- Ann Schwarz
- I'm a children's writer and published author of adult short fiction. I also do freelance writing as a paid book reviewer, and as a regular contributor for Spirit and Truth publishing on their Living the Word series. I'm a wife and mom to two great kids, three dogs, a cat, and a very small box turtle. I love books, movies, gardening, kids, and animals.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Also, we often idealize the new, forgetting that with the return of warmer weather come those annoying little natty bugs. The ones that make it hard to enjoy the sunshine as they try to fly up your nose or into your mouth. .
So, this season of lent, a good time of self reflection, I am trying to continually remind myself to enjoy the moment and appreciate the positives of winter. For instance, even though it too cold to be outside for very long this means it's a good time to enjoy indoor pleasures without feeling guilty. These include watching my favorite shows on TV and whittling down my to-be-read pile of books.
Another good thing about this season of cold, wet, sometimes snowy weather is the fact you can get your exercise indoors where no one can see you. This has the added advantage of not having to worry about sunscreen, bug spray, or how smoothly shaven your legs may be beforehand. Instead of giving something up for lent I agreed to be committed to getting in some sort of physical fitness six days out of the week.
So far I'm doing pretty good with my lenten promises. Though, I did grumble some about the snow as it came pouring down on Sunday. It didn't detract from my holiday, though. In fact, it probably helped me appreciate a day at home with my family more. We actually enjoyed a nice steak dinner at the table together. A luxury we're usually too busy to enjoy.
This winter, whether you observe lent or not. Whether the weather is bad outside or not, take the time to concentrate on the positives longer evenings and shorter days offer. It will be spring and the season of renewal soon enough.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
|Picture taken of my son's DVD|
What word do you usually associate with Charles Schulz's character, Charlie Brown? Is it blockhead or is it maybe failure?
This past December the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon based on Schulz's comic strip Peanuts celebrated it's 50th anniversary. Around the same time, a new movie came out about the Peanuts featuring the lovable odd ball, Charlie Brown. As I was watching the movie and listening to discussions about the Christmas special I pondered why it is that someone who never seems to succeed at anything has such an enduring legacy.
Let's consider a few things we know about this unlikely hero. First, he owns a funny, beagle with delusions of grandeur who is sometimes anything but Charlie's best friend. Second, Charlie's team has never won a single baseball game. Third, his therapist, Lucy is openly greedy, bossy, often mean, and highly narcissistic. Despite all of these challenges, Charlie Brown continues to play baseball, remains ever hopeful he will one day kick that football Lucy is always offering to hold for him, without being invisible to do it, and loves his dog despite his strange behavior.
Charlie Brown represents a lot of things to people, but the one thing he is in every incarnation is an underdog. A very sympathetic underdog. Even though he is considered to be a hopeless failure or as Lucy likes to call him a "blockhead" by most of his peers in the cartoons and comics, he isn't one. In fact, Charlie Brown is an enduring symbol of hope and success for everyone who has ever felt that they just didn't get it or at one time or another didn't quite fit in. Why is this? He never seems to come out the clear victor or hero in any of his story lines.
Because Charlie Brown is true to one person, always. He doesn't follow the popular or accepted path in anything. He sees beauty in tiny, spindly trees and chooses them over the beautiful and elaborate fake ones. He flies kites in the middle of winter in the hopes they won't get caught in the kite stealing tree. When he finally gains acclaim in the recent Peanuts movie, he could continue to let people believe the fiction. He could accept the awards and adulation, it would be easier to do that and finally manage to impress the "little red-headed girl" he has such a crush on. But he doesn't. He admits a mistake was made in front of everyone and goes back to being unpopular and unappreciated.
Charlie Brown never takes the easy path or makes the obvious choice toward acceptance. And he is repeatedly ridiculed for it. But children and adults alike continue to love him because he always does what is right or seems right to him. That is why Charlie Brown is such a hero and such an enduring success. He is always true to himself. He excels at being authentic, kind, even when it isn't warranted, and hopeful for the future. In a clever and subtle way that is the genius of Charles Schulz's creation. He isn't preachy or obvious about his character's attributes. In fact, he goes to great lengths to drown them out under the weight of all Charlie Brown's many flaws. Charlie Brown is far from perfect, but he is genuine.
