Monday, October 5, 2015

Failure as Step 1 to Success--In Writing and In Life

Saturday night I had fun things planned. Then all events were cancelled because I ended up not feeling well. Flat in bed and grumpy about it, I finally had time to watch the Markus Zusak Ted Talk on failure I'd saved for later.

Even when it was in vogue, I never emailed people links to things they just had to see. Not even if they were cute kittens or hilarious videos.

This is an exception. Whether you write or not, Markus Zusak's approach to failure is inspiring.

For me, presently writing my own ambitious book, it's encouraging. Zusak talks about how he tried several different voices for narrator, including Death as a callous, bleak narrator, before he found the one that worked. After Liesel as narrator sounded too much like an Australian child trying to sound German (that gave me a laugh), he went back to Death. As you know as you've read the book, this new narrator is quite the opposite of callous.

Zusak talks of how he never expected anyone to read the book, so he wrote it exactly as he wanted.

I have been working on a narrator who just hasn't been that likeable. A few weeks ago, I put her aside and started an alternate voice. My kind writing friends really liked her. This new voice is something I thought for years I wasn't allowed to write--she isn't my ethnic background, or even from my nation. But somehow her voice still rings true. And makes me excited to write.

Creativity, along with helping others, are two of life's major sources of happiness. So my new goal is to write this book for me. The way I want. Then we'll see.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Never Too Late To Write That Great Book

When I attended SCBWI LA, I started wondering if all the agents and editors were only looking for writers in the barely-out-of-the-college-dorms category. But here's a post for those of us who chose other careers and life experiences before writing.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Creativity and Joy--Why I Write

I've been on a short writing break. Yesterday I started back into the new book on Africa. I'm excited, but scared. This one needs lots of research. It needs deep, genuine emotion. I have a lot of it drafted, but writing it well will require a lot more work.

Having free time lately startled me, honestly. Life could be easier if I didn't claim every available moment as writing time. But here I go again. And here are some thoughts on why:

From the WIFYR blog, a writing tip from Sarah B. Larson:
Never give up. But also to write every day, even if it’s just a page. I took a few months off for the first time in years and years because I was so far ahead and life was so busy, and it’s been so hard to get back in the habit of writing consistently again.

And from Elder Dallin H. Oaks, LDS Apostle and president of BYU: “Where do we find our greatest joy? I suggest that it is in creativity—the process and feeling of creating something.”

I've joked about this, but when I don't write, I usually end up with a closet full of crafts. For a while, I made Santa figurines with hand-sculpted hands and faces. But for me, the making is never enough--I have to share them. The Santas sold well. Until they didn't. Selling crafts isn't worth the effort. I finally solved this problem by donating the results of a craft rampage to the Mothers Without Borders craft bazaar that helps children in Zambia. 

Writing alone isn't quite enough for me, either. I want to share my words. Speaking of which, it's been a while since I wrote any articles about African humanitarian work. A few simple words spurred people to help the children for whom I wrote. That was a great feeling. Back back to the topic. 

The act of creating something new--a bracelet, a photo page, or even better, an entire written world, is rejuvenating. It's why I write. Sharing it with others is still my dream. But perhaps it's time to rememberit's not the only reason.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Bullies and Sheep

Yesterday in church we had a guest speaker come for a presentation on avoiding bullying. This is a topic that's fueled many a writer, so it must be important.
 It was.
I especially liked the comment by my friend and critique partner, Cindy Stagg. She compared people to sheep (in the milling around, oblivious sense, but if we fear public opinion and let bullying go on, then it works in the mindless sense too) and bullies to wolves. Bullies are best stopped by peers. One "sheep dog" who takes a stand can make a difference. And the best thing is if a group of peers will band together and speak up. One simple, "Cut it out" can make a difference.
I sat there thinking, "That kid over there, the one whispering through the whole presentation, should really shut up and listen to this."
But then I realized, If I go over and make him feel bad, I will ruin the whole point of the presentation, which should be creating kindness, love, and unity in our congregation. If the kid gets angry and embarassed, he isn't going to listen at all. What will be better is if the other kids sitting around him stop chatting and listen. If the cute girls on the next row pay more attention to people's hearts than how colorful their outfit might be. If they then use a little peer pressure to make the teasing stop.
My judgmental thoughts could have ruined the hour for me, too. Instead I sat on my hands and tried to let it go.
None of us are perfect. I may not consider myself a bully--still, in fact, a bit scarred by my sixth-grade tormentors--but I can still learn to think of others more. Am I always as kind as I should be?
Is anyone?

In BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, Katherine Ann Patterson crafts a bully who is memorable, in part, because we understand her motivation. And while not all bad characters need to become good ones, her redemption is one of my favorite parts of the story.
A bully is more interesting, and realistic, when we see the good and the bad juxtaposed inside her.
I never pan books publicly. so I won't say the name of the otherwise-good book I've been reading, enjoying yet grinding my teeth over the love interest. He's just too intensely perfect and attentive. He is unfailingly devoted no matter how whiny or downright mean the girl gets.
If I had that kind of permanent PMS, my longsuffering, generally kind husband would eventuallly say, "Cut the crap already." A sentiment, frankly, I'm still hoping book boy will say to his female protagonist. Trust me, perfect-page boyfriend, she'll respect you more.
Like bullies and other villains, good characters shouldn't be so perfect that their halos are visible. Sure, it's good wish fulfillment, but what real boy is ever going to live up to that kind of ideal?
In real life, no one should be a bully. In books, no bully or boyfriend should be 100% black or white wool. Like clothes, book characters come best in a variety of colors.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Create Memorable Characters without Boring the Reader

Great books begin with memorable characters. But how do you make your character stand out without putting the reader to sleep?
Avoid overly long and wordy descriptions. In a recent class, author Ann Dee Ellis said writers sometimes give tons of background description, hoping to make characters memorable. But lengthy descriptions make the story drag. She advises, “Details must move the story forward.”
2.       Choose concise details. In place of long descriptive paragraphs, Ann Dee suggests “very powerful words used sparingly,” such as in the short story, Mama Gone. Author Jane Yolen uses small, concise details to create strong characters. Instead of pausing the narrative to describe the father’s sadness over his wife’s death, Yolen describes how “He rubbed his head against the cabin wall over and over and over and made little animal sounds.” This single in-scene detail packs more power than any long description.
Remember, memorable doesn’t have to mean weird. The best details resonate with the reader because s/he can somehow relate. In Mama Gone, we don’t have to possess the characteristic (being a motherless father and child) to understand the common emotion (loss) at its core.
 Prioritize the details you choose. Are your MC’s deep amber eyes as important as his compulsive hatred of haircuts? The protagonist’s long curls, however, might be an important characteristic that hints at parents who insisted on short hair and every other form of pulchritude.
Instead of a kitchen sink approach that catalogs every aspect of height, weight and shoe size, pare your character descriptions by choosing a few succinct details that carry meaning.
3.       Weave details into the action: A recent study reported that the average U.S. attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish. While I’m optimistic that avid readers have higher spans, you can’t risk putting your story on hold for long.
 As Ann Dee Ellis says, “Writing novels are like writing poetry. Every word matters.” As you keep these tips in mind, your characters will matter more as well.
(Originally posted on the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Blog)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Entry for THE WRITERS VOICE 2015

MG Contemporary
approx. 50,000 words

A 79-mile road trip on a riding mower could scare any twelve-year-old. But for Cole, a boy whose Autism Spectrum Disorder makes him hate leaving his own house, even the thought is terrifying.

The one thing Cole fears more, however, is losing his best friend Lace. Maybe Cole's only met her through video chats, but Lace is the one person who treats him like a hero instead of a freak. So when she announces that her step dad plans to send her to a mental hospital, Cole sets off on his speed-enhanced riding mower to meet up with Lace and get her safely to her grandma's home in Nevada. Cole is sure rescuing Lace is also the perfect way to prove he's not only ordinary, but brave. They outrun a search helicopter, angry truckers, and the highway patrol, but Cole's growing Fear List is harder to shake.

Cole fights his phobias with an arsenal of ingenious solutions from hidden ATV trails to a fizzing root beer fire extinguisher, but getting back on the mower is easy compared to getting stuck between giving Lace the rescue she wants or the one she really needs. Cole started his journey hoping to find somewhere to finally feel normal. Instead, Cole uncovers the brilliance hidden inside being different.

