Monday, December 19, 2011

Experiment in Sleep Deprivation or How To Ruin Christmas For the Whole Family

Final Update: He's sick.

Update December 21, 10:00 am:

He did it! This morning marked the end of his experiment and he is now sound asleep. We have yet to determine what is left of his brain after 72 hours of no sleep and video game overload. So far, the rest of the family is intact, and as far as sickness...we'll need a few days to see how that goes.

He hasn't been home during most of the event, just last night. (Hence the dim glow from the family room all night.) These next few days will tell all in terms of the aftermath.

Special thanks to Heather Bready for providing the giant, green-tinted TV for the video game all-nighters. Stuart said, "Please can we keep it?"

Quote of the Day: "I'm not going to get sick!" ~my son

My son, who is a senior in high school, has worked out some weird extra credit arrangement with his AP Psychology teacher. He gets 25 extra points if he does a sleep deprivation experiment for 72 hours and records how it affects him. I find serious flaws in this plan.

Today marks 24 hours of no sleep for him.

When I called him this morning to see how things went last night, he told me he and his friends were waiting outside for Deseret Industries Thrift Store to open so they could buy more TVs for their stay-awake-all-night-gaming strategy. (Let me also say that he seems a little put-out that we won't just let him take the new 56" flat-screen TV over to his friend's house. Go figure.)

I don't think this brilliant psychology teacher took into account how the sleep deprivation of the teenager would affect the rest of the family.

I predict that in the very near future the following events will occur:
  • the sleep deprived child will get into a heap of trouble for attitude problems.
  • anger management will drop to an all time low.
  • he will be sick for Christmas.
  • one or more of his siblings will be massacred in a fit of uncontrollable emotional overload.
  • we will have a record number of door slammings, possibly requiring some repair work to the moldings.
  • by the end, we will be the first to witness a real live zombie.
Only 48 more hours to go. Stay tuned for the updates!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Self Publishing...Or Not...Again

Quote of the Day: "Do you know what would be sad? If there was a zombie apocalypse and we got infected and ate our pets." ~Overheard 13-year-old say to 10-year-old while doing dishes.

There's been some sparks flying--again--on the whole To Self Publish or Not debate. So, I'm chiming in with my two cents.

Here is a great quote by Edan Lepucki (The Millions) from an interesting article about her reasons for not self publishing. I agree with with much of what she has to say, but not all.

I found this especially in line with my own thoughts:
Readers themselves rarely complain that there isn’t enough of a selection on Amazon or in their local superstore; they’re more likely to ask for help in narrowing down their choices. So for anyone who has, however briefly, played that reviled gatekeeper role, a darker question arises: What happens once the self-publishing revolution really gets going, when all of those previously rejected manuscripts hit the marketplace, en masse, in print and e-book form, swelling the ranks of 99-cent Kindle and iBook offerings by the millions? Is the public prepared to meet the slush pile?

Is the public ready to meet the slush pile? I'm not. And as more kids are getting e-readers, parents have to be doubly vigilant to ensure their kids aren't downloading anything worse than just a poorly written book.

But, as she points out, blogs and other forms of reviews are already popping up to help readers wade through the slush.

My personal reasons for going with a traditional publisher are similar to Ms. Lepucki. Mainly, I want my manuscript to be its best. I want an editor telling me what's working and what's not. I want that stack of revisions to make the story better.

I recently started reading a self-published book with at least FIVE editing errors on THE FIRST PAGE! I don't want that to be me. I had to put the book down.

I have nothing against self-publishing whatsoever. It's just not for me--at least right now.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Can You Guess My Main Character's Age?

**Update: Thanks everyone for your feedback, but I decided not to enter the final contest. 

Here's some info on another great contest by Brenda Drake:

Here's how it's going down ...

Post the first 250 words of your finished, or not quite finished, manuscript (any genre) to your blogs. This contest is about voice--whether or not your character's voice matches his or her's age. So if you mention the age or school grade in the first 250 words, please edit it out or block it out for this contest. Don't list the genre or title on your posts. If your 250 words falls in the middle of a sentence, continue to the end of the sentence.

For official rules and to enter, see her blog, here.

And here is my entry:

Bronwyn placed the tip of her crutch carefully on the jagged rocks. She planted her feet and steadied herself before gazing across the chasm that separated her from the rest of the village. If her mother saw her perched this close to the ravine, she would scold. Her father, had he lived, would be perched beside her. 
Tomorrow she turned (xxxx.) For most girls, that meant old enough to marry. For her, well, who would want a crippled wife?
A gust of wind whipped her dress and pushed her toward the edge. Bronwyn leaned onto her crutch, relying on the sturdy wooden limb to restore her balance. 
“Come away, Child!” called her mother, her hands cupped round her mouth. “You’ll fall to your death. There’s a storm moving in and the geese are out.”
“I’m coming,” she said, though her mother could not have heard over the moaning of the wind. 
Bronwyn stepped back, casting one last glance toward the village. The first day of summer approached, and the festival of Calan Mai. She rolled her eyes. Wonderful. Another year of watching while other girls danced around the maypole. No dancing for her. Not now or ever. 

Thanks for stopping by, and if you comment or follow me, rest assured I will return the favor!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dios ex Machina

I don't know why I've been thinking about this lately, but I have.

Dios ex machina: According to wikipedia -
"god out of the machine"; is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.

I guess it comes from those ancient Greek plays where a god is suddenly introduced to resolve the plot.

Some authors have used this and it has worked out okay for them. Examples: Lord of the Flies, when the wild kids are somewhat randomly rescued by the Naval Officer. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when the Phoenix swoops in and saves them from the collapsing basilisk chamber. Or perhaps the most famous, The Return of the King, when the eagles fly in and rescue Sam and Frodo from the burning mountainside.

