LET’S CELEBRATE NATIONAL POETRY MONTH! (virtually)

April 12, 2021 @ 5:00 pm 9:00 pm PDT

Join 9 Bridges Members and guests for an online open mic session to mark National Poetry Month

FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Instead of “time limits,” we’ll go one at a time and repeat that cycle of poetry for as long as we can.

To register:

https://us02web.zoom.us/…/tZArcOmtqD0sH9YPL6vVxCh7l…

or contact bill.cusing@9bridges.org for more information

Bring us your words!

Free Please consider supporting 9 Bridges with your donations!

Body Language

As writers, one of the most important jobs we have is to breathe life into characters and describe them to our readers. We need to do this effectively enough so that the picture that forms in our readers’ minds is close to what we envision. And we need to do it in such a way so that we don’t inundate readers with lengthy infodumps.

Body language is an excellent method for inserting character description without it coming off as “infodump-ish”. By slipping in gestures, facial expressions or movements within dialogue, an author can provide a pretty detailed physical description to a reader in a way that seems perfectly natural.

Another great use for body language is to create a more robust communication between characters. If we look at normal interactions between people in the real world, we see that messages are interpreted through more than just words. Vocal cues and body language are even more important than the language itself in successful communication. Mirroring this in storytelling can make character exchanges more realistic and compelling.

Let’s look at some interesting numbers regarding communication: only 7% of successful communication is through words alone. Another 38% is achieved through tonal inflection, modulation and other vocal cues. That means a whopping 55% of communication is done via body language, facial expressions, hand gestures and other visual cues. Studies have shown that when what is being said is in conflict with facial expressions or body language, the majority of listeners will choose the non-verbal communication over the verbal. (Source: Albert Mehrabian,1981)

If you think about it, this isn’t surprising – our eyes are our strongest sense and much of what we know about our world is learned through visual perception. As authors, we often rely heavily on “showing” a reader through visual description of our characters and locations. What I find surprising, however, is how infrequently body language is effectively utilized in character dialogue. It’s almost as if description is forgotten the moment a character opens their mouth to speak.

Let’s look at this in practice. I’ve written two passages below, purposely omitting vocal inflection and concentrating purely on words and body language to create an exchange.

She had long brown hair. Her eyes were green and she wore glasses. Her lips were thin. “Hmmmm, I’m not sure what you mean,” she answered. I knew she was lying through her teeth.

In the above example, the reader is told what the woman looks like through a couple of descriptive sentences (ala “infodump”), followed by a dialogue exchange and a conclusion made by the narrator. Yet there is nothing in the interaction that would alert the reader that the woman is lying beyond the narrator’s claim. The reader is distanced away from what is happening and must rely solely on the narrator’s opinion.

She twisted her dark hair into a bun as she answered the question. “Hmmm, I’m not sure what you mean.” Green eyes peeked over the rims of her glasses for a brief moment as she tipped her head to pin her hair with a pencil. I wasn’t sure if it was the way her eyes avoided my gaze or the hint of a smirk on her thin lips, but I knew for certain that she was lying through her teeth.

In the second example, the infodump sentences have been replaced with description strategically placed in such a way to convey visual cues to both the narrator and the reader. Not only does the passage create a more realistic exchange between the narrator and this character, it provides a physical description to readers without breaking the action in the story. Body language allows readers to observe and make their own conclusions in a way that mimics reality. They can “see” the visual cues and come to their own conclusion about the character’s truthfulness (which may or may not be intended by the author to align with the narrator’s choice).

A character’s posture, gestures, nervous habits and facial expressions provide a lot of insight into their personality. How he or she behaves non-verbally around another character speaks volumes about their relationship – not only with that person, but also with him or herself. As an author, body language is an important tool to create rich, deep characters that can communicate not only with each other, but also communicate with the reader. This allows the reader to develop a relationship with the characters, resulting in a more emotionally-invested reader.

 

 

 

 

 

The Solitary Writer

by Vargus Pike

Occasionally when I hear someone say that writing is a lonely business, this picture forms in my head of a writer in some distant white field with a flock of words. Shepherding them into patterns while they keep the wolves of self-doubt at bay. Or I imagine the writer stranded in a desert isle with plenty of food and water but without pen or paper as they struggle to commit to memory the story they must tell to native publishers to appease them and survive. A lonely business indeed.

