Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oh, If Only I Could Come Up with Ideas Like These...

In my last few posts I've been speaking of the unspoiled creativity of children. I know, I know, I'm going on about kids a bit much, especially my kids. But I'm going to do it just a little bit more.

Emily had to write a fairy tale retelling for English class. In her version, Rapunzel is a spoiled girl who eats only rapunzel leaves. One day she screamed at her kind caretaker, calling her a witch for refusing to buy her a gold-plated dog, then refused to come out of the tower until the "witch" gave her a golden pet. The "witch" began tying baskets of rapunzel salad and rapunzel sandwiches to her hair so the girls would pull them up to the tower and not starve.

This is part of the letter Emily had Rapunzel write after she ran off with the prince:

"Last night I felt a tug on my hair. It was very heavy, and thinking it was a gold-plated dog, I pulled it up. To my dismay, it wasn't a dog, it was a prince. Well he wasn't exactly a prince, he is a hairstylist...."

So is it just me, or is she a creative thinker? I'm already planning to enlist her to help me with the plot problem I'm presently having. Right now I'm typing her 8th grade English papers. But someday I may be hoping for a dedication in one of her books.

Monday, December 19, 2011

More WIFYR Tidbits and Snowflake Fish

It's official: all the information for the 2012 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference will be up on the website January 15th. I still can't tell you the rest of the faculty, but I don't see a problem with announcing what the workshop categories will be. Yes, as Kevin said, there will be a fantasy class. There will also be illustration, picture book, TWO advanced classes, a boot camp, paranormal, middle grade, intro to writing for children and intro for writing a novel, and writing an LDS middle-grade/YA novel. Stay tuned!

I had so much fun teaching my daughter's 4th grade class about writing. They actually paid attention. The teacher asked me to talk about similes and metaphors, and I gave them a trick to remember: Think "sim" for similar with "L" for "[object] is like [object]," and "Me" for becoming the thing as a way to remember metaphors. Not sure they all got the difference, but some of them did.

We also talked about the five senses, and I brought paper bags with objects to feel, smell, and touch. They liked that part, especially the smell (and taste) of peppermint-flavored candy kisses.

I had them do a writing prompt before leaving, and some of their writing was terrific. Their teacher asked me to get them ready to write about a favorite place. I told them it didn't have to be a big destination. I described my aunt's huge lilac bush with the child-sized cave beneath it, describing the smell, touch, and color of of the blooms. (I still love lilacs!)

One little girl raised her hand to share her favorite description. She not only used a correct simile, but I loved her image. So right now, although we don't have any real snow, here's our snowflake fish: She wrote of snorkeling in Hawaii, and how "the fish were like a blizzard of coral." Isn't that great? And no, it wasn't my daughter this time.

To follow up on my previous post, however, both of my girls are going to district with the Reflections Contest!

What is your favorite place, or what would your book character's favorite place be if s/he could describe it to you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Another WIFYR Announcement, and the ANWAR Conference

So Carol L. Williams put it on her blog, so that means it's safe to tell you the first workshop: Mette Ivie Harrison will be teaching the Science Fiction class!

And for anyone who'd like to visit Mesa in February (sounds nice, doesn't it?) Here is the link for details about the ANWA 2012 Writer's Conference Details, with Lisa Mangum of Deseret Book as keynote: http://valerieipson.blogspot.com/

I met some of the American Night Writer's Association members a couple of years ago when they came up to a conference in Provo, Utah. They call themselves that because they're mainly people with daytime lives (like moms) that do most of their writing when the sun's long gone (or hasn't come up yet.) Good for them, and if you're in the mood for a fun conference and some winter sunshine, take a look.

Monday, December 5, 2011

First WIFYR Conference Announcement!

Registration for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers begins in January! Yay! Carol Lynch Williams has picked an outstanding cast of editors, agents, and faculty, but I'm not allowed to tell you all their names yet.

I can say that the amazing, one-of-a-kind workshops will include: Boot Camp, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Writing the LDS Middle Grade or Young Adult Novel plus an Illustrator class, a couple of Advanced Classes, a Picture book Writing class, and more.

According to Carol, "It's going to be a bigger conference than normal." Make sure you mark the dates–June 18-22, 2012. There will be a block of rooms held at the Best Western Cotton Tree hotel in Sandy, UT, close to the Waterford School, also in Sandy, Utah.

Watch for further posts and get ready to sign up for your chosen workshop with one of the terrific faculty members to be announced soon!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What Writing Advice Would You Give 4th Graders?

I volunteered to do a writing workshop for Megan's 4th grade class. Yes, partly to assuage my guilt at not being a regular classroom parent. I have my reasons--I'm already so overbooked that my husband giggles when I say things like, "I really need to take a break, but I've got to get this synopsis and thirty pages submitted before . . ." in the same breath.

What to teach a class of fourth graders, though?

Today is not only Dec. 1, it's the entry deadline for the Utah Reflections contest. So last night I spent much of the evening making sure all the i's were dotted and t's crossed, such as "application must be put in a plastic sleeve, but masking taped, not stapled, to the outside of the other plastic sleeve the picture goes in, and not inside with the artwork," making a CD of photos of my daughter's sculpture, etc. Another night of, "I'm exhausted, I have a cold and need to go to bed early, but if I put Emily's artwork on a piece of card stock . . ."

