Saturday, December 29, 2012

Good Day, Flu Day

My brother-in-law referred to me the other day as a "high-energy person."  He said it without preamble or pause as though it was a given fact.  Not long ago an old friend of mine described us (friend and I) "as basically the same person" and used the word "frenetic."  I was intrigued by both observations.  I don't refute them.  I've just never thought about myself that way.  I'm don't have a hyper or tumultuous personality.  I like peace, quiet, and solitude.  But I do talk fast and I walk very very fast, and, more to the point, I do like to get a lot of things done each day.  You can see why I don't refute it.  :)  Being productive makes me happy.  Opposite, unproductive=>unhappy, holds true as well.

So being sick?  That's about the worst thing that I can happen to me.  Not only do I feel badly physically, I feel bad mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  I can't get anything done.  Curses on the germ gods!

This week I have the flu.  I never nap yet I am napping all day and sleeping all night.  Who is this sleepy demon possessing my body?  Even when I am awake, my eyelids are hanging half-mast.  Fever, chills, etc.  You know the picture I'm drawing.  I'll leave it there.  In short, the flu.  You probably have it too if the Tylenol shelf at my local grocer is any indication.

Bad for certain parts of my life - this blog, facebook, email, getting together with friends, photographing Christmas morning (not to mention being in photographs Christmas morning), twitter probably thinks I've died, I haven't updated goodreads in forever...  The one thing the flu has been GREAT for is the pile of books on my night stand!  Yesterday I finished a book, started and finished a book, started another book, and watched a movie I loved (Moonrise Kingdom.  Focus Features has me down.  It rocks harder than the Good Housekeeping seal.).  I've read countless picture books to my children. I truly listened to and inspected everything they've told and shown me because I wasn't busy with five other things at the same time.  

I'm starting to think this flu is a gift.  :)

As 2012 wraps up I want to list a few books and authors I liked, including the ones I read yesterday.  I'm not even going to number it because it is not in any way comprehensive.  It is just a few recent ones off my fever-addled, fuzzy brain.  I hope you like them.

  • Malinda Lo - Ash - fairy tale retelling with a lesbian twist - very cool person too as far as I can tell
  • Brad Parks - Faces of the Gone - mystery in voice of Carter Ross investigative reporter, not my usual genre but entertaining, award-winning author and very nice guy
  • David Levithan - every day - co-author of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and a million other best sellers.  He's brilliant, I LOVE his writing style, and his storylines blow me away.
  • Lisa Scottoline - Save Me - very fast pace as we have come to love from her (Did you know, by the way, that "Scottoline" is pronounced like "fettucine", not Scott-o-LINE?  I learned that this year.  Same with Jody Picoult -  "Pee-co" not Pi-COLT.  Feel badly I've been murdering their names for years.)
  • Manhunt and Chasing Lincoln's Killer - James L. Swanson 
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky - in process but I generally love epistolary novels
  • In the Shadow of the Banyan - Vaddey Ratner - not my most enjoyable read but one of the ones that has stuck with me, inspiring a lot of thought and wonder.
  • ADDED - The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda - I almost forgot this one because I read it in January.  
  • Most excited about in 2013 - The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
Merry Christmas, friends!  Happy Holidays!  Have a happy New Year!  If you like snow, I hope you get it.  If you like warmth, I hope you keep it.  :)

~M.M. Finck
@mmfinck on twitter

Monday, December 17, 2012

Musical Muses

I recently heard a popular recording artist say that she doesn't listen to much music when she is writing a new album.  This makes sense to me.  

If I am writing a murder mystery from the perspective of an investigative reporter, say, I wouldn't read a book about the same.  (I've never actually written that.  It happens to be what I'm reading now.  Check out "Faces of the Gone" by Brad Parks.  Nice guy; good, award-winning book.) However, I would read other mysteries.  Keeping myself suspended in tension (or romance, literary fiction, etc.) 24/7 even when I am away from my laptop helps keep my writing on spot.  That's the mood part - both mine and my novel's.  The craft part is that the novels I read make for great study. If I like a device used by the author, I might try it.  Opposite is true, of course, for things I don't, like long prologues.  Unsurprisingly, the more unfamiliar what I'm writing is to me, the more I want to immerse myself in it.  

But at some point, the study goes from tutor and catalyst to distraction.  A time comes when I am so deep in my own head and my story is rolling, that I become deaf to the rest of the world.  I don't even read that much at night.  There is no room in my head anymore for anyone else's voice.  I give everything I've got to my story.  Everything else is suffers, but I am manic.  I have no choice.  I close the laptop in the wee hours and pass out for a few more until I wake up, take care of the absolute minimum of my other responsibilities and then become deaf again.

