A Very Leftover Thanksgiving

So Mark and I were on our own for Thanksgiving. We had a turkey breast in the freezer that we planned to cook up for a small Thanksgiving meal, until Mark made this comment:

"Why don't we skip the meal and just go right to the leftovers?"

It was brilliant. While we both enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, in our minds it is primarily a vehicle for acquiring a large quantity of leftover turkey with which to make sandwiches over the following week. So this year we bucked tradition, and as soon as Mark had carved that breast, the pieces were immediately designated "leftovers."

My best leftover turkey sandwich tip is one I learned from Friends. Soak a piece of bread in gravy, then put that in the middle of the sandwich. This gives you a nice juicy sandwich without letting any gravy seep out of the sides or, worse, soak through the bottom. Just be sure to use a piece of bread slightly smaller that what you're using for the sandwich itself. I used a drinking glass to punch out rounds that were slightly smaller than the hamburger buns I was building sandwiches on. A perfect fit!

1920s Slang

For my book I've done research into a lot of subjects, including 1920's slang. People in the 20's, like people of every time period, had their own unique way of making themselves understood. "Horesefeathers!" they might say, or "None of your beeswax!" "That's the cat's pajamas!"

Fast forward to the 2000's. (The Aughts? The Zips? How did we let this decade slip by without giving it a decent name?) Most of this language has now been downgraded to cutesy, juvenile slang. Problem is, my characters aren't supposed to sound cutesy and juvenile when they say it. They're, like, for serious.

So: opinions? Can the 20's slang, or stick it only in the mouths of characters who can reasonably be a little bit cute? Any ideas?

Bridge Building 101

You know that feeling you get when you sit down at your desk in the morning? That ugh, I don't want to be here, maybe I should get some cocoa or browse around the interwebs, blah, mornings suck kind of feeling?

If you don't, you're luckier than me. That's how I feel pretty much every day when I sit down at the computer. And yet by the end of the day, I've managed to build some momentum; words are flowing, ideas are humming, and in general, all's right with the world. Fast forward to the next morning, though, and it's back to ho hum, morning already, say this game of solitaire looks fascinating.

So when I was browsing through Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit recently, my eye lit on one of the techniques she recommends: Building a Bridge to the Next Day. Basically, it means you develop some little trick or technique for carrying some of your creative energy from one day on into the next, thus sidestepping the morning blues.

Ernest Hemmingway famously never stopped writing until he was sure he knew exactly what was coming next. That was his way of carrying his energy forward. I'm not sure this would work for me, but I've developed a little trick of my own.

For the next two weeks, whenever I'm done for the day, I plan to write a little note to myself about what I'm looking forward to in the next day's work. Something I'm excited about, something I'm writing toward. The more specific the better: "Kitty learns she's Koko's guardian," perhaps, or "Kitty and Gallo nearly kiss."

I'll write the note on an index card. Then, for the rest of the day, I'll use that card as a bookmark. This should result in me touching it several times a day, and hopefully smiling and picturing the moment I'm writing toward. Then, if all goes according to plan, I'll sit down the next morning and all that anticipation and excitement will translate to a productive morning at the keyboard.

Maybe it'll work, or maybe it won't and I'll have to examine another method of bridge building. Either way it should be fun.

My Character Formula

Characters are arguably the most important part of writing, especially for someone who's hoping to be a series author. So, naturally, I do a lot of thinking (and analyzing and obsessing) about them. I think I've finally arrived at my Grand Unifying Theory of Character.

Step One: Two Defining Characteristics. They don't have to go together naturally. If possible, one of them should be a flaw.

The two Defining Characteristics for Kitty, my series protagonist, are Insightful and Self-Absorbed.

For Gallo, my series love interest, they are Curious and Solitary.

And for Fiore, my series antagonist, they are Romantic and Sadistic.

Step Two: Invent a Major Mannerism. This mannerism should be the direct result of at least one, or ideally both, Defining Characteristics.

Kitty's Major Mannerism: Manipulating people.

Gallo's Major Mannerism: Reading everything he can get his hands on.

Fiore's Major Mannerism: Well, this one is a pretty major plot point. Suffice it to say that it does in fact combine Romantic and Sadistic in what I hope is an interesting way.

Step Three: Color everything with a Mood. The Mood doesn't refer to the deep characteristics of their personality, but rather to their surface persona: how someone observing them from a distance might describe them. It isn't at all necessary for the Mood to be related to the Defining Characteristics; in fact, it can be pretty interesting if it's at odds with them.

Kitty's Mood: Ingenue

Gallo's Mood: Hard-boiled

Fiore's Mood: Refined

Step Four: Give the character a Unique Perspective. This is the way the character sees the world. It should be at some way at odds with reality. Giving two characters warring perspectives really amps up the potential for interesting interactions between them.

Kitty's Unique Perspective: It's all about the glitz and the glamour.

Gallo's Unique Perspective: Life is full of pain.

Fiore's Unique Perspective: I'm a good guy.

Step Five: All the rest. On top of this skeleton you layer additional characteristics, minor mannerisms, and quirks. Some of mine are:

Kitty: Loves hats, hates her figure

Gallo: Hates alcohol, takes obsessive notes

Fiore: Loves to eat, bullies his older brother

And there you have it: my character creation method. It's not perfect, and I don't even follow it exactly with every character. But it helps.

Here's To Misery!

Recently I've been having a lot of trouble staying on task. I'm approaching the end of the book (or at least the end of the first draft), but for some reason it's become really hard to run this last lap.