I'm way off track. I mention this because the writing in my daughter's "artist statements" impressed me and made me think. I gave them some prompts on the theme of diversity: "They don't just want to hear, 'be different, be yourself,' but how we work together despite our differences."

Yet despite feeding them my pre-conceived ideas of what the judges would want, they came up with amazing things on their own. Megan used a rainbow in her piece. She said to me, then wrote, something like this, "But Mom, it's a rainbow path. We all walk it, but everyone is their own color. Then the colors come together. I think I'm indigo."

Wow. Emily's explanation about her work, being a zebra among horses, was just as profound and well-written. I know, I'm biased when I say they're amazing, but it got me thinking. Children's creativity tends to just flow out, pure and simple as spring water.

One of my critique partners, Alison, said that her daughter completed NaNoWriMo without any trouble. "She just writes," Alison said. As writers with the advice of many conferences and workshops floating in our brains, we are much more prone to self-edit our work. We need this editing process, but how do we keep it from slowing us down or stopping us?

How do we write, or guide writing, without squelching that natural inner spring of creativity?

Please share your ideas, both on freeing creativity, and what to say to that 4th grade class.

And PS, my total word count was 34,491, using a conservative count. It's not 50,000, but I also had editing to do (and still do.) Plus, my main goal was to finish my book. It's done. I may end up changing a lot, but I have a draft. That feels good.

Maybe I'll rest now. Or maybe after I get the shopping and the cards and the 30 pages . . .

Saturday, November 19, 2011

NaNo and 750 Word Writing Site, Anybody Out There?

The pro's and cons of "750words.com:" Cons: the site gives you points. If you copy and paste from your original document, like I do, especially in pieces like I do because I leave out the notes to myself, things like, what is the divider in a cop car made of? I can't believe my mc is actually sitting in a cop car--not story, so I don't count it as NaNo words. If you do that, the site gives you less points (what, does the computer think we're cheating?) But I had one day where I had a long post, over 2,600 words, and they didn't save. I lost them all, and I was so grateful that I had an original.
To avoid this, just make sure you "force save:" control S or however you do it for your original doc, rather than relying on the computer's program to save.

Why do I post at odd times of the early morning? Maybe it's like tapping on the computer screen. I'm pretty alone here, except for my DH's snoring. Hello, is anybody out there? Sounds like a song, but I'm too tired to think of what or who wrote it. Good news: After counting my words for the month. My grand total so far: 25697.

Since I only had part of a novel to write (not officially following NaNo, but I have editing to do for the second half) he better news is that I've virtually finished a draft of Lawnmower. STill have to go back and fill in some holes, and need more conclusion, but the climax is done. I like how I've done it this time: I keep my "outline" file open while I'm writing. When I think of something I need to make sure happens, like a plot thread to tie up, or a question I have to research to get and answer (does soda pop ignite or put out fires?) I put it in my outline file so I don't forget.

Best news: I'm sleepy now. Back to bed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Writing Site You Might Want to Check Out

I give AnnDee Ellis full credit for this discovery. (Throwing Up Words blog) No more highlighting and counting your words, unless you like to do that just for fun.

https://750words.com/ is a private site where you can write, or copy and paste, your daily words. You'll get an automatic word count at the bottom of the page.

It also seems like a nice additional backup, and I like the fact that no one can read what you wrote except you.

750 words, or three pages. It's a good goal, whether you're doing NaNoWriMo or not.

Book Review: Mockingbird by Kathryn Eskine

I loved this book. I loved this book. Did I mention how good this book is? It's really sad, and I don't usually love sad books. But Kathryn Erskine has plotted this so well, following all of her threads to a good conclusion, that I want to go find her other book, Quaking.

Of course, the theme of Asperger's Syndrome is something close to my heart, but despite my bias, I thought the author did an amazing job of exploring an aspie character and making her understandable to any reader. She mixes this character with a plot about the aftermath of a school shooting, dealing with death, and healing, or "closure" as the character calls it, and it worked well.

I liked the references to To  Kill a Mockingbird, although I have to say that for the first few pages, I really thought the mc's name was Scout. Maybe that was intentional?

NaNoWriMo count

I think I like NaNoWriMo. I thought I'd hate it. I though the idea of writing a set number of words a day would make me stressed out. And yes, there are times I write when I wouldn't normally, like at ten-fifteen last night, trying to get in a few more words, but mostly it just feels good.

If my only mark of success is getting published, I'm going to have to wait for a long time to feel good.

but today I can count words and feel like I got something accomplished. Not every day is great. Yesterday I struggled to get around 1,500 words. Today I wrote 2, 480, partly because I know tomorrow won't be a great day for getting anything done. Or Saturday. But yay! I got a lot done this day.

I didn't say they were all good words. Still wondering if this story is so far-fetched that kids will want to throw it across the room and say, "That would never happen." I hope not.