Music is different.  Music is my muse, not my study.  Music never messes with me.  It freely and always gives me what I need.  It helps me unlock safes and translate foreign languages.  You would not believe how many of my gnarly plot/dialogue/character knots have loosened and slipped into solved in my car with the stereo blaring.  Here are some of the artists to whom I owe pockets of my sanity:

  • Mumford & Sons, possibly my favorite band ever
  • Lumineers
  • Ed Sheeran
  • Taylor Swift
  • Florence + the Machine
  • Fun. (don't sleep on the first album, very diff from 2nd, but great; sound can be misleading, have to listen to lyrics - an attribute I love)
  • Brett Dennen- an incredible poet
  • Amos Lee - soul, baby, soul
  • Hunter Hayes
  • Joshua James - another poet
  • Augustana - too much talent
  • Matt Nathanson
  • and always, always The Killers

I would never describe myself as hip on music.  But I love knowing people who are.  I suppose I owe some of my sanity (and word count!) to them as well.  :)

Happy Holidays, my friends!  For those brave NaNoWriMo souls, great job!  Be proud.  Keep it up.

~M.M. Finck
@mmfinck on Twitter

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grateful for Gratitude

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast..."
- Melody Beattie

A month or so ago I got some very bad news.  The kind of bad that left me ghostly-mute for a couple days.  For some reason I started to digging through my mental garbage to find pieces I should be interpreting differently, even be grateful for.  I was shocked by how much there was to choose from.  The more I focused on them, the more I started to see meaning and a bigger picture.  It changed the direction of my thoughts and the rhythm of my heart.  The healing, bonding power of gratitude is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Today I'm particularly grateful for my disorderly nieces and nephews who are reeking wonderful chaos in my house as I type this.  :)  I hope you all have a great 'feast'!  

~M.M. Finck

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pledge to Veterans

"On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, let it be our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind."
-Dan Lipinski 

I extend a heartfelt thanks to all veterans.

~M.M. Finck

Friday, September 28, 2012

Lazy-Dazy Dreaming Days

To be human is to aspire.  Without it we quake.  (Ask any recent retiree.)  A dream is aspiration taken to reason-defying heights, to reality-defying heights.  Dreams give us wings.  The pursuit of a dream is a godly feat.

Everyone loves a dreamer-made-good story.  Professional sports, collectively, is a parade float carried on the shoulders of hundreds of them.  Rudy, Secretariat, the guy who is getting a one-day contract with the Miami Marlins so that he can have an MLB at-bat.  Hollywood too.  Children's fairy tales.  Do you know that every country in the world has its own version of the Cinderella story?  Every single one.  We love when dreams come true.  

The thing about dreams though is that they don't come true all at once.  Between the sudden, euphoric (usually small, progressive) lurches toward success stretch sometimes-long periods of deathly, agonizing quiet.  I know of no stories that present the heartbreak of the silence or the back-steps in real time.  Dreamers are thought to have their heads in the clouds, detached from reality, not productive members of society.  I myself have likened the term "dreamer" to lazy.  How wrong I was.  

Dreamers aspiring to something great are exactly what propels mankind at its best.  In all areas - science, entertainment, sports, politics, writing.

Recently I have enjoyed some small success.  A bit of unexpected praise and a promising outlook have led to no small amount of hoopla amongst my family and friends.  It feels great.  Your glee for me and faith in me is more meaningful than you know.  But...

My lowly, lonely, perserverant faith had to predate yours.  It's the only way.  As dreamers, we have to believe in ourselves before we have any right to.  Before we've published a word, before we've stepped foot on a professional soccer pitch.  We need an internalized belief that our dreams could happen in order to muster the fortitude it takes to wade through the muck and gruel to get there.  It is a reluctant willingness to look like a fool, like a dreamer. 

...our best built certainties are but sand-houses and subject to damage from any wind of doubt that blows.
- Mark Twain, "The Great Dark"

Faith in your story, faith in your characters, faith in your writing, faith in your storytelling, and faith in writing as your occupation.  At best, these are sand houses.  I don't want to meet the person whose houses are made of armor.  The granularity is our humility and our courage.

We doubt, yet we write.  We not only brave but court painful criticism, yet we write.  We fear, yet we write.  We endure hours of research we don't understand, make fifty fruitless attempts at plotting our story before finding the method that works, and bravely call ourselves "aspiring writers" and bear the ensuing awkward lull.  Yet we write.

That stay-at-homeless mom with her infant daughter, "writing a book" in a coffee shop, getting refills in the same tea cup, persevering through annoyed glances and countless rejections - that was J.K. Rowling. 

