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NMCC Reading Series

Every year Jan Grieco puts on a reading series at Northern Maine Community College.  She brings in writers to speak to her class and to share their own writing.  Par of the curriculum of the class, a requirement, is to read in the library during April.  Your own work.  Which can be daunting at times for some young writer.  But a great experience nonetheless.  This year Jan invited Shonna Milliken Humphrey and Bruce Pratt. 

Below are the photos of the 3 days of readings. 

 

 

A Double Anniversary–9/11/2001 & 9/11/2011

11 years ago I was at Wisdom House working an 11pm-11am shift when the planes hit the Twin Towers. One of my residents, Toni Ouellette came out and said to me, “It’s World War II all over again.” Those words have stuck w/me forever. But last year, on 9/11 another tragedy struck, a massive fire in Grand Isle/Lille. We lost a huge part of our history on both those occasions, but on one of them, I was there for it. Here is what I wrote the following day and posted it on Facebook.

I think I’ve been asked 100 times what happened on 9.11.11, how did the fire start, what did I see, so to go along with the pictures and the video, here is my account of what I saw, felt, heard and recorded. I fancy myself a writer, as many know, and thought that sometimes we see these things as something that happened and forget the human experience of it. I didn’t lose anything in the fire and I think I was an observer to the action, but if we don’t share that history (His. Story.) we lose things that are precious, memories and events. So, I want to record what I felt, saw, etc. Please feel free to share it, tag someone, comment, and share your own experiences in the comment section. I’m curious to see who says what, and if anyone reads it.

Most of us go along our daily lives, nodding hello to neighbors, not getting along with a few, rolling our eyes at others – avoiding some. It isn’t until something happens – you know that something – that devastating event that seems to just bring everyone together? From neighbors who hate one another, to businesses, to people passing by, to police officers and firefighters, you know – those events. The car accidents, the loved ones lost, the floods, the fires.

I’m lucky to have the people in my life that I do. My girlfriend, Julia, my family, her family, the very few people that I count as true, close friends who know my inner workings. We get along rather well. We take my mom to the NASCAR race and Brian, Julia’s young brother, has tagged along before, making for a nice blend of family. I consider Brian my other little brother, as I have known him almost half his life and he’s been a large part of my own. Yesterday, on that Sunday that Lille will never recover from, we went to get my trike, yes, one of those three-wheeler things that are dangerous, at my Uncle Reynold’s house. Now, Brian is friends with my Uncle and he does work for Brian on his ATV’s and such. As I said, I’m fortunate to have a wonderful family, well; at least most of them are wonderful. We stopped for gas, drove home and dragged the bike out of the back of the truck; unfortunately, it still isn’t running up to scuff. Brian looked up and said, “Holy, what is that?” Julia and I both looked up and dismissed the huge puff of cloud-white smoke. “Nothing, must be someone starting a bonfire,” I told him. But then, it didn’t stop, and the air changed. I don’t mean it physically changed, at least not yet, I mean, there was something in the air, it was heavy, pregnant with heat, maybe even with fear and danger. We tried to crank the trike one more time and I jogged up to get my 4-wheeler. I started it and pointed to Brian that I was going to check out what was happening since he’d managed to coax the trike into starting and was contemplating, I saw, doing a wheelie or three. The distance is only, I would say, less than an 1/8 of a mile. I drove quickly, faster than I usually do, but I knew – somewhere in my head and heart – I knew something was happening. The don’t let it be’s began in my head, but I knew that no matter where it was, it wasn’t going to end well.

I came around a stand of pine trees on Ricky Theriault’s land and my heart stopped, and when it started again, it was marching a double timed beat and hammered in my chest. I had the forethought of parking at the back of the cemetery and pulled out my phone. I didn’t want to be in the way, being in the way was bad and dangerous.

Now, I’m one of those annoying tech people, you know the ones that have a phone that says “Bless you” when you sneeze, can be used as a Wi-Fi hot spot, post things to Youtube, Twitter and Facebook in an instant. I took out my Droid and called 911 but I instantly heard the sirens wailing and hung up. I hit the camera button and began to snap photos. I like taking pictures, I’m even good at it. I instantly uploaded them to Facebook, but I forwent typing a title, as I figured I’d have time later to do that. It was just a barn fire after all. Before my next picture, someone had asked where this was. The amazing thing about social networking is there is always someone online, someone plugged in, via computer, phone, Android, Blackberry or iPhone. I answered one person, not sure I even typed the name of the place right. I continued to take pictures as I walked, I didn’t have time to answer questions, someone else would fill in the blanks. That was when I felt it.

There is no picture, however, that can convey the smell of the wood being consumed like a meal by the flame, or the scent that it leaves in your clothes, or the stain it leaves on your heart. Or the heat, the heat that I felt from the middle of the cemetary that made me think of the hottest days in Florida. Dry, moisture-raped air that fills your lungs and forces you to swallow repeatedly. Fire drinks. It drinks the air, it drinks the wood, material that it needs to live, to feed. It feeds until there is nothing left and just a carcass, a shell, remains.