Now we seriously need a National How to Revise Your Novel month!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update

Maybe I should try writing in the middle of the night more often. I've gotten over three thousand words written today.

Two things I like about doing this challenge (in my own way, I didn't sign up officially since I'd already started this book:) I've been trying really hard (even in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping) to think about what my characters are going to do, where the plot is headed, before I sit down and write. That makes my writing time much more productive, and it's why I'm getting so much written. Insomnia can have it's perks.

I feel a sense of accomplishment. Usually at this point in my day I'm thinking something like this, "Well, that was good to get some writing done, but I still have so much longer to finish my book. Better get going on dinner and the dirty dishes and the violin lessons and . . ."

Today, though, I'm counting my words and realizing how much I really did get done, and having a measurable goal like that (smaller than finish the book) really feels good.

Book Review: Girl, Stolen, by April Henry

When I read the back cover and realized this book was about a girl who accidentally gets kidnapped, I thought the plot would be predictable. It is, to a point. However, it's well-done, and there is one plot twist that took me completely by surprise. The MC also ends up taking a much more active role in her rescue than I'd expected, and I applaud that.

I admit I like happy endings, and you'll have to decide for yourself how happy this one is. I'm not saying I want everything tied up in an ending, but (spoiler) he asks her a question, and the very last sentence is her pondering her answer but not letting anyone, including the reader, know what it might be. Aagh! Is it sort-of like Bronte's Villette, where we're supposed to decide which ending we like best?

That aside, it's an enjoyable read.


It's 2:53 am, and I can't sleep. But between a mini vacation because my kids didn't have school on Friday, a sinus infection (maybe why I can't sleep?) and a long day today, I'm behind on my word goal. But maybe today is going to be better, because I've already written close to 500 words, and the sun isn't up yet.
My goal has been to finish my present novel by writing around two thousand words a day, then go back and edit the other two that need some serious help. That's a lot to strive for.
As Carol pointed out in her latest post, http://throwingupwords.wordpress.com/, writing can be a very, very discouraging business. So I have to remember I'm doing this because I love (?) it. Today, as I went about the mundane, I kept thinking of my character, stuck in the middle of a very dark night in the Southern Utah desert.
Goals, as as past LDS Relief Society president said, are stars to steer by, not sticks to beat ourselves with.
So I'll keep doing my best, but if I end up sleeping later today, that's okay too.
Put away your sticks. We all write because we  have stars in our eyes.

Book Review: Liar by Justine Larbalestier

I don't believe in giving bad reviews. People work hard on books, and what writer needs more criticism, seriously. So the following is just personal preference.
I liked the voice in this book. Loved the idea of a narrator we're not sure if we can trust because she lies. It's a great premise. Her boyfriend, who is/isn't really her boyfriend, dying mysteriously is really good stuff, too.
Here's the personal preference part: I don't like tons of language. If it's there, I need it to feel authentic (think Tree Grows in Brooklyn kind of necessity.) So I struggled with the many uses of the F word. It's obvious I don't like that in teen books. But to me it seemed forced an unnecessary, even though the author was trying for a gritty, New York City feel.
So I was already struggling to decide if I liked it enough to overlook the language, but the idea of a girl who had a reason for telling lies, a reason that went back to her father and grandmother getting so good at lies that they sometimes forgot what the truth had originally been, kept me reading.
And I wanted more of that. Instead, 1/3 of the way through, I got a werewolf book. I wasn't expecting a werewolf book, especially this far in. I thought all the psychological secrets were plenty for a plot. So for me, it didn't work.
It isn't a bad book at all. But I struggled to like and understand the characters, and for me, that was enough for me to skip to the end, find out what happened, and put it down.
Maybe I should have kept reading. Then maybe I would have liked it more. So personal preference, as I said.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Announcement:2012 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference

Due to some conflicts at Waterford School, the 2012 WIFYR Conference will be held June 18-22. We're going to have boot camp again, a 3-day illustration workshop, and some other great things. Stay tuned.

I Become Hamlet--To Stir or not to Stir

Thanks to my book club, who encourage me to step outside the reading I do to hone my craft. No apologies there; I really do love YA and MG fiction. But I've been reading some of the books I should have read long ago (fill examples) and re-reading some of my favorites (Emma, Scarlet Pimpernel, Jane Eyre, A Doll's House) and now Hamlet. If I'd kept those typed-on-pink paper essays (pink not because I loved the shade, although I do, but because my dad donated reams he didn't need,) I'm sure I had at least one on Hamlet's failure to act. With several of the books I've re-read since college, including the Ibsen play and Hamlet, I can't muster the same cheerleader cry to "Go, fight, kill!" that my idealistic zeal supplied.

I find myself too much like Hamlet in my life. Oink. Okay, totally inappropriate, but I couldn't resist.
So oink. Hamlet spends time badgering his mother, confusing his girlfriend, making long speeches no one can understand. I mean the ones Shakespeare intended to be that way, although reading the first authentic version I downloaded free on m Kindle made the entire play read like a different language. Hamlet is supposed to know what he has to do, but doesn't act until it's almost too late. Oink. Certainly too late for Ophelia. Double Oink. I never did like that part, although I'm sure it provides actors with a wonderful tragic part.

