Acting & Experiences, Life in General, New Novels, Theatre, writing

Want to Write Well? Learn to Write Badly!

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Here’s a shot of me singing ‘Mein Herr’ in Cabaret a few years back. I know, I know, I didn’t write that. But, I did have to sing the part, and here’s the thing; I’m not a singer.

Sure, I can carry a tune, and have a ‘nice’ voice, but compared to those who work at it, I’m weak. So, I had to work my solar plexus/abdomen off to get myself up to belting-it-out level.

It took about eight weeks with a vocal coach and a minimum of an hour a day practice, not counting the actual rehearsal times, to get there. When I was asked to play this part, I auditioned for the music director, the dance choreographer, and the director. Acting? No problem. Dancing? Done enough with my ice skating to fake the lead, (it’s the chorus that really dances). Singing? Wasn’t quite so sure.

However, when the musical director, who was blind, said I could handle it, I agreed to take the part. And I’m so glad, it was one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had. One of the best overall acting experiences actually.

But I had to start with an average talent and work on it until I could hold the solos and bring down the house. It took weeks of cracking notes and perfecting technique, and if I had only been as good as my audition, the show would definitely not have been a hit, in fact, I would have let a lot of people down. There was pressure to be, not just good, but exceptional. A pressure that all to often, writers put on themselves too early on.

We don’t start off being perfect at anything in life, especially not when creating the first draft of a new book. You don’t know yet if the idea will be good, if you’ll be up to the challenge, if this is an idea that will flesh out into a full-bodied epic with pith and wisdom and sentences that make you weep. Most people, I’m guessing, begin a book with little more than a basic idea and go from there. If we expected our first draft to be the opening night performance, (i.e. finished novel) we’d be so terrified, we’d never even start.

So here’s my first advice, go ahead and suck. Be bad, let the typos and the spelling, and the over-writing and the rambling go. Get it down on paper, or at least, in a computer, then you can go back, work it, get advice, have an editor work with you. We do this in every other aspect of life, we learn as we go, we improve and we step up, it’s the same in writing.

Don’t forget, you’ve got the rehearsal to perfect it, to get better, to polish and fluff and fill. If you are afraid to put something down that isn’t good enough or might need to be thrown out, you won’t have the joy of writing, of the process. And if you don’t love the process, do something else.

I mean, look at it this way—you might not be Celine Dion, but does that mean you can’t belt out one of her classics in the car? Of course you can, and I’ll bet you sound good in there!!

So start that story, create those characters, dream up scenarios and whole other worlds, because it’s fun!! And if it isn’t quite right, change it, start over, twist and shape it into something you do love.

Just remember this, don’t do it the way you think it should be done, do it from your heart and use your own voice, because it’s all you truly have to offer.

I ain’t no Celine, but with a lot of sweat and more than a panic attack or two, I pulled off Sally Bowles, and loved the experience, even if I wasn’t good when I started.

So just write it down, get your idea out of your head and into some workable form. Your idea will evolve and improve, I promise. Your words will smooth out, and the discordant notes will strengthen as you work on them. Have the courage to cut and change when needed. In a month or two, or six, or twelve, each to their own tempo, you will have a finished work that you can hold up proudly and say, “I wrote this!”

And if nobody else likes it, so what! Nobody can predict that, but like singing in the shower, it’s still really fun!

Shari, November 13th, 2012

Life in General, New Novels, Shakespeare

The Luxury of Editing.

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Hi Melissa, this one’s for you!!

We are the few, the proud, the writers. We write, we read back, we re-write, we edit, someone else edits, we re-write, some one copy-edits, we correct, we release our baby.

Yes, it’s a lot of work taking a book from inception to published page, but every time I get those manuscripts back from my various editors so marked up with red pen that they look like they have a bad rash, I have a similar train of thought. It goes something like this, “Oh my GOD!! It’s so much work! I’ll never get through this. Oh wait, maybe it’s not so bad, okay, I can fix that. I’ll insert here, delete there, change a few words, make a few corrections, fix the glaring hole in my plot, re-phrase some dialogue. Wow, lookie there, I’m done!” But no edit is complete until I drop to my knees and give thanks for my Macbook pro.

