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Jul. 11th, 2010


Clarion West Write-a-thon Week 3

I made my goal again this week! I'm very pleased because I had a lot of distractions -- first grading two classes worth of final essays, starting two new classes that I've never taught before, and having Paul come home from California for long weekend. But even with all these distractions, I never forgot that I have people sponsoring me and I have an obligation to meet my goals for them, for Clarion West and for myself, because after all this is really about pushing me as a writer.

Most of you know that I my writing career is mostly comprised of writing one hour drama for television. (You can find details at my website dlynnsmith.com) A number of years ago I wrote a spec television pilot called, "Beyond the Veil." When I was thinking about my next novel, it occurred to me that the story of Beyond the Veil would make a great novel. I loved the premise and the main characters. I already had six episodes worked out, so it would be easy to turn this book into a series if I was so lucky as to sell it.

Beyond the Veil is about a young woman, Cassandra (Cassy) Zeh who used to be an investigative reporter, but was discredited for doctoring one of her photos. Around the same time, her adopted mother is found murdered and her father is accused, and convicted of the crime. He is incarcerated in a mental health facility for the criminally insane.

Cassy has a dark history that includes visions, voices and attempted suicide. When she decides to return to her childhood home where all this took place, her cousin Alex Kelly is concerned and decides to stay in the guest room for a while, just to make sure she doesn't have another breakdown. Lord knows enough has come down to cause one.

This is the background at the beginning of the novel. Since Cassy is adopted, you can figure that her mysterious origins will come up and become an important part of who she is to become. But I guess the most important thing you need to know right now is that when Cassy is offered a job at "Beyond the Veil" magazine, she returns to her roots and digs out her old, film camera. When she looks through the view finder, she sees through any glamour or magic that hides supernatural creatures from us humans. Is she really seeing these things, or is she losing it again?

My basic underlying premise is if the gods were once again walking in the world of men, who would they be. Cassy and Alex begin and adventure to find out. This adventure leads Cassy to solve some of the mysteries about who she is and where she came from.

So that's what I'm working on. I'm having a great time. As I said in a previous post, I'm using the pilot I wrote as an outline. I'm not allowing myself to go back and revise at all. This has been the most freeing writing experience I've ever had. I'm having a blast just playing with the stories and the characters, letting them lead me where they will.

Many writers don't like to use outlines. I've talked to people like Charles de Lint and Jane Lindskold and they like to just sit down and work, letting the story essentially write itself. I've had some writers tell me they use a reverse outline, meaning that they outline their novel as they go.

On my three previous novels I've tried various takes on the not outlining thing and I just don't think it works for me. It makes me slow, it makes me not want to sit down and write that day.

All my teleplays and screenplays have been outlined before I wrote them. Heck, for Murder, She Wrote, my writing partner Danna and I had to write a 30 page outline for a 50 page script. All we had to do to the final script was insert dialog!

I'm finding that using a pilot as an outline isn't ideal. The structuring in a script and a novel is completely different. I've had to fully develop my characters whereas in television you leave a lot up to the actors and the director. You don't have any commercial breaks to help you change the momentum of your story.

Still, I'm so enjoying this experience. I know where I'm going. I know what I'm doing. I know my characters and my story. The parts that are missing from the script are filling in naturally as I write my chapters. I've only had one day where writing was like pulling teeth -- one day in 3 weeks, not bad. Especially when I'm turning out four chapters a week.

To hand the structuring problem I'm simply ignoring it for now. I'm not numbering my chapters at this point; I simply name them after what is happening in the chapter. Like "Cassy and Alex Explore the Attic" or "Cassy meets Tiffany Shield". This way I can play with my index cards on my board, just like I do with a script, and trying chapters out in different places. I'll also see what I'm missing, because believe me, there are some things missing. The script reads just fine, but a script does not have the kind of detail and continuity that a novel needs.

So besides having a great time turning out these chapters, I'm learning a tremendous amount about my own writing process. Yes, I need to work from an outline. I don't find outlines constraining because I know that they can change as you write, just like this script is changing as I turn it into a novel. I'm also finding out that writing without going back and revising is a wonderful, freeing experience. And I'm discovering that I am actually a fast writer. I don't know why I questioned this since Danna and I had to turn in a script on "Touched By An Angel" in four days!

