Jennifer Neri's Blog

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. Henry Miller


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Coffee Shop Perils

 

SL2056

“You never loved me, Victoria. I’m a good-looking man, not too old yet. I make a decent living. Enough to eat, pay my mortgage, and drive my car. I’m kind. Generous. Women adore me. Why should I go back to you?”

“Who is she? Tell me who she is! It’s her, isn’t it? I saw you with her and I knew it!”

“No!” Slams hand down on table. “You misread the situation. There is no one. But you don’t want me.”

“I’m trying to lose the weight! Please. It’s so hard!”

“You’ve been saying this for years!”

“Please!”

“Tell my why I should be with you?”

“Because I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else. Is it someone you work with? Tell me!”

And this went on and on and on and on and on at the table right behind me, which unfortunately was so close my chair was actually touching hers. They yelled, she cried, he cried, they yelled some more–as though they were alone in their living room–until I felt the table shift and heard him say, “Let’s get out of here.”

Relief. Finally. I. Could. Get. Some. Work. Done.

I love working out of the house. The coffee shop generally provides me just the right amount of background noise and activity to keep me focused and centered. But not that day!

Too much time wasted, this had to be prevented from happening again!

What was I to do?

Low and behold: magic! apple-headphones

How come I hadn’t figured this out long ago? I was a kid / teen in the eighties–when no one would be caught dead without ear buds, we even strung them through our uniform and looped them over top of the ear instead of under, so our teachers wouldn’t see–how had I forgotten about these? About how they block out the world?

I’m all set now.

 

Any coffee shop stories to share? 


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A birthday and a first time at budokon yoga

I’ve been bogged down by edits this last while, and I’m feeling a little expressive this morning, so here goes a little free flow:

 

mom baby yoga

Today I lay flat on my belly and wiggle myself across the wooden floor like a caterpillar.

My muscles strain, my lungs expand, and I giggle as I finish the movement, feeling like a child. Feeling like you.

Seven years ago you came and have inhabited my focus ever since, imprinted on my soul. Today, I take the day to contemplate me. For a birthdate is as important for the bearer as to the one being born. I wonder —  what metamorphosis have I undergone in this time?

Seven years ago I walked until me feet bled, readying my body to release you, and two hours later you were here.

Today, I wiggle, ready to release myself. What will I be? Will my wings be red, emerald, turquoise, fuchsia? Perhaps they will never settle into one colour, but will shift and tremble with each passing mood.

My metamorphosis would have been very different had you not come into my life. Your smile, laughter, they are contagious, seeds scattered in the wind, spreading wide. Your endless thrive for experience, for life, your desire to share, your interpretations and wonder. You. All of you. Thank you for you teaching me, for showing me, how full of joy life can be, how much fun it can be.

Happy birthday, daughter.


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Spring Resolution

 

Champagne

 

New Year’s eve is supposed to be the day we declare a life changing resolution. We’re supposed to raise our glass of creamy bubbly champagne, smile, and reveal a promise to do something–something momentous, something we need to do that will change us for the better–that we’ve been waiting for just the right moment to endure. And in return, those who we share New Year’s Eve with us will reveal their own resolutions.

Or catastrophes.

Who decided that January 1 was the best date to begin that resolution? Who??? Well, whoever it was certainly doesn’t live in the northern hemisphere, where it’s windy and cold and for many of us snowy. Where the day light hours are reduced to a bare minimum. And all we want to do is hibernate and eat carbs. And it certainly wasn’t someone in the southern hemisphere who is perspiring from the peak of heat, and who just wants to sit indoors and be cool eating watermelon and drinking lemon water. Whoever it was certainly didn’t take any of this into consideration!

Now spring–the time of rebirth, regeneration–wouldn’t that be perfect time for a resolution? We’re coming out of our cubby, stretching, yawning, looking around, and seeing things fresh, including ourselves.

Outside are bikers, joggers, skaters, even though they have to wear a coat and hat, they’re out there. And loving it. People are walking around eating apples, talking to each other, laughing–and yes, this is city life I’m talking about, not commune.

