Author Interview, Awards, Books, Inspiration

A visit with fellow author and pet lover, Barbara Techel

barbtechel
Author and indie publisher Barbara Techel

 

I’ve been privileged to know Barbara Techel since she and I were both relative newbies to indie publishing. I had just published Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them, and Barb was in the process of publishing her first children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘n Roll Dog through her publishing house, Joyful Paw Prints Press. Also a self-published author, she reached out to ask me some questions about promoting books about disabled pets, and in the ensuing years, she has become one of my favorite people on the planet.

Since completing her Frankie series of children’s books, Barb has gone on to write and publish a couple nonfiction titles. The first was Class Act: Sell More Books Through School and Library Author Appearances, which I had the honor of editing. It’s the only book solely on this subject, and is absolutely stuffed with useful information for any author trying to promote their book.

Barb’s latest nonfiction effort is Through Frankie’s Eyes: One woman’s journey to her authentic self, and the dog on wheels who led the way. It’s a courageous sharing of Barb’s personal story, about how her entire life was transformed by the love of a small red dachshund who lost the use of her back legs. Barb was inspired by her miniature dachshund, Frankie, who ruptured a disk in her lower back when she was 6 years old and was given only a 30% chance of walking again. This led Barb to have Frankie custom-fit for a dog cart to help her walk again. Through Frankie’s Eyes is a moving read she sent me at a time when I was going through some personal struggles of my own, and I found it inspiring and uplifting, at a time when I really needed that. So I’m sharing with you here a recent visit with Barb about this marvelous book, in hopes that perhaps it can do the same for you.

Through Frankie's Eyes book cover

Q. What was your initial reaction when your dog was given only a 30% chance of walking again?

I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine what Frankie’s life would be like if she didn’t walk on her own again. And just as I talk about my book and being honest, I share that I questioned if I even wanted to take care of a handicapped pet. How would my own life change? How would I do this? I was scared.

But I loved Frankie so much and I wanted to give her a chance. It changed me in a way I never saw coming, and I’m so grateful.

Q. Was Frankie’s injury the impetus to help other dogs with disabilities?

Very much so. I never had even heard about dog wheelchairs (also called dog carts) before this happened to Frankie. When I had Frankie custom-fitted for her wheelchair, I was amazed at how she could do pretty much all the same things she did before her paralysis. Her wheelchair was just a tool to help her live a quality life.

When Frankie became paralyzed in 2006, I didn’t really hear of any other dogs such as her who were in wheelchairs. It was part of the reason I wrote a children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog about her, to help spread a positive message and educate not only small children, but parents and grandparents who would read the story to their kids/grandkids and they could learn that dogs with disabilities can lead a great life if given a chance.

Q.  Your story, Cassie & Frankie Inspire a Writer, won an honorable mention award in 2007, in a contest sponsored by Linda and Allen Anderson of Angel Animals Network. Who is Cassie, and were you  inspired to help just Frankie when you wrote the book or article, or did it move you to help other disabled dogs, as well?

Cassie was my chocolate Lab, who passed away in 2005 from terminal bone cancer. She inspired me to become a writer. I was in awe of how she continued to be happy even though a tumor in her body was growing and would eventually take her life. It awakened me to go after what it was that would bring me more joy, and to live my own life to the fullest. Though cliché, it hit me over the head how short life really is.

Little did I know that nine months after Cassie’s death, Frankie would then become paralyzed. Though it was painful and tough at the beginning of Frankie’s ordeal, I knew I was being presented with an opportunity to spread a positive message.

FrankieLegacyQ. Has being the owner of a disabled dog made you more sensitive to disabled people?

You know, I’ve always been sensitive to disabled people. But I’d say my empathy and compassion deepened. Even more than that, my respect for them grew, as I realized even more what they are up against in their day-to-day lives.

Q. You are an advocate of the human-animal bond. What can you tell us about animal communication?

I’m very fascinated by the human-animal bond. I honestly believe if not for my dogs, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I’ve learned so much from them and feel I’m a better human being because of having them in my life.

