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2013 Are You Ready?

January 4, 2013 | Inspiration,Writing

I just purchased a new Hoover bag vacuum cleaner. I dislike bagless vacuums. Cleaning the tank is messy. Dirt gets all over the place; then you have to vacuum it up – again. Here’s the symbolism. A new year sweep or vacuum out the old so you have a clean slate to begin with. Actually I saw a Coach purse and I had a coupon for 25% off and had to decide if I needed another purse or should replace my dying vacuum cleaner. I couldn’t clean with the Coach bag. But then I couldn’t carry the Hoover vacuum on my shoulder. So clean house won out.

Last New Year’s Eve, 2011, I sat waiting for the year to end. Each tick of the clock brought me closer to the end of a tumultuous year. I’d survived a 360 degree change in my life. A nightmare that caused me to question my identity, my sanity, my self worth as a woman. I needed 2011 to end to prove I had exited my personal Twilight Zone. In 2012 I found guidance, friendship, love and if truth be told happiness. I found me again. I wasn’t going to go along to get along anymore. I hadn’t seen ME in years. It was great getting reacquainted. I didn’t stand on solid ground by myself. On my Facebook page, December 29th, I gave a major shout out to my team. The women who lifted me up, brushed me off, told me I was beautiful, intelligent, stronger than I thought I was, and they’d be by my side when ever I needed them. There was one man, my son, the quiet one. I know that in his eyes I am more than mother, I am a Queen with super powers. And who am I to correct him?

As 2012 ended each tick of the clock made me giddy, excited, thankful, and prayerful. There were definite, mind numbing challenges in 2012 but I grew stronger, wiser, and confident. I was overjoyed when I heard the fireworks at Navy Pier announce the arrival of 2013. Diana Ross’s song, “I’m Coming Out”, blared on my iPhone. Then I went into 70s’ Disco mode dancing in my bedroom, with a little Annie Lennox thrown in.

I started writing down my goals for 2013 in December. In January I’ll expand my list and then organize them according to personal, professional, physical, spiritual, and financial by the end of February. My Muse reappeared too. She wasn’t in hiding, she was waiting until I could concentrate on writing and had adapted to my new life.

Melody Beattie in her book, ‘The Language of Letting Go’, writes we should make New Year’s goals. “Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part. It is an affirmation that you’re interested in fully living life in the year to come.” She says goals give us direction, they give our life direction. She says we should take our time, think about what we want to do, big and little. What problems we’d like to see solved. Decisions we’d would like to make.

I believe if you set a goal, you need a plan on implementation. So after all the holiday parties, food, drink, party, here is my number one goal and what’s I’m doing to succeed.

Health: Making health my number one priority. There’s an old saying, ‘If you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.’ You can’t be an effective writer if you don’t eat right, exercise or take time to enjoy life. Refill the well and refill it often. I’m taking my Weight Watchers program serious. I pay a monthly fee for the online tools so I better use it. Recent improvements in the program have actually made it easier for me to track using my iPhone. I began a Six Months to Sixty Program, to lose weight, be fit. I plan what I’m going to eat each day in the morning, plug in the points and make sure I don’t go too far over. Points for a glass of red wine is always tracked whether I drink it in the evening or not. Doctor Ian Smith has written several books on dieting. There are a multitude of programs available. Pick one that works for you and check with your doctor first. PS this also a good time to schedule a physical. Don’t wait until the end of the year.

Writers sit at their desks for hours and snacking goes with writing. I’m a crunchy, salty snacker. Add chocolate and I’m done. Light popcorn and dill pickles come close to satisfying my potato chip cravings. Exercise should be what you enjoy. I love tennis and I plan on joining a local tennis club for my birthday in May and start playing again. It’s a great mental and physical exercise and stress reliever. I take daily walks because I have a dog and live in an apartment building. It’s great for fresh air, clear the brain, and friendly conversation with other dog owners. I also hula hoop three times a week. The hula hooping was ugly in the beginning and is done behind closed blinds. It seemed so easy when I was growing up. Frack it was easy when I was a child! Another Weight Watchers suggestion for exercise is combining brushing your teeth and performing squats. My electric toothbrush has a two minute time. Done twice a day. Your dentist, your thighs, waist, and posture will thank you.

