Summertime Movie Rush – Godzilla

I know it’s a good movie when I feel like this. When we walked in the theater, the rain was coming down and the sky was dark, but it fit the mood of the story. For two and a half hours I’m swept away by chaos, perfectly orchestrated tugs on my heartstrings and a story that peeled back its secrets one minute at a time. I know the heroes are going to win, even though the apocalyptic city skyline is crumbling around them, and in the end I feel like I’m standing with them in the victorious aftermath. When I get out of the movie theater the sun has come out and the humidity of the storm has made my hair wild and my eyeliner is smeared, smoky, and careless, and it reminds me of when I was thirteen. At 3:05 on a Friday in 1980, I jumped on my bike after school and rode a mile to the Northridge Mall. Not for one second did it seem sad that I was going alone–it was Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and I didn’t need any company. Besides, that year I was a freshman caught between a group of friends who tolerated me so they could feel better than someone else and another group of friends constantly on the edge of things I didn’t want to be a part of. When I sat in the theater I wasn’t lonely–I was with a story that I loved and an experience that stayed with me for years afterwards. I barely noticed the bike ride home, still sucked into light sabers, Luke Skywalker and a hopeless rebel cause.

I’m not saying Godzilla was as good as Star Wars, but it managed to make me feel that summertime blockbuster nostalgia, where the present has all the best tinges of the past and the future holds the possibility that I could be a part of something epic and grand. Zombies, Godzilla, vampires…whatever.

Sigh. Manic movie rush–good stuff.

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Alyssa and Eileen logo for blog

EILEEN

So the above conversation pretty much sums up how we worked together as writers. We instant messaged a lot while we collaborated and the little bit of lag time in an instant message is just enough to highlight how weirdly in sync our minds could be.

Initially when we decided to write a book together we had the luxury of an unfortunate back surgery to assist us.

ALYSSA

Yes, you’re welcome. I broke my back, and my mother had to fly out to Idaho to take care of my children and me.

EILEEN

She’s a method writer. She likes to really FEEL the pain of a story. So anyway, her disc exploded and I flew out to make sure no one died while she scheduled surgery and recuperated. No one died. I was successful. And we also got to hash out the details.

ALYSSA

You can’t squander a writing opportunity. And initially, Mom came up with this idea. I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t 100% on board at first. I was excited by the idea of writing with her, but paranormal is not a genre I would have picked on my own. Fortunately, we’re awesome, and we picked it up pretty quickly.

EILEEN

I would like to point out how excruciating I made the whole planning process. But Alyssa knew that for this collaboration to work we couldn’t just do a chapter-by-chapter approach. So she tortured me with poster board, a whiteboard in the BYU library, and other stuff. There were scraps of paper and crayons. I think our next step was playdough. So I could feel creative.

ALYSSA

I still have those poster boards.

We’re actually very different writers, and I think that is what made this work. I like to plan things out, and she likes to go by feel. So if I forced her to lay out a framework, she was able to fill it in with her genius. And she came up with the whole idea of the book to begin with.

EILEEN

She keeps saying that but it was an equal collaboration. Her voice is truly so much fun to read and it’s so fresh. I loved reading her chapters.

ALYSSA

Perk of writing with your mother. You get showered with compliments every time you fart (haha! I should correct you but I’m laughing.) out a few words. It’s brilliant. So okay, there were positives because we like each other. What was hard about co-writing a book?

EILEEN

Well, the planning. I’ll just keep repeating that. Finding our way through the story. Actually, it was incredibly easy to write off each other. I especially loved the scenes where you would write Morgan and I would write Jack. I loved not having to figure out what she would say. Because I could never voice her the way you did.

ALYSSA

That was really cool. If we had time to write together, the scenes always felt more authentic. Although I will say it took a lot of getting used to because I never had anyone WATCH me write things. That’ll put hair on your writer chest.

That is SO true. There was no comfort zone, really. We’ve seen each other’s work in all the stages, from raw to polished to corny to flat to cheesy to anything in-between. Oh, and don’t forget the dreaded “unintentionally humorous.”

ALYSSA

So embarrassing! It definitely toughened me up a little bit. And we wrote in Google+ Documents so that we could both have access to the same document at all times. Thank goodness for that.

EILEEN

We would read each other’s chapters out loud so we could ferret out all the stuff that needed work.

ALYSSA

Oh, it was so painful sometimes. Like I’d have to brace myself sometimes before we started reading a chapter out loud. “Please be good, please don’t have something stupid in there…” And this is with my mom, the woman who thinks everything I do should win the Pulitzer. I can’t imagine doing it with someone even more harsh than that. Not that she went easy on me…

EILEEN

There is something about hearing your written prose coming out of someone else’s mouth that is terrifying. For some reason we would always start out with a silly conversation and then put on our serious writer’s hats and jump in. Late Night Alyssa is always the best (Oh Late Night Alyssa is not at all productive. But she is fun). After a bunch of LOL-ing we would start a sentence like, “The night deepened as her grief set in.” Or whatever. That’s not a real sentence, but you get the picture. We wouldn’t even be in the mood, just going in cold. Scary.