But does Hamlet really know that killing his uncle is the right thing to do? How often do we have that kind of single-focused clarity on what we should do in our lives?

Cluck. Excuse my adding more barnyard noises (I promise not to break out into e-i-e-i-o's) but I at times feel like the cliche chicken sans head. I know what I want to do. I want to write. However, it isn't as simple as taking a sword and avenging my enemy (although there's probably a recipient of a poison rejection letter somewhere that's fantasized about taking just a little return jab with his letter-opener.) At the moment I have a new book that I love. It's flowing, it has a direction, it has a plot that doesn't wander like Hamlet stumbing through the castle, pausing hither and anon to soliloquize. It's about, seriously, a boy and his lawnmower. But no, it's not about how he decides to start a profitable summer business, so don't yawn yet.

The problem is that I also have my Sonya book that I love, and thanks to Claudia Mill's workshop, I also finally have a way to realign the plot problems in the second half. I also have my dream book, that I also like, but that does  wander, confused, like Ophelia. That isn't even mention my poor, unfinished mermaid book with the brilliant title and unusual concept that I really liked and am determined to sometime finish, even if mermaids are out right now. (Ms. Twilight Saga Goddess, please reconsider writing one, please?"

Plus I went to another lecture by one of my heros, Kathy Headlee  Miner, who told more stories of youth in Africa that I'm feeling compelled to write about. I think these will end up as short stories, and I'm already hunting for my notes on those.


Then there's all the extra cooking I've been trying to do (see later blog post on food.) Ann Cannon says people follow her blog to see what she eats each day, not for her writing. Having read her columns, I know she's being modest, but since food is one of my crazy hen-pecking obsessions, I decided I might occasionally steal her idea. And let her know about it. Maybe she'll become one of the uh-three? people who can say they've read my blog.

Although Hamlet managed to kill Polonius with one sword thrust through a screen, a sword is still just one object, and a narrow one. If I could hone my focus to just the important things, do them first and get them done, maybe I could once again return to my collegiate disdain for Hamlet's indecisive quandry.

Oink, Cluck. My first decisive act is to realize 1:52 am is not my best time for  writing. More tomorrow.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Martine Leavitt Notes from WIFYR, Part 2: Theme

THEME: all words must have an intention, a direction, a goal. Your book needs to have heart—unifying idea, central goal. A writer has to organize a story around a core set of questions.

 Theme asks a question. There may be more than one answer, but it makes people think. Read Holes by Louis Sachar for the  message about Stanley carrying Zero up the hill (justice, paying debt to oppressed peoples.) Remember not to hit your reader over the head with a moral. Theme needs to be very subtle.

Theme grows out of the tension of asking the hard questions.  Theme levels:

  1.  Word choice through repetition and layering of images. Discover some telling moment (maybe in exploratory draft) and it becomes the theme. Theme can impact word choice. 
  2. Revealed at sentence level through careful use of thematic passages—where character or narration questions about impt things. Careful: lightest of hands, tiny touch will do.
  3.  Revealed in structure—characters and objects thematically. Surface story conceals some less-accessible meaning. Martine’s definition: deliberately use another work to illuminate the theme of the story. In her book Tom Finder, Martine uses the opera, The Magic Flute, to reveal her theme. I really recommend this book. It's one that makes the reader think, but it's theme in revealed by structure done with the light hand she recommends. 
  • As you edit your manuscript, look for the little moments that might reveal what the intention and goal is.
  • Why am I compelled to write this book? 
  • What am I asking of the world? 
Writing Prompt--Taken from Martine's workshop (remember she's an MFA professor,) here is your assignment: put your character in a scene that shows the his/her concrete object of desire and the announced strategy (how character is going to achieve concrete desire.) Remember there are lots of little desires along the way, but what is the overarching goal?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More WIFYR Notes--Martine Leavitt Part One--Questions to Ask Yourself as You Write

Martine is the author of amazing, terrific books such as Heck Superhero Tom Finder and Keturah and Lord Death. She's also an instructor for a children's writing MFA program, so it's not wonder she's an incredible WIFYR workshop teacher.

I'm going to divide this into two parts because I have so many good notes to cover. Character Motivation Essentials: Martine gave us a series of questions to ask yourself about your main character or MC.

What does my MC want (emotional, concrete)?

Why can’t MC have what she wants?

What will happen if MC does not get what she wants? (stakes)

How does your MC struggle?

What additional hardships does the MC face?

When is it hopeless?

How does the story end?

How is your character changed?

What is surprising about the ending?

Going along with straightening out my crooked picture frames (see last post) in writing, taking the time to make sure we address these questions as we write is essential. Then, as we review our draft [I love Ann Cannon's method of printing it out and putting it in a 3-ring binder] ask those questions again.

If you don't know the answer to those questions, consider Martine's idea of doing some preliminary writing. To give you some idea of the effort that goes into her work, she says she does lots of early drafts—discovery draft, experimental draft, THEN first draft. I know I often feel a little too married to what I write. I have done a little of this since then, however, and find a 'junk draft an easier way to pull out the parts I like and dump the rest.