Make a commitment to get some type of physical exercise. Your writing will improve as will your health.

Next up Sunday: NO MORE MULTITASKING!! How performing multiple acts can slow down your writing. And remember: ‘Honk while driving if you love Jesus, text while driving if you want to meet him.’

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Mise En Place and Writing

June 25, 2012 | Writing

Mise en place is the French term defined by the CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of America) to mean “everything in place”. I’m a BIG Food Network fan and an even BIGGER fan of Anne Burrell. I watched her on Iron Chef America as Mario Batali’s sous chef and personally believe she got robbed on The Next Iron Chef competition. I watch her show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, and root for her team on each round of America’s Worst Cooks. She’s undefeated by the way on that program. She also scares the crap out of me and I want to meet her one day.

It was from Chef Ann I first heard the term, mise en place. She used it in a demonstration and said was it very important for cooks. She explained that mise en place means that before a cook prepares a dish, they must organize, arrange ingredients and utensils before they crack an egg. From Wikipedia “Preparing the mise en place ahead of time allows the chef to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which is desirable in recipes with time constraints.” This is vital to the dish being successful. Only on Chopped will you see cooks running around a well stocked kitchen searching for ingredients. In a normal kitchen, the chef doesn’t have time to track down flour, eggs, or a whisk when assembling a souffle. They have everything within arms reach. Even the oven is preheated to a specific temperature.

I started thinking mise en place could be applicable to my writing life. In the past, I would just sit at my desk, open up my manuscript and start plugging away. If I needed a highlighter or the dictionary I had to search for it. If there was an article I’d printed out for reference, I had to remember where I last put it. This wasted valuable time and I was bound to be distracted and start surfing the Internet looking for shiny things. Or watch the news and then maybe an old episode of The Closer.

Applying mise en place has made my writing time a lot smoother, more productive, and I’ve created a routine. Routine is an absolute necessity in my opinion for a writer. Forming a routine means creating a habit, an effective habit. It takes about six weeks to create a habit, good or bad.

So first, I stand at my desk and survey the territory. Just like a cook this is my prep time. Most of the time my desk is cluttered and requires swift removal of papers not pertaining to the current day’s writing. I stand because I can see the area better and because I’m going to be sitting for a long period of time. A chef can’t cook if their area is messy, I can’t write if my desk is as well. This prep time serves two purposes, first it gives me a clean slate for the day and second it mentally prepares me for work. I sweep everything off my desk not pertinent to the first manuscript I’m going to work on. Other works in progress go on the shelf next to my desk. everything else in neat piles on the floor in a corner. I’m working on the whole ‘must file’ issue.

Like a trained chef, I make sure all my utensils are at the ready. Pencils are sharpened, highlighters are full, email account(s) are signed out of, ink in printer, coffee, ice water, or juice is on the coaster, a piece of fruit or cheese or chocolate and my ever present Writer’s Digest Flip Dictionary. If you wear glasses, clean them. I lineup what I plan on working on that day. I put my phone on silent, sometimes I leave it in the bedroom. Now I’m ready to cook (write). This takes no more than ten minutes. As chefs have a properly preheated oven, I use the timer on my iPod Touch. Crickets or jazz alerts me when my fifteen to thirty minutes of work time is up. Chefs don’t want to burn their food, I don’t want to burn out before my work for the day is completed. Once I hit that fifteen minute mark, if I’m particularly motivated, I reset for another fifteen and keep working. I’m always motivated after the first fifteen. After thirty minutes I need to get up, move around, and maybe do a quick household chore. Then it’s back in the chair and back to work. If I’m finished with the first manuscript, I put it on the shelf and pull out the next one. I’m training myself not to open any email account until I’ve gotten at least an hour and a half of work done. Again – shiny things, sales, gossip. I schedule a time for lunch and decide what’s for dinner. It’s been drilled into unpublished writer’s heads that this is a journey, not a race, or sprint.

