Tag Archives: writing

Lessons from writing a play still hold

TO TEACH A NOVELIST DIALOGUE

One of the better oldies, condensing several years of learning into a single post – and a much better sense of how to do dialogue.


From November 16, 2012:

For better dialogue in fiction: write a play

When you can’t depend on interior monologue to get your point across, you lose a huge advantage. As a writer of fiction, you can either be blatant (He felt like death.) or subtle (He remembered med school: learning all the ramifications of the vagus nerve, enervating myriads of gastric components and pathways, useless for pinpointing the source of trouble in his gut, useful only to prove something, somewhere, thought it was wrong. But he’d never expected to feel so many of them. Simultaneously.) when using interior monologue, deep or distant.

But you get to choose.

As a playwright, you work with action and dialogue. Period. And have collaborators – actors and directors – who may aid you or may fight you, but whom you don’t control.

Tradition in the theater preserves the playwright’s absolute control over the dialogue, the WORDS. Many actors and directors will routinely cross out stage directions and the author’s parenthetical instructions on HOW to say a line or move about on stage, but they will not change a WORD of the dialogue.

Even in an adaptation of the play ‘Mary Stuart’ in high school, in SPANISH (I was Queen Elizabeth I, the actual lead – whee!), our director limited himself to crossing out large amounts of dialogue (the play was too long for us), and making the tiniest transitions where absolutely necessary. He would not change the translator’s version of the WORDS.

This is an absolute gift for novelists.

I urge every novelist to go out and write a play*.

Buy yourself $100 worth of playwriting books (buy – so you can write in them). Swallow them whole. Pick a visual story. Write the darned thing (maybe I’ll get back to the how in a later post).

And learn to live within the constraints of the form: you tell your story in the DIALOGUE you give your characters.

Oh, all right. You also have setting, and choosing WHICH of your characters are on stage at a given time, and stage/dialogue parenthetical directions.

But DIALOGUE is your main weapon.

And your written dialogue in your fiction gets much better.

You shouldn’t do ‘talking heads’ or ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue, any more than you should do it in a novel – doing so demonstrates a distinct lack of technical skills.

It’s “I’m going to paint the Mona Lisa with BOTH hands tied behind my back, using only this paintbrush clenched in my teeth.” Because that’s what it feels like when you start.

But it CAN be done. It’s been done since the beginning of time. It can be done WITHOUT a narrator to gum up the works. And it can be done so the audience feels like eavesdroppers, watching something real happening right in front of them, right now.

Heady stuff. Ask full-time playwrights. Ask actors and directors.

Dialogue in plays is elliptical

(not the shape – the punctuation mark), at cross purposes, full of innuendo and half-said things. And lies. Lots of lies. But it must tell the story or you are merely doing pantomime. It has to add up. The WORDS matter.

And that is precisely its value for writing the dialogue – and telling the story – in fiction: it has to add up.

Doing it with time constraints – on stage – leads to the most economical method of telling a story, the fewest words. Doing it on stage, intended for a live audience which gets BORED and restless within seconds if the pieces of story it is receiving do not add up immediately, is like boot camp for dialogue.

The audience can neither skip ahead nor go back to review something unclear. And it won’t like being bored. So you learn to leave nothing out, and put nothing extraneous in.

Audiences want stories to make sense, pronto, and continuously.

So you learn to feed them the story in bite-size pieces, story beats, so they can put the whole thing together in their heads and follow.

It is an awesome discipline to acquire – and the results, in terms of the ability to do good dialogue in fiction, are equally awesome, so much so that stripping a scene I’m editing down to ONLY the dialogue, and walking through it as if I expected it to be performed on stage, is now one of the basic steps in my process, and a step that often shows exactly where the flaws are.

—–
* CAUTION: Even though they share similarities, movie scripts and plays are ENTIRELY different beasts. I don’t recommend (unless scriptwriting is your form and dream) writing a movie script unless you are a masochist: EVERYTHING is up for grabs in a movie, and even the actors have no compunction about slaughtering your words.


When a scene isn’t going well, sometimes I just tell it in dueling dialogue – and then go back and see more of the setting and work on the pace.

Another real advantage is that, with pure dialogue, you can actually change the point of view character, and then fill the scene in from that character’s perspective. Nifty if you’re not sure whose scene it needs to be (I’ve changed perspectives in many scenes).

Have you written a play?

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Resetting your writing after a break

AND YOU HAVE TO GET BACK TO WORK

Even when there are still aftershocks to contend with, and the normal has skittered sideways a bit, there is a time when you can’t keep reacting to interruptions constantly with the fight or flight response – and you have to settle down and figure out where you are and what has changed and what has not.

And, in my case, get back to writing.

I labelled a file ‘REDEFINING my life at URC >5/24/19’ and set to work.

Where was I? What was I doing? What was next? These are questions which I’ve been attempting to answer on the fly just to get some writing done in the interim.

But I promised myself I’d do something more organized an more formal asap.

The time is now – if you can

Otherwise the trial will fail – and you’ll get endless opportunities to try again.

But eventually it happens.

You start to realize you’d forgotten many of your own notes. But there they are. And you forgot your own plotting decisions – which will have to be redone, except… here is the file.

I do this periodically.


From October 2012:

Jamming the creative process: RESET to break the jam

Sometimes what keeps me from writing is not procrastination nor ego nor fear.

It is simply that ‘things’ – writing, life, house, … – have become so disorganized (and behind) that I can’t think, much less be creative.

Time gets spent, not in getting things done, but in thinking about getting things done. Thoughts go round and round, never settling long enough in one area to get that area started, much less finished.

How is the creative process affected?

By its main requirement: creating requires a free and nimble mind.

No further writing or editing on the WIP was getting any attention of QUALITY. Scheduling time for writing, blocking the internet by using Freedom, and all other methods aimed at the symptoms, rather than at the root cause – logjam – FAILED. Quite miserably.

The problem is analogous to computer mainframe usage in the good old days, when, to avoid a single user glutting the machine, the computer would ‘roll out’ an image of the core with a particular user’s program and all the user’s data, and ‘roll in’ someone else’s program and data. (Rolling in and out used a small amount of CPU time.)

Then it would compute for a while, and repeat the process with the next user in the priority list. If the algorithm wasn’t managed carefully, or there were too many users being allowed into the queue, the machine could get stuck in a place where all that was happening was sequential ‘roll out’, ‘roll in’ – but no actual work got done before it was time for the next. All the CPU’s time was being used to manage sequencing of jobs, none to doing the actual jobs.

No one’s job got done – and the CPU was busy all the time.

That is how my brain feels when things get too messy.

I can’t actually roll a job in and get a significant part of it done – the competing jobs are clamoring for brain/CPU time.

At this point the only thing to do is declare a reset – everything stops. Then only the top job or two are allowed any traction (typically one of these jobs is ‘TAXES’), everything else is blocked out, and, after clearing the logjam (i.e., ‘Filing taxes’), work is evaluated, rescheduled, cleaned up, dejunked, and otherwise processed before resetting the queue.

Something innocuous can start the jam: a visitor blows into town and occupies prime time space for a day or two (with, for us CFS folk, the several-day recovery that is non-negotiable). Or a new, shiny program beckons, promising to solve some long-standing problem and make future workflow more efficient. Or tax planning requires that all charitable contributions to be charged to the current fiscal year be RECEIVED by the intended organization by Dec. 31, not just MAILED (as it used to be), moving the paperwork time into the Christmas time-frame with a vengeance (instead of being done in that nice post-Christmas lull before New Year’s Eve).

Or [fill in here the life events that, by themselves, could have been handled, but collided with… to create the felt-like effect of a logjam, interlocked fibers].

It doesn’t matter what caused mine this time.

If you’re really curious – ask. And be prepared for long tale of woe…!

