Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A New Christmas Standard?

by Scott Rhoades

I wrote a little thingy this morning, and thought I'd share. You don't get any of my homemade Lebkuchen, so you'll have to settle for this. Merry Christmas!

L.A. WINTER WONDERLAND

Wintertime, sun is shining
Freezing cold, so we’re whining
How can people survive
When it’s just 65
It’s an L.A. winter wonderland

Jacket's on, hands in mittens
Designer clothes, so nice fittin’
I bought a great tan
So glad I’m a man
In an L.A. winter wonderland

On the beaches surfers don their wet suits
Children building castles in the sand
Sun reveals a pretty blonde’s dark roots
Male movie stars stroll hand in hand

Keep your snow, we don’t want it
‘less we went out and bought it
Feel like Eskimos
When the ocean breeze blows
In our L.A. winter wonderland

Friday, December 18, 2009

This Space Left Unintentionally Blank

'Tis the season for being behind on everything and trying to remember so much at once--did we get Kyle that one thing (what was it again?), and how can we get Ryan something from Zumiez without actually going to the mall?--that nothing sticks. So imagine my horror when I woke up this morning and realized it was my day to blog, and of course it's on a day when I have to be at work an hour earlier for an end-of-year marathon all-day meeting.

So for all of my minions who wait anxiously for my next posting, sorry about not having anything today. For the rest of you, the normals ones who know what I'm saying, stay tuned. If something pops into my mind in the next few days, I might just blog out of turn.

And to all of you, have a GREAT Christmas week, the busiest, most hectic, most stressful, but also the most joyous, week of the year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My NaNoWriMo Experience by Yamile Mendez

Is it December already? Really? Because I feel like on November 1st I boarded the NaNoWriMo train, and I've missed my stop. My experience with Nano this year was completely different from last year's for several reasons. Last November I hadn't ever written a full novel. This year I worked on my third. Last year I let myself be taken over by the words; this year I had a plot and a plan I was working on. I set the rules for my story and tried to follow them.

Last November I wrote 51,000 words that showed me I had reached my goal. This year I didn't only reach my goal but exceeded it, and guess what? Even though November is over, my story isn't. This means more writing, but now that I have the habit of writing everyday--or almost-- I plan on finishing shortly.

This year I also used several tools that I didn't even know existed last year. For example, the Utah Word words: Utah County against Salt Lake against Elsewhere.

Through twitter I found out authors Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan, http://scottwesterfeld.com/blog/) and his wife Justine Larbalestier (Liar, http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/) blogged daily with wonderful tips for Nanowrimoers.

I didn't attend any of the write-ins taking place across the valley, but next year I will for sure.

Now that Nano is over, I found another wonderful site, http://plotwhisperer.blogspot.com/, that gives a plan for revising your novel, with daily tips and directions.

This year I felt I was part of a writing community, and even at home I had my 9 year-old working on his own project. He got sick the last week in November, and unfortunately didn't reach his goal, but only for a couple of hundred words. He set himself another goal for the end of the year, and I don't doubt he'll reach it.

My novel will not be even close to perfect when I finally finish it later this month, but I'm proud of it because it was created from a tiny idea that I fertilized everyday without fail. I hope it will become the tree it is meant to be. If it doesn't, there's always next November for a new opportunity.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

POV Experiments-- "Schooled" by Gordan Korman

I picked up "Schooled" off a library reshelving cart and was intrigued by it's bright yellow cover complete with a large peace sign and a school bus. The inside cover description was appealing so I checked it out. I read it yesterday and wanted to share the unique twist on the story. Here's part of the summary on the book:

"Capricorn (Cap) Anderson has never watched television. He's never tasted a pizza. Never even heard of a wedgie. Since he was little, his only experience has been living on a farm commune and being homeschooled by his hipped grandmother, Rain.

"But when Rain falls out of a tree while picking plums and has to stay in the hospital, Cap is forced ot move in with a guidance counselor and her cranky teen daughter, and attend the local middle school. While Cap knows a lot about tie-dyeing and Zen Buddhism, no education could prepare him for the politics of the public school.

"Right from the beginning, Cap's weirdness makes him a moving target at Claverage Middle School (dubbed C Average by the students). He has long, ungroomed hair; wears hemp clothes; and practices tai chi on the lawn...."


The first chapter is told from the perspective of Cap himself and you see what he's thinking and feeling as he takes care of his grandmother immediately after her fall. The second chapter is from the POV (point of view) of the guidance counselor who takes him in; the third from the school big man who targets Cap as the 8th grade whipping boy; the fourth from Cap again. Throughout the entire book, the POV shifts from person to person all the while centering around Cap and how the school views him and his antics. By the time you get to the climax point, you know Cap better than you might have if you had only ever saw him through his own eyes.

The more I read this book, the more drawn I became to all of the characters. It was like watching an exciting sports game and rotating spots every few minutes so I could get a different perspective on the action. I loved it! I will admit that I was disappointed by the ending. It seemed to cut short this well-woven story, like finishing off a rug with some staplers or duct tape! But I loved the idea of switching back and forth between the first person perspective for each charcter. Gordan Korman pulled it off really well.

So how can this apply to you? Do you have a spot in your story that seems to be stuck or be excessively ridgid? Try writing the scene through the eyes of another character, whether major or minor. Hopefully it will give you new insight as to what's going on in the scene in a more three dimensional way. If you are trying to decide how to construct a novel out of an idea in your head or scratched out on paper, consider a different approach to the POV.

And, of course, to read a good example of alternating POVs, pick up "Schooled" by Gordan Korman. I highly recommend it, despite the weird ending!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tidbits from the Internet

Hi, folks.  I’m sorry I won’t be coming up with anything more creative today…I’ve had a day from you-know-where and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon.  So I shall just give you a few links you can peruse at your leisure.

First, author Sarah Rees Brennan shared (back in August) a thoughtful post about fictional ladies

Next, prolific writer Jennifer Crusie blogged about the important Turning Points in your story.  (An awesome post…I really enjoyed it.)

Last but not least, married writers Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier have a month full of blog posts on writing tips (specifically for NaNoWriMo but certainly applicable to all writers!).  I highly recommend them…they know what they’re talking about.  (See their November posts.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Where I live by Shauna Leggat

I live in Mirlo Beach, North Carolina.

I live right by the Rodanthe House in Gere's movie, Nights in Rodanthe, and it was under water our last storm. Beautiful photos, though.

By the way, Nights in Rodanthe (Nicholas Sparks) was a terribly written book, and we were flooded for the movie premiere, so I never saw it! Was here through all the filming, though.

City & State Roll Call

I love the fact that our Utah Children's Writers group has members from all over the country. Will you take a moment and post your city and state (if not UT) in the comments section?

Thanks!

Friday, December 4, 2009

BIG Blocks of Text or "How to overkill your book with prose"

I read a book last night that had no more than 25% of its pages as dialogue, and even then the dialogue was a brief sentence followed by several sentences of description. One chapter I found had almost no dialogue in it at all. Now, mind you, the main character did a lot of talking and there were A LOT of other people in the book, but they rarely spoke for themselves. Instead most dialogue was filtered through the lens of the main character.

For example: Most of the primary grade teachers were planning the usual art projects along with having the kids bring valentines to give to everyone in the class. Alicia Despain, who taught fifth grade, plus environmental science to anyone who would let her, argued that it was a terrible waste of paper to throw away all those valentines every year, but most of the primary-grade teachers defended the practice. "The kids like it," said one of our first grade teachers, and someone else added that it really helped the students with practicing their letters and their handwriting coordination.

There are times when it is safe to let the main character describe everything from his/her point of view (POV), but it tends to make the rest of the characters seem like lifeless talking heads. We are never able to hear what they have to say for themselves. You may want to create a dominant POV, but it is a fine line between dominant (primary) and domineering (tyrannical).

Dialogue is essential to break up the flow of your writing and to provide some variation in what you are saying. No one likes to pick up a book and find massive blocks of text and little white space-- especially when it's a child/teen picking up that book. White space is visually appealing and less intimidating than BIG blocks of description, no matter how beautifully or cleverly writtent that description might be.

Finding a balance between dialogue and description is one that every author must create for themselves. I know great authors who struggle with description and end up adding it in through the final editing process to break up their scenes. Authors like myself are exactly the opposite. When I'm editing, I have to add in description to "fluff" out my scenes. The balance line between the two is different for every author and, I believe, for every story.

