Tag Archives: funny

The Top Ten Reasons We Need a Good Laugh by Lazarus Barnhill

A couple weeks ago I tried an experiment. For a solid week I turned off my computer at 11:30 and turned on the TV. I alternated daily between watching the monologue of Jay Leno and of David Letterman. My goal was to determine which of the two was the better comedian. I watched Leno Monday and Wednesday and Letterman Tuesday and Thursday. What did I decide? . . . Well, honestly, neither one of these guys is all that funny. On Friday I watched Leno’s monologue and then tuned in to Letterman’s famous “Top Ten” list. That made it official: you can combine the two and they still aren’t funny.

In my judgment (and I realize this is strictly my jaundiced opinion), these two guys are unfunny for different reasons. Leno constantly goes for the quick, easy, often dumb joke. His studio audience responds with regularly timed courtesy laughs, so much so I wonder how they’d respond if he said something really funny. Occasionally he does say something fairly clever, but his delivery is so popeyed and cute that it spoils the gag—like someone ruining a joke by laughing at his own punch line.

Letterman doesn’t really try to be funny so much as he coasts along trying to be hip. His entire presentation is a perpetual NYC insider joke: “I’m too fashionable to do anything but pretend to take this seriously; and if you’re hip, you’ll laugh at this pretense along with me.” The currency of Letterman’s humor is patronizing cuteness. His Top Ten list is an exercise in hipness, a big part of which is making certain nothing really funny ever gets listed.

So what? Well the reason I tried my little experiment was because I needed a good laugh. Ever been there? And what can be crueler than tuning into a TV comedian who gets millions of dollars a year because he’s supposed to be funny and not getting anything like a legit chuckle? I have this burning desire to express a thought to these two guys: you two are paid to make us laugh; we have no desire to listen to your pandering and coasting. Once upon a time, each of you knew how to be funny and you need to find that place again—and here are the top ten reasons we need a good laugh:

10. We need to remember we’re still alive. A good laugh is living proof of living. Among the prominent things dead folks don’t do is laugh.

9. We need to show God we can take a joke.

8. Laughter is free. And it’s free to laugh at people who are at different economic stations than we are. [True story: Year ago I went to an independent film at the ritziest theater in St. Louis. There I saw a well-to-do fellow come up to the kid running the concession stand and inform her that she had to hold his pager during the show so she could come get him if it went off. Funniest thing about it—the guy had utterly no idea why I was laughing.]

7. Laughter is a universal time machine, taking us individually back to our best or worst moments without cost, grief or regret.

6. A good laugh washes away our anxiety; that is, it yanks us out of what we regret (the past) and what we fear (the future) and brings us back to the present, if only for a moment. We see things more clearly after a good laugh, and make better decisions.

5. A good laugh is hard-wired into reality and truth. A spontaneous belly-laugh momentarily cuts through the sham and self-deceit of civilized living like a breath of cool, fresh air in a stuffy, moldy room.

4. A good laugh is spiritual, like a miracle: you never see it coming; it overwhelms you despite yourself; you can bask in it and be refreshed.

3. It’s a presidential election year. Presidential election cycles should be renamed: “the year of living seriously.” When did a political candidate say something funny that wasn’t a dig at somebody else?

2. We need to laugh down the walls between us. Being serious, earnest and worried about our differences hasn’t worked.

1. We all have at least ten things to cry about.

True story: On lucky April 13, 1988, my beloved red Nissan pickup was totaled in downtown Tulsa by a drunk driver who ran a red light and t-boned me. After making sure the other driver (and his drunken girl friend) were not seriously injured, I stood in the middle of the intersection looking at my crumpled vehicle. A tall, earnest fellow hustled out of the Dodge dealership on one corner of the intersection, informed me that he had called the police and said, “This may be a bad time to ask this, but are you in the market for a truck?” For a split second I was furious. And then I laughed, a nice big, curative laugh. I don’t need anymore car wrecks—but I could use a few more good laughs.

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People, available from Second Wind Publishing.

