Family, Latino culture, Writing, Writing classes, writing tips

How to Time Travel via #Writing Prompt

Federal housing projects, low income
Ramona Housing Projects, Boyle Heights, LA. Closest I could find to La Colonia housing projects in 1960’s-Photo by Tedder/Wikipedia CC lic.

Summer had its high points, one of them the opportunity to attend writing workshops. One seminar stood out for its time travel back to childhood: “Excavating the Home.”

The 10 minute writing prompt: Think about a childhood home and map it from the front door to the back, from the cellar to the attic, wandering in each room: 

The first place to come to mind was the housing projects in La Colonia, Oxnard where I lived until I was sixteen years old. La Colonia means “the neighborhood.” The words come from the Spanish land grant given in the 1800’s to seven Santa Barbara Presido soldiers. Lots of history in those projects.

The square concrete porch sits in front of a cream colored door. A tiny peephole, too high for a nine-year-old to peer out, is in the center. When you open the door too wide it hits the wood staircase, always polished and slippery. My sister fell down those stairs more times than I could count. 

An alcove fit underneath the stairs, the perfect altar for the Virgin of Guadalupe. She stood two feet high in her sky blue robe atop a crocheted white doily, surrounded by smoky votives. A yellow towel neatly folded on the floor under the altar for Mom to kneel on when she prayed. A plaster St. Jude, in a deep green robe, stood next to the towel. 

To the left of the staircase was our living room. Our Zenith TV, a huge hulk of a thing, lorded over the room in front of our avocado couches covered in plastic. A sleek black ceramic panther with emerald eyes stalked invisible prey on our coffee table.

Similar to our TV. Image www.curtis-mathes.com
Similar to our TV. Image http://www.curtis-mathes.com

An oblong table, five chairs, and crocheted runner sat behind the couches, next to it the rectangular kitchen, with painted cabinets.

There was a white radio, with a gold-toned dial, on the kitchen counter next to a back door with a key chain latch, long enough for a junkie’s arm to reach through and snatch mom’s prized Green Stamps bought treasure in mid-song.

Funny how I remember the big Zenith TV. Mom said it had blonde wood, very proud when she uttered “blonde.” She made years of payment on it and we weren’t to touch it except to change the channel. A bright white round doily sat on top, like the head covering mom wore to mass.

One or the four of us kids watched television from seven to ten p.m while Mom sat in a hard student desk at night school. We sat on a rug in front of the Zenith, not on the plastic covered couches.

Sitting on those sofas were not only uncomfortable, squeaking sounds beneath your legs, but they left a tell tale butt print of depressed plastic.

Our favorite shows came on between eight and ten p.m. The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Mission Impossible, and reruns of the Twilight Zone.

We heated up floury tortillas, slathered in butter, and enjoyed the shows.

We felt grown up watching TV shows that began at 8:00 p.m. because that was our bedtime. At five minutes to ten we shouted for the show to hurry up and finish, lest we be caught by Mom who felt up the back of the TV set when she got home at 10:10 p.m.

If the back of the set was warm she knew we hadn’t been in bed at 8:00 p.m.

One night she returned early, at 9:45 p..m. We heard the car door close, lifting our heads to the sound like startled deer. I punched in the knob, cutting off the most exciting part of the Mission Impossible while the four of us scrambled off the floor, grabbing pillows and racing up the stairs, tripping on each other.

We jumped into bed, listened for the click of her shoes across the linoleum floor to the kitchen but instead we heard nothing. We waited, under the bedcovers, because we knew she was feeling up Blondie.

“The Zenith is hot. Who had the set on, who was watching TV?” she yelled upstairs from the stair landing. We burrowed into our beds, silent, pretending to sleep as her heels clicked on the staircase, closer and closer.

My ten minutes were up before I completed the exercise, but I did have fond memories of our downstairs living space and a tiny slice of my life.

You can find hundreds of writing and poetry prompts at Poets & Writers. The Writer Magazine has 90 writing exercises to stoke your imagination. An interesting site is Random First Line Generator. I had fun with that one.

Health, Writers, writing tips

Five Ways to Prevent #Writers Butt

 

Sitting is the New Smoking
Sitting Too Much?

“Sitting is the new smoking…” Dr. Christine Northrup

I caught the tail end (no pun intended) of Dr. Northrup’s PBS talk on aging the other day. She told the audience that decline and deterioration doesn’t have to accompany aging.

Middle age spread, in your stomach and your derrière is not de rigueur. Worse, those two things age us and are detrimental to our health.

Most of us sit too long. Okay, I sit way too long. So when I heard “Sitting is the new smoking,” I paid attention. It was time for some self-care.

I also looked at my backside in the mirror, for more than a second. Yikes, winter and writing equals more than Kim K has behind her (pun intended).

Writers, in particular, type away for hours, research, scan social media, check out blogs, all while sitting.

