Friday, March 27, 2009

When Words Fail...

Today, I have to attend the funeral of a long-time writing acquaintance. I am so sorry for her family, for their loss, and for the loss of such a wonderfully talented, giving lady.

Her "official obituary" reads in part:

Stella Rose Edwards, 78 of Lawrence, passed away Sunday, March 22, 2009 at Bronson Methodist Hospital, Kalamazoo.

Stella was born Stella Filipczyk on September 16, 1930 in Chicago. She was the daughter of Felix and Rose (Brumber) Filipczyk. They preceded her in passing, along with her first husband: Howie Schoenberger, two sisters: Florence and Jean and a brother: Rudy.

On October 13, 1953, she married her soul mate: Everett "Eddy" Edwards, who also precedes her in passing. Stella and Eddy met at Camp Farr in Indiana and in 1964, they moved to Lawrence and completed their dream of owning their own summer camp, when they founded Lakeside Farm Camp, later changing the name to Cedar Lodge. Stella spent her entire adult life nourishing the hearts and souls of young people through hers and her husbands lifetime passion of owning and running children summer camps. Her love of music, flowers and animals were gifts she presented daily to those who knew and loved her.

Stella is survived by four children: Chuck and Pat (Griffin) Edwards, David and Nan (Kohlmann) Edwards, Sally and Gene Butler and Amy Edwards, along with seven grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that those wishing to make a donation can donate to a Scholarship Fund being set up in Stella’s name at Cedar Lodge, being created to change the lives of even more children or you may donate to a Children’s Charity of your choice.

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe in the power of words. They can inspire, enlighten, and educate. Handled correctly, they can move our emotions -- incite anger, elicit tears, or provoke laughter. However, I must say that words fail miserably in summing up a life.

I met Stella over 15 years ago. She and I both attended a writer's group in Lawrence, Michigan. Most of the members of the group wanted to write for writing's sake. They were not at all ready or willing to take the plunge into writing for publication. But Stella -- grandmother Stella, with a full life, busy schedule, and extended family -- wanted to publish.

I could take credit, in some small way, for encouraging her to submit her material for publication. But I can't take any credit for her actually following through with it, taking the time, making the effort, and risking the rejection. When Stella told me that Reminisce magazine had accepted a piece she sent them, I was so thrilled for her.

After that, nothing could stop her. She had several things published in "Reminisce" and was tickled when people contacted her because of something she'd written. She later compiled her stories into books to share with her family, friends, and other interested people.

It's ironic that someone can love words as much as Stella did (and I do), yet words simply do not have the power to do justice to a person's life. Ultimately, when it comes time to comfort those remaining, make things "all better," and keep our loved ones with us a little while longer, words fail us.

Goodbye, Stella. You will be missed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Internal Editor

or, A Little Bird Told Me...

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by a high school senior who wants to make a career out of writing. I hope my answers to his questions were of some use. Some of his questions were about things like motivation, craft, and day-to-day operations. About what one would expect.

Some of the things this rather insightful young man asked about, however, were unexpected and unexpectedly relevant. He attends a local Christian high school, and is a person who lives his beliefs. He's also a creative artist. And he still lives at home. "Honor thy father and thy mother" is not up for debate.

He very tactfully inquired about my belief system. When he realized that we come from similar backgrounds (belief in God, steeped in fundamentalist values that include strict prohibitions on profanity, frivolity, mindless entertainment, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll), he asked how my beliefs affected or informed my writing.

We got to talking, and in the course of the conversation, he described how he would be working on a character who he thought would say something "strong" or "colorful," but he would find himself hampered by it. I believe "self-editing" is the phrase he used.

We had a very interesting discussion about the topic of profanity as a tool and as a crutch. I shared with him my views on the matter (which, truth be told, stem largely from my mother's views).

To a degree, profuse profanity that characterizes a character's conversation generally says more about the laziness of the writer than revealing anything profound about the character. As someone brighter than I once put it, "Profanity is the surest sign of a stagnant mind." Every time I read a book or see a movie that is riddled with the same words over and over again, I am struck by the writer's complete lack of creativity. (A notable exception to this rule of thumb is the staggeringly inventive use of expletives dreamt up by Paul Abbott. But that's another story.)