Now for some homework. If you want a description-heavy book, try anything by James Michener. He'll show what thorough description is, plus he may help you fall asleep at night! ;o) If you want a book with ALL dialogue, pick up "This is What I did" by Ann Dee Ellis. Her book is a remarkable example of a book with NO prose. Everything is a thought or statement by the main character or his friends/family.

Find your own balance. If you are not so good with description, then write a scene that is entirely dialogue with an occasional "he said sourly" or "she said tearfully" so you can keep track of who is speaking. If you are great with dialogue but are weak in the description department, then try writing a scene where two characters are interacting with each other but no one says anything involving " " " ".

Experiment. You may find you're the next James Michener or you may find your characters can pack a punch in what they say. You never know until you try.

Dialogue vs Description

by Scott Rhoades

A recent thread on the Utah Childrens Writers mailing list touched on preferences between dialogue and description. Like the title of this post, the discussion was framed as if it's an either/or question. It's not, of course. Both are necessary.

However, some people go description-crazy. When I look at a book and see nothing but a solid mass of gray text, I assume the following:

* The book has a lot of description, which is almost always telling, not showing, no matter how good the descriptions are.
* The pace is slow.
* I'll get tired reading it because it'll be kind of thick and heavy.
* Focus is on plot or theme, not character.

On the other hand, if I see a lot of white space mixed in, it's a sure sign there will be plenty of dialogue. And so I assume the following:

* The book will pull me into the scenes by showing me the interaction between the characters.
* The pace is faster.
* My eyes will get less tired because there's white space and there are more breaks.
* Focus is on characters.

Three guesses which book I'm most likely to buy.

To be sure, there is such a thing as too much dialogue. Some non-spoken prose is necessary. A good writer strikes the right balance between descriptive text and dialogue, controlling the pacing and action like a conductor controls an orchestra.

Some people struggle with dialogue. It's not that hard to copy the way people talk, but good dialogue does much more than that. Good dialogue is action. It moves the story forward. Like any good fiction, it is driven by conflict and heightens the tension.

And here's the thing: good dialogue often includes lively description. I don't mean it is expository, like:

***

"Hi, Joan. That's a nice blue sweater."

"Thank ya, John. I bought it at Sweatuh Emporium foah $100. Ya know ah don't have a lotta money, so it was moah than I could affoahd. But I lak it."

***

I mean something more like:

***

"Nice sweater," John said. Joan never did look good in blue. Blue washed out her pale face and clashed with the phony purply-red of her hair.

"You know Sweater Emporium has always been my personal Disneyland," Joan said without looking at him.

Probably cost more than a book of E-Tickets. She obviously hadn't gotten any better at controlling her spending. Maybe if she had, they might have had a chance. Whatever it cost, it wasn't worth it.

"Yeah, well, it's nice," he said.

***

There's a lot more that can be said about dialogue, and I suspect that you'll read more about it here soon. You might also want to check out Dialogue by Gloria Kempton, from the Writer's Digest Books "Write Great Fiction" series.

Monday, November 30, 2009

On the Other Side

This morning I submitted my novel for verification in the NaNoWriMo contest, and I am thrilled to announce that I won! I seriously doubted my ability to write a novel in a month when I started 29 days ago. I wondered if I could do it and wondered if I'd get to today and feel like a failure or feel like a winner.

What a wonderful feeling to "win."

I have learned something valuable this month, something that is worth more to me than the certificate that I am eager to print and put on my wall! And that is: you can write. No matter what is going on around you, if you want to write, the only thing that can stop you is you. I remember reading someone's comment about learning how to write while cooking dinner or while children were fighting, and I thought 'I need to know how to do that.' That has been the biggest success of this month. I can write. I can write while the toddler is emptying my kitchen cupboards; I can write while I am waiting to take the kids to school; I can write whenever I have a free moment. I can write now and not wait till later--some mythical day--when all will be calm and I will have plenty of free time.

What a freeing thought. After wasting these past two years by not writing and inventing lots of excuses as to why I couldn't write, I'm thrilled to say that I can write and I will.

And I'm so excited for next year's NaNoWriMo! It's on my calendar!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Note:

For those of you who keep seeing a post by me from yesterday entitled "Christ" that was a deleted post! But Blogger Dashboard won't delete it!

I put instructions on here how to mail a Christmas card to a recovering soldier, but I later found out the instructions weren't entirely accurate (thanks, Snopes!) so I deleted it. Only after that did I realize that somehow the title of the post got cut off too.

Sorry!

Top Ten Reasons Your Man is Better Than Edward or Jacob

My book club enjoys the Twilight movies and love to make a night of it. That leaves my poor husband home alone with our three kids. He's a good sport, though he sent me a text at one point reminding me how much hotter he was than Edward. I think all men are affected at some point by these books and movies--whether it's a swooning spouse/daughter/grandmother, the poor men in our lives can't help but feel a little overwhelmed by the Edward/Jacob ideal.

My good friend sent me this list, written by the spouse of a friend (Micah Shirts). Enjoy!

Top Ten Reasons I'm Better Than Edward

10. You think MY feet are cold at night?
9. Insurance. Health: Honestly, who insures an immortal? Life: No chance you outlive him. Car: My rates go down with age. Edward is paying teenage premiums f-o-r-e-v-e-r.
8. Inferiority. No chance can you out-do Edward. With me, you have a slight, okay possible, okay good, okay winning chance.
7. I bring sunlight into your life.
6. Sure it's a farmer's tan/burn, but at least it's some color.
5. You know how hard it is to get out a blood stain.
4. Do you really want to be married to someone who is "stuck in high school"?
3. No chance our dinner guests ever actually become dinner for me.
2. We can grow old together, not just you getting old (I realize that Bella becomes a vampire but that's a technicality and do you really want to go from eating chocolate ice cream and cheese fries to blood?)
1. I'm pretty sure most people would agree that I'm better looking.

Top Ten Reasons I'm Better Than Jacob

10. I don't require a pet deposit.
9. Rabies: Don't forget what happened to Old Yeller.
8. Have you ever smelled a wet dog?
7. I'm more cuddly (i.e. less muscular).
6. You think I eat a lot...
5. I clean myself with a shower.
4. Two words: Dog Breath.
3. Temper, temper, temper.
2. My back is only slightly hairy.
1. I won't distract you from Edward.
2. I'm p

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Writer's Journal

by Scott Rhoades

I have a confession to make: I'm a terrible journal keeper. I've tried keeping a journal, but it always either fades away to nothing or I get bored writing about my life and start making stuff up and then it fades away to nothing. I'm told that keeping a journal is important and that my great-great grandchildren will love learning everything about me. But let's face it, journals almost never tell the truth because we're afraid somebody might actually read it someday, and that makes us selective about what we say.

But there's one kind of journal that I actually find useful and interesting: a writing journal. I'm still not good at keeping one, but when I do, it's helpful and, I think, something that somebody might someday enjoy reading. And if they don't, so what--it still does me some good.

I discovered the value of a writing journal several years ago when I picked up a book called Working Days, John Steinbeck's journal that he kept while working on The Grapes of Wrath. Looking over the shoulder of a favorite writer as he works is fascinating and inspiring. Watching a prose master go through exactly what we unknowns go through is encouraging.

Steinbeck started Grapes with a flurry of excitement. He had just finished and destroyed another novel about the terrible things that migrant farm workers were going through. Once he had worked out the anger and the heavy politicizing, he was ready to write something he believed would be important, the book of a lifetime. He set a tough schedule for himself, one to two thousand words a day, six days a week, and decided to keep a working journal that would hold him accountable for keeping to that schedule. If he didn't write, his journal would show it.

For the first several chapters, things went swimmingly. Sure he had pressures that might writing tough, and all kinds of distractions, from his neighbor's radio to his own hangovers, to the huge distraction of buying a new house and moving, largely to get away from that blasted radio so he could work.

Then he got to the middle, and like us much lesser writer, was suddenly overwhelmed with doubts. "This work is no good," he wrote. He was wasting his time. He wasn't a good enough writer to tackle his subject. Health issues, a constant stream of visitors, and his own doubts threatened to kill the book. But he was a stubborn man, and kept to his schedule, writing every day whether he wanted to or not, whether he thought it was good or not. He had a goal to write every day, and wouldn't make his predicted word count target in the time he planned if he missed his work. He had set a deadline for himself, and nothing was going to make him miss it, even if he had to tell friends they couldn't visit because he was working.

