The Debt Women Owe Carrie Fisher

Today Carrie Fisher passed away, and I lost my childhood hero. I rarely blog twice in one day, and I never blog about celebrity deaths, but Carrie’s effect on my life and the lives of countless women needs to be honored and discussed.

My parents took me to the theater to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when it first opened. I was four. All I remember was watching Darth Vader Force-choking Captain Needa to death and the other characters dragging his body offstage. By the time I was six, however, I was begging my babysitter to let me watch Star Wars (my generation’s official name for “A New Hope”) on our new, high-tech VCR. I grew up watching and rewatching Han, Luke, and Leia save the galaxy, and Star Wars became my favorite movie series.

I never truly realized how Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of Princess Leia shaped my generation’s view of women. I grew up thinking it was normal to watch a woman not only fighting in a rebellion, but actually leading it. I watched Princess Leia wield both a blaster and authority. For me, this was how the world worked. I never thought twice about how my gender might affect my carreer. I was going to go to college and become a lawyer and then maybe even the Attorney General. It never occurred to me that my gender would get in my way, and Princess Leia’s character developed part of that belief. (I ended up choosing writing as a career instead of law and politics. I got to keep my soul, and that worked out well.) The Force was strong in Luke and strong in Leia, and I never thought that odd. I wonder how many young girls of my generation grew up, as I did, believing in themselves without worrying about their gender because of the way Carrie Fisher played her role. I’m sure many boys my age grew up watching Star Wars and figured a woman in leadership was normal as well.

While I give most of the credit to George Lucas for creating the character and the storyline, I must also give Carrie Fisher credit for her portrayal of Leia. She made Leia feel real. She made Leia’s accomplishments seem normal. She yelled things like “Into the garbage chute, flyboy!” and “Will someone get this big, walking carpet out of my way?” and made us all think she was awesome. Very few actresses could have pulled that off, yet she did it with grace, dignity, and a blaster that fired red killer lasers.

I honestly believe none of my writing, especially my character Gabriella, would anything like it is now without Star Wars or Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. I also believe that the way she gave Leia’s character legitimacy helped pave the way for my generation of women. 

We are indebted to Carrie. The best way to repay that debt is for each of us to finish Leia’s work and become whatever we want to be without a thought of our gender. I for one, and going to wipe away my tears and finish Book 3. What about you?

May the Force be with you, your highness.

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Writing When You Feel Overwhelmed: Hope for the Struggling Writer

How many of you have felt totally overwhelmed when you realized the amount of work it would actually take to complete your story?

I’m sitting here at Starbucks. I’m supposed to be writing the rough draft to Book 3 of The Elysian Chronicles, but I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’m trying to get my arms around the scope of this story, and I’ve discovered it’s much more complex than I originally planned. (Aren’t all novels, though?)

Here are a few things I’m struggling with:

  • I’m actually working with two plots that have to flow simultaneously. Two plots. One story. This means two story arcs. Each arc has to hit the plot points at the same time. Sounds easy to do, but I have to admit that working out the plots of Out of the Shadows (book 2) almost killed me. And then these two plots have to intertwine. Some things that happen on Earth are part of Elysia’s plot and vice versa. It’s like surgically putting Siamese twins. together instead of separating them.
  • Tommy’s character is chasing down clues to how he is supposed to save the world across Europe, while he’s being chased. I know the clues, but I’m not sure what the evil dudes on Earth are up to, nor do I know what anyone on the Elysian side of things is up to. I feel like I’m exploring the woods at night with only a small flashlight. I know I’m surrounded by so many amazing things, but I can only see what’s directly in front of me and a few silhouettes.
  • Davian is now king of Elysia, but I have to develop five years of backstory on how he takes back Elysia, which it turns out, is much more complex than a simple coronation. He’s got an entire bureaucratic infrastructure in place, but he doesn’t know who is good and who still follows Picante. I’m assuming several businesses would have been in Picante’s pocket as well, and I don’t know who they are yet.
  • I have to create 5 years of Earth’s backstory as well. Which is odd, because I’ve been writing the Earth sections and I haven’t felt the need for any backstory yet.
  • I made a stupid decision to bring a bunch of Norwegian trolls back to life. Now I have to corral the things and figure out what havoc they are going to wreak on Earth and how that havoc is going to affect Tommy (and Elysia). (A lesson to all writers: don’t bring trolls back to life.)
  • To be honest, I can’t “see” Elysia’s plot yet. I’ve been focusing on Earth, and Elysia’s stories are hiding from me. This is creating a bit of an issue with the whole intertwining thing.

