Lessons From A Comic

You may recognize the comedian in the video, especially since he’s introduced by name and all. He gives a Master Class in Comedy. I’ve studied comedy before, but my earlier study only covered the basic mechanics of a joke, how to handle a heckler, stuff like that. Steve Martin’s class includes advice on what goes into the soul of comedy, the heart, if you will. I’m going to summarize what he says down into one sentence, and make that sentence be the entire next paragraph. You ready?

Always be  yourself, your culture, your sense of humor, your age, your everything.

Okay, this blog is not about Comedy per se, although you can find stuff that was supposed to be funny when I wrote it, and some of it actually is, if you search this blog for Comedy, either as a category or as a tag. But, no, this post is not about Comedy, even though there’s a funny bit in that video for you to watch. You’re welcome.

A mistake I read some writers make is that they try hard to make a particular point. It doesn’t matter what the point is, either. It can be something which I wholeheartedly endorse, or something I truly dislike, it makes no difference. By trying to make a point, you become what is known in the business as “on the nose.” That is, you are telling us, not showing us. That said, many great writers make excellent points all of the time. Wha? Howzzat? Well, they don’t try to make a point, they just put their authentic selves into their stories. When they do that, whatever they might believe in shines through the narrative like the spotlight on a police helicopter at two in the morning. It’s obvious, I mean. And the greats don’t try, they just do. (Yoda approved sentence there.)

In terms of my comedy, Steve Martin’s class has provided a bit of an epiphany. Then, I realized, it was reinforcing what I’ve advocated for years in my writing. And, it can be applied to what books you should write. If you remain true to yourself, don’t prejudge what might or might not sell, don’t try to write what you think someone will want to read, then the odds are good that you will, if you persist, find your audience. I’m not saying it will be quick and easy, but it will happen. So, go for it, dammit!

On February 15th, 2018, Mercedes M Yardley will be speaking to the Las Vegas Writers’ Group about “Writing and Marketing for Your Personal Niche.”  Click the link to learn more.

The Last Jedi

Bourbon Street 2010
Bourbon Street 2010

We went to a showing of the latest Star Wars movie on Christmas Eve. Since then I’ve read comments positive and negative about the movie. I liked it, but that’s not what this article is about. This is about the nine-chapter story arc that is Episodes I thru VIII. Most of the complaints I read about the franchise are, apparently, from people who have no idea how a story is structured. Each movie has its own plot, and should, theoretically, be enjoyable to someone unfamiliar with the other eight episodes. I was worried about The Last Jedi, because I was afraid that they might follow some of their fan base and ignore the long arc of the entire series. I worried for nothing. Episode VII is, if nothing else, a good example of how things in a story build to a total mess shortly before everything calms down and returns to a (new) normal. Whew!

Lucas originally conceived the series after talking extensively with Joseph Campbell, the author of The Power of Myth, among other things. Writers have been falling over themselves since to include ideas from that book, plus a Hero’s Journey motif, in everything they produce. Which is good. After all, the Odyssey is as pure a hero’s journey as you can find, and it’s still in print millennia after it first came out. Back to Episode VII, I was reminded that, in the universe conceived by Mister Lucas, the actual protagonist of the nine episodes is not Anakin Skywalker, not Luke Skywalker, not Rey, nor Ren Solo. The protagonist is The Galaxy, taken as a whole. And I remember that, in the end, the hero(ine) must pull all of the disparate elements to which we’ve been introduced together into a coherent, functioning whole. And once the story ends, so does the magic. Yes, it is probably time for the magic that’s been used throughout the series to go away. Because, after it’s over, the hero(ine) is in charge of his/her life, and trying to use magic would only interfere with doing what needs to be done.

As Donovan put it in one song, “Riki Tikki Tavi, the Mongoose, is gone.”

So, here we are. One more chapter to go. I imagine that many people will indulge in any number of spinoffs, which is fine, but they will be just adventure stories. The real story is ready for a heart-stopping climax. One that will end life in the Galaxy, not just as we know it, but probably for real. Except that it won’t, because the bits inside the hero(ine) will come together, do the impossible, and, finally, restore actual peaceful order to the Galaxy.

Or so I predict.

AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

From 2015, just after midnight PST, in Las Vegas. Taken from our roof.
From 2015, just after midnight PST, in Las Vegas. Taken from our roof.

In another week the Holidays will be over for another year. Heck, it’ll probably be several months before WalMart puts out the Christmas stuff again! It’s a new year, and time for new stories, new plots, new characters, new dialogues, and maybe a new keyboard because you’ve worn out that old thing. 2018 is upon us, and that means, well, what it really means is that nothing about writing has changed at all.

Sure, forty years ago the big thing was to bang out your manuscript on that new IBM Selectric II, which was a great typewriter, by the way. Then the big thing was to key it in on that Apple IIe. Heckuva machine, that Apple. You could open the hood and swap cards on it. That was before Wozniak left the place to Jobs, who, you may have noticed, had other ideas on how to proceed. Then you might have switched to WordPerfect, which used to be my favorite. It still has its advocates, but what turned out to be the real game changer was MS-Word for the Macintosh computer. Slower than molasses in January, it was, but it was the first commercial use of a Graphic User Interface, and it took the world by storm. Well, at least until Windows came out. Windows sucked, but it worked, mostly, and cost a lot less than a Mac, so, now you maybe had Microsoft Word on your 386 instead of WordPerfect (to this day, Word will automatically convert WordPerfect files for you.)

And then came more specialized software. Mac users believed that theirs was the only computer to do a lot of these things, but they were simply deceived by Apple. Some of the new software that’s come along includes Scrivner, and for scriptwriters, Dreamweaver. We saw such things as Grammatik get absorbed by Microsoft Office. Now, instead of buying six different programs to help you crank out your manuscripts, you can probably just buy one system, plug it in, and start writing in five minutes flat.

If there ever was an excuse for not writing, it disappeared years ago.

But, the thing is, in 2018, as in 1818, 818, and back in Homer’s day, it isn’t so important how you record your words. What is important is that your words add up to a good story. I’ve belabored more points on how that gets done than I’d care to remember, so I’ll just tell you to fire up whatever device you’re using these days and get to work! That story you thought about in the grocery line the other day is waiting to be committed to a manuscript. You thought of it, so now it’s your job to so commit.

Go forth, and amaze the world!

Housekeeping

The original, on the street at Coney Island. The Cheese Fries! Oh, The Cheese Fries!
The original, on the street at Coney Island. The Cheese Fries! Oh, The Cheese Fries!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Housekeeping has two meanings for this post. The first is that I’m doing a little explaining.

That Tumblr thing? Many moons ago I installed a Plugin that supposedly would post whatever I post here to my Tumblr account. I don’t really have time to write two blogs, so of course that has appeal: two blogs, one post, more exposure, better sales, yada yada. Right? Unfortunately, that plugin never worked for me. So, finally, last weekend, I downloaded a different plugin, one that will share with any social media account you happen to own. I set it up to share to Tumblr, and that Tumbler Test post did, indeed, post to Tumblr, as advertised. Now that’s more like it. (And, yes, I could’ve done that months ago, I know.) The plugin that works for me is called NextScripts: Social Networks Auto-Poster. There, an unsolicited plug. (For some media, you will need to spend some money unless you’re an adequate coder. Not for Tumblr, as I am a thoroughly inadequate coder and a cheapskate.)

And, while I’m on the subject, this sort of housekeeping is important in any job. In sales, they tell the story of a man who started a job as a lumberjack, but kept having trouble keeping up with the production of the seasoned veteran. The veteran’s secret? Every day, he’d take five minutes to sharpen his axe! (It’s a metaphor for “study new sales stuff,” of course ;-)) Same thing applies to writing. You must not only keep practicing your writing, and getting better (natch,) but also you must keep an eye on your social media, marketing, sales (queries, fool,) and other administrativa that, I am sure, drive you nuts. But, look at it this way. When you revise your blog/Facebook page/Twitter Home/Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, etc., you will, perforce, write some new stuff to fit in to the new revision. Boy, howdy! Writing! See how easy that is?

Cheap post this week? Okay, maybe. Tune in next week for some real illumination!

What Are Memories Made Of?

Interesting old theatre. The play is a comedy, which surprised me, but not much of a mystery. (No spoilers - I promised.)
Interesting old theatre. The play is a comedy, which surprised me, but not much of a mystery to a fan. (No spoilers – I promised.)

