Books

ALWAYS Learn from Others - Adventures and Misadventures in Writing

I'm taking a class from Lit Reactor called, Short Story Mechanics, which is taught by Richard Thomas. Today's homework was to write five hooks (four first lines and one first paragraph) for five different potential stories. I just posted the hooks into the online classroom portal (also below). Richard will review them and select ONE that I will use to write a story throughout the rest of the two-week class. The recovering control freak in me is a bit tense about allowing Richard to choose the story I'll write, but I think it's good for me to surrender to learning. Heh, heh, heh.

I'd ask your opinion about which hooks seem most promising, but I'm already giving away too much power! Kidding... I'd love to know if any of these hooks make you want to learn more!

Lilith peered over the back of her sofa and through the window blind slats to take notes about everything she saw—the lovers, cheaters, crooks, tweakers, dealers, and deliveries—like she’d done day and night for the last week.

Lennox Turtleman felt desperate but hopeful as he lowered his skinny naked body into the sensory augmentation tank, pulled the lid closed, floated with arms and legs spread wide, and began hummed Somewhere Over the Rainbow, just as Madam Naranja had instructed.

Cross-eyed Tommy was not cross-eyed, just a terrible shot, and so much so he now used snakes to guarantee weekly collections were never late.

Fern practiced every night after her waitress shift at the Route 66 Diner for the open mic night at the High Noon Poetry Saloon in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Sebastian pulled the wrecked Chrysler 300 rental car into the Key West Marriott at 7:55 a.m., five minutes before he was expected to deliver the opening keynote speech to a room full of professional gamblers. Right on time, he whispered to himself and then shouted a celebratory shit yeah while pumping both arms in front of his chest. He looked at his shredded jacket, bloody white shirt, and stained pants. He’d have no time to change clothes. He grimaced at his cut up face in the rear-view mirror and then shrugged. A bellhop opened the driver’s side door. Sebastian got out and stood tall and proud. The end of the necktie he’d knotted around his head hung down in front of his eyes. The bellhop looked horrified. Sebastian stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a flattened Banana MoonPie. He handed it to the young man and smiled as he marched into the hotel and headed toward the grand ballroom.


Ignite possibility by owning flaws - A life lesson from Eminem's 8 Mile

This is a post about organizing for possibility. I watched the movie 8 Mile, which stars rapper Eminem and is loosely based on his early life.

The movie features rap competitions where rappers battle each other with words. There are several rounds, and during each challenge the loser is eliminated until the final two face off for the championship. These raps are spontaneously generated because they don't know who they'll battle until it's announced. Each performer tries to one-up the other and show how clever and poetic they are (hurling personal insults an such). It takes a lot of talent to compete - a mastery with words, phrases, rhyme, and rhythm.

The winner earns street credibility.

SPOILER ALERT: I'm about to discuss the final scene in the movie.

The dramatic ending of the movie is one of these competitions. This is Eminem's shot to show what he's got. He blasts through the early rounds, destroying his opponents with words. And then he has to battle the champion.

The mood in the room is tense and the crowd is clearly rooting for the champion. There's a coin toss to determine who will go first - most prefer to go last. The champion wins the toss. Eminem will go first.

He has 90 seconds to give his best rap. How does he approach it? A bit shaky at first but then he does something fascinating. He disses himself. He admits his flaws, he acknowledges all the bad names people call him, he fesses up to all the trash talking that could be hurled his way. He gives it to the champion, too, by revealing that he'd attended a private school and came from a finer background than most people knew (which is embarrassing). He ends his rap by inviting the champion to "tell the crowd something they don't about me."

Whoa - he takes the wind right out of the champion's sail! The champion has nothing to say and he caves. Eminem is victorious.

While I was listening to Eminem's final rap, I couldn't help but think that Dale Carnegie would be proud. You might think that sounds crazy. In How to Win Friends and Influence People (still the best book on human relations IMHO) Carnegie recommends that we be the first to be open about our failings. That we own our flaws. That we beat everyone to the punch.

