Trust and Perseverance by Lani Longshore

Every time one of my writing buddies gets a nibble from an agent, I wonder if I shouldn’t trust the universe to provide and send out another round of queries myself. I’m happy enough self-publishing. No, my sales aren’t good, but the chances of them being better with a traditional publisher aren’t guaranteed, and at least my writing is out there now. Still, the validation of having someone you don’t know say, “Hey, I like your book well enough to help you” is priceless. Then I do a search and maybe—maybe—find one agent whose interests could possibly be a good match for my book. I’ve been through this dance long enough that I am not always willing to persevere with the queries.

Then the annual agent issue of Writer’s Digest arrived in my mailbox. I almost didn’t read the issue, figuring what’s the point? Still, I had just enough trust that somewhere out there’s an agent for me that I opened the magazine. This time, there were half a dozen agents that I thought might be interested in my work. Those are good enough odds for me.

I hope you, too, will trust yourself and your writing. Querying agents, finishing that rewrite, entering contests—all this takes energy and confidence. Persevere, and let me know when your efforts are rewarded.

Titles: A Collection by Lani Longshore

There are days when I can write stories, and there are days when I can write titles. Alas, the titles don’t always match the stories. Still, writing is writing, so I keep a file of all the titles that manage to stick to a memory cell long enough for me to record them. Whether I’ll ever write stories to go with all of them is doubtful. That used to make me sad, but then I thought, Self, share. Maybe someone else will write the story and you can enjoy it without all the work. So here they are, some with explanation, some without.

 

Accidental Mythology

An Altar of Crockery

Soren and The Flying Dachshund (My friend had a dachshund puppy that liked to play chase with her older pit-bull mix, Soren, by leaping off the furniture and soaring past Soren’s head)

The Worms Don’t Read

The Method of Exhaustion (a form of geometrical proof)

Volatile Sugar Dust (apparently it’s a thing, and can cause explosions)

Last, but not least, here is a title and cover art for Thread Brain: A Story

Writing Lessons by Lani Longshore

There are times when the universe whacks you over the head and shouts, “Pay attention!” The universe is speaking to me about my writing practice, and what I need to include.

Tri-Valley Writers started a field trip series to get us out of our writing dens and into the fresh air. The first outing was to Dublin’s Heritage Park. We were given a sheet of writing prompts and turned loose. I chose to begin with the prompt to describe the area. As I finished my notes about a building with a tin roof, I remembered a story about a cabin in West Texas with a tin roof. I jotted down that memory, which brought forth another memory, and so on all morning. I haven’t written in a stream of consciousness style in years. I have so many projects I want to finish that writing without a specific purpose seems a disgraceful waste of time. For one morning, however, I allowed myself to write without worrying about how the piece would fit into any of my projects.

When I returned home, I opened the latest edition of Writer’s Digest and discovered an article about adapting lessons from art school to improve one’s writing. All the advice incorporated a healthy dose of apparently random writing, of putting aside the idea that every session needs to have a purpose. Creative work is its own reward, and practicing writing, like practicing sketching (or practicing scales, or basic ballet positions) gives us more tools when we are doing purposeful writing.

“Self,” I said, “this is exactly what you need, so for heaven’s sake make sure you go to the next outings.”

Two sessions remain in the summer series – July 24 at Lizzie Fountain (Livermore), and August 7 at Veterans Park (Livermore). To RSVP, email newsletter@trivalleywriters.org.

Secrets and Stories by Lani Longshore

I talked with a friend the other day who told me about tracking down the truth of some old family stories. Her grandmother, it appears, may have been a waitress in a Southern restaurant frequented by mobsters on the run in the 1930s. The family had sent her to a private school, but then the Depression hit and the money ran out. My friend’s grandmother essentially disappeared for several years. Even when she was reunited with the family, the lost years weren’t discussed. My friend isn’t sure if that’s because the family was trying to keep secrets, or life went on and no one was interested in the past.

I write Sci-Fi, but I love mysteries. One of my favorites is Perry Mason. A staple of those stories is the villainous blackmailer and the woman desperate to keep family indiscretions secret for the sake of the children. Of course, the secrets have to come out to save Mason’s wrongly accused client, and rarely is anyone scandalized.

My family stories would make a splendid series, especially the ones about relatives who are safely dead. It’s harder when there’s someone alive who could be hurt, but I’ve still got the story of the man who kidnapped his own son and moved across the world, the child who set off alone after a war and created a completely new identity, and the woman who defied all of her clan’s conventions and managed to keep her place as a beloved daughter.

On second thought, maybe I’ll keep writing Sci-Fi and fold these characters into stories with space aliens and faster-than-light travel. I doubt even my own mother would recognize herself in the shape of a nine-foot, blue-skinned lizard lady.