Today I've put the novel aside and am finishing a short story I need to turn in to my critique group. I promised myself that if I started another novel, I wouldn't stop writing short stories. So Sundays are my short story writing days.

So I met my goal and am feeling inspired and accomplished! If you'd like to support my efforts, please make a pledge to the Clarion West Write-a-thon. You can do so at http://clarionwest.org/events/writeathon/DLynnSmith. Now here is my promised excerpt from last week's writing.

From "Beyond the Veil"

"My baby things," I said, putting down the camera. "Mom saved them."

I felt the wound in my heart gape open. I took out a soft, pink blanket. Underneath was a smaller box. Alex took it out and opened it.

"Whoa," he said.


He turned the box around to show me a stunning, emerald necklace. It had a silver chain about halfway down that attached on each side to the tail of a snake. The snakes undulated down to the front of the necklace where their heads intertwined so they would nestle in the hollow of a woman's neck. Embraced by the snakes mouths was a glittering emerald.

The moment I touched the necklace a shiver ran through my body. It was as if my cells recognized it's touch. I lifted it from the box and held it up to get a better look.

"There's a note," said Alex. He picked up a piece of beige parchment and unfolded it. "To Whom It May Concern. This is my daughter, Cassandra. I love her with all my heart. But her mother is a danger to her and I must give her up to save her."

Alex looked at me but I couldn't meet his eyes. I was stunned. I'd always been told my parents had died when I was born.

Alex went back to reading. "This necklace is her legacy. One I hope she may never face. Tell her she was her father's greatest joy and that losing her will be his greatest sorrow."

Alex turned the note over. "That's all there is."

I couldn't speak. My mind seemed to have shut down. I stared at the necklace trying to make sense of a world that had been turned all around a couple of times now.

Alex put the note back in the box. I handed him the necklace. Then I picked up my camera, got up and walked downstairs. I didn't how many more surprises I could take.

Jun. 28th, 2010


Week 1 - Clarion West Write-a-thon

Before I talk about my progress this week, I want to talk about friendship. At both Clarion West and Stonecoast, the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Southern Maine, I made some great friends. Some I've kept in touch with, some not so much. But that doesn't mean they didn't impact my life or that I've forgotten them.

I just found out that one such friend from Stonecoast, AJ, sponsored me for the Write-a-thon. This was a great surprise and it really touched my heart. Thanks, AJ.

Okay, I didn't meet my 4 chapter goal this week. I did, however, write. I wrote a detailed first Act of a new screenplay I'm working on. Horror, of course. I also rewrote the first part of a horror short story, though rewrite is used rather loosely here since I'm completely changing up the entire story.

I wrote one chapter of my novel. I could have done more, but I went to Las Vegas for a long weekend. My dad was there from Florida for a Kiwanis convention and it was my only chance to see him this year. So Paul and I met up in Vegas. I spend time with my dad, had a massage and worked a little, but mostly played. Paul won 3 place in a poker tournament at the Venetian! It paid for our trip.

I was working on the novel on the way home today, so I've already started on my goal for this week. I plan to get those 4 chapters written this week!

I'll talk more about what the novel is about next week. For now, here's a sample from the newest chapter:

Aunt Ethel drew herself up in what was supposed to be an intimidating pose. “Step aside.”

“Gladly,” I said, putting out my hand. “As soon as you return my property.”

“These books have been in my family for generations.” She waved an large, leather bound volume at me. “My name is inscribed within these pages.”

“So is mine,” I said.

The color drained from Ethel’s face. “She wouldn’t have dared.”

“Look for yourself if you don’t believe me.”

Ethel stared at me a moment. Then she sat down all the books but the family Bible she’d been waving around. She opened it up. I knew what she was seeing. I vividly remember the day my mom called me into the library and showed me that Bible. I was ten years old.

“This Bible has belonged to my family for a very long time, Cassy,” my mother told me. “Everything a girl child is born into the family, her name is inscribed in this book.”
There were two pages of names there already. Some on the first page were so faded you could barely read them.

