Sunday, April 29, 2012

Z is for ZENITH

During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
     Here we are.
     We've crossed the finish line, snapped the crepe paper streamer marking the end of the race. We've reached our zenith and yes, at times, I felt like I wasn't running only a full marathon (which is improbable  enough for this non-runner), but the course was entirely uphill.
      I've never blogged daily, never blogged more than three days in one week during the nine months since I've started Here's the Story. And I won't be blogging daily after today, not until next year's A to Z Challenge. It's exhausting. My house is a mess. My newest writing project wasn't in the driver's seat during April. It wasn't even riding shotgun. But that's okay, because it was a fantastic ride anyway.
     So many of you can take credit for getting me to this point. Without the encouragement, the comments, visits, and follows, I would have not stayed the course. I wish I could have visited everyone this past month to pay the encouragement forward. I've gained dozens of new followers since the Challenge started 30 days ago. I've followed dozens myself, and even though the Challenge is 'officially' over, that Linky list is still there and I'll still use it to meet those I haven't touched base with yet.
     Thank you for stopping by to read, say 'hi', follow me, make a connection.
     Stay in touch.
     Write on!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for YURT

During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
     What is a yurt?
                                      
     It's a circular 'tent', with wood slats providing the 'bones' to hold up its canvas covering in place. In ancient times, animal skins made up the covering and a small hole at the top of the structure provided a vent for the smoke when people cooked inside.
Bunny hospital yurt at Best Friends
     My first experience in a yurt was during my trip last month to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Four  buildings housing the rabbits were yurt-style, sturdy, wooden-framed buildings with some of the same elements you would find in a house, like framed doors and cement floors.
     Since my family visits national parks on vacation, we have stayed in many cabins on location - in Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Kalaloch National Parks on the Pacific coast - to name a few. I've run across yurts as options for overnight stays as well but I've never investigated until now. Yurts range from rustic (bring your own sleeping bag and pad) to luxury, like the interior picture of the one here in Bay City, Oregon.
     I can't say that staying in a yurt is considered 'camping' per se, as I've experienced my share of leaking tents and wet sleeping bags over the years, and yurts are considerably more leak-proof. But if you enjoy the outdoors and don't mind the night sounds of wildlife, a stay in a yurt may be a comfortable step up from a tent.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

X is for 'X' MARKS THE SPOT

During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
     Now a catchphrase for anything trivial, 'X marks the spot' materialized earlier in this century in England as a commonly-used caption in crime scene photos. The 'X' indicated exactly where the dastardly offense, usually a murder, occurred, so says my Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Orgins, by Robert Hendrickson. 
     In my house, 'X' will mark the crime scene, most notably my empty desk chair, if I'm not there working to finish a first draft in May. 

W is for WATCHING

     Who doesn't love people-watching?
      In any given day, the opportunities to observe human behavior are endless. At schools, in the workplace, on the street, in the parks, malls, and airports, the steady stream of humanity gives writers a world-wide laboratory of characters to observe and experiment with while crafting stories.
     Clothing choice, mannerisms, speech, and physical characteristics reveal so much about people. 'Every person you meet is a lesson in human nature,' wrote Fred White, in his daily writing meditations book, The Daily Writer. Even environment affects how people behave. Someone at a Fourth of July parade will act differently than if that same person is standing up as best man at a friend's wedding (hopefully!).
     One reason I substitute teach is so I can be around kids (helpful if you write for kids, yes?). How they play, what they talk, laugh, and complain about, and the things that excite them and what bores them - this is great material for character development. Sometimes I want to sit down and write in the middle of a class period or recess duty because of what I see and hear!
     People-watching is brain food for writers; your observations will nourish your stories' characters.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An AMAZING Coincidence for Letter 'V'

During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
I posted about the Vicktory Dogs at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for letter 'V' late last night. Imagine my surprise when I read on Facebook a few minutes ago that today (today, folks!) marked the five-year anniversary when they were rescued from Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels. There's a wonderful post about it on the BFAS site, written by co-founder Francis Battista. I'm am truly astounded letter 'V' fell on this day!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

