About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The Power of Perspective

– by Christy Moceri

I once spent 19 hours arguing with a guy on the internet about a subject that touched me personally. I admit that’s a little extreme – but who among us can’t relate, at least occasionally, to the feeling that we’re talking to a brick wall? People seem more resistant than ever to understanding where we’re coming from. They are committed to their one narrow version of reality, and our arguments, however impassioned, are unlikely to make an impact.

Perhaps there is another way.

In 1906, an American journalist and novelist wrote a book about an immigrant man named Jurgis Rudkus struggling to make ends meet in the meat-packing district of Chicago. The author, Upton Sinclair, formulated his argument carefully, layer by layer, not in the form of academic discourse but through construction of a character who would be the living embodiment of the immigrant plight of that era. Rather than appealing to their logic, he transplanted them into the worn-out shoes of the immigrants themselves. Readers rose early in the morning, worked themselves to the bone in unsafe, unsanitary conditions, and came home with little to show for it but an aching body and empty pockets. Just by nature of inhabiting Jurgis Rudkus and his unfortunate family members, readers were challenged to consider how they might endure similar injustices – and if anyone ought to endure them at all.

The Jungle turned out to be one of the most influential novels in American history. While Sinclair intended it as an attack on capitalist abuse, the result was sweeping change in the working conditions and sanitary practices of the meat-packing industry. Sinclair did not consider this a perfect win. As he famously said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

Still, I can’t help but view Sinclair’s work – and others like it – Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example – as prime examples of the power that we have as writers. With well-wrought stories, readers can’t help but drop their guards. We lead them to inhabit other bodies and realities, and to see the world in a whole new way. This is one reason it’s so important to embrace diversity in the publishing world. Journalists and school-teachers will do in a pinch, but stories are best told by the people who lived them. Who knows how The Jungle might have transformed society if the story were told by someone who had lived the immigrant experience? Every one of us has a unique perspective and the power to bring that perspective to the page in a way that nobody else can. How will we wield that power?

I’ve always written about the issues closest to my heart, not really with any sort of agenda but as a natural expression of my own worldview. I’m a social worker, and I spend much of my time engaged with issues of poverty, sexism, racism, exploitation, and so-on. This stuff naturally crops up as a major theme in my work. I can try to explain what it’s like for someone to be marginalized, to be financially destitute or sexually assaulted, or I can just let readers experience it through my characters’ lives. Which is going to have the greater impact? I think the moral of the story is that the next time I feel that hot-button internet drive to set someone straight, I’m best served by popping open Scrivener and getting back to work.

Christy Moceri writes romantic thrillers in alternate worlds. Her WIP is a futuristic fantasy novel about a revolutionary spy and the violent degenerate who loves her.

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized

Your Characters are Weird and You Should Feel Weird

 – by Christy Moceri

I have always felt like a freak, and there’s no surer confirmation of my freakishness than watching people try to make sense of my writing. My minister friend pored through pages of obscenity, violence and lustful passion before declaring it “Profane… but meaningful.” (That’s going on my business card.) I write romance, but I’d rather be compared to Chuck Palahniuk than Danielle Steel. Any good love story should have gritty action, a high body count and a heap of conflict. My work has been described as “dark” “intense” and “emotionally exhausting.”

One of my writer friends condemned my protagonist thusly: “She’s a hot mess.”

She always is, I can’t deny it. She is every stupid, self-destructive impulse I’ve ever had. She is my justified rage, the narcissism in my neurosis, the id to my superego existence. Unlike me, she doesn’t give a damn whether you like her or not. She has other priorities.

The problem with writing your guts out is that not everybody gets it. Or wants to get it. Or can stand to look at it. Or even understands what they are seeing. As writers, we constantly have to balance artistic integrity with likability. I think woman characters have an extra hurdle to jump in this regard. I’ve noticed practically nothing my female characters do can escape the suggestion that they are trying to “manipulate” someone. In a recent story I wrote, my female protagonist propositioned a man. “Is she trying to manipulate him?” “No, man, she just wants to have sex with him.” Is it particularly adaptive to proposition a stranger when your lover is on the warpath? Not so much, but it’s thoroughly characteristic of traumatized, desperate, self-destructive people. And these are the kind of people I write about, because these are the kind of people I understand.

Some people read it and immediately get it, no explanation necessary. I have found kindred spirits in unlikely places. These people are my lifeblood. They keep me hustling. At a certain point you have to embrace your weird, maybe even revel in it a little. Maybe the cost of reaching my people is alienating everyone else.

