Let’s talk Star Trek, #ROW80 and writing tips

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”~Confucius, Chinese philosopher

Today’s memoir writing tip: Don’t begin with backstory.

Perfect advice as I rewrite my Star Trek MomMemoir. The annual Las Vegas Star Trek convention begins in two weeks, and I need to be ready with my updated short memoir.

That’s what I’m calling my book these days. The current version is just under 6000 words. My writing groups have bantered the definitions of “flash fiction,” “creative memoir,” “short story,” “novella” and “book.” These discussions are not just about the technical, official writer vocabulary, but also what is generally perceived by the public. What are the readers getting themselves into?

My short memoir about the trip Mom and I took to Las Vegas to see Star Trek: The Experience is the perfect tie-in to the sci-fi convention. The event’s timing caught me by surprise, so when I sat down to tweak my current 2013 book for marketing, I realized how much more vibrant I could make it. The book started with an info dump and backstory.

I’m following the iconic advice: start in the middle of action. I put what I feel is the pivotal moment that changed my entire perception of Star Trek right there as Sentence One. It was previously at the top of Page 3. Today’s Memoir1 critique group gave me more advice to help me with focus and description, which is good because I plan to (re)publish my book this Sunday night.

This whole thing–from writing to rewriting to marketing–has put a kink in my ROW80 Round 3 goals, yet at the same time, surprisingly, strengthens them.

1–Craft a succinct 30-second book elevator speech.

This goal had my DadMemoir in mind, but I wrote a one-sentence summary of my MomMemoir for the Montclair Write Group today: “This is my short memoir about my mother and I bonding through science fiction, how I fell in love with Star Trek, and the distances we would go for that love: Las Vegas.”

What do you think?

2– Continue my 17 Writing Outlets in 2017 and follow through.

I’m putting this on hold until August, giving me time to focus on promoting my (new) book and to continue cleaning and unpacking our house.

3–Fine tune a regular social media schedule.

The middle of writing mania is a good test of my first outline:
Monday–Email, home stuff
Tuesday–Write, focus on memoir/books, print out copies for biweekly critique group
Wednesday–Write blog posts, do social media
Thursday–Email, read blogs, reply to my blog comments
Friday, Saturday and Sunday are still under construction

4–Catch up, let go of and/or publish old blog posts.

I’m struggling with this. Deleting half-written blogposts is like tossing my precious work words and time in the trash.

5–Catch up on email.

Right now, Monday and Thursday are email days.

6–Schedule weekly Myself-Time to review all these goals.

Fitting this in where I can this week.

7–Work on memoir and other stories.

Success here! It’s not my intended DadMemoir. but (re) publishing MomMemoir counts.

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Pigeon poop and writing prompts

“All wealth is the product of labor,”~John Locke, English philosopher

Yesterday, I wrote about pigeon poop and people loved it.

That’s the beauty of free write exercises: you have no idea what will spew from your pen.

The Montclair Write Group met for the monthly Penny University Free Write at The Fine Grind. Three topics, 20 minutes each and then everyone reads what they wrote. The prompts were: the perfect pitch; the one who got away; and either Angry Barber or No Matter What.

For the first prompt, I wrote a murder mystery between utensils. The second prompt is where I introduced the poo.

Paul pumped his feathers, his eyes focused on the far side of the pk lot. Adjust for wind. Straight. Straight. Release.


Thomas’ chest feathers unfluffed wilted. As Paul returned, Thomas said, “You hit the window, not the headlight.”

“Last min. change,” Paul said. “I wanted to make more of a splash for little Perry here.”

That was fun. People around me nodded and shared their car pigeon poop stories.

Don’t pooh-poo the opportunities a free write gives you.  All writing advice books offer this tip.  Yeah, who has the time? After all, if you’re sitting down to write, let’s make it a productive writing session and work on a current project. Otherwise, a free write is a useless distraction and another form of procrastination.

Who has the time? We all do, but who makes the time? If it wasn’t for this get-together at the cool coffee shop, I would not have. But look at what magic appeared.

You don’t need a book of prompts to do this. Who has those handy anyway? If you’re out in public, pick three words from posters or signs around you. If you’re at home, choose three objects around you. Set the timer on your phone or microwave and write.