I feel like I’m rushing through a draft and leaving out important stuff. I’m terrified I’m going to forget some of it. (This is why we all say copious notes. Because regular notes aren’t good enough in this situation.) I’m looking at the work cut out for me, and I keep thinking, “It’s too big. I’ll never get it done.”

How many of you have ever thought this?

Here’s the one thing I’ve discovered that helps me through these situations:

Keep writing.

I kid you not. I remember feeling this way when I first wrote A Prophecy Forgotten. I felt this way again with Out of the Shadows. I know this feeling intimately. I’ve experienced it before, and I know that I will overcome it just as I overcame it in the past. Each time I encounter these feelings, ignoring them becomes easier because I’ve succeeded before.

The first time I felt this, however, I had no idea if I could actually finish the novel. Many of you might be there, working on your first novel, and feeling this right now. I will be honest. The inadequate feelings nearly crippled me. It took writing despite those feelings and finishing the book for me to realize that I could overcome them. The only answer to dealing with self-doubt is proving yourself wrong.

If you are currently in the middle of writing a story and you’re struggling with its vast scope, please be encouraged. You can do this. Wading through your plot and characters and binding them together will be hard. I’m not going to sugarcoat that part. But you can do it. And doing it will give you the strength to do it again on your next project. Because you have more than one story inside you and those stories need to come out.

Just keep writing my friends!

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Brainstorming: Staying Open to Fresh Ideas That Conflict With Your Plan

I’m sitting in Starbucks, taking my few hours a week away from all my distractions, brainstorming my outline/pre-draft for the third book in the Elysian Chronicles Series: The Sword of the Vanir. Today, I’m trying to organize all the notes that I’ve compiled across the years (has it been that long?). I’ve been looking at the plans I had for Gabriella’s character, and… Have you ever just had that slightly sickening feeling inside that you aren’t heading in the right direction? I know many writers, artists, movie makers, actors, and other creatives have experienced this while working on a project, and I’m sure others have experienced it in other areas of their lives.

I’ve learned (the hard way) that when I start feeling like a plot or a character is heading in the wrong direction, I need to take a good, hard look at what I’m doing and why it makes me uncomfortable. Usually, I end up throwing a figurative grenade at the whole plot point or story line and starting fresh. Sometimes, this has involved dozens of pages being deleted, but each time it has been worth it. I’ve also found that if I continue to ignore my instincts and push forward, I end up scrapping the idea anyway, only I’ve wasted more time and had to delete more words.

This afternoon, I threw a pretty big grenade into the Elysian side of The Sword of the Vanir. As in, I scrapped the whole plan for the first quarter of the book and about 20,000 words.

Totally. Worth. It.

My original Gabriella storyline turned her into a whiny, annoying character that I really didn’t want to spend much time with. I had even prepped the readers for this change at the end of Out of the Shadows. However, if I had continued down that path, it would have negatively impacted the story:

  • Making Gabriella more whiny would turn the reader against her. I need readers rooting for my main characters. It’s a delicate balance of giving the character real weaknesses but  in such a way that the reader still likes her. Think of Harry Potter. Sometimes, he could get a bit annoying, especially when he and Ron got in their girl fight during the Goblet of Fire, but Harry never became so annoying that the reader stopped rooting for him. Gabriella was starting to annoy me, and I had barely started writing her…
  • Gabriella is not the character I was writing. This is the chick who dove into freezing cold water to rescue Tommy in a blizzard. This is the woman who looked Salla in the eye and refused to betray her country, bracing herself for whatever might happen and knowing full well the potential consequences. This is not a woman who would stoop to whiny, lovesick, and bitter for very long. Forcing characters to become something they really aren’t will always feel wrong and the reader will pick up on it.
  • Gabs is a hero. Honey, she’s a decorated soldier and for good reason. This personality trate would come out. I can’t force it away as the author just because it doesn’t fit into my original plans.
  • Davian wants to win. At the end of the day, Davian love Gabriella and wants her safe, but he also has to keep Elysia safe. He always achieves his objectives. Gabriella is far too valuable as a soldier to be used as arm candy or even to be stuck in Hawk Tower. We all know she would be annoying him about getting a good position within the military, and he would probably relent. I have to take into account other characters and how they would react. Davian is still Davian. Mr. Achieve the Objective is not going to shed those spots anytime soon.

Each of us uses different methods to brainstorm our way through a novel to get ourselves back in track. I am visual. I read through my notes, knowing my original ideas were off track.

