Monday, November 30, 2009
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Freelance Writer, Young Adult Fiction
Friday, November 6, 2009
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.
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.
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
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
Monday, November 2, 2009
"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?
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. . . . .