Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Barrier, Redux

original post: July 24, 2007
What is it made of? That undefinable slip between the mental fortitude a writer needs to sit down to write and the timeless, boundless overdrive where the world slips away? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl, a psychologist famous for his studies of the creative mind, discovered and labeled this phenomenon for writers: flow. The mental state when concentration peaks, the writing is neither easy nor difficult, and the words are powerful and fascinating enough to suspend time.

Flow is liquid and hot, gravity and flight simultaneously conspiring to create something beyond the writer. Thoughts snatched from some nebulous plane, which when placed alongside the words we struggled with, laced with worries of marketability and POV and character arc, we barely recognize as our own.

Flow is the reward. The creative pull stronger than any self-medicating dark chocolate or dry martini or the nth episode of SVU. It's what keeps writers coming back each and every day, hoping to breach this barrier into our subconscious and the story world it has created.

Daily, ritualistic writing weakens this barrier, like a hand stretched through silk stalkings, easily penetrable. Each day away from the barrier strengthens it, layer upon layer until a writer, desperate for the creative high, believes it takes a magical key to open the post-thick door to their imagination.

For me, flow is realizing the cat curled up on my lap and I never felt him. Forgetting to eat a meal. Darkness descending where there was day. And once, only once, the sweet notion of fallen tears I hadn't remembered surfacing. Flow is a perfect time machine, fully accessible if we let ourselves go. Flow is finding that place we discovered before we realized there were rules.

What does flow mean for you?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grande Caramel Link-uccino

In typical Vortex fashion, I have an Earthy-friendly recycled beverage cup filled with frothy links to kick-start your Monday. No corrugated heat strip here, though a napkin to wipe the spittle may become necessary. Shall we begin?

If the creative process has you wishing for a road map to get out of your particular neighborhood, check out this cartoon. Right now, I'm driving donuts around the "R" route trying to avoid the nasty red signs. Honestly, I could stare at this map until said beverage ran cold.

Entertainment Web demands explanations about these 35 WTH photographs. Think of the character nuances these could spawn! So what if some of them are photoshopped? Consider it a double shot of espresso.

What would overpriced liquid refreshment be without a flaky pastry?

The largest annual steampunk gathering will take place on Governer's Island, NY, August 7, 2010 beginning at 1:30. This year, participants are encouraged to wear costumes from the American Civil War, this year's theme period. Not sure how they'd fare against the reenactment hard-cores we have here in the South, but the Yanks are sure to throw a party worthy of, well, some flickr galleries. FMI.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Migration of a Love Scene, Redux

Originally posted July, 2008
Day 1: Starbucks, downtown. 9 am

I know what you’re thinking. Is it possible to write sex in a Starbucks? Contrary to what many believe about romance writers, we don’t have satin-covered chaise lounges in our offices. Our crystal goblets are filled with java to fuel the energy for the endurance marathon that is the love scene. We don’t slip into something more comfortable unless it’s the stained Parks and Rec shirt we got when we signed up for Pilates. Maybe some do, but they probably live on some planet in the Nora galaxy.

It’s true, the whirring espresso machines and baristas hollering out stranger’s names shifts the muse into a diesel engine. Slow to warm into the character’s heads, their motivations, the emotional journey necessary for this one scene. I watched two grown men fight over a stained, upholstered chair. I took in a nearby conversation (You know writers do this don’t you? Eavesdropping with a bionic ear fuels our creativity) between two men. One laid out enough laptop computer gadgets to put Best Buy to shame. The other laid out the male-version of his tragic “I’m happily divorced, my wife is a stalker” love story, complete with metaphors to lifeboats and Carole King.

Character’s state of undress: nowhere near first base

Day 2: Barnes and Noble, downtown (I was stuck for a week, okay?). 9 am

Those periphery desks? My next attempt. The man at the next table sat opposite, more intent on people watching than thumbing through his business journal. Normally, a past-time I identify with. On this day it was the equivalent of an audience. How can I be inspired to write the precise shade of flesh when all I have to go on is a glossy Pete Rose biography in the Sports section and Wall Street Boy with roman chimes for a cell ring? An added bonus to this day: a visiting surgeon from the nearby hospital in a chance meeting with said business boy discussing Apple stocks. The visual impact of the doctor’s powder blue scrubs turned every phrase clinical.

Character’s state of undress: first base

Day 3: Kitchen Table, home. 9pm

Yes, by this time, I was thinking that, too. Eliminate all factors out of the realm of control. And it was dark. That should help, right? But the guide channel from earlier that day flashed through my brain. Brokeback on Bravo. What would be cut, exactly? Would it be a study in tight storytelling? After all, Jake is the inspiration for my hero, who by this time was, no doubt, getting frustrated at the slow turn of events. So Jake is wearing thermals the whole time. The face, focus on the face. Twenty minutes, that’s all.