“The Bible is usually passed down to the eldest, but my mother didn’t want my sister Ethel to have it. She felt I was better suited to protect the family line.” She opened a drawer on the desk and pulled out a fountain pen. “So now it’s my turn to write down a name.”
I looked at my mom, frightened, confused and somewhat in awe. “But I’m not your real daughter. You didn’t born me.”

Mom took my chin in her hand and made me meet her eyes. “You ARE my real daughter. Even more so than if I had given birth to you because I chose you and you chose me. Family isn’t about whose blood runs in your veins, Cassy. It’s about what’s inside here,” she tapped me lightly on my chest, “...and here.” She tapped my head. You are more family to me than my sister ever was.

Then she took the pen and inscribed my name in the Bible. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I belonged somewhere.

When she was finished, she blew on the page to dry the ink. “Now when I am gone,” she said, “It will be your job to protect the family line. Someday, you will inscribe your daughter’s name under yours.”

Aunt Ethel slapped the book shut. “Evelyn went too far.”

If you'd like to sponsor me, please go to -


Every little bit helps support talented writers of speculative fiction in the goal of honing their craft.

Jun. 20th, 2010


Clarion West Write-a-thon

Clarion West is an intensive six-week workshop for writers preparing for ¬pr¬ofession¬al careers in science fiction and fantasy, held annually in Seattle, Washington. I attended CW in 2004 with 16 other talented writers. Many of us have gone on to publish short stories and poetry. Two people from our class, Brian Conn and Anil Menon have published novels. If you would like to see a now out of date list of my classes accomplishments, go to http://www.brianconn.net/cw2004/cw2004.html and scroll down. I know you'll be impressed.

Today is the official beginning of the Clarion West Write-a-thon. - just like a walk-a-thon, but with words. I have pledged to write 4 chapters of my new novel a week -- a rather daunting goal. Your tax-deductible donation goes to fund future writers of speculative fiction.

You can see my write-a-thon page here - http://clarionwest.org/events/writeathon/DLynnSmith. If you don't feel like pledging money for my efforts, you might consider one of the many other fine writers listed here:http://clarionwest.org/events/writeathon/2010.

I'll be posting weekly updates (maybe more, who knows) on my progress here on my blog. I'll also be posting excerpts from my work each week. But you must be kind -- remember that I'm trying to turn out 4 chapters a week!

So I'm off to work on Chapter 2 -- Chapter 1 is already in the can, to quote from my television days. I hope you'll follow my progress and find it in your wallet to donate to this great cause.

Nov. 9th, 2009


Deja Vu

It's been so long since I posted here. I had to read my last post and I had serious deja vu.

My second Dark Shadows script, "Final Judgement", recorded on Saturday. And guess what, Paul and I are going to Las Vegas. I don't know what the connection between DS and LV is -- I'm going to have to explore that one.

"Final Judgement" pits Josette and Angelique against each other in a ghostly trial. I wanted to play with this confrontation between the light and the dark. I wanted to see Josette and Angelique go after each other, something we never really saw in the original series. I won't tell you who wins. Hopefully the CD will be out by Christmas.

Apr. 2nd, 2009


Las Vegas

Okay, the Dark Shadows script was turned in on Tuesday and now I can do my promised blog on my trip to Las Vegas.

Paul and I left on Saturday morning. We decided to stop at Acoma Pueblo on the way, spend the night in Flagstaff, then drive the rest of the way on Sunday.

We love the drive down 40 through New Mexico and Arizona. It's so beautiful with wide open vistas and the peculiar colors of the desert. It was actually very green. My father, who lives in Florida, would laugh at that. Green for us is a sage color grass that covers the desert floor.

The drive back to Acoma was amazing. There were huge red rock outcroppings that looked like they'd just been dropped in the middle of the desert. In the distance you can see all the flat-topped mesas. This is Indian land -- you can't take pictures without permission (which means buying a permit). You can feel the energy shift as you drive -- yeah, this is also sacred land. Spectacular.