But is it lonely for everyone?

True when I write I spend much of my time sitting by myself in a room, but am I lonely? A continual barrage of characters seems to constantly leak from my psyche like so many ants. They crawl around my head searching for release until they find their way to my fingers and emerge onto the pages. There is the old fishmonger – his third leg his cane. Each step he takes in his shop a labor, a struggle to survive as he puts his fish out in the morning and then throws them away in the evening unsold because no one ever comes into the store. The mother bereft; her children stolen by a reclusive neighbor who plans to sell them to a rich childless woman in a compound in Idaho, until his truck breaks down near a wildlife refuge in Oregon and things go horribly awry. Wrong place, wrong time. The couple in love who travel down the coast collecting memories in a bag on their honeymoon, then on their fiftieth wedding anniversary in the Kansas nursing home, they live they open the bag and are magically transported into their past. Their attendants find them dead in their room the next morning with water in their lungs, sun burnt, hand in hand – their slippers filled with sand. Writing may be solitary but for me lonely never.

The scary thing is I have absolutely no Idea where the ideas come from. Lacking a better explanation the Greeks placed the blame firmly in the hands of the 9 Muses, Daughters of Zeus. Lacking a better explanation I tend to agree with them and why not? Stranger things happen in the minds of writers and leak out onto the page every day. So the next time you feel lonely while writing a horror story alone in a dimly lit rented cabin in the middle of nowhere and you hear a floorboard creek behind you relax. Chances are it is one of the Muses looking over your shoulder helping you flesh out the story.

Overcoming Writers Block

We’ve all experienced that panicky moment when we stare at a blank page and freeze, our normally overly imaginative brains suddenly going silent. Or worse – we open up an existing story only to find prose flowing more like cold molasses on a winter day than the usual gush of words flying so quickly that fingers can’t keep up. Your muse has deserted you to go on an extended vacation, leaving you without an ounce of creativity.

So what can you do to overcome this paralyzing sensation? Here are a few tips to get the creative juices flowing again:

Change your environment – If you normally write from your computer in your office, try getting away to a coffee house or bar. If you are used to writing indoors, try your hand at writing in a park. Trade a noisy environment for a quiet one – or vice versus.

Create a schedule for yourself – Sometimes the best way to get the juices going is to make writing a habit. Set a regular time to focus on writing – and stick to it. Experts say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Make yours writing.

Make use of writing prompts – There are tons of resources to find short prompts to inspire the muse within you. These can be great tools to get your creative juices kick-started again. I’ve taken what came out of past writing prompts and incorporated it into current works in progress.

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket – If you find yourself out of steam and unable to work on your next Great American Novel, switch it up and work on something else. Write a personal essay, blog post or short story. I normally keep a couple of manuscripts or strong story ideas tucked away to use during dry spells.

Take a walk – It’s long been said that exercise can break through writers’ blocks, and recent research now backs this up. Scientists have found that people who exercise regularly actually do think more creatively. Adding a regular exercise regime to your day can do wonders for your writing – including strengthening that imagination.

Join a critique group – Critique groups, like the ones put on by 9 Bridges, are a great opportunity to get around writers. Often, simply by being around writers and listening to other work being read, you can get the creative juices going again. Check your local groups – 9 Bridges welcomes all writers, whether they are in a place to read material or not.

Read a book – I know it may seem a little counterproductive to spend time reading when you should be writing, but the best writers are also avid readers. Ask any prolific author and they will tell you that they devour books.

And above all, the number one thing you must do is…

Keep writing – Don’t worry if it’s good or bad, happy or sad, or even within your chosen genre. Sometimes the muse has a will of her own and will take you down trails you never considered. Just let the words flow and take you where they will.

Writing About Food

How to depict taste, smell and texture on paper.

by Mark V. Harrington

It sounds so simple. You’re writing a restaurant review or have decided to write about your favorite recipe. Yes, you can put down in words the ingredients that go into the recipe. Your can recount the décor of the restaurant. You can give the directions of how to put the ingredients together or even put in words how the service was and what was on the menu. But the big question is how did it make you feel? How did the taking a bite of that sourdough bread, that has a light coating of sweetened honey butter feel in your mouth, how did it taste, what came to mind? When you’re separating eggs through your fingers, how do you depict how it feels to have the whites sliding through your finders until only the yoke is left in your palm?

