joanne Weck Author Page

Thursday, May 30, 2013

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013


"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


"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


"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


"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


"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


“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


"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!