One thing that concerns me is that I don’t know that we take the time to really see and tune into our pets. I know it’s not always easy in our very busy, day-to-day lives, and believe me — I’m not perfect at this, either. But I truly believe they are trying to help us mortal human beings to live more consciously, and to awaken to living more fully in the present moment.

Q. What can dogs teach us?

The list is endless! For me, I’ve learned to appreciate nature. I’ve learned to live more in the here and now. I’ve learned to worry less. I’ve learned to be still more often. I’ve learned not to take life too seriously. I’ve learned to be positive and look for blessings in challenges. I’ve learned that it’s okay to take a nap in the middle of the day.

NWRDDlogoQ. I understand you created National Walk ‘n Roll Dog Day, which is observed annually on September 22. How are paralyzed dogs helped because of this day?

Yes, I am the founder of National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day, which I launched in 2012. This special day is in memory of Frankie, created in honor of all dogs in wheelchairs around the world. Frankie touched the lives of thousands during her six years in a wheelchair, visiting schools in my state of Wisconsin. She even became a dog who visited schools via Skype! Frankie also touched many lives as a therapy dog visiting hospice, hospitals and nursing homes.

I was so inspired by Frankie and all the dogs in wheelchairs that I wanted to have this special day in their honor. It’s my hope to continue to shine a positive light on these dogs, who overcome adversity so beautifully. We can learn so much from their amazing spirits.

Along with this special day, I created The Frankie Wheelchair Fund. This fund grants wheelchairs to paralyzed dogs who may otherwise not have been able to have one, such as when their families are in financial stress, or the dog is in a rescue situation. To date, we have granted 32 wheelchairs to dogs in need.

Benefits of writing, Craft, Inspiration, local author, writers conference

Recharging Those Batteries

Since the economic meltdown of 2008, I’m probably not alone in saying it hasn’t been the best of times for writers and marketers and publishers — all of which I am, and that’s how I make my living. Still, I make it a point to find the means to attend at least one writers’ conference a year if at all possible.

I worked so hard to be able to call myself a writer, not so much for what it means to others as to believe it myself. I come from a family of writers, so it’s kind of in my genes, I guess. But being able to make a living this way is hard for pretty much anyone, unless you’ve reached those dizzying heights of bestsellerdom. And even then, there’s no guarantee the party will go on forever.

So we do what we have to do to be able to write, and for me, one of those things is recharging my writing “batteries” each year. I belong to several writing organizations, all of which offer great conferences. I usually find myself having to choose between them, so I try to rotate among them from year to year.

This year, I not only got to attend, but to present, at one of the finest regional writers’ conferences I’ve experienced: The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group conference, “The Write Stuff.” And what a delight it was!

Not only were my sessions a blast, with engaged, interested audiences and fantastic questions, but I also got to attend a few sessions myself. My favorite, I must admit, was author Kathryn Craft‘s “Writing That Matters.” This seminar fed my writer’s soul in a way that I haven’t experienced in a while, and led me to finally purchase her newest novel, The Art of Falling.

The Art of Falling, by Kathryn Craft

I just finished that today — reluctantly, I’ll admit; as I neared the end, I had been rationing pages because I didn’t want it to be over. It turned out to be more than a book: It made my head explode with a simple yet profound insight on a personal struggle I’ve been facing; insight that’s been much sought and badly needed. I closed the book with tears of gratitude in my eyes. This…THIS is what writing is all about, folks.

Aside from the fantastic reading it provided, The Art of Falling reminded me of the powerful nature of truly engaging, compelling writing. Often, we as authors get so wrapped up in the work of it, the technique of it, the pickety-pickety nature of the writing and publishing process, that it’s easy to forget that what we’re doing is nearly always a labor of love, and that there was some reason that drove us to do it in the first place.

That reason differs with each person, but I daresay they all have one thing in common: We want our writing to leave a mark on our readers.

I left The Write Stuff having enjoyed the company of other serious writers, having spent time with delightful people such as keynote speaker Hank Phillippi Ryan (whom I was so happy to sit next to at the book fair—what a fantastic human being!) and the wonderful event organizers who worked their butts off to make the event the success that it was.

