29 December 2007

Jump-starting Creativity

So I spent my Border's gift card and then some. Got three books that I'm really excited about: The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley, Between the Lines: master the subtle elements of fiction writing by Jessica Page Morrell, and Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb.

I've been thumbing through the first of these and am about to try my hand at a few exercises. The whole book is a compilation of writing exercises designed to spur creativity, produce new ideas, aid revision and growth, all the things I've been looking to do with my writing. The exercises cover everything from dialogue to imagery to characters. Here's one exercise from the subject of conversation. I just might try this one myself. It's called Body English:

Write a "conversation" in which no words are said. It might be best to have a stranger observe this conversation, rather than showing us the thoughts of one of the people involved in the conversation, because the temptation to tell us what the conversation is about is so great from inside the conversation. 600 words.

This exercise is meant to challenge you to work with gesture, body language[...], all the things we convey to each other without words. We often learn more about characters in stories from the things characters do with their hands than from what they say.

from The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley

26 December 2007


So it has been quite a while since I posted. 50 to 60 hour work weeks since black friday have certainly taken their toll. But we have a new manager now, so things should be getting back to normal. I'll be able to write again. I haven't written really anything of much substance this past month. I've done some work on a manuscript (novel, I guess? I hate to label things before they're done) that I've been working on for a while now. But no recent poetry.

I've thought about trying my hand at writing a screenplay. That would be neat. But hard, too, I think. And without a screenwriting program on my computer, probably even harder. But I don't want to shell out the cash for a computer program that I might use once, and with no real payoff in the end. Still....I think it might be cool to try screenwriting. I wonder if there's a way to read screenplays from actual movies. Maybe online. Can you buy them like books? Probably not. I think it would be helpful, though, to read screenplays that have already been made into something. That way I'd know more of what a screenplay should look like, to what extent the writer should include directives, blah blah and all that.

Hm. Maybe I'll stick with what I know for now. My Borders gift card is already burning a hole in my pocket. There are some writing books I'm itching to buy. Maybe I could get one on screenwriting too.

12 November 2007


This is an excerpt of something, I'm not sure what. It started out just as this part alone, with some other stuff, then I edited it down and made it part of something else that I didn't really like. So now here it is again, all by itself. I like it, but I'm not sure what to make of it.

The gentle whir of the machine relaxes me, puts me into a sort of trance. Each tiny stitch intrigues me as it moves trough cotton, wool, silk, to grab another thread, and then back through again. Silk, wool, cotton. If done properly, you shouldn't see the knots. They lie in the in-between, nestled in layers of cloth, hidden away so that the only thing I see is perfectly even stitches, floating over the top. To see knots would mean a problem with the tension.

My knots struggle to stay in the in-between. Sometimes they float to the surface and I am amateurish, foolish. A child's attempt at art that only a mother could love. If even her. Sometimes my knots slip way down to the opposite side - overcompensation, still too much tension.

My hands guide tea-colored muslin over the throat plate, under the presser foot. Fine thread - red, for contrast - pierces cotton, polyester, and cotton again. Just a practice run, but the knots pop up to the top after the first stitch. Top thread must be too tight. Clip the threads, adjust the tension, try again. The needle bobs and the machine whirs gently and I take care not to push or pull the fabric through. After an inch or two, I still see the knots pulling up to the top. Clip the threads, adjust the tension, start again.

I didn't seem to have the talent for quilting like the other women in my family. My mother and grandmother are both adept at the craft, and my younger sister is honing her own skills. I admire their quilts, the intricate piecework of fiery oranges and greens, florals and stripes, muted blues and sepia tones. Silks and satins kissed luxe cottons, joined by cotton-wrapped polyester threads, quilted in complex sunbursts and zigzags. Each stitch as long as the one before and the one to follow, each knot resting within the middle layer of polyester batting. They rarely had to adjust their tension.

I smile when I see even red stitches on the surface of my practice quilt block, without any knots. I snip the two threads to inspect the stitches up close. They're beautiful, small, flawless.

Stitch. Stitch. Stitch.

I turn the block over to the other side, and I feel childish. Not only had the knots been pulled down to the bottom, but thread had been caught and bunched up in several spots like tiny birds' nests. I had overcompensated, made the top thread too loose so it didn't provide any resistance against the bobbin thread. Exasperation cramps my fingers as I adjust the tension once again.

As a little girl, I would sit on the sewing room floor while my mother cut and sewed, cut and sewed. Snips of thread would collect on my homemade dresses and in my honey-blond hair as I played with the fabric scraps. Rich velvets and brocades, soft brushed cotton, sheer tulles and meshes. My favorite of all was monkscloth. It was a plain cotton fabric, with a regular weave, four by four. Four threads over four, under four, over again. Predictable, but gorgeous in its simplicity. I would scotch-tape odd scraps together - when I was eight my mother taught me my first hand stitches - and wear the pieces on my head, or pinned to my clothes.