I launched each piece with a noun and an action: “Suzie looked” and “Three pigeons sat” and Jamie danced.” Pooping pigeons followed. The group shared enough ideas and personal experiences that I have fodder to continue these ideas into some thing.

Pigeon poop. Who’da thunk?

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This #WeekendCoffeeShare about reading and unpacking

  • If we were having coffee….
  • Hello! Isn’t this a nice Starbucks? It’s a Clover store, and they still have my Nicaragua Macarena. That’s not it’s real name, of course, but a barista back in Michigan couldn’t pronounce it, so that’s what she called this blend. These Cranford baristas don’t know much about these Reserve coffees, so I recommend a tea or this Macarena.

    This was our first 4th of July in New Jersey. When we lived in Michigan, we crossed the Detroit River to celebrate the US holiday in Windsor, Canada. This year, we’re celebrating in our country. A clerk in the Quick Chek recommended the fireworks in Union’s Biertuempfel Park. I know, that’s a mouthful and I still don’t know if I pronounced it right. We got close enough to see the ground launches and feel the Boom! in our chests. The finale was loud and bright, and people on the streets around us clapped afterwards. That’s the sign of a great light show.

    The house is still not unpacked. The shelves and cabinets are crusted with 30 years of someone else’s dirt. It soaked deep into the wood. Gross! Yes, exclamation point. My ankle is almost healed, so I’m now able to do more work. I’ve gone through three 6-roll packages of paper towels, a 5-pack of sponges and bottles of various cleaners.

    My husband set up our new TV and my WiiFit yesterday. I’m excited to use my exercise game again. This time, I’m easing into the exercise. The last time I took an extended break from my WiiFit, I jumped into my typical 60-minute step program. Talk about sore knees and thighs the next day.

    Hey, let’s talk writing. Have you been productive this week? I feel accomplished. I wrote three blogposts that I published on schedule. I also finished reading my first book in fo-ev-ah and posted a review on Goodreads. I noticed how few people I had in my list, so I connected to social media networks. I now have 82 Goodreads Friends to inspire me. Feel free to join me over there.

    This week is my Montclair Memoir2 meeting, so I have to work on my piece to bring for critique. I’m also looking to set aside time to review my ROW80 Round 3 goals. I’m telling you about all this to keep me accountable.

    So, what’s motivated you this week?

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    Should Pokémon Adventures be a part of book challenges? All that and a book review.

    “Memory…is the diary that we all carry with us.”~Oscar Wilde, Irish Dramatist

    Comic books count as books read.

    When I was a kid, my school and Scholastic Books sponsored summer reading challenges. I walked door-to-door and asked people for donations. Neighbors and friends of my parents supported me by offering 25-cents per book read, $20 total, whatever. Some of the books I read are commonly refer to as chapter books. These books have a moderate-length story with supporting pictures or illustrations. I read The Black Stallion and its series. Charlotte’s Web was another. I don’t know if I was old enough to read A Wrinkle in Time yet. Age-appropriate? I read some sci-fi books that were deep for my age, but my mom loved them, therefore so did I.

    Was it wrong to read, say, Frog and Toad are Friends? I chose some books like that because they were quick reads, and the more books I read, the more money I earned and the cooler prizes I could collect. When I returned to get my 50-books-read donations, some of those per-book pledges turned into a lump sum. Ticked me off; a pledge is a pledge.

    Anyway, I never read any Batman or Richie Rich or Archie comics for such challenges. That would be cheating. Today, would manga count?

    They should. These are serious books. Chain bookstores have sections dedicated to graphic novels. To used bookstores near me have a shelf or three, and comic book stores overflow with them. I read comic books, so manga had an appeal to me, yet also not. Staring at the rows and columns of lookalike books is like wandering a romance section: unless you know an artist or author, they’re all the same.

    My friend Deb recommended the Pokémon series to me because of my current obsession with Pokémon GO. Her kids grew up with Pokémon, so she steered me to Pokémon Adventures as well as her son’s favorite, the Black & White series. I started with Pokémon Adventures Red & Blue series because it said “Vol. 1” on the spine and has a Bulbasaur on the cover. I like Bulbasaurs, and it’s a creature I recognize. The familiar seemed safe.