I floated on a cloud all the way home, reminded of why I write, and how lucky I am to be surrounded by so much real talent here in my little corner of Pennsylvania.

Author Interview, Benefits of writing, Blog, Inspiration

The Fellowship of Writers

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here at the offices of The Word Forge (my marketing consultancy) and Word Forge Books, my publishing company.

CelebrateTheBookLast weekend, I attended the “Celebrate the Book” Festival in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I think it’s the fourth time I’ve done this show, and I always enjoy it. Not only does it give me an excuse to travel back toward my old stomping grounds of central PA—beautiful any time of year, but especially in the colorful fall, and even more so when the early morning drive usually provides a stunning vista of rolling farmland with a huge harvest moon hanging overhead (sorry, no photos — I was driving alone)–but it’s always a wonderfully produced show, with great floor staff and good organization. If you’ve ever exhibited at any kind of show like this, you’ll appreciate what I mean. And this year, it was held in a larger, more modern and more well-lighted venue, so that’s always fun to experience a new place.

Then yesterday, I christened my new author/publisher consulting business with its first exhibit table at the First Annual Pocono Writers Conference. That was also fun — got to participate in the day-long, multiple panel discussions with a nice array of professional writers, while introducing my new Indie Navigator consulting service to attendees. And for a first-time event, it was well put together and covered a lot of ground in writing-related topics. Thanks os much to fantasy author Michael Ventrella for organizing the event, and to the Eastern Monroe Public Library for hosting.

All this activity reminds me of one of the things I love best about being a writer: the fellowship. As with any group that develops around a common interest, writers are a varied lot, often with just that one thing in common. But writing is one of those pursuits that’s most often longer on intrinsic personal value than commercial remuneration, so those who heed its calling tend to be a passionate bunch. And I love that.

Writers have something of a reputation as egotists and poseurs, and to be sure, those people definitely have their place among our ranks. But my personal experience when meeting other writers at conferences and author events and book festivals is most often one of cordial give-and-take among a group of uncommonly kind and generous people genuinely interested in supporting each other. I have had the same experience among independent publishers, especially at large industry gathering like Book Expo America. I truly believe there is no more giving trade group than the people in indie publishing.

This may be true in other industries, I don’t know. I never really got that involved in such trade groups when I worked in advertising or graphic design. Or auto mechanics or law enforcement for that matter…but I digress.

My point is that, while writers necessarily spend a great deal of time working in a solitary environment that offers little opportunity for social interplay, writers’ conferences, workshops and author events offer that chance on an intense level. I have learned over the years to take advantage of such opportunities when they present themselves, because it’s not just a matter of catching up on the latest industry trends and other things I should be professionally aware of; it’s also a rare chance to interact on a social and professional level with others who’ve chose this solitary pursuit, as well. And that’s solid gold.

An excellent example is just such an author event I had the good fortune to attend, Local Authors Night hosted by the Barnes & Noble situated between Easton and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I got to gather with 50 of my regional scribbler brethren at the busy venue to sell and sign our books and to visit with those who purchased them. It wasn’t a boffo sales coup, but I didn’t care. I happened to have the good fortune to be seated next to bestselling psycho crime author Katherine Ramsland, whom I’d wanted to meet for years. We had a great time chatting and getting to know each other (she’s a weather freak, too — who knew?), and exchanged our latest books. Then, she graciously invited me to guest post on her fantastic blog!

RamslandBlog

So today, I’m sharing that with you here, with the reminder that all authors, however successful, started somewhere and are people just like you and me. And many — even most — of them remember that, even when they’re busy enjoying their rewards, and reach down to help the rest of us up to their level. Just one of the many reasons I love being a writer.

Creative process, General Writing, Inspiration, Writing process

One Writer’s Christmas Tradition

merrychristmas

I don’t know any creative person who isn’t curious about other people’s creative process. I always love to visit other writers’ workspaces, artists’ studios, crafters’ workrooms. I love to hear about their schedules, how they discipline their attention and divide their time to allow them to be most productive. I’m always interested in their little pre-work customs, the secret rites in which they engage to call forth the muse and bless their efforts. I even like to hear about other non-work rituals they enjoy away from the creative altar, that they do simply for enjoyment and to feed their hearts and souls.