Sometimes it works, usually it doesn't. Who hasn't wondered why Frodo didn't simply fly on an eagle and drop the ring into Mt. Doom in the first place and cut out 9/10ths of the book(s)?

Most often it's called "Writer Cop Out."

Anyway, it gives us writers pause to make sure everything that happens in our story happens for a reason and doesn't feel contrived. All plot points must flow in a logical chain of events that makes sense based on our characters and their reasoning and choices.

The guy over at Moody Writing has written a few good posts on this lately: here and here.

Any other good examples of this?
Any good tips on avoiding it?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Holocaust Called NaNoWriMo

Last year my NaNo project looked like this:

Monet (Source)

It came together so beautifully and perfectly. All I had to do was clean up some problems with the characters and fix a few minor plot hiccups, and voila! One year later, it's accepted for publication.

This year my NaNo project looks like this:

Pollock (Source)
Complete chaos and disaster. I'm not sure it can be salvaged. I even had the plot outlined better than last year, and all my research done. But, like this painting, it's just not working. Grrr!

I guess I'll just finish it, then tuck it away while I work on something else. Maybe I'll like it better when I've had a chance to let it rest.

Monday, November 21, 2011

NaNo Happiness Comes In Small Packages

I know I'm probably the last person on the planet to figure this out. But I learned something this year for NaNoWriMo that's helped me a lot.

This is my first year using Scrivener for NaNo, and it has this cool tool called "Project Targets."

I set it for the 50K word goal, and it keeps track of my progress for me. Also, and more importantly, is the session target.

I set the project to calculate exactly how many words I need to write per day (not including Sunday, because that's my writing day off) and it adjusts automatically if I write more or less than the session goal. I have it set so that each day is one session, and the calculator resets everyday at midnight.

The best part is the little bar that changes color as you get closer to your goal. It sounds silly, but it motivates me. I want to see that bar turn green! I can't go to sleep until it does. I pretty much can't focus on anything until that bar is GREEN!

I love it! Why didn't I know about this sooner?!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Rose By Any Other Name

Google Search of the Day: Tide tables for Northern Wales.

The big question: Does the title of my book really matter?

Everyone knows that when you publish traditionally, you get little or no say regarding the title of your book. Publishers have marketing specialists lined up to pick a title that will grab readers' attention.

As a writer, my job is to grab the attention of an agent or publisher. The title is my first opportunity to sell it to them. If they see an awesome title in the inbox, they are more likely to take a serious look at the submission.

There are three basic categories of titles (with a lot of overlapping).

1. Character Titles: Romana the Pest; James and the Giant Peach, Keturah and Lord Death; Julie of the Wolves; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Coraline

2. Plot Titles: The Hunger Games; Island of the Blue Dolphins; Princess Academy; The Lightening Thief; Speak

3. Mood or Subgenre titles (very popular now in YA): Paranormalcy; The Dark Divine; The Forest of Hands and Teeth; Daughter of Smoke and Bone; I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You

Some other things to consider while choosing a title:

Be Provocative Provocative titles (especially one word titles) are extremely popular. Just check the Amazon list of best-selling YA books. Choose words that elicit emotion or curiosity and phrases that make book browsers do a double take. The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; To Kill a Mockingbird; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Marvin K Mooney Will You Please Go Now

Use Resonance Use words that bring to mind something evocative or reminiscent, and phrases that already mean something to the reader. Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Grapes of Wrath; Gone with the Wind

Create a Strong Visual The Color Purple; Where the Wild Things Are; Love in the Time of Cholera; Cry, the Beloved Country

Use Alliteration, Rhyme, or Repetition This makes the title catchy or memorable, like how we can remember a nursery rhyme we learned years ago as a child. Listen to the flow. I Capture the Castle; The Secret Circle; Maniac McGee; The Wind in the Willows; There's a Wocket in My Pocket 

Words that Contradict Beautiful Chaos; The Death Cure; Sacred Sins; Neverwhere

Above all, be true to yourself and your book. Go with what feels right to you. 

What are some of your favorite titles.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Receiving Critical Input

I had to interrupt my regularly scheduled NaNo to post a link to this fantastic article on the StoryFix blog. Every author or writer needs to read this great advice on accepting criticism, and choosing which criticisms to accept.

Do it now.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Ketchup and Catch-up

I spent the weekend (Thursday through Sunday) in lovely San Diego for my step-niece's wedding. Just me and Hubby, we left the kids home. This is the first time we've gotten away together for a few years. It was wonderful.

We ordered room service breakfast on Friday morning, and Hubby's hash browns came with the cutest ketchup bottles I've ever seen. I brought them home.

Then we went to Sea World and saw Shamu.

No trainers were killed during the show, so that was good. And for future reference, those of you considering the dolphin show: be warned! It's not so much a dolphin show as it is a show of men and women wearing fancy wetsuits and sparkly make up spinning on ropes and standing around pointing their toes while mediocre environmentalist music plays and the fountains spurt water. Meh.

(Stay tuned for more exciting adventures of the San Diego trip when I tell the story of how we were trapped on Shutter Island.)

So now, thanks to the California trip and some emergency revisions for a MS under consideration, I'm behind about 7,000 words in NaNo. I don't know if I can catch up. But I'm gonna try.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Don't Sleep with the Lights Off

Quote of the Day: "The love-bite, it is the beginning. You will be irresistible" ~Bela Lugosi

For your Halloween entertainment, I will now share the three times I've been really scared. (And I mean Halloweeny scared, not so much "my kid just got run over by a car and might die" scared, which I've also been.)

One time, when my husband was out of town (it always happens when he's out of town), I was watching the movie "What Lies Beneath." With all the kids tucked into bed, the house was quiet and dark. When I started getting that creepy feeling that something might be sneaking up behind me, I couldn't take it any more. I went and got my 4 month old baby out of bed so I wouldn't be alone watching the rest of the movie. Pathetic? Maybe a little.