Ahem! The solution is to RESET – and that is what I’m doing.

So: I absolve myself of guilt (no one would do this to herself ON PURPOSE), and RESET. I put the editing on hold for as long as this one takes, get extra rest, do the top project or two.

And: we’re back in the writing business (I’m assuming this post – except for the mixed metaphors – shows coherent thought).

Editing sounds positively enticing – I can’t wait to see the final version of the current scene.


And how does that connect to what I’m doing in 2019?

Current editing is Scene 26.2 in NETHERWORLD.

Current writing is Scene 26.3.

And I would say the current tale of woe is the continuing saga of replacing things we had in New Jersey that worked fine (such as doctors and driver’s licenses) but we still don’t have here. One by one.

And I no longer do taxes since hubby retired!!!

But I’m writing. And reconnected with most of my research and organization files. And stuff I didn’t even remember was there. Phew – it would have been a lot of work to re-do some of that!

What do YOU do when you need to reset YOUR life?

To write a character become the character

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW – YOU CAN LEARN

I have taught myself to write from ‘right behind the eyeballs’ of the characters I’m giving voice to.

It is a process similar to Method acting – or to becoming possessed.

I even try to keep the observation of the character to the minimum intrusion I can do.


From October 2012:

Writing characters: To be someone else

The only way I can write a character is to find the part of myself that IS that character.

I contain multitudes.

Everything I have ever heard or read is part of me, and every part of it has to fit in to what I know of the world, my version of reality.

I don’t know what features and programs I came pre-loaded with, but the only access I have to it is how I react to things when they happen to me. Nothing inside me is untouched by the world I was born into, and the world I have added to that every day of my life.

Everything is a product of my experience plus how ‘I’ reacted to that experience.

One of the pre-loads is obviously that marvelous capacity for self-examination, the human consciousness, the ability to be self-aware. I don’t always know why I did something, but, with patience, I can often figure it out. Eventually.

What does this have to do with characters?

Before I can write how a character thinks and acts, I have to put myself into an alternate universe where I imagine or create how the character got to the place where he can be what he is, or she can do what she does. The backstory has to explain the present that I write in.

It gets scary: by the time I have it, at whatever depth, the character IS me – if I had lived through what she has and started with who she was born as.

I have to do some of that even for minor characters, where it helps to cast a few steps back from the present, so that the present at least seems grounded in some kind of logical conclusions.

But for the major characters, it has to go deep – deep and very far back. As far back as the baby he was, who his older sisters were, and where he fit his family’s needs.

I add his alternate universe, and mark him with the events that will take him to where I need him to be.

Then the present makes sense, a convoluted but self-consistent sense, and his actions and words are inevitable.


It takes extra time to switch from character to character, to give a reader the right perspective for each scene, so it contributes to the story whole.

It would be so much simpler not to.

But I would neither be doing my job – nor having so much fun.

Do you like to become the characters you read?

Still writing with ME/CFS years later

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY DON’T

This is ME/CFS month again, for my nth time – and May 12th is ME Awareness Day again – as I’ve blogged about for several years now (since we got more activists and activism going, including Jen Brea’s Oscar-nominated documentary, UNREST).

And nothing much has changed – I’m still sick all the time (that’s what chronic means), and have no energy, and don’t get much done, and don’t get what I want to do done, and all that jazz.

So I found a wayback post from Feb. 2013 that describes almost exactly the same thing I still live with. No capacity to learn – or rather, no capacity to retain enough energy to make good decisions.

And I’m six years older, which doesn’t help (unless you’re 13 and desperately want to get away from home). We ME/CFSers are not spared the vicissitudes of aging, and are probably much less capable of putting in the effort that might stave off the ravages of time (exercise, putting energy into good living and good eating, etc.) than those whose life circumstances are easier.

I say easiER, rather than easy, because Life isn’t ever easy (ask any cosseted princess).

Remember I don’t do much editing on these oldies but goodies, but it is proof of nothing much changing (except moving to California!!!) yet.

I’ll let you be the very first to know if something improves!


Writing with ME/CFS #1 – surfing the web for THE ANSWER

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CAUTION: These posts tagged CFS are a product of my struggle to write in spite of a chronic illness that has brain fog as a side effect. They are probably not interesting except to people who live with/try to write under similar circumstances. They are not intended to be whiny – though they will often sound that way. They are intended to be factual, and to help me find workarounds.

I wouldn’t bother except this is my blog, and I need an outlet, and a small subset of readers may find something helpful. Writing helps me sort things out. You have been warned! Welcome!

********

The mornings when the psychic energy to block the web is missing,

I roam the small set of sites I follow, looking for someone else to give me words to read.

Today’s excuse was that DH called me from work before my brain was on: he’d left important papers in the front hall and a frantic romp through two computers and a memory stick were required to email him usable copies. Other days it’s been a call from a doctor’s office requiring me to do something immediately, or a call from my dad needing a bank transfer…

I’m seeing a pattern here: whatever the attention-consumer is must be dealt with RIGHT NOW. PWCs (persons with CFS) have a much smaller amount of usable psychic energy – which I will define as the ability to MAKE myself do something as well as the ability to ACTUALLY do something – than normal people. It’s part of the brain-fog problem. If I could jot the interruption on a sticky or my ‘gathering’ sheet or type it into Things – and deal with it in the normal course of business (maybe today, maybe not until next month), it would lose much of its power to consume. But I can’t – this is an EMERGENCY and must go to the top of the list. Worse, it must be done NOW.

Somehow, I come up with the energy to deal with what needs to be done – and it gets done – but there is an aftermath, a surcharge if you like, and the accomplishment is followed by a period of being awake but completely non-functional. We PWCs really can’t afford adrenaline – it takes much longer to metabolize it.

During that aftermath I often surf the web.

I’m looking for THE ANSWER. What’s the question? Who knows – who cares? Something in me wants someone else out there to tell me what to do, now, in such an authoritative way that it drags my mind out of the hole and gets it to work again.

There’s nothing there. I have a file where I record the ‘nuggets’ gleaned from surfing, the things I am absolutely grateful I have discovered. A short list (Dec. 2012-Jan 2013):

I: Standing desk, walking desk [PV + comments]          3:02 PM
I: Boomer Novels – and Boomer Cafe website [PV]       9:41 AM
I: Sworn Secret,  Amanda Jennings [Dead Guy – Lynne Patrick]
E: Friend – Have started Freedom: IT CAN WAIT        11:17 AM
I: Sharon Reamer. Good book video, cover [PV ->]    12:27 PM
I: Dropbox – saving your information         [PV?]          12:27 PM
I: Reviews [PV], bloggers charged with defamation    12:29 PM
I: Decision fatigue – and sugar!

I: means the nugget came from the internet, E: that the information was in an email. PV is thepassivevoice.com.

Looking at the list,

I can see that many hours of surfing went into relatively few really critical pieces of information – and ALL of them could have waited. Until the day’s writing was over, at least, or until the next day. In the case of late ones, I was surfing instead of going to bed, thus mortgaging the next day’s writing, for the relatively small pleasure of today’s surfing. I KNOW these things – it’s a little daunting to see that my precious nuggets are so irrelevant.

Back to the question of Why? I think it is because, like playing solitaire or sudoku or a million other games, the ability to do something that looks as if I’m using my brain – ie, being human – is required to keep me sane. And I have used up the ability to be creative, so I settle for the APPEARANCE of creative: Look – I solved another HARD sudoku puzzle! I’m ME. I’m functional!

This is data.

I don’t think I’ve put it quite this clearly before: human brains WANT to create, to ‘do something useful with their time.’ If I can’t have real, I will settle for apparent. It’s Catch 22: if I have the energy to get myself out of the loop, I’m not IN the loop. If I’m IN the loop, I don’t have the energy to get myself out.

