Creativity Need a Nudge? Or just want something esoteric to do?

Ever heard of Artist Trading Cards, or ATCs? Well . . . they’ll take up all your time and eat the creative drive that you usually pour into your writing, so you may not want to start doing these, but basically they’re small cards (about the size of a playing card) that you draw, stamp, paint, or otherwise design and create . . . and then send them out to swap with other artists you meet through mailing lists or zines.

Okay, it’s offbeat, but it’s fun. If you know what mail art is or have ever done a postcard exchange/pen-pal thing, you get the picture (ha!) Anyhow, I did a couple of ATC exchanges last year, and it was enjoyable. It took up so much time and made such a mess to make the cards that I quit doing it, but I’m considering making a mess again in order to make a deck of what are called “Soul Collage Cards” or “Soul Cards” for short. They’re kind of a cross between a portable memory album, the Tarot, and ATCs.

Their spiel (paraphrased):

SoulCollage is a process through which you contact your intuition and create an incredible deck of cards which have deep personal meaning and which will help you with life’s questions. You’ll follow simple directions for making cards. The images you select–the images that select you–come straight through your Soul, bypassing the mind. Each card you make will reflect one facet of your Self and or Soul, while the evolving deck will reflect the whole panorama which is “you” as a whole Being.” Some of the images you choose will show pieces of your personality, the actors in your local story such as your “caretaker” or your “controller”, your “dancer” or your “silly child.” Other images will be more mysterious and mythic, images that will represent the archetypes who may be guiding you. These are the Great Ones who inevitably weave your local story into the Larger Story. These might include archetypes such as the “Creator”, or the “Warrior”, the “Wise, Old Woman”, or even the “Fool”.

You’ll then use the deck for self-discovery or exploration, “putting this and that into perspective in your life,” “discovering your inner wisdom,” healing yourself (therapeutic work), or divination. “Is this a return to superstition and magic? Not at all. It is a return to the valuing of intuition, and also a return to a more mystical understanding of reality. Answers are available to each person without dependence on psychics, gurus, well-known authors, or teachers to access our inner wisdom.”

There’s a website and the original book, if you’re interested in looking at this for yourself (or for one of your characters to pursue during a book as one of the subthreads!) I think it could spark creativity to pull one of the cards when you’re at a loss for what to write. You can think of many other uses, if you decide to do this. It would be a long-term project, of course . . . it takes me forever just to make ONE card. But that’s because I don’t do collage–I never did like it, and it’s not my style. I don’t use magazine images or whatnot. That means this stuff takes lots longer, but I get a more personal output.

Here is a 4-card reading I accidentally clicked into from the website. It’s kind of interesting. Remember, I clicked into it from a Google search on “soul” *just seeing what I would come up with*, and didn’t think of a question or have any purpose in mind for a reading of any kind when I clicked and got the screen. Hmm.

My card 1:
“Balance” Artist: Don Nix Suit: Committee
Description: I Am the One Who is constantly juggling and trying to balance competing and contradictory demands in life. “Most days I have several demands competing for my energy and attention. I am constantly trying to find a way to harmonize them, but no solution seems to last very long. The juggler is that part of me who has to keep juggling and keep trying to find a balance.”

Hmm. That could describe “What I’m Dealing With Now,” in the four-card reading that some Tarot or other card readers use.

Card 2: “Pearl of Emotion” Artist: Jeri Bodemar
Suit: Committee
Description: If one attends to deep feelings and pensive moods, often a pearl emerges from the grit and tears.

Card 2 is generally interpreted as what could happen in the near future if things continue as they are.

Card 3: “Emergence”
Description: Beauty and clarity come from deep within.

Card 3 is often seen as what you can do to try to discourage the events in card 2, or what not to do if you want them to happen. In this context, it seems to be a piece of general wisdom and advice.

Card 4: (and this is funny!)
“The Conformist” Artist: Marlene Warneke Suit: Committee
Description: I Am One Who conforms so that I may belong. I can fit into many situations easily. I am a great team player and I can become invisible if I need to.

Card 4 is what to do to try and encourage the events in card 2, or what not to do if you want to discourage them. Y’all know I’m a nonconformist who mocks conformity and its mindsets. We’ll think about this positional description for a while.

Then I asked where should I go from here and clicked for another reading with intention. I got:

1: “Clarity” Artist: Monica Ibarra Robbins
Suit: Council
Description: I can see with clarity and sense the flight of transformation. Meaning: I had been experincing a time of darkness. A dear lady listened to me and guided me through the dark tunnel. Her patience, kindness and understanding allowed me to come out of my low.