When I read that, I was just starting a new project, so I decided to try the journal for myself. Immediately, the benefits became clear. Like Steinbeck, I made myself accountable to my journal. If I didn't write, it showed in the journal. Taking a cue from my old track & field days, I started every entry with a warm up, and ended every session with a cool down.

Here, as an example, is one of my entries, chosen more or less at random:

***

April 11, 2005 9:18 AM

Warm Up:

The first paragraph of Chapter 11 needs to be completely rewritten. When I first wrote that chapter, it wasn’t a very good writing day. I was struggling to get the words out, but I was determined to do it anyway. I used the first paragraph as a warm-up, even writing it in present tense, like a synopsis. It got the mind going and I was able to finish the chapter, but now I need to redo that first paragraph so the chapter is complete. I have a few minutes to spare this morning, and it shouldn’t take long, definitely less time than a whole new chapter (which I also wish I had time for, now that I’m approaching the end of the first draft.

Cool Down: 10:15

There. I fixed that paragraph and turned it into a little more than a page. I also fixed some other minor problems in that chapter. I need to decide what to do with Miss Stern’s “boyfriend.” At first I thought he’d be the new cook, but I don’t think that’s the right role for him. I need to write him into the story more, though, now that he’s been introduced. He and Stern could make a good team of comic villains. I think they should be a little over-the-top, and should unintentionally say things that make them sound stupid and funny.

***

I did that, day after day, and became converted to journaling as a writer. And then I went to Europe for three months on business, and another three weeks of vacation. I kept up my regime for a while, but the journal didn't last as long as my writing schedule because it was replaced with an on-line travel journal to keep my friends and family back home apprised on what I was doing in Germany.

I never quite got the journal going again. I'd use it in spurts over the next couple years, but not regularly, and my writing schedule suffered. The actual writing was also hurt by not having the warm up and cool down, or a place to record my thoughts about what I was going to work on next or to work through problems I was having. I was no longer accountable to the journal, and then, when I became involuntarily self-employed and had to work long hours to make ends meet, my writing habits tanked.

In attempt to get back to good writing habits, I'm reading Steinbeck's journal again, and it's increasing my itch to write. Once I get through a couple of work things and have a little time again, I'm going to get going again.

And the journal will be a part of it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Books I Loved: The Dreamhunter Duet

I love finding new books to read…whether it’s from a library display, a blog, a friend or family member, or an author recommendation. 

A couple of months ago a well-known author recommended Dreamhunter: Book One of the Dreamhunter Duet by New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox.  It sounded interesting, and I’ve enjoyed other things this author loved, so I ordered it from the library.

Wow.  I don’t know what I’d expected, but it was unlike anything I’d ever read before.  Dreamhunter is set in an island-like country much like Australia at the turn of the 20th century, but with one big difference: in the last 20 years, a whole new culture of “dreamhunting” has sprung up after the now-famous Tziga Hame stumbled quite by accident into what is now known as “The Place.” 

The Place is an arid, grey land that only a privileged few can access.  Everyone else walks right across the borders and just continues travelling in the regular green, lush countryside.  But to those few—who are allowed to see if they can enter this Place in an official “Try” when they turn 15—they have the chance of becoming dreamhunters.  If they succeed in catching dreams, they take those dreams back out of The Place and “perform” the dreams for an audience…by going to sleep and taking the audience with them into the dream.

Laura Hame, Tziga’s 15-year-old daughter, and her cousin Rose are eager for their “Try” to see if they can become famous dreamhunters like Rose’s mother, Grace, and Laura’s father.  But their Try is only the start of a bizarre, quirky,  mysterious, and dangerous journey that has unexpected twists and turns every step of the way.

Book 2—Dreamquake—was just as good, and I devoured it just as quickly.  A particular favorite of mine was the strange song “The Measures,” the clever wordplay surrounding this song, and the character Nown. 

Where do the dreams come from?  What part do convicts play in them? What does the repressive government have to do with the dreams?  And most of all, what is The Place and why did it suddenly appear 20 years ago?

As the answers to these questions are revealed, things speed up more and more and the final few chapters are un-put-down-able.  These books are strange and slow-moving at times (especially at the beginning), and the author writes in such a way that the characters seem a bit distant and removed, but this may be entirely intentional because it lends a really dreamlike quality to the whole story. 

I finished these books three weeks ago but the story has stayed with me ever since, to the point that I wish I could track down the author and ask her some questions about the ending.  The mystery of The Place was not one I could guess and I was truly surprised at the things Laura discovered on her journey to understanding. 

All in all, a really good read…and a very different and thought-provoking story.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twilight Envy

I'm guessing (really just desperately hoping so I don't look/feel stupid) that I'm not the only writer who has felt some twinges of painful guilt when I look at/hear about the Twilight craze. Talk about living the dream for Stephanie. And she was Oprah-- talk about the Holy Grail of writership. NY Times Bestseller lists, Oprah, major movies, insane following. That's the dream, right? To be big and good and REALLY BIG!

Though I don't have any desire whatsoever to write about vampires and werewolves, I have caught myself imagining what I would do or say if I were on Oprah. Or Larry King Live. What would I wear? Would be funny and smart? Would I inspire thousands of more people to buy my books and adore me? Would it forever change me as a person or just me as a writer?

And would I really want that? These are tough questions to answer. But at least for a moment you can feel okay with the fact that you too have envied the success of Stephanie Meyer.

And for me, that's okay, welcome to the club!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To Kindle or Not to Kindle: Is B&N’s Nook Device Going to Take Over the Market?

The answer is a resounding "yes"! My geeky little mind was thrilled to see the advertisement for the Nook ebook reader on the homepage of the Barnes & Noble website. I made a silent "ooooh" and immediately clicked on the link to read more about this cool little device.

Before I start in on what I learned about the Nook, I have to admit that when Amazon announced the Kindle a few years back I wasn't jumping up and down. I'm definitely the type of person that loves to have a hard copy of a book in my hands. I love the smell of a new book and the feel of the crisp pages. I love to be able to take it anywhere (the beach, the couch, and yes, even some other places where you just need a private moment). So I reserved judgement on the Kindle until I've observed its progress and sales. A member of my writers' critique group bought one and love it, but it was still not enough. I mean, $259? Think how many books I could buy with that money! Anyway, the Kindle was black and white and a little ugly compared to other electronic devices like the iphone.

So imagine my delight at seeing the beautiful Nook--its got two color touch-screens, wi-fi, a 3G network, and its the same price as a Kindle. Additionally, it supports the ebook format (Kindle only supports Kindle files and pdf) and allows you to lend a book you've purchased to a friend for up to 14 days. You can walk into any Barnes & Noble and try one out. They've announced that over one million titles will be available for purchase on the Nook, plus free newspaper subscriptions and 17,000 free titles.

It's still a little pricey, but as with any new technology, the price will go down eventually. Barnes & Noble will start shipping them at the end of November.

The remaining fun question is this--how will the Nook impact the publishing marketplace? Since current top titles sell for around $10 per download, hopefully the ebook market will boost author and publisher profits dramatically. At virtually no cost to the publisher, ebooks are a cash cow. Authors should get a higher percentage of sales (at least 15%) while publishers still make out like bandits. So buy a Nook for your significant other, your parents or just for yourself this holiday season and give the publishing industry a much needed boost.

Tiffany Dominguez
Freelance Writer, Young Adult Fiction
http://www.scribblebymoonlight.blogspot.com/

Friday, November 6, 2009

Experimenting with Twitter

by Scott Rhoades

I once entered a contest where each participant had to write a complete story in the space of a single Twitter tweet. Throughout the month of October, I expanded on this idea by carrying out a little experiment: I wrote a little Halloween story one 140-character piece per day. Or that was the idea, anyway.

The results were mixed. The biggest problem was that, since these were such small chunks and were so fast to write, I tended to forget about it. There were several days where I had to play catch-up and write two or three episodes at once, which, in a way, defeats the purpose. I also hadn't thought out the story, so it wasn't up there with my best work.