ALYSSA

I was more harsh, I think. COMMA POLICE. But for real, if you want to measure the readability of your work, have someone else read it out loud.

EILEEN

Speaking of commas, <cough> we definitely complimented each other’s strengths and weakesses. She’s got this great, young, descriptive voice.

ALYSSA

Yes! I’m very wordy, and she’s more succinct. So she pared me down a lot, which was very useful. And I helped with her comma phobia. (What is it you have against those little guys anyway?)

EILEEN

We have to use them sparingly. We might run out. So I’m like the exploding action flick and she’s the rom-com. It turned out to be a great combination.

ALYSSA

Because both are good in a Young Adult novel, I think. And as well as we seem to get along NO YOU DID NOT just start writing the same thing I was going to.

EILEEN

And there were times when we had heated arguments.

HAHAHAHA!!

We can’t even put this in order because we wrote it simultaneously, but we both came up with the next line of thought at the same time. We’re not making this up.

ALYSSA

We’re really not. So as WE were saying, as well as we get along, there were still lots of arguments. This woman. People, if ever there was one writer obsessed with constantly rewriting things, it is my mother. She was constantly calling or sending me messages like, “I came up with a totally different but still awesome plot!! We need to rewrite EVERYTHING!”

EILEEN

And she would always get really excited and offer to make them immediately. I just like options. I want to make sure that out of the hundred different paths, we’re on the most epic, awesome one possible. But she would get all angsty, like I had just asked her to clean her room when she wanted to go hang out with her friends or something.

ALYSSA

DUDE it was like every other day you wanted to change the integrity of the novel we had already written. It may have, if I’m being honest, been laziness that kept me from accepting every plot change she came up with. But still. We had a few disagreements on that issue, but we worked through it in the end.

EILEEN

I mean, she may not love me enough to clean my dentures when I’m in a nursing home but we made it through. We’re both really stubborn and I’m a little crazy…there must be a better word…I’m uh…a free thinker, fearless, and unafraid of…changing stuff.

ALYSSA

You’re crazy.

EILEEN

Fair enough.

ALYSSA

So I think this is where we come up with a conclusion to this experience. Go ahead Mom. What’s your conclusion on writing a book with another author?

EILEEN

I would never write a book with another author unless it was my daughter. We’re bizarrely inside each other’s thoughts at times and then completely at odds but at the core of it all is this squishy love that keeps it all together. And it was incredibly fun and rewarding. It’s been one of my favorite life journeys so far!

Go ahead. Top that.

ALYSSA

That’s not even fair. I should have gone first. I have to agree that I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else…even my husband. We have a brainwave going on that allowed us to collaborate the way we needed to. I can’t imagine how other co-authors do it, but for us, it was all about having similar taste, but different styles. And that came together even better than I thought it would. Plus all the squishy love stuff too.

EILEEN

Ooh. Well said. You win.

ALYSSA

So because this is a blog post, we would be happy to take any questions on what it was like to co-author a book. It was a really rewarding, slightly insane endeavor, but in the end it was completely worth it. Because Plane Walker is legit. Seriously.

EILEEN

Really, that is the best way to describe it. Throw away your useless thesaurus. It’s legit. Good job, honey. You rock.

 

CATCH ALYSSA AT ALYSSAAUCH.BLOGSPOT.COM.

Alyssa Pic With Books

 

Writing the Unexpected

My husband is very good at games of strategy. I have occasionally attempted to play chess with him, and I usually lost. “Usually” meaning every time. Twenty-five years into our marriage I revealed that my strategy was to just randomly move pieces in an attempt to be…random. He said he knew. I asked if it made me more difficult to play and he responded that it didn’t make it harder, in fact, it was extremely easy to outwit someone who had no plan. Since brainless moving around the chess board is my only strategy I don’t play anymore and furthermore, I don’t miss it. It always made me feel stupid anyway.

My point is that writing a story that has unexpected elements doesn’t mean that you blindly start writing and then throw in stuff that you think the reader wouldn’t anticipate. Constructing the unexpected is a well-thought out plan. Which sounds just as unexpected as spam in your inbox, but any successful architect will tell you that sloppy planning does necessarily equal creativity. One of my favorite stories of all time is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. ImageIt was a delightful Rubik’s cube of a tale, turning and twisting and leading the reader on. There was a pay-off for every character and every clue. That could only have been accomplished because Ms. Raskin knew exactly what she was doing. It was still a lot of fun, but she pulled the strings like a master puppeteer.