The director I'm working with on my current screenplay has similar views. He's worked on some less-than-squeaky-clean movies. He's no prude, by a long shot. But his advice to screenwriters is to "Take out all profanity." He believes in trusting the actors to tell the story. If the word is on the page, he argues, the actors will say it whether it needs to be there or not. If the word is not on the page, the actors will put it in if it's necessary to convey the right tone, subtext, and emotion of the moment.

More often than not, it's not needed.

Profanity isn't the only area where one is often advised to listen to one's Internal Editor. Sometimes, the problem isn't with being a potty mouth. Sometimes, the problem has to do with engaging the brain-to-mouth filter.

Take, for instance, the case of Cisco Fatty who evidently bound and gagged his Internal Editor in order to post ill-advised snarky Tweets on Twitter about his recent job offer.

Before the work day ended, Web sleuths revealed "theconnor's" true identity. "Theconnor" was lampooned in a popular YouTube meme. And thanks to Google Cache, the deleted content of "theconnor’s" homepage resurfaced on, a Web site erected to commemorate this cautionary tale.

The bottom line is, think before you speak (or Tweet). God gave you a brain -- use it. Just because you have a thought doesn't mean that it must be shared with the world at large. Just because your first inclination is to write "in cursive" doesn't mean that's the best thing to have come out of your character's mouth.

As I said to my new writer friend yesterday, you are the word master. The words don't master you. Don't give them the power to define you, limit you, or enslave you. Make them work for a living. And make each one count.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Welcome, Baby!

Tonight, in the midst of putting Cassandra to bed, we took a break from the regularly scheduled program to watch Remy, Chari's mini mare, have a lovely wee filly.
Here she comes:

No name yet -- but she sure is cute!

Here's looking at you, kid:

Monday, March 23, 2009

5 Things Every Writer Must Know

Lately, I've been in touch with an aspiring writer who is eager to learn how to make the most of his chosen career and make a living with words. (Truth in advertising: He is not as proactive as you might think. He's a senior in high school and only contacted me as part of his assignment...)

We have a face-to-face meeting tomorrow, which will be recorded on MP3 for posterity (though hopefully not for YouTube). I don't know how much I will be able to help the young man achieve his publishing goals, but my e-mail exchanges with him have prompted me to think of a few pertinent pieces of advice for all writers.

So, without further ado, I give you, in no particular order:

Five Things Every Writer Must Know

1. How to use e-mail. Not MySpace. Not FaceBook. E-mail. I realize that the up-and-coming generation consider e-mail hopelessly old school. However, the fact remains that it is the preferred means of communication for many publishers, editors, and agents.

2. What you want to write. If you have a preferred genre, know what it is, know what defines it, know who currently writes it better than anyone else, know who currently publishes it, and know where you want to fit into the grand scheme of things.

3. You can do it. Wanna-be's are everywhere. The numbers thin, however, when it comes to proving production. If you want to write -- write. Have something to show people (preferably editors, publishers, and agents) that proves you can do what you say you want to do.

4. How to use Microsoft Word. It is the industry standard. Anything else will only brand you a newbie.

5. What you want. If you want an interview, ask for it. If you want contact information, say so. People are willing to put you in touch with those who can help advance your career goals or give you advice. But people must first know that you would appreciate such things. Though the lyrics are true (You can't always get what you want), it's a given that you WON'T EVER get what you want if you don't know what it is, and if you don't ask.

So, there you have it. It's hardly earth-shattering advice, I realize. But sometimes, the best advice is the stuff you need to hear right now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

High Hopes and Big Hair

This Sunday, we thoroughly enjoyed going to see the musical "Hairspray" at Lake Michigan College's Mendel Center. We all liked the movie, and Cassandra knows the soundtrack by heart, so we bought our tickets soon after they went on sale. Since yesterday was Robert's birthday, it was a sort of "happy birthday" present for the whole family.