Everyone wants to do something new, something fresh–not because they have to, but because they want to feel good.

Including me: I became a member of a gym and a yoga studio because I’m becoming too inactive and I want to get moving before it catches up to me. I’ve been buying more fresh produce, especially greens, and me and my family are devouring them. And I’ve been experimenting more with super foods, remembering what it means to eat for energy.

I’ve also been more positive towards my work–sitting down to write and giving myself a little inner speech, about what I want to accomplish and that I will accomplish it. And do you know what? It’s working! :)

Am I sounding a little hokey? I think I am–but I’ll allow it.

It’s spring!

So, come on, raise a glass of green smoothie, and declare your resolution!

green smoothie

 PS. My in-laws are preparing for winter in South Africa, as are some of you way down there–happy hibernating. That feeling of slowing down, getting out the thick sweaters, it’s one of my favourites :)

 


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Did I write that? Well, I certainly can’t read it!

Not so long ago, someone asked me an unusual question: Since I spent so many hours a week writing on the computer, did I not miss seeing my own handwriting?

“I write by hand all the time,” I replied. “The trick is being able to read back what I wrote.”

I do write by hand all the time. Every day. Some days pass that I do more writing by hand than on the computer. Every note, every thought, every nuance–big and small, every detail, and every time I need to figure something out (which, trust me, is on a continuous basis) I handle by writing on paper. The only thing I do on the computer is the actual writing of the novel, which for me, is a small fraction of the whole process.

I have notebooks, spiral bound books, loose leaf papers, index cards, multi-colored index cards, sticky notes of almost every colour found in the rainbow, and a giant roll of plain paper that I use to map out time frames that I stick to my wall as needed. To top that off, I have a variety of coloured pens, highlighters, and pencils.

Unfortunately for my family, I tend to work in the dining room. It has great lighting, good acoustics (for my blaring music), is kinda on its own so the through-traffic is not that bad, and looks onto the backyard (with a window bench were I can sit and ruminate–yes, I do a lot of that too). This just means that I’m the only one who gets to enjoy this room, as most of the time it’s taken up with all the said paperwork, plus much more, including reference books, cups of water, a multitude of mugs holding tea and coffee at various stages, a tissue box, and the occasional remnant of a snack.

Before anyone asks, no, I won’t take a picture. Maybe one day when it’s cleaned out.

I don’t miss seeing my handwriting. In fact, sometimes the sight of it drives me mad! Especially when I have no inkling as to what in the world my scribbling means.

How about you: Do you every write by hand? Or do you do all your thinking in your head or on the computer? And most importantly, if you do write by hand–can you read your own writing? 


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Oh my aching stomach!

Being a writer and a reader are two very different things. For some of us those lines cross paths on a daily basis, and I know many readers would never consider writing, just as I’ve met a few writers who don’t read (sorry–but I don’t understand you guys).

As a writer, sometimes it’s difficult to turn off my reader. Very difficult. And sometimes it’s difficult to turn off my writer when reading. Am I confusing you yet? I’m beginning to confuse myself! 

Image

That’s what this post is all about. Knowing when to turn off either the reader or the writer switch. 

What sparked it was a writer’s meeting I was at yesterday and a comment I’d received in my submission from another writer. He wrote to me that I use heart and stomach problems way too often as a signal that my character is distressed.

I explained that these were generic terms I put in and only go through in the final final stages of a draft to make the writing more original, and if that’s not possible I reduce the amount of stomach’s flopping in a given scene to only the moments of highest tension.

Another writer interjected at that point and said that as a writer when she reads about hearts skipping beats and knots in stomachs it drives her crazy, but as a READER these cues are invisible.

And this is of course true. At least I believe it is.

And yet, at the same time we writers don’t want to be so dull that we can’t think of anything past stomach pains when trouble is coming.

This roused a discussion about the physical symptoms of stress. I for one had done some research on this particular subject in the past, because I’d gotten really bored of myself writing chest tightening so often. And yet, the symptoms for stress are not unique. Our body will respond the same way over and over to various stresses: “Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper.”* 

It’s up to us as writer to try our best to have unique writing, and it’s up to the reader in us to know when it’s okay to leave in a generic invisible cue. Now, if only our writer and reader selves would just listen to each other!