You know the joke: You know you're a writer if...  You are sitting opposite a doctor wearing a very serious expression.  She says, "I'm sorry Ms. So-and-So.  I'm afraid that you have cancer."  And you think, "Cancer.  Wow.  I can use this."

Our setbacks and silences cut us to the bone.  The pain is sometimes unbearable.  The winds of doubt slow us down.  We're human.  But, don't let them blow you down.  Use them.  They make us more experienced in the emotional tumult of life, more empathetic.  In short, better writers.  Only the strong will survive.  Be strong. 

"Every great story on the planet happened when someone decided not to give up, but kept going no matter what."
-Spryte Loriano
Be godly.

I hope you are well.  Thanks as always for coming by!  I love to see your visits!  If you'd like to, you can also follow me on by liking my page.  I post book and film reviews, quotes I run across, and I'll keep you up-to-date on my own dreamy pursuit.  :)  Take care!

~M.M. Finck

Monday, August 13, 2012

What Was Never Lost Need Not Be Found

A member of my writers' group enjoys studying VOICE.  I've been told by agents and editors that I have a strong one.  It probably shouldn't have surprised me - I come from a large, loud Irish family; if you want to be heard around our dinner table, you have to earn it. - but it did. Voice wasn't something I was consciously working on.  I felt relief more than anything else to hear this news, checked the box, and continued working on any number of other skills that I hadn't been honing since infancy.

But, my writers' group friend and a few of you have asked me to talk about it.  Voice.  In my efforts to prepare for this, I, of course, began at google.  (Where else?)  If you search "find your voice" there are innumerable experts who will tell you where this elusive part of you is hiding and how to summon it.  Imagine that when we were kids we thought it was in our throats!  Silly us.  Honestly, everything I read was insightful and well done.  I don't think that there is anything for me to add.  But...

What I'd like to suggest is, if all the guidance out there isn't working for you, maybe hit pause for just a little bit and try something different.

Don't try to sound like "yourself."  Don't try to sound like the authors you read (and feel lacking when you don't.)  Writing is all about faith and I don't want you to lose yours.  God knows, I fight to keep mine every day.  Instead, I say:  Sound like your characters.

Be clear whose head you are in.  Think and feel like that character.  KNOW that character before you set your fingers on the keys.  Make your characters identifiable from one another in every possible way.  They talk differently, the view things differently, they like and dislike different characters and things.  If you throw everything you've got into sounding like your characters, you won't have the energy anymore to undermine yourself.

"I am a part of all that I have met."
~Alfred Tennyson

And everything we have met is a part of us.  Everything we've seen, heard, touched, lived through, been exposed to vicariously, read, etc.  There is so much within us that we can use to create amazing characters.  Try their voices on for size.  Sounding like Nona, a deaf Italian girl living in an orphanage in upstate New York, or Geronimo, an ex-con on the run near the Texas-Mexico border, is way more fun than trying to sound like M.M. Finck.  Believe me, I'm there, in between the lines.  :)

Have faith that you sound like you.  No one else can do it better.

Until next time...  I hope you are well!  Thanks for coming by!

~M. M. Finck

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some Like Sand, Some Like Paper

 "Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve."
- Carol Shields 

 O how I wish I'd said this first - if only feelings appeared in ink.  I hope you are taking the summer to catch up on books in which you've long wanted to bury yourselves!  Some like sand, some like paper.  I prefer them at the same time.  :)

~M.M. Finck

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

Want to do a little psychology experiment?  Research quotes on mothers.  Here's what you'll find - Sincerity.  Heartfelt gratitude.  Infrequently, a bit of humor.  

Now, research quotes on fathers... 

Little resemblance.  Platitudes about fathers, especially when coming from sons, are overwhelmingly funny or, opposite, unemotional, as though discussing what an essential, demanding, most-productive branch of government the Department of Father is.

To be a successful father... there's one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don't look at it for the first two years.
-Ernest Hemingway

Whoever does not have a good father should procure one.
-Friedrich Nietzsche
You don't have to deserve your mother's love.  You have to deserve your father's.
- Robert Frost
I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection.
-Sigmund Freud 

I was a little offended at first.  Not that I don't see the truth in these, but I was looking for more.  These are our dads we're talking about.  It's Father's Day.  Where was the gushing?  My feminine sensibilities were piqued and protective of good fathers.  I'll dig deeper, I thought, until I find fitting tributes.  But then I realized, what could be more fitting or important - Fathers give us our sense of humor.  Fathers are essential and productive.  Fathers teach us that we need to earn respect; that it is not a given.  They inspire ambition.  They teach us how to work hard and to think beyond our own needs to those of the people depending on us.  They teach their sons how to be good men.  They teach their daughters how men should treat them.