I’m learning. I can restore SOME functionality when I can put myself down for a nap. Afterward, most of the time (depending on the surcharge), there is some restoration of functionality for that day, that time – I may even get something done.

THE ANSWER: to be normal.

It’s not on the web. It’s interesting that after 23 years I still look for it. The brain wants what it wants: to be the way it used to be.


It’s over 29 years now.

Still here, still broken, still trying to find an answer I’ll remember when the brain refuses the jumps.

I am so boring!

Why do you surf?

Move and miss the oddest things

I MISS PLANTS I SPENT AGES TENDING

I don’t know if pachysandra live on the West Coast, and I’m no longer in charge of anything living from the plant kingdom except two tiny but growing coffee plants, but re-reading this post made me feel wistful and encouraged at the same time.

Pachysandra is a very Princeton ground cover. Dark green, shade-loving (so it does very well under trees), and distinctly slow to invade, it is perfect for filling in large tracts where there will be falling leaves – it eats them and rarely complains.

Our neighbors didn’t have much of it, and they had a LOT of raking and blowing in our neighborhood, as we lived, by choice, where there were many trees.

I think trees are what I miss the most from New Jersey – we had a good combination of evergreens and deciduous trees such as sweetgums (a pain to clean up the gum balls, but the colors are glorious – from green to yellow through red to deep purple on the same tree at the same time). My window here faces another wing of the building across the entrance courtyard with the flagpole, and there are some trees greening up, but it’s not a forest.


From October 2012 when we were still homeowners, and I was far more mobile:

Pachysandra, writing, and mental toughness – driveway, part 3

Is there life in the apparent dead? What does it take to hold on, take root, and grow again?

As a writer whose writing continually gets interrupted – by my own physical problems in combination with doing what needs to be done – I wonder if it’s even worth trying again.

Sometimes I get my answer – YES! – in very odd places. Being a writer, I think about it, organize the words in my head, and then write about it. I can’t help myself. A few notes on the ‘gathering’ page of my notebook, a little bit of time, and out it comes.

Why pachysandra?

Because the stuff is tough. And full of life, even when chopped off.

To do the driveway …, the edges had to be cleared of overhanging vegetation. Pachysandra is a very polite grower: it goes where it’s wanted, slowly filling in where its roots are allowed to wander, following the soil. Even the inch of soil and leaf litter that washed over the end of the driveway. Slowly and steadily, because it wasn’t told not to, the pachysandra moved in until it was literally growing on top of asphalt.

I trimmed the plants. I tell myself it is like giving the plant a haircut – the cuttings aren’t all that important if the plant is left functioning where it can. But the cuttings looked so healthy and green and cheerful I just couldn’t toss them. So, with some vague idea of transplanting the bits and pieces to fill in a couple of bare spots left by the drought of a few years ago, which were only slowly and politely filling in from the drought survivors, I threw the pieces into several buckets, and dumped a couple of inches of water in each.

You know what they say about planning, right?

The original plan was to put the cuttings in neatly, cut ends in the water, toss in some rooting hormone, and plant the neat little survivors when they had a few baby roots. Well, when you’re in a hurry, and the driveway sealers are coming TOMORROW, neatly turns into tossed in clumps, the cut ends often didn’t make it into any water, and a bunch of what looked like white roots with root hairs and an occasional green tip got thrown in, too, with no plan or purpose.

Then a bunch of stuff happened – and it was over a week before I got back to my buckets. To my surprise, most of the pieces weren’t dried out and dead, or drowned and decaying. I reluctantly spent some of my time and energy – after all, I had PROMISED the parent plants – dug some shallow trenches in the bare spots in the hard dirt, lined up a bunch of pieces in each trench, and pushed the dirt back in. Loosely.

I didn’t see much life

The pieces were either way too many stems and leaves – or those bare-root pieces with NO leaves. I figured the latter could decompose and serve as organic material if nothing else. Only a couple of the pieces were traditionally transplantable: a piece of stem with a few leaves and a chunk of root. I watered, mostly dumping the water the poor plants had been soaking in or not soaking in, making very unpromising mud.

Two days later, noting how many of these pieces STILL looked alive, I watered lightly with a watering can – water is heavy, and I carried it from a bathroom sink rather than drag out the heavy hose for such a small job.

I’ve had no time for them – but darned if those pachysandra cuttings aren’t still holding their leaves up and green and perky – and waiting for me to provide a little water. I expected a few pieces might survive – but instead of a ten percent survival rate, I have a ten percent FAILURE rate.

And those tough little plants are making me ashamed

to doubt that my writing, too, will come back the minute I give it any encouragement, provide it some time and water and sunlight, and just let it live.

I can’t kill it. It’s going to look for ANY hope, politely and slowly filling in where it is allowed, until it, too, pours over the edges of the frame I’m keeping it in, into that shallow layer of mud on top of asphalt where the roots are shallow. But green and vigorous. And HEALTHY. I can channel it, prune it, replant it where I want it.

And I should. Because it is full of life and mental toughness – just like that well-behaved but riotous ground cover that keeps pushing the boundaries.

I take my lessons in survival where I can get them.


Where do you get your survival lessons from?

Gather scene plot points before writing

WARNING: FOR PLOTTERS

I have no idea how pantsers (those who write ‘by the seat of their pants’) decide what goes where in their books, or scenes, so if you’re a writer of that persuasion this post isn’t for you!

Even plotters have many variants

Some plotters are outliners: they construct a detailed outline for their novels, listing events in each scene, and, when they have a clear enough picture, follow their characters along and write down how they talk to each other as the events unfold.

There are writers who plot part of the time, as necessary, when they get stuck or when a section has to have a chronology to make sense.

And then there are people like me (I hope I’m not unique!): decisions are made in advance for every little thing that could happen in the whole story – an interaction between two characters about their Motivation; the introduction of a theme; the next step in a plot sequence that spans the whole trilogy…

I don’t know if I would have been this controlled had my brain still functioned the normal way – I didn’t write novels ‘before.’ But it helps me function when the amount of work I can keep in my head at a time is about one scene’s worth. At times, one beat – a section of a scene. My problem when I don’t do this it that the same ‘good idea’ will end up, in slightly different words, in more than one place in the novel!

So, necessity or temperament:

I call us Extreme Plotters

All this goes into the scenes in the list. Each scene has its little laundry list.

And then the improvisation can begin – everything is ready but the words.

And that little bit of ‘business’ will occur in only one place in the novel – and I know where and why.


From January 2013 (but I still use it every writing session):

Appreciations: Stuff that has to go somewhere

There are marks that a story has to hit to be considered complete.

For example, Blake Snyder, in his Save the Cat series on screenwriting, lists what he calls beats (on his ‘beat sheet’), things such as Opening Image, Theme Stated, Catalyst, and Dark Night of the Soul.

James N. Frey, in The Key: How to write damn good fiction using the power of myth, has a similar set which he calls a stepsheet that includes marks to hit such as the Call to Adventure, the Confrontation with the Evil One, or Obtaining the Prize; and a set of mythological characters to encounter such as The Armorer, The Evil One’s Sidekick, or the God with Clay Feet.

Other theorists have their own sets of points to hit for a novel or screenplay, and other structural systems such as Dramatica have their own collections of ‘pieces’ to include somehow in the finished product.

Finding a home for the pieces in the list of scenes

The last part of my Scene template is the section where all these systems have space to assign their points to particular scenes. I call these appreciations, or apps, from the original Dramatica version terminology.

Many of these systems have points in common, and are different ways of interpreting features that stories need. Odds are that people evaluating a novel or screenplay for acquisition will have their favorite system- and there is no reason why different systems can’t be accommodated within the same story and story structure.

The appreciations remind me that somewhere within THIS scene, I have elected to show, say, my protagonist preparing for the quest ahead by consulting The Wise Woman, or that this scene is the place to illustrate what Snyder calls the ‘All is Lost’ moment.