I texted Julia, who, unike me, doesn’t have her phone super glued to her hand, then her brother Brian. But, Brian is a lot like me, he had already herded Julia into his truck and was standing at my side when I shot my first video, susequently posting it on Facebook (and later on YouTube to stave off the 200 new friends I had when I got home, all of them welcomed friends, but I did feel like the girl who had won the lottery or published a best selling novel). The firefighters arrived and the water looked like a stream of glorified air hitting the fire, it was already hell bent on burning down the 1st barn, was working on the 2nd and it would be darned if it wouldn’t take the house along with it. The wind whipped and with each gust, each burst and turn of the air, we felt the heat, rising, changing, telling us how close we could get and how far to stay.

Being human, I am, by nature, curious. I darted between the trees and saw the 2nd barn, which was old, fallen down and delapitated, already raging. I didn’t growl and roar like the other was, but it was mean, and kept low. A few trees had fought hard, but the wind, fuel to the fire, had taken them and they blazed too. Cedar embers dashed and darted in the air and was heading for the old house across the streeet as if on a mission to claim victim four. That old house, once an old folks home, with stained glassed windows and falling down roof, had been a friend of mine’s home, the Fontaine’s. Treena, Sreena, Logan and the lot were great people, I count Treena as one of those people who I could talk to even if we haven’t spoken in five years and have an easy friendship with, she’s the person who will send you a message when she finds out something bad has happened and offer help, and mean it. Her husband, Ryan, is the same. She’d lived there most of our friendship, and even if the place was a falling down wreck, it was still worth something – it was worth the memories.

The couragous firefighters were trying to keep the blaze from the abandoned yellow home that was also next door to the blaze, but on the same side of the street. Brian and Julia joined me and we saw, in horror, that the porch of the old falling down run of a building across the street, was smoking. It was a white, billow smoke that took its time heading upward and away from the old Fontaine place. Firefighters, still fighting the inferno to try and save the antique shop, scurried over with fire extinquesters and seemily doused the blaze.

Or so we all thought. Minutes later, Julia raised her hand and said, “Look, there is fire in the middle window.” At first, I thought she was wrong, that it was simply a reflection of the blaze where we were standing. But the windows of the house were much to grimy with age and road dust to cast such a bright and marvoulous reflection, instead it was the fire waving a hello to the world. The fire was already on the 2nd floor of the building.

Then the other towns began to arrive. One thing you can say about Northern Maine when you need help, it is there. People who lived on my street asking if anyone needed water, food, a shirt. Frenchie’s Variety arrived with food and drink. The owners of the home were given chairs to watch the beast lap at their home, taking it down lick by agonizing lick.

The blaze began, or at least, I took my 1st picture at 3:43pm. By 4:15pm I had taken picture of the back of the house, the other barn and the new flame that had begun at the old Fontaine place, the once old folks home. We made our way to Main Street, encountering neighbors, my brother, Lee and his girlfriend Victoria, who is like my other sister, I adore her that much. We stood and watched, the air was now thick, like we were looking through clouds, the wind would bring down one of these wood scented, fire burped clouds and fill our lungs with its misery.

My mom had called to make sure we were all right, and I told her we were, at almost 70 she is a rock, but she does worry, as every mother does. Security was becoming tigher, the EMS volenteers were doing a wonderful job and we darted across the street, where the True’s, the owners of the antique store were sitting.

I went home to get my other camera, knowing that a cell phone doesn’t take great pictures, well they do, but there is something about a nice heavy camera that is reassuring and safer. Once there, my friend, Lauri, who owns Cravings, a resteraunt in Grand Isle, where we were supposed to eat supper that night, caught me on my cell. I assured her we were okay, I mounted my 4-wheeler and headed back.

I crossed the street again and found Julia. We all watched the flames extending their fingers across the power lines and towards the Beaulieu residence in a come hither gesture as if inviting the building to lean over the street for a tender lovers kiss. The Beaulieu’s have lived there for as long as I can remember, and I’m 37, and grew up that vast expance of 1/8 of a mile that I had traveled less than an hour before to find the barn on fire. At his point the firefighters had held the flame back enough to get inside of the building and were pulling out antiques that had, so far, survived. The owners moved to see what was left, it was better than thinking about what was gone, to hold dear what was still there, instead of dwelling on what was gone and going.

My teacher, mentor, friend, Jan Grieco called around this time. She was worried, as any friend would be, but she isn’t a Facebook fanatic, but her daughter, Kasey, who was one of the 1st to post and ask if I was okay, was and had called and told Jan about the goings ons. We are the two Jan’s. I’m the other Jan, and she’s Jan. We met three, maybe four, years ago when I was strong armed into reading a short story in front of what I felt was 1000 people, in fact it was under 100. It was the best arm twisting of my life. We have since then forged a wonderful relationship and I count her daughter, Kasey, as one of my dear friends. She asked how it was going, if the church was in danger and how was I? Was everyone okay? The cell phone reception was spotty, but the concern was deep and it was real. I told Jan the church was fine, but I was worried about the Beaulieu house because the Fontaine residence had gone up so quickly and it was all cedars around it. I told her I was going to go down and around by the back, via the tracks to see if I could get a better look. Just in case. She signed off but not before telling me to keep posting and that she would call WAGM if they wanted the footage.

