Agile Writer featured on local show

Richmond, VA – Agile Writer Jackie Hunter, a retired teacher and elementary school administrator, will be a special guest on the next broadcast of “Love, Light and Positivity”. Hosted by Richmond personality, Yemaja Jubilee, the television episode will air at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 11th. Viewers may tune in on local public access channels, Comcast (Channel 95) and Verizon (Channel 36).

“Retirement can be the best phase of your life,” says Jackie Hunter, 66, a retired public middle school administrator, “When you want to learn how to do something new, my advice is to research ‘how-to’ books, and find the people and places you need to learn from.”

A native of Richmond, Hunter decided to write a sci-fi fantasy novel after working 31 years in public education as a math and science teacher. She joined Agile Writers of Richmond, a writer’s club dedicated to helping the beginning writer create a first-draft in six months, and a year later had completed her first manuscript.

Her book, Lost in the Red Hills of Mars, is about a twelve year-old girl who lives in the first human colony on Mars. It will be available as an e-book and in paperback in late-August 2017.

Agile Writer Keith Van Allen Releases New Novel

Ezekiel Saw a Wheel is a Sci-Fi Suspense Magical Realism novel by animator director Keith Van Allen, about an excentric cartoonist, Zeke Landover who’s convinced he and his family were once abducted by aliens. What he finds out is far more startling, and his cartoon characters agree with him! A surrealistic romp through the back roads and towns of historic Virginia, as Zeke and his friends search an otherworldly humanoid,while often chased by odd and sinister men of unknown origin and frightening agenda.

Van Allen worked with Agile Writer Coach Greg Smith in 2014 to bring his unique skills and story to the world. He has twisted his TV animation and cartooning career into an extraordinary magical realism tale of the surreal and unexpected, set against the landscape of historic central Virginia. It’s a sometimes horrific and even comic romp through town and back roads as Zeke and his friends, Jerry and Minnie, are enveloped in one strange occurrence after another, in the seemingly placid landscape of their lives. At each turn of the road, the friends are confounded and confronted by things which challenge their conceptions of reality, the Universe,time and what’s actually happening around them in the everyday world,(that is when they have the time). Alien and metaphysical worlds collide as the friends go spinning onward through vortex after vortex of mysterious apocalyptic visions and bizarre situations. A truly wild ride of weirdness!

Also along for the ride, inside Zeke’s mind are his cartoon characters from his weekly comic strip (which he really should be working on), Melvin the Gunk and Stupid the Cat, a marooned blobby alien and an out-of-work cartoon character actor, who drive a 39 Ford in search of America. Zeke struggles to keep his mind on creativity and also the business of survival while they intrude on his thoughts at unwanted moments,and even try to help him (if he’ll let them), and in between his occasional rants about the world, the media, the environment and politics.

Minnie is an ex-girlfriend psychic of free wheeling New Age attitude, who re-hooks up with Zeke and joins in the undulating chase along with Jerry, an exuberant easy going but unorganized conspiracy theorist who takes what comes in his own unique fashion which defies description. Various characters of the Virginia landscape, downtown Richmond and elsewhere also invade the swirling plot,as one by one they are wrapped up and spun out, into some sort of realization that seen and unseen forces for good and evil are everywhere at work, while encountering clues which promise to lead them somehow to an understanding of what’s going on in, and out,beyond,within and even without-The World.

Van Allen’s book can be found on Amazon.com.

The Art of Incubation

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At Agile Writers we’ve been reading Sage Cohen’s book “Fierce on the Page.” Each week one of the writers will take the book home and read a chapter and digest it down to one page. Then, they return the next week and share what they learned and we talk about how it applies to our writing in general and what it means to us as Agile Writers.

  • Procrastination is sometimes confused with incubation, the process of ruminating and allowing ideas the time they need to take root.
  • Nobody looks at a six-months-pregnant woman and says, “Oh, she’s procrastinating. If she were a real achiever, she would have given birth to that baby already.”
  • The challenge is that the writing life doesn’t have finite gestation.
  • Henri Poincaré, mathematician & scientist proposed creativity happens in four steps.
    • Preparation: We set our intentions and define our goals.
    • Incubation: We dream into the possibilities, honor the unknown, and become receptive to what is seeking us.
    • Illumination: We have the revelation in which some new possibility takes shape.
    • Execution: We create to manifest and materialize our discovery.
  • Many writers leap straight to execution without having first grappled with what they are striving for
  • Execution without vision is like a house without a foundation.
  • Procrastination— which is born from fear— often happens between steps three and four
    • You have a crisis of confidence that prevents you from taking the next necessary steps.
    • This is a very different from incubation, in which you have a goal or a vision

 

Greg’s Thoughts: At Agile Writers we do Preparation when we write our abstracts. We’re setting up our goals by writing down what we think our story is about. Incubation occurs during the synopsis. We extend into Illumination by creating a storyboard and massaging it until it is ready. Then, finally, we Execute – we write 10 pages a week until we’re done.