But, it was worth doing. Just the exercise of having to write something that made sense and moved the story forward in such a little space provided useful practice for keeping my prose simple and choosing the right words. I had to really pay attention to my nouns and verbs because I had no space for adjectives and adverbs. The writing had to be tight, even if it wasn't necessarily great.

If you sometimes struggle when you try to say a lot with a little, you might try something like this for practice. Or you might just do it for fun. Either way, you'll learn something, either that writing tight is difficult or that Twitter is a stoopid place to try to write a story. And, hopefully, in the process you'll have a little fun.

BONUS: RECIPE

I look forward to carving jack-o-lanterns every year for one main reason: it's a fun way to get at the delicious pumpkin seeds. This year I roasted them a little differently than usual and really liked the results, so I thought I'd share for those of you who still have pumpkins sitting around your porches.

Fresh pumpkins
butter
salt
water

Preheat 300-degree oven.

Remove the seeds from the pumpkin and let them soak for a little while in water, then rinse them in a colander to remove as much pulp and strings as you can. You can leave a little for more flavor.

Soak seeds in salty water. I like mine salty, so I use a lot of salt in the water. Overnight is great, but an hour or two works. Drain seeds, but don't rinse.

Melt about a tablespoon of butter (or slightly less) and mix in enough seeds for one batch on a cookie sheet until all seeds are coated.

Arrange seeds in a single layer (very important) on the cookie sheet and put in oven.

Bake about 45 minutes until golden brown, stirring at least once.

Repeat until all your seeds are toasted.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

5,623

Even at the risk of overpowering the blog, I wanted to share an insight I had. I'm 5,623 words into my NaNoWriMo contest. I failed to get a single word written and I've been scrambling to catch up-- I'm a stickler for daily goals! As that little critic starts piping up that 5,623 words is nothing and that I'll never make the 50,000 goal, I realize that no matter what happens now, I am 5,623 words richer than I was this time last week.

I've been on a writing break. I haven't written fiction for a year at least. Last year I had high expectations of making progress on my second novel, but when my first novel returned with another rejection, the wind blew out of all my sails. I wrote on my blog, I wrote emails, I wrote letters, but I didn't once write fiction. I composed it in my head and I thought a lot about it, but I never once wrote.

I often wondered what it would take to get me to break the cords of non-writing that I had bound myself with. I could never figure out the answer to it. I had no idea and couldn't seem to muster the strength to force myself to do it.

It rather shocks me that I finally decided to participate in National Writing Month. But it's been amazing so far (in the four days). It was the kick in the butt that I desperately needed. The story I'm writing is one I've thought about for years. I'm trying my best to not worry about the writing or transitions and I have no idea where the story is going-- though I will admit that I just included a death and figured out what to do with Elaine later in the story.

Ha! Isn't that the amazing part of being a writer?! We hear these voices in our heads and they tell us who they will or will not under any circumstance be. It's fantastic! I've forgotten how much I loved the thrill of creation, of losing myself in another world and being surprised at the discoveries I make about my characters. I love it!

So if all you do today is write down a title or jot down an idea. Or if you only managed 54 words out of that goal of 8,000 then remember how much richer you are for doing it. Creating words builds us as writers.

Build on, my friends, build on. And thank you for letting me share!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Derailed...

Nothing like a little sick baby to derail your word count totals. Only up to 3,285 words and don't know if I'll get any work on my NaNo done today. Drat. I'm trying not to panic. I was doing good- on the first day! It's amazing that anyone ever gets any writing done without locking themselves in an office for 8 hours a day. This is good experience for me to write while life still happens!

Monday, November 2, 2009

At the Edge

Two days into November with a not-so-blank calendar staring me straight in the face and I'm still wondering:

"To NaNoWriMo? Or not?"

Can I do it? Can I commit? There's no halfway fulfillment for me. It's all or nothing. If I start, do I have what it takes to finish? Can I see myself on December 1 being proud or feeling like a failure? Is it time for me learn that writing CAN happen outside of a nicely lit, well conditioned/heated environment with mood music playing, a cup of water, and a quiet house? Can I prove to myself that I can write when I want to no matter what chaos is happening around me?

There's always chaos now. I suppose it's largely futile for me to think I'll wait for the chaos to pass before I start really writing again. I think those days of chaos-less-ness are over.

But can I do it? I always come back to this question? Can I write a novel in a month? Heck, can I write everyday? There's the starting line. Can I write? Can I do it even if I never actually got around to reading up on it and doing the research I thought I should? I mean really, how hard can it be to know what to do? It's not about what's required/recommended by the program.

It's all about what's required of me.

Can I do it?


Can I?


At the edge, am I ready to jump? Or am I going to talk myself back down to the safe ledge where I've been hiding for a year, throwing out blog posts and other small writings in an attempt to make myself not feel like a total writing slacker.


Is it time?



Sorry, not great realization here. Just still wondering. But today's the day. Today I commit and write, or I don't.


And I'm still not ready to decide. . . . .

Friday, October 30, 2009

NaNoWriMo by Sydney Salter

NaNoWriMo to the Rescue!

When I attempted my first NaNoWriMo , I had already written three novel manuscripts. And I’d collected more than 10 times as many rejections. Two of my novels had won first prizes in the League of Utah Arts contest and the other one won first place in the Utah Arts Council competition, but I couldn’t break in to publishing.

I received lovely rejection letters. Sometimes. Most often I got a “Dear Author” form letter back in my SASE or worse, nothing at all.

I was feeling pretty discouraged that October: short dark days, too many rejections, not nearly enough chocolate. So I decided to shake things up NaNoWriMo-style!

After reading through my old high school diaries, I decided to combine my worst insecurity—my big nose—with my most disastrous work experience. I had wrecked a delivery van and a wedding cake on the same day, but in equally unfortunate separate incidents.

By November 1st, I had read No Plot, No Problem, created a notebook for the novel, and was ready to go. Some people thought I was crazy and others mocked the entire concept of NaNoWriMo. But I learned that I could write without rules or routines. I used to only write in ideal conditions: quiet house, children away, mid-morning hours, when my hair looked good… Well, you get the idea.

During that November, I learned that I could write with my kids fighting over my shoulder. I could get my 1,666 words written while baking six Thanksgiving pies. I wrote early in the morning, late at night, and on really, truly terrible hair days. Some days were easier than others, but when I finished the book I couldn’t tell the difference. And the book turned out pretty good. Sure it needed revision (everything does, right?). But the voice was strong and consistent because I never left the story for more than several hours.

I let the novel rest over Christmas, my critique group read it, and I spent a few months on revision. Recognizing that this was my most commercial novel, I submitted it only to agents. I got the nicest rejection letters I’d ever received. One agent even recommended me to another agency. That’s how I found my current agent. My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters sold in a two-book deal to Harcourt and was published last spring. How did I write that second book? During NaNoWriMo of course! You can find Swoon At Your Own Risk on the shelves next April.

Now go write your story and break all your unhelpful writing rules and rituals! You never know where it will lead you…

Sydney Salter
My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters, Harcourt/Graphia
Jungle Crossing, Harcourt
Swoon At Your Own Risk, Harcourt/Graphia, 2010

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Do Good Books Ruin Your Enjoyment of Bad Books?

I’ve seen a good many books recently rise to or debut on the NY Times Bestseller list that have not received good reviews. I’ve also read multiple news articles on how the flop of these “bestsellers” is affecting the publishing industry. For example, the last Harry Potter book sold 8.3 million copies on just 24 hours. One of the biggest titles released these past few months sold a mere 1.2 million copies in one week.

Is the reason these books sales are tanking too much advance hype? Or are people looking for something different in literature these days?

I recently finished what I consider to be a masterpiece of literature (I don’t mind naming it—The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society). In contrast, I also finished a book by a NY Times Bestselling author. The difference in how I felt as I read these books was marked. The Guernsey book had well-developed, fascinating and enjoyable characters. The authors were able to approach the delicate topic of Nazi occupation during WWII with, oddly enough, hope and humanity. My book club read this book, no one ranking it below a 9 out of 10 (and we are tough critics, believe me). The book I picked up next was supposedly young adult, but contained so many adult themes that I wondered there wasn’t a parental advisory sticker on the cover. How have books such as these risen to NY Times Bestselling status when the gems of literature don’t get enough marketing dollars?