V is for VICKTORY

     At first glance, the title of this post looks misspelled. But to animal rescue groups and particularly to the staff and volunteers at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the word 'Vicktory' holds special meaning.
     Five years ago, 22 dogs were rescued from a dog-fighting ring at Bad Newz Kennels, owned by then-Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick (who thankfully served prison time). Traumatized physically and/or emotionally, the dogs were taken to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to heal and begin their new lives. Some of the dogs will stay at Best Friends forever, in the care of staff members who give them the love and attention they deserve. Others have been adopted after passing the sanctuary's Canine Good Citizenship class, and living with their potential adoptive families for a six-month trial period. You can see pictures and read their individual stories here.
Two Vicktory dogs 
     The latest Vicktory dog to be adopted was Georgia in February. Trainer John Garcia worked with Georgia to socialize her, bringing her to hotels, live appearances, even the Ellen DeGeneres Show! He blogged about working with Georgia and her adoption process here if you'd like to read it. Be prepared to get choked up; it's really an emotional story.
     The Vicktory Dogs are probably the most famous animals at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. They came from a horrendous situation. Even though their plight was widely reported throughout the media, and they were thankfully rescued, there are many animals suffering who pass under the radar. If you'd like to help in some way, why not visit your local shelter.

Monday, April 23, 2012

U is for UKELELE

     I love that word.
     It's fun to say. 
     It also reminds me of the backyard parties my grandparents used to host on summer nights. Uncle Harold, who wasn't really a relation but a family friend, brought his ukelele. He'd unzip it from the worn leather case and tune it before he played. Strumming and singing, Uncle Harold played until he put the kids to sleep in their parents' laps and the beer and soda were gone.
     That ukelele was a great instrument, one small enough to fit comfortably into my eight-year-old hands. At least it looked like it would. You see, I never got up the nerve to ask Uncle Harold if I could hold it and strum the strings. I was pretty shy. My cousin did, though, and I remember burning with jealousy as she sat  next to him in a folding metal chair. She held it like a baby doll and delicately plucked the strings. I wanted to yell, "Strum it, for gosh sakes! Play it fast and loud, like Uncle Harold!" But who was I to tell her? That could have been me getting a lesson instead of her. She wasn't afraid. She didn't miss her chance.
     Years later when Uncle Harold passed away, his wife Vi gave the ukelele to my grandfather. Uncle Harold and he had been childhood friends, and without children of their own, Vi thought my grandfather would like a nice memento of the summer songfests in our backyard. Getting my chance at that ukelele overshadowed the sadness of losing Uncle Harold. I finally had my chance!
     Last month when I brainstormed for ideas at the start of the A to Z Challenge, 'ukelele' came to mind right away for letter 'u'. I sometimes think about the ukelele when I find myself balking at taking a chance, about stepping out of my comfort zone.
     Not every opportunity comes with a second chance.
     Play your ukelele like it's the only chance you'll get.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

T is for TITLES

Today I'd like to welcome Sheila Welch, author of Waiting to Forget (namelos Publishing, 2011) who is guest-posting about titles. Kirkus Reviews called Waiting to Forget, a story about T.J. and his sister's experience in the foster care system told through flashbacks, a 'poignant, realistic tale about child-survivors.' Sheila is also an illustrator and lives with her husband in Illinois. Welcome, Sheila!


Thanks to Dawn for inviting me to do a guest post about titles. My name is Sheila Kelly Welch, and I write, and sometimes illustrate, stories and books for children of all ages --  and every one of them has a title.
Selecting the perfect name for a piece of writing is not easy. But it’s worth the effort to make a good  first impression. We've all heard about the titles that didn't make the final cut. Would you be interested in reading something with the nondescript "Salinas Valley" or "Something that Happened" on the cover? John Steinbeck's working titles became the much more appealing, EAST OF EDEN and OF MICE AND MEN. Kenneth Grahame went through many ideas, including "Mr. Mole and His Mates," "Down Stream," and "The Wind in the Reeds," before the final THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS was chosen. 
My own experience with title trouble  began after I'd completed my first novel but it had no title at all. Sending a manuscript out to publishers like that would have been like enrolling a kindergarten child with no name. I asked my oldest son to read the story. "If you can think of a good title," I told him, "and the book gets accepted, and that title is used, then I will pay you $50." Within a few hours he was back. "Don't Call Me Marda," he proclaimed. It was perfect. Many moons later, the book was accepted and I made the happy announcement. Of course, there was my son, holding out his hand for a 50 dollar bill to be pressed across his palm. After that, I decided to create my own titles.