    I started the book during the Fourth of July weekend and finished it last night. The coolest part was seeing Pokémon I know from the game come to life on pages that left my fingers inky. Some of the translation feels off, and the Boom! Bang! Ka-Pow! scenes were tough to get a sense for because V-V-IRRRRR! Shtoom! and GNSH! aren’t common in my traditional comic experience. The story itself follows the adventures of Red, a boy who wants to be the greatest Pokémon trainer ever. I’m not familiar with the original movies or trading card game, but in this book, there are quests, friendship, death, villains, thieves, mentors and lessons learned. Each chapter has a story arc involving Red and one or two Pokémon, the tension of unexpected struggles and the resolution from the actions. It’s a complete book that ends but is also continued.

    I enjoyed it more than some contemporary books I’ve read. Heck, I plain and simple enjoyed it. That counts.

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    Things I notice writing in coffee shops

    “Just living is not enough; one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”~Hans Christian Andersen, Danish author

    What do you notice around you?

    Today, writing in Rock ‘n’ Joe Union coffee shop, the music includes a country artist’s cover of “Purple Rain.” There is something so, so wrong about that.

    Most people who sit in a shop for a solid amount of time still order drinks in to-go cups rather than for-here mugs.

    A lot of coffee shops are a Pokémon PokeStop, A Pokémon Gym, or are near enough one to spin at. A few hours of productivity means a full items bag.

    People who sit in a shop’s comfy chairs are the only ones who read books…real paper books.

    When three people sit at a 2-chair table, no one ever puts the third chair back.

    I’m not often asked, “What are you writing?” or “What are you working on?” It doesn’t matter if I’m working with pen on paper or on my laptop/tablet.

    Most laptop folks are ignored either out of politeness or the appearance of snooping.

    Snippets of conversation caught out of context are fabulous story fodder.

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    Writing goals as #ROW80 Round 3 begins

    “Only I can change my life; no one can do it for me.”~Carol Burnett, American actress

    This Round 3 is all about writing focus and scheduling.

    I was late to my Memoir2 group last week, so I couldn’t test my new 30-second elevator book speech. The summary intro writerly member Krista gave was more complete than mine. If I were grading it, I’d give it an A+ and write Excellent! at the top of the page. She first described her book topic, and then the part that stood out to me was her description something like, “Once chapter is the traumatic story and the following chapter is reflection and ways to heal.” Succinct. Explains to the reader the topic and what to expect. The format of her storytelling. In so many ways, Yowza!

    That’s what I want from my short book description, but I need to think more about what my memoir is. Random stories that build upon a lesson, sure, but the non-chronological format has me tongue-twisted. Writing more of the book and editing the parts I already wrote would help. Sharing all these efforts and getting feedback will be useful. None of this will work without some direction and focus.

    Which leads into my ROW80 Round 3 goals, not necessarily in any order:

    1–Craft a succinct 30-second book elevator speech.

    I will use my latest version at each Montclair Memoir2 critique meeting and tweak afterwards as needed or inspired.

    2– Continue my 17 Writing Outlets in 2017 and follow through.

    I have collected publications and local contacts, but I’m not contacting these folks. That’s a problem. Must be fixed.

    3–Fine tune a regular social media schedule.

    There are a few days that my social media outlets have regular postings and updates (Instagram Tuesday Tree Update, for one), but I need more of a presence. There are people I miss socializing with. I can’t promote my writing if all I offer is my book promotion. I miss reading blogs. The move from Michigan to New Jersey made me sloppy and weak. I will try one outlet or something every week in Round 3, tweak as needed. InstagramFacebook Author PageTwitter–reading blogs–GoodreadsLinkedInYouTube…keep all, focus on some more than others?

    4–Catch up, let go of and/or publish old blog posts.

    Still figuring out what to complete and what to let go of.

    5–Email: read and act on one old day and one new(er) email each day.

    Doing this completes almost 180 days, which would put a significant dent in my email inbox.

    6–Schedule weekly myself-time to review all these goals.

    Wednesday looks like it might work.

    7–Work on memoir and other stories.

    Again, gotta schedule the time.

    And off we go….

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    A #WeekendCoffeeShare in writing mode and in-laws

    If we were having coffee….

