Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Picking the defining trait of my mother daunts me. Could it be her generosity? She is, without doubt the most generous person I know. The quintessential example would be the time she took the whole family—22? of us—to Punta Cana for a Club Med vacation. It took place in 1992, and to this day, we relive the memories.
Yet, her love extends beyond her financial generosity. If any of us needed help, she’d give it, regardless of her personal situation. When cancer struck me, she drove the four hundred miles up her, took care of me for weeks, bought me clothes and yard furniture and brought me roses every day. She does the same for each of her six children.
Her devotion to her family and friends is unparalleled. As I write these words my mind says the phrase sounds cliché. But it’s not when it comes to my mother. She is easy going, gives in to other people’s desires, wishes to please above all things. But don’t mess with her family. We WILL celebrate Christmas together. When I make my summer trek to Long Island, we WILL have a get together. She’s happiest surrounded by her children (despite their ages—and I’m aged).
Adventure intrigues her. She’s scuba dived with my family, traveled to Russia and Egypt and Turkey. She’s seen Europe—both alone and with family.
And her art work is beautiful. Whether in oil, pastels or watercolor, my mother knows art. We spent hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art studying the masters. Our homes are decorated with her “cast offs” which intrigue friends who see them.
She’s been married three times and widowed twice. Sometimes her husbands created difficulties hard to bear. However, she never speaks ill of any. She understands human nature, sees the good through the bad and loves unconditionally.
Today, July 27, she turns 80. I can’t imagine life without her, so she better last at least another twenty years. Happy birthday, Mom.
Friday, July 16, 2010
I came to the end. Thought I saw Neil, smiled and waved to a gray haired, gray bearded man who never saw me before.
Then I funneled through the finish line. One hour, thirty-eight minutes and fifty-five seconds. Not great, but still considered locally competitive for my age and gender.
They funneled me into the biggest gridlock of my life—bigger than the NYC marathon, bigger than Patterson’s government. (And Patterson was part of the problem here, as well.)
I walked along streets crowded with finishers and discovered plenty of water, but the Sobe vitamin water was gone, the good soda—gone, the Greek yogurt—gone. Boxes of quartered oranges still lay—many of them with the eaten oranges tossed in with the uneaten. Oh—to be at the end of the pack is not a pretty thing.
My hip buzzed.
Neil called. He may not have been the lovely gent I waved to, but he was somewhere near him. He saw me cross the finish line, and a picture he snapped would show me looking his way, grinning at some handsome man.
He had a dilemma (aside from not being able to hear me over the din). The cops and race marshals wouldn’t let him pass the barriers. He couldn’t get to me.
I yelled into my phone. He yelled into his. Somehow I understood only that he couldn’t get to me. I’d just get my lunch and find him.
Finding lunch proved hard as throngs swarmed the Price Chopper truck for our lunches. I grabbed one, found a tree, sat under it and munched a banana.
My hip beeped.
The phone never rang.
My husband still couldn’t find me.
“I’ll find you,” I yelled.
“I’LL FIND YOU!!!!!”
I hung up the phone.
As I backtracked I discovered the rest of the food. With my arms pinned to my sides and shoulder to shoulder with about a billion other runners (and non-runners grubbing the food), I gathered a few more munitions, found a quiet road and rejoiced. No crowds. I turned a corner. Fewer people on this residential street. Porta Potties lay ahead and the Celtic Minstrel. Two landmarks. I’d call Neil. We’d meet there.
Of course he didn’t hear me.
“STAY WHERE YOU ARE. I’LL FIND YOU!!!!!!”
As I approached orange fence blocking the entrance to the finish line, a cop stopped me.
“You can’t go through. Governor Patterson’s leaving.”
A couple behind me became incredulous. “I’ve got to find my daughter.”
“Sorry. The governor’s coming.”
“You mean I can’t get my daughter?”
I didn’t try to argue. I turned around and headed back to the mob. Before I reached it, Neil called.
“I’m behind the Price Chopper truck.”
“I know where that is. Stay there.” I flipped my cell shut. I’d find my husband. The right husband.
I got to the truck, but had one dilemma. I didn’t know where “behind” was. It all looked the same. Was it at the back, where the long side bordered the trees near the empty street I now backtracked on? Was it in front where all the other food courts lay, was it facing the family reunion or the street that funneled the runners in.
Only one solution since Neil couldn’t hear me. I walked around and around and around. Then, I caught sight of a good-looking, gray haired, gray bearded man with a cell phone stuck to his ear. Mine began buzzing once more. I trotted over, tapped Neil on the shoulder, startled him. He grabbed my hand and we attempted our escape.
The rest of our trip. Just ordinary.
