Friday, June 28, 2013

See "Behind Our Eyes"

The creative works of local writer, Traci McDonald,
can be found in the newest literary anthology published by Behind Our Eyes, Inc., a
nonprofit organization. 

Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look is the second anthology by a unique
collection of 65 writers with disabilities. 

The topics range from humorously absurd to tragically abusive, from cats
and rabbits to guide dogs and even a guide horse, from medical fiascoes to survival tactics, and through pangs of deprivation to heights of success. The
vivid tapestry of life woven through their stories, poems, and essays, demonstrates what a captivating and diverse group of writers they are; yet their creative writing collection showcases their similarities to each other and the world at large. 

Copies of Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, edited by Kate Chamberlin, ISBN
978-1490304472 are available through for $16.96 per soft cover

Also available in Kindle and Nook formats.
You can contact Traci personally at,, or on twitter at tracimcauthor
In July Traci will have copies of Behind Our Eyes : A Second Look available for purchase and for signings.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Rocky Soil

 In the classic film "The Wizard of Oz", Dorothy is directed down the yellow brick road. It is a butter yellow configuration of evenly spaced rectangular bricks, starting in a swirling pattern and eventually leading to the Great and Powerful OZ.
In my experience, this 'road' and the symbol of 'the right road' it represents are a fallacy.
We never see Dorothy trip, or stub her toe on an uneven stone. We never feel the white heat of the sun reflecting up into her tired and bleary eyes. She skips and sings down the road, collecting friends, flowers, and eventually a make-over in The Emerald City.
Oh, if life were as uncomplicated as that road. Even the villains in Dorothy's life are ugly, nasty, and clearly against her success.
As I have worked toward goals in my life, The Yellow Brick Road has never made an appearance.
After years working through my grief surrounding my father's death. I was ready to go forward. Confident of my footing into adulthood. Eight and a Half months later, I lost my eyesight. I stumbled over this protruding stone in the road, while I learned to navigate, compensate, and obliterate obstacles. People who said; "Don't try." Self doubt that said; "You can't." and Darkness that promised; "You will fall."
I ignored them all, because I believed my life had purpose, my ability to see did not change that fact.
As i used my white cane to travel my new road, I found my best friend, my husband, my children, other blind people, and fantastic writers who believed in me.
Unfortunately, after two premature births, an international adoption, a shattered knee cap, and kidney failure, I was barely hanging on.
These were not unsteady bricks, or protruding stones in my road. These were boulders threatening to crush me.My brother graciously gave me his kidney. He gave me my life, and the opportunity to find my purpose.
With the little strength I had left, and a new spark of inspiration to live, I began to write.
This should have been my 'Emerald City' and in many ways it was: Exciting, fun, and a world I had never seen before.
The city was a facade. Like any other work, writing is hard. Don't fool yourself into thinking that talent and drive will bring you to the wizard's lair. There are over 100,000 people in line in front of you. The road is now a rocky trail that you must trudge down.
Give up on the 'Pretty Path'. It's a lie. Embrace the rocky road. You are stronger, smarter, better because you weren't expecting the leisurely stroll.
You may arrive dirty, your shoes broken, and your knees scabbed over. However, the path behind you is far more treacherous than the one ahead.
Now, You're the Wizard.
The tricks to staying focused and determined vary as much as the person. The key for me has always been my understanding that I am more than my broken body wants me to be.
As you struggle with criticism, nay-sayers, and those who cheer for your failure. Remember:
-No matter what the world tells you. You were born to stand out. Start by standing up, and doing what you think you can't do.
Write a really bad scene. Post your problems in a blog. Cry and scream until you can't any more.
Then go back to work.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