I use to watch all the X-Files shows. But the "Mothmen" episode really creeped me out. It's set in the ancient forests of Virginia, and everyone who went into the woods disappeared. These freaky, red-eyed, immortal beings were snatching them out of thin air. And always the camera cut to their glowing red eyes, because that's all you could see of them. They could make their skin match their surroundings to become invisible.

In the final shot--spoiler alert--Scully is leaving her hotel room after she thinks they've solved the case. Of course Mulder knows better. Mulder comes and drags Scully from the hotel. The camera pans to under her bed, where a pair of red-eyes is hiding, staring out. I couldn't step out of bed after dark for months knowing that thing might be under it, waiting. And if you're wondering, yes, I do suffer from a bit of nyctophobia!

This last is the most scary because it's based on a true story. One time, when my husband was out of town!, my sister-in-law told me about an incident that happened in her neighborhood. A neighborhood not too far from mine.

A girl (maybe 12 or 13) woke in the night when she felt something touching her. She saw a man standing in her room stroking her arm. She screamed, and the man fled. The police came and searched the house. Finding no signs of forced entry, they concluded that the man had entered the house sometime during the day and hid--either in the basement or attic--until the whole house was asleep. Then he came out and approached the sleeping girl.

Scary. And of course after she told me that, I looked at that little square of ceiling tile that opens into the attic and, naturally, it was askew. Panic.

However, that's not the end of this story. A year or so later, the night before Halloween, I was with a group of girls about that same age, and we were telling them ghost stories. I told them about this incident, and they were deliciously freaked out. I even demonstrated the man rubbing his hand up and down the girl's arm. Shudder.

Well, that was all fine. I was scared, but I walked home in the dark alone anyway. I climbed into bed and was just falling asleep when I felt something touch my arm. I tried not to panic, it was probably just a breeze through my open window. I felt it again.

I rolled over and there was someone standing beside my bed, touching my arm. I screamed so loud that my husband bolted out of bed, his heart racing, and my little daughter burst into tears. Of course, she was the one by my bed, touching me, trying to get my attention because she couldn't sleep.


Any times you have been heart-pounding scared?

Monday, October 24, 2011

YA Voice: Vocabulary

Song of the Day: "Don't Carry It All" by the Decemberists

This is my second post on finding the right voice in your young adult literature. Read Avoiding Sarcasm here.

In this post I'm going to cover teen vocabulary. So, here are a few do's and don'ts.

Be Extremely Careful of Overusing Slang
According to Agent George Nicholson, "Slang dates good fiction more easily than any other single thing." Slang also varies by region, so too much slang makes your book non-universal. If you do use a lot of slang, make sure it reflects something about the character and adds to the depth of the story. Don't just use it to sound teen, teens are expert at picking out phony voice.

The best writing has a richness of language, not just a scramble of slang. Use vocabulary that reflects the time and place you're writing about.

Don't Dumb it Down
But at the same time, it has to sound like something a teen (specifically the one in your book) would actually say. Teens, in some ways, are smarter than we give them credit for. As long as the voice is authentic and rings true, teen readers are open to a wide range of voicing styles.

Mix it Up
Don't give all your characters a similar sounding voice. Vary vocabulary and rhythm to create contrast and interest. Some teens never stop talking, some are only one word anwerers. Some rely on humor, some on emotional extremes.

Keep the Narrative in Voice
Make sure the narrative parts are in the voice of the POV character and not the author's. Maintain continuity.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hard Decisions

Quote of the Day: "In the morning, after hard work, I took a comma out of one sentence.... In the afternoon, I put it back again." ~Oscar Wilde on doing revisions

For the past year I haven't written anything. At least not anything new. I've been working on revising and editing last year's NaNoWriMo project. So I'm really looking forward to November to churn out another train-wreck of a novel I can spend another year trying to fix.

But I can't decide what to work on! I've got three stories churning in my head, all screaming to be written.

Do I finish The Weaver, my Welsh fairy tale? I have a few chapters of that book already written, but they need a serious overhaul. So I'd be basically starting over. I love this book, and I worry if I don't finish it now I never will.

Or, do I write a new story that's been occupying my mind for a long time now, Son of a Thousand Faces, a very dark story that delves more into the paranormal (as much as I hate that word) than any of my other books.

Or, do I work on another manuscript I've been outlining. A Welsh ghost story called Revenant (previously titled Angel and Iron). A chilling and creepy tale. I've heard agents say they're looking for a good ghost story.

How do I choose? NaNo is only 14 days away!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Character Quirks

Quote of the Day: "Why don't they just makes phones that are connected to the base?" From my son after I duct taped the cordless phone to its base with a piece of yarn because I was so sick of it being lost!

A friend of mine and author Tamara Hart Heiner recently wrote a blog about giving our characters personality quirks--little traits that set the character apart from the rest of the world.

Everyone has them. It's what makes us unique.

So here are some of mine:
  • I am obsessed with expiration dates. I check the date on everything before I buy it and I throw out tons of unused food just because it's a few days past expiration.
  • I have to have clean sheets. I wash my sheets sometimes two or three times a week. And only I can make the bed, otherwise, the sheets aren't to my liking.
  • I don't eat leftovers.
  • I'm obsessed with London, England, and the whole of the British Isles. I lived there growing up, and it is my home away from home. 
  • I have to carry dental floss with me at all times. I keep it in my purse, my car, and in various places around the house. 
  • I smell everything. New books, plastic wrappers, even glasses as they come out of the dishwasher.
  • I have a hard time with subtlety. I speak too frankly, offend people by accident, and don't pick up on the nuances of society very well. I think if people have something to say, they should just speak up and say it in as polite a way as possible instead of beating around the bush. Life would be so much easier.
  • I am a little bit obsessed with skulls. Especially the skull and crossbones. 
  • I carry Vervain scented lotion with me at all times. If you know why, great, we're on the same wavelength. If you don't know why, then God have mercy on your soul.
  • I love maps and sometimes I just sit and study them. Any map. 
So, there's ten quickies I just came up with off the top of my head. 