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Not Seen in Bookstores by Noah Baird

I recently read an article on the plight of the independent bookstore. The point of this particular article, similar to other articles I’ve read, was independent bookstores were having difficulty competing with Amazon.com. Our local bookstores are turning into Amazon showrooms. People (I’m not referring to them as ‘customers’ on purpose) are going into bookstores, browsing books, and then buying the books off of Amazon at a lower price.

I have to admit I am guilty of this also. However, I usually make a point to buy a book in the store; partly because I feel guilty, but mostly because I won’t get the book from Amazon for another week and Daddy needs his fix.

As a first time author, a counterpoint to the fall of the independent bookstore is it is often difficult for new writers to get their book on the shelves of an independent bookstore. The explanation I’m given usually covers one of the following reasons:

  • There is not enough shelf space for every new author. Translation: “We are only going to carry books we think are going to sell.” Which means they are going to carry the same books Barnes and Noble sells, but don’t have a Starbucks.
  • New authors don’t have a large enough fan base to warrant carrying the book or hosting an author event. This is a b.s. excuse. People pick up books from authors they’ve never heard of. Most people don’t care if it’s the writer’s first book or fifteenth; if the book looks interesting, then they will buy it. Secondly, I realize a very small percentage of a bookstore’s customers are writers. But there is a larger percentage of customers who want to be writers. People who are interested in writing will go and listen to writers, regardless of genre or popularity.
  • They won’t carry books from a particular publishing company because of return policies. I don’t know enough about return policies between booksellers and publishers to write anything intelligent. However, it seems like the bookseller knows which publishers have return policies they like. Usually, if your book wasn’t published by one of them, then you are out of luck. In my experience, they won’t investigate what your publisher’s return policy is; they just deal with the one they know about. I am not a publisher nor a bookstore owner, but this seems like a navigable obstacle. Both parties are in the business of selling books. It seems logical that a compromise could be made to aid in that goal.
  • Sometimes they are willing to take the books on consignment in return for a larger percentage of the purchase price. Translation: “I want you to write the book, get it published, haul it over to my store, and give me a larger portion of your royalties for your work.” This is always my favorite.

I have to admit, I was surprised by the responses I was getting from my local, independent bookstores. I wasn’t deluded enough to think they were waiting for me, but I assumed there was more of a symbiotic relationship between the stores and the writers. In hindsight, I was under the impression bookstores liked writers. And I think most of them do, but they are more interested in making a profit than establishing relationships with local writers.

I realized my impression that independent bookstores were kindred spirits to independent writers and musicians was wrong. I’ve been to countless indy music stores, and they were full of music by artists you’ve never heard on the radio. This is an interesting parallel; discovering an indy musician not heard on the radio, or before they became big (aka – sold out) is considered a testament to your taste. The same is not true for indy or small press writers. If a writer is not carried by one of the big publishers, then you aren’t truly vetted, and therefor aren’t worth reading. Regardless of the fact that there are countless books by independent writers which are excellent, as well as some really crap books published by the large presses. The reality of it is, some independent bookstores have become arbitrary gatekeepers; Saint Peters of Nightstands. My issue with this attitude is our work isn’t measured for quality, but weighed for the popularity of the writer and the size of the publisher.

The irony of this attitude is studies indicate the reason potential customers pick up a book is the cover. Most people decide if they are interested in a book within 10 seconds of picking up the book. Within those 10 seconds, a customer decides to make a purchase based on two pieces of information: the cover and the synopsis. Reviews and blurbs are also influential, but really confirm the customer’s impulse to buy the book. The price of the book is a distant 4th. The author’s name does influence the decision if the author is well-known; a Stephen King fan will pick up a new Stephen King book. Otherwise, an author’s popularity or the publishing company are not considered. Interestingly, when asked after making a purchase, a customer often does not know the name of the author of the book they just purchased. It isn’t until they have read the book that they commit the author to memory. Yet bookstores behaving like high school girls ordaining popularity based on factors transparent to the customer remains pervasive.