This is not the same thing as being down on ourselves. I'm not suggesting this. We are all highly talented and highly flawed. And when we can be open about those flaws, we are better able to use our talents fully because because we carry mental garbage about it. Being open also allows us to better address our flaws.

And to be clear, even though Eminem dissed himself, he knew he was talented. He had dreams he knew he could fulfill if he did his best.

We can be confident and open about our flaws.

As Eminem walks out of the building after becoming the new champion, the theme song to the movie, a song by Eminem called Lose Yourself, comes on and takes us through the credits. This song was featured in a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler (and also in 2020 for Biden/Harris). The lyrics are quite well written and motivating. And the last line of the song says it all.

"You can do anything you put your mind to."

This is not a post about being down on ourselves. It's a post about being cool with you, warts and all, such that you can keep growing and improving.

Even though I ruined the ending for you, check out the movie if you haven't seen it. It has a lot of curse words and deals with mature themes, as we might expect from a gritty movie about struggling rappers from Detroit. You've been warned!

I include Lose Yourself on my exercise playlist because it's motivating! 


How to Have More Microadventures - Outside Online

Outside

I like this piece written by Alastair Humphreys for Outside Magazine called, 8 Principles for Living a More Adventurous Life

In particular, I love the idea of microadventures (and mini-misadventures, which I've written about). Humphreys wrote that the secret sauce seems to be:

"Simple + short + local + cheap = an achievable microadventure, unlike the vicarious adventure thrills you read about in magazines but never actually do yourself."

As you think about ways to make 2021 more satisfying than 2020 was - even with this pandemic still raging - the idea that "there's always something new to try" is worth mulling.


Elements of My 2021 Plan with Pics

I've been working on my plan for the year. Here are the elements.

  • Identify major thrusts/fuels that will be at my core.
  • Reflect on and define ONE area that I want to AMP UP and TWO practices/habits I'd like to reduce. 
  • I reminded myself of my decision filter (I wrote about that here).
  • Write a plan story (narrative that expresses what success will look and feel like). Adapted Scenario Based Planning method.
  • Created a digital vision board that corresponds to the story.

Here's my working draft. I've formatted the two rectangles so they fit perfectly when taped inside my Panda Planner, which I will use on a daily basis come January 1.

2021 Plan

And here's the corresponding digital vision board.

Edgy!

And here's my Panda Planner. I like this planner because it's flexible and helps keep me aligned and focused. I spend five minutes each morning and five minutes each evening working in the planner. These pics are from the Panda Planner website here.

PandaPlanner_Purole_1_1024x1024

Classic_daily_1024x1024And here's how my 2021 plan will fit in the planner so I can regularly review it. I've just got paperclips on it right now because I'm still tweaking my plan. I'll tape it in so it's smooth.

IMG_1103

And that's what I've got done so far. I have my decision filter graphic as my phone wallpaper, and I'll put my vision board on my computer wallpaper. 

I hope you've been thinking about how to best roll into 2021. Happy New Year! 


Life in the Neutral Zone - An Opportunity to Create

Haneberg_StiffLizard_Ebook smallI've not blogged much the last two weeks because I'm channeling my writing energy into FINALLY finishing my 4th mystery, STIFF LIZARD. It was supposed to come out earlier this year. Here's the cover.

 - I delayed the book because I was going to have to have surgery.

 - Then my surgery was delayed by the covid pandemic.

 - And then I fell into a covid-fear-haze and didn't feel like writing.

 - And then I had surgery.

 - And now I'm back to finishing the book (while straddling the continued covid-fear-haze).

It's a quirky mystery set on Galveston Island, TX. The pub date 2021 Stiff Lizard will be a different book than the pub date 2020 one would've been. I've added a few things, subtracted a few things, and amped up the plot and quirk. I'm a different person, and my story will reflect this.

The 2021 version will have the benefit of my neutral zone creativity. The neutral zone (from Bridge's Transition Model) is that fuzzy in-between time when the new reality is emerging but not yet understood. Ambiguity shows up in many ways. Along with being draining and frustrating, the neutral zone is a great place from which to create.