    Hey, glad you could join me here outside Philly. Hope you didn’t hit too much holiday traffic. It’s a cozy Starbucks, isn’t it? I’m chillin’ with a Café Vanilla Frapp. The baristas know how to make a good one, sweet and thick. Of the two Starbucks in the area, I like this store best, and not just because this is where my husband and I have farewell coffee with his folks when we leave. But we don’t leave like we used to anymore.

    We’re down here in North Wales to visiting my in-laws. Much shorter than our drive from Michigan. *smiles* No turnpike, just a zip down Rt. 202 through antiquey towns of Lambertville and New Hope, with a toll at the New Jersey bridge, of course. The weather was perfect for last night’s drive, and it looks to be the same for today’s barbeque. His dad is grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, and at my suggestion, he’s also throwing some veggies on there. I adore grilled carrots and zucchini, brushed with olive oil, smoky and crunchy.

    I know, I’m still wearing my boot. My fractured ankle is healing delightfully, and my physical therapist says I don’t need to wear this all day anymore. I have it on now because Lucky is here, the rambunctious, three year old puppy, who has been known to jump on me. A lot. It’s best I keep my ankle supported rather than risk injuring the fractured ankle.

    Back in New Jersey, Comcast cable finally set up. First program I watched? Law & Order Criminal Intent. It’s calming to have familiar programs as background noise again. I can’t write in silence. The nothingness creeps me out.

    I’m in a new critique group, by the way. It’s still with the Montclair Write Group, just Memoir1 instead of Memoir2. There’s a lot of people on vacation and a lot of new people interested. A bit of shuffling was needed to keep the groups balanced, and it never hurts to have a new set of eyes reviewing my work.

    The 4th Thursday of every month, the Write Group hosts their “Free-for-alls for Writers” event. This week, memoir author Lorraine Ash presented her workshop on The Four A’s of Memoir. Those elements are Assault, Abyss, Awareness and Action. She read examples from published memoirs, but the examples rambled on an on, and they were books I’d never read anyway. Lorraine was dynamic when she spoke, and those moments were educational and valuable. Eight of us went out afterwards to Manny’s Diner, and the discussions over dinner were much more intriguing. I was surprised how happenin’ downtown Montclair is on a Thursday evening.

    All this talk of memoir and writing makes me think of the upcoming Round 3 of Round of Words in 80 Days. What do I want to accomplish in my writing life for the third quarter of 2017?

    How are you getting ready for this July 4th weekend and the second half of 2017?

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    Do you know how to critique a writer’s writing?

    “You must not confuse being good with being liked.”~Paul Arden, American author

    Tomorrow, Wednesday, is my second official Memoir2 meeting, and apparently I don’t know how to critique.

    By official, I mean the second meeting where I present my work to the group for critique. Let me say, as before, the feedback is tough and just what I need to improve. However, feedback from my feedback is that I need to improve my critiquing skills.

    “You’re line editing,” was the recurring comment from our moderator. I have no idea what that means. I know what line editing is, but I don’t know how that applies to my critiquing. When I offer feedback, I note any part of the work that is confusing to me as a reader, be that sentence flow, a lack of detail or an unexplored idea. I believe my comments are helpful, but what am I really supposed to notice?

    I’m spoiled by my structured Michigan critique group, Deadwood Writers. An author who wants a piece reviewed at the biweekly meeting emails a piece of writing with three specific questions for feedback. On the night of the living critique:

    1–Start by mentioning something positive, something you like about the piece.

    This is important. This can be difficult.

    2–During the meeting, speak only about the three questions the author wants feedback on.

    Members ask about the flow of a piece, the voice of the writer or if a particular idea clearly conveyed. That last one is what I’m tripping on in New Jersey.

    3–Write any additional comments on the paper for the author to read later.

    Did you notice spelling errors? Maybe you saw capitalization issues, tense shifting or info dumps. Write that down and don’t clutter the critique time with that stuff. The author asked for specific feedback, so give that.

    Here at the Montclair Write Group, things are less formal. We go around the room, and one by one offer our overall impressions on the piece. No formal structure, no guidelines–except, apparently, verbal line editing.

    What a free environment. It’s so hippie-free that it’s downright scary. There’s no structure, no guidance, just immediacy. There should be time for reflection, I think. Then I realize, A reader’s reaction is immediate. You need that instant feedback because a reader stops reading in a heartbeat. They don’t have the luxury of critique background, and neither should you.

