Character and Conflict Part2: Motivation

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Having read - a lot - a definite way for me to want to throw a book at the wall is when the narrative either loses sight of the conflict or an author struggles to develop one. As a reader, a lack of or an unclear conflict can feel like sitting in a staff meeting without a purpose. Whether you’re a writer who wants to write a more cohesive story, or a reader who’s developing their critique technique, one thing to look for in respect to believable and developed conflict is the main character’s motivation.

Characters - if developed as a round, dynamic, fleshed out character - are motivated to act. Their movements don’t just spontaneously combust into forward movement for the sake of moving plot. If they do, there is a problem with author insertion and adding to a reader’s awareness of a plot feeling contrived. If you aren’t sure why a character makes a choice in the action or dialogue, or feel confused by it, chances are the character’s motivation isn’t clearly defined or the author is intruding.

With respect to characterization and conflict: do you ask your protagonist, antagonist these questions?

With respect to characterization and conflict: do you ask your protagonist, antagonist these questions?

Motivation for a character, just like in our own lives outside of the pages, can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the internal means of propelling a character based on internal desires. Harry Potter, for example, in The Sorcerer and the Stone (J.K. Rowling) was motivated to understand who he was outside the Dursleys. He wanted to know more about his past which propelled him on a journey toward personal enlightenment. Intrinsic motivation. Frodo Baggins, in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (JRR Tolkien), however, was motivated to get the one ring out of the Shire in order to keep his home safe from an external danger. Extrinsic motivation. While the stories begin with a specific sort of motivation - internal or external - this doesn’t mean the motivation won’t change. We see both Harry and Frodo undergo changes along the journey to change what motivates their choices, just as that occurs in our own lives.

I took a wonderful class many years ago that helped me as a creative writer. The class was called The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. Character motivation was one idea which really stuck with me. A simple tool Mr. Watt presented which I have used over and over in my own writing is the following sentence:

If (Main Character) can (fill in the blank) then s/he can (fill in the blank).

Here’s an example from Star Wars: A New Hope:

If Luke Skywalker can get off Tatooine then he can be happy.

This is Luke’s reality in the opening of the movie. A clear motivation which propels his curiosity. The longer we follow his journey, however, his initial motivation shifts as the he moves forward in the hero’s journey. When his family is murdered, his motivation shifts. This is a mirror to reality; our motivation is constantly shifting based on attained goals, redefined wants, and personal desires.

So to mirror Luke’s shift in motivation:

If Luke Skywalker can help the rebellion he can avenge his family’s death.

It is important to follow the motivation to the root, however. As the above example shows there are still questions: Why does Luke want to avenge his family?

If Luke can avenge his family then he can clear his conscious for leaving them.

A round and dynamic character’s motivation will always modify and shift as the journey shapes her; that is what makes her more relatable to readers. These changes in motivation whether intrinsic or extrinsic are often rooted in the journey (which if you aren’t familiar with Chris Vogler’s work on the Joseph Campbell monomyth be sure to look it up). As the story moves forward, the motivation serves as a guide for interaction with other characters, propels the main character’s choices, and determines forward action which is believable rather than contrived.

Think about your favorite novel or your current work in progress. Can you create an If/can, then/can statement?

Up Next: Pacing your story . . .

2000 Words Out Loud: The Bones of Who We Are

Publication day is getting closer, and today’s Love Your Novel Challenge insists on the sharing 2500 words. I’m up for it, but I’ve shortened it to 2000 words - a chapter from The Bones of Who We Are when Gabe learns that Seth has been in his accident. Enjoy.

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Point of View and Writing

In the act of writing, I don’t think I have ever made a conscious decision when beginning to write a new story about point of view.  What I mean by that is, I don’t think I sat down and planned in conscious manner I would be writing in first person or third person, omniscient. I wonder if any writer does? I’d love to hear from them.

In my process, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, new ideas, new characters, often come in snippets, so when I sit down to explore the snippet further, I just write and by write, I mean word-vomit whatever is going on in my mind. I don’t think about the point of view, I just go for it. To review: Point of view is the way a story is written. There are three points of view: first, second and third, but to complicate things third can broken up into two types: third person, limited and third person, omniscient.