Lawnmower, Leaving. 

Leaving Reason, #1. Mom thinks I’m stupid enough to run over my second-best friend.

The rope tied to the chassis pulls Brock across the grass. My friend thinks we're just lawn sledding, but I have a better plan. First the wheels hit the pressure switch I hid under some leaves. Then the sprinkler next to Brock spurts into action.

“You got me good this time.” He laughs and runs out of the spraying water. 

“Perfect timing.” I check the video and smile. My newest invention worked.

Brock watches the replay over my shoulder. “It looks like I peed my pants. Delete that part, okay?”

“Fine. But it’s your turn to drive.” I grab the foot sled I welded out of cookie sheets.

Then I see Mom. She must have walked off the porch just as the sprinklers turned on. Now she’s soaked. “Sorry.” I cringe.

Mom wipes her wet glasses, then points at me with the pen she chews when she pays bills. “We’ll forget the sprinklers for now. But mowers have blades, Cole. What if you ran over Brock’s foot?”

The lawnmower’s off, but Mom’s words buzz louder than engine noise. Going barefoot always felt good. Until now. 

Mom chews her pen, probably adding stuff to her “Fix Cole Plan.” 

But maybe I can make her smile. “We’re recording a video.” I hold up the camera. “It’s called, ‘Don’t Try this at Home.’” 

Brock laughs. 

Mom doesn’t. “You can’t try it at our home either. Sorry.” 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Inspirational Storymakers Keynote, Martine Leavitt

I have known Martine Leavitt for some time now. She's the most gracious, and kind person you could ever meet. Martine was my WIFYR Conference instructor for 2 and 1/2 (the half is a long story) workshops, including two years ago when I got to be her assisstant. She's smart, well prepared and I just wanted to soak in all that knowledge. I'm trying hard to incorporate what she taught me, from emotional and concrete desires and objective correllative to metaphor.

Martine also encouraged me to keep writing and believe in my gift. That means more than I can say.

Last weekend as the LDStorymakers conference keynote speaker, Martine shared her personal experiences with writing.

Martine has seven children, and says she used a trick of putting them in the tub with lots of bubbles and writing as she sat on the toilet seat.

"I couldn’t write to a certain word count, or a certain number of pages. Nothing could be guaranteed. But I needed to write myself soul-fed and happy. I discovered that I didn’t need to write a lot to be happy, I just needed to write something good. I found that even a single perfect, beautiful sentence with perhaps a fresh and compelling image, could make me feel nourished and ready to take on the burgeoning masses."

Exactly. I, too, need to write to feel soul-fed and happy. I recently listened to part of a Q&A with David Archuleta on He described not understanding his feelings until he began to sing. When my feelings confuse me, I write them out until they make sense.

Martine spoke of how each writer has different needs. Like Virginia Woolfe, she wanted time and a place of her own. But writing while seated at the edge of a child-and-bubble filled tub taught her "to write spare and taut, to write each word as if it were special, precious, to write a sentence that nobody else in the world had written."

Just as she was asked to teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts, a part-time position that would give her the time she craved, Martine was also asked to serve as Relief Society president, a very busy LDS church position where she would work closely with the local bishop and be responsible to administer to the needs of all the women in the local congregation. As she did for her children, Martine again sacrficed her precious time.

Martine told us that her time in church service taught her love, an emotion that she poured into her next incredible book, MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL. She says, "It was a small book written with great love. As it turns out, learning to love better was something I needed more than time."

I came home after the keynote to very unexpected news that made me weep. Which made me all the more grateful for these words from Martine: "The very things that appear to be obstacles may be the very thing we need to make our first book or our next book the best book we can write."

It isn't so much that I think of my life trials simply as future book material. It's much more than that. I can only write that which I am. Martine's books are full of hope, goodness, compassion and light simply because that's who she is. Martine is someone who chose to take her life experiences as a mother, a single parent, a student, a teacher, and a woman of faith, and learned to craft not only one perfect sentence, many quite perfect books, but also to write a life. The audience, seeing the result of effort combined with love, gave her a standing ovation. Martine touched our hearts and inspired us. I hope to emulate her example both in my days and in my writing.