2: “Dancing Fool” Artist: Seena Frost
Suit: Council
Description: I Am the One Who grabs you and flings you into the Dance of Life…even when you want to sit on the sidelines. There are new steps to learn, and I will teach you…by doing them.

3: “The Laughing Witch” Artist: Mary Fenton
Suit: Council
Description: I Am One Who knows all creatures in Earth’s Light, and Below, in darkest Dark. I hear no thing. I dance all Life. I watch all death. I birth all births. I relish all and laugh behind my hand.

4: “Great Mother” Artist: Pam Gonsalves
Suit: Council
Description: I Am The One Who holds the Universe in her womb.

Okay, THAT one was a little weird. But you get the drift of how these things work. The website and book go into more detail about how they use the cards. I have my own notions about what I would do, and I wouldn’t use that “I am the one who” exercise because it’s just . . . well, it’s not for me. I do think I have some ideas, though.

Examples of suits I would choose for my cards: OUR KARASS, LOVES, PAST MENTORS OR TEACHERS, etc. Examples of what I might do with them: pull a card now and then to spark a paragraph of freewriting. Pull a card of the day to meditate upon now and then. I would not hesitate to have quotations on various cards for inspiration.

But it would take forever to actually *make up* this thing. I don’t know if I have time to devote to it. It’s fun to read about, just like skydiving and snow skiing. You don’t even have to break a leg to enjoy reading about this stuff!

Get your reading.

Or just laugh. It takes all kinds! Look at the diversity of experience we can come across when we surf the ‘net with a keyword or two.

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Reveries not by Debussy and probably NOT Jungian insights

Rain pounded on the tin roof as the castle’s owner struggled against his captors, but to no avail. Thumping and crackling, thunder and lightning shot across the sky as they dragged him inside the dungeon. Soon he found himself in an ornate metal cage hanging off a stake welded into the stone wall.

A farmer shook a pitchfork as the cage’s door clanged shut. Children surrounded his knees, shouting, “Sorciere! Sorciere!” and “Kill the witch!”

“The church wants this property,” he gasped out in disbelief. “They simply want me done away with. I’m no witch!”

“Your wife bounced when we threw her in the pond! She floated like a duck!” His face brightened. “That’s how we knew she was a witch! They’re readying for the burning now!” His face fell and he gripped the bars in panic as the children surged out, presumably to see the exciting fireworks show.
# # #
“It’s not exactly that we’re READY for this.” Jorge figeted with his paper napkin. “It’s just that we’re running out of time, and if we don’t do it soon, we’ll never bother with it.”
“I don’t believe in that.” Jill crossed her arms. “You ought to think for yourself and decide whether something’s really the right thing to do and worth doing, not just say, well, we should do this because somebody expects we will, and we’re running out of time.”
Frannie pushed her shake away. “It’s more like y’all’re just bored. Besides, I actually liked the squid. He was really friendly.”
The explosion ended their conversation with a bang.
# # #
*shudder* Awful, ain’t they? Well, at least I didn’t try to dramatize the bad dream from the other night about how the mentally disabled/developmentally delayed are being trained to handle the dead because “it won’t bother them–they won’t know what’s happening” or the one about the submarine in the toilet.

And I’m not even TAKING the pain pills.

Yes, it’s so awful when good stuff happens, sigh

I’ve simply got to cancel that “your horoscope by e-mail every morning” service. Today it claims:

Pisces (Feb 19 – Mar 20)–The realization of your fantasies can sound too good to be true, but this can bring disappointment, too. Sometimes the most exquisite desires are better left floating in the clouds of illusion, for they don’t meet your high expectations once they have precipitated into reality. Be careful what you dream; you might have to live with it.

Come ON. Why don’t you just poke me with a pin? You won’t be happy even when you’re happy!

However, I just woke up from a dream in which my knee wasn’t stiff any more and I was really bending it well, and it actually *doesn’t* feel quite as stiff (it’s usually hideously stiff after I wake up, especially if I’ve slept more than three hours or so) and is bending pretty well. This did not bring any disappointment.

I no longer have that fantasy about [famous celebrity’s name redacted] showing up at my door because he needs me to co-star in his next film and/or appear on his game show, so that can’t be what they’re warning against.

So let’s bring on those dreams come true! As long as they’re not the BAD dreams–and it doesn’t sound like that; it sounds as if they’re shaking their heads dourly and reciting a litany of warnings against being too happy about getting something you have worked towards your entire life, because it may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Well, hell, kiddos, let me simply say that I’ll be thrilled to have a better class of problems!