I think this the wrong attitude for bookstores to have. Several years ago, I went to Florida for a business trip. My flight had a long delay in Philadelphia, so I finished the book I brought with me faster than I anticipated. After I checked into my hotel, I wandered out to grab a bite to eat and pick up a new book. The hotel was in a funky beach town with several shops across the street. As I cruised around enjoying the sights, I noticed one street had two little bookstores. One bookstore was hosting an event for a local writer I’d never heard of. I went into the bookstore hosting the author event only because it had something more interesting going on than the other store. I bought three books- two by the author the event was being held for.

I was going to buy a book that day. I bought more books than I planned (which isn’t unusual), but I bought them from the store that had something going on that day. All things being equal, one of those stores was going to make a profit that day. The store with the author event got it. I would like to reiterate I had not heard of the author before that day. He was local author with a regional following. Since then, I have bought every book that writer has published to date, several from a small bookstore that will order books for me. A sale, is a sale, is a sale. A win for the writer translated to a win for the bookstore. That win transferred to another bookstore who made sales on books it didn’t carry.

I’m a bibliophile: I love books, I love bookstores, and I love writers. As a reader, I am concerned with what is happening to local bookstores. As a writer, I’ve embraced Amazon. I may be just a number at Amazon, but at least I’m acknowledged there. And for a first time author, that gives me a fighting chance.

By the way, the author in Florida was Tim Dorsey. If you’ve never heard of Tim Dorsey; mix Carl Hiaassen with the TV show Dexter and give it a bunch of Red Bulls and vodka.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity, which often is not found in an independent bookstore.

Donations to Clarity

Donations to Clarity

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Over the river and through the woods to…hey, didn’t we just cross that same bridge an hour ago?

I know the real reason men get married and I am outing you guys.  It has nothing to do with how well she cooks, or how she makes you feel like the king of the world or any of that other stuff we women love to hear.

It’s so you can get directions when you get lost and still save face. 

Ladies, how many times has your husband, after the fourth time you suggest that according to the map you might be lost, has he said, “Fine, you go in and ask them how to get to route 50 if you don’t trust me to get us there!”

For Thanksgiving this year we decided to drive to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to spend time with my husband’s family for a change.  It’s been about four years since we last made the trip and we were definitely overdue.  One would think that my husband would be well acquainted with the various routes, having lived in Rehoboth for a number of years and having spent holidays with his brother or his sister before we got married.

Alas, it turns out he knows one route by heart and the others are sort of a hit or miss.  Every time we’ve gone in the past, we go up the Eastern Shore and come home via 301.  This year due to traffic reports of backups in the Hampton Rhoads tunnel and on 64 towards the Bay Bridge Tunnel – we decided to go up 301.  Or so I thought.  On a lark, Wednesday night at 5 pm, he decides to take I-95 North to catch 301 above Richmond.  He gets in the far left lane, lays the hammer down and off we go.  At the Atlee-Elmont exit I suggest that he get over to the right hand lane since traffic was hideous and the exit would be coming up shortly.  “I know what I am doing,” he says with only a hint of “would you like to drive?” in his voice.  He’s still in the left lane when I see the signs indicating the exit is coming up.  “So, Hon, you might want to start working your way over.  The exit is in 2 miles.”  Silence.  “Honey?”..Silence.  “The exit is coming up.”  “I know that I just want to get ahead of that car.”  “But there’s a break behind him if you’ll just slow down a bit…and we are getting off the interstate in about a mile anyway, so who cares?”  Silence; except for the sound of acceleration as he attempts to pass the car that has no intention of letting a mini-van with a Mickey Mouse antenna topper pass.  Needless to say, 2 miles later he was able to get into the center lane, behind the aforementioned car with the exit a mile behind us.

I’ve been married to this man for ten years; I know when to keep my own counsel as he starts muttering about where we might be able to pick up 301 again.  I’m also familiar with the spots where one can easily “pick up 301 again” in Virginia and knew we weren’t going to see 301 again until we were on the other side of DC.

In the end, we got to his sister’s house with only a few minor detours through the countryside of Delaware and one stop to ask for directions.  We made remarkably good time, all things considered, and from my husband’s point of view, he is right up there with Lewis and Clark in terms of charting his way.  (I refrained from reminding him, that without Sacagawea, they probably would have wound up in Central America.)