Suddenly a mental picture flashed into my head. Gabriella, black hair flowing, wearing the white cloak Cassadern gave her, sitting on top of a unicorn in the snow in front d the scribes library. I can’t tell you why this is important without giving away a few things, but I realized then…

She’s a spy for Elysia. She’s an “ambassador” who is in fact a spy. 

You know you’re on the right track when your pulse quickens and an entire plot unfolds before your eyes in a matter of seconds.

So I am back at my desk, basically redoing all of the Elysian sections of this novel. It feels refreshing, and I’m finally excited to face this section of the story.
How about you? Have you ever found yourself off track? How did you fix it?

Posted in Character Development, Finding Your Inspiration, M. B. Weston's Writing Diary, The World of Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Facing Your Deepest Fears – M. B. Weston’s Writing Diary 08/29/16

I’m sitting in front of my computer with shivers literally traveling down my arms. I can’t imagine how my poor character is feeling… Except my character is a Navy Seal. Named Tom… [Cue the excitement from the Elysian Chronicles fans…] He might not get as scared as me, but I guarantee you he’s not happy I’ve written him into this situation…

Writers know that creating tension in a story is vital. It means putting your characters in tough situations that you might not necessarily want to write about. It means manipulating the emotions of your reader. Your characters might need to experience sadness or terror in order to make the story better, even if you as the author don’t want to go there.

Unfortunately, we authors often have to experience the same emotions our characters experience. This especially includes me. I’m a “method writer.” Like a method actor, I have to put myself into the character’s head. I have to “be there.” That’s why I can’t just write an outline and have it work. I have to create more of a pre-draft because I literally have to go into the story and hear, see, and feel what my character feels.

So when Tom is scuba diving off the coast of Norway and has to go into an uncharted cave, I’m there with him. When he has to make a decision when the cave forks, knowing that his air is dwindling, I’m living it. And when a sea monster comes at him…

Yeah. I’m the one who has to endure the surprising sight of teeth and scales while squirming backward in a tiny sea cave trying to remember which way to go to escape and hoping the cave doesn’t become my tomb… 

All from the safety of my writing desk. But I’m still feeling the shivers…

Here’s the funny thing about creating stories: the sea monster wasn’t planned. Neither was the cave. Tom was just supposed to go down into the ocean and get some samples. However, letting my imagination take control sometimes allows it to access my inner fears. I’m a certified scuba diver, and I have a fear of going into underwater caves because I’ve heard to many horror stories about cave diving without training. And I live in Florida where sharks and alligators are real threats. But getting into the story and letting my imagination take over is when the magic of creation happens. 

It’s also when you might see an author jump out of her skin in a coffee shop.

For the writers: make sure you spend time in your hero’s head to get the most out of your story.

For the readers: remember to thank your favorite authors for enduring all of that emotional turmoil so you can enjoy a good story. 😉

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How Not to Sabotage Yourself – M. B. Weston’s Writing Diary 08/03/16

Any work-from-home profession leaves the door wide open for self-sabotage. I’ve been plodding along, editing my Michael Lodestone urban-fantasy novella for the past week, and I’m pretty sure I’ve walked through that door a few times.

I’m sure I can list a few “do’s” when it comes to keeping a writing routine going, but this post I’m going to mention some “don’ts.” Unfortunately, I’m on an intimate basis with those…

Don’t assume you’ll rise to the occasion if the past begs to differ. This sounds horrible, but let me give you an example. Me: Of course I can wake up at 5:00am and jog, leaving me time at night to write. Reality: If my alarm clock is next to my bed where I can turn it off without standing up, 5:00am ain’t happening, leaving me to jog three miles at night around 9:00pm after our daily thunderstorms have passed through–meaning no writing. I know I can only get up at 5:00am if I put my alarm clock on my dresser, forcing me to stand up to turn it off. I have four decades of data to show it. Instead of assuming I’m going to be different and excercise self-control this time, I need to just go with how I work and move the alarm clock.

Don’t try to alter a routine that already works. I write at night. That’s when my brain turns on. This works for me. Trying to write in the morning doesn’t. (Jogging in the morning does, however, hence the alarm clock.) It really works better if I just go with what works instead of trying to do something different because some other author does something different.

Don’t mess with your body’s and mind’s pre-programming. I also take my showers at night. (When you live in south Florida, you shower at night. The humidity is so horrible here that you have no choice if you want to go to bed feeling clean.) For four long decades, my evening shower has been the very last thing I do before I go to bed. When I step into that shower, it sends a signal to my body and mind that it is time to sleep. This past week, I’ve tried to mess with the programming by showering before I started writing. Really. Bad. Choice. I seriously couldn’t get through a page without nodding off. Sometimes I didn’t even make it to the computer.