First person is when the character writes in a way that places the reader in an intimate place within his thought process, as if reading the character’s journal. The first person perspective uses pronouns like I, me, we, us. Swimming Sideways and The Ugly Truth are written in first person point of view.

Second person is when the reader becomes the character. Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Those were written in 2nd person and replied on the pronoun you to include the reader as the protagonist of the tale. This isn’t a frequently utilized point of view, however a great example is Freewill by Chris Lynch (A YA Mystery and a Printz Honor Award Winner published in 2001).

Finally, third person is the removal of the audience from the story by placing them outside of the action but providing them with a bird’s eye view. This is done by using pronouns like he, she, them, they. Not a part of the action but witness to it, the audience is afforded the opportunity to understand a character without being connected to them. First person, limited, is when the point of view (narration) never leaves the experience of a single character. We see this happen a lot in YA literature when an author identifies which character she is writing to explore various character’s experiences. Several examples of this third person, limited are Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom or Veronica Roth’s Divergent, and an all-time favorite work of fiction - J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  Third person, omniscient, then, is when the narration of the story is god-like, and the impact of events and thoughts of characters can be explored at will. Examples include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

Want more examples of different POV?  Click here.

Want more examples of different POV? Click here.

Writers, then, often grapple with which point of view do I choose? If you google it, the answer is often: whichever one suits your story best. Hah! Thanks for nothing.

If you remember the story of the creation of Swimming Sideways, it was initially a very different story. A paranormal teen romance with angels and demons, the first time I wrote it, it was in third person, limited. I switched back and forth between Abby’s perspective, Seth’s and Gabe’s. The style of the story which worked to keep the reader outside - looking in - and distant made third person a logical choice. When we think about stories that incorporate extensive world-building, this is often the case.  Swimming Sideways was revised to a very character-driven story which lost the paranormal elements altogether. When this happened, I made the decision to change the third person, limited view to a first person in order to make it more personal between the character and the reader. Successful? The jury is out.

For me, making the decision as to which sort of point of view to write a story is linked to character and goals. Is the story character-driven or plot-driven? What level of emotion am I building into the conflict (more on conflict in a later post)? The analysis of my goals will often answer the question for me. While, I haven’t found a tried and true methodology to identify which POV to write my stories, I would say that by reading (a lot), I have been given maps to understand POV and successful implementation of each.

Do you have a specific methodology for choosing POV? Comment and discuss below!

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Character: Conversations

When I tell people that my characters “talk” to me, I often get the look that indicates I might have a screw loose. Well, maybe I do. One of those tiny screws like on a pair of eyeglasses which needs one of those tiny special screwdrivers, because honestly, the rest of me is pretty factory settings.

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When I say a character “talks to me” it’s literal. There is a voice inside my head carrying on a conversation. Sometimes it’s a one-sided monologue as the character tells me about something. Other times it’s a dialogue between the character and me. I become a reporter asking pointed questions trying to get to know him or her better. It’s an intricate mental dance. Okay, maybe not intricate, but certainly a dance.

The thing is, and I think lots of writers would say this. A character steps into the mind's eye in pieces. Maybe a smile that makes me curious, or maybe a one liner to another character which shocks me. And then I’m off and mentally running after her to understand what I just learned. “Why did you say that?” I might ask. It’s the dialogue - the talking - which fleshes out the character into a living being in my imagination. I will ask: what’s your favorite pizza. Seth said: Pepperoni. Abby said: I don’t really like pizza; cheese disagrees with me. Oh dear! I responded because cheese is like my favorite food. Gabe said: all the meats, to which I grimaced because I prefer veggie pizza.

In the development of my characters from main characters to secondary characters, I work to get to know them. I’ve noticed both as a reader and a writer, it is these details which help a character jump from the page. Understanding a favorite color, or favorite band, or whether she cleans her room or not helps the character become three dimensional not only for the writer but for the reader. For example: Seth keeps his room neat. Why? What is the underlying reason for this teenage boy to be so orderly and particular about his room? After talking to him, I learned it was about control. The detail - random at first - took on more meaning when I understood why.