 

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead reviews books for Crystal Reviews (www.crystalreviews.com) and writes paranormal romance. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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A Jerk’s Guide to Comedy Writing or Rubbing the Four Humors

I was recently asked to contribute a chapter on comedy writing for an upcoming book on writing. As I was figuring out what I want to write, something occurred to me: I have no idea how to explain what I do. It probably sounds funny that a comedy writer cannot explain how to write comedy. So as I’m trying to figure out how to explain comedy writing, I thought I share some words of wisdom.

Comedy is an outlaw. In that, it doesn’t have to follow any rules except one: be funny. Comedy, like love and fear (the other two outlaws), is personal and defies explanation. Just as someone prefers one mate over another, or fears snakes and not heights; what is funny to one person is not funny to someone else. This explains my trouble with writing a chapter on comedy writing. I know what I think is funny, but it’s harder to understand what the audience thinks. I recently posted this very question on Facebook and called friends for their opinions. Every person responded with a different piece they felt was the funniest.

Do a Google search on comedy and you will find dozens of articles on comedy writing (Trust me- I’ve been reading them to try to figure out what I do). Nearly all the articles cover mechanics and structure. What they don’t tell you is how to become funny.

Here’s the part you don’t want to know: comedy is work. Stop laughing, it’s true. You have to train yourself to see the humor in things. I need to warn you: the training will make you an asshole. Once you’ve learned to make a joke out of anything, you won’t be able to quit. You’ll become the smart-ass. The kind of person who asks the urologist if your semen will be clear after the vasectomy. On the other hand, your partner won’t try to drag you into too many let’s-talk-about-how-you-feel conversations anymore. So, you’ve got that going for you.

Part of that training requires reading; a lot of reading. This includes the news. There are a couple of reasons why you need to read the news everyday:

  • People are stranger than you think. If your zany characters are eclipsed by the news, then you aren’t pushing hard enough. As soon as you think you’ve developed a character that is going to be your comedic vehicle to drive your jokes, someone will do something even crazier. Herman Cain quoted the Pokemon movie in his farewell address. If I wrote that a year ago, you would’ve thought I was insane.
  • You have to remain current. Humor has a relatively short shelf-life. The edgiest material is what is happening right now. You are doing really well if you can begin to predict a funny situation before it happens.
  • You need cultural anchors. What I mean by cultural anchors is your references have to be widely understood. Prior to 2009, the tea party had a different meaning than it does now. Before the tea party movement, we weren’t debating the merits of the Boston Tea Party (maybe historians were, but nobody listens to them). Today, the tea party has had a polarizing effect in our culture. Your humor has to consider that. Dennis Miller gets away with dropping obscure cultural references mixed with a robust vocabulary; you can’t. I love Dennis Miller. I think he’s a brilliant comedian, but you need a dictionary and an encyclopedia to follow along with him.
  • Language trends change every few years and the news typically reflects it. Remember a few years ago when the media merged celebrity couple names to make one name? Now every political incident is a something-gate. In the ‘90s, there was a period when we dropped Jewish words into normal conversation. The good news is, keeping up with language trends doesn’t require any effort. Just by reading you will pick up the trends organically.

Here’s an exercise if you want to start writing comedy. Pick up the paper, find and article, and write a joke about it. The object of the exercise is to find the humor in something that is not funny.

Here’s a link to an article I had published doing this exercise. The article is dated, but is still relevant for the idea of the exercise. The idea came to me as I was cooking dinner and listening to the news. I don’t remember the focus of the news piece; I remember George Bush had just done something which had implications against Iraq. I remember thinking when are we going to stop screwing these people? That was it. I sat down and wrote this article.

