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Heroes and Villains


by Jennifer Paros



The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are.

~ Michael J. Fox


HeroesVillainsSmallThe other day, I again watched one of my father’s favorite movies – the 1965 film A Thousand Clowns. It stars Jason Robards as nonconformist, anti-establishment television writer, Murray Burns, who has recently quit his job at The Chuckles the Chipmunk Show. Murray lives with his 12-year-old nephew, Nick, whose mother left him years earlier. When the Child Welfare Bureau investigates, Murray faces losing Nick if he doesn’t get a job and demonstrate a more stable household.

Though the script makes Murray likeable, funny, and supposedly freer than most (being a rebel against the status quo), it also confronts his weakness. When an uptight social worker, Albert Amundson, warns of what might happen to Nick, Murray mocks him, and Albert lays bare the problem with our protagonist’s worldview:

You’re so sure of your sight – your villains and heroes are all so terribly

clear to you – and I am obviously one of the villains.

Soon Albert is rendered, not as a caricature, but as a person with some self-awareness, good intentions, and his own emotional challenges. We learn too much for Albert to remain an unadulterated villain, which makes the story better. The same goes for Murray’s former employer, the neurotic Leo Herman (aka Chuckles the Chipmunk). In a scene in which he alternates between obnoxious, offensive, insecure and tortured, Leo is so fully depicted we are unable to see him solely as a bad or good guy. Though Murray slices the world into opposing camps, up close there is complexity and breadth to each person’s makeup, and those Murray’s divisions cease to be real. more...



Creativity and Comfort Food


by Jamie Goldberg



This past summer I spent eight nights in a psychiatric hospital. I was newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder and in the throes of a severe, debilitating, and often hilarious case of mania.


My hospitalization was frightening and surreal, an experience I hope to never repeat. There were only two things that I looked forward to everyday: taking a shower and getting snacks before bed-time. The hospital food was inedible, so snack time, when we were given packaged foods such as chips, cookies, and juice, was precious to me. Those foods brought me comfort like a dear old friend taking my hand and guiding me through a painful and difficult situation.


I’d had that kind of relationship with pre-packaged food before. When I was a child I spent a lot of time in hospitals visiting my mother, who was sick in one form or another for the better part of her life. I found comfort and joy going down into the bowels of the hospital and visiting the vending machines. I actually began looking forward to trips to the hospital. I came to associate candy bars, chips, and sodas with being comforted and nurtured.


A couple of days after my discharge I became obsessed with scrounging up six dollars – which was no small feat at that time – to buy a chocolate muffin and a chai latte at my favorite coffee shop. I needed to write about everything that had happened to me during my eight-night hospital stay, to preserve the memory and never forget where I’d been. Being admitted to a psychiatric hospital was one of the most significant times in my life, and the most traumatic. I took notes every day in the hospital. I didn’t go into too much depth with my note-taking, but I wrote enough to give me an outline to work with when I got out. more...





Ready to Quit? First Try a Positive List


by Annette Gulati



Discouraged? Ready to give up writing forever?


Don’t quit until you’ve tried a positive list! I began my own list out of desperation. I needed to know whether it was all worth it. Whether I should continue writing. Whether anything positive had come out of the years I’d put into my career. I found not only encouragement, I learned something about myself and the writing process. Hint: it takes time.


Want to develop your own positive list? Look at the places I’ve found tiny nuggets of positive inspiration covered in a delicate sauce of writing wisdom.


Critique Group


The role of your critique group is to help you improve your writing. They’re undoubtedly going to tell you what’s wrong with it. But they should also be pointing out what you’re doing right. Go through some past critiques and find a sentence or a phrase that says you nailed it. It can be something specific about a particular story or about your writing in general.


I found this tidbit and jotted it on my list: Great job of identifying the conflict early on.


My first thought: so what? But there’s wisdom to be gained here. If this is something I’ve done before – a skill I know how to achieve – I can certainly do it again. All is not lost. more...





Listen to the Whispers


by Philip Donlay



PhilipDonlayI can remember clearly how much uncertainty I felt when it came time to write Aftershock. Though it was the fifth in my series, the first four had been written over a span of ten years. I wrote when and where I could while I was still working as a professional pilot and traveling the world. This was going to be different. Change had happened, and I didn’t particularly like the concept. I had one summer to write what would hopefully become the next Donovan Nash thriller. In the weeks leading up to my start date, I’d wake up at night worrying, having no real idea how long it actually took me to write a novel. If I did the math on the first four, it averaged two and a half years each (though the first one seemed like it took a lifetime). Now I had three months. Would I be focused and disciplined, or would I burn out quickly and lay in the hammock all day waiting for happy hour?


I eliminated all distractions by renting a cabin on a quiet lake. I took my cellphone, but knew that there was no reception where I was headed. Upon arrival, I set up my desk in the corner of the bedroom. As is my custom, I fussed with my work area, creating order despite the certainty that it would be a complete mess within days. I connected the printer, and wondered if there would ever be anything to print. Once my environment was to my liking, I settled in to write. My daily commute was exactly six steps. I laid out months of research and story notes scribbled on random index cards. At the end of day one, I shut down the computer. I’d written nothing. Eighty-nine days remained.


The next day I wrote a paragraph or two, my characters and plot in complete chaos as page one finally staggered into existence. Leave it alone and keep going, I reminded myself, and page two followed. Some days it was easy, other days the process felt like a forced march. Around page one-hundred I had a complete collapse of conviction. Something felt off. I panicked, hesitated, wavered like a baserunner who realizes he’s going to get thrown out at second and desperately wishes he could go back and start over. I did everything except stop and listen for the answers to my own questions. I’d been at this point before in other books, and knew that the answers I needed were out there somewhere. The question was, did those answers know about my compressed timeline? I glanced apprehensively at the calendar and pressed onward. more...


March 2014

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