Seth’s story.

Seth’s story.

In my writer’s process, what might begin as a conversation in my head leads to a sketched out conversation in my writing journal. The dialogue becomes questions I have followed by the character’s answers. I have learned when I get stuck in a particular scene, or in the narrative of the larger story’s picture, if I take some time to talk, the dialogue often clears up the jam.

An example from one of my writing journals. The highlight is me as the author asking questions.

An example from one of my writing journals. The highlight is me as the author asking questions.

As a reader, consider your favorite literary characters. I have a theory that the authors took some time to really understand the characters to help them leap from the page. As a writer: if you haven’t tried this (and probably most of us have) take some time to “talk” with your character. It’s easy. Start small with a “favorites” list, but as you continue, get to know their “greatest secret” or ask “the biggest fear.” Understand the nuances of the character whether it makes it into the story or not, and the character might walk from the page.

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It's November!

It’s here! November! My favorite month because it is my birthday month, people! Whoo Hoo! Happy dance! Oh. Wait. You didn’t know it was my birthday this month? Oh. Sorry. We vote this month? Darn. Oh. And it’s National Novel Writing Month (#nanowrimo for short). Yes. That might overshadow my birthday in the whole scheme of things on an international scale. Shoot.

National Novel Writing Month is a world wide event in which writers of all ages participate.

National Novel Writing Month is a world wide event in which writers of all ages participate.

Well, then. There’s a word count fire blazing this month and I am a part of it. I set a word count goal for this month of 60,000 words to be completed by November 30. It’s Day 4 and I’ve reached 13,000 so far. I am on a roll (phew!). So, what am I working on?

I LOVE trees. I’m not sure what it is about them, but there’s something magical about them to me. This was taken at the school where I work.

I LOVE trees. I’m not sure what it is about them, but there’s something magical about them to me. This was taken at the school where I work.

I don’t know where the idea came from, but I had this picture of a tree in my imagination, and I knew it was a portal to another place. Then I thought: what if a butthead kid - who walked into the scary woods on a dare - got dragged into a world where he had to become a hero. This idea has been percolating in my head for over ten years, and my husband has always urged me to write it. Fantasy, however, takes a lot of time with all that world building. So this year, now that I’m taking a respite from teaching full time, I thought: I’ll work on this fantasy for NaNoWriMo.

The moving parts to the story have changed a lot in that ten years and now that I’ve had some time to devote to the narrative. The butthead kid, Caleb, who isn’t so much a butthead anymore, understands that despite his best efforts, he’s an outsider in every way possible. He just can’t seem to get himself together despite the desire to do so. Enter an irresponsible and horrible foster mother who threatens to call the cops on him, and he’s on the run. Thinking his only option is to disappear into the great wide world (he’s got nobody anyway), he cuts through a forest to avoid being caught. It’s in the heart of this forest where he has a run in with a magic tree that draws him into another realm. It’s there - wait for it - he discovers that he’s come home.

(Please be kind with any comments - this is a work in progress - and writers are very sensitive).

Here’s an excerpt and be forewarned, Blogs this month will probably be an overload of NaNoWriMo excerpts. Happy writing to fellow writers (remember forward progress is progress regardless of word count) and happy reading! Welcome to November.

Excerpt (Please note there is explicit language):

Margie Doyle was still drunk which explained her words and her actions, but it wasn’t exactly what Caleb had anticipated when he’d gotten up that morning and come downstairs. He hadn’t expected that he’d break the world open around him changing everything forever. He’d expected her to be passed out still. He’d expected to make himself some cereal and help Jarrett and Jack with theirs. He’d expected Margie to haul herself up from her drunken stupor, yell about the state of the house and then put them all to work while she nursed her hangover watching TV on the couch.  He’d expected to listen to Tim and Dalton muttering about being her house slaves, and for Dalton to sneak out after about thirty minutes to the basketball court at the park. What he hadn’t anticipated was that she’d still be up and find her standing at the doorway watching some guy walk away.

