Tag Archive | writer’s block

Ding, Dong, the “Block” is Dead!

I feel like patting myself on the back because I finally broke through a month of stymied writing! Yesterday, I wrote three chapters and and my fingers were flying over the keyboard, producing words that were clicking! (This is where we all do the dance of joy!)

I guess that trip to the library broke the spell. It must be good library karma because I only came away with one book , and like I told you, I really didn’t think I would find anything useful in it.

The was book called “Mafia” authored by the United States Treasury Department Bureau of Narcotics. Inside this unpretentious, phone- book-looking book, I found names and faces of several real characters I planned to use in my story. For instance, to place the book in time I was planning to use Frank “Lucky” Luciano. You can read volumes about this mobster, see movies and documentaries about him, but in all of that kind of research I never thought such a BIG  man in the mob was so short! He only stood 5 ft. 2 in. tall!

Now I wonder how he commanded the respect of bigger, taller, stronger men who answered to him. Would you take orders from a shrimp like Lucky? With this one fact, I’ve come to a crossroads. Should I let my imagination run wild or is there more to research? Little facts like this one thing–that a godfather in the mob was short — can be key. It’s a detail that I will use.

I also saw a picture of the little shrimp. His square face, double chins and beady eyes produced a mug only a mother could love. So how did he convince a woman to marry him and have children?  Hmm. . .

All of this from a dry, 843-page book of mug shots and basic statistics of over 800 gangsters put together by a government agency. Who wouldda thunk it?

I guess this accounts is meant to say, you will be surprised where you will find inspiration. It can come from a sight, a sound or even a dry old book written by the government. And when you find it, jump out of bed and run to the keyboard.

Wonders never cease!

“Hey, I wrote that book!”

Yesterday I went to the library to do some research. I thought it might help break through with my writer’s block if I could find something juicy about the New York Mob. But like usual, the library didn’t have the perfect stuff I needed. The books I wanted were already checked out by someone else. (I had a fleeting moment of pondering whether they were planning to write a similar book.) I had to put the books I wanted on hold, which was not what I had in mind when I went into the building.

So, seeing I couldn’t get the materials I wanted, I wandered through the stacks of fiction. I thought, “Hey, I wonder if they have my book on the shelf?” So after I figured out that the books were arranged in alphabetical order according the the author’s name, I zoomed over the the “Mc’s” and voila! There was MY book on the shelf! A ripple of pride went through me; I picked the familiar book off the shelf and read the back cover. I pretended I didn’t know the author, in case some snoopy Big Brother camera was watching me admire my own book. But there was my picture — on the back cover, so I if someone caught me in a private moment of the wicked sin of pride, I would have been guilty.

I slipped the book back into its place on the shelf and I walked out of the library with a smile on my face even though I didn’t come close to finding the materials I wanted.

I felt a little like the brick layer who goes buy a building he worked on and proudly says to his children, “I built that one! See the one with the fine brick work?” Yeah. That’s how it felt for me to see my book beside the zillions of other books on the shelf. I wanted to shout, “I wrote this one!” But I didn’t dare–after all, I was int he library.

And yes, St. Peter, chalk me up for one big sin of pride — it was worth it.

Out, damn Block!

So far, the “Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” novels have pretty much written themselves. Even the book that’s with the editor right now called “Finding Gessler” went somewhat easy. This story is about a Jewish father and son who lost each other during the War and their search to reconnect in the early 1950s. But the book I’m working on now is a struggle. The plot is emerging, but it’s slow and tedious. The pain this book and its characters are causing me is almost overwhelming.

I’ve written about seven chapters, but now I need to really get into the meat of the story– which I think is a clash of the old world ways and the new world ways of thinking. Not an original idea, I know, but it is a solid conflict. For a country built on the backs of a steady stream of new immigrants, it’s a classic.

I just haven’t found that spark of inspiration yet and its been over a month since I penned the first few words of the novel. I fear that what I’m writing now is pedestrian and boring, when I intend this story to be full of action. I know it’s a bad case of writer’s block, but knowing the cause of my situation isn’t helping. Writing pieces like the “saddle shoe” story was a diversion that hasn’t helped. Being on campus again hasn’t helped. Even hearing success stories about the series hasn’t been inspirational. My worst fear is that I’ve lost my mo-jo– that I’ll never write another novel.

My only recourse seems to be this: If I’m a writer, then I must write. If I write crap, so be it. There’s a wonderful key on the computer that I use after such a spell. It’s called “delete” that I use frequently when I know I’ve given birth to something that should never live another day.



Sometimes the “Beginnning” seems like “The End”

And in the beginning . . .  A very famous book started off that way. Maybe it was because the author didn’t know how to get going. That’s where I’m finding myself right now. It always happens after I finish one novel and embark on another. I don’t know how to begin.

Yesterday, I spend the good share of the day trying to put down the first six chapters of the next novel I have in mind. This book is about Italians coming to America. Did you know that the Italians were the biggest group to immigrate over a 50 year time span? Yup, it’s true. I learned that in college when I was researching my own Grandfather Ballasario’s  immigrant story.

Unlike my grandfather who came to the Midwest, the characters in the new novel come from Sicily and will settle in the New York tenements. I’m having trouble getting to know these characters because I’ve never been THAT poor. I’ve never had a great deal of money either, but for some reason, I can imagine being at the rich end of the spectrum instead of the poor. I wonder why that is, but I can’t dwell on it. I have to research, right?

I’ve read books like, “Angela’s Ashes,” which was a story about growing up in dire poverty in Ireland. I’ve heard stories from poor people from third world countries having to use old tires to re-sole their shoes. But for some reason, these accounts don’t tell me how the people feel. That’s the dilemma. So, I guess the answer is, I must keep persevering until my characters talk to me.

I think “The Beginning”  is the hardest part of any writing because it sets the tone for what will come after. Maybe these characters accept their fate or maybe they will rebel against the people who look down upon their station in life. Maybe one character will accept his/her status and  remain positive that they will someday live somewhere else. Or, this character will join a gang and fight their way out. I don’t know right now, and it’s driving me crazy!

The answer might be to try writing the middle chapters or even the end. It’ll be revised a dozen times anyway, right? I just have to force myself to WRITE.  Hey, anything’s better than succumbing to writer’s block!

So, wish me luck as I face my task. I hope to be able to tell you all in a few weeks, that I’ve overcome the problems and my characters are keeping me up at night. If not, I’ll probably whine to you a little more.