Fail Fast

At Agile Writers we’ve been reading Sage Cohen’s book “Fierce on the Page.” Each week one of the writers will take the book home and read a chapter and digest it down to one page. Then, they return the next week and share what they learned and we talk about how it applies to our writing in general and what it means to us as Agile Writers.

This week, it was my turn. Here’s my take on Cohen’s chapter called “Fail Harder.”

  • Book Review – Cohen received a book review from a reader who loved the book but went on at length about a typo.
  • Cohen started out a perfectionist
    • did not send my work out for fear that it contained a flaw.
    • did not share it with anyone, ever
    • What if my writing was no good
    • What if other people didn’t like it
    • What if the writing contained a mistake?
  • She stumbled upon a mural that said “Fail Harder.”
    • failing hard is often in direct proportion to trying hard
  • In Japan, wabi-sabi is an aesthetic rooted in the art of imperfection
    • a celebration of the flaw that makes a piece of art (or a life) unique.
  • When you embrace imperfection in your writing
    • you cultivate the compassion and acceptance that you (and your writing) deserve.
    • trust your material instead of fear of making a mistake.
    • your mistakes make you vulnerable enough to connect with other humans.
  • Sharing writing and making an authentic connection is more important than perfection
  • The Japanese art of Kintsugi involves mending broken objects by filling the cracks with gold.
    • to illuminate the repair and honor an object’s history of usefulness rather than to try to disguise the damage.

 

Greg’s Thoughts: Not only “Fail Hard” but “Fail Fast.” At Agile Writers we write abstracts, a synopsis, and a storyboard so that when our plots fail – they fail fast. It’s easier to see the flaws when we lay out our plot up front. Get the errors on paper right away rather than a year down the road after the first draft has been written. When I send you home to fix “Stage 2” it’s a failure – but you’re failing fast. You’ll also succeed fast!

The Idiot in the Room

176451-004-0848859CThere are a number of ways to expose information to the reader: dialog, letters, news reports, and flashbacks are just a few. But by far the best way to expose information to the reader is to have someone close to the hero who doesn’t understand what is going on. I call this “the idiot in the room.”

When you want to let the reader know a fact that may not be intuitively obvious, you can have some uninitiated character ask obvious questions. Think about the classic example of Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes.  Watson was constantly asking questions that allowed Holmes to explain how he knew what was going on.

This can also work in reverse – by having the hero be the idiot in the room. One great example of this is the old TV series “Columbo.” Columbo would constantly ask questions of the suspect requiring them to explain himself. And his classic maneuver was to ask “Oh, just one more thing…” This was always his moment to skewer the villain with the crime.

I recently watched a rerun of “Lie to Me.” The main character, Dr. Lightman, is played by Tim Roth. He is a PhD. whose secret power is that he can read micro-expressions and tell when people are lying. He has a sidekick named Torres who is just learning the craft. Whenever Lightman figures out who is lying, Torres asks how he knows. He then launches into a description of the facial ticks or body language that exposes the liar.

If you need to explain something to the reader, a great way to do it is to create a sidekick who needs mentoring from the hero. Or, make the hero a character who needs information from a more experienced character (like a reporter asking questions of a professor). The idiot in the room is your secret weapon to exposition that is natural and not information dumping.

Non Standard Plots: A Dog’s Purpose

At Agile Writers we adhere to The Hero’s Journey as laid out by Joseph Campbell in his seminal work The Hero With a Thousand Faces. We also take lessons from movie plots and combine them into the Agile Writer Method.

The Hero’s Journey has a standard pattern. The hero starts out in a familiar world where things are pretty static. Then something happens that upsets the hero’s world and he is thrust into unfamiliar territory. He must learn the rules of this “Special World” and overcome some great obstacle and return to the “Ordinary World” with the lessons learned.

The vast majority of story plots follow this pattern. But it’s not necessarily the only pattern. Sometimes writers break the mold of the hero’s journey to tell a compelling story using a different device to good effect.

One example I like to use is 2011’s War Horse – a Stephen Spielberg film. In it we’re introduced to a horse who is bought by a farmer at auction at the start of World War I. The horse is a thoroughbred – built for racing. But the farmer uses the horse to plow the fields. The horse demonstrates great heart in her work. Ultimately, the farmer is forced to sell the horse to the English cavalry. The horse is then owned by a captain who runs into a German infantry troupe and is killed. The horse then changes hands again and is used to pull cannons for the German artillery. The horse escapes and befriends a young French girl whose father works for the resistance. Finally, after the war is over, the horse returns to the farm only to find that it is overrun by cars, jeeps, and buses.

This pattern is the “anthology” story. The horse is not really the hero of the story. The horse is merely a.token that is passed from mini-story to mini-story to give the movie continuity. The horse doesn’t learn any lessons. But we’re witness to the loss of innocence of Europe and the transition from an agrarian society to a technological one. The world is changed, not our hero.

A similar device is used to good storytelling effect again in A Dog’s Purpose. In it, a dog, Bailey, is born, dies, and is reborn over and over. In each life the dog learns something new. And all through the multiple lives, Bailey has experiences that teach him how to be the best dog he can be.

