Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Story Genius Writing Course: The Origin Scene

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Sometimes I feel so small in revision.
If you think about it, all stories begin with relevant backstory. For just as real people deal with the present based on their past, so too must our characters deal with the story problems based on their relevant past experiences. The key word here is “relevant” past experiences. Jennie Nash and Lisa Cron in my Story Genius course asked:
What was the pivotal moment in your character’s past that changed her outlook on life? This will be the “origin scene” that sets the character up for interpreting the present story problems. Even in memoir.

In my memoir about attending college as a mother of five, I felt highly inadequate for college—and amazingly so at the Ivy League level. Attending college is not something rational people do on the spur of the moment. Not even when the prospective college student is a mom challenged by an all-knowing educated person who determines that her child shouldn’t attend college because she’s not good enough.

In my mind, people who attend college spend years preparing for it. At the Ivy League level, students spend their entire lives in preparation for it. No, college isn’t something to take lightly. After all, I could fail out, proving that educated person and extended family members that I am, in fact, unable to succeed and therefore my child might be as well.

It all came back to me. The origin scene for my college memoir, that is.

It was early spring in 1973, and I was perusing the high school curriculum booklet given out by the counselors, dreaming of going away to college. At that time, I thought everyone who attended college went away to be able to concentrate solely on their college education. At least that’s what they did in movies and on television.

Boy was I naïve! We never heard of community college or college loans. My family had no money for college.

I sat at the kitchen table, selecting college prep courses from the curriculum booklet for high school. I was the second child of four in my blue-collar family, the first who wanted to attend college. Then my father, a machinist by trade, the realist in our family by necessity, took note of what I was doing.

“Vic,” he said. “What makes you so sure you can handle college?”

My hand went numb, the course selection form blurred on the kitchen table. Why couldn’t he forget about my earlier struggles in school? I tried to.
“Dad,” I choked out. “I’m on the honor roll now.”

“It takes more than that to succeed in college, Vic.”

The scene continues as my father hammers into my consciousness that our family goes to work after high school. As someone who struggled earlier in her education, I should accept that I wasn’t college material and move on in life.

Finally, Dad’s realism became my realism. I wasn’t cut out for college. I was inadequate to those attempting higher education. It ate away at my confidence to succeed in life. I needed to settle, not strive. This was my present, my future, my life.

This origin scene works in conjunction with a post on the ticking clock of a story.  

It wasn’t until I was a mother of five with a special needs daughter that I finally realized if you don’t take any risks in life, you have already failed.

I think the choosing of my high school curriculum scene was the first “relevant” past experience, the origin scene, that formed my belief of not being good enough for college. I also feel it shows the effect a significant adult can have on a child. It forced me to be sure not to do the same to my children.


Please offer any comments or questions regarding this scene or your own college preparation, for they truly help me to define the moment and improve the writing. Thanks again for stopping by Adventures in Writing and leaving a note. It’s greatly appreciated. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

            Did I ever say “I quit” being a writer? All the time!
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My logic always is:

There’s no one out there waiting to read the next Victoria Marie Lees story—or blog post for that matter.

No editor or publisher asking for another YA adventure story or camping anecdote or wondering where my memoir about attending college as a mother of five is.

I’m wasting my family’s hard-earned money taking courses and seminars and attending conferences.

I’d have so much more time with my family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, even for myself, if I wasn’t always writing.

My personal stress level would greatly diminish, and I could become that somewhat calm person I was before I started concentrating almost every waking minute on creating something saleable, or building my writer’s platform.

            But then my mind starts arguing with itself. Telling stories and family anecdotes live in my heart. They breathe in my soul. Will I always be able to sell what I create to the traditional market? Nope! Is that a reason not to try?

            To some, maybe. To me, I needed to search deep within myself to find the answer.

            Because I can’t hike the entire Appalachian Trail or Continental Divide Trail at one time, should I not try to hike portions of the trail when I can?
            Because we don’t have a lot of money, should we not create special moments with our children or tell them that they can’t go to college, can’t better themselves through education?
            Because we don’t have a fancy motor home—much to the children’s dismay—should we not take a vacation and camp with the children in a well-used, crank-up trailer or tent away from media distractions, spending precious time creating lifelong memories?  
                      
These questions come up whenever I try to convince myself that I'm better off not writing. Not trying. Writers need to believe in themselves, a difficult task for sure.

Life forever moves forward. Changing us in small ways and big every day. I can’t go back to when I wasn’t concentrating most of my time on creating stories. Story telling is a part of who I am. Hard work is a part of who I am. For profit or only peace of mind, I will always be a writer. My poor family will just have to deal with my moods and time constraints—and so will I.