So by the end of my writing day, my desk looks like a well used kitchen. No great smells, no frosted cupcakes, no huge lump meat crabcakes. Bummer. Just the smell of future success. It’s time to clean up, return utensils to their proper place, plan for the next day, and relax. And after seeing what a kitchen looks like after cooking, I think my cleanup is easier.

There are a couple of knickknacks on my desk for inspiration. But they’re off in the corner where I can see them. First is a plaque with the poem, ‘Don’t Quit’. Next is a statue of the green wicked witch from Sleeping Beauty. She holds two buttons one in each outstretched hand. One says ‘Write, Revise, Submit’. The other one says ‘Finish the #%&* Book!’. Around the witch’s neck hangs a sign Marilyn Brant passed on to me. It reads: Future Award Winning Author At Work’. So hope to pass it to another Chicago North author one day.

Mise en place rules and thank you Chef Ann.

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Humphrey Bogart The Ultimate Anti-Hero Hero

May 3, 2012 | Writing

Okay I’ll admit it I’m an unabashed, smitten, convinced there will never be another actor of his caliber, willing to watch his movies over and over again no matter how many times I’ve seen it before, fan of the actor Humphrey Bogart. So if you believe there’s another actor that is better than him, stop right here and read no further. (And write your own blog praising them.)

I won’t enlighten you with the details of his life, you can find that on the Humphrey Bogart official website. I’m more interested in Bogart and his roles as the anti-hero Hero. There are three essential writing books on my desk. Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation & Conflict, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, and Barbara Ann Kipfer’s Flip Dictionary published by Writer’s Digest. When I’m crafting my female and male characters I’m always looking for ways to make them three dimensional, tough, cynical, willing to kill for the greater or not so greater good, and most all generate respect and sympathy by the reader.

Vogler defines the anti-hero hero as not the opposite of your typical hero but as a special type of hero. “One who may be an outlaw or a villain from the point of view of society, but with whom the audience is basically in sympathy.” The anti-hero hero appeals to me because he’s not the handsome tall, dark, rugged, handsome man who swaggers onto the first page or screen and screams hero. Whoa, that’s John Wayne another favorite actor of mine. Bogart’s face had lines, his voice was deep at times menacing. He didn’t walk with a swagger but more like a coiled tiger you best not try to pet.

Vogler describes two types of anti-hero Hero. The first is the character who behaves like your conventional hero but is cynical, wounded, and doesn’t let anyone close, and keeps their emotions locked away. Vogler even cites two of Bogart’s biggest movies, The Big Sleep and Casablanca. I’d like to add The Maltese Falcon to this list. The second type of anti-hero Hero is the tragic character who is not only not likable and we may dislike their actions. (Ah that would be Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny).

The first movie I ever saw Humphrey Bogart in was The Petrified Forest. He played Duke Mantee an escaped prisoner who held people at an out of the way cafe hostage. Duke was waiting for his girlfriend. When Bogart, as Duke, burst into the diner, I twitched. He was bad, ruthless, and scary. I rooted for his demise yet I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He stole your attention. Apparently this same plot point appeared in another Bogart movie, The Desperate Hours. His character, Glen Griffin was again an escaped convict holding a family hostage as he waited for his girlfriend. Women- the bad guy’s downfall. Duke and Glen both die in the end. Leslie Howard, the star of The Petrified Forest, campaigned hard for Bogart to play Mantee. Howard protested doing the movie unless Bogart got the part. The studios wanted Edward G. Robinson. Trivia Point: When Bogart and Robinson were in gangster movies together they made a pact. If Robinson had top billing, Bogart died first, then Robinson. If Bogart had top billing, Robinson died first, then Bogart. Thank you Turner Classic Movies for that tidbit. Also later Bogart and Robinson would team up in Key Largo.