I hung up and went around the Beaulieu’s to get some wonderful shots of the firemen low to the ground, the sun orange against the smoke, battling the blaze. It’s one of those shots that is devesatingly beautiful because it *is* beautiful, composition, what it means, but devestating because of what is loss. I found Julia again and told her where I was going, human curiosity being what it is, and I went down a long sloping back yard and up into the Gevais’ back yard. They were in their yard, watching, praying that the fire was being contained, that their home wasn’t next. That the hunger of the flame might be staving, dying out. We talked, while I took pictures of the billowing smoke, almost pretty, decevingly gorgeous against the blue of the sky and the sun that was filtered through the smoke, making it a bright, almost charming orange. I saw a friend of mine, Ricky Theriault arrive and I made my way back across the street, darting in places I shouldn’t have been, elated at getting away with it. He had his machinery, Rick owns backhoes, payloaders, trucks, shovels, all those toys. I later learned that he had virtually flipped his truck in his hurry to get to the scene, knowing that every second counted.

Ricky is one of those guys. You know the ones, the ones that is always smiling, always with great humor, always working and always, always the guy who says, “Yeah, I can do that for you.” And do he did. The burning former Fontaine residence didn’t look very menacing, just a few casual licks of flaming fingers poked out between broken boards and shattered windows. I took pictures, I recorded. It was important, a large slice of history was being chewed away before us. When the bucket hit the wall the 1st time a peek of the monster inside glared, the 2nd and 3rd revealed him, angry at being found before being able to damage more, to eat more, to destroy. Ricky gallently, and I don’t say this to make him seem like a knight in shining armor, I say this because all that stood between him and that flame was a single pane of glass and good luck. The machine bucked and crawled into the building, lifting, breaking, revealing. The water began to beat back the flames, and I can only image what it was like for Ricky.

Ricky had no mercy. He had an agenda and knowing Ricky he wasn’t stopping until he was done. He didn’t want the fire to spread to the other homes, into those cedar trees that were allies to the fire, carrying it to buildings and rooftops in winking delight. It was growing dark by then and Julia had gone home with Brian, hungry, tired, releived it wasn’t our house. That’s one resounding thread I heard from 4pm to 930pm last night, “I’m so sad for them, it could have been me.” I thought the same thing as Ricky emerged from the front of the house and set his sights on the back end. Later, in talking to Ricky, he revealed that the chimeny had fallen and he’d been rewarded with a lap full of bricks. That window, that glass that was his only protection, had been taken away from him, but his good luck remained, and he’d continued to fight the wood and give the surrounding homes a fighting chance.

My phone at this point, the life line, the source, the thing that seemed to have made me oh so popular, was dying. The power was out and I headed home to a dark house, my girlfriend, and Brian. I went to my car, and did what I never do, started it and let it idle. I plugged my cell phone in, turned it into a wireless hub and connected my laptop. In the darkness of the car my smoke filled clothes poked at my nose and the bright glare of the computer played like firelight in my windows. I uploaded close to 200 pictures of the fire that I’d taken with my Canon Rebel, a gift from the woman I love. I answered the what felt like hundreds of messages on Facebook, and even a few emails when the lights came on. I finished what I was doing and we all sat in the living room, looking at the pictures, reading the comments, and letting the adrenaline of the day ebb away.

Brian left, the road not opening until 9 when I got a message from Victoria to go make sure that my brother, Lee, who had stayed to assist Ricky if he could, had eaten. I packed a peaunut butter and Jelly sandwhich and an orange soda (don’t judge) and headed back over there on 4-wheeler. His car was gone and before I could message Victoria, she’d messaged me that he was at my mother’s, eating and safe. I milled around for a while, mostly all that was left doing the same thing I was were fire fighters and EMS workers. A friend, Laura, whose husband, Corey had asked me via Facebook if I’d seen him and I hadn’t. In talking to Peter Laplante and Tonya Corvieau I found out that no one had been hurt, then I saw Corey and jokingly told him I was going home, right now, to message his wife. He smiled and told me she would be relieved to know he was okay, and she was. I went home to a safe bed, a person who loves me and went to sleep. My day ended but the firefighters and EMS workers were there until late in the night and were back again this morning.

The impact of a fire spreads like it’s flames, touching many more people than imaginable. What impacted me the most was the loss of history in those buildings, the loss of people who dwelled there, just a loss. On MemoryMaine.com there are several old photoes of those buildings, those exact buildings with their intricate wood work, and slat wood boards, the angles giving off tricky shadows in the black and white photos. We lost people who lived in Lille, ran a business there, loved their lives there. We lost four buildings. What we gained, oddly enough, is a sense of community. I spoke to people I haven’t seen in weeks, months, even years! I met new friends, who promtly added me to their Facebook list to see the stunning photos of devestation there. Catastrophes often bring people together – for a short time at least. Then we go back into our own worlds or bills, relationships, handheld devices that can let you talk to someone across the pond, but does it really keep you in close contact? It does, to an extent, but real life, reality, not that fake stuff on MTV, which is suppose to play music, by the way, but life is the touch of a hand, a smile, a kind voice and the knowledge that when you need them, your friends will be there.

