Author Archives: crowechris

About crowechris

I'm a writer and a teacher.

Fading Away . . .

Most writers I know believe that, for some inexplicable reason, it’s easy for other writers to get their writing done. I certainly believe this.

For example, I know that it’s easy for Carol to knock out a book in a few days, tinker with it for a day or two after that, and then ship it off to her agent. She’s publishing on a pace slightly more than a book a year, so that means she’s got about 50 weeks of free time in any given year.

Andy is cut from the cloth. She’s so disciplined and efficient that she can write a complete chapter between labor pains. She now has three boys and a house to take care of—no problem. Books appear in her head, fully-formed, and she just needs to find a few minutes each night to sit at a keyboard and download it all. Kind of like taking dictation.

Anyway, like Carol, Andy is awash in energy, creativity, and free time.

In contrast, I am a tortoise, and not the plodding, successful type featured in the time-worn fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.” I am a prehistoric tortoise, one slowed not only by the weighty and cumbersome shell but also by the ravages of age. In the time it takes me to write a page, Carol and Andy will have popped out four or five polished chapters, baked an apple pie for their neighbors, watched three episodes of “Jersey Shores” and bossed around their yard boys for not keeping their lawns and sideburns tidy enough. In the time it takes me to finish a book, glaciers will have moved a mile closer to the sea. And it’s likely that my oldest granddaughter will be a graduate student by the time I can conceive and finish a new book.

I’m telling both of you this because I am officially retiring from throwing up words—and from writing blogs. To steal and morph a line from “His Coy Mistress,” “Had I words enough and time” I would be able to write a blog, teach my classes, grade my papers, and work on my own writing. But I’m not Speedy Gonzales or the Roadrunner when it comes to putting words together, so it’s time to conserve what feeble writing energy I have for writing a book project, not a blog.

So I’m going to fade away, to melt into the floor like Oz’s Wicked Witch, to ride off into the sunset, to crawl into a rocking chair with a 2-liter bottle of Geritol, to use what few lucid moments my brain can spare on writing books—and maybe playing with the grandkids.

Carol, Andy, and Kyra may soon be advertising for a replacement Junior Assistant Co-blogger for Throwing Up Words, and I’m sure they’ll have many fine, talented applicants.

Be warned, though, the pay sucks.

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Finding Yourself in Fiction

I just received an advance copy of Carol Lunch Williams forthcoming (May 1, 2012) novel titled Waiting.    It’s intense, of course, and packed with emotion and interesting characters doing interesting things.

One character, however, stood out above all the others:  Mr. Crowe.

Now this is not the first time an author has based a character on me (see last week’s post about Edward, Xander, and the gang).  The first such instance was in Louise Plummer’s delightful first novel, The Romantic Obsessions and Humiliations of Annie Sehlmeier (1987).  In that novel a charming, sensitive teacher is named Mr. Crowe.  The conncection is obvious.

Here’s a section from Carol Lunch Williams’ newest novel:

I tap on the glass again, and Mr. Crowe strides over and swings the door open.  “Yes, London?”

How did he know my name?

I’m mute.

Now, it’s a good thing this is only an advance copy because, as both of you have noticed, Carol needs to rewrite this scene—or more likely, to re-insert the material that certainly was there in an earlier draft.

Here’s how it should read.

My hand trembles when I tap on the glass, hoping for a glimpse of Mr. Crowe, the Adonis of my Florida high school.  Though my heart is pounding with anticipation, I know that it’s unlikely that he’ll notice me.  His students hang on his every word, scribbling notes furiously and pausing only to snatch glimpes of the man they idolize.

By some sort of miracle, though, he does notice, and he glides over, looking every bit like Mr. Darcy, and with a flourish, swings open the door.  My hands have turned cold and clammy.  I’ve never been this close to anyone as kind, generous, and stunning as Mr. Crowe, and I have to place my hand on the doorjamb to steady myself when he says, in that melodious baritone, “Yes, London?”

I am mute, completely overpowered by the magnificent man standing before me.

I’m confident Carol will make these changes.