Imagine having to write with a typewriter and carbon-paper. Just think of having to retype every page on which there was a correction or a change. Or, going even further back, dipping a quill in ink and scratching out your manuscript on parchment by candle light. No wonder some books were so long-winded then, it was too much trouble to cut them! Now, we highlight sentences with a stroke of a finger, move paragraphs with a flick of the wrist, rearrange chapters and page breaks with a pudgy, chocolate-smeared thumb, and send our manuscripts flying through the air from our living rooms, without even having to dislodge our cats from our laps.

It’a brave new world. Though honestly, I think it took a lot more courage to pluck a goose feather from a large, angry, aquatic bird and make art with it. Shakespeare did it, sure, so did Marlowe, but I might have stuck with an easier profession, like, oh I don’t know, indentured serfdom, for example.

So here’s my editing process. Once I have the basic foundation of my book/plot. I start to write. Normally, I write a few pages a day, sometimes a chapter, depends on the length of the chapter. My Callaway Wilde books proceed at a frenzied pace, so the chapters are short and get shorter near the end as the pace builds. My new book, “Invisible Ellen” has more leisurely chapters, meandering along with her very unique thought process, it speaks more of her ‘watching the world go by’ life. Something always happens, mind you, I must forward the story in each chapter, it was grilled into me by my first editor a fabulous woman at Simon and Schuster named Amy Pierpont. Meandering and flowery descriptions be damned!

I do not edit as I go. I would never get anywhere. I compare this to life. Let’s say, for example, that you have a small run-in with someone in the carpool line at school, they insult you or disagree in a surprising and unpleasant way, you fumble through a reply, but it’s not what you wanted to say. Okay, that’s your scenario. It’s written down on the history/page of your day. On your way home, you edit. You think of all the things you could have said, the witty comeback, the insouciant non-chalance, the careless toss of the head, the unaffected, perfectly timed laugh. You are re-writing this in your head, and low and behold, you become the faultless heroine/hero you always knew you could be.

If only you’d thought of it the first time.

But we’re not all Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. You can’t always perform perfectly the first time out. You have to get it out there first, on the page, or in your life. So, when writing, I do exactly that, I write, with mistakes. Then I put it away. Then the next day, the first thing I do is read back what I wrote the day before, making very minor changes as I go, things that won’t slow me down too much. I need to get a sense of the pace of what I was writing as well as the words and story. I might make a correction to glaring punctuation mistakes, or reinsert dropped words, sometimes I change up an overused adjective or make a judicious cut when the point has been made, and made, and made already. But only if I can do it quickly, big things I note, and return to later.

This puts me back in the flow of things, back in my character’s heads and the pace of my story. So I can start from where I left off and move forward to the next chapter. I do not ever stop and do a thorough line edit, not until I’m done with the first draft, it would break up my pace too much and the rhythm of the writing would become choppy and interrupted. Flow and pacing are very important. They keep a reader in your mood, your motif, your world.

Occasionally, I decide on a plot change, and then I will spend a day or two going back through the completed chapters making the necessary adjustments. That’s because I have to make those changes before I can move on.

I suppose we do this in life too. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. Too many people completely reinvent themselves without giving credit to the magnificent mistakes that got them where they are. Not me baby. I’ve got siblings. They will never let me forget that I almost wet my pants when my brother put a snake in my bed, that I fell down in front of 20 thousand people in a skating competition, that I was a cocaine addict when I was eighteen, that I was a bitch, oh, I could go on, but the list is so very, very long.

So books are our opportunity to correct ourselves, to say what we really wanted to say, to have the gift of a do-over, to inhabit a perfect world.

Deadlines aside, we’ve got all the time in the world to get it right.