9.11.12 – The lot now stands vacant, and the old Fontaine house is gone, reduced to salvaged wood and a gaping hole where the cellar once was. I preferred the run down house to the void.

 

 

 

 

Video (in order of upload – some not all are here)

 

Jen Blood and Jan Grivois Q&A

Jen Blood and Jan Grivois Q&A.

Jen Blood and Jan Grivois Q&A

Greetings my faithful and rabid readers! I have on more than one occasion sang the praises of Jen Blood. I’m rather lucky to have been getting to know Jen and she’s promoting her new and damn wonderful novel Sins of the Father, the second of her Erin Solomon series. Instead of a straight forward interview (you ALL know I’m not straight) we are going to do a sweet game of round robin. I will ask a question, which Jen will answer, then she will ask me a question, and I’ll answer – so on and so forth. We are both going to try and have some fun, while letting you, the reader, learn about us as writers and as the crazy human beings we are!

Janet: With your 2nd novel out (whooohooo!) is there something you’d go back to in All The Blue-Eyed Angels and change, and why?

Jen: Holy cow, what a great question. Hmm. I went through so many revisions with Angels (it took about ten years to write that sucker) that I think by the time it finally went to print, it really was the book I wanted it to be. The layout for that first book was difficult because not only was I introducing all of these characters and their back stories, but I was also laying the groundwork for both the mystery central to that book (who set the fire that wiped out the Payson Church of Tomorrow) and the larger mystery (who was Erin’s father, and why was he with the Church in the first place) that will drive the first five books in the series. So, trying to keep things flowing and hold the reader’s interest while I was getting everything else in there turned out to be a real challenge. I don’t get a lot of complaints about the pacing, however, so I think I managed to strike that balance as well as I could have.

Because I have such a clear vision of the arc for these first five books, there’s not much room for error in terms of the placement of clues, how the characters’ relationships progress, and how much needs to happen (or not happen, for that matter) in each novel. So, I couldn’t change any of those things without compromising the whole infrastructure of the series. There WAS, however, one question I never addressed before winding up the All the Blue-Eyed Angels, that a couple of readers have asked me about. I obviously can’t say here what that question was without giving away all the secrets in Angels, but I will be addressing it in an upcoming short story I’ll be publishing in an anthology this October.

So… Overall, um, yeah. Not much I would change, it turns out! That’s gotta be a good thing, right?

Jen’s Question for Janet: Along the same lines… You’ve been writing on wattpad for a couple of years now. Looking back at your earliest pieces, are there things you would do differently? Any techniques or insights you have on writing now that you wish you’d had then?

Jan: Oh you’re so good! I’ve been on WP for 2 years on Aug 15th. I actually published some 1st draft stuff to sort of gauge what people we reading, sort of testing the waters with my little toe before I dipped my foot in. One was Dark Ridge (a vampire piece that ties in with my Kindred series (JADES and stars) the other a straight (pun intended) romantic fluff with characters that really are the younger versions in a way of Leigh Drake and Emily Black (my Girls Next Door novel characters).

So I posted a story after those two 1st drafts, J*A*D*E*S that I wrote, initially when I was 13, which was/is a lot like Angels and Sins of yours there are clues in book 1 that are answered in book 5, etc. I wrote and still do in sweeps and arches that leave you turning the page and swearing when it ends. I would change nothing, not really, since it’s gone through a gazillion revisions (I have J*A*D*E*S 1-7 written BEFORE I published them there). I just put JADES-1 on Kindle (for my fans, and for fun) that is edited, fixed, grammER-tized and with some fun stuff added (mainly the supernatural stuff and the tug and draw of Jo and Amy, had this couple seen the light of day 25+ years ago it would have been scandalous!). I think because I’ve been writing THAT for so long it’s about as good as it gets.

I think that s*t*a*r*s is technically a better story; my imagination is different as opposed to when I was 13 (I’m 38 now), but the cast is uber huge and that sometimes bogs me down, but if I kill anyone, my fans will hunt me down and I’ll have to hide in the woods with Erin’s father. Yet, Jo Wheaton (the character that everyone loves!) is still the same in s*t*a*r*s, she’s just grown, shifted, melded and is about as deep a character as I can write. I wish I’d been a better writer when I began JADES all those years ago, and since I have nightmares about editing, it’s a difficult task to do it, but my WP readers deserve the best, darn it. I am, at the moment, writing s*t*a*r*s (the final part!!!), a companion/stand-alone piece called Off The Grid, and editing my Thriller/Mystery novel The Girls Next Door. I am an insane woman!

Jan’s 2nd question for Jen: I ask this from personal experience a few summers ago. When I started writing I never did research, there was no internet, etc. How much does research figure into your writing and does it sometimes hinder or spark inspiration where your story goes?

