Saturday, June 29, 2013

We're writing a book...

There were so many wonderful things going on at WIFYR. Ann Cannon’s workshop certainly ranked high for those of us in attendance.

The morning workshops are the heart of WIFYR. Carol Williams pulls in ten superb faculty members who run morning sessions. Each manages their groups differently, but the major focus is critique of participants’ work. Not only does this help improve your own story, learning to critique makes you a better writer.

Our group was particularly amazing. Time together, four hours a day, five mornings a week, creates a special bond. Ann guided our crew by encouraging honest yet positive critique. Each of us shared twenty pages and was afforded an hour or more of attention solely to our own stories. We first had to mention authors or books that inspired us, or whose style we want to imitate. Ann let workshop members share their thoughts first, and then finished with comments of her own. The opinions and open discussion of several writers gives the author a variety of options for improving their story.

I liked the routine Ann established for us. We began the day with a free write. She would put a noun, such as bicycle or dog and we wrote about it. Next came a recap of the day prior. We shared thoughts that struck us from the afternoon sessions of Martine Leavitt, J Scott Savage, or the agents and others.

Before we moved onto critiques, Ann shared some of her craft secrets. The WIFYR word was to torture your characters and Ann agreed. She suggested brainstorming obstacles for them to overcome and told us to make the situation helpless for them. Keep the characters grounded in the space/time continuum so that the reader knows when and where the action occurs. I like what she does once she’s finished the first draft. Ann prints the whole thing out, puts it in a 3-ring binder, and celebrates that she has a book. You may choose to put it away for a few weeks so that you return to it with fresh eyes. When she’s ready to revise, she rereads the whole thing, several times, armed with sticky notes. She reads it looking to insure her characters are grounded, that it makes sense. She notes on a different colored sticky when she reads for plot, and then again for character, and language clarity. Then she takes the stickies and writes herself an editorial letter, the same kind an agent would send pointing out the flaws in the manuscript. She prints it and puts it in the front of the 3-ring binder and checks the things off as she addresses them.

Perhaps the most trivial, yet notable thing she suggested was a daily affirmation of ourselves as writers. This evoked memories of Stuart Smalley’s “I’m good enough; I’m smart enough; and doggone it, people like me” from Saturday Night Live. But the idea is good. The mantra for the week she gave us: “We’re writing a book that someone will want to read.”

Thanks, Ann. We learned a lot.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sarah's Super Series Suggestions: "Alcatraz Smedry" by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson spoke at the very first Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference I went to. He shared with us the opening line for his first children's book:

"So, there I was, tied to an altar made from out-dated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians."

Brandon, you had me at the first line. 

I bought "Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians" almost immediately and fell in love with the wit, the talent, the sarcasm, and the craziness behind it. It's a series that my whole family has read (or listened to) and loved. We've never grown tired of it and every time we read it, we find ourselves laughing again. 

What I love about Alcatraz (and the entire Smedry family) is that they have truly remarkable talents: breaking things, arriving late, being bad at math, getting lost, etc. Though ordinary they appear, the talents save their lives (and the world) multiple times. The stories are zany and hilarious. If you like sarcasm, you'll like Brandon's storytelling style. 

#1- Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians
#2- Alcatraz versus the Scriverner's Bones
#3- Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia
#4- Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens 

#5-- There MUST be a number Five! Must! 

Brandon Sanderson's Website 

Amazon's Page for Alcatraz

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Writing Intentionally: Architects

by Deren Hansen

As I mentioned last week, there's a general belief that writers fall into one of two camps: outliners or architects, and discovery writers or gardeners. I'm not convinced that the distinction is real. In fact, I argue that the camps are simply approaches that can be used as you would any other tool.

That said, it is easier to illustrate some ideas with dichotomies like architect vs. gardener.

An important part of writing intentionally is writing confidently. Last week I made the case that gardener is a better model for discovery writers because gardening involves preparation, and preparation is a fundamental part of writing intentionally.

So, the architect, as the epitome of someone who plans out every detail in advance, is the poster child of intentional writing, right?

Not necessarily. There's such a thing as too much preparation.

I once interviewed with a company for a software development position, turned down the job, and then wound up working for them a year later. During the first visit, they showed me the design for the software package they planned to build. A year later, when I set to work actually implementing the software, I found stacks of paper with increasingly detailed designs, culminating in the pièce de résistance: printed flowcharts filled with code. Had they skipped the flow charts and put the code in source files, they likely would have had running software.