Author Sheila Welch
When I wrote a picture book text about two princes whose sibling rivalry escalates when each receives a pet, the most accurate, descriptive title was "The Princes' Pets." My editor at Golden Books told me they had a rule: No apostrophes in titles. I suspected no one was quite sure where that apostrophe belonged. (Should it be Princes's or Princes' or maybe Princess'? And by now we 're wondering, "Are these boys or girls?") I could understand the problem, especially since the story had been transformed into an early reader. Finally, my editor said, "How about Little Prince Know-It-All?" and although it's not really his story, that is a catchy title, and it makes a good first impression. Over the years since the book's publication, when I'm visiting schools, I've met several little boys who can relate to that title. They tell me, "That's what my mom calls me!"  
In my early notes, I dubbed my latest novel simply "Adoption Story," then, as I got into it, "Not Timothy." Several months after Stephen Roxburgh accepted the book to be published by namelos, he told me that he didn't like my title. We thought of others, but we couldn't seem to agree. Finally, he settled on "Just T.J." while I was torn between "The End of Then" and "Waiting to Forget." Stephen liked both of my choices but felt that they wouldn't work with kids. Although he wasn't in favor of the idea, he let me go ahead and have several groups of middle school students vote on which of those three titles they thought sounded appealing. When WAITING TO FORGET won, my publisher graciously agreed to accept that decision. Later, I discovered one other book with that title, but it's nonfiction for adults. Still, it's disconcerting to see another author's book pop up on the computer screen. 
The novel I'm working on now was called "Sometimes Island," until I checked Amazon. There are     two books with that exact title, and about five more that mention "sometimes" and an island. I need a new title. Maybe I should borrow the one Jane Austen used initially for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. And what was that? "First Impressions!"
Thank you, Dawn, for this chance to tell a few title tales.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for SUCCESS

     I'm reading a book now called, Back Roads, Dead Cats, and What's for Dinner (that title alone wins the  intriguingly quirky award) by Jodi Marie Johnson. It's a funny memoir about the writer and six generations of her Southwestern family, full of grand misadventures, pictures, and recipes.
    One recipe stood out to me as I finished a chapter this week. It didn't include any actual food ingredients, but the recipe seemed just as nourishing. It was the recipe for Happiness, but for the sake of our A to Z Challenge, I'm substituting the word 'SUCCESS' for 'happiness' since, in my mind, the two words can be synonymous. Here it is:
      SUCCESS
'One part someone to love;
One part something meaningful to do;
One part something to look forward to.
     Mix gently together and spice with laughter and gratitude, forgiveness and kindness. Temper it with a generous portion of time spent in nature and love of yourself. Share a little with everyone you meet.'

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for RABBITS

     I've blogged off and on this month about the few days I volunteered at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah last month. It was rewarding and very relaxing even though it was very much a working vacation.
     One of the areas I asked to work in was with the Rabbits. I had rabbits when I was younger, and loved their curiosity. Their personalities varied as widely as their colors. They devoured the dandelion leaves and clover I put in their dishes. They weren't messy or loud, just cute.
Figaro, my favorite. What a sweetie!
     When I showed up for my shift, the staff assigned me to visit each pen to stuff their food box with hay. It dawned on me after only ten minutes that working with the sanctuary rabbits was no small task. I lugged hulking bags of hay in and out of the kennel-like pens. Some of the rabbits peeked at me from the windows cut into their cardboard boxes. They huddled in their PVC tunnels. Only a few of them seemed brave enough to hop into the open and feast on the lettuce.
      My favorite was a big, black rabbit named Figaro. I learned he was paralyzed when a staff member saw him laying on the opposite side he was supposed to be on (they move him regularly to prevent sores). His hind legs don't work so he drags himself around the pen with his front legs.  It's easy to feel sorry for him, but he looks alert and happy with several friends in the pen with him.
      The rabbits I worked with were in an area called Rescue Village, which was built in response to a hoarding situation. In 2006, the sanctuary got word that a private residence in Reno, Nevada had about 800 rabbits on the property. Before the sanctuary people could get up there, the rabbit population had doubled. When help arrived, many rabbits were sick, injured, or dead. Workers saved as many as they could, found foster families to nurse them back to health, and brought them back to the sanctuary where they could heal and be adopted. Many are still at the sanctuary. Such heroic efforts to fix a desperate situation!
     After refilling the rabbits' hay boxes, I was to visit each pen again and load them up with Romaine lettuce. In all, I spent 3 hours in Rescue Village, hauling bags of hay, boxes of lettuce, and mopping, refilling water dishes, and laying out new bedding. Surprisingly, it was physically more exhausting helping the bunnies than working in the dog area!
     Stay tuned for letter 'V' when I share stories about some very special dogs at the sanctuary.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for QUESTIONS