I have some of those rituals myself, and it’s appropriate, I think, to end the year sharing with you a pre-Christmas tradition my partner and I have developed over the past ten years. It’s funny how these things come about. You do something once and the next year, remembering how you enjoyed it, you do it again, hoping to recreate the magic. Sometimes you can, sometimes not, but at some point you realize that in the effort, you’ve unwittingly created a tradition. And from then on, you consciously recognize and honor that tradition.

Ours begins with clearing our busy, not-very-often-in-sync schedules for an evening in the weeks before the holiday, after the tree is up and decorations are done. We try each year to choose from among the many fine, old inns and taverns in our beautiful Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and find one we haven’t dined at before. We go online to see the menu and make sure there will be at least one or two options we like (neither of us is big on fish, and I’m not a huge Italian fan, so sometimes that’s a little limiting), and make a reservation for two. We try to really go to the older stone inns, both for their ambience that usually includes a real fireplace, which so enhances that special holiday feeling, and to consciously keep our money in our local economy. We have tried a few newer style places here and there. We just always seem to gravitate back to the old ones, and fortunately for us, there are so many of those in our area.

We usually make an earlier dinner reservation for 6 or 6:30. This allows us to snag desirable seating in a not-yet-crowded dining room, and lets us enjoy a leisurely dinner with a special seasonal beverage beforehand, appetizers and our entrees, and sometimes even dessert, if we’re not too full. Based on our choice of restaurant, we have decided ahead of time where we’ll go afterward, which is always a bookstore. Our preference is to go to locally owned indie bookstores, but sadly their numbers are dwindling in our primarily rural region, so sometimes we must settle for a Barnes & Noble or other big box store.

So, appetites sated, off we go to the bookstore. Once inside, we head right for the children’s section to take our time perusing the Christmas-themed titles. We look for stories that appeal to both children and adults, and length isn’t really an issue. What IS paramount is that the book must offer a  good, ultimately uplifting story. It can have sad parts, as long as it ends happily. The secondary requirement is that it must be profusely illustrated with rich, beautiful pictures by a talented artist. If possible, we prefer it be a hardcover with dust jacket. It’s the one time of year we indulge ourselves thusly.

The Carpenter's Gift

This year, we chose The Carpenters’ Gift by David Rubel. It’s about the birth of the tradition of placing a large Christmas tree in the square in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center, and contains a touching message endorsed by Habitat for Humanity. Though we don’t usually go in for “cause” books, this one was too hard to pass up, and even without the Habitat link, this story conveys a strong message about the true spirit of Christmas through engaging prose and beautiful pictures.

We then make our purchase and take it home. Sometimes we read it together, but most often it’s late by the time we get home, and we save it to enjoy at leisure throughout the holiday season. So we add it to the growing collection we showcase proudly on our living room coffee table until the decorations come down. The colorful covers themselves create a festive area of holiday decor.

The best part of this ritual is that these gifts keep giving back to us every year, as we revisit them and their lovely, beckoning pages. The secondary gift is that we know we have contributed to our regional economy by enjoying a great meal at a deserving local restaurant; have contributed to the health of the book industry by buying a hardcover book; and usually contributed to the health of an indie bookstore by making our purchase there. It’s a winner any way you look at it, and a tradition we now look forward to with great delight each year.

I wish you all an enjoyable holiday season, and a peaceful and prosperous New Year, and leave you with a reminder that the quality of the first draft isn’t as important as the fact that you got it out of you and onto the page. That’s what editors are for.

“Another damn’d thick, square book! Always, scribble, scribble, scribble — eh, Mr. Gibbon?”
– Duke of Cumberland to writer Edward Gibbon

Awards, General Writing, Inspiration, Motivation

On the Importance of Author Mentoring

Fannie Flagg and Harper Lee by Alex Roberts

I often tell folks that one of the reasons I love working in the world of publishing — in any aspect; as author, publisher, event coordinator, instructor — is that by and large, the other people in this industry are truly great. Yes, there are a few overblown egos and perhaps an author or two who’s too busy envying a peer’s success to be happy for them. You find those types in every field. But by an overwhelming margin, this industry is populated with interesting, interested, kind, caring, diligently hardworking, decent and deeply generous people who sincerely want to see each other do well.