Are You Using Too Many Cliches? My eyes widened and I gasped at the thought of how many cliche phrases I use. Here's her list: heart pounding, throat constricting, fist, teeth or stomach clenching, swallowing, widening eyes, gasping, all manner of breathing, tears, trembling, freezing, frozen. I'm not saying you can never use these, but it's food for thought. And yes, my cliches are intentional.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Crooked frames and writing

Hanging pictures is a two-person job (at least.) Ideally, two people should hold the ends of a tape measure to locate the center spot where it's supposed to go. Then one person should hold the frame in place while the other person steps back to see if it's at the right height. Person one then holds her finger in the spot while person two moves the frame and gets the picture hanger and nail ready. I know this because when my dad used to visit, he'd help me hang all the pictures that had been sitting on my floor for months.

My husband is useful, brilliant and kind, but would prefer simple, blank walls. So he's no help. But I got tired of the pictures that had been sitting on the floor for so long that I almost started thinking they didn't belong there. My aim and hammer approach often means I have to hang things two or three times before I get the right spot, resulting in a lot of nail holes.

When I tried to write alone, it's much like standing nose-to-glass with a painting. It may take me a lot longer to correct my errors. I need someone who has the perspective of distance to help me see where my novel is veering way off course. I'm grateful for my critique group, and for writing conferences like Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. I'm also excited about critiquing based on whole novel trades.

I can deal with slightly-crooked picture frames. But since I really want my writing spot-on, I'm seeking education, good critiques, and whatever other help I can get.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Holly Black--Magic Has a Price

I'm not a hard-core fantasy writer, although I do have some magical elements in my last two manuscripts. Everyone at WIFYR, however, told me that I had to go to Holly Black's class whether I wrote fantasy or not. I'm glad I did. She puts a lot of thought and effort into her books, and I really enjoyed thinking about creating a magical world as she set it up for us.

There are two types of magical worlds: 1) Open, where everyone knows magic exists, and 2) Closed world: where very few know
1. Who has it? Small number, magic requires sacrifice or training
2. What does it do? Limit scope, protective, defensive
3. How do you make it happen? Action, ceremony, e.g. bare hands touching bare skin effects result. Make it complicated, lengthy ceremony, difficult somehow
4. How is user affected? Drain on energy, premature aging, must obey magical organization's rules, pain, madness
5. How is world affected? World in danger, magic causes blights, disrupts machines.
6. How are magic users grouped or perceived? Users of magic thought to be immoral/evil/inhuman—taking it up means limiting self in society.

All magic has to have a price
When Kathleen Dewey wrote Skin Hunger – price of magic school is that only student lives, rest of them die from the lessons.

What are the limits of magic? It needs to be calibrated. Can’t give them so much magic that they can do everything and get out of every situation. Limit effectiveness.

Laying cards on table about the mystery: they need to see the map [how it works] before they have to use it. Better to be clear than fancy. the best thing is to let the reader know. It is the character’s need, how high the stakes are, rather than the not-knowing, that will keep them reading. A character with deep need and higher stakes will buy the author a little more time to reveal things.

Ally Condie and Cupcakes to celebrate

Ally was the keynote speaker at WIFYR. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, don't miss it. She has some interesting stories (house mom for a sorority?) and my daughter can hardly wait for the sequel to Matched to come out. I didn't take the book, so she signed a bookmark for my daughter. Really nice!

My notes are short, but significant: Put in the work to write!Figure out what works for you in writing and cling to it. Your writing will feel important as you put forth the little part of you that is true.

Mark the little successes—decide what they are for you (beyond just getting published) and celebrate them. Do what makes you happy.

Aren't we doing this because we want to write? Really? There are plenty of easier ways to make ourselves miserable. So go buy a cupcake, put a candle in it, and after you write for your one hour today, celebrate the fact that while other people are thinking about it, you actually sat down at the computer and wrote (or edited) something concrete. Save me some frosting.

My Guest Blog Spot


I've been working on submitting some things (yes, actually, finally) along with getting kids back in school, attacking the overgrown bushes that I've decided are actually tress (at least they think they are) and the like. So my blog has gone woefully unnoticed. I did, at least, write for Carol Williams and Ann Dee Ellis' blog, which, BTW, is always current and wonderful, with contests and some excellent writing tips.

So go read their blog, and meanwhile, I'll finish updating mine. I promise to finally include my WIFYR notes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book Reviews: Wake and The Indigo Notebook

I just finished reading Wake by Lisa McMann. It wasn’t quite what I expected. I read some reviews of it, and found some pretty divergent views. What I agreed with: the book is well-written. It isn’t suitable for younger readers. After being alerted to sexual content in the dreams (one reviewer objected to the idea that every teen either has sexual dreams or falling ones) and a fair amount of the F-word, I felt that given that premise, there was less than there could have been. I found the swearing felt odd, like it had been put in for effect rather than dialogue necessity.

Still, I loved the concept, and I liked the main character. I liked her best friend even better--the friend that's sometimes a lot nicer than the mc deserves. And the skater-boy turned hottie? Well, I can see why it was a NY Times bestseller.

