch. I don't think Pulp Fiction is hard to watch at all."
Quentin Tarantino 









This is a popular opinion judging by the success of Tarantino's movies. True, some people find the portrayal of violence in his films horrifying and outright dangerous. I heard an interview on NPR in which Terri Gross asked him if he felt that his films contribute to the violence in our culture. His answer was that people know the difference between art and reality and that, yes, "violence is fun to watch."


Every writer has to find their comfort zone whether writing a screenplay, short story, novel, or news story. If you enjoy violent movies, video games, and novels, as a writer you'll no doubt have fewer inhibitions when it comes to creating those blood and guts scenes.

Reading mysteries is one of my pleasures. But I've always thought of it as a genre a little lower than that of the literary novel, one that demanded less talent and craft--until I decided to write a mystery myself. Then I discovered that any creative work demands all of the talent and craft a writer can muster.

When I wrote CRIMSON ICE and now in writing A KNIFE IN THE HEART I wanted my antagonist to be truly evil, a perpetrator of violence, a villain so vicious he must be overcome at all costs, yet when it comes to writing the climatic scenes I find that it is not an easy task.

How to make it feel real, without overdoing it? (I tend to think Tarantino's violence goes over the top, verging on the cartoonish). I didn't want to be derivative, merely imitating what I've read or seen on the screen.

Sometimes less is more. The hint of danger or impending violence can be more suspenseful and terrifying than the violence itself. As I wrote and rewrote my scenes of violent action I tried to create a sense of menace and danger and then an explosion of sorts without overdoing the bloodshed. The reader of course is the final judge of my degree of success.

Monday, April 22, 2013

SUPPORT FOR WRITERS--PEOPLE WHO BRING OUT YOUR BEST


The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.
Epictetus



Every writer needs friends who are encouraging to their art. Every person needs friends who are there for them when they feel isolated, stuck, or insecure. I celebrate the  people I can turn to when I need an emotional boost.  I have a dear friend who encourages me while not being afraid to give an honest critique of my work. I have sisters who cheer my every success. I have a network of people I think of as my support system.

Some of these people are writers like me; some are artists of another sort. All of them are engaging in the same effort to contribute to the world in a positive way.

People who support you and your art are not competitive. They don't see the world as a collection of winners and losers, but as humans struggling to do their best in whatever field they choose.

If someone has a negative attitude about life and other people, I can listen, but I refuse to let them bring me down. They may come in handy as a model of a character who only sees the worst. But I choose to spend time with people who are optimistic and positive. My writing group always inspires me to keep plugging away at my project, even when I can't see where it's headed.


As a final thought, consider the advice of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist'sWay: be your own friend. Allow yourself to listen to your best thoughts, not your worst. Make a list of accomplishments you are proud of. Write yourself a cheerful letter to read when you need a message from a friend. WRITE ON!






Sunday, April 21, 2013

SURVIVING REJECTION--SUCK IT UP!


“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
Harper Lee

A Midsummer Night's Dream
 To the King's Theatre, where we saw "Midsummer's Night's Dream," which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.
Samuel Pepys' Diary, September 29, 1662.


William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'
 20 publishers rejected it. One with the comment: "an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull."

Vladimir Nabokov's 'Lolita'
Lolita was rejected by Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday. Called "overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian...the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream...I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years."

One thing I've learned about rejection--you've just got to suck it up and go on.
When one of my stories or novels is rejected I console myself with all the times the experts got it wrong. If Samuel Pepys hated Shakespeare then how can I take any rejection seriously?. I remind myself that someone, somewhere is waiting to embrace my story!

If you are going to offer your writing to the public, and by this I mean to a teacher, in a workshop, to your writing group, or for publication in a journal, online or to an agent or publisher, you have to accept the fact that you will most likely get more rejections than acceptances, at least at the beginning. If you wilt under criticism, your work may never be shared with the one person in the entire universe to whom it may mean the most.

Consider each rejection one step closer to acceptance. Let's say the universe decrees that you have to get a certain number of rejections before your work reaches the right hands. Each no moves you closer to a yes.

Someone will hate what you write, no matter what. But someone will love it, or at least appreciate it, or be infuriated by it...but they will read it and publish it. Just don't be stopped by those who aren't clever or perceptive or joyful or insane enough to "get it." If it comes back, send it out again. Most of my stories were rejected at least 20 times before they were accepted and even won prizes. Don't give up.
Don't give up! WRITE ON!