Life in General

Birth of a Book.

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This is me working on a new book.

There’s a particular stage of writing that used to panic me slightly but, much like a disagreement with my husband, I’ve now learned that it’s all part of the process, and instead of picking a fight, I just need to be patient as that works itself through.

It’s called ‘beginning.’ Here’s how it works. I finish a book, I do the edits, I work with agents and editors, I finally get it ready. Then, at somewhere between six months and a year, I’m done.

I raise my head, stretch, look around and think, “I’m finished. Weird.” ¬†After months of focusing on one project and seeing it through with a single-minded stubbornness required exclusively by writers, ¬†professional athletes, and egomaniacs, I find myself saying, “I need a new idea. I need a concept for a new book.”

Let the palpitations begin. I take a few deep breaths, grab my water bottle, and head out for a two-hour hike.

I start by thinking of basic concepts, sometimes even single words that appeal to me, but everything is vague and slippery. Suggestions slither, eel-like, into and then out of my brain. Most of them are unstable shadows and others have a slight electric charge that sparks a sleeping section of creativity to stir restlessly, then return to napping. None of these brain babies are substantial enough to be grasped before they sink into the silty muck at the base of my cortex and lay in slumbering amniotic oblivion.

This stage, I know now, is important, and doubly important is to not get frustrated. This is where hiking, cleaning a closet, sorting through files, waxing your car, or just daydreaming come in. Yes, you can sit down at a computer and sketch out some ideas, name some characters, but you don’t know them yet, they haven’t come right out and said hello. How could they? They don’t have faces and histories, they’re unborn. Yet the idea, the plot, the concept, the people in the story are all in there some where. Once the ‘new idea’ process is started, it works almost without me. Wake some of the creatures, throw some food in the tank, and then do something else while they come out of hibernation. Watching and prodding won’t help, the process has already begun.

As this process goes on, my job is to focus it, throw out the unwanted visitors and narrow the tangents. As a couple weeks go by, one or two fish crawl up onto the land, they evolve, they begin to interact with the landscape around them. Some of these are ideas that were pre-mature or unsuitable for other stories and were ‘discarded’ to be re-animated and inserted in a more suitable environment. Other’s are new, they emerge wailing and mucus-covered through the creative birth canal.

There are books that start with an idea for a scene, like “Loaded.” I saw a news story about a man who was held up at gunpoint, he handed over his wallet and was shot anyway. I was so angry that I sat down a wrote a scene where the ‘victim’ pulls a gun of her own and takes out the would be robber. I thought that would be the climax of a book. It is, instead, the opening scene of “Loaded.”

Some books come from a concept idea. I noticed so many people in our society that seem forgotten, who are deemed ‘unimportant’ or ‘unworthy’ because of their appearance, job, or a variety of other socially imposed judgements, and I wanted to give one of those people a voice. And so, I have “Invisible Ellen,” the story of a woman so ignored by society that she is no longer even seen.

There are lots of exercises and tricks and formats that can help with plotting and structure, but basic ideas, giving birth to an entirely new set of characters and their world, that’s more organic, I think.

But what do I know? I’m just a gal with a head full of writhing concepts too slimy to grasp as of yet. But look there, a flash of an eye, a hand reaching out, an expression on the face of a lost soul, a secret pain, an amusing point of view, a fresh voice. The murmuring din is slowly separating into distinct thought and sounds.

And then a flash, a splash, and there’s an idea! A nice fat one. No, it’s gone again.

That’s okay. I’ll sort through my junk drawer and let it gestate a few more days. Before I know it, something solid will rise up from that primordial goo and I’ll snatch it. “Gotcha!”

And then the work begins.

A happy humming starts in my gut and fills the air around me as I introduce myself to this new life form. I take the kid to school, put some soup on the stove, kiss my husband, and sit down to meet the people and places that will fill my next few months.

If the writing process is the gestation period, then developing the concept is a mad spermicidal swim through muddy waters. Thousands, hundred of thousands, of little germ sized ideas frantically wagging their way toward the egg that will solidify their survival. Most of them get lost, give up, or just circle endlessly until they dissolve back into the mass from which they came.

But somewhere in there, one determined little guy is lashing his tail, muttering his mantra, determined to find the fertile land. He’ll get there, he’ll become something far more complex and grand than the few basic building blocks he is now.

Go little seed, go!

Now let’s give him some privacy, some things are best done in the dark.

I’m going back to bed.

Shari, November 25, 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

Life in General

Field of Vision

Field of Vision

I promised to write a little more about creating a history for the characters I play as an actress. The idea of writing a history for the role is to create a series of emotional events, loosely based on real memories, to create the emotional responses that the role requires.

Let’s use the movie, “Dead On” in which I play an abused wife who teams up with her lover to kill their spouses. Think, “Strangers on a Train” with a twist.

Now, despite what my harsher critics might think, I am not a homicidal maniac or a woman who would allow a man to abuse me, but Erin, my character, is. So, I have to find a way to link into something real in my early childhood, teen years, etc, that would produce this person. My real memory might not be sufficient, so I have to enhance it.

Let’s take an example. I might remember a time when my mom blamed me for something that my little sister did and my feelings were hurt. That’s the first element, there has to be a real emotion surrounding it. Say, my sister fell down while we were playing and began to cry, my mom rushes in, assumes I hit her, and admonishes me.

Okay, that happened, what happened next in life is, I explained, my mom relaxed and I helped make dinner. But, for this character, I start by writing down the real incident and ‘feeling it,’ (this is sensory work, more on that later) then I change the events afterward but keep the emotion going. My mom rushes in, admonishes me, then she hits me, I watch while my mom cradles my little sister as she makes dinner and I am verbally abused. It can get much worse, I could run away and be physically abused by a neighbor, I could hide in my closet and no one comes for me, the possibilities are endless, but the point is the same.

What happened in my childhood, teen years, young adult, grown up, that resulted in Erin, (my character) becoming a person capable of murder? I have to create that history.

I do the same thing to fill in any spaces in the script. If the story picks up a week later at some point, what happened in that week?

This is especially helpful for film where you shoot the scenes by location, completely out of order. I may have to shoot the opening and closing scenes in the same day! How I use this process during the shooting is this; I go to my notebook, read and experience all the emotional points I’ve chosen, starting with earliest memories and coming all the way up to date. Then I read through any scenes that come before the one I’m doing today, and emotionally feel those as well. I get right up to the scene I’m doing now and put it away.

Now I am emotionally prepared to be the person the screen writer and the director need me to be in that moment.

This is a simple version, of course, and some characters are closer to me than others, but I always have to find the shift in personality, choices, and behavior. Sometimes it’s a step to the left, and sometimes it’s a mile away.

Still, fun stuff! And it works just the same for writing. I find I don’t have to do complete emotional workups for all my written characters, but I have to have a strong emotional base to make them real. It also frees me up. I find my characters saying and doing things that I swear I didn’t think of. That’s really fun!

So, whatever your field is, dig in, enjoy, do it for love.

Shari, 19-10-12