Can’t get my hardcover books positioned in a special dump at the front of the store? Can’t get top billing above Michael Douglas in my next feature film? Can’t reserve all of Spago tomorrow night for my big party? Pout! Pout! Oh, dear, the wrong color of cut flowers was delivered to our tour bus! _Quel horreur_! But I can live with that! What I can’t live with is the constant failure and abuse that life typically throws on our heads. So let’s see you stars and planets upgrade all us Pisces babes to that better class of worries and problems, and see if we don’t pull an Esther Williams right here in the lily pond! *wink*
# # #
I just read this, and it seems like a useful distinction: if your heroine is rollin’ with/responding to changes in fortune that weren’t necessarily caused by her, then her story is event-driven. If she’s responding to events caused by her own karma/stubbornness/mistakes (actions she has consciously taken or has unconsciously failed to prevent because of her tragic flaw or her deepest fears/doubts or whatever it is she’s going to experience change in during her character arc), then the story is character-driven.
# # #
“Schadenfreude can be a bracing tonic.”–Some naughty ‘net wag who wants to remain anonymous, and understandably so. (Not me!)

Why isn’t life fair (or even fairer)

Paul Jessup on newbie publishing.

Excerpts:
“Publishing is not a just meritocracy.”–Jay Lake
“Lots of good writers never get published.”–Paul Jessup

*sigh*

But he’s wrong about one thing. There IS a Sekrit Formula! A Sekrit Formula for writing a good story. It’s just that nobody knows what it is–not even the people who can do it. It’s part serendipity. It’s part a blessing from the Universe. It’s a little bit just plain accidental. AND to do it at all requires/assumes a baseline of a certain skill level. AND when you send it off, you’ll need the luck to appeal to a certain reader (editor/agent) who is in the mood to like your tone and voice and style and doesn’t get turned off by something you inadvertently did, such as naming your villain Jake when her sweetie’s named Jake. . . .

It helps if you write in the same language the reader reads in. There! That’s your Tip o’ the Day!

Is it just ME, or is it a sign of the times

For some reason, since my Muses fell silent (they’ve started to stir again–I’m going to work on either the Ari sequel or the Pundit book this weekend, between doing my knee exercises *ouch* 10x a day), I have felt like surfing eBay for interesting stuff that I shouldn’t buy because we can’t really afford to waste money. Still, I’ve had a bit of fun, and have a question or two for y’all.

Is it just ME, or . . . isn’t it really saddening and depressing to find all these vintage charm bracelets up for sale that have in the description, “I inherited this from my aunt/grandma/mom a few years ago,” or even, “Charm of boy’s head engraved with name and date,” or “Charm with three kids’ figures and ‘Grandma’ engraved”? I mean . . . this is stuff that these people should keep and treasure and pass along to the next generation. But some people see only a dollar sign in anything. My cousin’s kids are like that–when they come to your house, they stride in and suddenly point at something in your house and shout, “Wow! That would bring $$$ on eBay!” Or, “Can I have this? I know just where I could sell it!” Philistines.

Sure, there are people who need to sell jewelry because they’ve fallen on hard times. This is probably a SMALL fraction of these hawkers, though. Most of ’em are just selling ’cause they think “money is more valuable” or they just aren’t materialistic and/or sentimental. Okay, fine. However, I still feel a twinge for the mom or grandma who presented this item and hoped it would be passed down through the generations.

Yeah . . . sappy. I never bid on any bracelet with charms on it like these, though. Just too depressing for me. And I’m already a melancholic. A couple of years ago I did bid on and win a bracelet with such charms (because it had an old-fashioned phone and airplane that I thought were cute), and when I got it, such a feeling of sadness ran through me as I picked it up and “felt” the missed potential to the grandchild or whoever who could be told, “This was your great-grandmother’s . . . it comes from WWII . . . see the airplane? This is how prop planes used to look. And this is how phones used to look in Grandma’s day. She saw a flag flying with 45 stars and a milk wagon pulled by horses and an iceman who came daily bringing a huge chunk of ice in his tongs and plopped it into their wooden icebox. . . .”

*sigh* Yeah, whatever. I was physically unable to have children, so I guess this kind of experience might be overrated, as it’s mostly in my memory from overhearing people say it to their children (who were trying to get to the Nintendo anyhow). I’ve always been sentimental and a keepsake-keeper.

I suppose the charm bracelet fad is kind of over. I’m going to make a charm necklace out of the ones I’ve picked up here and there, because I hate clanging bracelets against the keyboard. I’ve seen charm necklaces in the catalogs for fall, so perhaps for once I won’t be completely out of style.

Here are a few of the bracelets I *ahem* DID win.