So here’s a reading-writing challenge for you.  Find your name in a novel or short story, select a scene that has your namesake in it, and rewrite that scene in a way that portrays you in the properly positive light.

It’s good practice for characterization, and it’s fun to find yourself in someone else’s fiction.

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Embarrassing Confessions

OK, not everyone can be Carol Lunch Williams or Andy Ellis.  I know I can’t be, and believe me, I’ve tried.  These two are a special breed of writer, the kind that can write regardless of life circumstances,  Nothing seems to slow them down when it comes to their writing.  They’ve proven they can be productive no matter what.

I am quite a different breed of writer, the kind who’s blown about by every wind of distraction.  The biggest distraction, of course, is my job.  I am deeply grateful to have a steady job, and I’m deeperly grateful that it’s a job I love.  The downside, of course, is that it’s a full-time job, and it gobbles up lots of my time.  The upside, in addition to a regular paycheck, is that I get to work with some terrific people on a regular basis.

But it’s not just my job that gives me an excuse not to write.  I have children and grandchildren, a house and yard, leaky faucets, plugged gutters, a TV, an appetite, and a lovely wife, and all of these provide wonderful reasons to find something other than writing to do.

But I do, from time to time, manage to pull myself away from the distractions and head down to my windowless, internetless, soundproof room in the belly of the BYU library to write.  And I have to admit, I’ve gotten a lot of writing done in that writing dungeon.  But even down in my dungeon, distractions exist.  And I’m ashamed to admit this, but here it is: solitaire  I realize that I am perhaps the only writer in America who has to overcome the pernicious attraction to Microsoft solitaire.  I’ve tried to convince myself that it’s a prewriting device, a problem-solving device, a brainstorming device, but it’s really just a plain old time-wasting device.  Fortunately, help is available, but I’m yet to the point that requires a 12-step program to Solitaire.

Other than sitting at my writing desk and staring at my computer screen until words start to appear, I have found one Pavlovian method that helps me get the writing done, even when I don’t feel like it.  When I’m up against a deadline or in a deep funk, I use a token reward system to motivate myself.  Butter toffee peanuts are the token,   Every time I finish a page, I allow myself ten sweet crunchy toffee-covered peanuts.  Unfortunately, this method has serious and visible side effects that are only exacerbated by the sedentary writer’s lifestyle.

So, dear reader (I know there’s now only one of you), unless you’re a Carol or Andy clone, what do you do to motivate yourself to write?  And what are the side effects of your method?  I welcome your suggestions.

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by | February 15, 2012 · 12:32 pm

Paranormal Haiku?

Andy ordered me to be the judge of the paranormal haiku that one of this blog’s two readers may write this week.  In case you’re reading, let me clarify what “paranormal haiku” are.

Paranormal defined:  literally, “two normals.”  Rarely confused with ‘fewanormal,’ which refers to three or four normals.  When Ann Dee and Carol Lunch Williams are together, you definitely do not have a paranormals.  Informally, ‘couplanormals’ is sometimes substituted for ‘paranormal,’ but its use is still considered nonstandard.  The prefix of this term, ‘para’ comes from the Greek, meaning “two” or “one more than one.”  ‘Normal’ is a city in Illinois (here’s their website) and is the capital of Weird County and the twin-city of Abnormal, Illinois.  The city of Normal derives its name from a hero in Roman mythology, Norman Medusaminster, who is considered the father of modern psychiatry.

Haiku defined: though misunderstood by many to be a traditional form of Japanese poetry, haiku is actually an American verse form developed by students at University of Kansas in the 1960s.  After a big basketball victory in Pfog Allen Fieldhouse on the KU campus, a literary group of long-hairs met to celebrate the big win by smoking a brick of maryjane.  While they were floating in their sweet and smoky whiter shade of pale, they began composing short poems to capture their enlightened states of euphoria after the big win.  After several attempts at naming their new verse, they settled on ‘High KU,’ which, in their stoned condition, they misspelled as ‘haiku.’  The spelling stuck.