http://www.thespoof.com/news/spoof.cfm?headline=s2i41779

The exercise nearly paid off. Years later, I was interviewing for The Onion to be a staff writer. As part of the interview process, I was given a list of fake headlines and I was to write a newscast for each headline on the spot. Ultimately, I didn’t get the job, but it was a personal victory for me to be able to write a funny newscast without any preparation. Here’s an example of one of the articles I wrote:

http://www.thespoof.com/news/magazine/panda_wants_abortion_3227.htm

You may have noticed based on the two articles above that I talk about sex. I have news for you, folks: Comedy isn’t pretty. Psychologists have described humor as the sudden release of tension. On a physical level, laughter is our body’s response to surprise of an unforeseen stimulus. One of the tools a comedian uses to create tension is to discuss something uncomfortable; enter the sex, fart, and poop jokes. Pushing the audience into an uncomfortable area raises their tension levels. The punchline is the release valve to bleed off that tension. In the Panda Wants Abortion newscast, I wrote dialogue for an artificial insemination protester. Here I’ve brought the audience into a slightly uncomfortable situation. The joke is we know what artificial insemination is, so the audiences’ brains are creating a framework of what that means. The punchline is the protester was objecting to the use of artificial semen. This is one of the mechanisms of a joke: build tension, put their minds on a specific path, and nail them with a left hook while they aren’t looking. This isn’t the only comedic style and you don’t necessarily need to make the audience uncomfortable, but it illustrates a basic framework of a joke.

A question I get from aspiring comedic writers is: How do you know if you’ve gone too far? You don’t. The concept is subjective because what is funny is personal. It’s the same argument as what is pornography and what is art. In my book, Donations to Clarity, I wrote several chapters with questionable content. I wrote a character who was a homophobe and a character who impersonated a homosexual. These are two subject areas I needed to be careful of. In the ‘80s, comedians could beat up homosexuals all day long. Eddie Murphy made a career out of roasting homosexuals and Richard Simmons. That doesn’t fly in 2011. You can still make fun of Richard Simmons, but not because he’s gay. The hair and the striped shorts are still free game.

One of my rules for comedy writing is to not to insult anyone- directly. Offended? I don’t care if they’re offended, and you shouldn’t either.  You don’t want to insult. In this case, making homosexuals feel like I’m picking on them. And it’s not about gay rights or embracing everyone. To me, comedy is about enjoyment. My goal is to take the audience out of their lives for a small time, and give them something to laugh about. That does not include abusing a subset of the population. Along with this, I was worried about how I portrayed women. I’d never written women before, and I was concerned I was too degrading to them.

I could get away with writing a book without the homophobe and the homosexual impersonator. I couldn’t really write a book without any women in it. Because I chose to write the characters anyway, I did a couple of things to protect myself:

  • I wrote the homophobe and the homosexual impersonator as idiots. In the case of the homophobe, the way I developed the character, it made sense for him to dislike gays. It would have been incongruous if I’d written him any other way.
  • I asked a few homosexual friends and women read the chapters. I explained what my concerns were and asked for their honest opinions. A funny thing happened: not only did I get their blessings, but they gave me insight to develop the characters better.

Now that doesn’t mean I was completely protected from criticism. I recently had a female reader email me claiming I degraded women. If you read my book, you know I made the guys idiots and the women were the only sane characters. Normally I don’t respond to these emails, or I send a quick note with several suggestion of what they can do with their opinion. This particular woman hit a sensitive button for me; I wanted to know why she felt the way she did. And wow, did she! I got a page and a half on how I degraded women because I had a female character pee a little when Bigfoot scared her.

Which brings me to my next point: if you’re going to write comedy, you’d better have a thick skin. You need a thick skin to be a writer. It needs to be thicker for comedy because you are going to piss someone off. Comedy isn’t pretty. No matter how careful you are, you are going to offend someone. And they will write you and tell you all about it. The good news is they’re just giving you a new character to put in the next book. It’s the circle of life.

The last point I want to make in this article is dialogue. As a comedic writer, most of your  jokes will be between characters talking. There are other styles you’ll use, such as situational and environmental. You could even write physical comedy (slapstick). I wrote some slapstick in my book. Slapstick is a unique style that requires a muscular writing style, which I’m not going to get into in this article. What were we talking about? Dialogue! Here’s my advice for dialogue. Go to your neighborhood bar; not a nightclub or meat market, unless you are specifically seeking something from that element. I mean a nice Irish pub; blue-collar, middle class. Hit it at happy hour for a couple of weeks and just watch. You’ll begin to see trends. There’s a group of regulars. They usually get there as soon as the place opens, and they stay after the happy hour crowd leaves. Some times they go home to eat, and then come back to the bar. These are your tickets. They are golden fountains of verbal diarrhea. Get to know them. They will tell you the funniest and strangest stories you’ve ever heard. My idea for the weight of the human turd conversation in my book stemmed from this.