The illustration (‘encoding’) of the appreciation could be a bit of description or setting, a phone call and one or both sides of the ensuing dialogue, or a character’s thought expressing the theme for the reader. My choice – and where the writing and the artistry happen.

There are an infinite number of ways to illustrate any appreciation.

When done, a list of the appreciations showing the required points, scene by scene, could show an editor or studio exec that the story follows his favorite system* – and ‘validate’ the story’s structure. The point is that if the story needs to have a ‘consultation with a Wise Woman’ in it, I need to know which scene I’ve chosen to put that into. When I’m writing/I’ve written the scene, I can check the beat/story point/mark off my list once it is illustrated somehow. It is bookkeeping – that’s what templates are useful for.

The remaining few lines at the beginning and end of the Scene template situate that scene within its Chapter, and keep track of the action on a larger scale.

It looks like a lot of work to create and maintain this much structure. I think of it as preparation before going into battle. I know that when I reach the end, each of my scenes has done its job, and I haven’t left things out.

And it frees me up to do what I really want, which is to write the scenes: the stage is set, the actors are costumed and ready, and we get to Action!


*This is not an original idea – that you somehow include different ‘systems’ into the same book or screenplay – but I can’t remember where I ran across it. It makes sense – many systems are different ways to accommodate the same structure, and are not necessarily incompatible.

Thoughts?


 

Fiction dialogue easier if you write a play

TO WRITE FICTION, WRITE DIALOGUE

Beginners novelists have a lot of craft to learn.

Technically, you are still a storyteller if you write the story as prose, an epic poem, a graphic novel, a play, or a movie, but the crafts are very different. But learning the particulars takes years, and most writers pick a format and stick with it, with each form (Ex: prose) having long (novel) and shorter (story, novella) versions to practice on.

But you don’t stay a newbie novelist if you find you like writing, and learn some of the finer details such as point of view, plotting, or theme. There is room for continuous improvement, and one of the areas which bedevil beginners the most is the art of writing dialogue.

Mine became adequate as I went along (and no, I’m not showing you early drafts of Pride’s Children), but I needed to kick it up several orders of magnitude.

It took several years before the play (Tangled Webs) I naively thought would be ready for my daughter’s sixteenth birthday present was finished, and she was in college before I did, and here is part of what I learned.


From November 2012:

For better dialogue in fiction: write a play

When you can’t depend on interior monologue to get your point across, you lose a huge advantage. As a writer of fiction, you can either be blatant (He felt like death.) or subtle (He remembered med school: learning all the ramifications of the vagus nerve, enervating myriads of gastric components and pathways, useless for pinpointing the source of trouble in his gut, useful only to prove something, somewhere, thought it was wrong. But he’d never expected to feel so many of them. Simultaneously.) when using interior monologue, deep or distant.

But you get to choose.

As a playwright, you work with action and dialogue. Period. And have collaborators – actors and directors – who may aid you or may fight you, but whom you don’t control.

Tradition in the theater preserves the playwright’s absolute control over the dialogue, the WORDS. Many actors and directors will routinely cross out stage directions and the author’s parenthetical instructions on HOW to say a line or move about on stage, but they will not change a WORD of the dialogue.

Even in an adaptation of the play ‘Mary Stuart’ in high school, in SPANISH (I was Queen Elizabeth I, the actual lead – whee!), our director limited himself to crossing out large amounts of dialogue (the play was too long for us), and making the tiniest transitions where absolutely necessary. He would not change the translator’s version of the WORDS.

This is an absolute gift for novelists.

I urge every novelist to go out and write a play*.

Buy yourself $100 worth of playwriting books (buy – so you can write in them). Swallow them whole. Pick a visual story. Write the darned thing (maybe I’ll get back to the how in a later post).

And learn to live within the constraints of the form: you tell your story in the DIALOGUE you give your characters.

Oh, all right. You also have setting, and choosing WHICH of your characters are on stage at a given time, and stage/dialogue parenthetical directions.

But DIALOGUE is your main weapon.

And your written dialogue in your fiction gets much better.

You shouldn’t do ‘talking heads’ or ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue, any more than you should do it in a novel – doing so demonstrates a distinct lack of technical skills.

It’s “I’m going to paint the Mona Lisa with BOTH hands tied behind my back, using only this paintbrush clenched in my teeth.” Because that’s what it feels like when you start.

But it CAN be done. It’s been done since the beginning of time. It can be done WITHOUT a narrator to gum up the works. And it can be done so the audience feels like eavesdroppers, watching something real happening right in front of them, right now.

Heady stuff. Ask full-time playwrights. Ask actors and directors.

Dialogue in plays is elliptical (not the shape – the punctuation mark), at cross purposes, full of innuendo and half-said things. And lies. Lots of lies. But it must tell the story or you are merely doing pantomime. It has to add up.

The WORDS matter.

And that is precisely its value for writing the dialogue – and telling the story – in fiction: it has to add up.

Doing it with time constraints – on stage – leads to the most economical method of telling a story, the fewest words. Doing it on stage, intended for a live audience which gets BORED and restless within seconds if the pieces of story it is receiving do not add up immediately, is like boot camp for dialogue.

The audience can neither skip ahead nor review something unclear.

And it won’t like being bored. So you learn to leave nothing out, and put nothing extraneous in.

Audiences want stories to make sense, pronto, and continuously. So you learn to feed them the story in bite-size pieces, story beats, so they can put the whole thing together in their heads and follow.

It is an awesome discipline to acquire – and the results, in terms of the ability to create good dialogue in fiction, are equally awesome, so much so that stripping a scene I’m editing down to ONLY the dialogue, and walking through it as if I expected it to be performed on stage, is now one of the basic steps in my process, and a step that often shows exactly where the flaws are.

Thoughts?


A quick reminder: Pride’s Children will only be on sale for about another week, if you wanted to get the 0.99 ebook version. I’m putting it back up there, and, just for the heck of it, will try the $9.99 price point. (It was 8.99 before the dollar experiment.)


 

Listen to the priceless gift of feedback

HONEST FEEDBACK IS ABOVE RUBIES

This one’s as true as when I first wrote it, before even being published at novel length, and in general people who ask for feedback in my various online writer’s groups are open to getting it, and gracious when it isn’t quite what they asked for.

Maybe I’m getting pickier at the groups I’m in.

The principle is the same: if you’re going to argue with the messenger, don’t order the service.


FROM April 2013:

Feedback: the priceless gift

Had an experience that made me take notice – so I stopped to figure out what happened.

I had gone to a new website – looked mildly interesting – for a writer. This writer put up the cover of his first book as kind of a teaser for his second – so far so good – and it sounded interesting enough that I clicked through to Amazon – considering buying.

So: he’s got me as a live one.

I read the description of the second book, and my brain goes, ‘Wait a minute – something not quite right here.’

The description for the second book was for a science fiction book. Conspiracies and space warfare and etc.

It was supposed to be a sequel – to his first book, written a while back.

But here’s the problem: the cover for the FIRST book hadn’t said a word about SF, just a one-word title and a name (of new writer – not one who is known to write SF).

The importance of covers

The ARTICLE he wrote was about the importance of COVERS. So I was primed to actually consider HIS in more detail than I normally would have done.

And it didn’t say, to me, what it was supposed to say. To me, the image and the title did NOT convey ‘SF inside.’ My opinion, of course.

So, being the nice helpful person I am, I bothered to go back, think it through, and tell this writer my impression of his cover strategy. As mildly and inoffensively as I could. I don’t do this often, and only when I think I have something to add to a thread. It takes a bit of time,

And he ARGUED with me! When I happened to go back to see if there was further discussion (being interested in covers, as a writer who will be self-publishing one of these days, because that’s what drew me to his website/blog in the first place), I read that he thought I was wrong, that there WERE SF elements on the cover, and I had somehow missed the signals.