After we got our tickets, we learned that there was a "Big Hair" contest coming up. Grand prize: two free tickets to the show, and $100 gift certificate to The Bistro in downtown St. Joseph.

All you had to do to enter was rat your hair as big as possible and submit pictures to prove it.

The potential for humiliation was great, so of course we went for it.

Cassandra and I spent a laugh-filled evening doing the hair thing. (Robert gamely let us do his hair, too, but the pictures I took really didn't do him justice. He's so photogenic, it was a crime.)

We had a ball, though since Cassandra's hair is longer than just a few inches, hers was easier to make "big."



We shared our winning tickets with friends and we all enjoyed an evening watching Tracy Turnbladt, Link Larkin, Seaweed, Penny, and the rest of the cast sing and dance their hearts out. Very fun!

In Other News

Various writing projects are nearing completion. My Major Project for my VIP client is in the final stages of editing and fact-checking. All that remains now is a editing a few last-minute additions and illustration captions.

The first draft of the biopic screenplay that I'm working on with my director friend Paul Martin is finished. We still need to finesse it and fine-tune it, but we're pretty happy with how it's coming along.

Ryan Gingerich's book is slowly coming along. I'm hoping to make real progress on it in the next two weeks, so he can begin the approval process.

Several other projects and "Good Ideas" are waiting in the wings, but I've put them all on hold until the current projects are completely taken care of.

Earlier this week, I received a nice e-mail from a young man who attends Grace Christian High School in nearby Watervliet. It reads in part:

My goal is to become a writer once I get out of college. Right now, however, we're doing a vocational research project. The project involves finding out about career paths that we're chosing for ourselves. Part of it is to interview someone we're not familiar with who is already in this career. I'd like to set up an interview with you sometime, if you could find the time.

Of course, I said I'd be honored to help him with his assignment. Anything to encourage someone who wants to make his living with words...

Speaking of making a living, Ryan's unfinished chapter beckons. (So does the beautiful sunny day outside -- but it will have to wait.) I may not be writing the next Tony-award winning musical, but my hopes for the project are still high. Which means I'd better get busy and finish it!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Marching Foreword

It has been several months since I last posted. Profound apologies to regular readers. When work is running full-bore, with multiple clients needing writing services, it is difficult to find the time and the inclination to work up a blog post.

New month's resolution: more frequent posts -- even if they have to be short and sweet.

In the gap of postless time, I have put most of the finishing touches on my big, two-year project for the USHJA. They have been, without exception, a dream client in every way: professional, appreciative, and dedicated to producing a product that is exceptionally worthwhile. I am honored to have been included in its creation.

I also finished the rough draft of the screenplay for the biopic I started at the end of 2008. Now the polishing process begins. I helped steer a friend of mine through the editing of her non-fiction book proposal. (At the time, her project is under serious consideration from the first agent she sent it to. Fingers crossed, and time will tell.) And I spent some concentrated time drafting chapters for Ryan's book. That will be my main focus for the rest of the month.

The key, as all writers know, is to keep pushing forward. Keep writing. Keep editing. When one project ends, you can't afford to rest on your laurels. It is utterly imperative to keep on keeping on.

You never know where your work will show up. In 2005, while I was working on Geoff Teall's book on Riding Hunters and Jumpers, I posted some thoughts on writing forewords. I later worked those ideas up into a more formal approach to the topic and posted it as a free article on how to write forewords on Muse Ink, my writer's website. Thanks to the amazing interconnectedness of the internet, those remain available to those who might need them.

Several times a month, I receive a note from someone who was called upon to write a foreword, had no idea where to start, and was able to work up something wonderful following the simple steps suggested. Since I love teaching and working with writers, and since I don't get to do nearly enough of it one-on-one, I always love getting those e-mails and feeling like I've done something worthwhile that day -- without half trying!

Yesterday, Georganna Hancock kept the Foreword ball rolling in her Writer's Edge blog on "Linked-In and Forewords". Not only did Ms. Hancock give a nice plug for the content of the Forewords post, but she also had kind words to say about Muse Ink in general. What a wonderful warm fuzzy to start my week with!