It is easy to let the world weigh us down and make us feel like we shouldn't try, shouldn't hope, or shouldn't love who we are as individuals. Charlie Brown epitomizes this over and over again. Yet, in spite of this he keeps his optimistic spirit and continues to muddle through, ever positive in the end that next time things will work out in his favor. When the world makes you feel like you're a Charlie Brown sort of person, own it as a banner of success. If you've earned that status being true to yourself or doing what was right instead of easy, it means you've probably become an unlikely hero in your own story.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
However, there are exceptions to that rule. Sometimes you have so many things to remember and think about you get overwhelmed. This could be my problem right now, since I'll be leaving in a couple of days to attend my second 10 day residency at Spalding University.
Whenever things get this hectic, and I have to make lists, and then lists for my lists, I've learned that the best policy, for me anyway, is to give myself a few days off. I need that time to breath and try to keep focused on what most needs to get done so I can leave my family for a week and a half and feel okay about it. My kids aren't little, but they are still very busy. I'll have to write stuff on the calendar for my husband so he'll remember who has to be where and when. I also have to remind myself that this is good for all of us. It gives them a few days with just Dad. Something that my son especially, needs. He tends to rely on me the most of the two of us and he needs to remember that his dad is just as capable as me at helping him with stuff. It also helps them appreciate me more when I get home.
And even though conventional wisdom says it is important to write every single day, I feel rejuvenated when I give myself a little time off before going to an event that is going to fill me up and help me learn more about my creative process. I will be writing some there and reading too. With that in mind I worked hard last week and yesterday to catch up on my writing enough to feel okay letting it sit and percolate for a while. Instead of worrying about trying to get words on the page for the sake of doing it, I've caught up on my assigned reading. Gone through the work of others in my workshop group and commented on it, and I've given myself permission to play some by goofing off with my dogs, and catching up on some of my favorite TV shows. I've also kept to my daily exercise routine. As an individual it is important to remember we have to give ourselves time every once and a while. This is really hard when you are a working mom, which every mom I know is. It's also hard when you're an artist, to separate your life from your work. The two often are intertwined. But unless you want to exist as a human robot going through the motions you have to give yourself permission to rest.
I feel like this has really helped me keep my calm, my focus and my sanity. My mind doesn't feel all awhirl with too many thoughts all at once. So, I should be able to sleep tonight. Tomorrow it will be time to dust off the old backpack and start lining up what clothes to bring for my next big adventure with my Creative Writing Program.
I'm excited to see some old friends from last semester and to make new ones this semester. Huzzah! Let the residency commence!
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
|Photo snapped by my paparazzi child|
My parents warned me numerous times when my children were younger that once they reached the teen years my IQ would suddenly drop dramatically.
I was prepared for this. I even experienced it to a milder degree before my daughter officially became a teenager. What I didn't realize until recently was that once you become the parent of a teen and or pre-teen you unknowingly join the ranks of the criminal element.
It dawned on me just this morning as I was watching a youtube video of a symphony orchestra singing about being the parent of a baby or toddler. I longed to hear a composition about parenting a pre-teen and teen child. I thought it could be entitled "Why are You Mad at Me Now?"
Not only am I less intelligent in the eyes of my children. I'm also a criminal against decent society. I think I even outrank my husband in this felony.
Unlike my husband I ask them questions about stuff. Not just any questions, but really hard ones like, "How was your day?" or "Do you have homework?" Most of these questions elicit brusque one word responses like, "Good" or "Yes." Apparently in decent society these short answers are supposed to suffice and make me want to stop asking such invasive questions. But due to my severely lowered mental capacity now, I foolishly continue to question them about stuff in the hopes I might get a full sentence answer. This doesn't usually happen. Instead, the answers continue to be as short as possible and they get more and more brusque. Until finally I ask the worst question of all, "Why are you acting like you're mad at me?" The answer I ultimately receive to this is a very irritated, "I'm not!" But if you're going to join the ranks of the completely stupid I figure you might as well go big or go home. So I very maturely react to this by saying, "Yes you are. You're using you mad voice. I'm going to record you talking to me and play it back for you to prove it." I'm not a very good criminal. I broadcast my intentions too much and then they stop speaking to me altogether.