Making this list has got me thinking about quirks I could give my main character to set him apart and boost his personality. But not too many quirks, otherwise it becomes annoying. Just one or maybe two. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Today is: October is National Sarcasm Awareness month.

I'm not sure if they mean we should increase our sarcasm awareness to avoid it, or to improve our usage of it. But either way, it got me thinking about something I've heard a lot about lately. Voice.

Voice is hard do define. It's something that's either there or not. But, when it comes to YA voice, many writers think they can slap on a healthy coat of sarcasm and voila: teen voice.

Not so.

Although many teens do mix up their vocabulary with a heavy dose of sarcasm, it doesn't always work great on the page. Constant, acerbic, snarky sarcasm actually distances a reader from the character. Few readers want to spend that much time with such a character.

If you use sarcasm as your key point of voice, it had better be for a good reason.

Voice is what gives the reader insight into your character, it should represent the POV character's outlook on the world. Is he/she hiding behind sarcasm? Why? Is it a wall to keep the world out? Is it keeping the reader out as well? Is the story itself compelling enough to read past the sarcasm?

In my family, we were raised on sarcasm, so it's really hard for me not to overdo it my writing. And sometimes sarcasm is done very well and works beautifully in YA novels. But so often it does not.

Sarcasm in teens usually is a front, a show, and doesn't truthfully represent the person inside. But it's the person inside that readers want to get close to. So when all seems hopeless and life--either physically or emotionally--hangs in the balance, the use of sarcasm can utterly ruin the intensity of the moment.

Stay tuned for my next few posts in which I will try to help define YA voice and how to use it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I Can Bring Home the Bacon!

Song of the Day: "Quiet Little Voices" ~We Were Promised Jet Packs

Deren Hansen posted on Utah Children's Writers regarding what it means to have a strong female main character in YA novels. This is something I've thought a lot about, so I decided to add my own opinion on my blog.

Here are the two quotes Deren used that were meaningful to me:

Sheila Nielson

"There are more kinds of strength than the 'kick butt' kind. The women who had the greatest influence on me all had a quiet, daily kind of strength."

Clint  Johnson

"In the best stories, the strongest characters are those that act with the greatest strength in spite of their weaknesses."

When I read agent blogs, I frequently find that agents are looking for stories with "a strong female lead."

I think writers tend to interpret that as kick butt heroines, like Angelina Jolie in Salt. Girls that can go in with guns blazing. And sure, they have a softer side, a weak spot, but it's buried so deep, very few get to see it.

Unfortunately, while that makes a great action movie, I don't think it's the best for YA. Most teenage girls don't relate to characters like that. YA girls are vulnerable, conflicted--they want to fit in, but they also want to stand out, they want to find their place in life. Like Anne of Green Gables.

I believe teen girls today relate to the kinds of characters mentioned by Sheila and Clint. Regular girls just trying to figure out life, but when faced with difficult circumstances, they put their weaknesses aside and step up to the plate. 

As Exhibit A, I submit Twilight. Why is that book so darn popular? I think teens relate to Bella. An average girl, average intelligence, living an average life--just trying to fit in while still maintaining her identity. 

Then of course, when the handsome, immortal hottie shows interest in her, it's every teenage girl's dream come true. If it could happen to regular old Bella, it could happen to them.

But is Bella a "strong female lead"? Good question. She seems a little bland, vulnerable. For an answer I submit Exhibit B, Twilight. In the end *spoiler alert* Bella is faced with an option to sacrifice herself to save her mother. This is a choice that almost all teens can relate to. It's personal, not save the world or the random hostage, it's save someone you know and love and who loves you. Teens, as we all know, are very "me" centered. 

But the real heart of the matter is that Bella chooses to live life on her own terms. And that is something all YA girls want. And that is why Twilight has sold over a million copies. Bella may not be the strongest of female lead characters in terms of fight, but she is the kind teen girls totally relate to, and that's what teen girls want. 

*Please note that I refer only to Twilight, and none of the other books in the saga. They are a completely different story!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Teen Eyes Blogfest

Heads up to another blogfest, "Can You Hook a Teen" hosted by Brenda Drake - find the details here.

Genre: YA Romantic Suspense

Chapter One: Christian vs. the Stowaway

I always thought making life or death decisions would be more dramatic. Thrilling. Like something from a movie. I should have known better.             
            Last week, I chose death. It didn’t work out.
            Today, I chose life. And for me, that meant leaving.
            I tossed the last of my gear into the back of my Range Rover. The car my father gave me just after I turned sixteen. That was over a year ago. He hadn’t spoken to me since. Maybe I should have felt guilty for using it to ditch him, but I didn’t. Just because he had a son didn’t mean he wanted one.
            In ten minutes, I arrived at my first stop. The cemetery. I pulled in and followed the wide curve of the lane until I came to a huge cedar tree. I grabbed the cellophane wrapped flowers I bought at the gas station and wove my way through the forest of headstones to my mother’s grave.
            I’d sat here many times, telling her about Dad, how he hated me, and how my life was messed. It never changed anything, but I felt better—for a few days at least. I barely remembered her now. 
            More than anything, I remembered after she died. When Dad checked out and never really came back. At least not to me. For him, it was like I didn’t exist.
            And now, the time had come to make that a reality. How else could I avoid a repeat of last week’s lapse in judgment? 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bad Movies: A Blogfest

Currently Reading: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Apparently, there is some kind of blogfest going on about Worst Movies Ever. Read about it here. Well, you know I have to get in on that one!

