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:


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
not very fast and looking all around.

Soon he saw Mr. and Mrs. McGregor, shuffling
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, 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:

Tiffany Dominguez
Freelance Writer
YA Fantasy

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Google Lit Trips: Cool Technology

by Kiirsi Hellewell

I know it’s not my regular posting day, but I found this fascinating.

This just in yesterday from the School Library Journal:

“As many of you must know, Google Earth allows you to zoom down to images of real places on the world in fine detail. You can view places down to the level of actual streets and houses, and, if you use the “terrain” tab travel through an animated rendering of the geography. Jerome realized that you could trace the journey described in any book, fiction or nonfiction – whether the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, or, as you will soon be able to see on the GLT sites, the Selma marches described in Betsy’s forthcoming book Marching For Freedom – on a master map, then allow visitors to view those actual sites, along with guiding captions, historical images, and links. Google Earth, he understood, would allow students to experience and explore the physicality of places they previously could only outline on traditional 2D maps.”

Jerome Burg, founder and creator of Google Lit Trips, has used the Google Earth technology to make it possible to actually see and follow the path literary characters take in their books.  Available right now, for example, is a Lit Trip for these books:

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Big Anthony: His Story by Tomie dePaola 

It looks like the website is constantly being updated and parts of it are a work in progress, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on as it grows and progresses.  Google Lit Trips—what a cool idea!