From Open Mic to Stand Up

I’m funny. My friends tell me that when they laugh at me, and I often get (appropriate) laughter when I read at open mics. Note: If I’m lucky, perhaps someone I know will post confirmation of this in the comments section of this article, but for now, you’ll just have to believe me. Since I like making people laugh, I’ve been considering for some time now, trying out stand-up comedy.  This past Saturday I took my first tentative step in that direction at No Shame Theatre in Carrboro, NC.

A friend of mine attended and performed at one of their shows. She told me all about the variety of acts they have. A self-description from their Facebook page: “No Shame Theatre is a forum for original stage performance work.” They are mostly theatre but they have singers, dancers, and poets perform, and when my friend attended, there was a marriage proposal on stage.

Anyone who buys a ticket can sign  up to perform; although, it became apparent that there is a regular troupe of performers for this venue as several people were on stage multiple times in various groupings. First up was an improve duo; then, yours truly. More on that later. I saw three one-act plays, one funny reading, and a dramatic monologue. I don’t think they had enough performers because one half of the improve duo got on stage and just chatted about wanting to go on vacation. Most of his 5 minute slot involved soliciting ideas from the audience for great vacation spots.  Hmmm…

My decision to lean into the comedy came from an idea I had about combining some of my quirky, showy poems with some shtick and some patter. Since I know the foundation material by heart, I didn’t give myself more than half an hour to practice the rest. The loosey-goosey approach seemed to work; I got plenty of laughs. The friend I mentioned above was in the audience. She’s seen me read several times and she assured me when I got back to my seat that it was my best delivery yet. Thanks K! Three of the regulars, including the host, complimented me after the show.

So, I think I’m on my way. I just need to write some more material! Got a banana peel I can borrow for inspiration?

What to Do and Not Do at an Open Mic

Just got home from another great poetry Open Mic in the Triangle. The two featured poets were great, as were most of the 17 poets, including yours truly, in the open mic. One young man in particular stood out to me. His poem was so poignant and tender it made me cry (which is a good thing with poetry). Unfortunately, when he got to the mic, the first thing he said was, “This is one of my early poems, so I apologize if the quality is not very good.”

He and I had a little impromptu coaching session during the after-mingle, and I decided that I would share my tips with you as well. Besides, it’s been a while since I posted. Holy Crap! My last post was October?! Wow. But I’m not going to apologize; and that so happens to be the number one piece of advice I have for you tonight.

When you take the stage to read a poem, sing, play an instrument, give a speech or perform comedy, Do Not Apologize. Most people, myself included, are their own worst critic. It takes years of honing one’s craft, and receiving feedback to work it all out. If you are a newbie poet, singer, speaker, you probably don’t know how your performance is going to land with your audience until you deliver it.

You may have a really good poem (song, whatever) that has won an award or been published, but the audience that night doesn’t like it. You can tell because the applause you receive will be short and polite. The reverse is true as well. You may have a poem that would be completely dismissed by experts in the field but the audience loves it and responds enthusiastically. Finally, you can perform the same piece in front of different audiences and get completely different reactions. Trust me, the audience wants to be entertained. I know I do when I have my butt in that hard folding chair. Please don’t give me a reason to not like you before you even start.

Now that you know what to not to do, what should you do? Be confident. If you are smirking right now and thinking, “easier said than done,” smirk no more. Create confidence by doing your best work; get feedback from people you trust if you need it. Create confidence by preparing, and rehearsing. Create confidence by putting your best, non-drunken, foot forward, like a BOSS!

You can do it. I believe in you.

How to Write Female Characters

A hundred years after women earned the right to vote, and fifty plus years after Betty Friedan wrote the Feminine Mystique, and the Equal Pay Act passed in1963, women are still fighting for representation and equality in society, on celluloid screens and the pages of novels. So, kudos to every writer who creates strong women characters!