I wouldn't be the same me without mine.  Thank you for all of it, Dad.  I love you.

I just owe almost everything to my father and it's passionately interesting for me that the things that I learned in a small town, in a very modest home, are just the things that I believe have won the election.   
-Margaret Thatcher

I talk and talk and talk, and I haven't taught people in fifty years what my father taught me by example in one week.
-Maria Cuomo

 Happy Father's Day!  To my husband, you are why I kept digging.  But, a whole book of quotes could not encompass all you are to our children.  Only our boundless hearts can do that.  And they do.

~M.M. Finck

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What's On My Nightstand?

I like those deer-in-headlights questions that you have no preparation for and may or may not say something about you.  They're fun.  I know some bloggers post their meals and their outfits.  I like food and apparel.  Very much, in fact.  Let's try it:  Swiss cheese and bacon sandwich for lunch?  Olive-green shorts and a gray recycled cotton knit shirt?  I think we can all agree that my arena lies elsewhere.

As a writer-reader kind of gal, I'm offering - What Is On My Nightstand?  You are just going to have to trust me that this is an unedited, genuine slice in time.  :)

Beyond the expected lamp, photos of my kids, alarm clock (my 4:30 am wake-up buddy; we're very close), and candle:

- Rise & Shine by Anna Quindlen - personal reading, finished, just too lazy to put it away

- Object Lessons by Anna Quindlen - book club book, her first, my favorite

- a classroom textbook on Pennsylvania - my new book is set in PA

- Weird Pennsylvania by Matt Lake - again, setting research; I get to know the people of an area by getting to know their stories.

- Abraham Lincoln:  His Essential Wisdom - my hero, author of many of my favorite quotes; I actually take this book to the gym, I love it so much. 

- before women had Wings by connie may fowler - see for my musings on this one.

- The Pact [a love story] by Jodi Picoult - currently reading; about a teenage suicide pact gone wrong, I have never wanted to read this.  But I can never ignore Jodi for long.  I have loved this book since the first paragraph.

- a tag from a pair of my son's new shorts on which I scribbled about 19 character name ideas - have yet to transcribe them into my laptop

- No Need To Fear - a pamphlet I picked up somewhere so long ago that I can't recall when or where, still unread, no wonder I still worry so much!  TO DO:  read pamphlet.

- Receipt from the library that is supposed to help me keep track of the truckload of books I check out each week for my family except that it is from April and I have no idea where the late-May one is.

- A notebook that I write in when the spirit moves me.  I can't remember the last time the spirit moved me or what's in it so I opened it up and found a very cool exercise I'd done.  One of the writing books I read said that we all have "writing ancestors."  Not so fast - you don't get to pick them.  No Proust for you (or me).  You already have them.  They may not be who you want to broadcast through a megaphone, but they are your writerly family.  They are the authors you've read the most of, the ones that you enjoyed the most.  They have more impact on your "voice" than any writer you purposefully study.  My ancestors?  I have a big family, but it includes:  Jodi Picoult, Patricia Cornell (wrote from Virginia too, not too far from my own red writing chair), David Nicholls, Seth Grahame-Smith, Sara Gruen, Gregory Maguire, Lisa Genova, Lisa Scottoline, and many others.

- a writers' association monthly magazine - my issues are trashed by the time I finish.  I fold down practically every page, make notes in pencil scrawl in the margins.  If you are a writer and you feel lost sometimes - My recommendation:  Join a writers' association.  You instantly have teachers and peers.  They keep you up-to-date with industry and market news/trends, not to mention keeping your personal spirits up.

-Lastly, a quote (you didn't think you'd get out of here without a quote, did you?)  My husband emailed me a quote from Pablo Picasso that reminded him of me.  I printed and kept the email.
"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."
- Pablo Picasso

What's on your nightstand?  Any good books?  If not, you can borrow one of mine.  I hope you are well!  Thank you, as always, for stopping in.  Take care!

~M.M. Finck

PS  Thank you all for enjoying the Dog-Grooming post so much!  All the messages and shares have made me so happy.  Several people have asked me about "voice."  I'm working up some thoughts on that.  Maybe that will be my next post, since we've just established that I don't clear off my nightstand very often and there will unlikely be anything new to report there. :)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

I think Erma knows my mother.

Thanks to my mother, not a single cardboard box has found its way back into society.  We receive gifts in boxes from stores that went out of business twenty years ago.
- Erma Bombeck 

I think she knows me too.

When your mother asks, "Do you want a piece of advice?" it is a mere formality. It doesn't matter if you answer yes or no. You're going to get it anyway.

I will always be grateful for this one.  The ever-eloquent Erma again.

It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding. 