I can’t wait to learn how many of you deal with this. Thanks so much for stopping by Adventures in Writing and offering a comment. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated.  


This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup.  We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: What is the weirdest thing you ever had to research for your story?

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I’m not exactly sure which was weirder, the actual research for this fact or the result of researching the fact the way I did. You decide.

I was writing a mystery novella back when the internet wasn’t so prolific. I’m still not sure if the workload was a bit easier for the writer without all the social media work necessary today to stay alive in the public arena. But this was back when most of the research of writers started in the library and then moved on to interviewing experts to share firsthand knowledge.

In writing a story, as you all know, the facts have to be genuine. This is true whether you are writing contemporary stories or building a fantasy world. I opened every conversation with the librarians with I was writing fiction.

The problem? I don’t think anyone believed me. I even offered to show them the manuscript in progress. No one took me up on that offer.

Okay, so I’m not Mary Higgins Clark. No, I’m not J.K. Rowling either.

Nope! I’m just plain ol’ Victoria Marie Lees.

Guess what? No one cared. All they cared about was that I had a question about the use of a hand gun.

Just a basic question. After all, I’ve never used a hand gun before.

So I couldn’t really find any information at the library. And I was running out of time. This novella was my final assignment for a course at the University of Pennsylvania, a writing seminar in fiction entitled “From Murder Most Foul to the Explicit Corpse.” I only had a week to complete it. And with all the workload for two courses, working outside the home, helping my five children with their own school work, not to mention trying to get ready for Christmas, I didn’t have much time for research.

So I called my town police station. Well, who else do you know uses hand guns regularly?

All I needed to know was which type of handgun expelled bullet shells. I needed them, I told the police officer, at my fictional crime site. They were key to discovering who the murderer was in my mystery.

There was silence on the phone.

“Officer?” I asked.

Nothing.

“Sir, this really is a fictional story about a murder that happens onstage during a performance. … Hello? Are you still there?”

After a few minutes, I heard muffled voices on the other side of the line.

“Guys, I can bring the manuscript in to show you if you want.”

Finally, the officer answered my question. But later that day, a town police cruiser drove past my home. Slowly. Peering into my living room windows. I guess they wanted to see where I hid the body.

In fact, the police drove by my home every day for several weeks.

However, after noticing all the foot traffic at my house what with five children playing outside, running in and out of the house, friends and people popping by, the police figured I must be a crazy writer and not a murderer. For how could I ever find time to murder anyone let alone hide a dead body? And then keep the body hidden from all the occupants and visitors at the house.

I can’t wait to read your stories. Thanks so much for stopping by Adventures in Writing and offering a comment. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated.  


This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book?

            Unfortunately, I have not. I’m still working on that memoir book about attending college as a mother of five. Crawling forward ever so slowly. And those five children—in addition to their father—still want the lion’s share of my time.

*Aren’t I the lucky one?*

It’s time to run to the library again, to turn off my cell phone. To hide among the stacks. But then I worry that something bad happens and no one can reach me.

*Sigh!*
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            As for networking, I have some of you fellow IWSG bloggers. I read and follow your blogs hoping to form solid connections, connections where we can ask each other advice when necessary. I cherish each one of you who follow my blog and leave me notes. You keep my spirits up, so that when I finally do have that memoir in hand, I hope to be able to turn to you all for support and information on how to publicize and sell the memoir. I’ve learned so much just by reading all your blogs.

            I feel like I’m scattered to the winds with my facebook author page, google+, twitter @VictoriaMLees, Goodreads page, and 2 blogs. I have a Camping with Five Kids blog that I update at the beginning of the month as well as this writing blog.

I do have a few questions about your experience in platform building though:

Even though I have no book, should I create a webpage with my blogs and social media connected to it? I have nothing to sell. Do you have any suggestions for what I could put on the landing page?

What about an e-mail list? Do you have one?
How did you start it? Do you need to solicit e-mail addresses separately for list purposes?

I need to offer a newsletter to the e-mail list in regular mailings, right?
What do you write about in any newsletter you send to an e-mail list?
How difficult are the Email marketing services to use? Which one do you use?

Thanks so much for stopping by Adventures in Writing and offering any advice or experience you may have about these topics. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated.  