And they walk their talk, let me tell you. In no other place have I witnessed the kind of selfless outreach to those on their way up or to those who don’t quite believe they can do it yet, by those in a position to lend a helping hand. You are almost certain that it’s not motivated by self-interest or the hope of some kind of return (other than, perhaps, a little interest gained on such investment in the Great Karma Bank), because in almost every circumstance, those who can help are no longer in need of such aid themselves. Usually, they’ve already “made it,” whatever “it” means to them. It’s this position of comfort and security that allows them to look beyond themselves to those still struggling to find their place in the great world of books.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. There is always that person who, regardless how hard s/he is working toward his/her own success, somehow finds the time, energy and interest to still hold out a hand to help a fellow scribbler learn the professional ropes, find an effective new tool or technique, or to make a needed connection. And never underestimate the importance of these small kindnesses, for there are at least as many stairways to heaven built of tiny bricks and cobblestones rather than mighty slabs of granite.

Certainly I have been the beneficiary of such spiritual largesse more than once. Countless times, for reasons that often still mystify me, someone saw something in me that sparked such uncommon kindness. From my first English teachers who encouraged my early, clumsy attempts at creative writing; to my high school newspaper advisor who saw that I could never quite make peace with the inverted pyramid form yet still told me to stick with it; to my college professor who agreed to write the foreword to my first history book; to the many author colleagues who cheered me on as I “went for it” as an  independent publisher when a contract fell through too late to find another publisher and still meet the deadline for my marketing hook; to the other indie publishers who constantly help me navigate this unsettled, revolutionary industry that never looks the same on any given day.

And equally certain is the knowledge that rarely can I pay these people back, because, as described above, most of them don’t really need my help anymore. And so it falls to me, and to others who similarly benefit, to pay it forward. It’s incumbent upon each of us to remain aware of those around us, so we may recognize those who may also be struggling as we once did, and to reach out that helping hand to offer advice, a listening ear, and maybe just a little hope. Someday, it will be their turn to do the same.

And that brings me to the particular example of this point that I’d like to share, one that points out that no matter how far you’ve come along this path as a writer and an author, there is always someone doing better than you are, and there’s always someone who could use your help. The grace of the situation enters when we remain humble enough to recognize that truth.

About a month ago, one of the more well-known Southern authors writing popular fiction today was honored with an award named after one of the most famous American authors of all time. Such an award is, in itself, such a massive validation of one’s lifetime body of work, it’s hard to imagine a greater honor. Until you imagine what it would be like if the famous author after whom the award was named shows up to present you that award herself, in person. And that’s what I want to share with you here.

Of course, anyone who knows me knows that Fannie Flagg‘s wonderful book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café is my second-favorite book of all time, in large part because it inspired my favorite movie of all time, by the same name. But that work, for which Flagg also won a screenwriting award, and her book were just a part of the body of work for which she was honored. And she was given the award by Harper Lee herself, author of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird and whose name is carried by the referenced award.

Now if that isn’t the epitome of grace on Lee’s part, I just don’t know what is. I mean, this woman is literary royalty. She doesn’t need to bother herself to leave her comfortable home and traipse to some hot venue to give away a statue to someone who still aspires to breathe the same atmosphere. But she did. And apparently, it wasn’t the first time she’d made the effort to help an up-and-comer whose talent she recognized and believed in. No, there’s a long history of nurturing between these two incredible artists, and its story touched me and reminded me that fully half of what makes books wonderful is the experience we gain on the way to being able to write them. This article tells one of those heartening stories, and I just thought you’d like it, too.

May it continue to remind us all that none of us is ever too small to be worthy of a little encouragement, nor too big to be above lending a hand when we can. I hope that when it’s your turn to need help, you accept it with grace, and that when it’s your turn to give help, you do it with gratitude for the opportunity to give back.