When she’d turned around from the doorway, unsteady on her feet, holding her bathrobe closed at her throat, tracks of tears on her cheeks, and found him watching her, she’d snapped.

“What the fuck are you looking at.” She’d swiped the tears at her eyes and stumbled past him into the kitchen. She’d tied her robe tighter, but not before Caleb had to avert his eyes because she wasn’t wearing anything under it.

He shuddered and decided the smart choice was to back out of the room without saying a word.

Margie, though, had other ideas. “Get your stupid-ass back in here, you good-for-nothing lump.” Her voice wasn’t filled with temper when she said it, and instead sounded like she was using endearments. It didn’t make the names hurt any less.

He suppressed his irritation, stepped into the cased opening of the kitchen and watched her light a cigarette. She sucked on it, inhaled and then released a mouthful of smoke while her eyes roved over him. It made his skin crawl.

“You should come over here,” she said her voice taking on a tone with which he wasn’t familiar. It was laced with an energy that she’d never displayed with him or the other boys. Ever, but he’d heard her use with other people when she wanted something.

“I’m okay right here,” he said.

“I want to get a better look at you. You’ve grown.” She took another drag of her cigarette. “Like overnight. How old are you now?”

“Seventeen,” he answered her.

She smiled. Another drag. Another puff of smoke from her mouth. She came around the kitchen bar and leaned against it.

Caleb averted his eyes again, her robe gaping so that it was easy to see the shapes of things he didn’t want to see on her. He figured that Margie must have been pretty once. Her dull reddish hair and cold eyes must have been bright and alluring at one time, but years of smoking, drinking and a life lived fast and hard seemed to have taken a toll. It wasn’t just her physical appearance but also the unpredictable spirit within her. She could go from sensitive and thoughtful at one moment to the next instant when she’d eviscerate with her words.

She laughed and sauntered to him. “You seem nervous.”

He shook his head and looked down at his feet.

“Then why won’t you look at me?” She asked and stopped in front of him. She lifted his chin with her thumb, the cigarette between her fingers smouldering near his cheek. Caleb resisted the urge to pull away afraid of that cigarette near his cheek. She studied his face. “You have grown into a handsome, young man.”

He swallowed and changed the subject taking a step away from her. “I’ll get the boys up and we’ll start down here.”

Her brows knit together. “You think you’re too good for me?” Her words slurred a bit.

Caleb froze not sure what to say and was saved by Jarrett and Jack ducking under Caleb’s elbow and walking into the room. They froze when they saw Margie in her barely-robed splendor. She turned away, pulled the silkie robe shut, and refastened the belt.

Jarrett and Jack’s wide-eyed gazes swung to Caleb’s face.

She turned back to face them. Hatred and something else Caleb couldn’t be sure about hooded her features, sharpening them into dangerous points. Her lip curled, she pointed her cigarette an inch deep with ash and said, “You’re a fucking worthless leftover.” The ash dropped off the end of the cigarette to the floor and she walked back into the kitchen. “Your own parents didn’t even want you. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.

Rage coursed through Caleb’s body at Margie Doyle’s words: Stupid-Ass, Worthless, Good-for-Nothing, Leftover. Unwanted. These were already words he’d thought about himself, but coming from her, it ignited something in him that was dangerous. His anger was palpable as though stalagmites pushed out from beneath his skin.

She stood in the kitchen watching him with a self-satisfied smirk curling her mouth. “Don’t look at me like that you shit.”

He couldn’t do anything but breathe through his nostrils, a raging bull ready to charge, and he couldn’t think clearly. He’d heard her all right. Her words that slashed like a scythe and then burned everything to a crisp.

“Start in here. This,” she waved her hand indicating the party mess beyond, “is practice for what you’ll be doing with your life in the years to come, Caleb. So your high and mighty attitude needs to go,” she said. She took another drag of her cigarette and then stubbed it out on the counter while simultaneously blowing smoke out the side of her mouth. “I want this house cleaned top to bottom while I’m out, understood?”