It was a great run—but a lousy party. I’m glad I ran the Boilermaker, sorry I never met any of my training buddies there. Never even had the chance to get tempted with the free beer—if trying to get a sample of Greek yogurt had been a contortionist’s nightmare, can you picture the beer tent?
Thanks Governor Patterson. You even gridlock family reunions.
Monday, July 12, 2010
It doesn’t pay to be kind. Believe me. I tried it and it gave me an ulcer.
I trained for the Boilermaker—an elite race of 13,000 crazies who run the streets of
Morning came. The wake-up call beckoned me at 5:30 a.m. I arose, washed, drank coffee and had my devotion time and let Neil sleep. He’d have to stand around in the heat and try to find me in the running throngs and snap attractive pictures of me as I past—all sweaty and exhausted. At 6:45 I woke him. He showered. Chatted with the hotel personnel about a Corvette museum. I should have realized trouble brewed because the parking lot of our sold-out motel was empty.
The start line lay only five miles away, and I had fifteen minutes to get there. No sweat. I hit the Garmin GPS and settled back. We’d drive the backstreets because the course would be closing to vehicles for the race.
Little did I know, they closed ALL the roads. The implacable cops wouldn’t let us pass a major artery and drive down the road that cut across to the start line. We had to backtrack. Found Highway 5. Headed north.
On our way to the start at last, I couldn’t settle. Ms Garmin told me I’d arrive at 7:47. I was supposed to be there by 7:45. And by nature, if I’m not fifteen minutes early—I’m late.
We hit traffic backups because cars c navigate couldn’t get on to the closed streets. I contemplated hopping out and jogging—but still we were five miles away. I had barely trained for the nine mile course—fourteen would kill me.
At last we crawled to our exit. Ms Garmin tried to navigate us back onto roads closed to vehicles. We shut her off.
At last, with five minutes to race time, we arrived near the starting area. Of course, no cars could get closer. Before Neil stopped our Sebring, I hopped out, asked directions and jogged down the short street.
At last, I turned the corner and there stood 13,000 people—headed by scrawny, young African elite runners waiting for the starting gun.
I jogged on.
I made it!.
“You can’t go there.” A guard stopped me.
“But how do I get to my race start?”
She pointed down a side road. “Go that way, turn right.”
She minced no words.
Two minutes to go. And another detour.
I ran. As did other latecomers. I turned the corner. Ahead of me lay a field. Beyond the field a fence and a line-up of runners with numbered black bibs attached to their shirts. My corral.
Over hummocks, through weeds, I wended my way. I nudged into line. Wiggled my way that warm morning between hot bodies. Stood shoulder to shoulder (almost haunch to paunch as Tom Wolfe would say.)
Final instructions reverberated. Wave to Governor Patterson as you cross the start line.
Not only did he gridlock our government—but the start of the Boilermaker as well.
I thought all was well. But time would tell.
To be continued.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Janice Thompson: email@example.com
Janice, I understand you’re about to debut a new fiction course online. Why fiction? What is your background, as it relates to fiction writing?
Every writer hopes to one day write “The Great American Novel.” I started writing novels as a child, so the desire to craft “story” has always been inside of me. In the mid ‘90s I started writing with the desire to be published. After years of trial and error, my first novel hit the shelves in 2000. Since then, I’ve published over forty novels—everything from inspirational romance to cozy mysteries to Y.A. (young adult) to romantic comedies. It’s been a great run! I’ve noticed a trend in recent years. “Young” writers approach me, one after the other, asking the same questions and struggling with the same problems. I’ve worn myself out giving the same answers! (There are only so many times and ways you can say, “You’re head-hopping, honey!”) Because of that, I decided it would be easier to compile the information into a fiction course, will debut mid-June at www.freelancewritingcourses.com. I can’t wait to see what novelists think of this exciting new course!
You’ve started with a lesson on understanding the genres. Why is that?
As mentioned above, I’ve been published in multiple genres. My first book was a suspense-thriller. I’ve since written historicals, contemporaries, children’s, young adult, romances, mysteries and much, much more. Because I’ve been able to successfully cross genre lines, I feel qualified to teach on the subject. Before writers can establish themselves as novelists, they must develop an understanding of the fiction genres/categories. Choosing the best genre (or genres) is critical to your success. But with so many categories to choose from, how do you know which is your best fit? This lesson will give writers a thorough introduction to genre writing and will provide them with the necessary information to choose the one(s) best suited to their literary style and voice.
I see you’ve included a lesson on plotting. Is this based on your “Plot Shots” teaching, which you’ve offered at conferences?