Jens’ answer: Well, first off, I can’t wait to read your stuff. I’ve promised my mom I would edit her fanfic (yup, my mom writes fanfic) for her birthday this year, so I have a moral obligation to do that. But as soon as I’m done, I want to start reading your work!

Okay… Onto the question. Research is huge for me, as I think – particularly for the mystery genre – readers are more and more well informed about the subject matter (procedure, forensics, all that jazz). Nowadays, writers lose big points – and readers – if they don’t go that extra mile to make sure their story is as credible as possible. But, since I too started in those prehistoric days before the internet, I came up with a method so that all the research-y stuff wouldn’t interrupt my flow. Basically, when I’m just starting out of the gate with a novel, I make a list of the things I know right off the bat I’ll need to research, with pointed questions related to each subject. That usually includes things like geography, relevant investigative procedure, social history, forensics, etc. Then, for a category like geography, I’ll have a list of questions like: What significant landmarks do I want to use in the story; what route would my characters likely travel to get there; what’s the weather like during the time of year the story is set?

I set aside time to do that research, but that time is completely separate from my writerly time. When I’m writing, I don’t worry about the details. If there’s something I don’t know, I write in a question mark and highlight it so I’ll know to go back later and fill it in. That way, I don’t find myself stopping and starting sixteen million times before I get five pages written. So… In answer to your question: Research is huge, but I go to great lengths to ensure it doesn’t snuff out that all-important spark of inspiration.

Jen’s 2nd Question for Jan: I’m forever ranting about people who ask me if my character – Erin Solomon – is actually me, and I have to explain to them that fiction is, y’know, fictional. With that said, I will admit that there are certainly elements of Erin in me, and elements of me in Erin. With whom among your many characters do you identify the most, and why? Who do you most wish you were like/most admire?

Jan’s Answer: Eh merde, I get the “Are you Jo Wheaton?” question all the time, anyone who has ever met (or even chatted with) me and read J*A*D*E*S/s*t*a*r*s has asked me that and rolled their eyes when I say non. She’s short, like moi, she’s Acadian (sort of) like moi, she swear in French, like moi. I have to admit, Jo was created when I was 13 years old while I was visiting my best friend Jason in Florida and at that age, don’t we all want to be the hero, the perfect character. But she isn’t perfect, by any means, I’m rather sure she’s my most flawed character, which is why people gravitate to her, and why I’ve now written about, oh a gazillion words having to do with Jo and company.

Jo’s loyal, steadfast, smart, creative, a great lover ;), and she’s got fangs and is going to live a long, long time. What isn’t there to admire and want to be? I think each character we, as writers, create is a part of us, so that means there are elements of them that come from us. That’s what a good writer does, in my opinion, they take slivers of themselves, of reality, and mold those slivers into a whole, using elements of, not only themselves, but of people they know. Physically, if casting a movie, I’d be Jo (but a few pounds lighter and cuter, she’s got the metabolisms of a god, after all and Jesus H Christ is her granddaddy). The rest is wholly made up, oh and the fact that Jo is a raging bisexual, oh, see ANOTHER trait I share w/Special Agent Jo Wheaton, but she’s made-up I don’t bite my lover, unless they ask – nicely.

Jan’s 3rd Question for Jen: One of the biggest disappointments to me is when they cast TV shows/Movies and they aren’t even close to who I imaged in my head when I read the book, from look, to quirks, to age. (The Hunger Games NAILED Katniss for me because that actress was who I imagined the character to be from the first line of the book when it came out). Who is your dream “Cast” for your series; we all have images in our heads of our characters, so who are yours?

Jen: Oh, this is one of my all-time favorite questions – though it occasionally gets me in trouble with readers, who prefer to have their own vision of the characters. So, if you’re one of those readers, you may want to skip this.

I actually have a picture by my computer of the actors I have in mind for Diggs and Solomon. So far, Juarez has been hardest to cast… I can’t make up my mind, because he’s such a paradox. I imagine him as the kind of guy who just stops traffic, physically: tall, dark, mysterious… But then personality-wise here’s this guy who loves Top 40 music and is very rooted in that old ethos of honor and God and country. Compared with Diggs, Juarez is a very straightforward guy. I always think of Goran Visnjic when I’m writing him, because he has that wonderful combination of the dark, exotic looks, and this very open, sweet, earnest personality. Of course, Visnjic is eastern European, and Juarez is Cuban, so I don’t think that would actually work. So… Yeah. I don’t know. I welcome suggestions, though.

A couple of people have suggested Bradley Cooper for Diggs, but Simon Baker is actually my pick and has been for a long time. When I’m writing scenes, he’s the man I see saying the lines, walking the walk, talking the talk. Definitely Simon Baker. And whenever I say the actress I imagine for Erin, people are always like, ‘Really? Her?’ But… Yes. Really. Her: Amy Adams. I’m obviously not talking Enchanted Amy Adams (let’s face it, Erin has never been enchanted with, or about, much of anything), but she has awesome range and I loved her in The Fighter and Junebug and… Yeah. Amy Adams. That’s who I’m claiming – and I think she would be able to strike a balance between Erin’s hard edges and her inherent vulnerability. Not that I’ve given it much thought, you understand. J

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Jen’s Question No. 3 for Jan: You can have a confab with any writer, living or dead – including TV and screenwriters, incidentally. Who do you choose, and what would you most want to ask?