NothingBut A Show-off

I had an interesting experience this last weekend.  I would like to share it with all my writing friends. It will mean more to those of you who have been lectured about the importance of SHOW not TELL, but it was an eye opener for my non-writing friends as well.
In my little corner of the Mojave desert, our local movie theatres have been taken over by a larger conglomerate known as Megaplex Theatres. This has greatly improved the movie going experience for a lot of people, but most remarkably for both the visually and hearing impaired.
Megaplex provides a service of closed captioning for the hearing impaired. They also provide DVS for the blind.
DVS stands for Descriptive Viewing Service. It is a hand held device that sync's up with the on-screen movie but includes a voice giving a vocal description of the scenes.
This can be incredibly annoying for people who can see the screen. You have a voice in your ear telling you every detail of the scene. If you are blind, like me, it allows a person to imagine what the scene looks like when they can't see it. It makes movies accessible for the blind in ways they never have been before.
I have only experienced a few movies in this format. I prefer to go to a movie with someone, listen and pick up what I can, and then ask questions when necessary. Lately though, a number of recent releases are nearly impossible to watch this way. Too little dialogue, visually stimulating cinematic work and plot points being made with music and sound effects.
I am not complaining. Movies are made for the sighted. It is a visual experience, but  with the addition of the DVS service I got to experience one movie both with the descriptors and without.
Here is the part that sent my writers mind reeling.
I went to ...a movie about a super human male, described as made of steele. Following me?
I was familiar with the basic storyline, the dialogue was good, and from the sound track I could tell it was fast paced and exciting. My husban and date for the night, tried to fill me in on what was happening but found it too difficult to describe the nuances of the facial expressions.
One of the most powerful scenes has our hero less than super-human but still sacrificing his all to save mankind. There is a large lazer beam weakening him, a ship from his home planet taking all his powers, and a deep sense of humanity driving him to stop the villans from the destruction of his adopted home.
Sounds great, right? That's all I've got to tell you about it. Even in the descriptive version, that I was later able to listen too, I can imagine the scene, but I can't feel its power. All I have is what I was told. I didn't get to see. My husban tried to explain the intensity of emotion that came through because of the look on our hero's face. He tried to relate it to something I would have seen, back when I could see. It was interesting...but he couldn't show me what I needed.
So many times we are told by our critiquers or editors. "Show me don't tell me." We grind our teeth, shake our heads, and can't for the life of us figure out why they can't see it the way we, as the writers do.
After having this experience with the movies, I think i finally understand. Look at the difference.
-Joe puts down his cup and shakes a splash of coffee off of his hand. "Ow, that's hot.
-A searing tongue of fire crawled across the back of Joe's knuckles. The overflowing cup steamed into the damp morning air as he tried to chase the wave of coffee from his hand. "What's with the java lava?"
Setting aside my other writing issues, Can you see the difference? Can you feel it?
Often times I am more connected to my characters other senses: touch, smell, sound. But, I struggle to show all the necessary elements that take a scene from a description, to a living moving experience.Great literature does that for me and shows me how to do it better in my own writing.  I think that is the reason I prefer to read instead of listen to movies or television. Great writers are show-offs.
-Veronica Roth
-Robin Cook
-Orson Scott Card
-Mary Higgins Clark
Just to list a few.
 I am grateful for the chance to experience the movies in a way that brings them more to life. I think the hard work that goes into making visual experiences available to the blind should be highly commended and Megaplex Theaters should be given credit for their hard work in this area. Once again I'm not complaining, especially since I learned so much from this movie theater experience.
So....the next time you are writing a scene, don't try to describe it to your reader. Put yourself in the scene. What do you feel, smell, hear, and see, and then SHOW it off.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

You Are Your History

If you were to describe what you did today and why you did it; how much of your personal history would you reveal?
-Who did you talk to on the phone? Why? What was your relationship to that person or persons?
 -Where did you go? Why? Are the reasons linked to your past?
-What did you eat? Where? Do your food choices have links to your history?
Even in the simple telling of your day; You are your history. Your back story explains, describes, and defines even your most basic of choices.
Now, imagine creating a fictional character and having to create their back story too. A lifetime of experiences, relationships and preferences have to be created in order to offer a reader a three dimensional person, instead of a flat caricature.
I, like a lot of writers often want to offer my reader too much of this sort of information. I want my readers to know and love the people I write about as much as I do. Non-fictional writers have less of a struggle with this concept, because they are dealing with real people not invented ones. Even in non-fiction though, the reader doesn't want or need all the details.
One of the best pieces of advice I was given while struggling with the back story on my urban fantasy is applicable to all writers, fiction and non-fiction alike.