And that, is not anything like life. We have a limited amount of time to get it right, to learn our lessons, to be kind, to be patient, to make choices that matter, so that in the end, we can look back and see not just the red marks, but the original beauty behind them.

So write your life today, re-read it tomorrow and see where you can improve it, make those changes, live a month, and look at the bigger picture, live a year and become a better person, live a lifetime and leave an epic.

And leave the red-marks. They are the places you took a chance, or you got tired and made a mistake. But most of all, they are the points where we were most human. Any dummy can screw up, but only someone willing to admit it can make it better.

So stick a red flag on my past, and look out for those sticky spots in the future, ’cause I’m not done messing up.

It’s how I learn.

Shari, October 26, 2012

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, New Novels

I’m Feeling a New Look.

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But not for me, of course. I’m too addicted to my torn jeans and flannel shirts, it’s like wearing my bedclothes for work. I need a new look for my first book which will be re-released in, hopefully, three or four weeks. So, here’s the deal. If anyone wants to take a shot at designing a cover that I can actually use, I will give a prize of $200 to the one I choose!! For all you fabulous, budding designers out there, your next four tanks of gas could be on me! More if you’re smart enough to own a hybrid.

First, read the opening chapter of “Loaded” on my website. I will make sure it’s up and posted on my website by tomorrow, or the next day at the latest. Second, take a look at the original cover above. Third, bear in mind that this will be primarily for an ebook, so it has to be readable in a thumbnail. Fourth, make a latte and be creative!! Fifth, send a mock up to me in a email through my website, sharishattuck.com. Anyone who sends an entry will receive all three Callaway Wilde ebooks as soon as I get them up and figure out how to do that!

Most of you authors will know that the publisher gets total say-so on your covers, you have very little to do with it. Oh sure, they ask your opinion, and then completely disregard it. This is a first for me, picking the design I would like. My first two books’ covers were so-so. I loved my third cover for, “The Man She Thought She Knew,” and then both of the Greer Sands series designs I thought were much more striking. “Eye of the Beholder” and “Speak of the Devil.”

 

This is the movie poster, box cover for a film I did.

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It’s funny, after years of modeling and then acting, seeing my image in magazines, on billboards, and movie posters, seems somehow less personal than my book cover. I suppose that’s because beneath that cover is my vision, my work. An add for lipstick or a magazine cover, is the photographer-designers-art director’s vision. I was just a prop. And of course, for movies and TV, it’s another character I’m selling. For example, this week we are shooting the new poster art for “Scream at the Devil” the film my husband and I are producing next year. It won’t be a beauty shot, and that’s cool. I will be portraying a very disturbed, possibly possessed, woman and that’s what we want to show. It’s the character that must come through. Fun, but not really ‘me’ if you know what I mean.

The book is different. I want the sense of the writing, the pace, and the danger to come through.

So get ready, get set, go for it!! I hope a few of you will take me up on this, I love to share the love and offer opportunities when I can. Writing might be a solitary endeavor, but I’m learning that promoting and designing can be a fun chance for collaboration.

So think, wealth, power, mystery, passion, and yes, guns maybe. This book is ‘Loaded,’ in several ways. Loaded gun, loaded with money, loaded with sexual tension and danger.

So good luck, happy designing, and I’m excited to see your art wrapped around mine!!

Shari, 10-22-2012

New Novels

the cover of my first book

the cover of my first book

legs and gun, so creative. I’ve just finished the fourth in this series, and if I release it as an ebook, I’d love some help with the cover. what about a contest for a design? It would have to be simple, because for ebooks, we’re talking about a thumbnail, no small type. The latest Callaway Wilde is called, “The Venetian Legacy,” and it’s a bit of a departure in the series. The first three books are told first person, this one also cuts away to the past. WWII in fact, were the mystery begins that is so deeply affecting Evan and Cally now. Thoughts? Would two hundred bucks as a prize be enough? I’ll post the first chapter on my website soon. Stay tuned!!