Now, in order for characters to be multi-faceted individuals with realized identities, they need to do more than run and fight. They need an emotional life. Many writers find it easy to write action scenes, but they fall into clichés when it’s time to explore the emotional life of their characters. Before you can fill your character with depth and believable emotion, you have to remove the cheap stereotypes. Here are a few of my personal pet peeves.

Stop making her cry!
Her eyes well, fill, hover with tears. Tears flow silently, slowly, steadily. Tears slip, spill, and track down cheeks. She sobs and weeps with a quivering chin or mouth. Shoulders shake. If there are tears for fear, sadness, joy, beautiful moments, anger and jealousy, I’m not going to like this woman.

Addendum: A reader asked me what I had against people who cry. Nothing. I cry myself. It is the amount of crying that I find disturbing. More than 40 references to moist eyes in a 300 page manuscript is too much. Also, if you are using wet eyes as a synonym for emotion, please try again. Thank’s B.

Stop making her blush!
Blushing happens when someone is embarrassed, flustered, or shy. It happens to everyone at some point; but kick-ass women, who fight, carry guns, think and strategize to save the day, are probably not easily embarrassed, flustered or shy. For the sake of your readers, current and potentially future, do not make your heroine blush, flush, slightly blush, redden, or pink up on a regular basis.

If she must blush, remember that blushing is physical and behavioral. The sympathetic nervous system causes blood vessels to open wide, flooding the skin with blood and causing the skin to redden. In some people, the ears, neck and upper chest may also blush. Physically the skin gets warmer. A blushing person may look down or away, smile or put their hands to their face. Put some emotion into your action scenes, and some action into your emotional scenes.

And by the way, don’t think I didn’t notice that all those blushing characters in your book are all white. Black people blush too, although darker skin color often hides it. But their cheeks get warm, and they are subject to the same ticks mentioned above. Diversity. It’s a thing.

Allow her to mature.
When she is young and inexperienced in the ways of love, she might blush at a mere glance from the boy – or girl – she likes. I’ll buy that. But after the first tender kiss, subsequent dating, making out, heavy petting, etc., please have the decency to let the character grow from the experience. If you are going to include romance in your novel, please note that even the shyest, sweetest girl should be allowed to gain confidence, knowledge, and understanding in matters of the heart.

PS: This advice applies to male characters as well.

Bonus:
He said, “You’re driving me crazy.”
She said, “You’re driving on the wrong side of the street.”

Dream Signs

Whether you remember them or believe in them, or not, everyone dreams. I belong to the school of thought that says, colloquially, dreams are just the brain ‘working it out.’ While sleeping, the body rests and recovers, and the brain sorts, organizes, plays back, and makes connections  using whatever images and memories are stored in the brain. So most of them don’t actually MEAN anything.

But human being are meaning-making machines, so when a dream is particularly vivid, good or bad, it stays with us, and we want to know what it means. Go back to the working it out theory. The brain is sorting out what’s most pressing in your life, using what you’ve seen, what you know and what you’re thinking about. Sometimes they make a lot of sense.

I also think that prophecy dreams make for good plot points. Even way back in the O.T., Joseph’s many-colored coat was a metaphor written by a really good spin doctor. But just because something isn’t a prophecy doesn’t mean it’s not a SIGN; a sign that the brain has worked it out and is giving you an answer.

Today I dreamt that I was shopping in a strange thrift store, which was actually also the front half of a community center.  I ended up hanging out in the community room watching TV and making friends, but that’s not the important part. I realized while shopping that my shirt was hanging open. It wasn’t even a button down shirt; just a t-shirt that had been neatly slit all the way open. The really bad part was that I wasn’t wearing a bra. OMG! That would never happen in public in real life, so, color me embarrassed! Thank goodness it was just a dream.

When I finally got dressed for the day, and was in the kitchen cleaning, and the old worn-out bra I was wearing was rolling right off of me, I remembered the dream. It’s a SIGN. After a brief wardrobe change, I finally got the courage to throw it, and another one as equally worn and ragged, in the trash! Sign received. Thank you Brain.

What are the signs in your life right now?  What are you doing about them?