I also read The Indigo Notebook by Laura Raceau. I found the writing beautiful, some absolutely beautiful and fresh descriptions. That said, I found the ending pretty predictable. The theme really was about letting people be who they are. Zia changes, as a mc should, but wished the mother could have given Zia a little more stability. That probably says a lot about why I'm living in suburbia instead of traveling the world teaching English and learning new languages. I do understand getting so involved in a project that you forget about, say, cooking dinner. As I'm at the computer, my kids often have to say, "Hello? Mom? Are you in there?"

Monday, August 8, 2011

Gratitude for Being Able to Do

I read a post by a friend of mine. I knew she'd been ill, but not that ill. I'm glad she's doing better, and hope that will continue. It got me thinking, okay, yeah, it's all about me, of the times when my MS was a lot worse. Last week I had a flare, and haven't had one in about a year. I spent a lot of the week 1. eating too much because my body knew something was wrong and so of course my brain said, "here, food will fix it." 2. having 2 or 3 irrational crying times that made my husband wonder about my ability to carry on logical conversations. 3. Had to go to the doctor because some old, worrysome symptoms popped up. 3. Felt so tired that it made me really grateful that I don't feel those old feelings so much anymore. Here's the essence of what I wrote on my friend's blog, with some extra details.

"I'm not glad for what you've been through. I have MS and although never bedridden, I wanted to cry when my daughter would come to my bed and say, "Mommy, that was a really long nap," realizing she'd been alone and watching TV all afternoon. Messy house, always tired, not there for field trips, couldn't volunteer at school, missed appointments and lessons, had to hire help. There were times I joked that my husband really ought to 'trade me in for a working model.' I, too, had a medication change (several years ago) and now I'm usually so close to normal I almost forget what that was like. Last week I felt a bit like I used to. That wake-up reminded me to appreciate the good days instead of squeezing all the life out with worry and doing too much.
[Friend's name] you have a great purpose. I know you, although not as well as I'd like, but enough to know you're amazing. Your beautiful writing has tons to say, and so do you."

When I get down on myself for all I can't do, the writing that trickles out instead of the steady flow of hours-worth of words I want, walk past the little things that always seem to clutter my countertops and floor, I sometimes want to stop trying. I told my friend she's worth it. I need to take my own advice.

And I'm very grateful that I'm starting to feel better this week. Still eating too much chocolate, and black licorice, and more chocolate. I've been trying to cut down on those. Time to spend less time eating, more on feeling grateful, more on writing.

Time to get Caught up on Blogging

Okay, I've been away a lot this summer. I've still got writing to do on what happened at WIFYR and LDS Storymakers. I have, however, been able to say I'm still writing. Writing on the beach (okay, for 45 minutes, but still.) Arranging it so one of my boys rode in the front seat for part of our 5 hour drives to and from the Sun Valley family reunion so I could sit in the back and write. Writing on vacation. It's been bits here and there, not the huge blocks of times I wish for and never seem to manage (maybe I'm just too ADD) but I'm working. I gave myself a huge list of things to do:
1. I'm brushing the cobwebs off my Sonya Silent book because MG contemporary is supposed to come back. But after WIFYR and wonderful help from Claudia Mills, I have to re-do the second half. I've come up with the new plot, and written some of it, but still scary amounts to do.
2. In the middle of revision to Night Visions, not giving up on that one either, even if it has dreams in it.
3. Giving up on Pearled for now. Maybe someday Mermaids will make a comeback? I still love the setting and characters of the book, especially the part where she meets the Ama (no not American Medical Association--but they really did exist) I will finish it just for my girls.
4. Finally getting some ideas on how to change my overstuffed with two many plots book, whatever I finally call it, Mayflower Cafe for now. After I finish re-writes on the other two, it's my next project.
5. I think. Because I've also started a new book. It's coming out unexpectedly for me, mostly in small, one-sentence definitions (sort-of how some books lately have lists.) And I really like it, although somedays it's painful to write. It's easy to write about how I feel about Asperger's and I'm trying to do that, too. This is not a problem novel, but I know the main character will have that problem (maybe not labeled because that the hot thing now and by the time I get it done I will be, like the mermaid one, past the trend). It's also going to have fun parts. I've been asking my son about what a character would have to do if he wanted to take a lawnmower on a road trip. We'll see what advice he gives me.
I will post about WIFYR. Soon.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Productive Writing or Unproductive Worrying?

Last weekend I went with one of the members of my critique group to meet with another critique group. I really enjoyed it, and even though the comments showed me that I've got to revise my first chapter, AGAIN, I now have some good ideas of what I need to do. I've been going back and forth between too much detail, not enough detail, too vague and sketchy, or too boring. I spent the whole hour plus drive home thinking about what I needed to change, and realized, I don't have to put in that stuff that's boring. I can make it chapter two and start over. I'm excited to implement my changes.
However, although I managed to type a few notes into my phone, and got about ten words written when I got home, that's all I've done. I'm hoping to find a way to meet with this critique group, but with the long drive, my husband isn't too excited about the time chunk bitten out of a Saturday. So we had our usual conversation about my how much time I spend writing as opposed to how much I should spend.I told him I didn't spend nearly as much time writing as I thought I should.
His reply surprised me: "You're right. It's just the time you spend thinking and stressing about writing that's too much."
Hmm. Since then, I've been thinking about how to spend less mental energy wanting to write and more energy actually putting words on paper.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

First Line Contest Winners

I've had a lot going on offline, and I'm way behind at updating my blog. First of all, here are the contest results:

First Place: Kalen O'Donnell

For my sixteenth birthday, my oldest brother tried to kill me again.