Getting all of this down on paper can be sometimes challenging and sometimes daunting. We know what we are feeling, smelling, tasting and yet translating that into words is a task that leaves us speechless.

Let’s take, for example, our previous egg. We pick it up out of the bowl and know the delicacy of this item and yet our fingers feel the hardness of the shell. We are tempted to press, but our inner voice knows better. It knows that while the shell is hard, it is thin, delicate; a temporary protective barrier entrusted to keep the liquid white and yolk safe until it is needed. Taking it in hand we strike it against a bowl, but not too hard – just hard enough to put a chink in this egg’s outer armor. Then with deft hands we open the shell with one hand, letting the fluid, viscous contents flow into the palm of our other hand.

With fingers slightly separated, we feel the slippery whites of the egg slide between them, thinking of the rich meringue that it will create, the tasty macaroons or the airy Pavlova, (a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova). You’re left with the yellow liquid sphere of the yoke in your hand, itself protected by it’s own protective barrier, though much thinner and definitely more delicate than it’s outer cousin, the shell.

Descriptive words can be a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled writer. They not only communicate information such as color, scent, texture, and taste, but can also transport the reader into the writer’s experience. Painting a picture of sight, sound, scent and texture so that the reader feels what the writer feels, smells what the writer smells, and tastes what the writer tastes.

It enables the difference between:

I cooked the chicken in a frying pan with salt, pepper, cumin, and crushed garlic until it was done.

And:

Cooking the chicken in a frying pan, the scent of cumin and crushed garlic filled the air, taking me back to the open air markets of India. The salt and pepper added its own subtle sensualness to the aromatic bouquet.

See the difference? In other words descriptive words are your friend, don’t be afraid to use them.

9 Bridges to Host NW Book Festival

PORTLAND, OREGON – August 29, 2015 – Today 9 Bridges assumed ownership of the NW Book Festival from the Northwest Writers and Publishers Association (NWPA). The event, which happens annually in Pioneer Square in downtown Portland, Ore, attracts independent authors and publishers from all over the country. Held on the last Saturday in July, it has become a summer tradition in Portland for the last seven years.

NWPA President Veronica Esagui has entrusted 9 Bridges to carry on her tradition with the Northwest Book Festival. “There was no question in my mind when I decided to find a group to carry on the tradition,” she said. “The organizers of 9 Bridges have impressed me with their passion and dedication to the writing community from the first time I met them. Their heart is really in the right place when it comes to supporting authors. I am very pleased that 9 Bridges will continue the tradition of providing self-published authors a platform to share their work through the NW Book Festival.”

9 Bridges Chairman of the Board, Vargus Pike, agreed. “We are here to help writers. The NW Book Festival is one of the few affordable venues for self-published authors to promote themselves. It’s a perfect alignment of our two visions.”

Information about signing up for the festival will be available in the following weeks on 9bridges.org. Space is extremely limited and will be reserved on a first come – first served basis. For more information, please contact 9 Bridges at NWBookFest@9bridges.org or visit our site atthe Northwest Book Festival.

 

About 9 Bridges Writers Guild: 9bridges.org is dedicated to supporting writers in all stages of their journey to pursue their craft. In addition to providing peer review and support in the form of critique groups, 9 Bridges gives writers access to a wide community through workshops, write-ins, events, online forums and the promotion of events that are interesting and benefit our members.

Contact:
Elizabyth Harrington
9 Bridges Writers Guild
Elizabyth.harrington@9bridges.org

Why My First Book Was a Memoir

BW-author-profile-masked-02-copyby Larry Dunlap

I’m always surprised when one of the very first questions I am asked is why I chose to write a memoir for my first attempt as an author. It’s not that it’s a bad question, it’s that I had little choice, as it turned out. While it is my first book, I’ve been a writer for a long time, and a voracious reader since early childhood. I earned my bones as a pencil-for-hire technical writer starting at Transamerica, Countrywide, and Hallmark through the mid-Nineties but I’d been writing everything from business plans to training programs to technical specifications well before then. But always, on my own time, I was reading every kind of fiction and creative non-fiction.