I was beautiful then, angelic. I draped white lace over my head, pranced down an imaginary aisle; I wrapped myself in floral prints, leaned over the yardstick, and pretended I was an old lady. I was my mother's rag doll. That's what she called me after she saw how fascinated I was by the fabric scraps. Come on my little rag doll. Help me cut out the pieces and you can have what's left. That always brought me to my feet, skipping every other step on the way downstairs.

I ease off the pedal, the machine slowing, stopping. The quilt block was nearly full, covered in poor quality stitching. Looking at my last attempt, I can still see knots pulling up to the top. Almost there. As a last resort, I pull out the bobbin and bobbin case. My mother would kill me if she came in, so I quickly grab the tiny screwdriver and adjust the bobbin tension slightly. Ever so slightly.

I never saw my mother adjust the bobbin tension. You should be able to fix any tension problem by adjusting the top thread, she always told me. You shouldn't have to touch the bobbin at all. I adjusted my bobbin all the time when I tried to quilt anything. I could never get the tension right. Clip the threads, adjust the tension, start again. It's my mantra.

05 November 2007

A Stumbling Block

I'm thinking of submitting to a particular magazine, but the issue they're currently reading for is a themed issue. They want pieces about or inspired by the trials of adolescence. No brilliant ideas have struck me yet, so I'm doing a little freewriting here on the blog. Maybe something will come to me.

Let's see, adolescence. I think it kind of sucked. Maybe my vision is too narrow, I don't know, but when I hear adolescence I automatically flash back to my middle school days. That was absolutely the worst time for me. I didn't know who I was, where I belonged, who I wanted to be. I was awkward. Yeah, yeah, "Everyone is awkward at that age," you say. But I'm not so sure. I bet you knew some people - the popular people, usually - who seemed to have it all together at every age. Or maybe they were just better at pretending than the rest of us.

Angst is a tricky subject for writing. If you do it wrong, it just seems so overdone and typical. Not the kind of writing I want. Same goes for teenage puppy love, which is another obvious topic for writing about adolescence. There has to be something else I can do. Teen struggles with parents' divorce. Still seems a bit common, as one of my old professors would say. Instead of the usual teen trying to grow up too fast, maybe it could be Teen fights against puberty. Ha ha! That sounds funny. Maybe a little Peter Pan-ish. But could be interesting..... but still doesn't really strike a vibe with me.

Oh well. I'll keep on trying.

02 November 2007

Why Do Writers Write?

Patricia Hampl says that she writes in order to find out what she knows. Which makes some sense to me. Sometimes when I write, I found out things about myself that I either didn't know or hadn't formed a definite opinion about. But I think a lot of what I write comes out just because I have an overactive imagination. Something someone says or does, a moment I experience, or something I see will trigger a reaction in my brain and I start imagining scenes and storylines.

I often wonder why other writers write. Do they also have overactive imaginations; do stories grip them and refuse to let go until they're recorded on paper? Or do they write because it's something the desire to do, and so they work at it. Are there writers who couldn't care one way or another, but write because they've discovered they're good at it?

People like Steven King, my personal favorite Dean Koontz, or any other well-known author.... I wonder how they got started, how they got their big break, and if writing is more business or pleasure for them. It's pleasure for me, but if I can turn it into business, that would be great too! I guess maybe it's kind of like when actors take on certain roles because it sells/pays, but prefer other, more artsy/indie kinds of roles.

I guess I'm really wondering if all writers feel the same need to write that I do. For some reason, when my mind/imagination wanders, I feel compelled to capture and develop the resulting ideas on paper. A lot of times I don't even worry about whether it's publishable/marketable, or if it could become anything more than what it is at that moment (although I'm trying to focus more on that so I can get something published.) A lot of times I'm content to write down what's popped into my head and leave it at that; just the sheer act of capturing it somewhere permanent, so I can revisit it whenever I want, is almost satisfaction enough.

26 October 2007

2 Poems

So once again coming back to me being a literary prude, these are two poems I wrote a couple years ago. I think I like them pretty well. The intent was for them to be sensual and evoke sensuality (or sexy thoughts, if you will) in the reader.

But generally, sensuality/sexuality don't really play much of a part (if any part at all) in my writing. I think it's very difficult to be sensual without being overtly, ridiculously, amateurishly sexual, which (in writing, anyway) is a very bad thing. I think it's even more difficult in prose rather than poetry. I laugh (hysterically, I assure you) when I read things I wrote in high school which described kissing scenes and more, even though I had never experienced any of it. It's obviously harder to describe something you have no knowledge of! But now that I'm older and do have experience, it's still hard.

You don't want to write porn (at least I don't, anyway) and you don't want to sound childish and inexperienced. So what do you do? I'm not sure. And then if you can master it, you still have to find the right balance. If you're not writing erotica or romance novels, you have to be sure that the sexuality isn't excessive or gratuitous. Again, a difficult thing to decide how much is too much, and which scenes are vital to (or at least give a little depth to) the big picture.