Which miffed me, again mildly. [By way of credentials, I have been reading SF since the 1960s, and even had a membership in the SF Book Club which kept good SF coming regularly.]

Do you argue with the gift-giver?

I stopped to think why, and realized that there is a lesson there for ME: If someone does you the favor of giving you unbiased feedback about any aspect of your writing from THEIR point of view, your only acceptable response is “Thank you – I will think about what you said.”

Not to argue that your visitor and commenter is WRONG.

I have done this before, left careful feedback, and clearly labeled it ‘my opinion.’ Heck – I did it at Hugh Howey’s website (before his current fame – not that long ago), and his response was exactly right: Thanks for the suggestion, and I will consider it carefully. As a commenter (and now a fan – having gone to Amazon after his response and bought the whole WOOL omnibus), I felt listened to and appreciated. As if, in a small way, I had been able to contribute something.

So I got a valuable lesson from the experience: the one thing you cannot buy is the unvarnished opinion of a new true commenter. It is a gift when someone offers a considered opinion of your writing. It is feedback from a new READER. And it means you have made a connection. The last thing you want to do is discourage or discount the flash of inspiration you get. The aphorism is “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It is TRUE.


Thoughts?

Plot quirks as much as holes

AND HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?

‘Missing’ is an odd concept

For a visual or graphic artist, there a billions of colors – digitize the spectrum as finely as you like to get as many distinct numbers as you need.

Of course, you can’t use them all.

And at some point the human eye can no longer distinguish between the shades.

A complete scene is another odd concept

That’s where the art comes in, for each writer, in deciding how much stays, how much is irrelevant (including whether or not to use scenes at all, but that’s getting a little too experimental for me).

From January 2013 comes an answer that turned my brain topsy turvy:



Upending plots to find holes

I had an interesting experience recently which gave me ideas about finding – and solving – plot problems. In the course of playing too many games of Free Flow on DH’s new iPad mini, I solved all but a small set of the 14 x 14 levels included. It irked me that, no matter how many times I went back to the remaining small unsolved set, even starting completely from scratch, I couldn’t find the trick to the solution.

A minor problem, you say. Agreed. But games can be useful (I know – this doesn’t justify all that time spent gaming) – or humans wouldn’t have invented them, and wouldn’t get so much stroking from them, so much pleasure, that they can become addicting. There is a sense of completion that releases endorphins and other good brain chemicals when a puzzle is solved.

So, I continued to come back to this set of unfinished puzzles.

But it wasn’t until, in desperation, I turned the iPad upside down that I found my answers: even though I had started each level from scratch, the orientation of the dots (you are trying to connect each colored dot with its mate in such a way that all squares on the board have a color in them and NONE of the squares is EMPTY) had locked into my brain prematurely, and I literally could not see them in a different way.

It actually HURT my brain to turn the iPad upside down, and to view each puzzle WRONG – but in a new way.

I told myself anything that made my brain hurt must be good for it (on the theory I hold that the brain is a muscle-like object, and it must be exercised).

I deliberately tolerated the stress – and quickly solved the remaining puzzles I had been struggling with for more days than I care to admit. Immediately. The skills I had developed for this particular little game had settled too soon into working on the default orientation – a technique that got me successfully through most of the 750 puzzle levels that came with the game – but not all.

I’m doing something similar with the scenes I’m revising now:

I have text for these scenes, text that I like, and a flow through the plot that strokes my brain (we all write, first, for ourselves), but it isn’t good enough.

Revising in place, just taking the words that are there, the order of words in a scene, and making them better, is good and useful and satisfactory – after all, I worked hard to write them originally.

But it doesn’t solve all the problems. I’m stuck, in some scenes, with a feeling that I haven’t done my complete job, that there are unexplored empty ‘squares’ on the grid. A feeling that if I notice a tiny void, a reader will, too. My brain hurts.

But the reader can’t fix the problem. That’s my job. If my writing isn’t satisfying me, it has no business going out into the world.

So I’ve been taking the elements of a scene, and going back to ‘start.’ Rearranging the order, re-thinking, re-visioning.

Letting my brain hurt.

Turning the scene completely upside down, asking beginner questions: What does this scene do? Why is this scene in the book? What can the reader only learn here? Even, Why the heck did he do that?

I’m hampered by the fact that I can – as an end result of many years of reading – turn out clean copy that LOOKS finished with relative ease. And once it is fixed in black and white on the page, it is very hard to question what looks ‘published.’

It takes time. It isn’t strictly necessary.

But if I identify the plot problems – the little bugs which irk the brain – those empty squares – and solve them, I get the endorphins. And a scene I have to admit is vastly better.



The interesting part has been that I have found extremely few places where I want to go back and change something in PURGATORY – which I just finished rereading.

Apparently, once I’ve got it, it locks in, and then it’s real, and I don’t need to go back. I didn’t think it would be so.


How about you?

If you’re a writer, do you find a strong stop for each scene – or do your scenes make you want to get out the editor?

If you’re a reader, can you tell when something is finished?

Just curious.

Where do liebjabberings visitors come from?

Visitors Feb. 18, 2019, to my blog liebjabberings came from US, Canada, India, South Africa. Australia, Malaysia, France, UK, and the Philippines (graphic shows country flags from my stats page) New countries to blog 2:19:19

Mar 3 new countries

SOME DAY THIS WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE

And meanwhile, visitors are welcome from anywhere!

Stop and say hello – comments welcome. I’m going to steal the following from a fellow blogger: I like to have the last word, so you’ll always get an answer. If you don’t, know that I still read your comment – and decided to let you have the last word on the subject (at the end of an exchange, usually).

Things are getting a little less crazy around here.

We went to visit our kids in Boulder, Colorado, and had a lovely long weekend.

Then we came home, and I had an old friend visit for two evenings – she arranged her life to be able to visit, and it was so good to see her again. We go back 50 years+!

And then came the visit to the new, nice dentist – except that he had an emergency, and the total time dedicated to an appointment which was literally across the road came to over four hours – and I get wiped out by long out-of-the-house events.

I don’t care – all these were desirable (I love dentists who don’t find anything needing doing, even when a bit of a porcelain crown cover came off) – and much appreciated visits with loved ones.

I’m getting to the new stuff.

One of the residents here, of the several who have read Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, chatted with me this afternoon about her reactions to it – and has offered to connect me to her book club. Book clubs are wonderful ways to get word of mouth out to serious readers, and I look forward to maybe even visiting some of the many in our new city.

I get so few opportunities to just talk and answer questions about my writing (one tries not to be a pushy author) that it was a real pleasure, as well as good for the soul. She got so many things about the work.

One of my main questions – because it’s a trilogy – is always whether readers were unsatisfied at the end of what is known to be the first volume, and feel cheated in any way. She said no – but she can’t wait for the next one – which is balm to my senses.

She also said she had trouble putting it down, and for someone whose nightly habit is to read a bit with her doggie settled in her lap, and then go to bed, I find it cheering to be unputdownable.

I ordered and received a proof copy from Amazon. Createspace has closed, and the automatic transfer to being printed on demand by KDP (?) has to be checked out. The cover looks fine (except that it says ‘proof’ on it, right through the middle of Kary’s head), but I need to compare the paging, and look for the few errors that have been corrected, and make sure they are using the latest file. Due diligence. Then I’ll see about ordering some replacement copies to have as my pre-move supply has all been given out at our new community.

And the usual small problems.

My .mobi electronic ARC has NOT worked for the last two people I sent it to, which means Kindle changed something, and I need to re-create the file to send out for reviewers. There are few things worse than getting someone to read and review for you, and to send them a file they can’t open!