Okay, grammar police, if you don’t like that preposition at the end of the sentence, you need to get with the twenty-first century. No way am I going to write, “Of What Are Memories Made?” in 2017!

Well, I might, but not here. Anyway, last Thursday I was treated to a presentation by Oksana Marifioti, author of American Gypsy, which is a memoir, that covered the process of writing a memoir, much to the delight of the crowd at the Las Vegas Writers’ Group. (The book link takes you to the Kindle edition page on Amazon. As of this writing there are only 3 paperbacks left — order soon!) I have in the past written excerpts about my own background. I wonder if anyone would be interested. I wonder if it’s not pretty egotistical to think of writing such a thing. But, I think that maybe I’ll give it a try. I have a few bits and pieces. I can give you a quick rundown of Oksana’s highlights. Here it is, most of it, anyway.

A memoir is still telling a story.

You expose yourself to an alarming extent in writing a memoir.

You remember many things that you forgot ever happened.

You also learn new things that you never knew happened in the first place.

You must be absolutely honest.

There is more, but I won’t scoop Oksana, in case you’re ever privileged to hear her speak in person. She speaks easily, having already exposed herself completely in the book, which is an excellent read, and you should read it.

This will be an ongoing project consecutive with any other projects I have going on. Right now there’s the political thriller. A surprisingly interesting thing to write, but that’s a story for another post. I promise I shall keep you (all two or three of you 😉 ) posted as to my progress. Watch for it in bookstores and on Amazon in ten or fifteen years! Heh heh!

Another Week, Another Chapter

Every year I buy Easter candy from this place. Online, as the store is in Pennsylvania.
Every year I buy Easter candy from this place. Online, as the store is in Pennsylvania.

I know that I should be able to produce more than a chapter in a week. Lately, though, that’s been my rate of progress. Because there is the matter of a nasty cold (could’ve been a mild case of flu, hard to tell, but it lasted more than two weeks,) a bathroom remodel, writing this blog, don’t you know, and of course taking people to wherever they want to go in the mornings. I think this is the sort of spot where a lot of writers become frustrated and think of quitting. Not me. Let’s face it, at a chapter a week, I can have the puppy drafted in about a year, year and a half tops.* And, there’s my point: it will be finished.

I think that a common mistake writers make with a book is that they want it to be done now! Never mind that the first draft, to quote Hemmingway, is shit. Never mind that it took Twain a couple of decades to write Huckleberry Finn. Never mind that you need to sell the thing to make it worth all the work. You want it done NOW!!!

I’ve been inserting a few scenes when I could (to be honest, the cold was the biggest obstacle — lack of energy to the max,) and by gum my story is progressing. Times like this are why I make notes in the margins of my manuscript (using Word.) I know what’s happening, and if it’s a shift in scene or action, my last note tells me where to go next.

It would be great to sit around the roaring fire outside the hide shelter and regale my tribe with tales of monsters and gods having epic battles. Heck, it would be great if somebody bought my book, right? But nobody can buy a book that isn’t ready to be read, and no book ever got ready to read until its author sweat enough blood to make that happen, even if it was only a chapter a week.

What do you say? Ready to go knock out a few sentences? That’s the stuff!

 

 

*The bathroom project proceeds apace, I’m healthy, and carrying people is only for mornings, so it will be a lot quicker than that, I imagine.

POETRY

Anonymous Trick or Treater, Halloween Night, 2009
Anonymous Trick or Treater, Halloween Night, 2009

I was just listening to a playlist of Leonard Cohen, who was one of my favorite musicians back in the vicinity of 1970, more or less. Of the others I favored in those days, many covered Bob Dylan songs. Dylan and Cohen were, reportedly, mutual fans. Some years later I discovered the music of Bruce Springsteen. What these three composers have in common is top notch lyrics. That is, they are all excellent poets. Maybe that’s why I’ve never written any serious songs that were worth the trouble to sing: I’m a lousy poet. But, looking back, I see that I was certainly given the opportunity to enjoy a lot of great poetry. Dylan won a Nobel, of course, but Cohen’s lyrics grabbed me the moment I heard them. I don’t know who Suzanne was, but I’d have been happy to meet her. And, then this, from The Boss:

Beyond the palace hemi powered drones scream down the boulevard,
Girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors while boys try to look so hard.
The amusement park rises cold and dark; kids are huddled on the beach in the mist.
I want to die with you, Wendy, on the streets tonight, in an everlasting kiss.