History and World Building by Lani Longshore

I’m reading The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck, who decided to outfit a covered wagon and revisit what is left of the Oregon Trail. He spends a couple of chapters talking about wagons. The Conestoga Wagon may be what most people remember from history class, but that wasn’t the wagon that went west. The Conestoga Wagon, which Buck compares with an 18-wheeler on our highways today, could carry eight tons of cargo and was used in the 1700s for agricultural transport. The wagon of the Oregon Trail was the prairie schooner, which Buck compares to modern minivans. It was so common as to be unremarkable, mentioned in histories and memoirs, but rarely documented on its own.

As a science fiction writer, I immediately thought of how my world-building could benefit from looking at what is so commonplace, so unremarkable, and yet so essential to the smooth running of my life. I’ve thought about the type of energy my aliens might use to power their dwellings, but never about what they might use in place of light switches. I’ve considered what my future humans will eat, but not about how it will get to their version of a grocery store.

Starting now, I will explore road surfaces, the nature of fences, and whether or not slippers survive to the 23rd century. Knowing what is available for my protagonist under ordinary circumstances will give me an opportunity to develop her character when she is deprived of these items, or perhaps be a plot twist all on its own, or even the basis for an entire novel. Waiting for “Sharing” function to be restored may not have the ring of Waiting for Godot, but it could make a hoot of a short story.

Stairway to Story: A writing prompt by Lani Longshore

Now that the weather is better, I find myself away from the computer more often. The writing projects lined up on my desk are gathering dust, metaphorically and literally. I wasn’t quite at the point of despair because the weather is beautiful, but the nagging voice in my head was getting louder. Then, on a trip to Sausalito, I noticed this alley.

Sausalito Alley by Lani Longshore

This isn’t the landscape I usually write about, but something about the light glinting off the lamp and the steep stairs caught my imagination. Since I write science fiction, there’s a better than average chance the lamp post turns into a creature bio-engineered to stand watch over city streets, but my heroine won’t realize this until she gets bitten for loitering.

It occurred to me that any writer could use vacation time to collect images for stories. While everyone else is taking pictures of food and family, you could snap a few dark corners for your mystery novel, odd leaves or flowers for your romance story, or architectural details for your gritty urban crime series. To get you started, use the photo of the alley as a writing prompt. Post your 25-word opening lines to a story or a chapter in the comment section of this blog. Who knows where those stairs could take you?

Submit your writing for publication and get paid! by Paula Chinick

Most writers have heard these words but then shrug them off. The hard part may be finding the right niche. Once found, you can earn an income.

Before you get too excited, at the start you probably will want to hold on to that day job. With your first assignment, however, you’ll have the satisfaction of being paid for your work, no long arduous commute (working from home), flexible hours, and the addition of freelance writer on your bio.

Opportunities are abundant from feature articles to greeting cards. You decide how much time and which different niches you are willing to take on. Whatever your interest, you can find online companies looking for writers and see their requirements and pay ranges. I recommend you research carefully to find a good fit.

I currently freelance for two high-end neighborhood magazines in Claremont and Santa Cruz, California, with the possibility of a third being developed. Once a month I receive an audio file and/or filled-out questionnaire from which I create feature articles. The requirement is to complete two to four articles (400-700 words each) in one week’s time.

I usually start with a question or fact about the subject that leads into the story. Just as in novel or short story, an arc is developed, as well as a character, the setting, and the proverbial show don’t tell. The biggest benefit in freelancing is it provides me the ability to write when my manuscript is in a downward spiral.

If earning more spendable income interests you, or you simply like to write, then I encourage you to check out freelance writing opportunities. It’s easy and all online.

 

Creating memorable characters with a go-to excuse by Lani Longshore

Over the years, I’ve read lots of books and articles about creating memorable characters. Early on, the advice focused on visualizing your character and considering how gender, height, weight, coloring, and recognizable facial markings could have affected that character’s life. Later, it became fashionable to think of fashion. What did it mean that your character wore high heels, low heels, no heels? Later still, the trend went to what your character always carries, or the one thing your character regretted losing. Good advice, all of it, but today I want to consider delving into the soul of your character. What is his or her go-to excuse to weasel out of trouble?

Try writing a scene where your protagonist is in trouble and desperate to find that get-out-of-jail-free-card. Envisioning the lies, truths, or combinations thereof that your protagonist tells will give you a good indication of whether you’re playing with a hero or anti-hero.

Now write a scene for the villain, but in this case try layering some honesty into the go-to excuse. What happens if another character, perhaps the protagonist’s best friend, recognizes some truth in the excuse being told? How will that affect the protagonist’s and side-kick’s approach to the next crisis?

Since problem-solving is at the heart of every story, it makes sense to discover how your characters will react in difficult situations sooner rather than later. Who knows, in the process you might even discover a few excuses you can trot out on that day you discover someone forgot to pay the electricity bill.

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