Paranormal haiku defined:  two short poems celebrating the heroic deeds of Norman Medusaminster written in the precise form of the traditional High KU.

Of course, not everyone has my refined and sophisticated understanding of poetry, and their ignorance of the English language and of serious poetry perpetuates the misunderstanding of haiku in general and paranormal haiku in particular.  Two notable perversions of paranormal haiku are quite prominent in  American pop culture these days: Spam haiku, sometimes also known as ‘spamku,’ and Zombie haiku (don’t miss the accompanying video), but, as I have already established, these are amateurish perversions of true, literary paranormal haiku.

One other thing to remember about your submission, an important detail that Andy forgot to mention.  Because I bring so much prestige to the competition by serving as judge, there is an entry fee of $75 per syllable for each poem you enter.  That, and the $5 paranormal haiku handling charge.  So be sure to include 5 brand new $20 bills with your submission is you want it to be taken seriously.  Include only 4 brand new $20 bills if you want your submission to be taken.

Good luck, and may the best writer include the proper entrance fees!

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My Dinner with Ally: The Inside Scoop on the Real Ally Condie

If you didn’t already know this, I’m going to tell you.  Rick Walton is one of the kingmakers (or queenmaker, if you prefer) of authors in Utah.  Every kids’ writer in our state has some connection to Rick and some of us even think of him as the Godfather of Utah Kids’ Writers because he’s well known for making offers we can’t refuse.  Rick Walton also happens to be my next-door neighbor, so I’m quite familiar with the comings and goings over at his mansion, and sometimes I’ll find the corpse of a headless horse in my backyard.

Carol Lunch Williams and Andy Ellis can tell you about Rick if you don’t believe me.

Anyway, because I know Rick, I’ve been able to meet famous authors from our fair state and famous authors who visit our fair state.  Today, though, I want to share some inside information about one of our fabulously famous authors:  Ally Condie.  If you want to know what everybody else knows about Ally, what she wants the world to know about her, you can visit her website.  But I’m going to tell you the stuff you can only learn from having dinner with Ally.

Yes, I have had dinner with Ally Condie.  Actually, I have had dinners with Ally Condie—two in the last couple of months. You’re wondering, “How did a schmoe like Chris Crowe manage to dine with Ally Condie?”  Well, I know Rick Walton, and he owed me a favor.  Of course, because I am Chris Crowe the Schmoe, the dinners I had with Ally weren’t exactly dinners with Ally all by herself.  We were at the same table both times, and I did actually exchange a few words with her.  I wish I had snapped photographic, documentary evidence of these meetings, but her bodyguards won’t allow schmoes to take photos of her without her permission.

OK, so if you’re a nit-picky semanticist or wannabe English teacher, I suppose I should say that in all actuality, I ate dinner at the same time and in the same place and at the same table with Ally Condie.  Twice.

So even if I wasn’t close enough to hear her chewing or to have something like a real conversation with her, I was there.  And I’ve got witnesses to prove it.

But you’re dying to know what she’s really like, right?  Well, I’m dying to tell you.

The first thing you notice is the advance bodyguard.  Before Ally enters a room, this crew-cutted, bull-necked goon in a black tuxedo comes in and sweeps the room.  The guy can’t smile or take a joke, and I’m not even sure if he can talk.  But he does know how to frisk schmoes for cameras and concealed weapons—and he’s not gentle about it.  After the muscly man-mountain sweeps the room, he growls something into his wrist microphone, and Ally’s entourage marches in.  Five black-suited, sunglassed security guards take up positions at the doors and windows, and once they’re situated, the second wave comes in.  Two nerdy women in business suits and with pencils stuck in their hair buns strut over to the table where we’ll be dining and review the seating arrangements.  Name cards have been placed at each setting, and if you’re a schmoe, you get moved to the crummiest seat at the table, the seat that’s the greatest distance from Ally.  Then one woman reviews the menu while the other talks with the serving staff to make sure they are familiar with serving Ally and other royalty.