In reality, the guy I was talking to thought we were all going to die by being binged in the melon by rocks falling from space. It was a surreal conversation. This guy was really worried about being knocked off by space pebbles. Although I didn’t use the space rocks in the book, it inspired me to add a similar conversation to the book.

Also go to cop bars. Police officers have fantastic stories. I’ve gone into cop bars, explained I was a comedy writer looking for material, and I would buy a drink for anyone who told me a funny story. I have never walked out of a cop bar with less than three hilarious stories.

Before I let you go, I’ll give you another comedy trick. One way to keep your comedy and your dialogue current and relevant is to use the internet. I’ve attached several links to websites full of ideas. One website, Overheard in _______ is just conversations people have overheard in public places. Part of comedy is the examination of the human condition. Because you, the writer, can’t be everywhere; use the internet to expand your research.

http://www.overheardeverywhere.com/
http://overheard-lib.livejournal.com/
Another great site is Texts From Last Night. This is a website of texts between people. Most of the people are young, maybe college age. It’s a great resource for picking up attitudes and dialogue from the 20s to early 30s age group.

http://www.textsfromlastnight.com/
One of my favorite sites is Shit My Dad Says. The site is run by a 30ish comedic writer who posts the shit his dad says. His father, a retired doctor and veteran, is this grumpy, tough-as-nails, no bullshit kind of guy. If you don’t think this site is funny; comedy writing may not be for you.

http://twitter.com/shitmydadsays

Now, I am not telling you to steal lines from these sites. Use the sites to develop your character’s dialogue, pick up new terminology, and inspire you to write something funnier.

Now, go away and write something funny.

Noah Baird, author of Donations to Clarity, is often thought of as funny by dogs and small children. Women also laugh at him, but only when he’s naked.

http://www.amazon.com/Donations-Clarity-Noah-Baird/dp/1935171445/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311518859&sr=8-1/

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Reader Participation to Solve A Mystery Within Your Mystery

    Stephen Grogan of www.questmystery.com has successfully pulled in his readers to participate in a mysterious treasure hunt.  The clues to the location of the hidden dagger are in the text of the book, Vegas Die.  The hunt for the dagger ended December, 2010, but he is coming out with a new book that is set in Hawaii and a new treasure hunt.

    I like this idea and am awed by his promotional genius.  Not only can you make money by buying and reading his books and joining in the treasure hunt, but his books get read numerous times as readers search for clues.  And his books are very good mysteries. 

     This is truly a fun idea and I am enthusiastically in favor of anything that pulls the reader, or viewer right into the action.  My first experience with being pulled into the action happened with the first movie of 13 GHOSTS and the 3D glasses.  I wore those glasses for weeks after I saw that movie thinking I’d see more ghosts outside the theater.  Hey, I was a little kid with a vivid imagination.

     The Nancy Drew series had been a favorite of mine and I began doing surveillance on my neighbors and big brother.  It had not been at all interesting and I tended to make people angry with my ‘snooping’ ways.   And then along came Nightmare on Elm Street and being unable to sleep for days.   And after reading Stephen King’s, It, I could hardly stand to be in the bathroom because of all the sounds I began hearing in the drains and don’t even mention all those balloons around town that suddenly took on various ominous meanings.

      What fiction books or movies came to life for you?  How?  What activity came from reading those books or watching those movies?

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An Elephant Floating in the Sky

I’ve started paying more attention to the trivial things around me lately. My reasoning? I realized there is a potential storyline in all I see. It was an awe-inspiring moment when I began to look at events, even the tiniest ones, as stories.

On the road the other day, I saw this. It led to the first two lines of one more addition to my WIPs (also, listening to Stanley Fish on NPR inspired): “A plastic dollar store bag was hanging high above the ground, caught in the spindly arms of a leafless winter tree and pregnant with rain from a thousand storms. The bulbous yellow sack was a dozen feet above the ground, lethargically twisting in the tepid evening air.” (Facebook)

This was the beginning of my journey into what I’m calling “selfless discovery.” Instead of discovering oneself, I have been discovering “otherwise.”