An hour and a half later: the cat is giving me his one-eyed stare. I’m back at the table trying to get that cruel earwig of dialogue out of my brain: “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Does mine wank like that line?

Character’s state of undress: past second

Day 4: Coffee Shop Three, less than 1 mile from home. 7 am

One detail I left out of my previous rant about this place is that it contains a flowing water fireplace-like room partition. I’d drunk enough limeade the previous night to float an arc. Add that to the perfection that was just-brewed iced tea, and I was b-lining it to the ladies room between heavy pettings.

Right about the time my hero’s internal dialogue was screaming “Finally!” a bible study group assembled at the next table, roundtabling and dissecting the moments each had been saved. At that point, the only deliverance I needed was from this *!@# scene.

Character’s state of undress: enough to go to confession

Day 4: writing desk, home. Midnight

Tissue box. I couldn’t be sure if the tears were because my characters had just been mercilessly ripped apart or because I’d championed over Debbie Downer love stories, nosy strangers and decidedly non-inspirational input and typed the scene’s ending punctuation. Is it satisfying for the reader? I’m too close to tell.

I do know it wouldn’t be the same without that precise shade of green from the Pete Rose cover. The exact contour of a stubbled jaw line on a Wyoming hillside. The fire and passion with which the saved had spoken. For writers, input is output, and I remain grateful for what life shows me.

While we’re on the topic, I recently stumbled across this brilliant post by Libba Bray detailing how writing a novel is like falling in love. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fabio's Flavor of Summer: The Laaahhve Attack

For once, I was ahead of the buzz, right? The I Write Like...thing exploded last week and everyone from Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford to the Associated Press had something to say about it. Margaret Atwood writes like Stephen King! Who knew? Not wanting to leave well enough alone, and knowing that Fabio adoration is never far from our hearts here at the Vortex, I bit off the big fat assumption that Fabio crafted the words to his romantic ditties and plugged his words into I Write Like's text analysis. Commence guessing fun.

First, Fabio's liquid poetry in case you've forgotten.

Now for bragging rights:

Fabio's lyrics are most like which famous author?

A. Dean Koontz
B. William Shakespeare
C. Jane Austen
D. Stephenie Meyer
E. Charles Dickens

Answer in the comments. If that sample whet your appetite for more laaahhve attack from Fabio, jump back to my post on his After Dark album. Still. Brings. Tears.

What have I been doing? Streaming Netflix movies through my Wii, reading the fabulous literary novel A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, and deep editing on my spanking new laptop...whoot. No more jockeying for coffee shop outlets. No more viral leprosy. No more stalled production.

Which means it's back to work. I'll be dipping into the Vortex archives to find special favorites for the coming weeks to mix in with the crazy usual. I hope you're all having a Dairy Queen Classic French Silk Pie Blizzard kind of summer. Yum.

If your summer were an ice cream flavor, what would it be called?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blue Screens and Silver Linings

Despite my laptop giving a fight worthy of the finest romance novel hero, it could not defeat the Trojan Bamital virus and an ultimate blue screen of death. Silver lining: I've been away from home so much, there was no threat of infection to my desktop computer. Golden lining: I get a brand-spanking new sumpthin-sumpthin with a functional battery. But this is where you come in.

I'm trying to decide between a laptop and a netbook. Basically, I want simple. Just MS Office (which I know I'll have to have an external hard drive to load onto a netbook), internet capability and a long battery life. I like the portability and size of a netbook, but will I tire of the smaller keyboard and screen? Over the past few years, I've found I write more with my portable than my desktop, so this is a serious investment in my future productivity. Load me up with your experiences. I'd love to hear them.

And while you're at it, let us know who the I Write Like site compares your writing to. Mine? Dan *cough* Brown. Really?

I mean, really?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Writer's Process, On Film

I've been asked before what goes on in a writer's head during the creative process. Do I see events like a movie? Do I carry on conversations with characters until we figure it out together? What is the leap into the story world like?

To an extent, it's a little like the Adam Sandler movie, Bedtime Stories, minus the input from pint-sized critics. In that preoccupied corner of our brains, it rains gumballs and midgets kick us in the shins and that amazing kiss really does happen under the pier.

An obscure short film, Writer's Block, portrays this perfectly. My affinity for it, no doubt, stems from my own recent block, rough patch, chain of endless excuses-whatever you want to call it. I can laugh at it because it's mercilessly behind me, for now.