It is irritating to have to spend energy on something that was working fine. And it means going a long way back, and worrying about the version of Scrivener (I have v3, and haven’t updated to it yet), and figuring out a bunch of things such as Compile for ebooks…

I just found my writing books – I used to have them at my right hand while writing, but haven’t since everything was packed and shipped: what have I missed and will it show in the new scenes?

I still haven’t recovered from last July’s crash.

I can’t remember where I was on so many little details of life. And writing.

But this is the last move

before I finish the trilogy – if I have anything to say about it. And the good Lord gives me life and brain.

Things can only get better – I’m excited at the possibilities, and cheered by finding readers here.

I will get my software, computer, and backups under control. I’ll keep writing, and make the progress I had hoped for from the new digs.

And go swimming.

It was always about the pools.


Does your future have pools?


 

Being a quirky writer for yourself

A wolf baying at the night. Text: Some of us writers please ourselves. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

I WILL BE A QUIRKY WRITER

Especially because I may write few books in a lifetime, where the fiction push started late, and already ill when I began writing, I have to make the books count.

There will be a shelf next to my bed in the last place I live, and the books there will have to be what I wrote – and what I love.

But it’s quirky in an odd way. Either a reader will like what I write, or not be of my tribe.

That’s not so unusual: all writers have a tribe, once they’re past a certain minimum of quality that they can stand to put their name on nom de plume on.

Or they wouldn’t keep writing.

I write in blood

But I will never write to market. Never mind that I can’t – writing to market takes a lot of energy. I don’t want to.

Now that I’ve moved, I never have to write again. There are a million things even I can do in the new place, and they all take energy, and they are all a lot more fun than writing.

And then one person comes up to me at dinner, and tells me how much she loved the TV talk show scene, and I’m hooked again, on the dopamine that comes only to writers who have done their best, and have been rewarded, and have no internal regrets about skimping.

I honestly don’t want to go back and change a single word in PURGATORY. Which is good, because it would be an incredible amount of work.

But it’s also making me insecure about picking up the metaphorical pen again, because I haven’t been able to finish the one scene I’ve been working on since before we moved.

So much is riding on this scene

Plot, characters, theme – everything is going through a knot.

Everything is getting kicked up several notches.

Because the middle book in a trilogy needs that.

And I had no idea it was this one place I would have foundered for a while, no matter where I had been, until I started writing and realized how many threads I held in my hands, how many things go from before – toward the end of this book, and the end of this story, and how critical it is to get it right.

I think my subconscious knew, and my brain protected me.

So I would have time to consider what I’ve set out, fully.

I can’t wait to get to these ends, but the path has to be lit and leveled and have the right slope and the best edging and a solid underpinning of rock.

Because it leads toward high cliffs, and I would rather my characters (whom I’m very fond of) found resolution almost any other way. But there is none.

Glad I got that off my chest

And may your New Year have that kind of pull on you.

Once you get over being afraid of heights, the view can be amazing.

Over to you: what’s in store in 2019 that you can’t wait for?

 

Christmas Present: a change of focus

A mug with the legend 'The Adventure Begins' over the image of a canooist. Text: A new life begins now, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

KEEPING PROMISES TO MYSELF

I have been holding my breath for a very long time.

Worse than that (but necessary), I have been saving my physical and mental energy for well over six months now, not having enough to write because there was so much to do with moving, selling the house, getting used to a new place (temp.), and now, making the arrangements for the permanent new place.

I had gotten into hoarding mode: don’t spend the resources unless you absolutely must, because you cannot get more, and there are so many things which must be done.

Occasionally, I got a few days in where I was writing, or trying to, and the current scene would get a few more details or another bit of motivation or an insight, but the dark would sweep in again (okay, I’m exaggerating, but things became pressing, and I knew the whole process was depending on us doing something or making a decision on something, and it would take even longer to get over all the drama if we didn’t) and halt all progress on Book 2.

It seemed selfish to even attempt to write

because there are so many burdens on my husband I can’t help with, and there were a few things I could do for us.

I succeeded in NOT crashing, something that happens to us ME/CFS types when we overdo it, over such a long period I thought it would be forever.

And in keeping up some semblance of a cooperative household.

But the last couple of days I’ve realized that intense period is over.

And I have slipped into a waiting mode, a hoarding mode as I said, that is no longer strictly necessary.

There will be supervision.

And we do (he does) have to finalize the choice of ceiling fans.

And I need to remind Facilities that carpeting has a nap, and that seams need to go where they won’t be seen (I’ll write that email today so they have it whenever Christmas is past and someone decides to install the carpet).

Even PT is technically over

Long story. Some progress. But I am now on my own, with a set of exercises, and a sequence leading to the hardest in the set, all laid out on paper, with the timing up to me.

I have to be careful – that’s where some of that energy had to be spent – because the pattern is now ‘day of exercise, followed by two days of hugely increased pain,’ repeat ad infinitum. And dealing with that level of pain is exhausting.

But we were all pleased at how quickly I progressed, even with minimum repetitions, and I can get another referral for more PT when I feel I’ve mastered this bunch.

I am now officially hard-abbed and hard-assed (yay, isometrics and work against a resistance band), to a degree not acquired before.

It really helped to insist on being taught correct form until I got it – the difference is quite amazing for some of the exercises. We didn’t actually do physical therapy at the PT sessions: I used them to demonstrate progress, and get trained, and find out what next, in writing and pictures.

Which helped a lot when the first temp PT person, who was very good, left, and I met who she had told me was the permanent person here, only to find out that he is just as temporary! He’ll be here a while, and may still be when I decide on another bout, but I made sure he did an evaluation to document where I am now (I didn’t want to waste my last session with her on it), and there is a nice bit of progress.

Nothing earth-shattering – I still can’t walk without the walker – but a huge change in strength in appropriate muscle groups, and distinct progress.

So now all I have to do is keep doing it, pushing toward the exercises I can’t do well yet, and keeping everything core rock hard when moving something else…

And the question pops right up: are we writing?

Because, given a life of luxury and doing things to entertain myself, I would rather be writing, if only I can have my brain on board, please.

There will be a long (could be several months, might be just one) period between these last home choices and move-in day, but I can’t afford (writing-wise and mood-wise) to stay on hyper alert for being needed to do something at short notice, so much so that I have to save every drop of energy.

And I’m having some talks with myself about how to shake myself out of wait/interruption/hoard energy mode.

I need to create a semblance of a ‘new normal’ for myself

The old one is no longer available, whatever it was, and it didn’t allow for all the new opportunities I have now for exercising/moving/not just sitting.

The social opportunities need to be sorted out – we have a large number of lovely new acquaintances, but turning a few of those into new friends is just starting.

I love going to dinner and meeting new people – and wonder why I’m left as limp as the proverbial dishrag when it’s over. And the answer is that being coherent for an hour, and coping with a flow of new input, is very difficult for me. We have to eat. We can have dinner just us two at a small table. And no one will judge us. Except I do, sometimes, for having missed an opportunity!

I have a tendency to retreat into sudoku and other such entertainments which can be stopped at any time (ie, the unplanned interruptions).

I have a tendency to push myself to stay awake until the need for a nap is so overwhelming that it can’t really do its job of clearing out the debris of thinking.

I have a tendency not to plan when I know there isn’t a prayer of being able to follow the plan.

But my Christmas present to myself is to realize there is a new present

to be determined, and figured out, and planned.

I have paid most of the price for a new life. I am exceedingly grateful to have it.

Now I have to figure out how to open that present and live the new life, not just survive it.

And to remember that the next move, however horrible, will be to the promised land (yes, I still have to turn our new balcony into a bit of a garden because all I’ll be able to see most of the time is the flagpole).

Not so much New Year’s resolutions as waking up to the new world.

And getting Book 2 finished, etc., etc., while still getting into the pool as often as possible, and using the adult trike, and getting up my courage to buy and use an Airwheel S8 (my long-term plan for mobility). And learning to use CBD oil to manage some of the extra pain. And doing some trips out of here for something other than picking carpeting and going to church.