When I finally found time to write as an author, which I had previously attempted two or three times over the years, there was a decision to make. What to write. I had three options. The first seemed obvious, I’d been deeply involved in the computer game business designing and overseeing the development of my own graphic multiplayer online strategy game. While the game was a critical success, these kinds of projects are expensive, and I fell a farthing or so short of what was needed. However, over the several decades I’d been subconsciously mapping out the details of the game, I’d developed a back story. It was a complex trilogy, though, which seemed like a daunting place to start. My second choice was a novel about a young off-the-grid, dishonorably discharged, veteran with a sordid past, living illegally on an abandoned boat in a rundown marina in southern California, reluctantly working as an off-the-books private investigator to survive. I got pretty invested in this guy, and thought I’d like to take on authors like Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. Ha ha, sure. But then there was this real life story about a turning point in my life with a rock band in the mid-Sixties. The story almost told itself, and it seemed to demand telling, but I wondered if anyone would really care about some guys from the Midwest who almost made that climb to the top of the music biz.

The final decision came from two conversations. The first was with one of my band brothers, Dave. There are four of us, the four Midwestern musketeers so to speak, who are still in contact 50 years after our adventure began. Whenever we get together, sooner or later we always turn to reminiscences of the odyssey we took. While Dave and I were talking, he mentioned that the other two had told him they felt they could only converse with one, or more, of the four of us about those experiences because no one in their real lives could relate to what they’d done and where they’d been. That seemed incredibly unfair.

The second conversation was with my earliest best friend in high school, who’d introduced me to science fiction and board games. When I’d left Indianapolis for parts West, we lost contact with each other. But, serendipitously, I discovered him again when I was home visiting family and bandmates. When I mentioned I was considering writing about what happened in my life after I left Indy, and would he be interested in reading that, he said he’d always considered my experiences a “cautionary tale” he used to warn his children of what can happen when you wander off the beaten track as I had.

I totally got that. I’d lived in Indiana, it is an insular place. Often hard for people there to relate to things far away on either coasts. But when I considered it later, I realized that many of the adventures I’ve enjoyed reading generally had a cautionary tale at the root of them. I hadn’t thought of it that way before—so maybe it wasn’t such a bad book idea after all.

I began the process of getting things organized to write in early 2010, putting together calendars both in paper and spreadsheets, gathering photos, researching all the locations, music industry magazines, contracts, recording, people we met, and those who represented us–over several months of research. Though memoir, differing from biography and/or history, is a matter of opinion—what the memoirist remembers—I still wanted use all the dates, times, and facts I could find as milestones to weave my memory through.

The next big step was figuring out where to start. I had no problem with the ending. It was dramatic and obvious. It was where to begin. Despite all the crazy and interesting, almost unbelievable things, that had happened to us, who was going to care about reading a history of my band, no matter how I described and related these events I’d written in my calendars. It was well into the following year before I realized that if I wanted anyone to be interested in this book, I was going to have to write it through my own lens, how I experienced it. I would have to be the personal narrator. I struggled. I wrote about grade school, high school, discovering an obsession with singing, followed closely by an obsession with basketball, overshadowed by the mystery of girls. And then I tossed it all out.

I discovered memoir, in the sense that I hadn’t really understood what memoir was before then. I read other memoirs, mostly hated them, especially the music and band books, until I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, and “Candy Girl, A Year in the Life of a Unlikely Stripper” by Diablo Cody, and a novel that felt so much like memoir that I thought it counted, “The Descendants” by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and I got it. It wasn’t about history, it was about emotion, it was about what the things that happened to you meant, not getting dates, times and dialog exactly right. And that left the largest stumbling block. I was going to have to dig into myself. It took the next four years to write about the six years of the memoir (with look-ins to events back into the Fifties), and examine personal life back then and how things affected me in the story and even to some extent, to the present. Before this, I’d never considered myself a person who spent much time looking backward but now it was liking pulling myself out of a fugue state after each writing session.

Each draft vastly improved my creative writing skills, bringing more and better descriptions of the band’s experiences, but also found me digging into things about my own experiences I hadn’t considered sharing with anyone. It was becoming more and more obvious, I’d have to be willing to strip emotionally naked to uncover the real story. And since it was about my band, appropriately named Stark Naked and the Car Thieves, perhaps that made sense.