Not bad, huh?

I hope that the youth of this moment have some exposure to something as excellent. I was privileged, still am, to have lived when poems like these three wrote sold incredibly well. Everybody should be so privileged, don’t you think?

Some Truth About Writing

Inside the, well what do you think it is? In Peach Springs, Arizona, on Route 66.
Inside the, well what do you think it is? In Peach Springs, Arizona, on Route 66.

Newer writers always have a lot of questions about writing, and the process of writing, and whether they really are writers, that sort of thing. Well, friends, you are in luck, because this week, I’m going to answer some of those burning questions so that you can rest easier knowing, well, knowing this stuff:

1. Am I Really A Writer?

Well, let’s think. Do you sit down at a blank screen or paper, and leave when there are things written on the screen or paper? If you do, then, yes, you are really a writer, whether you get paid or not, whether you feel compelled or not, even whether you enjoy it or not, you are a writer. Next question.

2. When Will I Know that I Have Succeeded as a Writer?

When you accomplish what you’ve set out to accomplish. If that’s publish a book, then when your book is published. If it’s make a living at writing, then when you can quit your day job. If it’s get rich like John Grisham, you could be in deep doo doo. Hey, gotta be realistic.

3. What Are the Rules of Writing?

There aren’t any.
Except that there are.
Your high-school English teacher mentioned a lot of them.
Even though they don’t matter.
My favorite quote about rules is from Pablo Picasso:

You must know the rules like a professional in order to break them like an artist.

4. Should I Publish My Own Work or Get an Agent and/or Publisher.

Yes. Definitely.

5. Isn’t Publishing My Own Stuff a Lot of Hard Work?

Of course it is. That’s why you get such stingy royalties out of the big publishers. If you decide to go to the expense yourself, of course, you get 100% of the net proceeds from the sale of your books. You choose.

6. Are there Any Good Books on How to Write?

Yes. Yes, there are.

7. Which Books Are Those?

The ones you learn valuable lessons from.

8. Are You Serious?

Yes I am. This is all the true state of the art of writing.

9. When Is Your Book on Writing Coming Out?

Sometime after I write it. I’ll get back to you.

10. Anything Else to Add?

Nope

So, This Thriller Thing

The Famous "Painted Ladies" of San Francisco, taken from Alamo Park.
The Famous “Painted Ladies” of San Francisco, taken from Alamo Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of those dull, “how I’m doing” posts that you dread. Go on, you know you do. I conceived of a book about a US President who fakes his own death as his popularity tanks, in order to be remembered well. I mean, look what it’s done in the past for artists like Jim Croce, Janis Joplin, or politicians like JFK! More recently, Cobain and Shakur! Sometimes, dying is absolutely the best thing you can do for your career.

So, okay, maybe this president isn’t entirely rational. It happens.

I dug around our extensive library of writing books and found one on writing a mystery, since a thriller is a subset of mystery, of course. Thus it was that I had a pretty good grasp of where I was going when I created my brand-new document, in my brand-new folder, all for this latest project. It has been enlightening.

Of course, although there is an unknown element to the reader, I know exactly what’s going on. (I’m not telling yet. The first draft isn’t finished.) But as I’ve gone along, chapter to chapter, I keep finding myself inserting new characters (and notes about inserting them into the story earlier) and new subplots that I hadn’t thought of in my initial planning. One of those subplots is an elaborate red herring (for my protagonist, not for the reader,) which will make it easier, and more satisfying, to damn near kill the woman during the climactic sequence. Right now, she thinks her biggest issue is not getting arrested in Dubai. Hah! If only she knew, right?

I was “better prepared,” in the sense of outlining, plotting, and thinking through, this novel than any other project I’ve attempted. And, guess what? I’m still outlining by writing! I guess, if that’s your style, that’s what you end up doing.

I sure hope this one gets to see the light of day eventually. At the rate I’m going, I’m thinking that the turn of the century would be a good release date. 🙂