Michaeline: Random Writing Advice

Do you ever take a book, and just let it fall open, put your finger on a paragraph, and read it . . . hoping to find advice and guidance? This is a very, very old fortune-telling technique, and while I don’t believe in fate, I do believe that the sudden juxtaposition of random nonsensical elements can make a lot of sense.

Brian Eno did juxtaposition with his cards of Oblique Strategies (today’s advice on Twitter: “What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving”).

David Bowie did juxtaposition with his music and his cut-up technique, which he borrowed from William Burroughs who used it in the 50s and 60s. (Burroughs was well known for his writing about the Bohemian subculture he was involved with; Jack Kerouac was one of his Beat buddies.)

I like just opening up a book of writing advice, and seeing what “the universe” wants to tell me. Of course, it isn’t “the universe”. It’s my own subconscious. If “the universe” tells me nonsense, I ignore it and go on. But if I like the paragraph, or if the paragraph really bothers me and refuses to let go of my imagination, I pay attention to it.

Today, I was looking at Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight. The book has been in my backpack for the past three weeks, and last Monday I placed it in the bathroom, hoping I’d finally take a minute to start reading it again. I’m still not ready for a re-read, but opening the book and picking a paragraph at random gave me this:

“Notice that it isn’t enough to be interested or informed; it takes both. If you are interested in your subject but know little about it, you can’t satisfy the curiosity you arouse. If you know a great deal about the subject but are not passionately interested in it (like some scientists and teachers), you will put people to sleep.”

Since we were talking about research this week with Jeanne on Tuesday, I thought it was timely advice. I’ve got the third edition of Knight’s book, which was revised in 1985. It’s got a lot of practical advice for any writer, and can be read from start to finish, as well as being used for diving for pearls of wisdom.

So, I’m off to do some guilt-free research! If it interests me that much, surely I can make it interesting for at least some niche audience!

Michaeline: April, Empty Nests, and Cats Amongst Pigeons

Three birds, empty nest

Image via Wikimedia Commons

I was tempted to post a cat picture today and call it good – maybe even do it for the whole month. See, the thing is, I am now officially an empty nester.

I spent a lot of the last six weeks getting my youngest to entrance exams and then helping her settle into her apartment just outside of Tokyo. I’m exhausted. Tokyo is a city for walkers. And for stairclimbers. And for uphill shufflers. It’s a regular Olympics for the pedestrian, and I participated in the triathlon (at least until I did a bit of orienteering, and learned to find the hidden elevators in the city).

I didn’t write. I barely even thought about writing, and for the last week, I didn’t even study kanji characters. (Commitment: 10 minutes a day. Reward: Much satisfaction.) And I played the ukulele once . . . in a crappy little music store in an outlet mall, about five kilometers (or miles, if it makes you feel more comfortable) away. I pretended I was going to buy an instrument, even though I have no room for another uke, just jonesing for a little strumming fix. Stealing sound and rhythm. They needed to change their strings, so I didn’t steal much.

By last Tuesday, though, things had settled down. The entrance ceremony was held on Monday, and so I was left in the apartment to my own lazy devices. We’d built IKEA Kallax monuments to books and makeup, and a clever shelf/hanging rack for over the washing machine. We’d hauled at least 10 tons (if you want metric, you can consider it 15 tonnes, if you like – I’m too tired to Google it, but it’s rhetorical metric, which doesn’t have an accurate counterpart in the real world, anyway) through the train and subway systems, and up to the third floor (no elevator, no magical portals, nor any sprouting wings).

Tuesday, I cracked open a book about self-publishing that I’ll talk about this month, and started making some plans to feather my empty nest with activity. I started thinking about two of my abandoned books, and idly toyed with how I could re-start them as projects. I thought about blogs and blogging. I thought about how much I loved short stories, and how I need to start sending them to magazines and let other people see them. And I began to dream about schedules – I have a dayjob from eight to four every day, but if I organize myself, surely I can find two hours each weekday for writing. Surely more on the weekends.

But for now, I’m awash in emotions. It’s really, really nice to have two daughters launched and on their own. (Oh, Mrs. Bennet, I can feel your foolish joy.) The reduction in laundry alone is a satisfying side-benefit. But on the other hand, it’s worrisome. Are they happy? Are they fine? There’s really very little I can do to contribute to their happiness at this point. Last month, it was enough to feed her some chicken, or drive her to the really far clothing store. This month, it’s out of my hands, and if things follow their natural course, it’ll never really be in my hands ever again.

It’s overwhelming to lose that role; maybe I can channel my over-abundance of helpfulness into other causes. Or maybe I can post cat pictures for the month of April, and get back into the swing of things in May. We’ll see.

Michaeline: Shibuya Ramblings

Cherry blossoms illuminated in the dark by the digital billboards

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the crossing at Shibuya during sakura season must have enough to power 10,000 novels. (Picture by E.M. Duskova)

It’s easy to see why Shibuya is so popular with the tourists: it triggers a thousand stories, all in a compact space. The station at Shibuya has been known for decades as the place where loyal dog Hachiko waited faithfully for his master to come home from the university everyday . . . even after the master passed away. The exit where the dog waited is memorialized with a statue of the dog, and has become a meeting place for all sorts of people. “Meet me at the Hachiko Exit. I’ll be wearing red.”