New life, new choices.

Present, not past or future.

I HOPE each of you is getting a present, too. I’d love to hear about it.


Christmas blessings to all who believe in Peace on Earth to humans of good will. There are still a majority, I am convinced. Don’t know why, except that I seem to be the eternal optimist. In spite of everything.


PS Not much feedback yet, but several people here have already read PC. And it would be amazing to be invited to participate in one of the many book clubs they belong to.


 

Making things worse to make them better

Jetty going out over a lake with the moon in the night sky. Text: There's always dark before the light. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO BREAK THE MOLD

to get to a bigger, better place.

The mold is a comfortable place.

Okay, not so comfortable: it has flaws. You are just used to the flaws.

Until the day when the flaws add up to something so large it can’t be improved.

Only destroyed.

I’m trying to get settled in the new, larger mold.

It’s just taking a lot more work, and a lot more time, than I told myself before the move (if you don’t do that, minimize the cost of the change, you can never get unstuck from the mold).

If you focus too hard on the cost of change, you don’t change. You CAN’T change.

Because change is very expensive, and not just in money.

I’m impatient.

Everyone tells me to ‘give it time,’ and tells me how long it was before they were settled in our new community, before they had unpacked all their boxes, before they knew enough people, before they reconstructed their new life.

But after the change, the invoice shows up and demands to be paid.

As the pain of the move diminishes, and becomes, like all memories, a series of amusing vignettes you recount at the dinner table to people you hope will become new friends, and whom you are now entertaining so they will know you’re not just a complainer (deadly) or a bore (deadly), the pain of the new become more evident: you are not there yet.

For me, it has been the amount of time I am still not writing new fiction.

I’ve spent a decent proportion of time with the internet blocked off, NOT writing new fiction.

Yet.

I sure hope it’s ‘yet.’

You see, I also moved to improve the body.

I have started the PT I so desperately wanted, and which was one of the main reasons for coming to this particular place. PT is downstairs. An elevator ride and a couple of corridors worth of distance.

And next to the pool, so I can just pop into the warm water afterward, and then take a nice shower, and then…

Go back to the temporary home and find myself completely ragged out for the day.

And the next day the sacroiliac joint has given me a day of intense deep aching. So I do the exercises for that…

It’s necessary. Now is the best time. And it has plopped the next barrier to writing right in front of me.

People recommend patience

and not being too hard on myself.

And not expecting too much, possibly even now, since we’re beginning the process of working with Facilities to fix our permanent abode in Independent Living from being gutted, to having a place for everything and everything in its place, a state we are NOT achieving here (doesn’t feel worth the work when you’re going to have to do it all again soon).

But they don’t have the itchy feeling of how much of my identity is tied up in being a writer – and actually writing.

So many accomplished folk here, with long resumes of happy productive lives, whether involved in work for pay or in bringing up happy and successful children, and it serves to emphasize the many things I could not do due to illness, the may experiences I will now never have.

I didn’t expect that part.

Many of them are still doing the wonderful trips and community service and voter registration and visiting schools…

The ones who are past that are often quite a bit older.

And even the ones who are now disabled who are living here often have not been that way for long.

Only now I meet more people than in my previous isolated state

and have had, metaphorically speaking (and without any ill intent on their part – this all comes out in conversations), my nose rubbed in it.

I used to be better at ignoring the fact that I was ill and isolated, and the rest of the world had lives. Problems, yes, but lives.

By a determined cheerfulness in my own life, so that I did not alienate those I still knew, I kept the worst of it under wraps most of the time. It gets very boring to listen to complaining, however justified. I preferred to spend my time with my husband, far-flung kids, and small coterie of friends enjoying their presence and company when I had it.

I made ignorance – avoidance – my bliss.

And I wrote. Things other people can’t. Don’t. Don’t even want to. But which make me unique.

And clamped down on envy as unproductive.

I’m confronting all this a third time.

Fourth? Fifth? All in a bunch, everything repressed comes back to be dealt with in a new stage of life.

I really hope it’s the last time. But it can’t be.

It gets boring, even to me.

The light will return. Proof of that is that I keep trying. If I’d stopped trying, I’d really worry.

This may be one of those raw adjustment times you put behind you once things are to a new normal. But it’s daunting to think it may total a year by the time we’re in the ‘forever home,’ and I get back to really working.

Another very good sign is that I’m aware of it. I’m not happy about the uncertain period, but I still crave writing something coherent, and even more, writing something I’m satisfied with. I know I’m not where I want to be, and that the steps we’re taking should, with a bit more of that patience stuff, put me in a better writing place.

Life moves on, inexorably

I’d just like to think that the effort for change results in a better working environment, and is a net gain.

Ask me in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, this is a recording of the current state of mind.

I have gone back into my own posts, that now number well over 500, to find things I almost don’t remember writing – and I only started blogging in 2012!

Nothing very new yet

except that I realized how sparse even the blogging has gotten, and feel compelled (by me, not my lovely readers and commenters) to put out at least an update+what I’ve been thinking post every once in a while, until I have more substantive ‘content.’

And, looked at in hindsight, there has been an awfully large amount of change survived.

Please pray for rain for California, and no rain in some other places – that has been, after the elections, another huge concern: we are right in the plume of the Camp Fire, and yesterday were in the ‘hazardous’ category. Worrying about the firefighters, and all those who have lost lives, family, and homes. And wildlife. And what happens after.

And, as usual, not being able to do a darned thing.

Be well. Write when you have a moment.


 

When you’re heard, good may happen

Winding road into a sunset with a tree on a hill. Text: One step at a time this road leads somewhere. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

SMALL STEPS LEAD TO MILESTONES

There’s no point moving cross-county if you’re not going to improve some things in your life.

Improving the physical plant happened today in two ways.

We have what should be our permanent home in Independent Living.

Moving in is in the future some time, because they are changing a whole lot of ‘features’ into what is their new ‘standard’ for these units. So this unit, which has not had a lot of things done to it since it was built in 2000, will have just about everything changed.

I saved the basic list from an email I wrote a friend in Australia:

  • They’re going to completely re-do the place, as it hasn’t been done for many years.
  • We will get new kitchen cabinets and appliances. New counter tops.
  • They will install our washer and dryer.
  • New flooring throughout. We get to choose what, and colors.
  • Crown molding lighting – and ceiling fans (they move the air-conditioned air and heat noiselessly on the lowest setting, so the heat-exchanger doesn’t come on as often – quieter).
  • The bathrooms will be done – completely new shower and counter and sink in the master bath, and I want an accessible shower in the other one, which will be mine! All mine! for the first time in my life. I HATE sharing bathrooms.
  • All the window treatments.

Plus whatever we want (there may be some walls moved, doors covered, etc., depending on where Bill’s office area ends up).

So quite a lot, and apparently the contractors aren’t fast, and the holidays slow things down even further.

It is a bit sad in there right now – and their plan is to bring things up to the current standard every time a unit is occupied by new tenants.

We may not be in before Christmas, but a girl can hope.

Thing is, the sooner we make OUR choices, the sooner the whole thing gets underway. So I will be nagging. Or whatever it is called when you’re the squeaky wheel.

We will have to pay for any serious upgrades; I will see what I can get due to being disabled – there are strong laws in California about accessibility. [Note: not much that applies to personal spaces such as apartments; plenty for public buildings.]

Meanwhile, I’m also upgrading me

I had my intake visit with the lovely Heather from the physical therapy department.

She’s what got me thinking on the topic of being heard, because, for the first time in a long time, I’m taking charge of the improvements for the body I inhabit.

I like the system here with our new U. California-Davis Medical Center (UCDMC) doctors. They have the first patient portal I have ever used which has me raving about setting it up and using it.