And then, there's what our (fore)fathers say,

My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.
- George Washington

All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.
-Abraham Lincoln

Happy Mother's Day!  Especially to mine.

-M.M. Finck

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Writing Is Like Dog-Grooming & Characters Tantrum Like Two-Year-Old's

"How does it come to you?"
"How do you think up your characters?"
"How does it work?" 

These are the first questions people ask me after they read my work.  It seems like magic.  They are in awe.  I agree.  I am in awe of it too.  It comes from outside of myself, I can't take credit for it.

But those are not the answers you are looking for.  Magic?  Outside forces?  Too hokey.  You want to know more.  You've told me.  So I will try to answer thoroughly.  I'm warning you though - in order to "hear" a story and let it come together in front of me, I have to let go of certain hang-ups, like believing sanity at all times is a necessity.  :) 

I used to think that writers conceptualize a story in their own unique ways, none of us exactly the same, which is true.  But it surprised me how much overlap there is.  Whenever I hear another writer talk about their process, I recognize large pieces of mine, and I am filled with a sense of belonging.  If you are a writer (or a reader!), I hope this post makes you feel the same way. 

Writing sits at the cross-section of dogged determination and inspiration.  Writing when you are inspired is a high.  Drug-free and glorious.  But sometimes Inspiration is no where to be found.  I can feel him lurking, but he refuses to show himself.  That's fine.  I coax.  I cajole.  I wait.  But, if he doesn't show, I write cold.  No problem.  He always, always shows up.  Inspiration hates to miss a party.

Between books, I take off a week or two to catch up on my life (a lot of things lapse when I'm writing.)  But, my mind continues to churn. When my household is back in order, I go back to working every day - developing, researching, documenting. When my story is ready, I enter a zone I term "When I Am Writing."
When I am writing, my first writing block is from 4:30 to 6:45 in the morning, seven days a week.  I have two more during the day, but that's my most important one.  I write the least in that block, but every day when I get up and pull that laptop onto my lap, I am making the very conscious decision that I am a writer.  I am a force.  I have superpowers.  What I write then is often only one paragraph, but it is a good one.  And when I write later, I am voracious and productive.  I'll have been chomping at the bit to get back to it all morning.

People ask me all the time about how long it takes to write a novel.  This is a highly individual answer - specific to the author, the material, and the length of the novel.  That said, people in literary circles often throw around a one year timeline.  A first draft can be written by a dedicated author in a few to several months, but it often takes a full year for that book to be developed and researched, written, critiqued, revised, timeline-checked, and proofed.  More than one round of reviews and revisions is common.

Ideally, I write in a red glider chair with my legs stretched across the expanse to a matching chair with a super soft blanket and my computer on my lap.  But, I can write anywhere.  In college I was so finicky about my study environment that I could only study alone and in absolute silence. (Uptight?  A little. :))  But, not with writing.  Any chair, anywhere.

I maintain several files on my computer - Story Ideas, Favorite Books, Favorite Lines, Favorite Movies, Favorite Lyrics, Character Name Ideas, Themes & Ethical Questions, Qualities I Like In A Book, etc. etc.  I add to them all the time.  I use them as armor against writer's block.  They've easily earned their rent for hard-drive space. 

Some writers - the left-brained ones - use detailed plot treatments and outlines, plan every twist and turn in advance, etc.  Some writers - the right-brained ones - start with a blank page and simply start.  They discover the story and their characters as they write.  I have one solid foot in the former camp and several toes in the latter. 

I start with a theme I want to explore.  Then I let my mind wander about what storyline would explore it.  I completely shut out everything around me and let whatever comes bounce around in my mind.  

For my first novel, I brainstormed ideas, went to the library and my local historical society, surfed the web, made lists of possibilities, had a couple false-starts, and then suddenly one idea stood out from the rest.  It took quite a while, but the feeling you get when you find the right idea is unmistakable.  You feel a fire for it.

For my last story, I was walking across my kitchen with no plan of starting anything new and an idea (which turned out to be the backstory which resulted in the novel's action and conflict) came into my mind full-force.  I stopped at the laptop we keep in the kitchen predominantly for our kids and I started typing like a maniac.  It was playing out in my head faster than I could type.  Once it flew by, I'd lose it, so I had to catch as much of it as I could.  What I missed I never did get back, but I got enough.  

This time, I was on an airplane and said to myself, "Back against the wall.  Figure it out.  What are you going to write next?"  I knew that when I was done the one I was working on, I'd go crazy waiting for reviews.  The only way to keep myself even-keeled (and pleasant to live with) was if I had something new to work on.  I read all my writer's block files and summoned an idea.  It took six hours of staring, thinking, and imagining, but I got off the plane with a helium balloon in my belly.  I had it.  It has morphed so much since then that I don't remember what I had that day, but it was "the golden nugget" that is the inspiration at the heart of every story.