    Or should you?

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    A first writing #WeekendCoffeeShare in New Jersey

    If we were having coffee…

    Hey, I’m glad you could meet me here. It’s my first time at the Chatham Starbucks. What do you think? It’s super crazy busy, and I guess it’s like this every weekend. It’s one of two Clover stores in this area. Franco the barista described all the Reserved coffees. I have no idea what’s new. The last Clover store I was at was back in the winter when we still lived in Michigan. Franco suggested the Peru San Ignacio, a lemon-lime-cocoa coffee. Seriously, I was skeptical, too, but it’s a smooth coffee, not biting at all. When I told him I wanted it in a grande for-here mug, like I always do, he gave me an approving nod and a “Very nice” comment.

    I like this place.

    But then, I’m liking New Jersey.

    My past life in New Jersey wasn’t overall positive. The best parts were meeting my husband here and establishing my freelance writing career. That was fun. I detail all the good and the bad in my memoir I’m working on (*wink, wink*), but all that made me who I am today–I know, so cliché–and it’s the reason I’m back.

    I hope I can re-establish a freelance career. My old editor said to contact him, but I let contacting a new editor lapse. Doesn’t make me appear reliable. All I can say is that buying a house is a lot more strenuous than we expected, and I’m hoping I get a second chance.

    It’s nice to be out with Internet. Cable gets hooked up tomorrow, and my husband set up my computer and printer yesterday. Sweet. My home office is still swallowed up by boxes, but with a purpose, I will make time for this room. Wait ’til you see it. Natural light looking out onto scenic areas of our house and neighborhood. It is inspirational for writing.

    It’s good that I’m out writing. Have you ever missed something so much that you’re itching to do that thing? I denied myself writing, and that’s cruel. I can’t believe I did that–voluntarily!– but I feel invigorated, like taking a break was needed. I’m behind in edits and rewrites and all that, but it’s weird: I don’t feel behind. I feel excited. My memoir critique group probably helps with that. They offered great feedback, commenting on sections that none of my other critique groups did. It’s fascinating to hear from people who have never read my writing. And this is a hard-ass, honest feedback group, which is just what I’ve been looking for.

    Well, me Pokémon items bag is almost full and mu mug is almost empty. Tell me about your week before we go. What’s new and exciting, or old and exciting, in your life?

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    On writing, not writing and buying a house

    “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”~Benjamin Franklin, American inventor

    My life has been unsettled chaos: we bought a house!

    All I will say here about the experience is thank goodness New Jersey requires lawyers to negotiate the buying and selling process.

    My life is a maze of large cardboard boxes that smothers every needs-to-be-cleaned room. I know where most of my writing stuff is in my soon-to-be office. I know where most of my computer stuff is. I think I know where my printer and monitor are. All of this doesn’t matter much because we don’t have Internet.

    It’s easy to use external factors as an excuse for not writing. Could I be writing? Of course. I have printed drafts I took with me to Temporary Housing where my husband and I lived for three months while buying our house. I know where that paperwork is. The hotel room’s atmosphere was stifling and uninspiring, and there were plenty of places nearby that I could go to. I did, and then life buying a house got busy and chaotic. Which brings me to The Now.

    Have you tried life without Internet? We haven’t had service in over a week. It took longer to schedule installation than we expected. I’m actually excited that I fell on the sidewalk last week and had to see a specialist this week. Because of that, I found an adorable coffeeshop located near the doctor’s office, a coffeeshop that has WiFi. Sighhhhhh….

    I’m sitting by the open window at The Coffee Mill Roasters in Millburn, NJ. My weather app shows that it’s 77-degrees, yet just breezy enough to feel cool and refreshed. Because of the welcoming open space with free WiFi, I feel the endorphin release of writing and blogging. That feels good. I’m drinking a blend of light and medium roast coffees. I snagged the last slice of Balthazar’s coffee cake, which the owner said is his favorite. Always go with staff recommendations, especially your first time in a new place. From here, I can also spin at the Starbucks PokeStop three doors away to fill my items bag. Bonus! Oh, and there’s free parking on Fridays and Saturdays in June. I’ll be back, even after we have cable and Internet.

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