Write on…

Benefits of writing, Books, Characterization, Inspiration, Motivation, Plot

Characterization – Oh, the things it makes me think about…

Lonely Cottage Road is set in the American Civil War era

For quite some time now, I’ve been putting off working on a novel – Lonely Cottage Road – that I really, really want to be writing. There always seems to be something more immediately pressing, most pointedly making a living. But these days, snippets of dialogue between my characters comes to me unbidden, and I find myself thinking about them at the oddest times. I think the book is done gestating and is trying desperately to be born.

One thing that’s constantly going on somewhere back in the deep recesses of my mind is the consideration of my characters’ motivations. What do they most want? What makes them want it? And – most importantly of all, for it will be the juice that moves the story forward – to what lengths are they willing to go to get it?

Then, that musing leads to the characters’ basic emotional landscapes: Who are they? What are their worldviews? What made them like that?

And, finally, all this must, of course, at some point lead to an examination of those very questions about myself and those around me.

I’ve become convinced that much of writing is simply authors trying to work out their own issues, or karma, or whatever you want to call it. We navel-gaze in public. Some think this is egotistical. Perhaps, but I think it’s useful in that it somehow allows others who read the work — and even some who don’t — to maybe let down their guard a little and take a look at their own stuff. And I’m convinced this is a good thing. Maybe if Germany hadn’t been so rigid and oppressive, Adolf Hitler could have read something that rocked his world, forced him to look into his own soul, and stood firm in forging ahead with his artistic endeavors instead of that expression being warped into the grand evil it became?

Who knows, really, but a little self-examination never hurt anybody. It may have damaged their false-fronted contentment for a bit or jolted them out of apathetic complacency. That can’t be a bad thing.

Hmmm…guess it really is time to get started on my novel again.

Books, Characterization, Craft, General Writing, Inspiration, Technique

The Secret’s in the Sauce: Voice matters.

I watched a different kind of episode of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show, “No Reservations” yesterday. It was a re-run, but since I’m not a regular watcher, I hadn’t seen it before. And it was really interesting.

Why? Because it was less about food and Bourdain’s chefdom than it was about his career as a professional writer. If you’ve lived under a rock for several years, or are simply  not a foodie, you may not be aware that Bourdain is an accomplished author as well as a successful restaurateur. His debut work, a half-memoir, half-exposé titled Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, was a surprise success, both to the author and the book industry. He’s had an admirable string of successful books since then.

Book cover, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

It’s not my point here to review or describe these books, but to bring up a point that every writer should be hyper-aware of: Voice matters. Bourdain says he believes he’s a better chef than a writer, so I’d love to taste his food, because my God, this guy can write.

You know he writes his own TV scripts, because they are so evocative of his own personality: incisive, witty, detail-oriented observations of whatever locale he’s visiting, the people he meets, the cuisines he experiences. And “experiences” is the operative word here, because that’s what makes Bourdain, Bourdain. He fully engages all senses in every single thing he does. And the very able writer in him shares these experiences with engaging, compelling prose packed with his singular descriptive, appreciative and often caustic narrative.

True to full-on Chef Mode, he’s got an ego the size of Montana, for which he doesn’t apologize. But his writing, whether TV script, book or magazine article, keeps this from becoming tedious because his narrative is often self-deprecating. He’s not averse to making himself the butt of the joke, often citing some foible or perceived character flaw in himself. This device also has the effect of bringing him down to our level, the “just an average joe” who’s doing the best he can despite himself. You get the feeling he’s just ever-so-slightly uncomfortable with all the accolades and attention, yet all the time fully aware of how lucky  he is to have these things.

On camera, Bourdain is the jokester, the preternatural pre-teen always testing the boundaries of good taste with potty humor and sexual references. If you watch closely, you can see just the wee-est little bit of shyness and discomfort in front of the camera. He can’t hide his constant underlying surprise that people are so interested in what he has to say about food and people the world over. Beneath the tough, New York City veneer, you can see an awestruck kid who made lots of bad choices growing up and still came out on top, but expects each minute that it will be his last as a star. It’s as though he knows this whole celebrity thing is just a house of cards, one puff away from collapsing and leaving him back in the kitchen to his own devices. The effect is both enlightening and endearing. But it’s the voice-overs that give the show — and his books — their real impact.