It’s hard to watch a good dog die. Especially over and over again. While the story is cloying and tugs at the heart strings, the anthology pattern is used to good effect here. The message this movie wants to push home is “be present and happy in the moment – like good dogs do.” It does it by following one dog’s spirit through multiple reincarnations.

Not every story is a hero’s journey. At Agile Writers, we adhere to this pattern because most stories can be told to great effect using it. There are times, however, when other patterns, like the anthology pattern, may suit your needs better. Choose the pattern that serves your story best.

FIRST DRAFT FINISHERS!!!

Agile Writers has become the go-to place for writers in the Richmond area. Offering seminars in screenwriting, publishing, marketing, rewriting and much more. Nevertheless, majority of writers still join with one main goal in mind: to complete their first drafts. With that being said, Agile Writers would like to congratulate three of its own for crossing that first draft finish line.  A big round of applause to Cat Brennan, Jim Bono, and Christine Gauthier. They have spent countless hours immersed in their own heads trying to get the right words onto a blank page, chose to spend time with their fictional characters instead of with family and friends, and have outlined, plotted, and critiqued their way to the end.

These three are great examples of how the Agile Writers Critique Groups have transformed the usually solitary process of crafting a novel into a process that includes support from peers and brings the motivation, encouragement, and discipline that is needed to complete the first draft. All three give credit to Agile Writers and each other for their success.

cat                                                    CAT BRENNAN, Chaos in Old Town

Writer, Seamstress, and Recipient of the Grace of God.

Cat Brennan is one of those people that you cannot help but to like. With her bright and contagious personality it is no surprise that she once had her very own radio show entitled “Cathy D & Love Songs in the Night.” Currently Cat is working in Horticulture, described by her as getting to work with one of her favorite colors-green. Even better to Cat than working with a favorite color is being a Grammie and a GG. That for her, is the good life.

Chaos in Old Town tells the tale of lonely widow Abigail Jackson who decides to take a chance and open a fabric shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. However, this decision comes with more than just the new life Abigail was hoping to find after the death of her cop husband. The opening of her shop brings about threats from the evil Vincente Quintana causing Abigail constant fear and wavering in her faith. But on the other hand, FBI agent, John Garrison also finds his way into her life. Although she has sworn to never be involved with an officer of the law again Abigail cannot help but be attracted to his blue eyed charm. Chaos in Old Town is a Christian Fiction Romance, with a heroine that is strong and full and faith. Which is why Abigail is Cat’s favorite character in the novel.

Cat joined Agile Writer’s a year and half ago so that she could gain discipline in her writing and in the end gained much more. She doesn’t hesitate to credit Agile Writer’s and her critique partners with having a huge part to do with her completion of her goal. Yes, she put in the work but without the inspiration and support from her “cheering section” as she calls her critique partners, or the coaching from Agile Writer leader Greg Smith she may not have finished.

 

jim

“Villans make fabulous subjects, since they have fewer and wider boundaries than heroes.”

Jim Bono, Guilt Trip

Guilt Trip, is Jim Bono’s second novel with Agile Writers. The 238 page science fiction follows protagonist Kristen Butler, whose life is changed when the high school senior finds an amulet with the power to inflict overwhelming feelings of guilt on whomever she chooses.  The concept for the story came from Jim asking himself the question, “how would an ordinary person deal with acquiring a super power?” Our heroine, Kristen, finds out the hard way that sometimes power comes with an awful price. For most writers, their protagonist is the favorite character. Jim is not most writers. Jim’s favorite character in his story is the parents of the main villain. It really is no surprise that these malignant pair of scoundrels are Jim’s favorite characters since he enjoys the unpredictability that are villains.

Like many a writer, the hardest part for Jim while writing his novel was putting the words on the first page each week. A blank screen can sometimes be a scary thing, but with a little motivation and a deadline to meet every week, Jim pushed through until he had finally reached The End. Jim credits Agile Writers with guiding him through his story with help developing his characters, building a plot structure, and ensuring critical points were positioned properly throughout the story.

The next step for Jim is to begin working on his second draft for Guilt Trip, with the help of his critique partners, Cat and Christine, whom he describes as indispensable. According to Jim, his partners provide him with motivation, creativity, logic, and the reassurance needed to complete what he started.

christine

 

“I ultimately finished, ten pages at a time, to stand in the light at the end of the First Draft Tunnel…”

Christine Gauthier, Hair Story

Hair Story chronicles a young woman, Christine, who at the prime of her life is diagnosed with Alopecia, a rare autoimmune disease. The tale follows Christine on a journey that would eventually lead her to India where she finds self-acceptance and learns that she is more than her disease. What is interesting about Christine’s novel is that it is based on true events from her own life. Christine not only has the courage to face alopecia but also has the courage to tell her story to the world.

Christine admits that the hardest parts of the novel to write came when writing about the bad that actually occurred in her life. Nevertheless, with the support and motivation from her critique partners she kept going and refused to give up because she knew that she had a story worth telling.

 

Three writers. Three great stories. Three more reasons why the Agile Writers Method works.