At Acoma we visited their new museum with it's display of pottery. Acoma happens to be my favorite of the southwest pottery with it's black, white and orange geometric designs. Then we took "condense" tour of the pueblo, which mean we got to go to the top of the mesa and visit the old church. Our guide, Gary (who's real name I can't pronounce) was wonderful and filled us in on the history of the graveyard (you should see the view from the graveyard!) and the church. It's not a pretty history, but I'm not going to get into it here. I will say, however, that the priest built his church over the Kiva, the pueblos sacred ceremonial place. So yes, we were on sacred ground.

We had a wonderful lunch at the cafe there -- steak and shrimp for $10. That came with potato, vegies and desert. It was really yummy. I expected less -- you know, like cafes at tourist spots. Instead we had the chef coming out to check on us and see if we were enjoying our meal. It was great.

By the time we left, all the angst and tension I'd been carrying around from the time Paul was diagnosed with prostrate cancer to the time I went home for my mom's memorial service, had slid away. Sacred energy is like that. It grounds you. It helps you find peace.

So on we went to Vegas.

We stayed at the Flamingo because that's where we got married and we got a great deal for a great room. I really like the Flamingo. Paul went off to play in some poker tournaments and I turned on my computer to a) grade final papers of my Axia writing students and b) work on the Dark Shadows script. Five minutes later my monitor on my laptop went down! AHHHHHHHH. The hotel wanted 75 cents per minute to work on their computers. The great flat screen TV in our room had the menu feature turned off so we couldn't hook my computer up to it (though we tried, oh how we tried). Finally I had to face the fact that I wasn't going to get any work done that week, and I'd have to grade two classes worth of papers and finish my script in 4 days after we got home.

Bette Midler made it all worth it.

I had two role models growing up. Both were very strong women who went after what they wanted even though life seemed against them. Both of these women taught me to dare to dream and to actually go after that dream. One was Barbra Streisand. I got to see her in concert. I couldn't talk about it for 3 days without crying.

The second was Bette Midler. She sang The Rose. I cried. I love the movie, I adore the song. I even wrote the song into a Touched By An Angel script for Della Reese to sing. I love Della and her voice, but The Rose is a difficult song to sing. It's basically the same thing over and over. The singer has to make it interesting. No one does it better than Bette.

Her show was a bit like a vaudville act. She did her Delores the Mermaid and Soph the oldest Showgirl. Hilarious. But my favorite part was when she just came out on the stage alone and sang. God, what a voice. I cried.

Favorite line: When I started out my audience was on drugs. Now my audience is on medication.

Favorite moment: Bette sitting on the end of the stage playing the ukulele and singing to close the show. Of course she came back and did Wind Beneath My Wings. I cried.

Okay, so then we signed up to go to a timeshare presentation so we could get Phantom of the Opera tickets for $40. They had several shows you could chose -- one of the was Donny and Marie. I wanted to go to them but Paul nixed that! Just like he nixed Tom Jones (he wasn't there that weekend anyway). So we chose Phantom. At noon the day of the show Paul entered at tournament. At 7:30 I went to see Phantom by myself because Paul was still playing!

Phantom was amazing! The special effects, the voices, the dancing. I was totally entranced. When I got out of the show, Paul was waiting for me. He won the tournament! Whoo hoo. Worth missing a show for, especially since he'd seen it in London many years ago. We had dinner -- well they had dinner I had dessert -- with a husband and wife from London who were also in the tournament. They were great fun and we exchanged info.

Somewhere inbetween all this I went down to have dinner in the Flamingo by myself and met an older man in line (72) who was also alone. His friend had gone off with a women he'd met on the Internet. So Jack and I had dinner together. He was very interesting. From Nebraska (I don't think I ever met anyone from Nebraska before) he used to raise race horses. He never did the big circuit, but he did reasonably well. He also used to do long distance trucking. He'd just lost his wife in October and this was his first trip away since then. She'd been ill a long time, like my mom. And like my dad, he took care of her at home.

While we were sitting there, Paul called. He and his friend Pete (magician, poker player) had just lost their money and was on their way back. I told them they could join Jack and I in the cafe. "Jack?" Paul told Pete that I pick up strays. Hm. I guess. I just find people interesting.