Yes! I’m so tickled to finally be able to offer this teaching in a course format. I’ve become known as “that Plot Shots lady.” That’s okay. I can live with that! I’m a firm believer in laying out a great plotline. Why? Because every story needs a beginning, middle and end. Careful plotting will lead the reader on a satisfactory, realistic journey through each of those stages, creatively weaving in and out, up and down. The "Plot Shots" method gives writers the tools they need to plot their novel in twelve easy snapshots. It’s a fun and easy approach to plotting that won’t confuse or complicate the story.
Characterization is such an important component of fiction writing. Can you tell us more about your characterization lesson?
Years ago I developed a teaching that I call “Pandora’s Box.” It’s a layered approach to characterization, which uses the illustration of multiple boxes, one inside the other. In this lesson, I lay out the need for great characterization, then present the Pandora’s Box method. After presenting the method, I take the student through the process four times, using four fictional characters as a foundation. (Each character has a different personality, so the student learns how to apply the technique to the various personalities.)
So many writers struggle with P.O.V. (point of view). Is that why you included a lesson on that very tough subject?
Point of View (P.O.V.) is a critical fiction component. Employing to your best advantage is tough! Most of the young writers I know struggle in this area. The head-hop. Oh, they don’t mean to. . .but they do! My detailed lesson on Point of View offers students a thorough teaching on the various P.O.V.s (omniscient, third person, second person, first person), and gives specific examples and tips so that writers can become P.O.V. purists.
What is passive writing? Why have you included a lesson about it?
Many of the manuscripts I edit are written in passive voice. They’re loaded with passive verbs and include huge sections of “telling.” The author “information dumps,” which stops the flow of the story. Knowing the difference between active voice and passive voice is key to writing a great novel. Conquering the art of "showing" instead of "telling" will give writers an added advantage. This detailed lesson--filled with nuggets of wisdom from published authors--will give writers the tools they need to strengthen their stories and pull them into active voice.
Ack! Backstory! It’s so tough to add to our novels. Is that why you included a lesson on the subject?
Backstory. We all struggle with it, don’t we? In so many ways, it's critical to our story. After all, the reader needs to know where our primary character has come from--what she's been through--why she acts like she does. So, do you add the backstory or not? If so, can you do so without resorting to author intrusion? And where will you place it? At the beginning of the story? Elsewhere? Will it come out in lumps or snippets? This lesson offers students an intense look at backstory and includes tips for interjecting it without stopping the action.
Many writers struggle with finding their “voice.” Can you tell us more about that?
A writer’s “voice” is her/her “stamp.” It’s the author’s “personality on the page.” And many young writers haven’t “found their voice” yet. This lesson delves into the topic, in detail, giving perspective on this very personal issue. The lesson (titled “Themes, Style and Voice”) also covers the various themes found in popular books, as well as style components.
Can you tell us some of the top fiction mistakes?
Sure! After editing hundreds of manuscripts, I can point out some of the “top” fiction mistakes: Lack of a good hook. P.O.V. issues. Passive writing. Weak characterization. Poor plotting (no “belly of the whale” scene). Overuse of adverbs. On and on the list goes. Many writers simply don’t realize they’re making these mistakes until someone points them out. They wonder why the book keeps getting rejected. This lesson offers writers a thorough list, detailing the top twenty mistakes novelists make.
Why did you decide to add a lesson on humor writing?
I’ve been writing comedies for years and have learned so much along the way. Humor writing is tough stuff! Some writers are born with an overactive funny bone. Others have to work hard to be funny. (Ironic, isn't it?!) If you're interested in adding a little har-de-har-har-har to your novel, then you've come to the right place. In this light-hearted lesson on humor writing, I share my top ten tips for adding humor to your writing. The bonus feature contains another twenty tummy-tickling techniques, so hang on for the ride!
Putting together a book proposal is tough! What have you learned over the years?
Book deals are won or lost based on the proposal. If you've got a completed manuscript and you're ready to pitch it to an agent or editor, then this exciting lesson on query letters and book proposals will point you in the right direction, giving you all the confidence you need to submit, submit, submit! Students who use the information provided in this lesson can compose polished query letters and dazzling book proposals, sure to impress both editors and agents, alike.
Thanks so much for joining us, Janice. Where can people learn more about your courses? And where else can they find you on the web?
They can learn more at www.freelancewritingcourses.com. On that site, they will also find my “Becoming a Successful Freelance Writer” course, which many students have already taken. Folks can learn more about that one by clicking on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-5IZSNaZFU. I offered a free webinar on the subject about six weeks ago, and it can be found here: http://www.freelancewritingcourses.com/?s=webinar. We’ll be adding to the course list every couple of months, so stay tuned for more announcements!
Other places to find me on the web:
My website: www.janiceathompson.com
My blog: http://janiceathompson.com/blog/?cat=1
My facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/jhannathompson