“Apollo” NASA charm bracelet . . . because my dad worked at NASA during the Apollo program. I think THIS one is cool. Note the LEM charm!

Snowman and Princess Phone charms sold me on this one. Those are the only two that aren’t sterling, but oh well.

And I LOVE this little fish with a pearl! I have him/her on a necklace chain.

Hubby says I should’ve saved the money so we could go to the beach sometime this fall “when you get well.” Since the therapist seems to think I am hopeless and can’t get well, and things are moving very slowly, I see this as one of those “We’ll see” answers from Dad, and am not taking it seriously.

I also got a couple of art rubber stamps. Made my aunt and uncle their birthday cards earlier this week using the stamps (“House Mouse” blowing out the candles). Reminded me what a mess it makes to do crafts, and how ephemeral the results.

But then all is ephemeral, ain’t it? All is vanity, saith the preacher. Time and chance happeneth to them all.

The best you can hope to do is *DUCK*.

*quacking up*

MEME: mi-mi-mi I steal [ObMeme] Interview meme from Yoon

[ObMeme] Interview meme gacked from

1. Leave me a casual comment of no particular significance, like a lyric to your current favorite song, or your favorite kind of sandwich, maybe your favorite game. Any remark, meaningless or not. [Please not nasty, though . . . funny is better, heartfelt is good, random is OK. *grin*]

2. I will respond by asking you five personal questions so I can get to know you better.

3. Update your LJ with the answers to the questions. Link the entry to a comment to this entry.

4. Include this explanation and offer to ask someone else in your own post.

5. When others respond with a desultory comment, you will ask them five questions.

Or if you don’t want to play, thanks for listening. . . .

CRAFT: What a drag

When you read through your manuscript, do you ever find scenes that seem to slow the pacing? Or do critique partners say that the scene bored them, or that they skipped it? If you decide that a scene drags, you can run through this checklist to see if you can find a cure.

* Is it a filler? (“She parked the car, pulled the key out of the ignition, stepped up on the curb. . . .”) Is it not really a scene, but just typing? (You finished the previous scene and just kept the tape rolling, following the “action”–or lack of it–as the characters do something that we don’t need to see.) If a scene doesn’t advance the plot, it should be needed for characterization and/or to set up a moment that will come later. If it shows a character in a rare unguarded moment, use that insight for an “aha!” later. If it shows a shotgun over the fireplace, be sure shots are fired later on.

But if the scene is really a filler, with nothing but empty banter or self-indulgent stuff about the character(s), you should probably paste it into a “deletia” file for later cannibalization.

* Sometimes it just takes a scene a while to get going. Think of a live play in a theater, where every line has to carry a lot. In a way, playwrights have it good, because they can have actors SHOW the characters walking into the restaurant hesitantly and glancing around the room. But the down side is that they’d better start a brawl soon, or have a pickpocket reach into someone’s back pocket. They don’t get a lot of narrative downtime. Novelists can get away with a little bit, but only a few lines at a time.

Summarize by saying that Joe drove to the bank and made his deposit, *but* discovered that his balance was negative. THEN you go right into the dramatized portion. “What?” he shouted at the teller. “I can’t be overdrawn–I still have checks left!” (Etc.)

* Guard against infodumps. Actually, I sometimes appreciate a brief infodump or mini-flashback (implied flashback) when we’re coming into a scene and don’t need to have some long drawn-out conversation about what went before. But in general, you should drip the information out during dialogue and minor action. *Don’t* make the mistake of dripping details in during a major action scene such as a chase scene, though, as characters should be thinking about how terrified they are or how much adrenaline rush they’re getting, not about what-have-you. Though I do think that to mention that it makes him/her think of that time at Seven Flags when he threw up on the roller coaster or fell out of the Caddo Canoes is okay, if you keep it to a bare mention. But that’s just me.

Think of the film “Foul Play,” in which a lot of information was exchanged between characters while the camera was watching action that amused us and informed us. The snake going after the cookies, for example (which set up the snake), or Dudley Moore getting all down and dirty in the apartment while Goldie Hawn peeks out the window to see if the albino is still following her. That way, the info we got was painless. We were laughing. A few novelists do this well. Some step over the boundary into ridiculousness and absurdity when they do it (I’m thinking of one Southern-gothic-mystery/thriller author who always pushes it into absurdity, but who is really popular, so go figure.) Shift the focus from the “uh-huh, Professor Infodump,” to the “What is THAT behind you?” moment.

* It’s tough to show a boring moment. That one takes a bit of doing. You don’t want READERS to be bored while your characters are bored. I’ve also heard that readers can feel nauseated when characters say they are, and so forth. Some situations call for a lot of skill in portraying them.