For help, I looked to Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, which was rated reasonably high on Goodreads. It had a bit of advice which every writer has heard before. I paraphrase: "Treat it like a job. Show up every day. Don't miss a day because of your other responsibilities; people in other industries work those in around their jobs, not vice versa."

And it had a bit of advice I hadn't heard before. Paraphrase: "Go ahead and be miserable. Take pride in it. Be proud to say, 'Yeah, I stuck it out in front of that keyboard, and it was a rotten, rotten, rotten day, but the work's done.' "

Now, for me this was a novel thought. Most of my efforts toward improving my work output have had to do with making myself happier at work, with making it a less painful process. Maybe I'd be happier with some cocoa. Maybe I'd be happier with a change of scenery. Maybe I'd be happier in the morning/afternoon/evening.

You wouldn't think it'd be so hard to be happy while fulfilling my lifelong ambition and dream, would you? And yet, so it is. There's the fear, for one thing. The fear that what I'm writing won't be good enough/successful/long enough/brilliant/worthy/etc. And then there's the fact that while spinning story ideas is fun, cranking them out on the page is often just hard work.

So I like the idea of embracing misery. It has a sort of macho, hardnosed appeal. The idea that it's ok to just sit down, and let the fear wash over me, and still Not. Get. Up.

Anyway, I'll be trying misery on for the next few weeks. At least until I get these final scenes cranked out. And if it works, who knows? I might be miserable for the rest of my life!

Dream a Little Dream

Did you ever have a really good idea for a story when you were asleep?

Or, at least, an idea that you thought was really good -- until the sleep haze wore off and you realized that the storyline that was so captivating in your dream doesn't... well... make any sense whatsoever?

This happens to me occasionally. I wake up thinking, OMG! This story is going to be awesome! I am so fantastic I am a virtuoso in my sleep!

Then, around noon, I start to spot some flaws. By late afternoon I'm a little embarrassed by my early enthusiasm. And by evening I'm like, "What was I thinking? A story about clown assassains? That would never work!"

Yep, usually it's a big bust. But the morning is fun. Like this morning, for example.

I had a sort of sci-fi dream about two girls, one of whom had used some sort of psycho-kinetical powers to leave the other girl in a permanently cloudy mental haze. I'm not sure why. It was one of those post-apocolyptic dramas, so presumably there were some compelling political reasons.

Anyway, Girl #1 (we'll call her Joan) had been captured by Girl #2's (Wanda's) allies. And they were trying to compel her to restore Wanda to mental health. It was slow going, though; Joan was resolute. But during her captivity, Joan and Wanda began to connect. So much so that Joan decided to go ahead and release the psychic hold -- even though she knew doing so would restore Wanda's previous personality and thus destroy their friendship.

As I write this, it's late afternoon, and the root of the idea still seems halfway solid. Basically, it's about what you could sacrifice for another person. We talk about sacrificing our lives for those we love -- but would it be somehow harder to sacrifice that person's love for you?

Whether anything will come of this idea, I don't know. It's not for a genre I usually work in. But I like the core of the idea, the emotional seed. And frankly, that's more than I usually get out of my dream epiphanies.

Tag! I'm it!

So, Becky over at Suburban Matron tagged me, which means I am now obligated to (1) post seven interesting facts about myself and (2) tag somebody else, if I can think of anyone to tag. So, forthwith:

Seven Facts About Jane

1. My husband, Mark, is precisely nine months older than me. We like to joke that I was made for him.

2. I am not a creative writer. I am an analytical writer. Fun for me is not cutting loose and riffing on some crazy creative idea; it's analyzing what works, and why, and how to reproduce it. I like textbooks. I like Excel. I like saying things like, "The three elements necessary for an unforgettable character are.."

I read fiction with a very careful, critical eye. And if you sit down to watch TV with me, prepare to listen to me expound on the Principles of Story, at least a little bit.

3. I can't get enough reality TV. Wife Swap, 17 Kids and Counting, Boot Camp, Kept. No matter how pointless or how trashy, at some point, I've been addicted to it.

I think what I like best about reality TV is that it's TV that spurs conversation. Mark and I have had discussions about everything from parenting to management to the meaning of life in front of the tube.

My favorites are the really well judged contest shows, like Project Runway and Top Chef. And because I am analytical, I can tell you exactly why Tom Colicchio is the best judge evah!

4. I also can't get enough Remington Steele. You want to know the one person in America who actually bought Remington Steele on DVD? Yeah, that would be me.

5. I get wildly, if briefly, enthusiastic about all sorts of projects. In college, it was quilting. In my early marriage, it was orchid growing. (Dude, you can distill and mist and fertilize all you want, but those things are stubborn!) When we first moved into the house, it was upholstery. During the last season of Project Runway, it was fashion design. And currently it's sushi making.

I will read and research and pour my heart into it. And at some point, more than likely, I will just let it go. I know enough about myself at this point in life to enjoy the upswing, and not get too hung up on the inevitable downswing. It is just who I am.

6. I love living in the South. I really, really, really do. I love the food and the friendliness and the casual joy in life. And everything it between.

So if you make a comment about how stupid or racist you think Southerners are, I will give you a pained, tight smile to politely remind you who you're talking to. And nothing more will be said. But I will never forget your comment. And unless we're already close, I will never forgive you, either.

7. I eat bologna and mustard sandwiches. I know, I know. They sound gross. I'm gonna be honest with you: they kinda taste gross. But what can I do? They are my childhood flashback food.

And there you have it: seven facts about me. I'm supposed to tag someone else, but I don't really know anyone else who blogs, so... I guess I lose?