So here, in no particular order, are some of the worst movies according to my own internal movie-crap radar. 
I know, I know. This was hyped as the best movie ever. And that's part of the problem, it was over-hyped. After hearing amazing things about this movie, I finally saw it and... well, it was lame. The plot is pointless because in the end, nothing happens. The whole movie is the explanation of dream invasion or the actual dream invasion, but in reality, nothing happens. It ended with something about the wife, but we don't really know for sure, and we don't really care about her anyway. If you want a good movie about dream invasion, try Dreamscape. 

Fly Away Home
I think my main problem with this movie is timing. My timing. I watched it on the one year anniversary of my sister's death. Big mistake. The first ten minutes of Fly Away Home is the death scene and drama of Anna Paquin's mother. Waaaay to sad for me that day.

First of all, Kevin Costner. Need I say more. Couple bad acting with bad screen writing and you get Waterworld. 

TRON Legacy
Yes, this is another blockbuster. But this movie proves once and for all that the best special effects in the world can't make up for melodramatic acting, cheesy lines, and predictable plots. Plus, where exactly is Tron? Inside the game console? Outer space? I don't know, and I don't really care.

Ok, tossing Nicolas Cage and all his problems aside, this started out as a deliciously creepy suspense movie. And then derailed into a twisted mess of environmental, apocolyptic, and dare I say biblical mumbo jumbo. Adam and Eve? Are you kidding me? Blech!

The Ghost Writer
Yet another example where the ending kills the movie (literally and figuratively!) This seems to be a common theme for me. The story was intriguing and I like Ewan McGregor, generally speaking. But the last five minutes ruin the whole movie. I just wasted two hours of my life for this? Not worth it. An unexpected twist in the plot is a good thing. A random act that doesn't tie in to the plot at all is just the writer trying to be manipulative in an attempt to create shock value. Well, it doesn't work. It never has. It's fake and stupid.

City of Angels
Some people love this movie. I can't stand it. First of all, Nicolas Cage again. And secondly, I fundamentally don't agree with the choices he makes in this movie. And last, it's too dang sad.

Failure to Launch
Way to predictable. Really, there wasn't one single scene in this entire movie that I couldn't have predicted. This is the problem with most romantic comedies. We know how they are going to end: Boy gets Girl, or vice versa. The challenge with romantic comedies is to throw in some original twists and turns that set the movie apart from the other millions of romantic comedies. Very few can actually pull it off.
So there's my list. There are tons more, but these are the first I thought of. Agree or disagree, it's up to you. But in the end, you know I'm right.  :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The End from the Beginning, or rather The Beginning from the End

Weather Check: Bright and sunny. I guess there's no excuse for not getting out there and exercising!

We all know how important the first chapter is in catching an agents eye, but some writers can't seem to get past it. They spend months and months revising and editing trying to get it perfect, but never get around to finishing the book.

The best way to have a perfect first chapter is to FINISH THE BOOK. 

The first chapter sets up the whole novel. If the ending is unwritten, how can the first chapter set up the story to its full extent?

The first chapter should do several things:

1. Have a hook. Grab the reader’s attention and give them an idea of what to expect. But how can the writer know what the reader should expect until the work is completed as a whole?

2. Create a sense of voice. Voice takes time to develop. If you want a consistent voice, you have to write to the end. By the end of your story, you're voice will be organic and real. Then go back and fix the voice in the first chapter to make it consistent.

3. Use the perfect POV. Meaning that whichever point of view you choose to write from, it should be for a reason. And all the other elements in the story--setting, description, emotion--should be told only as they relate to the MC and the point of view. Sometimes it's hard to know if the point of view we've chosen is the right one for the story until we've gotten to the end of the book.

4. Establish the main problem of the story. According to Martine Leavitt, the best books must have the problem front and center. I've found for me, the problem I start out writing about doesn’t always end up being the most important one in the novel. That’s why it’s so important to know the end before the beginning can be perfected.

Finish your work. Let it sit. Then go back and revise the heck out of your first chapter. Your work will be stronger, more powerful, and more meaningful if you do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Battle of the Century: Story vs. Writing

Quote of the Day: "I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability." ~Oscar Wilde

This is the question I've been asking myself lately: What makes for the best books--sublime writing or an amazing story?

If you hope to win a Newbery Honor, you might need to lean toward perfect writing. If you want to make it to the New York Times best-seller list, then a well crafted story could be enough.

I read a book a few months ago where the writing was so awful I wanted to throw the book at the wall. How could this much telling and repetitive language make it to the NYT best-sellers list? Didn't this author know anything about good writing? But the truth is, I couldn't put it down. I had to read all night to find out what happens. The intense, original story and great characters drew me.

Last week I read book with some fantastic writing--clever, moving, full of meaningful imagery, great dialogue. But I had to force myself to finish it. I didn't care about the main character, I didn't care about her friends. All that beautiful language was wasted on yet another story of a tortured teen who suddenly discovers she has super/paranormal powers and then finds herself in cliched situations. It was so predictable, I already knew the ending by reading the jacket cover.

Of course the best answer is C) All of the above. Writing and plot working together in perfect--and perfected--unison.

So, what do you think? Story versus Writing Throwdown--who wins?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse? Problem Solved!

Song of the Day: "Zombie" ~the Cranberries

I don't know what the big deal is. I solved the problem to the zombie apocalypse this morning while I was taking my morning nap.

Here's the plan:

1. Put bars on all windows and doors except one main entrance per edifice. (Families with small children may want to board up the windows because smashing glass and reaching zombie hands can be disturbing to some youngsters.)