Perhaps editors are pushing authors to produce the next bestseller too quickly, or perhaps they are backing the wrong horse. Or perhaps we as readers want more out of literature, having been spoiled by the true works of art.

Tiffany Dominguez

Freelance Writer, Young Adult Fiction

http://www.scribblebymoonlight.blogspot.com/

Friday, October 23, 2009

NaNoWriMo by Yamile Mendez

I’ve been a writer ever since I can remember. However, it wasn’t until last year that I started working on a story that little by little became my first novel. Working on it was extremely hard; having four kids under the age of seven (at the time), I had plenty of excuses not to write: I’m too tired, the kids need me, I don’t know what to write about, etc., etc.

Well, at the beginning of November I was browsing through a parenting blog and the author commented she had entered into NaNoWriMO. She even had a link to the website, so I clicked it, and my life changed forever. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s a competition to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.

Have I mentioned November is possibly the most insane month in my family? Well, it is, and by then it already was November 7th. But the challenge was too attractive to pass. I felt like Fate was daring me to try, to see if I could do it. So I took the plunge, and on November 28th, I wrote the sweet words “The End.” For me, it was a beginning.

This year, my nine year-old son is entering too. NaNo has a program for Young Writers. There are different preparation booklets you can print out, for elementary, middle and high school aged children. There is also a chart to calculate how many words your child should set as a goal. The main difference with the adult version is that kids get to choose their own goal. My son is aiming somewhere 3,000 to 6,000 words. He’s already outlining his story.

November might be busy for us, but it’s also challenging. I love having a deadline, letting my fingers fly on the keyboard, seeing the word count increase by the minute.

This year I’ll have my little partner, and we'll cheer each other on. I can’t wait for November to come.

Yamile

Thursday, October 22, 2009

NaNoWriMo by Taffy Lovell

I think I first saw the NaNo on a writers blog. I really wanted to find my 'voice' so I took a look at the NaNo site.

The idea is to start from scratch on November 1st and cross the finish line (Nov 30) with 50K or more an just WRITE. By forcing a month deadline on yourself and writing furiously you give yourself permission to make mistakes and not correct them. It's all about QUANTITY not QUALITY (I took that statement from their site). At the end of the month, copy your story into their counter and watch the numbers zoom! If you have 50,000 word, you get to put a widget on your blog that says you participated and won.

I signed up. I thought it wouldn't hurt to try. Somewhere on NaNo site I took the advice to let my brain disengage and let my fingers type and that is what I did. My first few pages were garbage as I tried to relax and let my 'writer' take over. Suddenly, it was time for bed and I had typed 10 pages! I reread the story and to my surprise I had a protagonist, antagonist, conflict and several plot lines! I looked forward to the time at night I could type and type. At this point I didn't care if I made 50K because I had a new story.

Well, I did make 50k+ and was thrilled that I had a story. And a story that I had no idea was inside me or sent to my writer. Ali is a young African girl in a small African village. Marriages in the village are laxly arranged. But when the old medicine man in the village starts telling the young girls they must marry him, Ali's mother sends her away. Now, Ali is grown and has come back to her dying village. Can she make a difference? Can she right old wrongs? Can she forgive and move on?

Someday in the near future I am going to edit that story and submit it.
Last year, NaNo offered a code to all who had 50K to print a copy of their book for FREE. And if you wanted to, you could print more (for a fee) to pass out for family and friends. Um, Christmas is coming up..

The pros:
I had a child still at home when I was writing my NaNo story I literally took my computer to bed with me. I typed on my laptop while my husband watched sports or news. And I didn't really have a schedule of when I worked on my story so sometimes it took away time from my family. The last few days of November I really pumped out words and I got a little stressed which is stupid because it's not like anyone will care. Except me...

Some people have a story they want to get off the ground and use NaNo to jump start it. I think that is great. The thought had never occured to me to take one of my outlines and beef it up. But I really liked the freedom of just letting my writer go. Some might get stressed about having no direction but I think this is a great way to loosen the cobwebs or writers block.


by Taffy Lovell

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ten Commandments for a Happy Writer

Nathan Bransford, literary agent for Curtis Brown Ltd., posted the following on his site a few months ago.  You may have already seen it back in March but it’s really good advice and worth a re-read.  Visit his site for the full list and explanations. 

Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer

1. Enjoy the present

Writers are dreamers, and dreamers tend to daydream about the future while concocting wildly optimistic scenarios that involve bestsellerdom, riches, and interviews with Ryan Seacrest. In doing so they forget to enjoy the present. I call this the "if only" game. You know how it goes: if only I could find an agent, then I'll be happy. When you have an agent, then it becomes: if only I could get published, then I'll be happy. And so on. The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you're actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It's found in the present. Because writing is pretty great -- otherwise why are you doing it?

2. Maintain your integrity

3. Recognize the forces that are outside of your control

4. Don't neglect your friends and family

5. Don't Quit Your Day Job

6. Keep up with publishing industry news

7. Reach out to fellow writers

8. Park your jealousy at the door

9. Be thankful for what you have

10. Keep writing

 

Friday, October 16, 2009

To Authonomy or not to Authonomy

A week or so ago I finally signed up at Authonomy.com, the experimental Web site run by HarperCollins that is supposed to let the writing community help bring the best talent to the surface, where it is then evaluated by the editors at HarperCollins. I've resisted for a long time, but after reading a couple articles about it in the past few weeks, I broke down and did it.

It's an interesting site. Writers post at least 10,000 words of their work, then other writers read and evaluate it. If they like it, they put it on their bookshelves. Every Authonomy member gets a bookshelf that holds five books and a watch list that can contain an unlimited number of books. Books are ranked according to the number of bookshelves, watch lists, and comments they get, at least that's how it looks to me. I haven't read all the info about how it works. As far as I'm concerned, any feedback is good feedback, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

There's only one problem: it's basically a specialized social networking site where, to rise to the top, you have to play the game. You have to spend a lot of time trading reads with other writers. This is not a bad thing, but it does tend to encourage comments that are more positive than helpful. I've examined several books that had what I consider serious writing issues, but most of the comments were about how beautifully written they are. The idea is, of course, that if I say somebody else's book is great, they're more likely to look at mine and tell me how great it is, and that helps my ranking. If I do enough of that, I might rise high enough to catch the interest of the HarperCollins editors, or one of the other editors and agents who reportedly troll the site.

OK, that sounds like a negative review. It's not all that bad. It's interesting to see the kind of work that is competing with yours in the slush piles, and some of the manuscripts are really fun to read. Plus, there's a definite jolt every time you get a positive comment or book is put on somebody's shelf, and it's fun to see your ranking go up. Mine rose fairly quickly the first few days, but because I don't have time to play the Authonomy game right now, I seem to have stalled just above 1200 (out of 4,000 or so).

Should you do it? The answer is a resounding "maybe." Writer's Digest seems to think it's a good idea, and I must like it because I find myself checking the site at least two or three times a day. I have received a couple of helpful comments and a handful of others that are highly encouraging, such as this one:

"This is great, really great, I think boys would eat this up and it would appeal to adults as well. Desmond and Banjo make a great team--one's cautious, the other reckless. Who wouldn't be tempted to try on a magic ring, I ask you? I don't blame the kid for checking it out. What fun! The two friends play off of each other, making for humorous moments, and conversation that goes on at a nice clip. I like when one of them declares, "I don't think we're in Svenson's attic anymore, Toto." This is the kind of adventure story that has mass appeal, where modern day people can imagine what it would be like to live in another time, pure fantasy, and I've always loved stories about Vikings. It doesn't hurt that your prose are clean, smooth and flow creamy smooth."

The one that points out some writing mistakes is more helpful, but this one helps keep my interest in this manuscript going while I work on another one. It's also the first time I've seen "prose" as a plural.

So join if you want. It doesn't hurt, and it's really kind of fun. The encouraging words are always helpful, and some of the comments are actually useful. Just be aware that, as soon as you join, you'll get a bunch of requests for read swaps, and maybe a couple more that say something like "read swaps are lame." But then the real comments will start, and you'll discover some stuff you want to read, as well as some books you really want to like but the writing's just not good enough. That gives you a bit of a feel for what agents must go through. It's good to get that kind of a view into the process.