Why? Think about what KEEPS us from creating. Our automatic and rutted routines act like a magnetic tractor pull that can prevent us from coloring outside the lines or conceiving of something new. But when we're living in the neutral zone, we're delightfully lacking in routine and comfortableness. 

So while I am fatigued and frustrated and afraid of every living person I encounter (Are you going to kill me with your breath?), I'm also feeling a bit more adventurous and open.

Being in transition is enabling me to write a better story because I'm less sure and secure. Funny how that works. I've promised my editor the book by Dec. 14th, so I'll not be blogging as much until I've turned in the manuscript.

And then, LOOK OUT. Hehehe.


A fruitful mindset for #NaNoWriMo

November 1st is almost here, and I've thought about the mindset that will serve writers well as they launch into #NaNoWriMo. The mindset has a few elements that are reinforced by recent blog posts (linked):

#1: Time is precious; choose wisely. I blogged about my Decision Filter here. I'm still reviewing this filter daily and it's helping me make better decisions about how I spend time. 

#2: Be a winner and you'll win. Put the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy to work for you. Think and act like a highly productive writer and you'll be one. 

#3: Believe that you're in the middle of doing something great. It's easy to give up or give in when we're in the messy middle of things and to doubt that we're on the right track. But here's the thing. Being in the middle of an epoch success can feel the same way. So don't give up. Believe you're in the process of an achievement.

4: Make unreasonable requests that aren't. We might be THIS close to our daily or weekly goals but have a substantial barrier. And while we probably can't manifest a million dollars into our bank accounts so we can rent a villa for the month, we can engage the people who love and admire us in an assist. Making unreasonable requests is a regular part of my regimen and has helped me generate breakthroughs.

I hope you have the BEST NaNoWriMo ever!


Invite a Narrative Dare #amwriting

I was watching a video where the owner of Murder By the Book in Houston interviewed authors Jasper Fforde and Matt Haig about their new books. Watch the video here. Something that Jasper said struck a chord with me and I've thought about it several times since seeing the video. He said he "sets a narrative dare" when drafting book plots. In other words, he challenges himself with a specific but not narrow concept. "Rabbits live amongst us. How?" was the example he shared that helped him get going on his newest book, "The Constant Rabbit."

The idea, Jasper said, is to set the narrative dare and then write our way out of it. 

I love the idea of challenging ourselves such that we live a more creative life. And if you're a writer, the narrative dare might be something worth trying. Dares that offer some specificity but allow wide-ranging creative freedom work best. 

The narrative dare for my current project could go something like this: Iguanas invade Galveston Island. How? The narrative dare for my first novel could've been: an octopus is charged with murder. How? And while I'd not heard of the narrative dare when I wrote "Toxic Octopus," that central idea fueled my interest in and commitment to fleshing out the story.

Here are a few narrative dares I just brainstormed:

  • The end of lying. What happened?
  • The planet is going to explode in one year. Explain.
  • A pill melts fat away in one week. How?
  • Placebos become the real thing. Why?
  • Cell and Internet service is shut down by aliens. 
  • Existentialism sweeps the nation. How?
  • Poisonous plants from all over the world meet and organize. Explain.

Might a narrative dare, or some other type of dare, help you create?


The Human Body is a System

Untitled design (10)

I had few health challenges until I was 35. Then the chaos-theory-reverberation-making-proverbial-shit-hit-the-fan. But this is not a woe is me post. It's a reflection on the circuitous path we have to walk/run/dance/jump when trying to investigate what ails us.

Wait, Lisa. Isn't that what doctors are for?

If I could hire a private investigator with a medical degree, sure. But our healthcare delivery system is fragmented and focused. And my primary care physician - theoretically the overseer of my care - is so overburdened that she is forced to farm out anything requiring more than ten minutes to resolve to specialists. 

I have a lot of "ologists" on my medical team. They're super smart about a few things. They've studied a small number of health problems in depth so they can get really good at treating them.

