Jiggery-pokery and Elections and 2.0 US Fluid Ounce Pours

It’s been a dark week, a dark month, a dark year for news. Countless writers are covering current stories—some with intelligence and sensitivity, many without—and after I absorb what I can, my eyes wander and my mind leaps at the chance to follow. While perusing news-lite this morning I came across the word “rejiggering”—think it was in the Huff Post—and that made me think of jiggering, meaning a person or thing that jigs, and before you picture someone dancing wildly, remember that to jig means to manipulate or alter something in order to get things done (often illegally). I’m still not …

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#NaNoWriMo2015-Get to the Heart of Your Story (writing tip #26)

It’s early evening in New Mexico’s high desert, the beginning of the end of Thanksgiving 2015 in America. I am thankful for all the blessings in my life. I am grateful for the roof over our heads, even though it’s a bit leaky in places. I’m grateful to wake each morning to the sound of birds–when so many people huddle awake in the darkness surrounded by the explosions of missiles or the stutter of gunfire. I am so so so grateful for my beautiful daughter, and I pray that she stays safe and flourishes in this challenging world. I am …

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#NaNoWriMo2015–Get to the Heart of Your Story (writing tip #21)

When I teach “Get to the Heart of Your Story” workshops I always love using the “snapshot” exercise. This exercise is useful whether a writer has written a full draft or is just beginning to understand her story. I ask writers to imagine their protagonist at the beginning of the story, just as it opens. And I tell them to take a virtual photo (no selfies!) of her/him–and then to carefully observe and study the details: expression, posture, clothing, surroundings. I ask writers to absorb what they are seeing and sensing in a right-brain way. This is not the time …

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#NaNoWriMo2015–Get to the Heart of Your Story (writing tip #12)

Don’t fall into the “black or white” trap! It’s easy even for experienced novelists to fall back into stereotypes when it comes to heroes and villains. I’ve asked more than one war hero why they believed they were motivated to act courageously under fire? Two of them answered more or less this way: “I was terrified I would be a coward so I just ran into the fire!” Remind yourself that every hero has flaws and every villain has tried to do the right thing–at least once in her life. Quick exercises: 1) List three good things your villain has …

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Shadow and Light, Yin and Yang—Driving Your Story from the Dark Side into the Light

  Around 1915, Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin developed his vase illusion (sometimes known as the figure-ground vase), an intentionally ambiguous visual tool for studying human figure-ground perception. It is known informally as the “Rubin vase” because the central image is a vase or goblet, in this case filling the white space. But if you focus on the black background around the vase, it usually takes very little time for that “background” to morph into two black faces in profile, their noses almost touching each other. One of our brain’s jobs is to interpret visual patterns in the eye created by …

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Wants, Whys, Lies & Ghosts

Spend an hour with other writers or take a class and you will hear this advice: Figure out what your protagonist wants!” Variations on that question include: What does your hero desire? What does she yearn for? What does she lust for? What is her story goal? Sounds easy enough, right? Your intelligence operative wants to stop an imminent terrorist attack. Your detective wants to solve the crime.  Your au pair wants to fall in love with Mr. or Ms. X. Your corporate V.P. wants to finally earn the damn promotion! Your archaeologist wants to find the treasure after decades …

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Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch NM

I was a guest speaker this weekend with Valerie Plame Wilson, former CIA NOC and my coauthor for the “Vanessa Pierson spy-thrillers.” We were invited to talk to a smart, witty group of journalists at the New Mexico Press Women’s annual conference, “The Power of Storytelling.” This year’s event was held at Ghost Ranch, near Abiquiu, NM. Famed painter, Georgia O’Keefe, visited Ghost Ranch  in 1934; she was so drawn by the astounding natural beauty she spent many summers in residence, painting the countryside and soaking up the solitude. Eventually she managed to purchase a few acres and a house …

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The Care and Feeding of a Writer Committed to Staying Alive and Reasonably Sane and Happy!

I’ve spoken recently with several writers who are overwhelmed by their struggle to write intensely personal and emotional stories. One has been hit by waves of emotion and fear because he finds himself feeling as if he’s reliving decades-old betrayal perpetrated by those closest to him. The writing has begun to feel like a prison keeping him locked in with ghosts of childhood trauma. Another is so frightened by the possibility of exposure, he has transported his story across time and space and culture—jumping 200 years and 1,000 miles to write about a world that is almost completely foreign to …

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More Thoughts on a Writing Life: The Long View

I’ve quoted below from writer Benjamin Moser’s thoughtful “Bookends” essay for The New York Times, January 27, 2015. “We never know if we are doing it right. Even the best writing will never have the immediate, measurable impact that a doctor’s work has, or a plumber’s. To discover if we are on the right track, we can, and do, become obsessed with our “careers,” which is the word we use for what other people think of us…there is something dreary about wanting writing to be a real job. The sense of inner purpose, so often unmentionable in a society enamored …

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