A glance at the kitchen revealed a horrific mess. Besides the normal dilapidated cupboards duct taped at the edges, the linoleum original to the house peeling up in the corners and the aged grime that seemed to coat every surface, Margie’s evening the night before had left  the kitchen littered with rubbish and sticky messes from the blender overturned on the counter. She burped. “The social worker is coming over tomorrow evening, so you’ll have it done by five. You do that, then,” she walked back toward him since she needed to get through it to go to her room. She stopped in front of him, Jarrett and Jack looking at her from the side. “Then, you might just prove to me that you deserve to be wanted.”

“Stop,” Caleb said through clenched teeth.

Caleb could hear Tim and Dalton’s footfalls and voices in the hallway behind him. They went silent.

“Stop?” Margie asked and leaned forward tapping his chest with her finger, “Don’t tell me to stop, you fucktard. You’re a no-good, rotten brat. Who’s taking care of you?  Not the shitty parents who left you for dead. Me.” She pointed at her chest with her thumbs. Her light eyes had grown large and grotesque in her face. “So don’t bite the fucking hand that feeds you. You got that?”

“Yes, Missus,” Jarrett’s little squeaky voice interrupted; the squeak indicated he was nervous. Caleb understood; the kid was trying to deflect Margie. It wouldn’t work. Once she had Caleb in her sites, and she always did, there wasn’t stopping until he backed down.

Caleb wasn’t operating with all of the pistons in his brain firing. Instead, it was the sharp bitterness of his fury fueling him. He wasn’t going to back down from her even if he should. At one time, he used to hope that his parents would get their lives together to find him. They would just appear one day, together, and save him from this existence. They would say: We came back to get you that night, and you’d disappeared. We search and searched and finally found you - our Baby Boy. Not anymore. Caleb was too old for those kind of daydreams. This was his seventh foster home and he was nearly ready to age out of the system. He would be free. He realized he should back down but those muscles that didn’t fit correctly between his bones wouldn’t let him.

“I said, stop.” This time his voice sounded like a brick wall.

Margie stepped up and got into his face, so close that Caleb could smell the vapor of alcohol evaporating from her breath and skin. “Or what?” She asked through clenched teeth, hatred changing the shape of her eyes from the round look of surprise to a sharper edged squint. Her ashy red hair hung like yarn strings around her face slick with oil or perspiration; Caleb wasn’t sure which.

“Or I tell the social worker everything,” he said.

A short, sharp laugh escaped her slapping him with the dank smell of her alcohol-laden breath mixed with cigarette smoke and something else, something rotten. “You think they’ll believe you?”  She laughed again and looked over at the boys behind him. “Him?” Her gaze came back to his face, eyes narrowed. “Now you listen here you worthless piece of shit; I’m a very good storyteller.” She poked his chest. “Who do you think they would believe if I told them what really happened this morning?” She leaned in and her eyes filled with tears as if on cue and her lips pouted, “I told him ‘no,’ officer, but he’s a strong young man now.” A tear slipped from one of her eyes and then her vulnerability shifted back into the ugly mask of hatred. She poked his chest again. It was beginning to hurt. “Shall we test who they’ll believe, Caleb?”

Caleb took a step back to get away from her.

She followed him, continuing to poke him. “Well?” Poke. “You owe me for taking your ungrateful ass in.” Poke. Poke. “You really think any social worker will believe you? You’ll end up in jail where your parents probably are if they aren’t dead.”

“Stop,” Caleb said bringing up his hand up to protect his chest and knocking her hand away. He could feel the burn of tears in his eyes and the dryness in his throat but refused to allow the tears.

She stopped a split-second looking at her hand he’d pushed away, and then her face grew mottled with outrage. She came at him yelling grabbing two handfuls of his t-shirt. “Don’t you ever put your hands on me you filthy pile of shit.” She shook him. “And don’t you dare threaten me.”

“Let go of me,” Caleb yelled and pushed her away from him, the force of which made Margie take a step back.