Other examples of my criminal activity. I constantly insist that they liked something before that they claim to think is boring now. For instance, last year my son, who is now a pre-teen, loved the idea of going to the pumpkin patch near my parent's home to get pumpkins. My dad has a contact (a commercial grower) who allows him to pick pumpkins for free in fields that have already been picked over numerous times. Both kids loved searching for pumpkins each October up there, during their fall break. This year my son informed me that this was boring and all of us but him would spend hours looking for pumpkins and waste an entire day. I was saddened to hear this and was adamant that he didn't always feel this way about pumpkin hunting. But lately he seems to think every idea we come up with is boring. Family vacation to see new places and things, boring. Picking out a costume for Halloween, boring. For someone who is only eleven I am flummoxed by his attitude. Now that I am a criminal against decent society with diminished intelligence I just don't get it.
My biggest crime against decent society is my humiliating habit of following them around everywhere they go, especially after school. I can't just let them go to their cross country meets without showing up there to cheer them on and take pictures. Having your picture taken is another bore my son is forced to endure. His sister doesn't seem to mind it as much. But she tries to pretend I'm not there when she is hanging out with her other teammates. As long as I remain with the other parent felons it is okay. But I'm not satisfied to stay with others of my kind. I actually talk to her and her teammates and walk around the field with her while she's cheering for the runners on the other teams. Worse, I ask her questions about why this or that person isn't racing. I'm sure this equals total embarrassment in her eyes. To be fair she doesn't actually say this. She simply walks faster to discourage me from wanting to walk with her. I guess it could be worse.
I'm hoping my status as a criminal against decent society is just a phase. In a few years with any luck I'll grow out of it and reclaim normal intelligence levels again. Until then I might as well embrace being a part of the criminal element. That being said, I better get going. I have another after school activity to get to with my camera.
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
|My son a few summers back with his fave transformer|
Whether you write novels, screenplays, or plays, you have to use dialogue to help tell a story. Dialogue helps capture the essence of a character and is a handy tool to use to build tension and conflict into a scene no matter what the medium of story.
I usually feel pretty good about my dialogue and character interaction in my novels and short stories. Sure, I know that its never perfect. But when I'm on a roll and immersed in that fictional world, dialogue isn't usually one of the stumbling blocks that leaves me stuck. It isn't one of the parts of writing that I'm left wondering how to fix, either. Most of the time when someone critiques it they are very specific about why it didn't work for them. This doesn't mean I don't spend large chunks of time working through a scene of dialogue, fine tuning it and reworking it to convey what I want it to, because I do. Usually afterwards I'm emotionally drained from living out the scene through my characters.
Recently, however someone challenged me to do something I hadn't really thought about before. They asked me to show the reader that one of my characters spoke with a Spanish accent using dialogue. This made me sit up straighter. How do you write dialogue that makes the reader hear your character's accent? For the first time I was at a real loss. But I knew the answers were out there for me to find if I went looking for them. I started by searching the internet. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. There is so much information out there about writing and about half of it is less than helpful. So much so that I actually get sleepy at times slogging through it. This time the first article that came up was on a website, PenUltimate Editorial Services, put together by freelance editor Arlene Prunkl. Ms. Prunkl offers excellent advice on how to write dialects and foreign accents into your dialogue in an authentic and conscientious way. Doing my characters justice and not turning them into caricatures of people who speak English as a second language was one of my chief concerns.
Arlene Prunkl gave some terrific examples of contemporary authors who got this sort of thing right. One was an author I enjoy reading very much who writes about characters who live in the past in the Scottish highlands, Diana Gabaldon. Ms. Gabaldon is not from Scotland or the 18th century highlands. She is a native of Arizona and is probably younger than my parents. But she writes dialogue for her character Jamie Fraser that allows me as a reader to hear Jamie's highland accent clearly without ever realizing she's doing this primarily through her dialogue. I've read all the books in this series, starting with Outlander, and never once noticed it. How did she did she do this? By using a mixture of diction (word choice), syntax (word order), and idiom (native expression) in her dialogue. Ms. Prunkle pasted in an excerpt from the novel Outlander as an example, check out the article link to see it. She also lists past authors who've written dialect into their dialogue that doesn't work.
After reading her article on writing in dialects and accents for characters I realized there are numerous books that I've read that do this very thing. Not only that, there are movies that I've watched that do this well, too. The first Transformers, movie being a prime example. Think about it, Bumblebee has a very specific way of communicating that isn't necessarily a form of English we're familiar with. The screenplay for this movie helped convince us as viewers that Bumblebee using radio waves to communicate was a very believable thing for a sentient robot to do.