I don’t know how she planned it all out

I wrote that sentence and then decided to Google the subject and find out if there was anything about this remarkable book. I didn’t even know if she was alive. She’s not. She died in 1984, right after I discovered her book. She wrote The Westing Game right after the bicentennial in 1976 and won a Newberry Award for it in 1979. To my surprise, there is an audio of an interview with her in 1979.

That was unexpected.

In the beginning of the interview she says, “I don’t outline my books. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. And I don’t know the answer because I find that would be very boring.”

That was also unexpected.

She just destroyed the entire premise of the blog article. Which is great, because I cannot plan a book out to save my life. So hearing that someone I’ve always admired doesn’t plan either is a huge relief.

It also saves me the pain of writing a blog about something I have never done well and then trying desperately to prove that it’s necessary. Hooray for research! Ellen Raskin has come to my rescue.

She continues, “There are very few writers who can outline. It’s just deadly to try to write according to an outline. You have to give your characters the freedom to tell you what’s going to happen next, to interact with each other and lead you along in the plot.”

So how did she write this amazing story?

“It’s an insoluable mystery. And what you find it out at the very end, you’ll see that it was all there from the very beginning.”

She wrote out a rough draft of 50 pages and submitted it to a publisher. She submitted the rough 50 pages because she said she didn’t want to give the editor a polished version. She knew there would be changes, and her editor did suggest many changes as she wrote it. It took two years from the time of the first draft. She changed her character’s names several times, sometimes at the suggestion of her editor. Names were very important to the story because the clues were worked into the names. If you’ve read it, it’s a brilliant, fun ride.

She didn’t say exactly how she figured out the story or that she knew exactly how it would work out, but that she had the general idea. The characters are very alive and I could see how they might lead her into the plot and the final, spectacular, very satisfying end.

So when writing the unexpected, don’t be afraid to ditch the chess board. Writing isn’t chess, thank goodness. It’s more like daydreaming of what it would be like to own your own island and you wonder if you would have a big house or maybe you’d keep it more natural and live in something small and then you wonder how the plumbing would work and then…so yeah, it’s like that. Eventually you come to something unexpected, like you live on an island in a house with a bamboo roof that plays music when it rains because each bamboo pole is a different note.

Someday I might plot out a book, I don’t know. I don’t like to rule things out. I like options. For now, however, I let the story tell me where to go, and honestly, it’s usually someplace unexpected.

Christianity In My Writing

In a recent comment about Certainty the reader wrote, “The book was a Christian read with some scifi thrown in. I liked the book though.” She stated that she liked it in spite of the Christian element. I’m glad she did, but I didn’t write the book as a statement about Christianity. Praying just happens to be what MacKenzie does when she’s troubled. That’s her character. It’s how she sees the world.

As I wrote I thought more about how MacKenzie would approach situations, not as a condemnation to those who have another way to see life. There are really girls who pray. I wanted to acknowledge them and to write about that particular way of seeing life.

I’ll admit that I find a certain light and confidence in knowing there is a God who knows who we are and understands our experiences. I would wish that light and confidence for everyone, but I have a deep, profound respect for free will. It is a beautiful, glorious and sometimes tragic thing. I’m not here to force you to change your way of thinking. I’m okay with you finding your own path.

If you find something beautiful about the way MacKenzie worked through her problems, I would love that. If I’m criticized for writing about someone who prays, that’s okay. In the end, the important thing is that I wrote with honesty.

Layer Writing (or seat of your pants writing)

All stories were born in ink, solid and immutable, their plots, characters and destinations known the moment the writer gets them on the screen.

That is a lovely fantasy. In reality, characters are born in one paragraph and die with the delete button without anyone ever knowing. The same with subplots, irrelevant taxi scenes, random villians and other screwy things that the writer’s brain barfs up.

ImageI can’t plot things out ahead of time. I’ve tried but like a lung transplant from a raccoon it never takes. I wake up everyday wondering what the heck I’m going to write next. It’s a wonder I get any sleep with all that suspense.

I write in layers. First I start off with a scene or an idea and I let ramble. It rolls along, morphs and mutates with time. There are a few core ideas that remain throughout the story, but the rest is all a delightful sucker punch. Sometimes writing a one paragraph teaser helps me stay on track, and sometimes afterwards I’ll go back and rip entire characters and subplots out, shaping the story until I get it the way I want it.

This is a crazy, stupid, insane way to make a book but it’s how I manage to create a book in the first place. There are a few important things that anchor the whole chaotic process. Number One: Have a working crap-o-meter that detects bad writing, flimsy plots, unlikeable characters and artificial sounding dialogue. Number Two: Be ruthless when you detect any of this nonsense. Number Three: Give the story time to develop and allow your ideas to age and simmer.

Does this work? It does for me but it definitely takes some faith in your own ability and patience with the craft.

Happy writing, however you do it!