Casablanca transcends decades. The movie holds up and should never, ever be remade. It cemented Bogart as a star. As Rick Blaine, the nightclub owner of Casablanca, he has the characteristics of the anti-hero hero. Although I think Maltese Falcon is better example of this type of hero and I’ll explain later. We know Casablanca’s plot. Rick’s old love Ilsa, who left him in Paris, comes to Casablanca. Ilsa and her husband are trying to escape the Nazis. He’s a freedom fighter, Rick’s a saloon owner. Touch choice for Ilsa. They need letters of transport to leave Casablanca and their lives are in danger. Rick has the letters. He’s tried to forget Ilsa. She left him in the city of love. I’d be devastated too. So now we have sympathy for the anti-hero hero. When Ilsa insists Sam, the piano player, play ‘As Time Goes By’, Rick explodes into the room demanding why Sam is singing a song he had strictly forbidden to ever be played. Then Rick sees Ilsa. It’s an emotional reunion and Bogart plays it just right. He keeps his cool when you know he’s seething and hurting inside. The coiled tiger. Later in the movie, Rick demands Sam play the song just for him. Then Bogart through his acting allows you to see and experience his pain. In the end, Rick sends Ilsa away with her husband. He doesn’t want to, he loves her, but for the greater good lets her go. It’s been said that the movie’s writers wrote the scenes and dialogue each night before the next day’s filming. How I envy them. To have the ability to create dialogue and to have actors who could say the words and perform in such a way to make the film one of the greatest films of all time. This year is the 75th anniversary of Casablanca.

The Maltese Falcon is by far the Bogart movie I enjoy the most. Everyone has their favorites. Vogler calls the anti-hero hero “often honorable men who have withdrawn from society’s corruption, perhaps ex-cops or soldiers who became disillusioned and now operate in the shadow of the law as private eyes, smugglers, gamblers, or soldiers of fortune. Bogart throughout his movie career has portrayed each one of these characters. I recently read Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. The movie is faithful to the book. Dialogue, characters, and plot. Hammett in the book describes the Joe Cario character as effeminate in manner and speech. Peter Lorre is perfectly cast as Cairo. His mannerisms, speech, soft voice, and big eyes are excellent. Hammett wrote that Cario wore a chypre fragrance. Hammett never explains for the reader what chypre smells like. Today’s writer can’t do that. If I wrote he wore a chypre fragrance I’d have to describe it for the reader. Otherwise they’d wonder what chypre was and how it smelled. The reader would lose the story’s momentum. After the third chypre mention I had to Google it. Chypre is a citrus, floral and mossy fragrance with patchouli added. Trivia Point: Badgley Mischika’s fragrance, Coco’s Mademoiselle, Darling by Kylie Minogue, DKNY’s Be Delicious, and Givenchy’s Ange au Demon are top selling chypre based fragrances today.

