Sunday, July 29, 2007

donkey overload

Everyone goes through it. Some more than others. And some handle it better than others. But with the launch of my new show, I can certainly relate to this poor donkey right now ... and I bet you can too!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

how vain it is to sit down and write

I've always loved quotes and one of my favorites used to be: "How vain it is to sit down and write, when one has not stood up to live!"

My 12-year-old brother turned blue in the face, then chased me all over the house screaming bloody murder, after he found that quote scrawled in red ink across a blank page of his hidden journal. Thank goodness we ran into dad on the staircase …

Many years later, I still feel guilty for reading every private thought my little brother laid bare on those pages. But I've lost my need to pry and would never do anything like that now. (Honest, I wouldn’t!)

However, I've never lost my love of quotes, and thought I’d share a couple of current favorites that I keep around my desk.

  • American writer Williamn Saravon encourages writers to experience life in all its glory! "Try to learn to breathe deeply; really to taste food when you eat; and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”
  • Robert Fritz tells us to think outside the box: “If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.”
  • And for those moments when everyone else is an idiot, and nothing works out the way you want it to, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wisely reminds: “You can be pleased with nothing, when you are not pleased with yourself.”

What are your favorite quotes? Have you ever read anyone else’s journal? And if so, did you get caught?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

jumping off cliffs

Come to the edge, He said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, He said.
They came. He pushed them,
And they flew …

Guillaume Apollinaire
Avant-garde French poet.

I don’t usually talk much about my work, too busy doing it; and I like to pour my energy into the process rather than explaining what I’m working on. But last month, after telling my friend in no uncertain terms (for the umpteenth time and for seven million reasons), “Not happening! Not going to do it!” … I went and did it!

When I took a break from the radio show at the beginning of this year, I intended to be hosting again toward the end of the year, and planned to take my time looking for a new executive producer (EP) to team up with. I wanted to wait until I found someone with a good match of goals, values, and vision; and was willing to be patient.

So even I was surprised, when early in May, I found myself calling several stations to talk about airtime and studio and production costs.

Information gathered, meetings held, discussions clarified, contracts reviewed … now all I had to do was decide. Did I want to do ‘it’?

Well I did want to do it. And without analyzing it to death, I trusted my instinct and took a huge leap of faith—with the stroke a pen, I became my new EP. Done. Dusted. Sorted.

I spent the next week on a roller coaster: It’s thrilling, scary. Exciting, daunting. Energizing, terrifying. Yeay! Aghh!

But life truly is what we make it.

No matter how you define success, there are many times in life when we have to be willing to leap without knowing what’s in front of us. We have to push through our fears, our doubts, and self-prescribed limitations. We have to close our ears to those who say it can’t be done and who try to drag us into their misery pit. We have to fill our minds with the belief that we can accomplish whatever we set out to do; and our hearts with the courage to do it.

So without further ado, I’m jumping right off that cliff, damn it, and building my wings on the way down. See you safely on the ground!

Others who jumped off a cliff (and kept on jumping!)

  • Composer Oscar Hammerstein had 5 bombed shows lasting less than 6 weeks in total before Oklahoma! It grossed $7million and ran for 269 weeks.
  • Author Tawni O’Dell had 6 unpublished novels and 300 rejection slips over a 13-year period before her first novel was published. When it became an Oprah book club selection, it made the New York Times bestseller list for 8 weeks.
  • Admiral Robert Peary reached the North Pole on his 8th attempt.
  • Stephen King got so fed up of receiving rejections on his novel Carrie that he threw it in the trash. His wife, Tabitha, retrieved it and sent it back out … we all know what happened next.
  • Model/actress Angie Everhart was told by Eileen Ford that redheads don’t sell. Everhart later became the first redhead in history to appear on Glamour magazine and appeared in more than 27 films and now has her own show.

What cliffs have you jumped off? How did you build your wings? Maybe more importantly, what cliffs do you regret not jumping off?

Sunday, July 08, 2007


The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants
to the seat of the chair.
-Mary Heaton Vorse

Feeling a little overwhelmed this past month, mostly because of unrealistic self-inflicted deadlines, I found myself procrastinating (and still procrastinating) on a very important project. Important to Me, that is. No one else cares about that project. No one else is depending on me delivering the final goods. No one else will blink an eye if it never materializes. And that’s the problem.

When no one else depends on your delivery, without editorial deadlines or production milestones or scheduled review meetings, it’s far too easy to push aside the Important for
the urgent or pressing “in-your-face” issues of the day.
And it’s even easier to succumb to the non-urgent issues of the day, such as going AWOL for a vanilla frapuccino and a chat with the barista. Or sailing off into the sun ( ... after all, it does rain here 300 days of the year!).