Second Place: Nikki Katz

Jocelyn stared at the guy sitting across the table from her, wondering how he’d react later – when he was drowning.
Runners Up:
Kimberly Kay - I thought I knew the definition of fear, but this time Webster was wrong.
Peggy Eddleman - You’d think I had never jumped off a 35 foot cliff before, based on how long I stood there, not jumping.
Erica Olson - I slammed the car door and rushed past the men putting pieces of my life into a big white truck.
Marcy Pusey - The first time MaryAnn died she was only nine years old.
Janet B Taylor - They say eyes are the window to the soul–or some crap like that–but for me, eyebrows are way more interesting.
Amy White - Oliver used to be ordinary–yesterday.
Susan Kaye Quinn - A zero like me shouldn’t take public transportation.

We had lots on entries, and I was amazed at the quality of the first lines.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Great First Lines!

We had a great response to the contest, and I was amazed at the number of creative, humorous and original first lines. I'm only one of the judges, so I have no idea who won yet.

The results should be out really soon!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

First Line Contest

We're running a contest for a terrific first book line from your Children's Book manuscript. What makes your book stand out? We know how important that first line is for hooking an agent, editor, and reader. Now show me some great beginnings!
Deadline: Midnight April 2, 2011.

Prizes: 1 page critique with agent Mary Kole, $30 gift certificate. Second prize: 5-page critique plus 1 page of comments by author Martine Leavitt, plus $20 gift certificate. Other prizes: tons and tons of books!
You have to go check out this contest!


Monday, February 14, 2011

The New Fad in Valentine's Day Gifts--Soup??

I have to start by saying it's all my fault. My DH took me for a nice lunch at a sushi place (never his choice) last Friday. So today was bonus. That said, I still wish men could somehow visualize the romantic dreams women have about this day. Stores display flowers, decorated cookies and cupcakes, heart-shaped candy boxes, some decorated with frilly pink lace and rose. And I got...soup.
As I said, my fault. He texted me to ask what I wanted for Valentine's Day. Sort-of like, "Okay, I'll stop at the store on my way home, but I don't really want to." I almost didn't answer, because I sensed no motivation in him. So I answered, "Some soup or a treat from the hospital cafeteria, or a book from the local bookstore." I have to admit I liked the book idea much more. But he was sick, and I gave him an easy out. I waited, hoping for a book. He got me the soup. It was good soup, gourmet spinach and mushroom. And I asked for it. So why do I feel a bit neglected?

How does this connect to writing? Unlike my spouse, I love shopping. But submitting my work is difficult for me. It isn't that it terrifies me, I can even handle the rejections (after a day or so of too much chocolate.) But it's unpleasant and difficult to decide where to send. Major manuscript revision is even tougher for me.

Last year I won a writing contest. I submitted the book to two agents with high hopes. One agent was kind, but pointed out what she saw as a major flaw in the book. So I put it aside and got to work on my new book. I love my new one, and think it's some of my most marketable work to date. However, I wonder now if I took the soup course. It's time soon to go back and figure out how to change my previous two manuscripts. And have the courage to revisit that really bad chapter book and see if I can get it ready for Mike Knudson's excellent workshop at WIFYR. If I avoid what's difficult in writing, then all I'm going to end up with is . . . more soup.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Contest Deadline Change

wifyr is extending their contest: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Writing-and-Illustrating-for-Young-Readers

So I'm going to extend mine longer too. Who wants a $25 Barnes and Noble gift certificate? Mike Knudson's chapter book workshop is going to be fantastic, and you get a really easy chance of winning just for signing up before April 27th.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


WIFYR is having an amazing contest. If you have any interest in writing and winning good books or a chance at a five-page critique by the amazingly talented and kind Carol Lynch Williams, here is the Facebook link: http://www.facebook.com/notes/writing-and-illustrating-for-young-readers/wifyr-contest-one/180790898629580.

PLUS I'm also sponsoring my own contest. Anyone who signs up for Mike Knudson's chapter book workshop by the main contest end date, Feb. 28th, will also be entered to win a $25 Barnes and Noble gift certificate. Since there are only 13 slots, the MAXIMUM odds are 1-in-13, writers. Just let me know you've registered on the wifyr.com site, and you're officially entered.

Happy writing, reading, and registering!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Rejection Letters and a herding stampede

6:15 am, and when I could have slept a little longer, I jolted awake from a frustration dream. Setting: WIFYR. Character me, in role as Mike Knudson's workshop assistant. The good part: his workshop was completely full. The bad parts: 1) at least two of the students hadn't graduated pre-school. Maybe confusing the workshop to mean reading chapter books? When I tried to run an errand, I couldn't get past the hallway pack of stampeding football players. One of them actually picked me up and carried me down the hall! Weird.