There’s the leathery old man leaning with fatigue against the check-out counter at the dollar store – a frightened shoe lying in the middle of the muddy dirt road – the cold house with a boarded window and a dozen cats lounging outside. All of these and more have a story screaming to be told.

A year ago, I had a dream of an elephant floating in the sky. Now, I finally get it: like the expression “an elephant in the room,” my elephant meant I was seeing too many stories to ignore. My “sky” refers to the unlimited supply of writing material all around me, updating every day, every hour, and every minute.

I look at a calendar from last year and see the dates I’ve marked. My 2010 is a complete story in itself. Some events are trivial and some are not. My chapters could be entitled, “January, February,” and so on. It is a diary of my life and the lives of loved ones in 2010.

When I talked to a friend about my epiphany, he congratulated me on my “existential moment.” Although I wanted to agree with him in hopes of polishing up my tarnished new-age persona, the “moment” didn’t feel so much existential as it did experiential.

Curiosity fuels these flames. During my many cross-country driving trips over the years, I’ve always been curious about the lives of the people in the houses I pass. What are their fears, dreams, realities? Are they content or simply existing? What are their stories?

Experiences are stories, even those not of our own. That penny you see on the ground is a novel – the tales it could tell of the many hands it passed through. Think of this the next time you look at . . . anything.

J J Dare is the author of two published books, several short stories and about thirty works-in-progress.

Current enthusiasm is co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch

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Possessed by Words

You know writing has taken over your life when:

  1. You look away from the monitor and realize night has turned into day.
  2. The phone rings and you ignore it because you’re in the throes of your writing muse.
  3. When you have to talk to someone, your conversation is more condensed than Reader’s Digest.
  4. Sleep is not an option; catnaps, however, are okay.
  5. Someone brings your food and drink, but you can’t remember who it was or what you ate.
  6. Caffeine is your god.
  7. Chocolate is your addiction.
  8. How can it be (insert holiday) already? It was just (insert holiday) a few months ago.
  9. A familiar face says, “Hey, Mom,” and it takes a minute to register who this person is.
  10. The white lettering on your keyboard has rubbed away.
  11. Dust bunnies have mutated and are starting a revolution in your house.
  12. You walk outside and are surprised to see a new inhabited subdivision across the street.
  13. You have to repeatedly define “obsessed” as a good thing.
  14. The last time you had to put on a pair of shoes was, well, a long time ago.
  15. Your verbal vocabulary has dwindled down to “uh-huh,” “uhm” and “hmm.”
  16. Your fingertips have calluses on them.
  17. You develop serious computer butt.
  18. When you stand up, you hear snap, crackle, and pop.
  19. You forget to pay the cable bill, but don’t realize it until someone else turns the television on.
  20. You can’t wait to see how your story will end, so you keep writing, writing, writing.

J J Dare, author of Joe Daniel’s “False Positive” and “False World,” and numerous short stories


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In the Zone by Sherrie Hansen

I thought being in the zone was an appropriate topic since it’s Superbowl weekend and everyone is thinking about End Zones.

While I’m not quite in the end zone of Waterlily, the second book in my Maple Valley trilogy, I’m deep into revisions, writing new scenes, getting to know my characters better and making great progress – in the zone.

A writer I greatly admire from my just Cherry Writers critique group, Robin LaFevers, once led an online workshop where she asked us to identify our character’s greatest fears. What is he or she afraid of? Then, what is he or she really afraid of. Then, what is he or she REALLY, REALLY afraid of? Discovering these often hidden truths about your characters speaks to their motivation, helps you understand what they might do or how they might respond to situations, and can lead to the black moment, when they come face to face with their biggest fear. (Forgive me, Robin, if I’m misquoting you.)

This morning, while laying in bed thinking, then later, talking to my husband, I finally put my finger on what Michelle’s greatest fear is. Now, I hope to make the black moment reflect her deepest insecurity. Waterlily will be a better book because of it.