The irony is, that I most often procrastinate when I really care about a project—the perfectionist in me holding back until I know it can be perfect beyond a doubt—which, of course, is never!

I also procrastinate when I find a project dull or lacking challenge. Or if the project-at-hand doesn’t push my buttons. For example, I once scrubbed the entire house with a nail-brush and cooked a six-course cordon bleu meal, when I should have been studying for my upcoming six-hour registered stock broker’s licensing exam. The man of the house was thrilled, while my stress level soared through the roof knowing that I’d merely delayed the inevitable dreaded study of ‘puts, options, bonds, and living-wills’.

But that was many moons ago. And as much as I’ve procrastinated over the years—and still do—there are many more times when I’ve been so utterly absorbed by my work, that I forget to eat, drink, and sometimes, sleep.

At the end of the day, I always deliver. Always meet deadline. And I've learned that procrastination works for me as part of the creative process. I've learned that it’s good to sometimes allow a certain amount of time just to think ... letting fragments of ideas infuse, and thought patterns simmer, until that intangible 'something' kicks in and I’m at the boil raring to go!

So I’m not at all worried about my dalliances. And to prove that, by delaying the process even further, I looked up what other creatives had to say on the subject.
I discovered what I already knew—that at least in this areaI’m perfectly normal!
  • Amy Holden Jones believes that all writers are good procrastinators. She says that the process is of writing is grueling, until her characters begin to come alive to her, and that’s when she develops a sense of connection with the project.
  • Steven DeSouza, knows when he’s about to write because he becomes a neat freak, organizing his desk and tools until ‘it’ floods in.
  • Leonardo da Vinci was known as ‘highly distractable’. He finished The Last Supper only after his patron threatened to cut off all funds. And he took 20 years to finish painting the Mona Lisa.
  • Leslie Dixon says we all have what she calls ‘stalling mechanisms’. The phone, email, reading the newspaper. But she also believes that procrastination can be a tool for success; assuming you can control it and ultimately deliver the goods on time and in good shape, you’ll have the edge over those who can’t control it.
  • Douglas Adams’ friend, Steve Meretzky says, "Douglas has raised procrastination to an art form. Hitchhikers Guide would never have gotten done if I hadn't gone over to England and virtually camped out on his doorstep."
And with that said, I must away and cease dilly-dallying the day. As Henry Ford said: "You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do." I'm starting to boil and that proposal won't finish itself!
So what are you ‘going’ to do? Do you procrastinate? When and why? And most importantly … how? Dish up now …

Sunday, July 01, 2007

creating the epic story

Like many of you, I'm taking some downtime for this week's holiday. Since so many of you are creatives, thought I'd share a conversation I had with best-selling author, Terry Brooks. I found his method of auditioning characters fascinating. This was first published* several years ago, but the principles remain constant, and it's been one of my most requested reprints.

Happy 4th ... and for those who don't celebrate, go play anyway!! It's good for the Creative Soul.

Creating the Epic Story
Best-selling Author Terry Brooks

By Vicki St. Clair

Master storyteller Terry Brooks made publishing history in 1977 with his first book, The Sword of Shannara. Today, 16 million copies of his books are in print. Known for his sweeping epic adventures, Brooks has earned a legion of loyal fans with his fantasy tales. He recently took time out from working on his latest epic to share some of his insights...

You once said that fantasy is the only canvas big enough for you to paint on. What is it that draws you?

I was drawn to speculative fiction - and fantasy in particular - when I first was experimenting with different forms of writing. So much of what constitutes the body of work in fiction is limited to what we know about this world. But if you write fantasy, you can use an imaginary world and imaginary setting. And given that you are consistent with your writing...and believable...there's practically nothing that you can't develop or write about.

How did you get into epic storytelling?

[I] knew I wanted to write an adventure, but I didn't want the story set in the parameters of this world...and after I read Tolkien's work, I thought, this is the way to do it. Put it in a totally imaginary world where you can set up all the rules and the people, and you can draw parallels...where the readers will [see the connections] between what's going on in your imaginary world and what they know about the real world.

Who influenced you the most?

It's hard to pin it down because really it's your whole background of reading. I was inspired by the European adventure storywriters, Alexandra Dumas. Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott. I was an English major, so I was reading Faulkner [and] Thomas Hardy. They were all having an impact on me in some way because they told sweeping sagas of various sorts...Hardy certainly did. And although he wrote about a confined area, [Faulkner's stories] were generational sagas about families and the interaction between those people.

So there were lots of different authors that influenced me. And you sort of build those blocks that get you to a certain it's easy to say I wanted to retell the story of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and Ivanhoe. But I wanted to tell them without the historical context.

How do you begin a new epic?