Jan’s Answer: I love Amy Adams and I totally see her as stubborn Sol!

And Oh my god! Can I have 2? Non, just one – Joss Whedon (followed by JJ Abrams). I think Joss because he’s damn fearless in his writing and his work is timeless. He has these sweeping arches (what Dollhouse could have been in season 4 still keeps me up at night before I fall asleep), leaves and plants clues like a pro and has some of the best characters ever. He peppers his work with dead-pan humor, deep seriousness, and loves music. He’s also a fanboy (Avengers anyone? Truly) and owns it. I’d ask him how he approaches writing and creating and keeps such a human element even when most of his characters aren’t always oh so human.

Jan’s 4th Question for Jen: As you know I adore your 1st and 2nd novel, where did Erin/Diggs and Juarez evolve from?

Jen’s Answer: We’re so on the same page!! I love Joss – Definitely one of my all-time favorite writers out there, and what a dream to pick his brain!

And now, onto the question… The original All the Blue-Eyed Angels was vastly different than it is today. Diggs was actually Danny, and he was Erin’s psychologist (I knew – ewwww.) But then that relationship kept getting more and more inappropriate and I was like, “Okay, there’s no possible way we can keep him as a shrink with Erin his patient, because there are clearly some things happening here.” Oh, and incidentally? Danny was the bad guy. Juarez was Erin’s high school flame, so they had this whole complicated history thing happening… It was nuts. Very soap-y. OH – And Erin was a theologian, not a reporter. I put the novel away for a couple of years after grad school, and then went back to it and looked objectively at how best to chop all the fat off and turn it into the kind of novel I would want to read. So… Scrapped the theologian angle; scrapped the whole complicated history between Erin and Juarez; and turned Danny into Diggs, a rogue reporter and Erin’s mentor. Which meant much less of an ick factor when they started knocking boots.

Beyond that, I always reference the Ellis Paul (singer-songwriter from your neck of the woods, now making it big in the Big Apple) album Translucent Soul as my inspiration for Erin, and for setting the tone both for her character and for the novel as a whole.

Jen’s Question #4 for Jan: So, clearly you have experience writing short(ish) stories, poetry, and novels. What other writing mediums would you like to try your hand at? Which is your favorite thus far?

Jan’s Answer: Diggs a shrink? So not going there, non, reporter is way better!

I write shorts, badly, I think (Okay not so badly but I’m uncomfortable writing them). I’m much too long winded for a short to have enough meat and meaning to be good and remain in your memory long after it’s read. My poetry usually stems from what I’m writing and in JADES and stars I include them in my stories, and I like freeform and like to play with placement on the page and such.

I am a novelist, oh dear god I said it, is there a Novelist Anonymous I can go to? Why am I a novelist? Because my mind thinks in those long, epic, oh my god she planted a clue on page 3 and its coming back into play on page 323 or three novels later I connect X with Y and my readers call me the cliffhanger queen on Wattpad. 50,000 words is pretty easy for me, (On a typical day I tap out 2,000 words) 50K that’s the bones of a story, while 100K is total meat and potatoes. I wrote Bloodlines two summers ago in 4 weeks, it was 65K. This summer I’m tackling a Nephilim themed novel and I’ll hit 55K in a week or so, the novel will be done before I start school at about 70K. I write – a LOT!

I want to do screenplays and may well take a class after I’m done my Physical Therapy Assistant program. I have read many, many screenplays (I have a signed Alias script, the pilot epi that I cherish), I have an ex who works in that industry and she often sends me stuff, if only to make me drool. Many people, my writers group included, say I already write in “screenplay style” so I’d like to learn that medium, if only to expand on what I do now in novels. I think the pacing in a screenplay is more important than in a novel, a character can carry a novel even when the pacing is off, while in a screenplay the character only really comes to life once the actor grabs hold of it so to keep you glued with huey bluey to the script, it better be good.

Jen’s 5th and Final Question: We all know how some people can be negative and every writer gets that “bad” feedback. How did your writing evolve, change after you got back some feedback from All The Blue-Eyed Angels? How do you deal with those scathing reviews? How do you deal with the good reviews?

Jen’s Final Answer: I think grad school kind of inured me to negative feedback, actually. For the most part, everyone there was very positive, but there were invariably those few students (it was never faculty) who believed harsh criticism was the best criticism to give. Even then, however, I’ve always tried to maintain the perspective that it’s ultimately that kind of feedback that will be the most helpful for my writing. Not that I don’t love readers who sing my praises, because I soooo do (who wouldn’t?!), and in this day and age those positive reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble are worth their weight in gold. But ultimately, I don’t learn a whole lot about what I could be doing better from those reviews.