How about you: how do you handle the physical reactions of your characters to tense moments in your writing? Have you ever noticed an onslaught of aching stomachs and pounding hearts in your own writing? And do you agree that sometimes these cues have a place in writing, or do they just plain drive you crazy?

 

*quote taken from: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm

 


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Really, it’s not very romantic at all…or is it?

I was spotted by some mommies when I was sitting with my laptop writing in one of our local coffee shops.

 

“Ohhhhh,” they said. “Look at you. You have the best job ever!”

I couldn’t stop myself–laughter poured out of me, until both ladies were looking at each other, questioning my sanity I could only suppose.

You see, people–non-writers that is–have a romantic notion of what it is to be a writer. They see me curled up alone at a table. My hair piled up in a high bun, a thick scarf wrapped tightly around my shoulders and neck, a large latte in front of me. They see comfort, coziness, self-indulgence. They imagine me spending my days idly writing to my heart’s content while the real world continues on with its demands.

They don’t see me screaming inside because I’ve rewritten a scene a hundred times minimum and it’s still not quite right. Or lying awake at night figuring out plot structures that have been evading me for what feels like eternity. Or when I get super grumpy (on an almost daily basis) because there is just not enough waking hours for me to accomplish what I aim to, because–yes, the demands of the real world still affect writers. And they don’t see me wondering what the &*^&* I’m doing this for–because it’s not like any money is involved. So, in a sense, it’s not a job at all.

They only see me doing exactly what I want.

And do you know what? They’re right.

I get to disappear into a world, one that lets me explore it fully. Nowhere else do I get to go inside people’s heads and know them as I do my characters. Nowhere else do I get to stop and look around, and decide what’s best, and what obstacles are needed. And nowhere else do I get to play with words and story.

I stopped laughing and said,

“It’s hard. Writing is not easy. But, yes, it’s the best job ever.”

 


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Oh, that magic.

 

I’ve gone from a panster to a plotter during the re-write of this novel. This novel is complex, lots of plot points, so much to keep track of with the multiple POVs, I had no choice.

I forgot that I’m a panster at heart. So, when a problem arose I played with it for days by sitting and thinking, writing down notes, asking myself questions, and when a solution arose I began to work it into the problematic scene. While I was writing, something new and unforseen unfolded: the perfect event, the perfect solution to my dilemma. I was thrilled. And I was reminded of the magic of writing, of not seeing where I’m going, of letting the words flow of their own accord and watching stories take shape before me.

I’d forgotten all about that magic because I’d been so intensely plotting and fixing and tweaking. But there’s no way that this particular twist was going to present itself to me, it waited for me to let my subconscious work and then came out.

Sometimes it’s best to just sit down and write and let the story tell itself. Sometimes, all the planning in the world just isn’t going to help.

I suppose the trick is learning when what’s needed: careful thought, or free flow.

Do you move back and forth between the two worlds of panster and plotter?

 


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OK, OK, it’s September!

 

 

It’s really only August 29th. But, today was the official first day of school, and apparently I’m stuck in the past when school began after Labour Day, so to me it’s September and all that comes with it.

September is time to get organized, time to clean away the piles of mess collected during the summer, time to start paying attention to the clock again. Time for early mornings, and packing lunches. Time for homework, and practices, and rehearsals, and monster schedules that eat away almost every waking moment.

For me, it’s also a time of separation from my children who have followed me around like a litter of puppies, nipping at my heels, all summer long. Truthfully, this is the hardest part for me, letting my kids go again every year (and for the first time of my 2 year-old, who began preschool today).

September is the beginning of fall here in Montreal. It’s the season of closure and preparation and possibility. It’s a season of colour and crispness and fresh air. It’s my favourite season (not only because I was born in autumn).