In the next to final scene in The Maltese Falcon, Bogart explains why he has to turn Brigid, his love interest, in for the murder of Spade’s private detective partner, Miles Archer. At this part of the movie I start laughing. A lot. Why? Two reasons, okay three reasons. First the dialogue is fantastic and every word defines what an anti-hero Hero is. Second is Humphrey Bogart’s delivery. It is emotional, cynical, convincing, and funny. Spade figured out Bridget killed Miles, how and why. He forces her to admit it but she doesn’t believe he’ll turn her in because he ‘loves’ her. She’s right he tells her, he doesn’t want to turn her in but he has to. He didn’t like his partner and was planning to end their partnership. So what if he was sleeping with Miles’ wife. Spade’s analysis of the situation and Bogart’s acting would make a psychiatrist proud. Bogart delivers each line with conviction.”Well if you get a good break you’ll be out of San Quentin in twenty years and you can come back to me then.” And he adds, ‘If they don’t hang you.’ Because as Spade says, he won’t play the sap for her. Spade explains that when a man’s partner is killed, he’s suppose to do something about it. He tells her to not believe the talk that private detectives are crooked. That kinda of talk is good for business, he says. Spade’s knight in shining armor is tarnished but he still knows right from wrong. I’m still laughing as Brigid is being taken away by the police. The shadows on the elevator door look like prison bars. I’m rooting for Spade and feeling sorry for him. He fell in love with a killer. Even though he has his vices, he still has a moral conviction and becomes the ultimate anti-hero Hero. Only Humphrey Bogart could have played Sam Spade. ‘Damn good acting’, as the Turner Classic Movie saying goes. The third reason I’m laughing? My cynical sense of humor.

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Chronicles of Riddick: ‘You Keep What You Kill’

March 20, 2012 | Writing

Greetings Vin Diesel, Riddick, fans. I got caught up in NCAA, March Madness. Watched Norfolk State do some damage. VCU did well and maybe saying goodbye to their awesome coach, Shaka Smart, if University of Illinois, Champaign have their way.

But now back to The Chronicles of Riddick and the end of his hero’s journey. Riddick arrives on Cremetoria, much to the displeasure of the guards. The mercs don’t trust the guards and thus Riddick has the perfect opportunity to see them turn on each other. Riddick’s plan is to rescue Jack and escape. Campbell writes the hero enters a Special World “a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials.” That’s Cremetoria alright. He’s been in a lot of prisons and escaped from each of them, but this world is dangerous.

Which leads to Stage Seven: Approach to the Inmost Cave. Two places where Stage Seven occurs in The Chronicles of Riddick, Cremetoria and Helion Prime. Campbell writes the hero will encounter supreme wonder and terror. First Cremetoria’s prison is underground since the surface is close to a thousand degrees. Riddick is attacked by inmates when he first arrives, he defeats each except one. Jack saves him. She’s pretty lethal with a long, heavy iron chain. When Riddick follows her, their reunion is anything but sweet. Jack, the actress Alexa Davalos (soon to be seen in Wrath of The Titans), openly challenges Riddick. They trade dialogue from Pitch Black.

Jack/Kyra: “How do I get eyes like that?”
Riddick: “First you’ve got to kill someone.”
Jack/Kyra: “Did that, couldn’t find anyone for twenty menthol cools.”

At this point Riddick hoists her up against the bars. And she asks: “What are you going to do? Go for the sweet spot?” She slashes Riddick’s cheek and tells him her name is Kyra now, Jack couldn’t cut it and she’s a new kind of animal. Later Kyra is surrounded by guards and almost killed. Riddick comes to her rescue and kills one of the guard with his tea cup. The other guards flee. Kyra then fills Riddick in on how she left Helion Prime looking for him, signed up with mercs, was slaved out and sentenced to Cremetoria. Riddick is furious. He tried to protect her and she signed up with same ‘fake badges’ he’s been running from. After a gun battle between the guards and the mercs, Riddick seizes the opportunity to plan an escape. Campbell writes that this is a time for information gathering or getting ready for an ordeal. He says ‘gunfighters check their weapons’, Riddick tells the inmates he plans on outrunning the fire inferno rolling across the surface of the planet. ‘Don’t step up if you can’t keep up’, he informs them. The stakes are higher, but Kyra will follow Riddick so they along with four other inmates leave. As they race across the ground, the guards who are traveling underground toward the hanger where the ship is docked, take shots at them. One inmate is killed. They have to climb a mountain as the fire inferno bears down on them. Kyra is stranded and she pleads for Riddick to save her. He douses himself with water, swings out and reaches her just in time. Another inmate dies.