Hachiko waits for his master, while a boy waits for . . . well, there’s another story to be told in Shibuya, under the cherry blossoms. (Picture by E.M. Duskova)

People being there attracts more people who want to see what the big deal is about. There are cute shops, and fancy shops. The street food is fun – right now, it trends towards tapioca pearl drinks and Korean cheese dogs (food onna stick! One of my favorites). And the scramble, where the traffic stops and all the pedestrian lights go green at once has to be a powerful metaphor for . . . something. I watched half a dozen people cross with selfie sticks, recording their journey with a flood of humanity, crossing the road to get to the other side.

You’ll see the cherry blossoms are beautiful right now. They’ll be here, and then they’ll be gone with the breath of the first spring wind, but in the meantime, they are gorgeous and live their short lives to the fullest. Against the digital background, they float just as beautifully as they would have in front of a row of wooden shops. Very now-ie, but also with strong roots to the past.

Michaeline: Spring Break 2019!

 

A redhead with rose wreath plays the harp outdoors while two toddlers dressed in white robes bring her flowers and what looks like a large iguana, or a small dinosaur.

Composing some poems/Thinking of spring/A small dinosaur/My cherubs bring. Ah, spring is a crazy time of year! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Well, it’s officially official! The 21st in Japan was the spring equinox, and the 20th for North, Central and South America. And, my elementary school students graduated on Friday, which is another sure sign that the season is about to commence. Peak cherry blossoms are predicted for March 29th in Tokyo. Spring has sprung! The season’s begun!

And one of my favorite late-night shows announced a fun hashtag contest. #SpringBreakHaiku “winners” may have their winning tweets read on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. There are so many fun little creative contests associated with the show, but this one hits all my sweet spots. I love spring! I love breaks! And I adore a cute haiku!

They’ve already chosen their favorites, and you can view them on the gallery here: https://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/photos/hashtag-gallery-springbreakhaiku/3122635

This was one of my favorites.

I wrote about ten poems for the hashtag, and posted five.

My favorite darling.
Strewn across the floor:
Beer bottles from five nations.
Passed out guys from three.

Of course, you know the haiku police were out there, saying mean stuff about people’s numerical abilities. (For the record, the modern haiku doesn’t have to stick to a 5-7-5 syllable pattern. But try telling pedants that!) So, just out of silliness and spite, I posted this:

There once was a girl from Kentucky
Who went to Florida to get lucky.
She ran into an ex-,
Said, “Thank you, next.”
And hooked up with a guy much less sucky.

#SpringBreakHaiku #IrishHaiku

How about you? What silly little word games are you playing to keep your skills sharp?

Michaeline: New phone, who dis?

 

A young woman on a telephone, talking to a variety of gentlemen in the margins.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

I got a new phone today! I didn’t really need one, and I could have transferred stuff around, deleted all the bad pictures and obsolete screen shots, and made room for another year’s worth of digital clutter, but my daughter was getting a new phone for college, and my husband decided I should have a new one as well.

This seems as good a time as any to provide the periodic reminder: Back up all your stuff! I was frantically saving and sending my history from my favorite texting service (unfortunately, it’s only text that gets saved — fortunately, I am a very text-based communicator!). Back up your stuff! Not just the personal stuff, but the writing stuff, as well! Continue reading

Michaeline: In Like a Lion, and Vice Versa

A princess feeding two lions in a courtyard

If you feed your fiction lions the right things, they turn into lambs by the end of the month, right? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been a very long time since I’ve dipped into Robert McKee’s screenwriting guide, Story, so I may be misremembering the details of scene reversal. But, even if it is misremembered, this is what I need right now.

Do your scenes turn? McKee’s blogsite asks that question here, and as I remembered it, one way of doing this is making sure your character comes out of the scene 180 degrees turned around from the way she or he enters it. For example, Betty starts the scene happy. She’s going to marry her rich boyfriend, Jon, and Continue reading

Michaeline: Settings in Living Color

A girl and a sailor on a boat under the moonlight; the imagery is dark blue, and reflects the "My Secret Marriage" theme of the cover of the magazine.

Dark blue love, vs. happy pink love? The colors of the sea reflected in the color of his eyes? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a very interesting review of Isn’t It Romantic with Rebel Wilson in Vox this week. Rebecca Jennings talks about how the movie uses dark, dull imagery pre-meet, then the film turns into Living Color with all the flowers and hearts in the world, crammed into the New York setting.

Of course, Isn’t It Romantic isn’t the first film to use darkness and light. You can find plenty of articles about this little trick, and it’s as old as color film itself. Notably, The Wizard of Oz was filmed in black and white while Dorothy was in humdrum old Kansas, but the images turned into gorgeous color when she was transported to magical Oz.

And, while that particular trick was part of the film, the original book also used color to good effect. “The Emerald City” invoked specific images for readers, and the Yellow Brick Road would have been not as effective if it had been the Shiny Brick Road.

It’s a nice reminder for us to use color in our stories. (It probably makes doing the cover a little more specific, too.) How do you use color in your stories? Or, do you have a story that used color to invoke feelings, emotions, themes and ideas very well?