But enough of that. On to some poetry:

To Love Her

In the orchard, acres to be
harvested. Trees still green, branches
laden, bowed with weighted
fruits firm to a gentle touch - fragrant
down of a peach pressed
against a pointed nose; grip
tightens. Taut plums await
pillaging thumbs and teeth; serpents
seduce with forbidden fruits; salacious
ripe apples fit perfectly into a curve
of palm, lifted to waiting
lips eager for the experience.

Body Conscious

Heat radiates from
fingertips, soft, stirring
the hairs on an arm.
Lips brush tender flesh,
whisper over a gentle curve
of neck, shoulder, rounded
hip. Hot breath speaks of imminent
ecstasy, a small shiver
a shudder tickles and tantalizes,
and her back arches, creates a
small hollow - a perfect
fit for the solid
warmth of his hand.

23 October 2007

Me, a Prude?

So, I'm always looking for ways to be a better writer. I'm always seeking to improve myself and my craft. I was reading some poetry and short stories the other day by people who are actually published in reputable literary journals and magazines. The proverbial "they" say that's the best way to figure which journals/mags are the best fit for your own personal work. Makes sense. I think it's also a good way to see how other writers write, and how what they do can help me improve my own work.

So, the point of this is that as I was reading one story that I particularly liked, I came to realize something.

I think I may be a prude! Not me as a person, literally, but in my writing sometimes. I don't use too many curse words, and when I do, I use the safe ones. Hell. Damn. Stuff like that. I can't even remember the last time I dropped the f-bomb in a short story or a poem. I don't really even say it that often (although I did write an interesting bit about how much I liked the word back in high school...maybe I should dig that out). And I've never used the c-word. You know, the one that is a derogatory term for a woman's.... ah, you know it. See, I can't even write it to discuss it! I don't like that word. I scold my husband whenever he uses it.

But that doesn't mean a character can't use it! That doesn't mean I can't use it in my writing to convey a point!

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to go around writing stuff with a bunch of swear words in it or anything like that. But these kinds of words can serve a real purpose in writing, whether they convey a character's personality, set a mood or theme, or invoke some kind of response from the reader.

When I read over the stuff I've written in the past, it sometimes seems so..... I don't know. Maybe too much like me. I want to have my own personal style and voice, but maybe it's getting in the way? I think my writing can be very politically correct sometimes. Which, I guess I'd have to truthfully say, is exactly how I can be sometimes. I don't want to be un-PC, but I don't want that to interfere with a good story, either.

I think I need to take more risks. In my writing, that is. Although more risk-taking in my own personal life may translate onto paper, too. We'll see. I'll have to work on this one.

19 October 2007

Introduction to Jello

Welcome to my blog. I plan to fill it with lots of my writing, because that is what I love to do. I also love fashion design, music, DIY projects, and lots of other things, but writing will probably be the main focus of this blog. But before I get started..... a little background.....


Aside from being a clever (or not) nickname given to me in high school, jello is a fun little food.

Jiggly. Wiggly. Sweet. Squishy.

But jello is so much more. We can learn some serious life lessons from jello. Seriously. Let me tell you a little about my life's philosophy that I gleaned from that silly little snack.

What is it that I love about jello? Let me count the ways.... I mean.... I'll tell you.
  1. It's versatile and goes with the flow. You can put it in a cup. Or a big bowl. Or some funny shaped molds. Even some fancy champagne flutes. And that's only the half of it. You don't even have to eat it if you don't want to. Jello wrestling, anyone?
  2. Talk about variety! Cherry, lime, strawberry, all kinds of flavors. Mix and match for your own crazy concoctions. There's bound to be something for everyone.
  3. It's not a diva! You can add your own input and jello just gets even better. A dollop of whipped cream. Stash some pineapple chunks or grapes in there. Pop a diamond ring in your girlfriend's jello and see what happens. The sky is the limit, folks.

Seriously, I could go on and on. But I'll spare you. The bottom line is this:

You can do whatever you want to jello and chances are, it'll still be awesome. Not because it's red jello or green jello, not because it's shaped like a star or served in a fancy glass, and not because you put some fruit or a diamond ring in it. It'll still rock because that's what jello does. That's what jello is.

Jello is fabulous. Jello is a rockstar. Jello is just fine on its own and doesn't need your fancy serving bowl or diamond ring filler.

That's what we need to learn from jello. That we're all rockstars in our own right.

Spiked hair, tattoos, piercings. Or not.

Three-piece suit, perfect coif, designer shoes. Or not.

You can look like Farmer Ted one day, a hardcore punk rocker the next day, and a Wall Street broker the day after that.

As long as you live knowing that who you are - not what you look like, what you do, what you eat or don't eat, who you love, or whatever - is what makes you an amazing person, then you have learned the jello lesson.