For those who don’t get it… is it a failure in my technique? Some error in my craft? Perhaps. I still have much to learn. But maybe most people have no reference point, no way to enter into the reality that I take for granted. I have a master’s degree in social work, a stable, happy marriage of thirteen years, and a normal (probably boring) life. But once upon a time, I was a 17-year-old legally emancipated minor scrounging nickels in my car seat cushions to pay for gas. I spent one stint in psych ER. As a college student, I took a two-year medical withdrawal in order to teach myself to cope with my constantly overwhelming emotions. I’ve had to fight bare-fisted with my painful childhood for every bit of “normal” I’ve got. I beat back the past, but my knuckles are still bloody. Most people do not understand what it’s like to have your own worst enemy living inside you. Maybe my great task as an artist will be learning how to communicate the nature of that struggle.

Any time I fail to make the reader connect with my troubled characters, it feels like a rejection of my truest self. Last night I shopped my first (EVER) short story to my writers group. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about a woman leaving an abusive relationship. I based the dynamic on one from my childhood. It’s good, they said. We like it, they said.

Is there anything worse for a writer to hear? “This is competent.” God. Twist the knife in deeper.

I’m just going to have to work harder, until at least one of them hates it.

Christy Moceri writes romantic thrillers in alternate worlds. Her WIP is a futuristic fantasy novel about a revolutionary spy and the violent degenerate who loves her.

“What is to give light must endure burning.”  – Viktor Frankl

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About Writers, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

World’s Best Critique Group: A Case Study

– by Christy Moceri

In 2015, I joined a writer’s group that changed my life. We call ourselves the International Writers Syndicate, because one of our members is Canadian and ‘Syndicate’ sounds sinister and mysterious. After four years of steady improvement and one year of co-leadership, this is what I’ve learned.

We Are Intentional
We created our group to become better writers. This may sound obvious, but many writing groups form around a shared interest rather than a shared purpose. In other groups I’ve sampled, motives for participation range from, “I need something to keep me occupied on Tuesday nights,” to “I love hearing what a great writer I am. Please tell me more.”

Once you decide the purpose of your group, and commit to that purpose, decision-making about how to spend that time – and who to spend it with — becomes a lot clearer.

We Are Crafty
In keeping with our goal for continued improvement, we are heavily focused on craft. Lately a number of us have been doing a deep-dive into global structure. The more we study craft together, the more we develop a shared language for communicating about each other’s work. Our explicit, written objective in the critique process is not to impose our personal preferences onto someone else’s work, but rather to help each member clarify the story they are trying to tell and provide tools and techniques that will help them tell that story more effectively. Though we write everything from YA to erotic thriller, we believe that the principles of good storytelling are universal. We honor those principles at every meeting.

We Are Ruthless
Here’s the truth about writer’s groups that nobody wants to hear: The desire to be nice will ride roughshod over your most deeply cherished vision for a group of committed, like-minded writers. Nice will invite anyone through the door, roll out the welcome mat, and allow them to suck your time, energy and resources regardless of their skill, commitment, or cultural fit. Nice will encourage whispered, covert conversations and erode group cohesion. Don’t believe for a second you’re sparing anyone’s feelings by not being direct with them. In the long run, they will only be hurt more.

After a number of frustrating experiences with open membership, we became a closed group, by invitation only. We evaluate for skill level, capacity for improvement, demonstrated ability to give and receive a critique, and tolerance for dirty jokes. Does it suck to tell an otherwise lovely person that they aren’t a good fit for your group? Sure does. You know what sucks more? Devoting precious time and energy to someone who doesn’t share or even comprehend your vision.

We don’t just guard membership with ruthless fervor, we’re also ruthless in the critique process itself. We tell each other what we really think, sometimes loudly. Honesty is our commitment to one another, no matter how much it hurts, because not improving as writers is the worst possible outcome.  We consider this thing sacred, and we’re going to protect it with everything we have.

We Love Each Other
If you care passionately about improving your writing, you will suffer. You will face writing tasks that seem impossible, spend months parched of inspiration, writhe with insecurity, and probably hear feedback that makes you want to pitch your manuscript in the trash and go do something fun. When you are trapped in the gaping maw of the worst this lifestyle has to offer, nothing matters more than having someone to ride out that suffering with you. They will listen to your paranoid 3am text rants and read your five versions of your third act because you will do the same for them. When they are full of fear and trembling, you will tell them they are brave and destined for greatness, dress them for battle, and push them out into the world. Your bond becomes their armor. And you will never feel more powerful.

Visit Christy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100028306160378

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