2. Install high-powered lasers across the single entrance which, when triggered, will immediately decapitate, slice up, and basically dismember anything that tries to pass through.

3. Install a high-tech bioscanner that scans your eye to verify that you are a living, breathing, blood-pumping human and not one of the undead. If you pass verification, you step unharmed through the deadly lasers.


You are now safe at home, school and work!

Of course, you'll have to leave the safety of indoors to get to your home, school and work, exposing yourself to a possible attack en route. But, if everyone buys an armored car and brushes up on their combat skills, we should be fine. They're just zombies after all, not rocket scientists.

Granted they may have once been rocket scientists before they died and came back to life, but that doesn't mean they can outsmart us. No matter how many corpses un-die, humans will always be the dominant species.

"What about the deadly virus?" you ask. Cake. If we can create vaccines against drug addiction, it's only a matter of time before we have one for Solanum.

In the mean time, it's not a bad idea to have a gas mask for going out, and an anti-viral circulation chamber installed in your home or apartment building's ventilation system.

There. Now you can all rest easy. Brave people are working as we speak preparing to equip every structure and dwelling with the appropriate defensive mechanisms.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If Life Were Like Queries

Currently Reading: Wildefire by Karsten Knight

This is so funny I had to re-post it on my own blog. I found it at BookEnds, LLC - A Literary Agency, posted by Jessica.

If life were like queries:
  • All children would be orphans
  • All husbands are keeping a marriage-destroying secret from their wives
  • Small towns would have an impossibly high murder rate
  • At the age of 16, 17, or 18 we would all learn the secret our parents have been keeping from us (and it's always some super-cool paranormal power)
  • Returning home always means falling in love with the hunky man (or gorgeous gal) we left behind

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Life in the Balance

Quote of the Day: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that is why they call it the present." ~Kung Fu Panda

Life is full of a gazillion things that I have to do, and another gazillion things I want to do. And everything I don't get done that I think I should get done only adds to the pile of guilt. I want to be a good mom, but I also need time to write. I want to be a caring, attentive wife, but I also need time to write. I want to volunteer at the school, but I also need time to write. And so on. It seems like writing cuts into every aspect of life.

According to time management guru Stephen R. Covey, it's a matter of prioritizing. So here's how I prioritized my time. Keep in mind that this is what works for me, and every writer's process is an individual thing. For one thing, I don't work outside the home so that is a huge plus when it comes to finding time to write.

A while ago my kids started complaining about how I'm always upstairs in my room--where my home office work space is. That nagged at me until I realized I didn't want my children looking back on their childhood and saying, "I remember how mom used to sit for hours typing at her computer." I want them to remember me playing games with them, helping them with their science fair projects, riding bikes to the candy store.

In the evening I had some quiet time when the kids were in bed. But soon I noticed my husband being subtly bugged that I seemed to care more about writing my story than interacting with him. Although he's possibly the most supportive husband on the planet when it comes to me and my writing, I didn't want him to feel second place. I didn't want my writing to become a wedge that slowly split us apart.

Priority Number One: Family First

For me, family really is the most important and most gratifying endeavor I've ever worked on. I made a rule to put my writing aside the moment the kids get home from school. Also, I never write in the evenings. I use that time to be with my husband. (Exception to this is, of course, NaNoWriMo because then every waking moment must be spent on writing!)

Priority Number Two: My Spirituality

I refuse to shirk my church responsibilities or spiritual welfare by using that time to write. I complete my church obligations first, then work on my writing. Also, I never write on Sundays. You can read more about my faith here:

Priority Number Three: My Writing

In a workshop with Martine Leavitt, she advised us that if we want to be real authors we can't have any other hobbies. I don't scrapbook. I don't shop. I don't play in the local orchestra. Those are all things I gave up to make time for writing.

Priority Number Four: Personal and Home Upkeep

You may think this should be above writing, but I'm sad to say, it's not. During the regular school year, I get up with my kids at 6:30 and get them off to school. Then I clean and tidy the house and run my errands. Two or three times a week I exercise--a 12 to 20 mile bike ride.

But at 11:30, I put everything aside, done or not, and write. I can usually get a good three hours in before the kids come home at 2:30. It's not much, and sometimes I have to start earlier and leave the laundry undone, but that's ok. Sometimes an appointment or lunch with my mother cuts into my writing time and I get less than an hour. But it's a good, regular time for me, and it's what works.

After this, everything else is filler. I spend a lot of time reading and critiquing the writing of others, such as my critique group. And a lot of time reading books.

Here are some other blogs I noticed recently that offer good advice about balancing the writing life and real life:

Agent Rachelle Gardiners 90/10 rule for building a web presence. 

Balancing mom, work, and writing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lost in the Maze: Buried Plots

Song of the Day: "Is There Nothing We Could Do" by Badly Drawn Boy

As a reader, I've recently found myself lost in the maze of words in some writing. I'll be reading a book or manuscript and find that I have no idea what story thread I'm supposed to cling to as the main plot. Sometimes the main plot points are eclipsed by sub-plots or fancy wording and I don't know when to give particular events sufficient significance. Suddenly I find myself wondering what I missed. I don't know which parts of the story are important and which are secondary. I'm lost.

As a writer, I need to avoid that so my readers don't get frustrated or bored.

The problem is, I don't think I have all the answers to this problem. It's not always easy to spot a buried plot and fixing it can take a lot of work. But here are a few thoughts that may help:

Change the wording and sentence structure. If you normally write with long, flowing sentences throw in a few short ones that are heavy on action or emotion. If you use a lot of metaphorical language, be blunt and straightforward. Or if you rarely use metaphors, use a single powerful one to make your point stronger.

Use shorter paragraphs to give importance to whats happening. Make the event stand out on the page.