Just think: if you send an email to your doctor, he or she will respond within 48 hours. Unprecedented in New Jersey. And the portals back there were the most awful things to set up and messages through.

Here they put up your test results as soon as they’re available, and just casually mention your doctor hasn’t seen them yet. In NJ, the law said you could have them, but it was like extracting teeth from small fowl, and somehow they were never available soon, and never before the doctor had seen them: bad technology trumped obeying the law.

So, back on topic, I requested a referral to PT here in this facility, and the doctor not only did it without making me go visit him, but it was handled internally AS IF I WERE THE PAYING CLIENT. They called when they received it, made an appointment immediately, and I just popped on down.

Heather listened, and did what many places don’t seem to bother with: she asked my opinion, and my goals, and then very carefully assessed where I am. Then she proceeded to give me exactly what I asked for: exercises to strengthen the lower back to support walking. She listened about the ME/CFS, and how much energy I don’t have, and took that all into account. She will see me once a week, so I can do things at my own pace – something no other PT place has ever ‘allowed’ (they all wanted, and said insurance would only pay for, a 3 times a week schedule).

Delving into the devil in the details

I don’t know if there will be snags in the PT. I’m pretty sure the remodeling may have some, as we were given no lists and no budget, and some things, when I asked the same question several times, would finally yield a different answer.

We’ll see for both, but this is why we came here: to have options.

PT is downstairs. A couple of elevators and corridors away. The amount of energy that will save me, which can be used to do the PT, is prodigious. I can actually see doing enough of this to find out how much my walking can be improved.

Surgery is not on my list, especially not now, as I haven’t found an orthopedic surgeon who actually listened, and who could promise more than maybe. Also, it takes us ME/CFS types a LONG time to heal, 6-12 months after the surgery which has led to me not walking, back in 2007. It is too long to do again unless I have firm promises, and the logical thing to do is PROPER PT, not PT for little old ladies as I had before.

Also, I made sure we picked the UCDMC system as the only local one with a teaching hospital (though, alas, it is in Sacramento, not Davis – huh? – but it’s not that far), and this place does post-surgical rehab right here, and they apparently spoil you in Skilled Nursing while you recover. So, if the PT doesn’t do what I need, I’ll see what else there is – but from the point of actually doing everything I can (I’m one of the young ‘uns here) that should be done FIRST (the PT in New Jersey before the spinal fusion was a joke).

Teaching hospitals usually have the best facilities, and I’m hoping, orthopedists.

The PT people here are set up for old people! They work with our kinds of problems. Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the channel which has your spine in it) is quite common, as are walking problems. I’ve seen a lot of things in other people, and talked to many, here.

Maybe they have solutions.

So, not blogging much

Because this reconnecting to things we dumped in New Jersey is, quite frankly, boring. We did it deliberately, and it is taking forever to re-build a life, but everyone who has moved further than ten miles knows how it is.

Doing everything we should. Trying all the activities and swimming in the outdoor pool. Still have no car – and still haven’t jumped through the last hoop (getting a CA driver’s license) because there has been no time (and the studying first is a good idea).

But finally the two-bedroom is on the horizon. And we can actually finish unpacking, and hang the paintings, and have something other than off-white on the floor.

Meanwhile, the Pride’s Children characters are starting to nag, and I keep trying to form some kind of a schedule and have a tiny bit of energy go to fiction. I have done no marketing in ages, and have sold maybe five copies in six months. You can really disappear that way. It’s a good thing I’m not a quitter!

As I always say: I’m working on it.

And how are you?


 

Second attempt to restart writing

Section of library at University Retirement Community showing Pride's Childre on the new books shelf, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THE LIBRARY AT URC’S NEW BOOKS SHELF

It takes a while to get back to work.

My previous attempt, one good working day after six months of nada, was on October 2, 2018, right after I got my files back from the crash.

My apologies for the radio silence, but it has been a combination of 1) things needing doing RIGHT NOW, and 2) an exhaustion so profound as a result of the continued stress that thinking was not a possibility.

Not CREATIVE thinking. Nor ORGANIZED thinking.

Tearing out your life by the roots has consequences

In NJ, we had doctors, cars, a driver’s license, food in the basement freezer, bicycles…

In CA, we didn’t.

We haven’t bought a car, and may not. But the shared car available at our new retirement community requires:

  • a California driver’s license
  • our NJ driving record, which in turn required doing stuff online, waiting until they MAILED us an ID, to be used online to order the record!
  • permission from our doctor (when we didn’t even have a doctor) – and I still can’t believe I had to ask permission from him when I finally got an internist and an appointment
  •  ‘Mature Driver’s Course’ – available online, and which only took me 17 hours and three days to complete. If you would like to experience frustration, try the course. And the test questions seemed to be designed to get you to fail. It only took me two tries – and I could have done it faster if I hadn’t reviewed the entire course first.
  • filling out the forms.

It would just be nice to have the option to sign out the vehicle (which comes with fuel and insurance) instead of having to deal with a car rental agency.

And yes, Lyft and Uber and the facility’s own group vehicles, and the on-site bikes and trike are all available.

But nothing is quit like putting your shoes on, walking to your car, popping in, adjusting the mirrors if necessary – and driving away.

Except that it’s an expensive option if you don’t use if often.

I had assistants in NJ

Wonderful helpful women who made my life easier, because they always did whatever I needed when they came.

But there’s no room in this one-bedroom apartment for an assistant, and a lot less for one to do, so I probably won’t have one here.

As a result, there’s a lot of non-urgent unpacking still to be done.

And we’re still waiting for a larger place.

Everything is different

Have I mentioned having a social life? It’s nice – but there is a lot of it, even with just going to dinner every day.

And most things have an inflexible time, something I only had occasionally back in NJ (congratulate me on not calling it ‘home’ very often). Which basically means a lot of time wasted because it’s almost time to do X, or you just got home from doing X.

But today I gritted my teeth

Told myself to stop wasting time, as I may have a lot less of it than I think.

Blocked the internet for several hours with Freedom.

Located the papers I created or brought.

Took out the Scrivener project, the Dramatica Story Expert file, and my Calendar.

And dove in.

I must say, I am VERY proud of my incessant note-taking as I write – because it was like having everything poured back into my brain from a pitcher.

It’s been seven months (if you don’t count the one day) since anything substantial, and I’m hoping this attempt will take.

And I found that the pieces I’ve already done are just fine, and ready to take to the next step, writing the individual scenes for this chapter.

I don’t care how many tries it takes to really get going

None of the interruptions have been my doing. Everything is taking a lot longer to do than it should in anyone’s imagination.

Registering to vote took ages, but I finally have online proof, which I printed out; the voter registration card which has been promised has not yet arrived. That was a high priority, and is usually done in conjunction with the driver’s license, but, because of the other things I need (including replacing my handicapped placard, for which I needed the doctor mentioned above to fill out the form, which meant I had to see him…), we haven’t gone to get the new licenses yet.

Looking back, there is a mañana attitude to life here – from everyone. People tell me it was years before they were completely settled. Though most people move in here older than we are now. And many are in-state, a large portion of those local enough to keep some of their doctors.

And of course we have to try everything, from the Bizarre Bazaar (bought a table and three chairs) to the End of Life discussion group which is starting (postponed that one – it’s a six-week commitment, for an hour and a half each week, either Tuesday or Saturday right in the middle of the afternoon!) to an activity I won’t mention that didn’t work.

And popping into the pools. Ah, pools! And hot tubs.

And the hours it took to connect so I could have Pride’s Children: PURGATORY catalogued (see picture of New Books section).

Just hope for me that it takes hold this time. I am getting very grumpy.

And how have you all been?


Accidentally published first as page, not post – brain not completely back on board! I was mystified: I usually get at least ONE comment. !Ay, Alicia!