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

            Have I ever pulled out old stories and reworked them? Yep! Could I get all of them published? Not always! I did get one old YA short adventure story published and then created others that the editor liked and published. But still other short stories weren’t published. Why? Now if I knew that, I’d have many stories published, wouldn’t I?
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            Writers use what they’ve learned and read to create their stories. Yet each story is different. And it can be difficult for the writer to see why editors prefer one story over another. Sometimes the writer has neglected to give the reader [or editor] key information in the story; some context, some explanation of why the reader should care about this particular character with this particular problem in this particular scene. I know I have.

            It is very difficult for writers to find what’s missing in their own work. This is why all writers need critique partners and editors. Someone who hasn’t read the story before can spot what might be missing in story logic or emotion. As the story’s creator, the writer knows everything about the story. It’s just that sometimes the writer forgets to tell the reader through story action or inner dialogue key pieces of the story puzzle.       

            I continue to forget to add “how the character feels” about a particular incident in the story. Emotion is as necessary to short fiction as it is to longer fiction. The reader needs to care about your protagonist in order to keep reading. Another thing I seem to do wrong is summarize story action in my full-length manuscripts instead of dramatizing it. Not all action. Just some of it. I think it’s because I write a lot of short fiction. As writers, we can’t show everything in our stories because that would be boring to the reader. But we need to show key scenes—fully fleshed out with emotion, dialogue, and action—whenever the protagonist goes through any emotional change or has a revelation about the story problem, either internal or external. The reader wants to be part of the story as it unfolds.     

All the luck with getting your own stories published in 2017. Thanks for stopping by Adventures in Writing and leaving a note. Please follow my blog. It’s greatly appreciated.  


This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Insecure Writers want to know: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

It’s true. I can no longer just read to enjoy a story. It was in reading other stories that first helped me to create some of my own.  When I read, I look to see what it takes other writers to create fully complex plot lines, fully fleshed out characters in their stories.  
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I read to understand how the writer sets up the story, connects the plot lines, builds the characters, and introduces backstory.  I can see all sides of the story now that I’m a writer. I can appreciate the hard work the author did to create the story line. I learn new insight in how to draw readers into my own stories. I read between the plot lines to see if I can obtain a better understanding of how the author put the story together.

Being an avid reader, I can see the importance of small details in stories. However that being the case, I find the plot holes in storylines; find errors in logic that shoves me out of the fictitious dream as John Gardner says in The Art of Fiction.

Writers should be readers, because reading can open the mind, can offer an opportunity to learn something new. We learn about myths and traditions, other cultures and other worlds when we read. We get story ideas from reading journals or essays, other histories or other adventures.  


All writers learn from other writers through the reading of their stories. I know I do. Reading a new novel or memoir, we can understand how a story flows, how it builds momentum, how it comes full circle. Writers should be readers—especially in the genre that they are writing. Read award-winners as well as popular writers and small presses and indie writers.

Should a writer read while creating her own story? I say we should always read, if only to give our minds a rest from our own story creations. All the luck with your own stories in 2017. Thanks for stopping by Adventures and leaving a note. It’s greatly appreciated.   


This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup.  We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Story Genius Writing Course: One Ticking Clock in Story

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Crawling along in the
Story Genius method for
my college memoir.
A story is one external problem that grows, escalates, and complicates from beginning to end, Lisa Cron says in our Story Genius class.  Jennie Nash concurs. And, the ladies tell us, the writer needs to develop one overarching ticking clock with real life consequences. 

Right!

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Try it in memoir.

So I started with my misbelief that I shouldn’t attempt college because I’m inadequate to those seeking a college education. This was instilled in me when I was growing up and struggled in school. This belief kept me out of academia and away from failure, humiliation or displaying incompetence. Or so my father told me. I chose the successful path of secretary with a regular paycheck and married and became a mother like my mom, sisters, and friends.

I was safe in my cozy box of motherhood, safe from any fear of failure until my disabled daughter signed up for high school classes. Then I needed to choose whether to be a failure at guiding my children or disabled child or a failure at attempting college.

The ticking clock begins as I am forced by a comment made from a high school guidance counselor, an educated person respected in society, to either re-teach my daughter as best I could, the material needed to pass high school by educating myself first through college classes, or condemn her to only special education classes in high school.

So you may ask why I was so afraid of failure in college.

Because, in my mind, if I fail at my attempt to obtain a college degree, I have wasted the time I could have spent with the family, trying to achieve a goal that was not possible for me. My father would be right. I am not college material. 

But my family is everything to me. If I failed college, I would have wasted my family’s time, which is more precious to me. It’s ok to waste your own time but not someone else’s, especially when you love them.


So what do you think of my memoir problem and ticking clock? Any comments you offer are greatly appreciated.