Cut down on the number of sup-plots. I think this is a big one. Too many minor threads makes the reader loose track of what's really important. Especially in YA and children's writing, the story should stick to the main character's objects of desire. A reader has to be able to recognize (at least subconsciously) the inciting incident and the main plot points that lead to the climax and conclusion or the story won't make sense to them.

Use an objective correlative that can add significance to certain events, dialogue or thoughts. See my post here for more on objective correlatives.

Add some direct thought rather than just narrative thought. This is sometimes easier to do in third person POV because first person is already direct thought. But if you can make it work it might help set the important situations apart from the other fluff.

That's what I was able to come up with in the few minutes I've been typing this post. Any other suggestions are welcome!

Monday, August 1, 2011

When Weather Turns Bad

Weather Check: Warm and muggy. Hopefully we'll get some thunderstorms this morning.

I've been noticing a terrible trend in weather lately. It seems to be turning against people--mostly main characters. As I read some YA literature and especially manuscripts, I keep coming across phrases like, "She opened the door and the heat assaulted her."

Now I'm all for personification, but I am starting to wonder why weather has become so vengeful against main characters.

So let me just say a few things about weather.

Don't let your weather become cliche. If you take the time to mention weather in your writing, it better be for a reason. Why does it matter if it is the third day in a row of 100 degree heat? What is important about the fog settling over the village? What does the first rain of the season symbolize? How does the bone-chilling cold affect what happens next?

Take rain. Why make it rain in your book? Well, here are a few reasons: Atmospherics, rain can be mysterious, isolating, depressing, confusing.... Rain can symbolize a cleansing, a rebirth. Rain can be a plot device to force the main character into certain situations. Rain is a great equalizer, it falls on both the just and the unjust, the dead and the living. Rain can restore life. Rain can also bring flood, destruction, exposure and death.

Above all, how does your POV character feel about it? Every description has to be told as it relates to your main character. A character who just moved from Arizona to North Dakota will feel differently about the winter snow and cold than a local.

Sometimes I think writing tips have been so drilled into our minds that as writers we go out of our way to say something the hard way instead of the simple way. I believe that often phrases such as "The heat assaulted her" and "the cold swallowed him" are ways to avoid using the word "was" and not deliberate attempts at personification for literary purposes.

Such wording often feels awkward and forced, especially when the next sentence doesn't relate to the weather at all. It makes one wonder why the heat is so angry at her. And if there is no reason for the heat's unwarranted attack, why phrase it like that?

It's okay to use the word "was" occasionally: "It was so cold my fingers were immediately numb and I couldn't manage the zipper on my coat." Even better is if the the love interest has to move in close to help with the zipper and the cool vapors of their breath mix together. See?! Now the weather relates to the main character, moves the plot forward, and carries symbolic meaning.

So try to remember, weather is never just weather.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Better Way to Show

Currently Reading: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I've been reading about my favorite subject lately, imagery in literature, and I keep coming across the term objective correlative. As I delved deeper, I realized that was exactly what my current work in progress is missing.

Objective correlative is a term coined by T. S. Elliot. He said:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

What does that mean? Essentially, an objective correlative is a type of metaphor where certain symbols or objects are used to express or allow an understanding of usually incomprehensible emotions or feelings.

In our current world of show but don't ever upon penalty of death tell, it's easy to get bogged down in trying to describe the physical traits of sadness, regret, nostalgia, etc. Tears, a sinking feeling in the stomach, furrowed brow--these are all becoming cliche. So how do you show what your character is feeling without being cliche?

Objective correlative! Here are some examples:

I just saw the movie The Eagle wherein a young man wants to redeem his father's name and restore honor to his family. As a child, his father gave him a carved amulet of an eagle--symbolic of the great golden eagle standard and of his father's honor and love. When the audience is meant to feel the main character's desire to recover his family's honor, he fondles the amulet and immediately we know what he is thinking and feeling. The eagle amulet is an objective correlative.

In one of my earlier novels the main character feels tremendous guilt for the death of her boyfriend in a car accident. She has a scar from that accident, and when I want to show that she is feeling shame and guilt because of what she did, all she has to do is reach up and try to cover her scar. The act of covering her scar is an objective correlative.

In Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is conflicted about his place as king. He feels unworthy because of the treachery of his ancestor, Isildur, who kept the Ring for himself instead of destroying it when he had the chance. Aragorn worries he will also become weak and susceptible to similar corruption when faced with an opportunity for power. All the audience needs to see is a quick flashback of Isildur's treachery to know exactly how Aragorn feels. That quick glance to the past is an objective correlative.

So when my critique group told me my main character was too whiney in my last chapter. That's when it hit me, he doesn't have his objective correlative yet. He needs that symbol to show without telling exactly how he feels.

After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. In literature, an objective correlative is just a written picture.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Remember the Good Ol' Days

Quote of the Day: "Womble up the rubbish, put it in the bin." ~my Womble pull-string toy.

I was digging around in my parent's basement the other day and found one of my oldest, favorite toys. A WOMBLE!!

What is a Womble? It's a plush toy based on a old stop-motion TV show from Britain that aired in the mid-70s. My guy's name is Orinocco.

What he looks like now.

What he looked like then.

The Wombles live on the Wimbledon Green and collect old rubbish and stuff and use it to go on all sorts of crazy adventures. I got my toy when I lived in London in 1978 (ish). He has a pull string that no longer works, but I remember two of his phrases very well. My favorte is the quote of the day, and the other one is "Womble days are happy days."

Ah...the flood of childhood memories. 

I logged onto You Tube and found a few episodes. After watching two of them I thought, children's TV has come a long way. Then I remembered the Teletubbies and realized it hasn't changed much at all. 