Life is short. Put on the “good” underwear and Get Out There!

 

What I’ve learned from getting published

I am lucky to know a lot of writers but I do live in North Carolina which is described by the North Carolina Writer’s Network as the “Writingest State.”  All of us crazy people, I mean writers, have a different reason to write: passion, compulsion, fame, fortune, etc. Underneath all of those things, is the desire to be seen and heard. See me. Hear me.  If you want to be heard by a larger audience than your family and friends, you need to be published. To get published you must answer the siren call: Submit! Submit! Submit!

The process of submitting to contests and open calls from journals and webzines,  is not difficult. Most submissions are handled online through Submittable, or in email. But just because it is not difficult, doesn’t mean it is easy to do. Which one do I pick? What are the editors looking for? It’s easy to get stuck in an infinite doubt loop. Submit anyway. Offering your writing for publication is like job hunting. There’s no way to know what is in the heart of the editor, or the hiring manager. If you needed a job to pay your bills, you would send in a resume. It’s the same here. Write the best that you can and  send it in.

My own experience in seeking publication is that I am not the best judge of my own poetry. I just had a poem published this week in an online poetry journal (Squee!) Frankly, it was a total surprise. My poem, The Delicate Cycle, was published in The Rat’s Ass Review, on their 2016, Love & Ensuing Madness page. Their submission call states:

We will gather a broad variety of views and offer them for our readers’ enjoyment, discomfort, education, horror, titillation, disgust, stimulation, and, we hope, satisfaction. Help us prepare a smorgasbord of the good, the bad, and the ugly of sexuality.

I had just written a neat little poem about infatuation which, frankly, I am just a little too in love with. Deep down I knew it didn’t fit the magazine, but I submitted it anyway. And because the submission guidelines specified up to 5 poems, I threw in two older poems, just for grins.  You guessed it. It was one of the “throw-away” poems that got selected.

Let this be your encouragement for the day. SUBMIT!

If you are interested in Nature, check out my poem, Talking Back to Mother, published in Field Notes: Interpretations of Nature, Volume 2 a poetry anthology from My Nature Place. My friends have often heard me say, nature is something you drive by and look at. So to be published in a chapbook of poems by an organization that is all about connecting people to nature is ironic. Alanis Morissette has nothing on me baby!

It takes more than a good idea

I encourage everyone to write. Writing is good for the soul, creative, therapeutic, and helps make one think better. It doesn’t matter what you write: a journal, a short story, a poem, a book, an editorial, or a warm personal letter to a friend (bonus points for snail mail). Just write.  (End PSA)

If you want to write a book, you need an idea, (courage, determination, and coffee).  If you actually write a book, you need more than just an idea. You need a basic working understanding of how to write: grammar, punctuation, capitalization.

I just came off a marathon stretch of book editing, where I spent countless hours turning huge long blocks of prose jammed with dialogue and action from multiple characters, into standard fiction format. It was miserable. I don’t understand why any author would submit a manuscript in that format. Was it because he didn’t know the correct format for written dialogue? Or, was he too lazy to do it and/or just didn’t care? In addition to unpacking the text, I also added some variety to an endless parade of ‘he said’ and cut about 25,000 words of redundant and unnecessary text.  By the time I was finished, one might ask: Whose book is it?

If you’re going to write a book, put some sweat equity into it!  Learn the basics of your craft. Read other books. Get help from an editor, but don’t turn over all control. After all, it’s your book, isn’t it?

There are many good articles on the Internet which discuss the craft of writing dialogue, but here is your 25 cent refresher  course:

Dialogue punctuation and capitalization

  • new paragraph every time the speaker changes
  • comma after narrative verb (said, exclaimed, whispered, etc.)
  • quotes around the character’s speech
  • closing punctuation inside quotation marks (American)

 

Samples:

  • She said, “I’m home.”
  • “We’re home,” the children called upstairs.
  • He shouted, “I’m home,” then sneezed violently before continuing. “Where is everyone?”

Good luck, and happy writing!.