Just don't forget to put my book on your shelf. Maybe we can even swap reads.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Thanks, But This isn't For Us" by Jessica Page Morrell


I love the cover of this book-- the coffee cup stain, the red pen edits. I found this book at my local library and picked it up out of curiosity. It's a great reference book for beginning writers (though we seasoned ones could use its suggestions too!). The author includes chapters on first beginnings, overall structure, plot usage, suspense, tragedy, sensory writing, creating memorable characters, finding emotion, etc. I get the feeling her work is a lot more "edgy" than other reference books and probably won't be nearly as dull as some of those "how to write better" reference books we've all read at one time or another!

So if you want a new take on good writing advice, check out "Thanks, but this isn't for us."

Here's an Amazon link to the book.

Here's the Product Description from Amazon:

A fun, practical guide that reveals the essentials of good fiction and memoir writing by exposing the most common mistakes literary writers make.

All great works of fiction and memoir are unique-but most bad novels, stories, and memoirs have a lot in common. From clunky dialogue to poorly sketched out characters, sagging pacing to exaggerated prose, these beginners' mistakes drive any agent or editor to their stock rejection letter, telling the aspiring writer "Thanks, but this isn't for us," and leaving many to wonder what exactly it is that they're doing wrong.

Veteran writing coach, developmental editor, and writing instructor Jessica Page Morrell will fill in the gaps in every rejection letter you've ever received. In Thanks, But This Isn't for Us, Morrell uses her years of experience to isolate the specific errors beginners make, including the pitfalls of unrealistic dialogue, failing to "show, not tell," and over-the-top plot twists. These are just a few of the problems that keep writers from breaking through with their work. Sympathetic and humane, but pulling no punches, Thanks, But This Isn't for Us shows writers precisely where they've gone wrong and how to get on the right track. In sixteen to-the-point chapters, with checklists, exercises, takeaway tips, and a glossary, Morrell helps readers transcend these mistakes so that they don't have to learn the hard way: with another rejection letter. "

Just for laughs

Monday, October 5, 2009

Novel-in-a-Box

From comic creator David Malki ! comes this little gem: the insta-plot, otherwise known as the Electro-Plasmic Hydrocephalic Genre-Fiction Generator 2000.  Click the picture for the big size in all its glory.

Who knew writing was so easy? :)

 Kiirsi Hellewell lives in the Salt Lake Valley.  She loves crisp fall mornings, rainy days, and colored leaves—which means she’s a pretty happy camper right about now.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Home office: before and after

by Scott Rhoades

I almost forgot today was Friday and my day to blog. Better late than never. And to think I've been looking forward to this post for a month and almost missed it.

About a month ago, I started to remodel my den, or my Schreibwinkel as I like to call it, my writing nook. It's a small room, about 9x10, and was decorated with dark paneling, which made it smaller and dark, and not very conducive to creativity.



The room was lit by a small window and double-tubed fluorescent light on the ceiling. Between the dark, closed in feeling and the fluorescent lighting, it wasn't a very friendly, creative space.

When I tore off the paneling, I discovered that the walls had not been finished before the paneling was tacked up. It wasn't a real big surprise, but it disappointed me, mostly because I'm not real good at drywall and there were huge gaps between the pieces of sheet rock, especially at the top of the walls, a place that's especially difficult to tape and mud, at least for somebody with my level of experience. But I did it, it's not perfect, but it's OK.

Especially since I was going for an old look. A very old look. About 400 years old. When I spent a few months in Germany in 2005, I fell in love with the half-timbered houses, so my plan was to do one wall in that style. The goal was to make it look as authentic as I could, which meant it wasn't good enough to just tack up some boards. In those old buildings, the planks are the structure of the building, so I had to somehow set the boards into the walls.

After thinking about different ways to do this, I decided it would be best to put up the boards, then build the walls around them. That meant more drywall. It also meant a lot of cutting. And angles. I'm not a carpenter, and as a word guy I'm not real good at angles. So there was a lot of trial and error, and some of the errors are still visible if you look. And, it meant texturing the wall to look old and rough.

I also put wood siding on the bottom two feet of the other three walls. The result was that it looked like a barn. Not at all the look I wanted. Plus, it was hard to find moulding for a chair rail that would fit over the wood. Two days before I finished, I pulled that siding off, and painted the bottom 2 1/2 feet a color called "fresh-baked pumpernickel." I thought it matched the "vanilla custard" that I painted the top parts of the walls and ceiling, and the spaces between the planks on The Wall.

I also replaced the fluorescent light with a regular ceiling light, and put in a dimmer switch. Finally, I had to finish the window. The original owner had put the paneling over the 2x4s that made up the window frame, so I had to build up the window area and put in a window sill.

Here are two pictures of the result. The first shows The Wall, and the second was taken after I moved my stuff back in. It's not a perfect job by any means, and it's not going to be everybody's taste, but it's me, fits the things I like to write, and feels more like a writing nook (which is what Schreibwinkel means) than that awful paneling did.






I still need to decorate the walls, but it feels so much bigger and brighter and friendlier than it used to. Other than the paint fumes that won't go away, it feels comfortable, and I enjoy being in there. I just wish I couldn't see all my mistakes. At least I picked a 400-year-old rustic look that helps mask some of the errors.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bad Writing

by Kiirsi Hellewell

Everyone has their own opinions of what constitutes bad writing.  We get an overload of hearing about too much“adverbing,” the good old “said” debate, and more. 

I’m very opinionated and as soon as I finish a book—or sometimes all the way through it—I  write critiques in my mind.  I’m constantly talking to myself up there, holding conversations about what I liked or didn’t like, and why.  (Unless it’s a cracking good story—then I’m so caught up in it that all I know is how good it was!)

I admit, I’ve read books that weren’t written very well in a literary sense, but because the story was so good and the characters so real, I loved it anyway. 

But I’ve also had plenty of bad experiences, too, with books.  Some I couldn’t even finish (*cough, Eragon cough*) because the writing was so deplorable and pulled me so far out of the story that I wanted to run and not look back.

Here’s an article I came across last week about one popular, rich, and famous author who’s not very popular with the critics.  I laughed pretty hard at some of these examples.  Enjoy these excerpts, and may your writing not be plagued with badness!

Deception Point, chapter 8: Overhanging her precarious body was a jaundiced face whose skin resembled a sheet of parchment paper punctured by two emotionless eyes.

It’s not clear what Brown thinks ‘precarious’ means here.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.

A silhouette with white hair and pink irises stood chillingly close but 15 feet away. What’s wrong with this picture?

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 5: Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop's ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.

A keen eye indeed.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: Five months ago, the kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow.

Did they hit him with the kaleidoscope?

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: He could taste the familiar tang of museum air - an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon - the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

Ah, that familiar tang of deionised essence.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Writer’s Blues

There has been some talk in the group lately about depression. Since I also do have some problems with depression from time to time (depression also runs in my family) and, as many artists and writers tend to suffer from depression, especially in the winter months, I thought it would be a good topic to address. I found a good article that deals with that subject, How to Chase away the Writer's Blues by Christy Barritt.

Seasons of discouragement come and go for every author. But sometimes when it hits, it hits hard. Numerous authors have walked — or attempted to walk — away from writing as self doubt begins to plague them, burying itself in their self-confidence and assurances. To overcome discouragement, we must first understand the reasons why it comes.
  • Comparison. All too often writers compare where they stand to where others are. A wise person once said that comparison is the enemy of contentment. Those words can’t ring more true. We must focus on our own writing journey and not that of others.
  • Feelings of inadequacy. It’s rare that I send something out and am totally satisfied with it. I often fret over each word and sentence, trying to make it perfect, only to realize it will never be perfect according to my standards. I feel inadequate, like I’m not good enough or talented enough to be a writer. It’s the nature of the beast.
  • Seasons of life. Sometimes discouragement just comes as a season in life. Perhaps several stressful situations have arisen and taken a toll on your writing. After my father passed away, writing was difficult for me. I had to step back and take time to mourn before jumping into my writing again.
  • Spiritual warfare. Often times when we follow God’s will, Satan intrudes and tries to persuade us away. We must keep our focus and remember who we write for.
  • Rejection. This is the toughest one for me. Though I know I should expect rejection, every time I receive one it still stings. I always think, "Why am I kidding myself into thinking I’m a writer? I’m a wannabe. I just need to move on and do something else." I never can though. Rejection hurts. But as a writer, rejection happens. See each rejection as a stepping stone instead of as a stumbling block.
She goes on to list several things that can help writers cope:
  • Rejections don’t mean you’re not good.
  • Know that publishing isn’t instantaneous.
  • Write and then write some more.
  • Become a sponge. (learn all you can about the craft)
  • Give yourself a break.
  • Seek God’s approval.
  • Don’t entertain negative thoughts.
  • If you can walk away from writing, then you should. (a true writer could never do this)
  • Get the opinion of someone valued and trusted.
  • Press on toward the prize.
I didn't post the entire article, so to get the whole thing, follow this link.