Writers, particularly those who work in the fantastic and need to create worlds with consistent history, economies, religions, languages, and magic systems are particularly prone to a malady that Brandon Sanderson calls, "world-building disease." It doesn't help that the mythology about the mythology of Lord of the Rings makes much of the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien spent twenty years building his world before he wrote the novels.

Computer scientist Terry Winograd's answer to the tendency to over-specify software projects is a new vocation he calls, "software architect." Like real architects, they must be able to work across a range of concerns, going from a meeting with the structural engineer that's all about bearing loads to a meeting with a client who wants a house that says, "Soaring! ... In mauve"

A true architect is more flexible that you might assume.

The writer as architect needs to avoid the trap of forever planning and never writing. Your goal is not to fully specify the story. Instead it comes back to writing with confidence. The challenge for the writer as architect is to have faith that your preparations have been sufficient and that they provide a framework in which you can solve the story problems that will inevitably appear as you proceed.

And then write.

Don't fall into the trap of inserting your code into flow charts when you should be building running software.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Exhausted and exhilarated

Wow, what a WIFYR. The many participants and I have just come off an inspiring week. Carol Williams again brought in some topnotch people.

The theme, if there was one, was torture your characters. Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette conducted an afternoon session in which she said stories need strong antagonists. The more your main character has to go through, the stronger they will be, she advised. She said to make it hard on your protagonist. You are not their mother; you are the evil overlord.

My workshop instructor is the amazing Ann Cannon. This local writer (and weekly Salt Lake Tribune columnist) has published in PB, chapter books, MG, and YA. She has a gift as a teacher, as well. Ann offered numerous tidbits and insights and she agreed with character tormenting. She suggested brainstorming obstacles for the MC to overcome. You need to get them to a point where it appears hopeless. You have to torture your characters.

Critique is the heart of the workshops at WIFYR. It can be an unsettling thing, throwing your work out there, to be picked apart. That especially is true when doing so with strangers. Ann smoothed our little group through the process, first by offering tips, then by sitting back and letting us do the bulk of the critiquing. She had the last word with each critique, expertly pointing out what we may have missed.

My fellow writers were impressive. Their observations were keen and their criticisms were offered with honesty and kindness. And they can write. The skill and variety of writing in our group was amazing. We went everywhere from New Zealand to China to a place by the sun, from Victorian England to Nazi Germany and home again to modern day. Our characters dealt with everything from voices in their heads to panda snot. They had crazy mothers, were sold off by their parents and saw bugs crawling out of hair and blue butterflies circling heads. They were stuck in a parking lot in their underpants. Oh, we tortured them, all right. By week’s end both characters and writers were stronger.

Martine Leavitt said it best at the conference end. The week was exhausting and exhilarating. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sarah's Super Series Suggestions: "Frontier Magic" by Patricia Wrede

Patricia Wrede has got to be one of the most prolific and diverse authors for kids these days! I don't often read her books (too many Star Wars books for my taste), but a couple years ago I picked up a book called "The Thirteenth Child."

I remember finishing the book and looking forward to the next book (which I didn't pick up until a few years later). Honestly, now, I don't remember anything about reading the first two books. While I was requesting books to keep my kids (and me) reading this summer, I remembered the series and decided to give them another try. That was when I found out about the third book. So I requested all three. I started reading "The Thirteenth Child" last week.

Patricia has recreated the wild west by adding magic & fantastical animals. Beyond the great divide is a wild land full of dragons, mammoths, and sabertooth tigers-- some magical, some normal. Her main character, Eff, is not your standard heroine. She is not brave, she is not bold. Most of the time, she'd prefer to be left alone and ignored. But she manages to still capture your heart.

I will admit that sometimes I struggle to remember the new geography she presents. America is New Columbia, the Mississippi has another name, etc. It can be confusing if you try to put all her places in context, but I imagine most kids won't bother to do that. The Far West will be a new, completely uncharted, and never visited country they can explore.

Patricia Wrede has an amazing ability to meld magic and history together, add in a little mythology and a lot of fantasy and create an interesting read. I love the medusa lizards! It reminds me of a writing workshop I once attended about mixing up two or three normal things to get something new. These books are a perfect example. Just think: Cowboy magicians!

Here's a couple links for you:

The Thirteenth Child on Amazon

Patricia's website

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Writing Intentionally: Gardners

by Deren Hansen

Continuing last week's theme on writing intentionally, what do you do if you're a discovery writer? How do you write intentionally if you can't really figure out your intentions until you've written the story and can look back over the ground you've covered to see the path that ties it all together?