At this point, I have a theme and something of the plot and conflict.  Characters are beginning in the back of my mind, but I basically ignore them.  To build the story, I need a firm setting that I can see clearly in my mind.  I set about finding one.  All the while, plot continues to form and twist in my head and I add what comes to my "brain dump" file.

I tend to like fictional places modeled after real ones.  I change the name but use images, Google street views, geographical locations and topography, histories, sociological and weather data, etc. as a guide.  My settings are not replicas of anywhere, but they are like sister-cities to real life places.

Now I let the characters have my attention.  They didn't need my attention to develop so far, but they are mad at me for ignoring them.  Their tantrums keep a constant buzz in my mind.  They are yelling at me, yelling at each other.  The morose ones are standing with crossed arms glaring.  They all want me to understand them and their plights, but they are yelling over each other like two-year-old's.  I wait them out.  When they have calmed down enough to succinctly tell me who they are, what is going on with them, and how they feel about it - I can hear them.  It is a heavenly respite from the buzz.  I'm happy.  They're happy.  From then on, they are calmer and I can hear them perfectly.  This goes on for a long time.  I write down as much as I can remember.  Notice I do not say everything - Everything would be impossible.  They talk all day long, no matter where I am.

"My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living."
-Anais Nin
My sister (and mom and husband) could tell you how many times I have to say, "I'm sorry.  Can you say that again?  I missed it."  Because my characters are talking too loudly in my head!  I honestly couldn't hear what my sister said.  Cue the temporary insanity. :)

When my characters and I are on coherent speaking terms, I sit down and really really develop them.  Again, I shut out everything around me.  I give my characters, one at a time, my full attention and I listen to them.  I watch their life play out in front of me like a movie.  Parents' jobs, personalities and parenting styles.  Birth order.  Physical features.  Life stories.  Tiny details.  Big pictures.  Likes, dislikes.  Jobs.  Strengths, weaknesses.  Educational and career backgrounds.  How they relate to the other characters.  Their tics.  What they say vs. what they mean.  EVERYTHING.  It is exhausting, I admit.  Pages and pages of things that won't ever come up in a story.  But, they will be there.  I promise you that.  There, in between the lines, in the sensation you get when you read and feel that these characters are "real".

When I'm done with that, I work on the storyline.  I say storyline, not plot, because by this point my brain dump document is a very very long list of bullet points.  It has grown well beyond plot, but it is a mess.

I groom my dog myself.  He is huge.  It takes hours and I'm not sure he likes it.  But we bond.  The trick is to take what he gives me and praise him for it.  I rarely finish an entire part of him at once.  I'm working on his leg and he moves.  I let it go.  His tail swishes in front of me, I take it.  He pulls it away and gives me his belly, I get down low.  Writing is like that.  What comes to me first is almost always the peak conflict.  Then, the backstory.  But neither in completion.  Whatever the story gives me, I take it.  I'm grateful and patient.  I'll put it all in order later.

When the plot-popping in my brain finally slows down (this takes weeks, months, a year), I put the bullet points in some kind of chronological guess.  I decide the big things - first person, third person, single narrator, alternating narrator, present tense, past tense, at what point on the arc to start the story (defining story vs. backstory), a general idea of the ending, the mood I want, the genre, etc.  I often write a "pitch" for myself to clarify what my story is about.  At last, I start writing.  I never make a more detailed outline than I got from the brain dump (although I constantly add to it) or fine-tune the ending because I let the story reveal itself to me.  The story is in charge.  It tells me where it is set.  It tells me what comes next.  It tells me whose story it is.  The story always rules the day.  Even when it is inconvenient.

I write on a schedule, but when I am writing I steal every moment that I can.  Too many moments.  There are costs to being a writer.  Not just the deeply painful criticisms that are necessary to make your good story great.  But, even when I am present, I am not 100% present.  My characters believe they own me and when I am writing, they never let me completely free.  Thankfully, my husband and closest friends love me along with all the voices in my head.  By the end, my husband could probably recognize my lead character at first sight if he were ever to run into her at the market.  I once heard a Chinese saying that a man needs to have a big stomach.  My man needs big ears!  :)

It does get better when I finish a book.  My characters bow graciously and slink away, leaving room for the new ones.  I believe they leave happier, feeling heard and appreciated.  I like to leave my readers with a similar feeling.  One of my favorite reviewer comments was "I've been walking around in my own little glow.  I started missing your characters, the moment I turned the last page."  AND THAT, my torch-bearers, IS THE REWARD!

They are soul-crushing.  They are also inevitable and make your work better.  Really, really listen.  Consider.  Ego has no place here.  Then, take what feels right to you, and dive back in.


