Tag Archives: writing

When your idea shows up in a movie or book – Just keep writing


“Hey, that was my idea!”

As writers you’ve probably heard this from other writers or have proclaimed it yourself in one variation or another and no doubt with a few colorful added expletives.

I certainly have.

This occurs when we’ve read a book or seen a movie in the theater or on TV with a concept that echoes one we have written or are in the process of writing. Suddenly, there appears to be our idea on a page or up on the screen and we had no part of it, not to mention any credit or money. That’s when the bottom falls out of our writing world and crashes somewhere in Shit City, the land of failed scribes condemned to remaining in our day job for eternity.

This occurred recently over the movie The Curse of the La Llorona.

Now La Llorona is an old and very familiar tale among Hispanics about a hideous hag who searches the night for her children. The very children she killed. The reasons for her terrible action vary from telling to telling. Nevertheless, this crying monster wanders the night for children to take and make her own. My parents told me and my siblings this tale when I was a kid, no doubt to keep us away from strangers. The story did scare us. But during summer nights, we’d search for La Llorona. Since I lived by a cemetery, it was especially fun as much as frightening.

After the announcement about the upcoming The Curse of the La Llorona movie, I heard from a writer who had consulted with me on one of his scripts. He had written about another spooky Hispanic tale—not Llorona. But he wondered how the new film might affect the market for his story.

I told him that I thought he was okay. I was the one who was screwed.

I had already written a script and a book called “The Weeping Woman.” La Llorona means the weeping woman in Spanish.  Judging from the description on IMDB and the trailer for The Curse of La Llorona movie, however, my novel and script are totally different. My story is about children disappearing in San Antonio. Troubled Detective Blue Rodriguez is assigned to investigate and discovers the kidnappings echo the old Mexican ghost story of La Llorona.

Still, I was disheartened to think that someone else beat me to the punch on La Llorona —at least, selling a script and making money. Especially since I haven’t sold my La Llorona script. But as we’ve all heard at writing seminars, ideas can’t be copyrighted–only the way we express them can be protected. How true.

Take Titanic. The idea of that sinking sink has spawned numerous films, each different depending on the writer and director.

Or how about the idea of star-crossed lovers? That story has been told again and again, from Romeo and Juliet to Warm Bodies.

Here’s another cool idea. A destructive comet heading toward earth. In 1998, two films dealt with that very subject and a mission to divert or destroy the comet. There was Armageddon with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck and the famous animal cracker scene (which is another story). Then there was Deep Impact with Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall. Two films with the same idea, yet, Armageddon was more action oriented and Deep Impact focused on more personal stories.

Consider a love story between a woman and a sea creature. Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water told about a lonely deaf woman who falls for an amphibious captive. Mrs. Caliban, a 1982 cult favorite novella by Rachel Ingalls, is also about a woman who has a romance with a sea monster. They sound similar but each telling is diverse.

Back to La Llorona. Having heard about this mysterious creature ever since I was young, I was so fascinated that I not only wrote the book and screenplay, but short story, a play and a short script I hope to produce this year. So as much as I would have loved to keep La Llorona all to myself, I knew I couldn’t. She is out there and open to the interpretation of other writers.

According to the Internet, at least six other La Llorona movies have already been made, including an animated one. Those stories were all totally dissimilar from anything I wrote and each other. The only common denominator was that weeping woman. La Llorona was even the subject of an episode of the TV show, Grimm.

Two years ago, my daughter came up with an idea for me to write—about a person who clones the love that she lost. I didn’t get around to it, but should have. What movie is playing now on a similar theme? Replicas with Keanu Reeves. My daughter was bummed.

So to my fellow writers, forget about what’s out there and whether you believe somebody already has your idea or someone will steal your idea. We need to concentrate on making our stories the best they can be. Unique and wonderful. In the course of your writing, you may hear of a movie or TV series that sounds similar to yours and that will make you want to throw out your work.  Don’t. Maybe put it away,  or even twist the idea to create something even more daring and new. Your story won’t be the same as others. Yours will be distinctive. After all, you’re bringing yourself, your views, experience, your voice and skills to the writing. All that and more will make it special.

In light of this latest La Llorona movie, I’m staying positive. Perhaps, it will spur the public to want more La Llorona stories, as well as more stories about Hispanic culture and with Hispanic characters—of which I have written plenty. Then my scripts and stories will be ready for that hungry producer or publisher to buy. Well, I can only hope so anyway, and until then I’ll just keep writing and hope you do the same.




Latinidad mentions ‘Verdict in the Desert’


Marcela Landres was kind enough to mention my new book, “Verdict in the Desert” in the most recent edition of her outstanding e-zine, Latinidad.

Marcela is the author of the e-book How Editors Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You, and is the publisher of Latinidad®, an award-winning e-zine chosen one of the 101 Best Web Sites for Writers by Writer’s Digest. As an editorial consultant, she helps writers get published by editing their work and advising them on how to manage their writing careers. Past clients include Daniel Jose Older, author of the New York Times bestseller Shadowshaper and Charles Rice-Gonzalez, award-winning author of Chulito. She was  formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster.