Briefly, you should know where the story is going. There are certainly writers who start with an intriguing character or an interesting setting and develop a story around that nucleus. But if you don't have some idea of where the story is headed, you're more likely to meander.

Brandon Sanderson says he prefers the labels gardener and architect instead of discovery and outline writers. I think there's something important in the occupational analogy.

Calling discovery writers, "gardeners," addresses the fallacy that you don't have to plan ahead but can simply jump in as start writing. Gardeners don't simply throw seed out and wait to see what comes up. Based on their understanding of varieties and growing conditions, they plan which things to plant in different parts of the garden. Similarly, there's a fair amount of forethought that goes into deciding what kind of garden you want to grow. Is it a flower garden that will offer a changing canvas of shapes and colors as the season progresses? Or is the produce you'll harvest the main purpose of the garden?

Of course the gardener doesn't know whether a given seed will sprout and grow as intended. So they plant more than one. And they cultivate the garden, weeding, watering, and fertilizing, to make the desired outcome more likely.

So if you think of yourself as a discovery writer, try approaching your project as a gardener, accepting the fact that there's preparatory work to do. And even though there's a lot you don't know, if you take a little time to  plan your garden and prepare the soil, you'll find your ability to write intentionally grows--like your garden.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Monday, June 17, 2013

Book to movie?

So many of us of lament the book-to-movie shortcomings. Not only do we go to the movies in the hopes of a good flick, part of us want see our favorite parts of the book on the big screen.

There aren't too many times, if any, that we say, "The movie was better than the book." So far, the only book I've heard that sentiment about is THE PRINCESS DIARIES. Have you felt that way about a book or movie?

There are a few movies I'm looking forward to seeing this summer. One of them is ENDER'S GAME. I loved the book. I'm anxious to see how it translates to the screen. My reading imagination wasn't quite as big as what I'm seeing the trailer. Have you read this book? What did you think of it? 

Have you seen the trailer yet? Here it is:

Saturday, June 15, 2013


My writing was stumped. I had written a section and got all the action in, but it was boring. Then the words of a critiquer friend came through. How does the character react to things?

Brilliant. My main characters run down a road then into a woods. They were going somewhere, but the story wasn’t. My chatter about land description and running and what the scenery looked like was just babble. How to break the monotony? Show how they react?

Thanks, critiquer friend. Your advice was given months ago, but still works.

A narrative is a series of events. Story comes from how he characters react to those events.

Two more sleeps until WIFYR. Yeah.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Character and His Writer

"Characters serve as receptacles for our own projected feelings and through characters we imaginatively encounter parts of ourselves. Characters teach us to loosen up, not take ourselves so seriously, see other points of view, and have fun. At their best, characters shine a light into otherwise dark areas—places we can’t, or won’t, go on our own. They help us explore our interior world. When I found July Montgomery, he immediately wanted to take me to places I was afraid of going. But his spirit was so courageous and resilient that I was willing to go along."

-- David Rhodes, on his novel Driftless

I recently read Driftless by David Rhodes, a book I highly recommend (some strong language, mostly in one chapter from one character, for those who are sensitive to such things). Page after page had sentences I wish I had written, and each character, even the minor ones, came off the page as unique individuals.

Even if you don't read it, the interview quote at the top of this post is one of the best I've read in a long time about characters and how they relate to the author.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sarah's Super Series Suggestions: "The Girl of Fire and Thorns" by Rae Carson

(note: I have spent the last 10 minutes trying to get Blogger to format my post correctly with no success! ugh! I'll keep trying. Until then, I apologize for the strange font sizes)

A couple of months ago while killing time online, I stumbled over to Tiffany Dominguez's blog "Scribble by Moonlight" and started reading through her book reviews. I pulled up a second window on my internet browser and started requesting her 5 star books from my library as fast as I possibly could. Some of the books came right away, while others I am still waiting for.

"The Girl of Fire and Thorns" by Rae Carson came fairly quickly. I took a few days before I started reading it (had to finish the other ones I had started), but once I started it, I read it in one day.

Here's the part of book reviews where I wonder how many times can I use or infer the word: SUPER-TERRIFIC-AWESOME without being redundant. For this series, not enough is the correct answer.

This book is Rae Carson's debut novel! Her first one ever! Um, can I just pretend to be her for awhile?!? Or maybe not her, but just like her??