 
If only my manuscript's direction could be as clear...
(Grand Marais, MN, Lake Superior)
   I'm back to working on a manuscript which I left (abruptly) to do revisions on another. The new project is in the baby stages of development. I'm not even close to the rough draft starting line.
     Looking through my notes, the bare bones scenes, and bits of dialogue I've written down, I'm full of questions:
     What is driving my character to action?
     What does my character want?
     What will he/she sacrifice to get it?
     How will this change him/her?
     I'll keep these questions in mind as I flesh out the character sketches. They'll stay with me when I start the rough draft, and I'll make sure I've answered them as I go through the revision stage. If I keep asking myself these questions, my story won't leave any unanswered.
   In praise of asking questions, here's a great quote I ran across today:

     'Computers are useless. All they are good for are the answers' - Pablo Picasso

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for PERSEVERANCE


     I like to buy random greeting cards. Not the mass-produced kind, but the artsy, one-of-a-kind notecards with blank insides. I buy them for the image, which I tack onto my bulletin board for inspiration. Sometimes I'll find a card with a meaningful original verse or quote. At Zani in Flagstaff, AZ, I found the BEST selection of cards I'd ever seen in one spot.  I snatched up a card with a quote by Victor Hugo, which to me, hit the bulls-eye in this writer's heart:

                'Perseverance, the secret of all triumphs'. 


     May you persevere for your own triumph.
   


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for OBSIDIAN

     As the wife of a geology professor, I have seen my share of rocks and minerals. There's malachite on my desk, kyanite in the bathroom, and a wedge-shaped specimen of rock gypsum on the buffet. These are my personal favorites. To my unscientific eye, these museum-quality rocks and minerals get to come inside because they look, um...pretty.
    Then there's obsidian. Though it's not as colorful as the garnets, fluorites or sulfur, its transformation from magma to glass is fascinating. You see, obsidian is formed when lava cools super-quick on the earth's surface. It's glossy black and sharp-edged, which made it ideal to fashion into arrowheads and other weapons by ancient people. Pliny the Elder referred to obsidian in his Natural History, and said it was named for its discoverer, Obsius, who first found it in Ethiopia.
    I have a few chunks of obsidian in a rock border outside. When it rains, the water sits on the non-porous surface and evaporates quickly when the sun comes out. It reminds me of licorice.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for NO!

     Though my kids wouldn't agree, I'm not very good at saying 'No'.
     If the concession stand at the track meet needs an extra hand, I volunteer.
     If the Music Boosters could use a couple pies for the spaghetti supper fundraiser, I volunteer.
     When I see open time slots for Dog Walkers at the Humane Society, I have to stop myself from writing my name down for too many days.
     Yes, I'll do it.
     Sure. 
     No problem.
     You bet. 
     It's no trouble at all. 
     And it's really not. I like to help. The only problem with being generous with my time is that my writing time suffers.
     In between the volunteering, daily household stuff, substitute teaching, going to track and wrestling meets, football and baseball games, and shuttling the boys to and from practices, guess what ends up on the bottom of my 'to-do' list? Yeah, writing.     And why is that? Because it's the least necessary activity needing to be completed that day? Because it's flexible time? I can borrow a half hour of writing time and make it up tomorrow, right? Sure, but it never happens.
     When I wrote my first novel-length manuscript, I managed to clear the calendar. I didn't volunteer for anything. I turned down sub jobs. I made a daily word goal, and wrote a 50,000 word first draft in 30 days. And I haven't been able to produce like that since. Why? Because I fell off the 'just-say-no' wagon.
     If you find your writing time being whittled away, take a look at how you spend your days. Are there activities you can cut from your schedule to make more time for writing? Could you share a volunteer commitment with someone else to cut the time in half? Saying 'no', at least temporarily, might help you reach your writing goals in no time.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for MAPS