September is the time I get to do everything that was put on pause during the heat. I can panic at the hours required to return my house to its state of calm, but I try not to. Instead, I ignore the catastrophe that is every inch of the house. I sit and write this post, reminding myself of all the wonders of this day, and I return to my WIP that has been waiting patiently for me these last three weeks as I tended to one of nature’s most fundamental elements, death. How appropriate that the timing of it all is linked to a transition in seasons. And soon it will be apple picking time; the air is already full of the delicious scents of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon.

I wish you a wonderful September, with all the catching up and returns that come with it!

 

 


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I want to go in there

It’s been an interesting summer so far having my three kids at home full-time.

The dynamic has been very different; my two-year old is showing his personality, making a bid for dominance, leaving my older two quite uncertain how to battle him without too much personal loss (ie. mommy rushing in to his rescue ’cause he’s only two and not five and stop fighting with him like you do with each other!!)

One of the ways I’ve come to make peace is by assigning one of the older ones to read him a book.

It’s been fun because the toddlers interest is expanding from board books to story books. The three of them huddle together and peer into the book, still arguing (of course!) about who gets to hold it or turn the pages, but eventually they settle down and fall into the story.

I naturally gravitate to them from whatever I’m doing (which is invariable preparing some kind of food for their bottomless stomachs–seriously, where do is all go??). I love watching them read, the expression, the body language, the rapture. It’s quite honestly one of my favourite things to do. That, and I love listening to the story itself, especially told through either of my older children, because they tell the story differently, and it reveals so much about them.

My toddler has begun pointing to pages that he likes and saying “I want to go in there.”

I’ve raised three kids and none of them ever said such a thing before. I think it’s wonderful that my toddler has the capacity to express his desire to enter story world.

My answer to him is always this: Close your eyes, and you can be there in your imagination. Occasionally he does close his eyes and I see a vast array of expressions pass over his face.

I love living with kids (well, when I don’t want to kill them) because they are a constant reminder of how much wonder there is around us. We adults have so much to learn from them.

When I write I have that exact sense my toddler expresses of going into the story. Without that I’m not sure I would ever be able to produce something worth reading. Without that I would gain no pleasure from writing. And as I edit myself to death, I needed that reminder to stay in the story in the same way I do writing a draft.

Story is the foundation of life, without it we would be mechanical. It’s what makes us learn and grow and change. It’s what makes experience. And seeing my toddler respond in this way has brought story back to its most fundamental form for me.


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Structure

I’ve been writing on and off for close to eight years.

Does it sound like a long time to you?

It does to me. But, really, it hasn’t been.

In that time I’ve written about ten or so shorts, won a few awards for some, had a few published, wrote for an award-winning magazine for some time. I’ve also drafted two novels, of which I’m editing one right now.

Is it an accomplishment? Depends how you look at it. Some days, I think, wow, I did all that, while having three babies, and never ever having more than a few hours a week to write, and taking a whole year of hiatus more than once. But other days, I think: eight years! Really! That’s it???

As you can most likely tell from my recent post I’ve been in the second place lately more than the first.

One of the difficulties I’m having is getting a grip on structure. I thought I had a tight handle on it: I have my three acts firm in hand. My set-up, my catalyst, my in-limbo time when we wait for the MC to make her decision to act, launching her into act two where we follow her journey, through her false high at midpoint, and into the resolution of act three.

My problem now lies in scene structure, and in making sure each element is in place within each scene.

This morning I’ve drafted a checklist for my self:

  1. Scene setting
  2. Scene goal stated
  3. Scene structure (beginning, middle, end)
  4. Is it clear how I want my character to appear in this scene and does the dialogue, action, monologue reflect this (ie. Weak, strong, frustrated, alert)
  5. Emotional arc
  6. Delivery of info in proper order
  7. Conflict and stakes apparent
  8. Check for order of stimulus : response (something that I get backwards often–weird!!!!)
  9. Resolution and new situation at end of scene (unless is moving into scene sequel)
I’ll print it out once it’s complete and go through each scene making sure that I can tick off each of these items.
How about you: How do you handle structure of your WIP? 
Is there anything you would add to this list?
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