Some tips. When going into restaurants, ask if they have specials which aren't on the menu. At the HardRock, the restaurant there has the 777 deal - Steak and grilled shrimp for $7.00. Yummy. Not every place has it, but many do. You have to ask.

Blueberry Hill has great breakfasts. It's not on the strip, but it's worth the drive.

On the drive home we saw antelope, deer and elk. It was a perfect end to a perfect trip. Except, of course, for my monitor. I think the universe just decided I needed a vacation.

Mar. 12th, 2009


Dark Shadows

I've done a lot of different kinds of writing -- teleplays, screenplays, short stories, novels, essays.

Now I'm writing an audio drama for the 60s cult classic Dark Shadows. How totally cool is that?

I used to work for Dan Curtis before I actually got a staff job on Dr. Quinn. I loved working for Dan. Not only did he create Dark Shadows, but he produced and/or directed Trilogy of Terror (remember Karen Black getting chased around by the little Zuni doll?), Night Stalker (the movies, not the series) and versions of Dracula, The Portrait of Dorian Grey and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Not to mention he won an emmy for direction Winds of War -- or was it War and Remembrence.

But I digress. When I was 8-years-old I used to run home from school to watch Dark Shadows.

So I was contacted about a month ago to write for Big Finish, who does the DS audio dramas. I turned in two pitches, they liked both but chose a Willie/Angelique story first. I did a treatment. They sent me scripts to study.

Now I'm working on the scripts. It's a combination of a teleplay and a short story. There are only two actual characters (all recorded by the original actors -- so Lara Parker and Johnny Karlan in my episode). The story is told from the point of view of one characters (Willie) so there's a lot of internal dialog.

It's different from writing a teleplay because there are no visuals. So if I want to describe a place or a person, I have to put the words in the character's mouth. And all the monologue part is written in past tense. There's no setting the scene in a descriptive paragraph. It's more like a short story because you're in your character's head, hearing his thoughts.

It is like a teleplay because you are writing established characters and have to be true to their voice. There are some real fans out there who will bust me big time if I make Willie use proper Queen's english.

When there are characters other than the two designated for this episode, their actions and dialog are once again filtered through the POV character. So if I write actual dialog, Willie will be imitating these characters. This seems to go against the show don't tell rule.

In the audio drama I also have to put in sound effects. Josette's theme is one of my favorites. Also the sound of howling dogs whenever Willie starts to remember Barnabas.

There's lots of atmosphere in these scripts. Once again it is written in the POV of the main character. You might be saying that you do the same thing in a short story. But this is different because this is a first person account that is actually going to be spoken by that character. So you're really doing all of the above in dialog -- remember audio drama. No words on a page. No visuals on a screen.

It's a very interesting learning curve. I'm having a great time writing this script. Every day I go back and have to rewrite what I did the day before -- whether it's because I slipped into the present tense in the monologue like I would in a teleplay, or that I wrote some stuff in dialog which should have been in monologue.

Don't you just love learning a new style of writing!

And let me just say once again -- I'm writing a Dark Shadows script! Yippee!

Mar. 11th, 2009


Fighting with the Psyche

Does anyone else have this problem?

I'm writing along -- have a great time, really into the story, feeling like a WRITER!

Then I come to an end of a section. It could be the end of a chapter or just a break within the chapter. And my minds says, "Okay, we're done." and shuts down.

What the F****. We are not done. I've got 10,000 words to write by the end of March and a piddling 1,000 isn't going to make it.

So I guess I'll go have lunch, and come back to write after. Maybe that will fool my psyche into thinking that it's a new day of writing.

Mar. 10th, 2009


Why We Write Part II

I really appreciated everyone's thoughts on my pevious post about the story in my mother's file cabinet.

I was leaning toward rewriting it -- after the initial emotions wore off. I flew back to Albuquerque in time for Pat Murphy to fly in. She stayed with me for the weekend.

I told her about finding the story in mom's files, and suddenly realized I'd written the story at Clarion West and Pat was my teacher that week. She remembered the story. Okay, that's not quite right. She remembered the symbols in the story. Two big symbols. Two? Oh my god she was right. I was so focused on one of the symbols -- the labyrinth -- that I'd missed the second -- the house. The story is even named for the house.