-Don't write what the author wants the reader to know. Write what the character wants to say.
This may seem fairly simple. Perhaps you shrug your shoulders and say "Sure...Of course," but think about it.
Unless your characters are all  as talkative, or as reticent as you are, the separation between your voice and the character's is vastly different.

Keeping the writers voice separate from the character's is a good way to gauge if the back story is too much. I want to fill my reader in on every last detail, because I forget. Telling the story needs to progress forward, not backward. the details from the past that are necessary will come about in the natural progression of your story. Trust your reader to invest in your flawed, incomplete character until they can get their answers. If the story is good they will stick with it. If you give away all the history, there is no reason to keep reading.
The balance between back story and forward progression is a fine art that takes practice and patience. luckily writers have plenty of time for that.Right?
Before you get discouraged and throw  your hands in the air, there are lots of great places to go and learn more about the art of back story. The following articles were helpful in understanding what role back story plays in writing and helpful hints on how to weave a seamless back story into a piece of fiction.\weavingseamlessbackstory
I wish I could claim to have mastered this skill. I would like to tell a great story with the perfect amount of detail being released at the most important times. Unfortunately, like life in general. I am always learning and re-learning how to be a better writer.
If you've got good advice for back story bozo's like me. I would love your helpful hints. Just know I will take it with a grain of salt until I try it. After all, I am the direct result of my history.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The three Most Important Things

If life had a priority list, we could wake up every morning and know exactly what needed to be done and in what order. The struggle for balance and symmetry in our daily living is never that cut and dry though. Trying to balance the many facets of family, career, health, and happiness overwhelm all of us at one time or another.
I find myself struggling to organize these same areas of my characters lives as I write. What do the reader's need to know. What part of the journey is happening and when. Who is important and who is just marking time.
All of these elements can clog and confuse a writers mind as we struggle to lay out a story with appeal and organization. Often I find myself writing story arc's and synopsis' just so I can fill out what should be happening, and where,  in a story.
This last week end I attended a writers bootcamp where the speaker taught some of the writing techniques of the Buddhist writer; Natalie Goldberg.
It was a fast paced 8 hours of more writing and learning than I have done in a while. I have included some topics by Natalie that if you google them you can access her techniques. 

natalie goldberg writing exercises

natalie goldberg the great failure

natalie goldberg writing down the bones
At the end of this conference, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted, but overflowing with idea's and techniques that would drive my characters, my stories, and my scenes to their fullest potential.
Participating in timed writing exercises where we named our protagonist, antagonist, helper, and catalyst. laid out the bones of the story. Focusing this exercise into The first, The next, and The Last time we saw each of these characters in the story laid out the emotional journey. Discussing the driving forces in each of these characters was probably the most eye opening of the exercises for me though.
It all boils down to three things.
-What does this character, scene, story, or setting want?
-What do they need?
-What can't they have?
The wants in these situations set up the movement in the scene or story. Character X arrives and does Y because he/she wants...
It determines what questions are asked, what movements are made and where the story or scene is going.
The needs are the emotional journey. Why is this so important, Why now, and Why with these characters
What they can't have creates urgency, a reason for the reader to keep reading. Are you unsatisfied, desperate, or frustrated because you don't have enough information...Good. Those are your can't have's.
There is no barrier to writing a novel, short story, synopsis, or outline if you can list the answers to those three questions
What do you want, need, and can't have.
The bootcamp I attended was conducted by Jack Remick, an author, teacher, and brilliant writer. He conducts writing exercises with a group of talented writers in the greater Seattle, WA are and was kind enough to spread his techniques to my little corner of the Mojave
desert. You can find out more about Jack and his work at or through his publisher CoffeeHouse Press.
If you find yourself struggling to make your characters or stories better, or if you just want to develop your talents into better writing; Find out what the answers to those three questions are.
In the meantime...Do any of you have problems in your books you can't figure out how to overcome? What techniques help you?