Her foot landed in a pink mystery mess from the party the night before on the floor behind her and she slipped through the slime. It knocked her off balance and sent her sprawling backward. In an attempt to overcorrect, her body turned, but she veered to the right causing the other foot to slide through something of the same mess, and her momentum continued. As she came down, her head smacked a lower cabinet door that had been left ajar and she landed with a loud thud against the dirty kitchen floor face down.

And she didn’t move.

“Oh shit!” Fear climbed into this throat. “I didn’t mean,” Caleb started. “Oh shit.”

Tim and Dalton rushed in from the hallway behind Caleb. “Oh shit!” They both said in unison.

“Oh fuck,” Jarrett said, the profanity seemed so wrong coming from his nine-year-old body. All of the boys looked at him and then Jack began to whimper. Jarrett said, “Caleb. You gotta run. You killed her. They’re gonna send you to jail!”

“I don’t want Caleb to go to jail,” Jack whined.

“Hush, Jack,” Dalton, said, his arm pulled Jack to him. “Caleb isn’t going to jail. It was an accident.”  He looked up at all of the other boys. “We all saw it and heard her. She threatened Caleb.”

“Should we call 9-1-1?”  Tim asked.

If his head had been clear, Caleb might have slowed down to think. He could have checked her pulse. He could have called 9-1-1. But his head was cloudy, cloudy with anger, with hurt, with the horrible realization that he wished she was dead. What did that make him?  A monster like her?

And then she moaned and moved.

Caleb ran.

Empathy is Our Superpower!

I’m struggling.

I posted that the other day to Facebook and a bunch of friends reached out, commented and said, “You can do it!”

Struggle is always a writing thing, and goes without saying, but I’m struggling with understanding something else (which I’ll get to a bit later in this post). I’m working on the new WIP (Work-in-progress) which, as a story, is a difficult one to tell. It is about a character’s personal struggle. As I’m writing, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of personal strife.

Each of us faces the symbolic mountain. (FYI: this is literally the Ko’olaus on the the island of O’ahu).

Each of us faces the symbolic mountain. (FYI: this is literally the Ko’olaus on the the island of O’ahu).

The struggle for me as an author is often in the bond I create with the characters as I learn who they are. The character comes to life, becomes a real face, with a real history and their experiences often opens my eyes to the authentic world where my own perspective is challenged and shaped. When I’m in the darkness with a character for an extended period, I live the struggle with them, but I push through it because I can feel the necessity to tell the story in every beat of my heart.  

Struggle is a human experience, one that we all of share in a myriad of ways. It is a common language.

But then again, maybe not.

Without over politicizing it (I’m trying to focus on the humanity) when one of the most impactful world leaders - while at a political rally - mocked the experience of a woman who shared her troubling experience drew me into a dark place. When I was able to set my feet back on rational soil, I wondered if he’s ever had to struggle? Are there people on this earth who have never experienced the pain, the adversity, the difficulty of floating in the pool of trials and having to climb out of it? Has he ever grappled with abuse, inequality, grief, rape, racism, mental illness, addiction, physical disabilities or a myriad of other ways that humans face mountains? How could he not, after all; the struggle doesn’t differentiated does it? And he’s human. Right? Then again, this isn’t the first time the man - or others in varying positions of power - have trivialized trauma or attempted to flip the script to marginalize groups, dehumanize their experience, or categorize behaviors to negate their import.

Then I realized: it’s about EMPATHY.

My daughter and her best friend as they say goodbye to one another as they head off to college.

My daughter and her best friend as they say goodbye to one another as they head off to college.

Empathy is the means with which we identify with those who struggle. It is the grace we show our fellow human beings, and that which makes us act in service to one another. It is the way we connect.

Ultimately, we tell stories because we seek connection. Happy stories, sad stories, hardship stories that overcome odds, love stories. When my father died, others told me their stories of losing their loved one as a way to empathize with my experience. I’m a sucker for the sports vignette when watching College GameDay or E:60 where I’m often moved to tears because the stories showcase struggle and the empathy attached by others. It is our nature to seek connection, and it is in the struggle where that often takes place.  