Monday, July 11, 2011

Perfect Beginnings

Quote of the Day: "Life is nothing but a test, of your adventure skills." By my nine-year-old daughter.

Gulp. The first chapter. So important but so tricky to get right. Well here is a little bit of advice that might help.

The five W’s of perfect beginnings:

Who – establish the main character and at least one important thing about him/her that will help the reader identify with and care about him/her.

When – a sense of time. Don’t leave the reader guessing—it frustrates them.

Where – a general idea of the setting as seen through the eyes of the main character.

What – What is the problem of the story. The main problem should be established early on because it sets the tone for the whole book.

Why – Why does the story start here. Why is this day different from any other. What is the inciting incident.

For more advice on writing the perfect first chapter, see my post at Utah Childrens Writers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Best Ever!

Currently Reading: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I've been to a lot of writers conferences, but last week I had the best experience ever.

I went to the Writers and Illustrators for Young Readers conference in Salt Lake and participated in a weeklong workshop with one of my favorite authors, Martine Leavitt.

She is the author of Keturah and Lord Death, which happens to be one of the best books ever written. I may be biased, but that book resonated with me like no other book ever has.

Martine's class was phenomenal. I feel like I just got a one week crash course in MFA level creative writing. We learned so much, my mind is still spinning trying to figure out how to incorporate it all into my work in progress. She did an excellent job of keeping the attitude positive while still helping us find ways to improve our writing.

The other participants in the class were also amazing writers and I learned a ton from them as well.

Now, if only I could figure out my main characters concrete object of desire...

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Song of the day: "In the Middle" ~Jimmy Eat World

So, my new friend, Jonene Fickland Meme'd me. I really have no idea what that means, but I guess I'm supposed to answer a few awkward questions about myself, and then pass it on.

Not wanting to look like a party pooper, here goes:

If you could go back in time and relive one moment, what would it be?
My first kiss. I wish I would have paid more attention to how I felt at the time--it would help me with my writing. I don't have a great memory, and I can't even remember for sure who it was with. I think it was this guy named Richard I sort of "went" with when I lived in London. Or maybe it was that other guy. Crap!

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?
I'm going to pass on all the heavy stuff and go with the time I fell flat on my face in front of my entire ward at church. I was walking up to sing in the choir, and wham, front and center in front of everyone. Embarrassing.

What movie/TV character do you most resemble in personality?
Easy. Temperance "Bones" Brennan in the TV show "Bones." Not so much the genius part, but the lack of social skills and the inability to pick up on social subtleties, and her frank and straightforward way of thinking and speaking. I get into a lot of trouble when I talk to people.

If you could push one person off a cliff and get away with it, who would it be?
Jacob Black. And if he takes Renesmee with him--even better.

Name one habit you want to change in yourself.
I wish I had better people skills.

Describe yourself in one word.

Describe the person who named you in this Meme in one word.

Why do you blog, in one sentence?
Because they tell me I have to if I want to get published. (Remember the lazy part?)

Name at least three people to send the Meme to, and then inform them.

Brooke: Lining the Clouds With Silver

Yamile: The Che Boricuas

Taffy: Taffy's Writings

Jen: Jen's Tale

Monday, June 6, 2011

Too Close to the Edge?

Currently Reading: Fourteen first-20-pages for everyone in the Martine Leavitt workshop next week. Lots of critiquing to do. 

Because of the recent article in the wall street journal by Meghan Cox Gurdon, here, and Robison Wells excellent response to that article, here, I've decided to re-post a blog I wrote last year for the Utah Children's Writers website. 

There has been a lot of talk lately about “edgy” young-adult literature.  Read the blurbs about what many agents are looking for and it will include the word “edgy” or "dark."  Manuscripts are rejected because they aren’t “edgy” enough.

Edgy is generally defined as books that push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable.  One definition said that there are no forbidden subjects in edgy young-adult fiction, but they are “written with sensitivity and care, not gratuitously.”

Critics opposed to edgy YA argue that the novels encourage destructive or immoral behavior.  

Those in favor claim that fictional portrayals of teens successfully addressing difficult situations and confronting social issues helps readers deal with real-life challenges.

One book that recently caught my eye is about a teenage girl who falls in love with a boy from her apartment building.  The girl’s feelings for the boy become confused when she discovers that he is actually a girl who has had a sex change.

Is that edgy?  Is it gratuitous?  Or does it help teens confront real-life challenges?  How many teens will really have to face that kind of situation?

Another recent book is written entirely in text message lingo and deals with a group of teenage girls who discuss boys, gossip, sex, clothes and getting drunk.  A book geared for grades 8-10.

One reader left her comment regarding this book on Amazon:  “This book offends me and makes me ashamed to be a teenage girl…is this what people think we’re like?  AHHH.  No.”

Are we underestimating our youth when we push edgy too far?  Are we selling the rising generation short when we appeal to the lowest common denominator?

Many books that were once considered too edgy are now taught in our schools.  Lord of the Flies, The Outsiders, and Speak.  What’s the difference?  What makes these books worthy of study?

What is the boundary between “edgy” and “trashy”?  Where is the line for taboo subject matter?  Do we compromise ourselves as authors when we cross those lines simply for the chance to make money or get our work published?

There are many books for YA's that deal with dark subject matter in a positive and inspiring way. I made my teenage son read "Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher because it dealt with the reality of suicide in a way that I felt sent the message I want my son to learn: You never know how unkind words might affect the life of another person, and suicide is not the answer.

All teens deal with challenges, heartache, and a huge range of deep, serious, emotional issues.  It seems to me that books that actually help them cope with these “real-life challenges” are uplifting, not gratuitous, and carry a message of safety and hope.  They stretch the teenage mind into a positive, new way of thinking that inspires them to want to be better, rather than simply shock and tantalize the senses.

What do you think?