If you haven’t signed up for her newsletter or checked out her site, please do so.

Thank you, Marcela.

Marcela Landres

Don’t keep your eyes on the prize. Concentrate on writing


When the Pulitzers are announced each year I look for my name.
I have yet to find it.
The prize time of year does remind me that if I’m just writing to win a prize, I have bigger problems to deal with.
I don’t sit down in the chair in my office, stretch my fingers and say with confidence, “Yes indeed, I’m going to write a prize winner today.”
If only I could do that.
Instead, I sit in my chair, take a sip of tea and say, “I’m going to do my best today. I’m going to stretch my skills (as well as my fingers), tell a good story, and have fun.”
There are no prizes for that, but there should be.
I do read the writing of prize winners. It is something to strive for, yet maintain my own voice. In other words, write well, but write like me.
And in the end, my friends, it is the hardest of facts that most of us may not get a prize of gold or one that will get our name in the paper or on TV. But we can give ourselves accolade for working hard at writing, learning to better ourselves, and for our concentration and dedication.
That prize will shine nonetheless.

Whatever you write, be happy


I had lunch with a woman who is also a writer and throughout I was struck by her love of what she was doing. She had no bloodthirsty goal to be on the New York Times Bestseller list or climb the lofty heights of the Amazon ranks. She wasn’t out to make sure that her writing was on all the Nooks and Kindles in the universe.
She just loved what she was doing. She was happy, and her happiness was comforting.
I will admit to you I’ve fallen into that unhappy underworld when I begin to wonder why the heck I’m not selling millions, okay maybe thousands, of books on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble, or why Hollywood hasn’t optioned any of my stories for big screen or little one, for that matter. These are times when my ego takes hold like a rope. But as I’ve grown older I have learned that pinning happiness on those two things alone will lead straight to unhappiness. It’s like high school when you wish the cutest guy would ask you out or that you make the cheerleader squad. When those two things don’t happen, you are in high school hell. Thankfully, high school is over.
And please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not knocking ambition. If your only goal is to sell lots of books, then I wish you all the happiness. Damn, if my books do hit no. 1, I certainly won’t be sad or turn down the royalty checks.
But I’m not going to be holding my breath either.
I’m just going to keep on writing and learning how to become a better writer because that’s why I began all this in the first place. I love to tell stories and create characters. I love to have someone read my writing and feel a bit of the emotions I felt when writing the words. Or have them say, ‘Hey, I know what that’s like.’ I like to make them laugh, cry, feel scared, or rewarded. I like them to think. Mostly, I pursue awhat Harper Lee wrote in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
That gives me the greatest joy–giving people another point of view through my writing.
I’ve had my share of successes and I am grateful and lucky, but as in life, I have to realize there will always be people with more success and less success. People with more money and less. At times, I still have to work to keep myself out of that hades of unhappy writers, but it is getting easier and isn’t that something to be happy about?

Following is the link to the best list I’ve read about how to be a happy writer by novelist, screenwriter and game designer Chuck Wendig. Enjoy!

Add dedication to your writer’s tool box


Make a list of all the tools you need to be a writer.
Let’s see, computer, paper, ideas, dictionary, and yes, dedication.
Those who challenged themselves in National Novel Writing Month in November, that is writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, have already learned this simple rule, philosophy or whatever you choose to call it. Namely, you must write everyday to make the goal. You must be dedicated.
But dedication is something you need year round as a writer, not just in November or for New Year’s resolutions.
You must be dedicated to finish your projects. Sure, you may have a few projects going, but be dedicated to completing one. Your novel, essay, poem or memoir–whatever you are writing–demands your dedication.
Be dedicated to writing something most every day, even if you go back and erase it the next day.
Be dedicated to becoming a better writer either by taking a class, going to a conference or getting involved with a critque group.
Dedication is tough because we sometimes must sacrifice other things, but a love of what you are doing makes dedication just another writer’s tool, just like your computer, paper and dictionary.

Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t accomplish in 2014


This is a known fact in the universe, most writers are self-doubting humans who work their asses off hoping to get it right. I am very much among them.
On top of that, at the end of every year, I’d ask myself “what the hell have I been doing for the past 12 months?”
Well, I’ve learned how to answer that question.
I have been doing a lot.
I sat down and wrote, not every day, but most days. I may not have turned out as many books as James Patterson, but dammit, I did finish projects. I completed a novel, short stories and a screenplay, and started two more novels. I researched and outlined.
I wrote.
As we prepare to welcome the new year, it is time to remember what we have accomplished as writers in 2014 and not beat up ourselves for what we did not do.
Maybe we didn’t get as much done as we wanted, but we kept writing.
Maybe we didn’t get as much published as we wanted or hit the best seller list, but we kept writing.
The year 2015 is only a few days away. Don’t look back with regret. Instead, celebrate that you are a writer and look forward to what you will accomplish in the year ahead.
Tink. Tink.
That is the sound of my champagne glass saluting you.