* If you need to explain a term or custom, you should do it, but don’t go into lots of detail. And don’t put it into dialogue. Because, as you know, Bob, it is too risky that you’ll end up with either

A) “As you know, Bob, we all live in an economy-sized jar of Tang. And it’s the middle of the next century and the end of the world is coming in twelve minutes.”

or

B) “Sergeant Blueshirt, we both know that we’re riding in a police car here in Mangle, Florida, at ten PM. Let’s review: we’re headed for a domestic disturbance call. And you don’t have your Kevlar vest on because you forgot to put it on, for the first time ever.”
“Yes, Detective Exposition, and since I’m your brand-new partner, I’m pretty nervous about all this. I know I got the wrong kind of doughnuts. Next time, I’ll be sure to get the ones with chocolate sprinkles.”

Aaaaaa!

Let some things go unexplained for a bit, although the occasional reader will circle that in red and keep saying, “I don’t GET it,” mainly because she’s never figured out how to get things from the context. Readers should be able to get the gist of things such that they’re pretty much understood from the context after a page or so.

“Wow! Look at all the shiny Gzorps lying by the side of the road. What a waste. Doesn’t anyone care about recycling?”
“Want me to pull over and get some?”
“Forget it . . . we’re on a schedule.”

Later on, someone can mention how the desperate lack of/surplus of Gzorps is a major problem. You will not be springing Gzorps on the reader, as she will remember this little detail, which is good. By this time, she’ll be patient enough to read your description of what/who they are and how they’re used.

However, guard against calling a bunny a Meerp just for the halibut.

* Don’t let your book’s dialogue be anything like the stuff in all o’ those newfangled TV shows. Much indulgence is allowed them because people are in love with the actors. Also, you are SEEING it happen, so your suspension of disbelief isn’t quite so fragile. But if you have a page of stuff like:

“Would anybody mind telling me just exactly what is going on around here?”
“Just another lovely day in Paradise.”
“So . . . ready to save the world from the demons?”
“Yeah . . . let’s be careful out there.”

*headdesk*

Yes, I know they’re making lots of fans with those shows, but it isn’t because we aren’t laughing at the dialogue. . . .

IMHO, storytelling is not *just* about plot (that’s pulp fiction in the olden-days sense) or *just* about character (that’s memoir and biography). There should be a synergy. These two elements should relate–the action of the plot should in some way come out of character, after the inciting incident. Your character should have to face one of his or her worst fears in order to triumph, and/or should undergo a character change he or she would never have expected.

To me, “something happening” doesn’t mean constant chase scenes or murders. It’s your telling of everyday events that makes them interesting because we see how they matter to the characters. The events should snowball and the characters should change in reaction. Plan for continuity, progression, and braiding of plot/subplot threads. But don’t make it so convoluted that readers get confused. Readers should feel that the story is authentic and interesting, even if it’s pure fantasy.

* Don’t rely on the same old plots that we’ve seen hundreds of times. Take plots from situations that happen to you or around you. “Been down THAT alley before,” says your subconscious. “You can do better,” it adds, bashing down a doubt monster with the battered lid from a handy garbage can.

* Reach for fresh descriptions and metaphors/comparisons. Do you get people who tell you that you should reduce your vocabulary, and never say “blustery,” but only say, “very windy”? (As someone told a character in “FoxTrot.”) So do I, but unless you are using really weird words, you ought to reach for the exactly right word.

I can see a difference between “the rough bark of a misshapen tree” and “the age-lumped surface of a gnarled oak.” So will your readers.

Your ruler is a dictator? How the mighty have fallen. Surely you can do better: Tyrant? Sultan? Grand Vizier? Most Exalted Poobah and Lord Executioner?

Critiquers will pounce on the most insignificant of things sometimes, often because of their own pet peeves. Don’t let them vanilla-ize your work. “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

She walked across the room.

Pulling her hat down over her eyes, she set her shoulders and strode across the crowded motel lobby. [“Strode purposefully” would be getting a bit out of hand.]

Heart in her throat, she edged around the ballroom, desperately trying to keep her skirts (damn these hoops!) clear of legs and chairs and predatory potted plants.

She felt her way across the room, skirting dank pools of ooze, ducking the ichor-dripping webs of Zantor-knew-what, and wishing she could ignore the chitinous crunching underfoot.

Which way do you want your readers to experience the scene? It’s up to you.

People have varying tastes. They see events differently. “The facts are the same, but the truth is different for everyone,” as they say.
Your character has a unique POV. Use that filter to make the reading experience more fun.