Tags: writing


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.”

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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!

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.
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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
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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?

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.

Dark Shadows Audio Dramas

I was contacted by Big Finish to submit ideas for Dark Shadows Audio Dramas. This is so exciting. I was a fan as a kid, and ended up working for Dan Curtis during my early television years (for those who don't know, he created DS).

So they sent me several scripts, which I very much enjoyed. And I'm working on my pitches.

But I want to talk about the scripts. They very different from television scripts. They're more like short stories writing in the first person point of view. There are always 2 characters, and the story is narrated from one character's POV with dramatized scenes scattered throughout.

The writer also scripts in some sound effects and music for emphasis and atmosphere.

This is such a great fit for me. It pulls from both of my skills and feels a lot like playing rather than working! Now I just have to come up with some pitches they like, and I'll be golden.

Can you tell I'm excited?

You can check out Big Finish at Bigfinish.com. They also do audio dramas for Stargate Atlantis and Dr. Who, as well as some other shows I haven't heard of -- them being a British company and all.

Holidays are over

I'm so happy the holidays are over. Going to Florida for Thanksgiving and my Dad's B-day, then turning around and going to Texas to spend the Christmas with Paul's family, ended up being just too exhausting. My mother is still going downhill, my father needs surgery and 93-year-old grandmother had bleeding behind her eye which detached her retina. She had surgery and is now doing well.

Whew! I really used to love the holidays.

But now Paul and I are back home and I feel like I'm getting my life back. I finished the rewrite of my dragon story and set it off to Fantasy magazine. I'm rereading my novel and making some polishing changes. At least I'm still enjoying the story and the characters. And I'm rewriting another story to submit to my short story writing critique group. So I'm feeling quite accomplished after so much time away from the keyboard.

This has also been a time of surprises. Out of the blue I was contacted by some old friends from my days on Prodigy when I was part of the Dark Shadows board. I worked for Dan Curtis (who created DS) and he asked me to get on and ask a few questions of the fans. It took a while and a phone call from Jim Pierson, who handled all Dan's DS work, to convince the members that I really did work for Dan. But I made some great friends there and even met some at a convention.

I lost track once I got staff jobs writing for TV. I simply didn't have the time to keep up. Now, out of the blue, Craig Anderson found me and convinced me to sign up for Facebook in order to get back in touch with my old friends. And guess what, one of them happens to be brother to Bob Angell's half sister. Small world!

Ending a Novel

To go a long with my last post, I was talking about my reaction to ending my novel with my Plotbusters critique group. It was an interesting conversation with Pari Noskin Taichert saying she had the same kind of reaction each time she ended a novel.

Then Pati Nagel sent out this link:


It's a terrific article about the psychology of finishing a novel. Thanks, Pati!


So, what did you do today, Debbie?

Why, I finished the new ending of my novel.

You did! Congratulations..

Why thank you. It's kind of strange, though. I don'te really feel like I actually finsihed it. Now I know I've got some cleaning up to do and everything. But geez. I finished it. Shouldn't I be celebrating or something.

Why aren't you?

Um... I'm really happy. I think it's a kick-ass ending. Much better than the old one.

So why aren't you celebrating?

I think I'll go get that Red Stripe out of my refrigerator and celebrate right now! In honor of Bob Angel, Jeff Spock and all my other CW pub crawlers! Yay!