Some other things that have also helped me are:
  • Get plenty of water, plenty of sleep (this can be hard to do if you have insomnia, and/or get writing ideas in the middle of the night), and make sure to eat nutritious meals evenly spaced throughout the day. Especially breakfast!
  • Take your vitamins, (especially in the winter) -- I feel that the essentials are a good vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and omega3. I buy mine separately so I can control the amount of each, and I find that I need a lot higher doses than what you can get in a single multivitamin.
  • After personal experience I am very opposed to extremely low fat or no fat diets, but the kind of fat you eat is very important, and can really effect the way you feel. Feel free to ask me about that if you're interested (I'm not selling anything, don't worry, I just have a lot to say on the subject because a few very small changes in this area have really changed my quality of life for the better.)
  • Keep a clear conscience -- this means living your life according to your personal value system. The way you feel is inseparably connected to your personal beliefs and values, so if you aren't sure what those are, it is a worthwhile investment of your time to do some soul searching to find out. (Stephen Covey's 7 Habits and the 8th habit are excellent books for that.)
  • Make amends with old ghosts -- this means forgiving yourself and others who have wronged you as well as making things right with others you may have wronged. Otherwise, your mind just keeps going back to the past and interfering with the present.
  • and as always, this old saying holds true:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Writers" according to Alcatraz Smedry (aka Brandon Sanderson)

"Writers-- particularly storytellers like myself-- write about people. That is ironic, since we actually know nothing about them.

"Think about it. Why does someone become a writer? Is it because they like people? Of course not. Why else would we seek out a job where we get to spend all day, every day, cooped up in our basement with no company besides paper, a pencil, and our imaginary friends?

"Writers hate people. If you've ever met a writer, you know that they're generally awkward, slovenly individuals who live beneath stairwells, hiss at those who pass, and forget to bathe for weeklong periods. And those are the socially competent ones."

Brandon Sanderson, "Alcatraz versus The Scrivener's Bones" (a fabulous book, BTW).

I thought this was too funny and had to share it with my other "awkward" friends! ;oD

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Unsung Authors

I just finished reading the young adult book series by Andrew Clements that starts with "Things Not Seen." Normally Andrew focuses more on middle grade readers with hits like "Frindle" and "No Talking." He's been writing children's books for years, after teaching for 7 years, and has garnered many awards on both a national and state level.

But he's not reached the ranks of the "mega-authors" we hear so much about. JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer in their own rights have achieved the rare distinction of "Super Authordom." Sometimes I wonder what that elevation does to the authors who don't achieve that magnitude of limelight. Are they any less useful to our kids? Any less creative or talented? Are you only a worthy author if your books are immediately optioned as a movie and make the NY Times Bestseller list?

With so much attention focused on the megastars, it is hard not to secretly wish to attain that same level, but when we do that, I think we start to lose focus on why we started writing in the first place. Was your own spot on Oprah's couch the driving force to start typing away? Were you posting pictures of a Mediterranean mansion you would make a downpayment on when you received your first royalty check? Did you write a story specifically for Brad Pitt to star in? I find that hard to believe.

My guess is that it was kids. Children, maybe yours, maybe some at the local school, maybe those you don't even know. You wanted to make a difference in the life of a child, right? Inspire, teach, entertain, amuse, educate? Right? So who can put the value on lifting the life of a child and getting him/her to read?

The publishing industry CAN'T, that's for sure. Only you can. Only you can know in your heart what it means for your stories/books/poems to make a difference, to really count. Only you can know what success means. And only you can define it for you.

If I could only become half of the author and have half of the influence of Andrew Clements, then I would be happy. He's a terrific author and kids love him/his books. What a success he is.

Just try not to forget that when you watch the latest mega-author interviewed on the Today show! ;o)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Vintage Book Reviews

by Scott Rhoades

I want to join the book review parade, but I'm going to do something a little different: review some books that meant a lot to me as a child. Because I'm older than many of you, some of you might not have heard of these. If you can find them, grab them.

The first book is one my grandmother used to read to me when I visited, Journey Cake, Ho! by Ruth Sawyer, and illustrated by Robert McCloskey. It's about a boy whose family is so poor, his mother sends him away, with nothing by a journey cake. The cake rolls off and leads him on an adventure that ends up at a new farm with lots of animals, so his family is reunited in much better shape than they were before. I was lucky enough to find this book several years ago at a flea market. I hadn't seen it for around 30 years by then, and it still delighted me just as much as it did back then.

There was another book I always made Grandma read to me over and over, but I don't know the name. It was about a boy who woke up one morning and he was a giant. He went through the day as a giant, until his mother tucked him at night as a little boy again. At least that's how I remember it. If you know the book, let me know. I'd love to find it again.

The next one I want to talk about is a chapter book I used to check out from the school library or the city library several times a year, probably around second or third grade: The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. A 12-year-old named Nate Twitchell goes out to check the chickens one morning and discovers that one of them has laid a gigantic egg. The egg attracts all kinds of attention, but not nearly as much as the triceratops that hatches from it. I reread this old favorite a few months ago--fortunately, it's still in print--and was still delighted by Nate's story. Plus, to my surprise, there's a hilarious scene when Congress debates what to do with the dinosaur, a scene that went over my head when I was seven or eight.

I had a lot of other favorites. I loved the Homer Price stories, the Hardy Boys, a book about a football player called The Rookie, and bonafide classics like The Cay and Harriett the Spy.

I'm curious. What books did you love as a kid? I'm not talking about the usual classics like Where the Wild Things Are or Harold and the Purple Crayon. I'm talking about books that were popular when you were little that we might not have heard of?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Shattering Glass! It's the 3rd Alcatraz book!

I found out a few months ago that Brandon Sanderson's third book in the Alcatraz series is due out October 1st. Hooray! I immediately got a hold put on it at our local library and now all I have to do is wait. ....... ........ ......... ..............

Oh, and reread the first two books.

From the moment I heard Brandon talk about his first Alcatraz book at the BYU WIFYR conference two years ago, I was hooked. In fact, I got my family and my in-laws hooked on it too! It's hard to say, though, what it is that I like best about the books. Alcatraz's delightful and hilarious narrative, the not-so-super-super talents the Smedry family carries (I particularly enjoy Australia's ability to wake up looking ugly), the frequent attempts to point out the insidious plot carried against us as Hushlanders by Evil Librarians, along with great dialogue and action make these books a delight for any age. I just found my daughter's teacher from last year is having her whole class read it! Excellent.

There's not much in this world that I love more than a good kid's book (Pepsi, DI, Panda Express all carry a slight edge over the books), and these books are on my top 10. I can't wait for the next book to come out. And I'll be ready! I will have read both and will want a greater peek into the lives of Bastille, Alcatraz, and Grandpa Smedry.

So maybe this isn't so much as a book review as it is a "gushing" post. I love these books and want to gush about it! ;o)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

We'd like to excuse

one of our regular Wednesday contributors, Tiffany Dominquez, from her regular posts for awhile, and congratulate her on the healthy birth of her baby!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Go and Do

by Kiirsi Hellewell

Due to an unplanned camping trip in Idaho this weekend, I missed my scheduled post yesterday.  I’m currently surrounded by camping gear and mounds of laundry so this is going to be short.

A couple of months back I did a project with my kids where we made quill pens.  We also made our own ink out of berry juice.  I was very surprised to find how thrilling the whole experience was—taking something I’d only ever read about in books but was used by everyone hundreds of years ago, and making it ourselves.  It was amazing.