I finally found my beginning at one of the lowest points of my young life at 24. My marriage to my high school dream girl, who’d rescued me from the pain of being a high school teenager, borne our two beautiful young sons, and whom I loved beyond reason, was in trouble. The vocal group, that sang A Capella Fifties rock tunes, and had given me something to dedicate myself to as a teenager; that had recorded a record in a homemade studio that inexplicably out-charted the Beatles on Chicago’s big rocker, WLS, for a few of weeks in January 1964, was scattering to the winds. The winds of change had begun to howl and while they slammed some doors, others were being blown open. So while this isn’t quite where my personal story started, this is where NIGHT PEOPLE, Book 1 of Things We Lost in the Night, A Memoir of Love and Music in the 60s with Stark Naked and the Car Thieves begins.

 

9 Questions With… Elisabeth Flaum

9 Bridges is proud to introduce “9 Questions with…” 
A biweekly blog where we ask writers to answer 9 burning questions people do not even realize they want to know, including the most important question of all; Rock, paper or scissors?  

Elisabeth Flaum began writing because of Doctor Who and hasn’t yet been able to stop. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works in accounting, races dragonboats, and writes short sci fi and poems about volcanoes. Recent publications include The Comet’s Tail: Bits and Pieces available at lulu.com and Ghosts available on Smashwords.

 

9 Bridges: When you are writing do you feel more like you are being inspired by a muse, or driven by demons?

Elisabeth: Definitely driven. I have a lot of ‘what am I doing and why am I doing it?’ moments.

 

9: Tell us about the space where you write best and why that space works for you.

EF: I have written great stuff on my work computer after hours; on my home desktop in the middle of the night; on my laptop in the back yard; in my notebook on the bus; occasionally on loose paper on a bench outside the Convention Center. I have also written crap in most of those places. The important thing is having something to write with.

 

9: If you were alone on a desert isle with no tinder for a fire handy what book would you most want to have with you and why would you chose that book to burn?

EF: I would happily burn Mists of Avalon if it meant I could get all those hours of my life back.

 

9: If you were alone on a desert isle with plenty of tinder for a fire handy what book would you want most to have with you and why?

EF: Dune. I could read it over and over, and it makes sand appealing.

 

9: What is the best advice you have ever given or received about writing?

EF: Neil Gaiman said, “Write.” That pretty much covers it.

 

9: Have you ever entered a writing contest? Did you win?

EF: I once wrote a poem about Portland food carts that won tickets to the Northwest Food and Wine Festival worth $180. At the time I didn’t consider myself a writer and entered mostly as a joke. The response – not just the win, but what I heard from people – convinced me to take my writing a little bit more seriously.

 

9: Everyone always talks about writers block but no one ever seems to do anything about it. What is your solution.

EF: Just write. Write garbage, write fluff, write a list, write anything, just write. The longer I go without writing, the harder it is to start again, and the crappier my writing when I do start. It’s like sports that way; take two weeks off at the gym, regret it for months.

 

9: Most writers I have talked to have at least one story about a loony teacher they knew who somehow inspired them. What is yours?

EF: I had a music theory teacher in college who regularly distributed handouts with titles like “A plethora of major seventh chords.” He wore such a smile on his face as he did it. I think of him whenever I come across a really great word.

 

9: Rock, Paper or Scissors?

EF: Paper. Lots and lots of paper.

Poetry Workshop in PDX

This month’s seminar will focus on Poetry as April is national poetry month.

Vargus Pike, published poet extraordinaire and 9 Bridges Board Chairman, will be leading a workshop on poetry. Whether you are interested in trying your hand at writing poetry or simply want to understand the medium better so you can feel more comfortable analyzing and critiquing, Vargus will give you the tools you need. The goal of this month’s seminar is to learn the basics of analyzing poems by the process of close reading with a goal towards developing a greater mindfulness of process and meaning when reading other’s works or writing your own. Breaking down a poem using various strategies informs your own construction. Vargus will be going over basic concepts such as Rhythm, meter, tonality and structure.

The workshop starts promptly at 5:45 PM at First Christian Church, Downtown Portland

For more information and to RSVP, please visit our Meetup page. As always, the workshop is free (although donations are always welcome to help cover our rent at FCC.)