His commentary lifts the edge of his ego so we can peep inside at the soul of an essentially decent, compassionate man with a curious mind and an artist’s soul. It works because Bourdain writes exactly the way he speaks. Sure, he might don the chef’s coat for appearances, but he doesn’t gussy up his words with more syllables than he’d ever use in real life. He doesn’t affect a new author vocabulary. All the bodily function references and gross-out visual descriptions he clearly uses so frequently keep him honest, grounded in his reality, offering the viewer/reader his absolute here-I-am-love-me-or-leave-me attitude and worldview.

Whenever I watch his show, I bounce back and forth between “God, this guy is full of himself!” to “God, this guy can write!” And the telling thing is that I always come back for more.

Bourdain admitted in yesterday’s episode that he never “agonizes over craft” in writing. He doesn’t need to. He’s not reaching for literary immortality. But his use of voice and language is so uniquely his own, I posit that his writing is at least as exciting and evocative as that of many classic novels.

Book cover, Anthony Bourdain's Typhoid Mary

I will likely never read Bourdain’s foodie or travel books. But he’s got a novel out and a nonfiction docu-drama about Typhoid Mary. I may just have to pick those up, because ego or not (and let’s face it — what author doesn’t have one?), this guy is a refreshing, entertaining and accomplished writer whose voice another writer could learn a lot from.

Books, Craft, General Writing, Inspiration, Plot, Technique

How Do You Develop Your Plot?

I just read a most interesting post over at The Creative Penn blog about mind-mapping your novel scene by scene. I encourage you to visit this well-written and idea-filled blog, regardless your writing experience. None of us has ever been at it long enough that we can’t learn something of value from someone else.

The Creative Penn blog logo

You really need to check out this awesome writing blog.

For those of you not familiar with mind-mapping, it’s a cool idea. Not entirely sure where it originated, but I’m guessing it was a business thing. At any rate, mind maps are visual or graphic representations of concepts associated in one’s mind with a particular project or idea. By presenting ideas in a radial, graphical, non-linear manner, mind maps encourage a brainstorming approach to planning and organizational tasks. Here’s a more comprehensive definition from Wikipedia.

I suppose I’ve done “mind mapping” for my current novel, Lonely Cottage Road, though it was more linear than lateral. This format sprang not from a desire to prioritize scenes, but because I was struggling with development of timelines that all fit together logically and rationally. I’m writing a historical drama in which my fictional characters and their lives intertwine with actual historical events, and there are a few parts where the two meld — kind of starting with reality, then making up stuff to advance the plotline. I’ve read novels like this and I love it when I can barely tell the difference between what actually happened and what might have but who knows?

This linear map I made was actually a spontaneous thing. I wrote in v-e-r-y small letters with a purple pen on a long, narrow strip of left-over drawing paper that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away even though it was too odd-shaped to do much with, because it cost $8 a sheet. So the timeline runs in two layers on both sides of the sheet. It was not just a good exercise in scene clarification, it was a sensual pleasure because that paper was so soft and thick, it was just awesome to write on. Anyone who knows about me and my paper and pen obsession will understand this.

And here’s something I learned that may be helpful to other writers: Purple ink is NOT permanent. Though the pigments are beautiful, they are fugitive and will fade over time, even when not exposed to light. Trust me on this. Thank God I looked at them when I did, because over a few years, they’d already faded so badly that I had to go over them again so I wouldn’t lose all that info…this time in black ink!

So, have you ever done this kind of graphical interpretation of your plotline, or any other elements of your story? Has it worked for you? why or why not?

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Birth of a Novel

As a published author, I often am asked the same or similar questions, and many of those were recently rounded up in an interview I did with Sandra Carey Cody at her blog, “Birth of a Novel.” Thought it made sense to share it with you here.

Novel

Speaking of which, are you working on a novel? What’s it about? Struggling with anything? Share here, or over on our discussion forum. We’d love to talk with you about it.