So we talked about it and some missing pieces fell right into place. So yes, I am going to rewrite the story. The first version was for my mother. The next

Feb. 20th, 2009


Why do we write stories?

As most of you know, I'm in Florida helping my dad after my mother's death. We've been going through things, making surprising discovers like the hoard of silver coins mom had in the back of her filing cabinet.

In that same file drawer there was a folder with geneology information. And in that file, along with birth and death certificates, notes on ancestors, etc., was a manuscript of one of my stories, The House On Hudson Run.

I wrote this story back at Clarion West in 2004. It is about a woman who looses her mom and dad in an auto accident, and returns to the family home, full of grief and regret, to get it ready to sell. In the garden she finds a hidden labrynith. One stone has the name of her mother, one has the name of her grandmother.

It's about letting go of grief and embracing the joy of life. The entire thing is based on my life with my grandmother and mother. The house on Hudson Run is the house I always look back on as 'home'.

I sent it to my mother, because it dealt with my grandmother's death of Lou Gehrig's disease. Actually it deals with generations of women's pain. My mother read the story and called me. She said it was like I had been inside her head and heart, that I wrote her feelings with such perfect accuracy. She couldn't believe that I could capture her pain so well when I was only 9 years old when my grandmother died.

I never sold that story. I'd been thinking about pulling it out and reworking it again.

Finding the manuscript in my mother's files made me stop and think about why we write the stories we do. There is a lot of emphasis on sending them out to be published -- and I'm a huge proponant of that. That's a good thing. We spend so much time and energy on our work we should get it out there so other people can read them.

But that's not why we write the stories. We write because we have something inside us that really needs to be expressed, even if it never seems the inside of a magazine or book.

And maybe, just maybe, we write stories because there's someone else who needs to read it, to be moved by it, and to help a healing process.

I sent my mom most of my stories. Well, not my horror, but my spiritual (as opposed to religious) work. I wrote about my grandmother and her garden in another story which was published in After Hours many years ago. Mom didn't keep those manuscripts.

So am I going to rework The House On Hudson Run? I don't know. I sort of feel like it's fulfilled it's purpose. And yet it's against my nature to just let a story go without trying to make it better and get it out there. What do you all think?

Feb. 2nd, 2009


Writers second-guessing themselves

As many of you know, I'm writing some audio dramas for Dark Shadows. I'm totally jazzed about this. I loved DS, loved working for Dan Curtis and love the fans with whom I've become acquainted.

I was sent some scripts. They were great -- right up my alley. A combination of short story writing and television writing. Very atmospheric and creepy.

But now I have to come up with some pitches. So I order videos and start having a DS marathon, which I'm totally enjoying. The acting was really good -- even allowing for the flubbed lines and the problems with shooting a live tv show in the 60s.

So I wrote up two pitches and sent them off. One of them I questioned sending because it was too close to the original show and the people at Big Finish are looking for -- well, I'm still figuring that out.

I sent the pitch anyway. The first pitch was way better, much more creative.

Which one did they flip for -- right, the second pitch. And with their notes on it, I'm flipping for it as well.

You'd think I'd learn this lesson by now. When Danna (my writing partner at the time) and I were pitching for Murder,She Wrote after it had been on the air for 10 seasons, we came up with a list of ideas. I had one -- a vampire comes to Cabot Cove. I didn't want to pitch it. I thought they'd never go for it. But Danna talked me into it. And yes, they bought it. The next season we pitched a ghost ship sailing into Cabot Cove harbor. They bought that one too.

So many times we writers try to out-think the people, whether they be editors, producers or whatever, who are going to buy our work. And you know what? You can't. If I hadn't sent in that second pitch I'd probably would still work on the second one, but they wouldn't have been as excited about it and who knows if it would have actually made it into production.

So the moral of the story is, send your stuff out. Don't try to second guess what the people out there buying want. Yes, look at guidelines and read the magazines. Don't send a horror story to Analog. But if you find yourself saying, "Oh so and so wouldn't like this," slap yourself up alongside the head and send that puppy out. You just never know.

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