A lot of this stems from the rejection letter I got last night. From a magazine that's published my work before. The OUCH part is that the editor's very kind comments included the advice to "show, not tell." How often have I heard that? How about in my very first year at WIFYR, as Ann Cannon gave us a great example from her book, Charlotte's Rose?

I can learn from this, though, and thought I'd include some thoughts on how not to fall back into old bad habits.

Straight from the editor:
You write very well. Your essay is poignant and honestly written....Your essay is right there on the cusp of being a great essay. I think what would help push it over into that great category is if you did more showing and less telling, if you wrote more in scenes. While you include lots of good details, your essay is often more summary than scene. Of course, in any essay there has to be some summary, but you want to have primarily scenes, with some summary in between. This is an example of summary: "His birthday didn’t end with cupcakes and bliss. That weekend, we found out he took a video game—that same one he loves as much as I hate—from a friend’s house without permission. So once again I got to feel like the wicked witch. Brian really struggles to understand how I can love him and yet discipline him." You could turn this into a scene by showing us what happened: you walk into his room and see the video game. You ask him where he got it, he tells you he took it from his friends's house. You tell him he's grounded. He yells, or retreats into silence. See how that is a scene?
[We may fail to show because the subject is painful, and we want to spare the reader some of the details. But they need to understand why the subject is painful for the protagonist.]

Here's an example of a scene in your essay: "Another birthday, fourteen years later, and I wait in the kitchen again, hoping pizza and presents will lure my son out of the closed-door room where he gathers darkness around him." You know how to write scenes; you just need to write more of them. You will have to choose which incidents you want to portray, of course, and you won't have room for everything....
[We may fail to show when we rush to include too much information all at once.]

I guess it's good I'm going back to WIFYR this year. I'm feeling like it's time to get all my notes back out and figure out what other bad habits may be creeping back into my writing.Thank goodness the hallways never feel that congested in real life. The workshops do fill up almost that fast at times, though, but not by preschoolers and the football team.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My New Book, pizza crusts, and rotten milk

I wanted to take this book to Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, but I did that last year, and Alane Ferguson and a group of 12 other wonderful writers gave me a terrific critique. I seriously changed the whole beginning. It should have been obvious that if the main character in the book is bored, in a long car ride with her mom and obnoxious brother, that the reader will be bored too, right? Well thanks to Alane and WIFYR, I finally figured that out.
This book is about a girl with a secret. She's madly in love with a guy, but that's not the hard part. The problem? The guy doesn't even exist.

Now I'm in Mike Knudson's class on Chapter Books. I would love to write a chapter book, but I'm still wondering if I can do one without it sounding cheesy in a bad way. Oh, unintentional reference to previous stinky cheese post.

I should have lots of fodder, though. If only rotten milk and old pizza crusts left in a boy's room long enough could fuel the world . . . Thinking about that one.

I found the Missing Manuscript!

Sorry for the misleading title. But I did find something important. My new book, Night Visions, Daytime Disasters, is in the revision stage. I made some changes to chapters 21 and 23, and then, after the trip, couldn't find them!! I'm too good at starting new documents so I don't change anything I should keep, so now I had about 6 drafts/partial drafts to go through. It took me about a week, then I finally got my answer to prayer: I'd forgotten that when my computer was down, I'd typed some things on Barry's computer. Think work computer, without even a Word program. I'd been searching my USB drive, my e-mail, and my little laptop, and here it was on Barry's computer. What's worse, half of it was in his account, so just when I thought I'd found it all, I only had the first half.
I finally found the second half in my account, which I rarely use since it's his computer and I only go to it when Matt is using mine.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Making Friends Monday from Tristi

Thanks to the amazing Tristi Pinkston for getting me to update my blog. She's having a best book trailer contest at http://tristipinkston.blogspot.com/2011/01/best-book-trailer-contest.html

Chapter Books, Stinky Cheese and WIFYR Opportunity

Used to be, everyone wanted to write picture books. Tried that, didn't go well. Lately a lot of people want to be the next JK Rowling. But a few years back, I heard there was an open spot in the market for anyone who could write chapter books for younger readers.

So I tried. I thought I had a pretty cute story, so I took it to WIFYR (Dean Hughes was our workshop instructor that year.) And honestly, I would have had a better reception if I'd taken a ball of stinky cheese. Not good, seriously.

But this year, I'm going to try again. I'm going to assist Mike Knudson at WIFYR. Last year I attended his class on writing for boys. That story I wrote was about some mischievous boys. I've had two of my own, and with a couple new ideas, plus the opportunity to spend five mornings workshopping with a talented author, maybe this year will go better.

And no, I won't title my manuscript as Stinky Cheese. That's already been taken.

I'm Repenting

I haven't written on this blog so long. And it's time I got busy and caught up on some things. Vacation photos of the cruise, for one. But also to finally make it the writing site it's meant to be.
So consider this my end-of-January resolution to get busy! Cruise photos to follow soon.