We embrace the BICHOK

Butts In Chair Hands On Keys

Well, not anymore. Here are five ways to prevent writer’s butt:

1. Every 55 minutes stand and stretch for five.

Stretch your arms over your head, to the right, to the left. Here’s the standing side stretch and one for the back. Do a chair squat or arm circles.

2. Dr. Northrup’s 20 second move.

I really like this one, but recommend that you stretch your legs and arms for a couple of minutes first or you could pull a muscle. Run in place, fast, for 20 seconds while moving your arms. Think of that old Charleston dance. If you’re really serious, do this for one minute.

3. Use a standing desk.

You don’t have to go out and buy a $500 IKEA desk or a standing treadmill. This guy has a DIY version for less than $22.

4-Just walk.

Push away from the desk and go for a walk. It doesn’t matter if it’s down the hall, around your office, to the kitchen, to your backyard, up and down the stairs. Just do it for three to five minutes.

5-Two minute yoga stretch.

If you’re a beginner, take this slow and build up.

And now for the bonus tip:

 

From Ploughshares Journal:

Hook up your laptop to a pedaling system. If you stop pedaling, you lose the document. If you hit your optimal heart rate, you win thirty seconds of Facebook time. Reaching your calorie goal will unlock spell-check.

These tips can take you through five hours of writing and sitting. If you’re doing any more than that amount in a day, I suggest you perform all of the exercises in Ploughshare’s Calisthenics for Writers.

Feel free to share any of your tips.

 

Writing, writing conferences, writing tips

Lessons Learned at the WD Conference

 

Two words for the Writer’s Digest Novel Conference in L.A: Worth It!

A couple of weeks of craft workshops jammed into two and a half days may be overwhelming, but there was lots of value for $249.

Twenty plus pages of facts, thoughts, post-its to self, and business cards fill my note book so this will be a two parter.

I’ll start at the beginning and give some highlights. All of the speakers have websites and resources you can find through the links I’ve listed.

Keynote quote speaker Jonathan Maberry spoke on importance of being a good literary citizen,

“don’t be a jackass,”

“any completed first draft is a win even if it’s bad because you completed it.” 

1. An Intro to Structure That Empowers Plotters and Pantsers Alike and Your Story on Steroids- Larry Brooks, Storyfix.com gave us slam dunk specifics. There are too many notes to give here, but go to his site for the free downloads. A gem for me was:

“Know the difference between concept and premise. Develop these before writing the story.”

Believe me, I’m a pantser, now in recovery, and this tip helps tremendously:

“Concept: the dramatic landscape of story that is conceptual; the stage, or arena. No character names needed. Write this in two or three sentences.

Premise: the protagonist has to have a conflict to surmount, a quest. Define your story core.”

2-Your First 50 Pages – Jeff Gerke. This author/editor is the Jim Carrey of the writing world who talked about how neuroscience relates to storytelling.

“In publishing everything is decided on your first 50 pages-if even that.”

Writing has to cause the reader to identify with someone/something in the story. Make the protagonist vulnerable or have some kind of need. Engage the readers mind with action, intrigue, curiosity. The brain is looking for danger, surprise, something new, so start with that in the beginning.

Martha Alderson, Plot Whisperer with her graph
Martha Alderson, Plot Whisperer with her graph

3. Martha Alderson, the Plot Whisper. She uses a plot graph to show you how to correspond your novel with the beginning, middle, and end of a plot.

There are four types of scenes: suspense, dialogue, crisis, and twister.

Catch her detailed mini-workshops on YouTube where she shows you how to plot a novel or screenplay.

Every scene should have a setting…goal…sensory details…forward movement…opposition.. and emotion.

There is a difference between the crisis and the climax of a novel:

Crisis-the antagonist wins, protagonist loses. Climax-protagonist wins and learns everything in the middle.

4. Ask the Agent Panel. A list of pet peeves and suggestions:

Misspelled names…using the words ‘fiction novel,’ bad grammar, writers who don’t read the submission rules,…pitching at inappropriate times. 

As if on cue, when the Q & A period began, a woman pitched her book, “Anyone interested in….” Ugh, it wasn’t pretty.

Search for agents by using Query Tracker, Twitters #MSWL (manuscript wish list), or go to the bookstore, look for books in your genre and on the last page under acknowledgements, the agents name is usually listed. I use Poet and Writers agent listing.

One of the agents said she was looking for a YA set in prison. It was like the heavens opened up when I heard this statement. I had to make myself stop wiggling in my seat and wait for a time when I could tell her I had such a novel. During Q & A I said I had the novel she wanted,  she said send it to me.

Then  I asked a question: whether more emphasis was placed  on the query or the first 10 pages. Two out of three agents said the first pages.

I need 50 pages to know if a book is good, but only 1 to know it’s not.”

 

I hope you found something useful for your writing life. Investigate the presenters sites. Plan to attend a conference on writing craft. Invest in your writing.

If you have a specific question that I may provide information for, please ask me in the comment section.