"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
- Ernest Hemingway
And cry and laugh and love.  And, yes, bleed.

If you have dreams to write, WRITE.  Listen for your story and take what it gives you.  It wants to be told.  Only you can do it.

-M.M. Finck

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Joyous Gratitude

There are bloggers (several of whom I enjoy and follow).  Then, like siblings to bloggers, there are authors with blogs.

Which is happily me. 

Because my writing time is primarily spent on my books, my posts are less frequent than on a blogger's blog.  Yet you've been coming!  It astounds me how many people come here every day.  I frequently check the viewer stats in the morning and again at night, and the jumps leave me humbled and mumbling a prayer of gratitude. 

"Joy is the simplest form of gratitude."
-Karl Barth  

You have made me joyous.  Thank you very very much.  

My latest manuscript is still out for consideration, which I take as a good sign.  As you know, I have been conceptualizing my new one.  Bits and pieces, out of order, it has been coming to me.  I've got a plot, the major characters, a setting, back story, an assortment of conflicts.  Yesterday I pitched it to a small group and it got rousing support.  So I am energized and eager.  I read an interview with Jodi Picoult in which she was asked about her research, if she uses an assistant to gather it for her.   She said that it is more fun to do the research herself.  Shyly comparing myself to Jodi Picoult, I feel the same way.  I'm excited to dive further in!  :)  

Before I go, I will paste in a review that I posted on my brand new facebook page about a book I finished recently.  ( - Please "Like" my page if you have the inclination and a chance!)

"Just read "The Sweet By and By" by Todd Johnson. It follows a handful of characters who live or work in an assisted living facility. It is not my usual subject matter of choice, but reading it made me a better person. It is very well written, of course. Mr. Johnson is a very talented man. I admit that when I read a book (or watch a movie) I have a running tally in my mind of things I would have done differently. Every writer I know does this.  Same as filmmakers, I would say, based on the few I've known.  We aren't being judgmental as much as we are studying and appreciating our craft and learning from each other. By the time I finished "The Sweet By and By," my list was down to one. After a very involved book club discussion last night, even that one item disappeared. I feel uplifted even, by what I didn't at first understand.  Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for this wonderful, sensitive, intricate story."

Now I am reading "Rise and Shine" by Anna Quindlen.  I believe that she is one of the best fiction writers today.  Her economy with words creates a beautifully dense story.  My laundry sits unfolded for the second night in a row so that I can follow these powerful characters.

Next up, "before women had Wings" by connie may fowler.  

I hope you all are well!  I will speak with you again soon!

-M.M. Finck

Friday, April 13, 2012

Do You Like Psychoanalytics? Right Brain - Left Brain? Introvert - Extravert?

Do you like psychoanalytics?  Right Brain - Left Brain?  Introvert - Extravert?  For as long as I can remember I have loved them.  I don't believe I am alone in this, in that personality quizzes show up on magazine covers from American Girl to Cosmopolitan to US Weekly to Esquire.  Thankfully, the subject matter differs! 

I'm pretty good at understanding people, myself included.  I thought, at one time, that I'd like to be a psychologist.  I like to help people and I'm self-righteous enough to think I know how.  My hypothetical patients are rejoicing right now that something held me back.  Psychologists are supposed to listen, right?  I talk way too much!  Maybe a motivational speaker?  Except that I'm not keen on the spotlight.  I can do it, but I feel like crawling into a cave for awhile afterwards (quiz result: introvert :)).  Thankfully, I found the right job for me, which has the added benefit of leaving no patient dizzy from one of my diatribes.  Writing is perfect for an introverted, word-wielding lover of human psychology. 

I began writing fiction after a friend suggested that I’d be good at it.  I knew I could string words together.  I’ve always appreciated written rhythm and vocabulary.  I was an accomplished technical writer, but to write creative fiction?  Nuts.  To my utter surprise, I finished an entire 300 page novel.  It wasn’t good enough at the time to get published, but it got enough professional praise and encouragement that what began as a lark became a dream. 

As you know, I love quotes.  Quotes about gratitude, love, honor, faith, work, friendship, family, and justice wallpaper the housing of my mind.  Newly, quotes about dreams offered deep meaning for me.  Not one of my personality quizzes resulted in dreamer, yet there I was in pursuit of something completely, terribly unlikely.  That’s a dream, right?  I tell my children, “God has endowed you with many gifts.  You can be anything you want to be.  You just need to work hard enough at it.  Work harder than you ever believed possible.  You will be astounded at all the things you can do.”  Taking my own advice changed me.  A woman who had always been sensitive to criticism was courting it.  I studied the craft of writing, learned about self-editing, learned to receive and weigh criticism, and wrote and wrote and wrote. 