Arlene Prunkle went on to list nine key tips to follow when you are trying to convey accents or dialect into your character dialogue. The most helpful of which was to write out exactly what you want your character to say in dialogue first, then go back in and try to rearrange it in a way that sounds like something they would say in their particular dialect. Look at your verb choice and arrangement, use idioms sparingly, and concentrate on getting their diction and syntax correct. You can't do any of this, though until you know what you truly want them to say first.
So, I as I've been rewriting chapters and scenes in my book I haven't been worrying about the dialect of my character, yet. I want to get their dialogue down and the scene right before I tackle their dialect or conveying their accents. I also want to read some juvenile fiction by contemporary authors who've written the particular dialect I want to capture into their books. Learn from the masters that have been successfully published and established themselves as solid authors. I'm glad whoever suggested this to me, gave me this challenge. It has forced me to look at dialogue in way that I think will make me better at writing it. It's also made me aware of what others have done with dialogue to convey character. All good things.
What books have you read that have written dialect or accents into their character's dialogue and done it well? Have you read any books that have done this poorly? Please comment and list them here for anyone out there interested in tackling this type of dialogue writing. I highly recommend reading the article by Arlene Prunkle, too. Just click on the link for her website above.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
|Back in School-1st Residency for my MFA at Spalding Univ.|
This week it happened. I sent off my first packet for my independent study course for my MFA degree. Each semester we send out five packets to a mentor and get feedback on them. For three weeks I worried and argued with myself over the creative writing piece I was submitting.
I was fighting with the pacing of my novel. After submitting it out to agents and editors, working on it with my online critique group, even sending out excerpts to some of my book club friends, I was getting back the same response. The story had a great premise, the characters were believable, but the pace of the story was too slow and all of it needed dimension and more complexity to keep the readers wanting more.
I'd gotten as far as I could go on it. I needed help. So, I took the advice of another writer I met at a conference and looked into Spalding University's Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing program. After thinking about it for another year I took the plunge and applied. I've mentioned my excitement at getting in. Going off to residency made me nervous and excited. But the other people I met there were great and as committed to becoming better writers as me. My workshop group was the best! I loved getting to know all of them.
Then after 10 days of being immersed in an environment of other writers and creative people we were sent home to do our independent study. I was assigned my mentor at residency and met with her to create a plan on what I would submit of my writing and what books to read and analyze by writing short critical essays about them. Reading and writing everyday was pretty much what I'd been doing on my own. But now I would be letting someone new see my work. Always a bit frightening, even when you know they have your best interests at heart.
I wrote and rewrote several chapters of my novel. Most of it I did longhand and a huge portion of it was drivel. I considered taking out one of my secondary characters completely. In the end, I left her in the story. But looking at it with fresher eyes after months of leaving it dormant and getting advice from my workshop group helped. In all of that rewritten drivel I managed to glean a few gems. I also cut out some stuff that wasn't important to my plot. I revised the chapters that lead up to the midpoint of my story and will see what happens. After all, this is why I came to Spalding in the first place. I am capable of fixing this story but need guidance to do it. The mentor I have is purported to be tough, but also terrific at helping writers learn the tools of they need for hard revision work. She may have to teach me to kill some of my darlings or at least cut them out of the story. In a day or two I will know for sure what she suggests. Either way, I will have a wealth of knowledge that I might have taken years to discover on my own and let's face it, I'm not getting any younger.
I will say that even if my submission comes back bleeding purple ink--sending it off felt like a huge accomplishment. I did give a big sigh of relief. And I rewarded myself by watching old episodes of the Wonder Woman TV series that I got on DVD for my birthday last week. :) It will be important research for another novel in the future I'm sure... I do write for children and young adults after all.
|Finally! This is the same symbol I envisioned that, Josh the|
character in my novel, has on the door of his house. Found it
at Spalding. Coincidence? I think not.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
I've been enjoying the longer, warmer days of late spring and early summer. I managed to get my flowers and plants potted and planted in my garden before I had to leave for my residency. Now they are blooming out and creating little scenes of magic and wonder around my house. I love the growing season for just this reason. Here are a few pictures of one of the ways I keep myself inspired to work by finding a concrete creative outlet beyond writing and reading...
|Honest to goodness glass slipper with snapdragons in it that I found at a garden show =)|
|Fairy garden my daughter and I planted together|
|Flowers in a teacup sitting in a chair|
|Couldn't resist this bicolored dahlia|
|Going to have some fresh yellow squash to eat soon. Yum!|
What are some ways you add color and creativity to your life? Take some time to enjoy things you love and add a little fun to even the most practical of things you do this growing season.