With Angels, the few negative reviews I did get were by and large from people unhappy with my ending, because they felt the mystery wasn’t resolved and now they were gonna have to hang out waiting for a sequel. While I didn’t let that feedback dictate how the next novel was written, I definitely took it into consideration and took care to tie up a lot of loose ends in Sins of the Father, and answer at least a few of the questions readers had about Erin’s dad – all the while ensuring that there was enough left open to keep people hungry for the next book in the series. I’m always in awe of writers who say they don’t read their reviews, and don’t care what people are saying about their work. I’m not someone answering some higher call to create a great piece of Art, answering to myself and my own muse alone. I love to write, want to tell a story people will keep coming back to, and I want to make a living doing it. To me, it would be foolhardy to ignore free feedback from my readers providing insight as to what I’m doing right and what I could be doing better, to achieve those goals. Ultimately, I think the challenge of any good writer is being clear enough on her own vision to recognize when her instincts are right and she needs to stick to her guns about the direction her story is taking, and when the readers really do have a point and it’s time to reassess and adjust either the writing or the story accordingly.

Jen’s 5th and Final Question for Jan: First off, how fun has this been? (That’s not the final question, incidentally). I’m totally using this technique for future interviews on my website, what a blast. Thanks so much for doing this, and for taking the time to come up with such stellar questions!

And now, my final question: I know you’ve been studying the writing craft in a collegiate setting for a while now with my fellow Stonecoast alum Jan Grieco, but you were clearly writing for many years before that. How has your writing changed since you’ve started studying in a more formal setting? Do you find there are some writing techniques or philosophies espoused by the more “literary” set that simply don’t apply to mainstream fiction?

Jan’s Final Answer (play jeopardy tune here): This has been TOTALLY fun! I told you, it’s more work but the back and forth feels like we’re sitting at a table somewhere talking.

Actually, I’m not studying writing at all (insert gasp here), I’ve just taken a few classes. I’m a Health Care major, Physical Therapy Assistant in fact, I’ve never wanted an English degree or anything . I’ve always written because that was my release valve on life. I stopped for ten years, right after high school in 1992 and didn’t write again until 2001. I was told it was silly and that it would never get me anywhere in life. Perhaps those people were correct, who is to tell. I have taken 3 different creative writing classes, one with Geraldine Becker (in Fort Kent) Melissa Crowe (at UMPI) and with Jan Greico (at NMCC). In my 1st class I really learned how to read beyond the enjoyment, at this time I had started to write again (It’s all my wife’s fault, my muse!) and I have this problem. See, I’m French, really French and I never had any formal teaching/learning in Grammar, ever. (I call it grammER, as in error). I’m also dyslexic. Reading is a big part of writing, but I’d always done that. Then I quit school for 5years due to a whole slew of things and that brought me too…. A Lit class, with Jen Graham, and for extra credit we wrote a short story. I then had a meeting with her and this was what was said: “On April 17th, Jan Grieco’s creative writing class is going to be reading in the library, and so are you.” The short story was called I Remember. I had never met Jan before, we met, shook hands and I read (hands shaking, feet thumping the floor so hard it sounded like the Indians were ready to attack). All the while I was reading, Jan’s face kept changing, the “Holy shit this is good!” face. Then…… I had to sign up for her CW class (In 2008). I still wanted to die, Jan (the other Jan that is, not me) is brilliant, as is Kasey, her daughter and I in no way could ever measure up to them.

Jan really taught me how to craft. My story is good, it’s never been bad, but word choices, how things are scripted out – there were things I did naturally that she told me writers struggle to do, and eased me into knowing when, how, where to do those brilliant little moves. Also voice, point of view, structure, how a story can arch and crest, ebb and swell. I knew nothing of this! Then she invited me to her just formed writers group. We critique (as you’ve seen), we talk about where we want things to go, why we wrote something a certain way. I’ve learned that writing in present tense for me is better, due to how my mind thinks (in French) and I’ve really adopted into that style well. My novel, The Girls Next Door (which is in your inbox, btw) was in past tense, and we kept stalling on it, trying to see why I just wasn’t getting it to work. Finally, after reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I got it. I needed to make it present tense (and after a discussion with an ex of mine, she pointed out The Hunger Games and it totally made sense to me). Do you have any clue how hard that is to change tense? Never do it, Jen! Don’t! Do! It! I think my writing is crisper, cleaner, more defined – while in the beginning it was good, but you had to work to see the goodness – now you see the good. I’ll never be a major author, I’ll never have a best seller, but I will always have people who read what I write and say “Damn, can I read that again?”

Now I think with self-pub mainstream has changed, I think that mainstream is in for a whooping surprise at how good some self-pub writers are. I think that a lot of the old set ways are going to the wayside because, face it, readers are smarter now and with technology comes change. You don’t always have to have this sort of structured act, but if you are going to break the rule, at least have the balls to do it well. One GREAT review is gold on Amazon, but 1 BAD goes the same way. Now, you don’t always have to have an agent and a publishing house, you can be all of that – with work. Nothing comes easy! The downside to self-pub is that ANYONE can do it, but with the reviews, you can weed your way through the good, the bad and the simply oh my god ugly.