I wish I had an answer for those who lack the empathy needed to understand the struggle others face. Politically, we can answer that at the polls, but in everyday life, those of us who can, I suppose, need to continue to serve, to provide grace, and to connect. Whether that’s through telling stories, delivering sandwiches, working at a soup kitchen, volunteering at church, offering a hot meal, spending time with the elderly, volunteering for a campaign - it is our empathy that is our superpower.

So I will continue to struggle to tell this WIP’s Character’s story, even if it is difficult, and climb the mountain with him.

The Writer Hoard

I was sitting at breakfast with my family the other day - family with whom I don’t often get the opportunity to visit since we live so far apart - and they were telling stories. This is one of the joys of being with my family who talk a lot and loudly, laughs often, and enjoy the space we share. Around the table were three aunts, two uncles, and a cousin (also a writer) and my daughter. As usual, the stories were family tales of grandparents and great-grandparents, times when our parents or the cousins were small, and funny anecdotes that we’ve heard again and again but never get old. Eventually, my aunt Susan turns to Mike - my writer cousin - and I and observes, “Nothing is safe with you two around, is it?”

My cousin Mike and I. Check out his website and work ( here )

My cousin Mike and I. Check out his website and work (here)


Here’s a truth about writers: we are collectors. At first, I think about The Collector in the Marvel Universe, or maybe a librarian with beautifully arranged artifacts and books. These images - for me - conjure a romantic notion of what it might be like as a writer. For example, it might be sitting down at a Parisian Cafe and penning into a leather-bound notebook a gorgeous list of things to remember (ever read A Moveable Feast by Hemingway? If not, your next assignment!). I like this image.

But hoarders of information is probably a more apt description.

How I imagine the info hoard in my mind might look, but I do think there would be labels. Definitely labels.

How I imagine the info hoard in my mind might look, but I do think there would be labels. Definitely labels.

We collect, and collect, and collect stories, facts, tidbits of information, moments, impressions that may or may not be useful. Our minds are filled with boxes and boxes stacked one on top of the other with only enough room for little pathways for our memory to traverse. But ask a writer, and chances are every one of those mind-boxes contains very important memory bits that we are (probably) going to need one day.

Truthfully, those boxes may never get opened, and should probably be gleaned - But dammit! You never know when that little sliver of information might come in handy!

So be forewarned! If you know a writer, chances are, everything is being stored: the who, what, when, where, why, how, impressions and tone. Then we’ll file it in our mind hoard, into a box that may or may not get opened. I guess you’ll just have to read our work to see if you notice any interesting tidbits and similarities, but I promise (what’s that disclaimer after the movies?) this story is fiction, and any similarities between a real person and the fictional work is unintentional.

Swimming Sideways Play List

Music - for me - is a means of connection between my feet on the earth and my creative head in the clouds. It’s as though I’m plugging myself into an electrical outlet to run the current between my brain and my soul. It speaks to me in a way that allows me to plug into the protagonist and the narrative.  

Ear buds save my life in public places and in a living room where my boys watch TV.

Ear buds save my life in public places and in a living room where my boys watch TV.

One of my writing tools is to develop a playlist for whichever work is in progress (so Spotify is one of my favorite apps!). Whenever I’m working on the work-in-progress, that playlist is rolling. Though, the list doesn’t necessarily stay the same as the narrative changes (the playlist gets edited just like the work itself) eventually it gets to place in which the vibe is perfect to the story and the tone I imagine.

As I worked through the writing process for Swimming Sideways (Cantos Chronicles, Book One), the following songs became the playlist that I clung to like a life raft as I was swept up into the story. They are in no particular order.

  1. Oceans Away by A R I Z O N A, Mansionair Remix

  2. Nani Koolau by Keauhou

  3. Girl by SYML

  4. Waves by Hayden Calnin

  5. Ocean Eyes by Billie Eilish

  6. Tomorrow’s Song by Olafur Arnalds

  7. Brassy Sun by S. Carey

  8. Tomorrow’s Song by Olafur Arnalds

  9. Kewalu Uka by Keauhou

  10. Souvenirs by Kina Grannis

  11. Pteryla by Novo Amor and Ed Tullett

  12. Māpuana Kuʻu Aloha by Keauhou