I felt stretched between the top priorities in my life, stretched to the point of breaking sometimes.  My family never stopped believing in me or supporting me, but I saw a change in the way some friends looked at me.  They were bright and excited when I'd finished my first book, but their smiles gradually picked up a bit of condescension.  “Yeah, you’re busy,” I could read in their eyes, “but you don’t really have to be, do you?  I mean, it’s not as though your writing is a real job.”  I didn’t blame them.  I had confronted the same doubt within myself.  I was learning so much and I was in love with it, but, at what cost to myself and my family?  I was so tired.  My house was no longer the well-run machine it once was.

So many times, clarity comes from crisis.  What I realized then was that writing, for me, is not only a dream, but a calling.  I saw it like a glowing breadcrumb path through my life (which is saying something because I had been a finance person!).  My writerly career was largely unsubstantiated at the time, but my calling stood on its own and was validated simply by naming it as such.

One of my favorite people, Darcey Steinke (read her Easter Everywhere when you get the chance), told me that writing is all about faith.  I ask you:  Who can write without it?  She saw it in me, and I decided to claim it.  Faith in myself, faith in my calling.  Anne Lamott said in her book, Bird by Bird, that the writing has to be enough.  By recognizing writing as my calling, the pursuit of the best writing I am capable of became enough. 

I hope that you will be able to read my work – so far, so good.  I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, I’ll be writing.  After I sent my latest book to an agent, I had intended to take a week off.  But I couldn’t!  The next story grabbed a hold of me and refused to wait.  Clearly, it is my progeny.  Impatient has shown up on several of my personality quizzes too.  :)  I'm a new woman though.  Callings have no end date.  Nor do certain dreams, I suspect.

Here is one of my favorite quotes about dreams.  I hope that you like it as much as I do.

Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.
– Anais Nin

I hope you all are well.  I’ll speak with you again soon!  Maybe the next one will be brief?  :)

-         - M.M. Finck

Monday, April 2, 2012

I Wanted To Know More About Her As A Person

Have you read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert?  Most people I know loved Italy.  I agree certainly, but my favorite part was India.  When Elizabeth (note ‘Elizabeth.’  more on that in a second.) was trying to meditate in the prayer garden, but she was hot, her thoughts wouldn’t stop, and the mosquitoes were stinging her, I was right there with her.  I can feel it as I sit here in my air-conditioned house in the woods of Virginia.  When she was able to transcend her itchy, buzzing, sweaty distractions and enter into a peaceful mental place, I was in awe.  

I loved that book.  I wanted to know more about Elizabeth Gilbert as a person.  It turns out that she is very good friends with my husband’s cousin, but I didn’t know that at the time.  I stumbled upon an article on her written by someone who knew her.  He called her ‘Liz,’ and he taunted us, pitiful, unconnected strangers that we are, that he could do that because he was her friend, whereas we are not.

Well, I want to let you in on a secret.  My name is, in fact, M. M. Finck which is why I write under it.  But, I go by ‘Peggy.’  This is my very first blog post.  I cannot imagine who will end up here to read it (probably family and friends who already call me Peggy :).  But whoever you are – you are my torch bearers!   
Wherever my career goes, you will have been with me from the beginning!  YOU may call me Peggy whether we have met yet or not.

So, let me tell you, torch-bearers, a little about myself.  I write fiction, predominantly women’s fiction, with romantic elements and dark underpinnings.  I like characters with strong voices and deeply-felt emotions.  Meaningful themes and character growth are important to me and a plot will not draw me in without opportunities for them.  I love distinct, unique backdrops.  For me, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is nearly the perfect commercial-literary cross novel, bit heavier on commercial.  I adore what I call "book club light" reads (literary but not overly dark plots), but the tension that I hope I've created in my current work is along the lines of Water for Elephants in hopefully an equally interesting setting (an inner city playhouse).  In whatever I write, I aspire to give my readers the same page-turning need that Sara Gruen gave me.

I have never experienced anything, save from true love, that takes me to the nary depths of despair and also to gravity-defying heights of jubilation the way writing does.  When my husband brought home my first book, spiral bound and printed at Kinko’s with nothing but a clear vinyl cover, I had honestly never seen anything so beautiful in my life.  Well, fifth most beautiful.  :)  My children take top honors.  

I can write because I read.  I joined today and am thrilled with the recommendations it has already made for me.  Check it out.  It is a very easy, friendly site.  I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t like it.  Friend/follow me, if you’d like (M. M. Finck).

Thank you for landing here today.  I hope that you come back often.  I will try post something regularly.  Hopefully, not this long.  :)  I hope you are well.