As they reach the hanger, Riddick senses the Necromongers have arrived. The hanger door opens, the guards meet the Necromongers and a battle between them distracts them from Riddick. Riddick, Kryra and the remainig two inmates fight a bloody battle. Riddick is shot by Vaako and left for dead. In the Director’s cut, as Riddick is about to be shot by Vaako, a Furyan warrior woman reappears and tells him he must avenge his people but first it’s going to hurt. She holds out her hand which appears to be burning and imprints a glowing hand on Riddick’s chest. Kyra has no choice but to escape with the Necromongers.

Stage Eight: The Ordeal deals with death and rebirth. “Heroes must die so that they can be reborn.” Riddick is left for dead, but he’s not alone. The Purifier remained behind. He pulls Riddick to safety and has the knife Riddick pulled from the back of the Necromonger that killed Imam. When Riddick comes to he knows Kyra has left the planet. The Purifier informs Riddick that The Lord Marshal wanted to strike a deal. If Riddick stays away from him, he’ll leave him alone. The Purifies reveals that he’s a Furyan. ‘We all began as something else.’ He wants Riddick to return to Helion Prime and defeat The Lord Marshal. The Purifier walks out into the blazing inferno to atone for all the evil deeds he’s done ‘in the name of a religion not even his own’ and burns up.

In Stage Eight, Campbell says the hero witnesses death. Riddick picks up the knife determined to return to Helion Prime. The villain also dies. Riddick returns to Helion Prime disguised as a Necromonger. Dame and Lord Vaako are surprised and frightened. Lord Vaako reported Riddick dead and was promoted. Whoops, a slight hitch in Dame Vaako’s plan. But hey she’s resourceful woman. She suggests they give Riddick a chance to kill The Lord Marshall. Her reasoning: The Lord Marshall is weak and should be eliminated. She adds that this should be done for the Necromonger faith.

Riddick attacks The Lord Marshall and discovers he’s turned Kyra into a Necromonger. The Lord Marshall offers Riddick a new life with Kyra. Riddick refuses, throws the knife and for the first time in a long time, The Lord Marshall bleeds. A fight to the death between them leaves Riddick at the mercy of The Lord Marshall until Kyra stabs him in the back. Wounded but still strong, The Lord Marshall throws Kyra against a spear. Vaako jumps down, ready to kill The Lord Marshall, who shifts out of Vaako’s reach, but materializes right in front of Riddick who stabs him in the head with the knife.

Riddick holds a dying Kyra, the last person who has sacrificed her life for him. As he sits on the throne he is surrounded by Vaako and the other Necromongers. He looks up expecting to die. Instead Vaako says: “You keep what you kill.” Everyone kneels. Riddick is now the Necromongers leader. Stage Nine of the hero’s journey is the hero reaping his reward. Riddick didn’t look too happy about his reward. Apparently we’ll have to wait for the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick Dark Fury which is a working title, to see what Riddick faces.

There are three more stages in the hero’s journey according to Campbell. Stage Nine, Reward. The hero has overcome the Ordeal and for a moment at least savors victory. For Riddick he doesn’t have this opportunity, at least in this movie. Campbell writes that once the hero survives the Ordeal he is recognized as different, ‘part of a select few who have outwitted death.’ And Riddick has done this. So the question is: Now what?

Stage Ten: The Road Back. The hero has to decide whether to remain in the Special World or return to the Ordinary World. The movie ends on this question. What is he going to do with all these Necromongers?

Stage Eleven: The Resurrection. The hero is suppose to change. Has Riddick changed? Stay tune to the third movie.

Stage Twelve: Return with the Elixir. Campbell writes now that the hero has survived all the ordeals, the deaths of those he trusted and loved, they either return home or continue the journey. They move forward believing they are beginning a new life. So at the end of Chronicles of Riddick yes he’s about to begin a new life. Again stay tuned for what that new life will be.

Any dialogue any one want to share? Or comments? Cause this has been fun and next month I’ll pick another movie. Any suggestions?

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