Sunday night we camped at Lake Cleveland near Burley, Idaho.  We were in a small valley but at nearly 8,000 feet elevation, we had an incredible view—especially at night.  I stood outside the tent, looking at the stars, and thought, I hope I never forget what this looks and feels like

As I thought about these events yesterday, I realized again what I always tell my kids…you don’t really know what something is like until you do it.  We could read about quill pen usage and making all day but until we actually made them ourselves, never really experience what it’s like to use them.  Likewise, you can read camping books/novels but until you actually try it…having to huddle with the kids under all the blankets you brought to stay warm, and listen to the wind rattling the tent, wondering if it’s going to snap the poles any minute…you won’t truly experience it. 

I’m not saying that good research can’t help you write awesome books.  Writers do it all the time, especially with historical novels.  They’re quite believable when done well.  I’m just saying that it helps to experience as much of life as you can and the more experiences you have in different ways, the more your writing will be enhanced. 

So I’m leaving you a challenge…this week/month, choose something new and give it a try.  Add to your life experiences.  Take pictures, write about it, or just take a quiet moment and store it up in your memory.  Go and do!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Writing Prompt: Bringing the Undead to Immortal Fiction

by Scott Rhoades

They say that imitating great authors is a good way to improve your own writing. I recently discovered a fun way to not only imitate your favorite writers, but to collaborate with them.

I was browsing the rather weak book section at the Orem Target the other day while my wife and daughter were busy in a section where I feel kinda weird just kind of standing around, when I came across PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, a novel that takes the actual Jane Austen story and infuses it with the undead. Apparently it's a massive hit although not reviewed especially well. A follow up, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND THE SEA MONSTER is coming out this month, and other publishers are scrambling to do their own mashups.

Not being one to see a good idea and not steal it, I thought that would make for a fun writing prompt on this blog. So here's my challenge to you: take a famous (or favorite) scene or passage and change it to include zombies, or aliens, or vampires, or whatever you feel like adding. Or turn the idea on its head and replace the monster in a classic horror tale with fluffy kitties. Make sure you stay as close to the original author's style as you can. Remember, the idea is to make it look like your "fixes" are part of the original. When you're done, post your version in the comments of this post.

I can't ask this of you without doing it myself, so here, with all due respect and apologies to Ms. Potter, I present:

THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT AND THE WALKING DEAD

Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter. They lived with their mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree.

"Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, "You may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden. Your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor. She choked to death on a bone and is still angry at little rabbits because of it. Now run along and don't get into mischief. I am going out."

Then old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and her umbrella and a large silver crucifix and went through the wood to the baker's. She bought a loaf of brown bread, five currant buns, and a string of garlic.

Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail who were good little bunnies went down the lane together to gather blackberries.

But Peter who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor's garden and squeezed under the gate! First he ate some lettuces and some French beans and then he ate some radishes. And then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.

But round the end of a nightshade trellis, whom should he meet but Mr. McGregor!

Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees, pawing at the grave of Mrs. McGregor. His face was pale and his skin was falling off, and around his eyes were circles as black as night. He jumped up and ran after Peter, dragging his left foot and calling out "Braaauuggghhh!"

Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate. No matter how he hurried, Mr. McGregor shuffled after him.

Peter lost one shoe among the cabbages, and the other amongst the potatoes. After losing them, he ran on four legs and went faster so that I think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net and got caught by the large buttons on his jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new, but Peter thought about other things. He thought about his mother and how angry she would be. Mostly, he thought about Mr. McGregor, who showed fangs longer and sharper than Willibald Wolf's. He also thought about Mrs. McGregor, who had just crawled out of her grave and crept behind her husband, carrying Mr. Rabbit and looking as hungry as if she had not eaten a pie or a beating human heart or one of the farmer's cabbages in a dreadfully long time.

Peter gave himself up for lost and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by the still-dead Mr. Rabbit, who shouted, "Braaauuggghhh!" Peter understood that to mean, "Exert yourself."

Mr. McGregor's hand fell off. He picked it up and reattached it and reached for Peter, but Peter wriggled out just in time.

Leaving his jacket behind him.

He rushed into the tool-shed and--

Jumped into a can.

It would have been a beautiful thing to hide in, if it had not had so much blood in it and the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hedgehog.

Mr. McGregor was quite sure that Peter was somewhere in the tool-shed, perhaps hidden underneath a flower-pot. He began to turn them over carefully, looking under each. Wherever he turned a flower-pot, he left behind a puddle of bloody drool.

Presently Peter sneezed "Kertyschoo!"

Mr. McGregor was after him in no time, and tried to put his foot upon Peter, but his foot fell off and Peter bounded away. Peter jumped out of a window, upsetting three plants. Mr. McGregor picked up the can and took a drink.

Peter sat down to rest; he was out of breath and trembling with fright, and he had not the least idea which way to go. Also he was very bloody with sitting in that can.

After a time he began to wander about, going
lippity--
lippity--
not very fast and looking all around.

Soon he saw Mr. and Mrs. McGregor, shuffling
creepily--
sleepily--
sniffing the air and coming straight for him.

He found a door in a wall; but it was locked and there was no room for a fat little rabbit to squeeze underneath, even one who was slippery with the blood of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hedgehog.

An old mouse was running in and out over the stone doorstep, carrying peas and beans to her family in the wood. Peter asked her the way to the gate but she had such a large pea in her mouth she could not answer. She only shook her head at him and pointed toward Mr. and Mrs McGregor as they drew ever so near.

Peter began to cry.

Then he tried to find his way straight across the garden, but he became more and more puzzled. Presently he came to a pond where Mr. McGregor filled his water-cans. A black cat was staring at some gold-fish; she sat very, very still, but now and then the tip of her tail twitched as if it were alive. Peter thought it best to go away without speaking to her. He had heard about cats from his cousin, little Benjamin Bunny, who should have paid more attention to what he had told Peter so perhaps he would not have been eaten by a fat orange tabby with stitches on its leg.

He went back towards the tool-shed, but suddenly, quite close to him, he heard a noise--scr-r-ritch, scratch, scratch, scritch, crunch, slurp.

Peter scuttered underneath the bushes, but presently as nothing happened, he came out and climbed upon a wheelbarrow, and peeped over.

The first thing he saw was Mr. McGregor gnawing on the black cat. His back was turned towards Peter and beyond him was the gate!

Peter got down very quietly off the wheel-barrow and started running as fast as he could go, along a straight walk behind some black currant bushes. Mr. McGregor caught sight of him at the corner, but Peter did not care. He slipped underneath the gate and was safe at last in the wood outside the garden.

Mr. McGregor hung up the little jacket and the shoes on Mrs. McGregor's gravestone, thinking she would enjoy the shiny buttons next time she crawled out of her coffin.

Peter never stopped running or looking behind him till he got home to the big fir-tree.

He was so tired that he flopped down upon the nice soft sand on the floor of the rabbit hole, and shut his eyes. His mother was busy cooking; she wondered what he had done with his clothes and why he was so covered in blood. At first she thought he was dead and was about to place him in the pot, but then he moved and she thought better of it. That would have to wait for another time.

I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother made him take a bath and then put him to bed and made some camomile tea; and she gave a dose of it to Peter! "One teaspoonful to be taken at bedtime." But--

Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Authonomy: Part II


I posted about a month ago on Authonomy http://www.authonomy.com/, the Harper Collins author networking website. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time on the site and would like to add a few more comments.


One: There is some quality literature on Authonomy. You have to wade through some poor writing, including a lot of rookie mistakes, but some of the stories are fascinating. Like any of us, the authors are just seeking approval and feedback. Some take it seriously, others are just in it for the popularity contest.

Two: You can get some great fans on Authonomy. I’ve had a number of people read my manuscript and post enthusiastic comments. This type of enthusiasm had kept me motivated to continue writing. Some of the users on Authonomy are just readers who enjoy searching the site for fun reads.

Three: If you spend a lot of time reading others’ books on Authonomy, you can rise to the top and get your book reviewed by Harper Collins. By reading others’ books, commenting on them and then inviting them to read yours, you will get noticed. For the past week, I’ve read portions of books and posted comments each day and I’ve risen 1500 in the rankings.


Authonomy has also partnered with Amazon’s CreateSpace to offer authors further networking opportunities, as well as a free printed proof of your first book. Further information here: https://www.createspace.com/pub/l/books_auth_proof.do?rewrite=true&ref=422215&utm_id=4643


Tiffany Dominguez
Freelance Writer
YA Fantasy

http://scribblebymoonlight.blogspot.com/