I also wrote a scene last night that I think is one of my best ever – clear protagonist, antagonist, goals, value change – it meets all the criterion, and it’s funny, too. I read it out loud to my husband last night and we were both cracking up so hard I couldn’t continue.

Is writing seasonal, like winter, spring, summer and fall – like football, baseball, or basketball seasons? Are there times when the words flow, when a flood of new ideas washes over you, and conversely, are there times when the well seems completely dry?

Whatever the triggers might be for me (I’m not sure I fully know or understand why this varies so much for me), I’m certainly glad I’m in THE ZONE. And for what it’s worth, I’ll probably be typing the whole time the Superbowl is on TV.

Here’s hoping your team wins!

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Squeezing Molasses

A few months ago, I felt like I was slogging through a muddy puddle of words that threatened to trap me in sludgy muck as I struggled to write clearly and coherently. The ideas were sharp and tart in my brain, but as soon as I put pen to paper (or keyboard to computer), the stories inside the creative part of my mind began to dull. I felt I was squeezing molasses words through a pin-sized hole.

Is this writer’s block? I’ve always viewed writer’s block as creativity drying up and the muse leaving for greener pastures. I never thought of the block as something to do with the actual physical part of writing: committing words to paper.

It was a strange sensation. I could picture the stories, but the words on paper did not convey my original intent and the gist of my tale came out differently than I originally imagined it or sometimes, not at all. Like a movie in slow-motion, my words became woefully stagnant.

I’m getting over the hump. Without resorting to therapy or alcohol, I realized I was simply trying too hard. I was forcing myself to write, and, like leading a horse to water, I was leading myself to a blank paper, but I couldn’t make myself write.

Forced writing doesn’t work for me. Deadlines do. It’s a crazy thing, but when I have a set time to finish something, I’m a Tasmanian devil. Left to my own devices, I write when the mood hits – loose and free and off the cuff.

We’re all writers, in one form or another, whether it’s a full-blown novel or a memory jotted down in a notebook. How do you get over the block?

(A plug for my Saints: Who Dat! Black and Gold all the way!)

J J Dare, author of Joe Daniel’s “False Positive” and “False World,” and numerous short stories

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Changes: Welcome, 2010! (You WILL Be a Better Year)

The last resolution I made was around ten years ago when I resolved to stop making New Year’s resolutions – I never keep them. Strangely, this is the first year I’ve been more than cautiously optimistic. 2010 has a nice ring to it as it rolls off my tongue. Yes, 2010 will be a good year.

As an old year goes out and a new one begins, I spend the time reflecting on how I’ve changed over the previous year.

Over the past three hundred and sixty-five days, I’ve grown . . . by about fifteen pounds. My scale squeals in surprise the rare times I step on it. I think I’ll blame my problem on my sedentary writing life rather than on my beloved pizza, calzone, Lindt white chocolate truffles, and other assorted high calorie, high fat foods.

I’ve also come to the conclusion I’m not as smart as I think I am, but this realization is tempered with the conclusion that most people around are not as smart as they want me to think they are. What a relief to discover pretentiousness has lots of company.

On top of this, it became apparent over the last year my kids are becoming smarter than me. They still have their moments, but they’re getting quicker to point out mine first. My cats also have me figured out; I thought I was training them when all the while, they’ve been training me for years. They’re good – they meow and I jump (and feed or pet or try to figure out why the heck the three of them are growling at a corner of my living room ceiling).

Another close cousin of the inflated brain is the snob. I’ve caught myself waxing on and on about things I think I know a lot about until I realize what I sound like: a snobby braggart. I’ve bored, lost, or antagonized peeps by talking down to them; thankfully, this doesn’t happen often and someone usually brings my pompous asset back down to Planet Earth with a resounding rump thump.

My writing has changed, too. It’s harder in some ways, but easier in others. I’ve branched into different genres – and found I suck in certain ones. Really suck. However, I’ve discovered I excel in other untapped areas. This makes me more confident that, if I tank in one area, there’s hope in another.

How have you changed over the past year?

J J Dare, author of Joe Daniel’s “False Positive” and “False World,” and numerous short stories

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