There's a three-step process I use every time:

  • the dream process
  • the organizational process
  • the writing process.

The dreaming part is spending however much time it takes just thinking about everything that's going into the story - from the setting, to the characters, to the point of view, to the plot - and just playing with it. It's basically auditioning. I take my characters out, I dress them up, they read a part - and I see if l like them. If they're good, then I keep them in; if not, they go and wait for a chance to audition in the next book.

I see it like a movie in my head. [Characters] go through a part of the storyline...and by trying them out in different roles, I find out where they belong, and what it is they're about, and what the story's about. It's fragments at that point, with an overall story arc. I kind of know what I want this book to be about. I know where it starts, where it ends. I'm not sure how it's going to get there, I'm not sure who's going to influence things...that's what I'm playing around at.

When I have sufficient material to start putting the building blocks together, I go back to the outlining mode. I go back and forth, do character work-ups on paper, scene settings, names. And I do this chapter by chapter, until I have an outline in longhand on yellow paper that I feel comfortable with. It's probably not going to be the final story, but it's a starting place. Then I'll type that up and rework it yet again so I have a working blueprint. And then I'll write the story, and as I will all change again.

As you write, you get a better sense of who your characters are and what the story's supposed to be, and the blueprint just helps keep you honest about decisions you might make to change things.

I talk to writers about this a lot...I believe very strongly that if you don't have that blueprint, you're going to make some bad choices because you haven't thought it through. It's too hard to create the story and think through what it is you want it to accomplish if you haven't done some groundwork.

I think most writers will tell you they live in their books all the time. You never get out of your storyline. I may be out for an evening, but I'm thinking about that last chapter. I'm thinking about a character that isn't quite right. I'm playing around with them in my head all the time.
Which characters pass the audition?

In serial stories and generational sagas, you have the same families from one book to the next. So you know that you're going to draw your core people from those families. And you know that you're going to have some kind of conflict and resolution, so you have to decide who's on each side of the conflict. That determines who your characters are going to be when you start out.

Frankly, there has to be a connection with the characters so that what they're accomplishing with their lives, in the story, makes you care ... makes you relate to how they feel and what they're going through. Then you draw from the world - I see a particular thing happen or read something in the paper and think, how can I use this? So I'll make a note and somewhere along the line I'll bring that person in.

The biggest trick to [keeping yourself] honest about what you're doing is not to use a character just because it's a cool idea. Particularly in fantasy, there's a tendency to give characters standard the idea of the blind seer. How many times has that been done? There are certain archetypes that you can't get away from. You know there's going to be some kind of transcendent character, someone who comes of age...who makes the jump between what they know and what's true. But characters should be in a story for a reason... Everything you do should dovetail into the story...everything, including your characters, should advance the story in some positive way.

How do you avoid your work becoming fragmented as you write the epic?

Outlining has always been the key for me. If I outline the story in advance, it's cohesive before I start. It's in my head. I have it on paper, I've thought about all the plotlines and I've worked out the thematic structure. I've drawn everything in tight enough and close enough that it's not so easy to wander off the way you do when you sit there and think, hmm, I wonder what ought to happen next?

I think that's where a lot of writers fall down...because when you start writing, the problem is that the story mutates along the way. It always becomes about something more than what you first thought.

Also, practice helps! If you do it long enough, you have a sense of whether it's going the way it should. If I didn't have to write to such tight deadlines, if I had [long periods] of time between books, I would lose it all...I'd have to learn it all over again.

What happens when you get into a book and you see it needs to go a different way?

That just happened to me with this book I'm writing now. It's a middle book, so it's sort of a transitional book.

A hundred pages into it, I knew that this book was about different forms of redemption. I had no clue that was what it was about when I first started. But it became very clear, seeing where the characters were going, what they were about, and what they were doing, that it was going to talk to the reader about...the possibility of redemption.

If I see the book needs to go a different way, I look at how that [will] impact everything I've already done, and how it [will] impact the rest of the story.

That's the advantage of the outline - you can look and see exactly how that's going to impact the rest of what you were going to do. And you can make the adjustments that you need to make with a few notes. Sometimes you have to rework the outline more comprehensively. But it's less guesswork... There's less writing yourself into a corner, where all of a sudden you haven't a clue where you're supposed to go.

I wrote myself into a 450-page corner with my second book and my editor said, "I'll help you out. Throw it away." It was a terrific lesson...a hard lesson...but a very important lesson, and I never made those mistakes again.

Any final words to epic storytellers?

Patience is a virtue. Perseverance is a necessary asset to your career as a writer. If you worry about publishing more than you worry about the process, you're probably doomed.

*This interview has been reprinted multiple times for a variety of usages. Please contact
Vicki St. Clair for reprint rights.