While these two women are training the restaurant staff, three more people show up.  One is a pencil-thin guy in a pink leather leisure suit.  His eyelids glitter with sparkly stuff, and he sashays over to our table and takes up a position behind the chair where Ally will sit when she finally arrives.  He’s her personal hairdresser and make-up artist, he explains.  Ms. Condie doesn’t like to be caught in public without having her hair and make-up just right.  The next person looks like a cross between a school librarian, an English teacher, and an accountant.  He’s got a Bluetooth phone plugged into his right ear, and he’s carrying a thin black portfolio, and he while he pulls out his I-Pad, he tells everyone that he’s Ally’s personal assistant and that he’s here to script our dinner conversation.  All questions have to be run through him first.  Instead of actually talking directly to Ally ourselves, he will read our questions to her.  Schmoes are allowed only one question, he says, looking at me over his wire rim glasses.  The third person is Catwoman. She’s wearing a skin-tight black body suit, and one look tells you that she could kill you with a flick of her wrist.  She walks around the table, slowly, wordlessly, making sure we all get a glimpse of the ninja stars she’s wearing on her belt.  Once we’re properly intimidated, she takes the seat on the other side of Ally’s chair and gives me a stare that could melt most schmoes.

With Ally’s entourage settled, an awkward silence falls over our table.  Waiting, we’re all waiting and wondering where the famous author is.  No one, especially the schmoe at the table, has the guts to ask, but the anticipation is palpable.  My growling stomach breaks the silence, and Catwoman slaps the table and tells us all that that will be enough of that.  I feel a dull pressure in the middle of my spine, and a security guard leans over and whispers in my ear that one more sound out of me, and I’ll be eating my dinner alone in a Dumpster out back.

More silence.  More anticipation.

Then Ally Condie walks in.  A quiet gasp rustles through the restaurant as she enters.  She’s wearing a long, bright green satin gown, white silk gloves that reach to her elbows, and her dark hair is so perfectly coiffed that it’s hard to believe it’s real.  She looks kind of like Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s except without the cigarette holder.

Suddenly, the restaurant staff springs to life.  A waiter pulls out her chair, another waiter slides a special menu into her hands, and a third fills her water goblet with perfectly chilled spring water from the Swiss Alps.  Her personal assistant scowls at everybody around the table, a reminder that we’re not allowed to speak.  Ally looks pleasant but tired, having just signed 2,300 books for her adoring fans.

Dinner is pleasant.  Ally is nice.  She responds to our questions (well, to my single schmoe question) in a polite, stately manner, sort of like Queen Elizabeth, II speaking to her subjects.  She talks about her writing.  She talks about her family.  She seems like a genuinely kind person, not like the New York Publishing Celebrity I had expected.  Then before dessert arrives, everything changes and she starts telling hilarious stories about growing up in southern Utah, about the wild and crazy things she did while she was in high school, about living in London as a college student, and incredible details, including the title and the entire plot, from the third and final book in her Matched series.  Her staff is scowling at this freewheeling, unrestricted personal and professional access that Ally has granted everyone, including the schmoe seated at the distant end of the table.  None of us can believe the scoop we’re privy too.

But now, for some reason, the details are hazy.  I mean, I can recall that I really did have dinner with Ally Condie and that she spellbound us with uncensored, personal stories from her past and with all the details about her next book, but I can’t recall a single specific thing from any of that.  What I do remember is that when dessert was over and Ally had left, Catwoman and the security guards lined us up and made us each swallow a little red pill.

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Failure and Revision

Thank you, Andy and Carol, for posting a blog on my behalf plugging my own new book.  As you both know, it’s always nice to finish a book and see it born, but the gestation of a book is so long that by the time the book takes its first public breath, you’re well on your way into the next book, or the next-next book.

That’s where I find myself today: on my way to my next book, and I have to choose between writing a blog or working on the book.  Guess which I’m going to choose.

But don’t despair.  I didn’t want to disappoint my 1.5 blog readers today, so here I present to you JK Rowling’s 2008 graduation speech to students at Harvard.  It’s inspiring, and it’s an entre into thinking about writing and revision:

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