Here's what the book jacket says about it (the publisher says it better than I do):

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa has always felt powerless, useless. Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king who needs her to be the chosen one, not a failure of a princess. And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies, seething with dark magic, are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could save his people. And he looks at her in a way no man has ever looked at her before. Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn't die young.

Most of the chosen do.

I felt such a sense of loss after I finished the book. I wasn't ready to be done with Elisa and her journey. Can you imagine my GLEE when I discovered that there is a SECOND BOOK!?!? It was like my birthday & Christmas together. I quickly put a hold on the book and used my immense brain power to will the 6 library patrons before me on the hold list to read quickly so I wouldn't have to wait any longer than I had to.  

Three agonizing weeks later, "The Crown of Embers" arrived. I read it in less than a day. Here's what the publisher says about the second book: 

She does not know what awaits her at the enemy's gate.

Elisa is a hero. She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country's ruler should be secure. But it isn't.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from both foreign realms and within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears once and for all, Elisa must follow the trail of long-forgotten--and forbidden--clues from the deep, undiscovered catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her goes a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man who--despite everything--she is falling in love with.

If she's lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.

Glory be, there is a THIRD book! Due out in the middle of August called "The Bitter Kingdom." CANNOT. WAIT. FOR. IT!!! 

Rae Carson is one of those amazing authors who actually responded to my gushing post on her Facebook fan page. She said I was sweet. I envied her even more. She was glad I like them. Like? Did I say "like"? Didn't I say "I want to MARRY these books?!" Didn't I say "I want to be you when I grow up?!?" 

So here's some useful links for you:



Rae Carson's Facebook page

Now what are you waiting for?? Go get them! You won't regret them.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Single Most Important Author Characteristic Insofar as Readers are Concerned: Confidence

by Deren Hansen

There's an amusing old episode of Red Dwarf in which Lister, the space bum, catches a mutated flu that brings his confidence and paranoia to life as distinct individuals: paranoia as a sniveling hypochondriac and confidence as an American-style DJ.

Confidence is a funny word because though we associate it with personalities and emotional states that range from quiet fortitude to bravado, its Latin roots literally mean, "with faith." In its original sense, the word means someone in whom we can put our faith.

As readers, the single most important factor in our willingness to suspend our disbelief is the degree to which we trust the author, believe they have the story firmly in control, and have faith they will take us somewhere wonderful and worthwhile.

A confident author is like the nautical pilot, hand firmly on the tiller, who knows how to guide a ship through the reefs and safely into port. Nothing that happens in the story is accidental. And everything the author brings to our attention contributes to the ultimate aim of a satisfying story.  

So what do you need to do to be a confident author?

It's not about bravado, but about control--and not the control of a commander shouting orders, but the control of the expert dancer or musician who makes what they do look effortless. Similarly, the confident author writes intentionally but with such craft that the reader is swept into the story and almost forgets it has an author.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Summer vacation forever

WIFYR is one week away. Can’t wait. There are still a few open spots.

I just quit my day job.

Writing for a lot of people is a hobby. We have lives with numerous demands on our time. Little time is let for such a pastime.

Before I became a writer, I was a teacher. Many a June has welcomed the refreshing break from the hectic pace of working with thirty little people not necessarily interested in their learning. I’m not sure how I got into the profession, but summer vacation is the reason I stayed. How people in the real world manage without three months off is beyond me.

I did not quit the job to write, though I hope to spend more time on it. I didn’t give it up because my writing career is so lucrative. I did not quit because I believe the next J.K. Rowling success story is sitting on my hard drive (which, of course, it is). After thirty-six years, the time has come.

This summer vacation will be different. I won’t feel like I need to fit everything in. I shouldn’t have that looming presence that comes the first of August. When my teacher friends go back to school, I know their anguish, but will not feel it this year.

Retirement is summer vacation forever. Even in the cold of winter, it will be summer vacation.

Now comes the question of how much to write. I want to put in good solid writing time, daily. The story doesn’t get written without time at a keyboard. Yet things have been piling up around here waiting to be dealt with at retirement. And my Words with Friends app keeps telling me it’s my move. Not having a job doesn’t mean free time.

Before he quit his day job, writing was a hobby to Brandon Mull. Now he treats it like a full-time job. He he goes to work everyday though the commute is a short walk through the house to his office. He spends eight hours a day at his writing job. Stephen King sets aside time six days a week, holidays included. He writes ten pages a day, which works out to be about a thousand words.

That is a lofty goal, though I imagined an easier pace. I can muster two to four hours a day dedicated to writing. I wonder if after nine months writing, they give you summer vacation for that?