Writing is hard. It’s hard enough without me sabotaging myself with changes that are supposed to make me better but somehow make it worse. I’m a writer, Jim, not a superhero. This week’s lesson: work my routine around who I am instead of who I think I’m supposed to be.

How about you? Have any of you ever done something similar?

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Making Writing Work in Less-Than-Ideal Digs – M. B. Weston’s Writing Diary 7/27/16

My writing desk sits in the middle of the only living area in my small, two-bedroom condo. (When I say small, understand that my kitchen has less counter space than some office desks.) The living area is home to the dinner table, my daughter’s toys, the television set, and two bookshelves.

Oh yeah, and my desk, which has no cupboards in which to hide printers and such, so I have to go out to the porch where my printer is hidden in my storage wardrobe.

These past two nights, I’ve discovered two great ways to make writing happen, instead of just thinking and talking about writing but not actually doing it.

1) Earplugs – I discovered these last night. You can buy these little life changers at any drug store, and they are amazing. Before earplugs, I would have been too distracted to write when my husband watched his Seinfeld reruns. With the earplugs, I don’t hear anything going on, and writing happens.

2) Preparing for writing ahead of time – Because my desk is in the middle of the room, I have to make sure everything is boxed up and put away after I’m done. I pull out the computer plug and place it in a box. I push my computer under another, more decorated box. I then put all my writing notes in…you guessed it: a clear box, which I hide under the desk in a white basket. I replace the gargoyle in the middle of the hutch, put the child-proof outlet cover back on the outlet, and move my kitchen chair back to the kitchen table. 

As you can imagine, I have to do the same amount of work to get ready to write. Tonight, I discovered that preparing my workspace earlier in the evening 1) gives me more time to write and 2) eliminates excuses. I almost decided I was too tired to write tonight, but because I had already prepared my work space, I went ahead and spent about an hour on my latest project. Who would have thought that taking time to prepare my space earlier in the evening would help me that much?

What about you? What have you found helps you make the best of your writing environment–even when it’s not ideal?

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Writing is Hard: M. B. Weston’s Writing Diary – 07/25/16

Writing is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Writing isn’t just telling a good story. It’s telling a good, seamless story within word count, that sounds professional, with good character development, ample adjectives, and of course with impeccable grammar.

I’m slogging through round three of my urban fantasy pulp novella, and I’m currently in the “wading through cement stage.” At least, that’s what it feels like. It’s a pulp story, so I’m editing pages of unending action, and action scenes are so difficult. I have to describe all the blows, running, fights, and the pain from all of the above in short, sweet bursts that don’t get redundant and still convey a mental image. How many different ways can you say a guy’s legs are aching from sprinting before you bore the audience?

Hard, yes, but what really kills the writing session is finding out that you’ve forgotten an important detail in a prior scene that you need to add in. And trust me, those kind of changes are never easy.

Tonight, I discovered two separate problems. 1) My hero, Michael Lodestone, wears a jacket lined with a loose form of iron chain mail to protect himself from magical spells sent in his direction. (Yes, it’s heavy. He’s strong. It will work. Lay off.) In my story, he gets hit in the chest with a spell, and it drops him. Obviously, this is a problem because he’s wearing an anti-magic jacket that covers his chest. Basically, I’m going to have to go back into the very first scene and either have him take off his jacket (which would be out of character), open his jacket (again get out of character), or have him get hit in the head or legs. Or I will have to make up something that explains how the spell made it through the jacket.

I decided to leave that problem for a future writing session. 

More important is 2) Michael is chasing a van, and the van manages to escape. In my draft I came upon a not telling myself that somehow Michael needs to catch up to the van (which is never easy) and slap a GPS tracker thingy somewhere on the van. (I also need to figure out the real name of the GPS tracker thingy.) If Michael doesn’t get the thingy on the van, I don’t have a story. I literally had to comb through the van chase scene to find a spot where Michael could get close enough to attach said thingy. The I had to rewrite parts after that to explain why he was no longer panicking over losing the van. 

I’m sharing this to encourage those of you working on your own stories who might feel like giving in. These types of things happen to writers all the time, and they are perfectly normal. Writing is hard, and that’s okay. Editing really is like wading through cement. Don’t give in! Keep writing, even if you have to spend the rest of your evening redoing a scene so your hero can slap a GPS tracker thingy on a van.

Anyone else have a fun editing story?

Cheers!

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