Starting a new book is hell (and a bit of heaven)


I can’t complain.
I recently signed a contract with a publisher for my new book and an agent is shopping another manuscript. My writing partner and I published a new children’s book of which we are proud and which won an award. Another publisher also released my YA paranormal novel a few months ago.
It has been a good writing year.
So after taking a few weeks off after finishing those books, I outlined my next one. Such excitement. Such promise. Such hope. But outlined is all I did for months.
Was it the usual writer’s block we all suffer that prevented me from charging on? Not at all. It was plain fear and dread.
What stopped me from moving forward was thinking about the time it would take to finish the manuscript. The sore hands and aching back. The hours in my office when I could be doing something else. The doubts I could write something worth reading. Just the thought of the number of months I would devote to such a work.
Sorry, now that sounded like complaining.
Then as I always do, I beat down the fear and dread long enough to start the book. I remember how much I love to write and tell stories, and when I don’t, I feel like a part of me has been voided out like a figure in a snow storm. That sounds corny, but any writer will tell you it’s damn true.
Once I am into the book, of course, I still worry whether I can carry it off and finish, and whether the result will be a good story and well written and say something about the human condition, as well as entertain. But it is the process and love of writing and the excitement of creating that make me keep typing away.
Yeah, writing is hard work and will leave you crazy and frustrated, but I hope, I will be proud of what I put on the page. That my characters and story will live, and as a writer, that I’ll feel alive, too.
I’m more than 17,000 words into my new book. It is a start.

Declare war on clichés. Your writing and the world will be better for it


I am a peace loving woman, but I do have a sworn enemy – clichés.
When I judged writing contests and edited copy for a newspaper, I cringed whenever I saw a cliché. I cringed a lot.
Sometimes, I would even be reading a first draft of my writing, and what do you know? I found a few clichés.
The definition of cliché says it all. A word or phrase that’s lost its power because of overuse.
Clichés are around for a reason. They are so easy to use and so available. But when you use them that means you’re taking it easy in your writing. You’re not pushing yourself creatively.
It is funny that they have changed over the years. When I taught a creative writing class to young people and gave them a list of clichés, they didn’t recognize them because we have developed some newer clichés like these.

No way
Enough said
Really? (as in you see something dumb or incredulous and your response is ‘really?’)

Clive Whichelow and Hugh Murray have even written a book about the modern ones called “It’s Not Rocket Science: And Other Irritating Modern Cliches.”
However, there are still a lot of the old ones hanging around and finding their way into your writing.
Think about it this way. Clichés were written or said by someone else. You don’t want anybody else’s writing in yours, do you? Writing is about originality and if we want ours to be original, we must declare war on those pesty clichés.
First locate and eradicate them in the editing process. In addition, have your critique partners read your writing because they may find ones that you don’t.
A fun way to work your brain is to break clichés and turn them into something new and in your own voice. Start with what I have dubbed the Cliché Challenge.
Come up with a list of clichés and then rework them to make them new and yours. For instance take the cliché “All that glitters is not gold.”
My take on it–Her golden life had the glitter of a brick.
You get the idea.
Lists of clichés are all over the Internet. Here is a good one.


Do a few each time. It will be hard and your brain will be sweating.
Good luck and happy cliché hunting.

Be Frankenstein. Grow your characters


When starting a new story and working on characters to populate it, I sometimes think of Frankenstein.
Yes, Frankenstein.
That’s because as a writer I have to grow and develop my characters. Not sew them together out of a bunch of dead bodies, but develop creations with thoughts, dreams, fears, weaknesses and strengths. Quirks and qualities. How will they react to conflict, love, loneliness or whatever situation in which I place them.
I start with a character profile where I can list almost everything from their favorite music to their background to what they want and need. Not all details will end up in the story, but I will know where the characters came from, where they are going and how they changed getting there. You’ll find many good templates for character profiles online.
Writing 101 tells use that characters should have an external goal and internal one. Take Clarissa Starling from “Silence of the Lambs.” Her outside conflict is finding Buffalo Bill. Her internal one is stopping the nightmares and the screaming of the lambs from an earlier trauma. Captain Ahab in “Moby Dick” must kill the white whale, but also face his own demons.
I minored in psychology in college, so motivation of my character is very important to me. The protagonist in my novel, “The Weeping Woman” is a detective who is promiscuous not because she is a nymphomaniac. It is because sex is the only way she can maintain control after growing up in an environment where she had no control. Not all characters may have motivations and just be monsters, but they will probably be the villain and catalyst for the story, not the main character.
Like Dr. Victor Frankenstein, writers need to a spark to bring their creations alive. Victor used electricity and chemicals. You will use motivations, dialogue, backstory, conflict and more to start your character breathing. If you succeed, then you also can shout, “It’s alive! It’s alive.”