This is has been total fun, I hope my readers go and pick up Jen’s books, All The Blue-Eyed Angels and Sins of the Father (which has, I was told, a nice thank you to MOI, which I didn’t see because I was to anxious to read the book! So I have to go read that later, quit laughing ppl!) Jen also has a wickedly wonderful blog. I hope Jen has as much fun as I did, and that my readers and fans take the time to explore a new writer.

http://jenniferblood.net/

…inspiration

Years ago I started a story called Stormy Weather’s with a friend of mine, Windy.  Windy fell sick and the story went to the wayside.  I always wonder if someday we’ll revisit it.  Maybe I will, it was a sweeping epic tale set in the 70s and went back to the 50s.  The story was inspired, in a way, by pictures of the church in Lille, Maine. 

s*t*a*r*s-8 sneak peek-2

Spencer removes the blazer, then the stiff white shirt, leaving her in a tank top and her neatly pressed black pants. She makes her way to the dungeon, once there she removes her leg and generates a new one of energy. “Heavy bag,” she calls out. The moment the bag appears, she throws a left hook, colliding with the bag hard. The impact feels good, the vibration ratting up her arm and the energy stores instantly inside of her.

She beats on the bag for what seems like a few minutes, but she knows it’s longer. “Brick wall,” she calls out and to her left a solid red brick wall appears. She rotates towards it, pivots and shoves her elbows into it. Calling out new materials, from steel, to cinder blocks, wood, anything solid, her fists destroying it, not using her powers, but just her brute force, no powers and she doesn’t use her energy to heal either. Blood splatters the dungeon floor. Eternals do bleed, they do get hurt, and Spencer needs the pain right now.

“Spencer!” calls out Tegan. Hot on her heels is Abby. “What are you doing?”

Spencer doesn’t stop; she hits her fists into the wall of rippled steel before her. Abby pushes past Tegan and grabs Spencer’s hand, which is bleeding profusely. “Spencer, stop,” whispers Abby. “Please, what are you doing to yourself?” Abby’s hand goes to Spencer’s face and she’s surprised to find it wet with tears.

Spencer’s face is pale and she feels the last of her façade breaking and collapses to her knees. Abby following her down, wrapping her arms around Spencer. The sobs are soft, but Tegan can hear them from where she stands. She hears Sydney and Rylee coming down the stairs. She opens the door and then closes it behind her. She faces down Sydney and Rylee. “Both of you need to go,” she says in a steely tone.

“What?” asks Rylee. “That’s my girl…”

“And my sister!” says Tegan in a heated roar. “This thing you two are trying to figure out? It’s hurting her. Back off, and Doyle don’t you go ‘porting in there, I’ll freeze your ass and I won’t let go for days.”

Sydney’s stormy green eyes waver. “I won’t.”

“Please, give her some time, both of you,” says Tegan. “You both need out of the JADES dorm, fine, but she needs space from the two of you playing puppet master with her strings, damn it.”

Rylee swallows away the tears, turns, and barges past Sydney.

“Go,” says Tegan.

And Sydney teleports away.

s*t*a*r*s–8 * sneak peek

Everyone wants to know!  Yes, it’s coming to an end but there is a lot of things left to see/hear/and love about these girls – JMG

 

Sydney knocks on the door and Rylee opens it. “Hey,” says Rylee.

“Sorry I’m late,” says Sydney. “I had an errand to run.”

“Come on in,” says Rylee. She leads Sydney into the living room and they sit on the couch, both at either end, facing one another. “I’m figuring you know what this is about.”

Sydney nods. It has been on her mind nonstop since they’d been put into their neutral corners. “Spencer.”

“Here is the thing….,” begins Rylee.

“I’m not going to do anything, Rylee. I mean, I’m me again, and I was fine before this whole split-me-into-two thing,” says Sydney.

“That would break her heart,” says Rylee. “Spence knew.”

Sydney’s shoulders drop. “She told you, huh?”

“We don’t have one secret between us, so, yeah, she told me, and she told me way before the whole spitting thing,” says Rylee. She looks down at her feet, her toes almost touching Sydney’s. “I understand what you’re feeling right now.”

“It’s not the same. You and Spencer are soul mates, eternal and talent. I have a crush that will go away,” says Sydney forcefully. “It’s just not going away to quickly is all. I won’t get between you and you can’t let me either, kick my ass if you have too.”

Rylee gets up, finds a piece of paper by the phone, grabs a pencil too, and then sits back down next to Sydney. She writes her own name, Rylee and then talent. She then writes Sydney’s name, and writes talent/eternal. She then writes Spencer’s name between her own and Sydney’s, tagging her with eternal/talent. “I’m here, Spence is in the middle and you are on the right.” Rylee connects her talent with Spencer’s eternal. Then Spencer’s talent to Sydney’s eternal. “Do you see?”

Sydney grabs the paper. Each of them form a different bond of soul mate with Spencer. Rylee and Spencer as talent/eternal and Sydney and Spencer as eternal/talent so it isn’t just a crush it’s so much more than that, it’s a soul mate bonding. “Holy crap.”

Rylee nods. “Spencer Wheaton might just have two soul mates.”

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