The problem with this is everything is connected. Human bodies are chaotic systems. Interesting fact: It was in the context of the body that Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, the Father of Systems Thinking, fathered systems thinking

"As long as we single out individual phenomena, we do not discover any fundamental difference between the living and the non-living." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Problems of Life: An evolution of modern biological thought

"In order to understand an organized whole, we must know both the parts and the relations between them." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, The History and Status of General Systems Theory

Having specialists looking at their assigned piece of me is helpful but insufficient. My oncologist doesn't know about diet or metabolism. My endocrinologist doesn't know about cancer or the heart. My cardiologist doesn't know about the digestive tract. My neurologist doesn't know about arthritis or strength. My personal trainer (not an ologist, but on the team) doesn't know about medications and blood test results. But my cancer affects my digestion. And the oral chemo I take affects my heart. And my metabolism affects my thinking and movement. And my diet affects everything. 

My job is to discover how things are connected, make meaning, and fill in gaps. To do this, I listen to my ologists and do a lot of research using reliable sources. Maybe I go back to my ologists with my findings. Sometimes I'm on my own.

It's a lot of work and my most important job. And when I figure something out, it's sweet like cherry pie.


Intracranial Misadventure

I watched a book launch video discussion from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore featuring Carl Hiassen as interviewed by author John Sanford. The topic was Hiassen's latest book, Squeeze Me. The two men go way back, and it was a very interesting discussion. You can find that FB video here.

One of the more entertaining parts of this interview focused on how authors select names and when getting the name right is critical. Hiassen said that for important characters, he wants the name to be striking so the reader remembers it the first time they read it. The name John marveled about was Fay Alex Riptoad, one of Hiassen's important side characters.

It is with this inspiration that I decided to brainstorm awesome names for characters. And that doing so would be a terrific use of my time and tick off the "Joy," "Strengths," and "Progress" aspects of my new Decision Filter. Heck, this might even make a "contribution" to society. 

Here we go.

Great Names for Characters (that I might use one day - no stealing, OK?)

In no particular order

Jeptha Rule                    Wady Wayne Wright

Baby-face Kreed            Convira

Asa Butterfield               Rasmus Monk

Spag Bolle                       Drucilla

The Tooth                       Consequence (Conee for short)

Snipe                               Lobster Butterworth

Two-time                        Cross-eyed Tommy

Talulla Moola                 Lilith Rothworm III

Fern Green                     Griselda Feldman

Zaynab Ditt                    Euphrasia Rothschild

Lennox Turtleman        Fizzy Joe

Rip Torn - oh wait, that one was already used by a real person (RIP Rip)

Pretty cool list, if I do say so myself. Can you imagine the weird and wonderful back stories for these characters? I wonder what it would be like to write a book STARTING with a set of character names? Could be fun! 

What's your favorite?


Mini-Misadventure - Fun with Words

Here's the opening to a story I'm working on. What do you think? Hint: It's related to yesterday's post...

Spaz Romano’s Sugar Shack

I was loading my identical-twin Pomeranians BeeBop (Bee and Bop) into my car when my neighbor, Jimena, a police captain, flagged me down and rushed to my car.

She touched my wrist with her lime-green painted fingernails and gazed up at me. Her cheeks were flushed and pink. “Thank you.”

I’d seen this expression before on others. “They must’ve worked.”

“Don’t understand how or why, but yes. I’ve not felt this good in years.”

I tapped the window to quiet BeeBop, who were jumping up and down in my driver’s seat. “They love the Arboretum.”

Jimena flipped her long, tussled hair.  “I won’t keep you. Just wanted to tell you how grateful we are, especially after I ransacked your office, put a gun to your head, and hauled you down to the station.” She giggled. “I owe you one, Spaz.”

“No problem," I said. "It ended up being a fun afternoon. Never been suspected of manslaughter before.” I waived to Jimena’s husband, who was watching us from the window.

I leaned into her and winked. “Let me know when you need a refill.”