     Last month I drove through a part of the country I'd never been to before. From Flagstaff, Arizona, the trip took me 3 1/2 hours north through some of the most desolate, beautiful spaces I've ever seen. The highway wove through deserts, canyons, and snow-draped forests. I'd have been lost without my map.
     Getting from Point A to Point B without a map is, well, a little unnerving. But that's just me. I like to know where I'm going. I need to see my destination, to know how long it will take to get there. Knowing what town I just passed and which one is up ahead is reassuring when I'm in unfamiliar territory.
     Writing with a map can be reassuring, too. Whether it's a one-sentence pitch, a synopsis, or a 10-page single-spaced outline, most writers follow some version of a map to get from that first sentence to the end. For 'pantsers', your map might be more of a cerebral compass leading you through the story. My version of a writing map is a binder with some bare-bones scenes in chronological order, character sketches with spots of dialogue, maybe magazine pages with pictures of a similar setting.
     Once the binder becomes burdensome, almost as if it's spilling over, I know it's time to start writing. My 'map' is complete. It's time to use it to help me navigate my story.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for LISTS

     I come from a long line of list-makers. My mother keeps lists of her lists - 'cleaning', 'shopping', and 'work', for example. For every item I take off a list, I add two more. It's a genetic flaw, a disease, but it motivates my lazy self to stay the course. Lists are also handy tools for writing.
     Lists can be helpful for taking inventory of things you know but have forgotten. They can also generate ideas if your well seems to be drying out. As an exercise in brainstorming, take a topic, any topic. Mine will be Dogs for this example. Here are a few ideas I'm thinking about off the top of my head which could turn into articles, essays or stories:
  1. Therapy Dogs. Article on therapy dogs in the classroom. There is a lady in town who regularly brings her dog to our elementary school to sit with the kids while they read. 
  2. Maybe a first-person essay from a dog's POV on what it's like to live at a sanctuary, waiting to be adopted. 
  3. An article on the Bassett Waddle, a yearly parade in Dwight, IL where hundreds of Bassett hounds and their owners take to Main Street to celebrate Dwight's Harvest Days and promote Guardian Angel Bassett Rescue.
    By listing those three ideas, I've remembered a few related things which could also turn into separate projects: an article on dogs trained in disaster recovery I saved months ago (stashed in my idea file); the  woman who has hand-painted thousands of memorial markers for the graves at an animal cemetery; and a charity horse auction to benefit a home for troubled youth.
    Those six ideas could go in any direction. I could use the same idea for an essay, newspaper article, short story for a children's publication, a poem (if I had that talent), a picture book, even a novel if I really wanted to expand the idea. 
    Next time you find yourself thinking about future projects, write down a word you'd like to explore. You might be surprised with the ideas that list-making reveals. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for KAFFEEKLATSCH

     One of my earliest memories of my grandfather is sitting with him at his dining room table every morning for kaffeeklatsch. To my five-year-old-self, this summer ritual consisted of drinking coffee-flavored milk while hashing out our plans outside for the day. During the school year, our kaffeeklatsch went on hiatus.
    According to Robert Hendrickson's The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, the word kaffeeklatsch is used synonymously with 'coffee break'. Klatsch is German for 'good gossip or gabfest', one held over kaffee, or 'coffee'. I suspect my grandfather's German parents, aunts and uncles met regularly for kaffeeklatsch when he was a boy.
   These days the strength of my coffee has grown exponentially with my age and no one else in the house likes the stuff besides me. Though it's been over 40 years since I first heard the word kaffeeklatsch, it's amazing the memories this word brought back when I was looking for a 'k' word for today's post.
   What word do you remember your parents or grandparents using which reflects your heritage?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for JACK, JEZEBELLE, and JEFFREY


   My 'J' post this morning is in honor of the three porcine buddies I met last month when I volunteered at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. Jeffrey, Jezebelle, and Jack live in Piggy Paradise, their specially-designated digs on the sanctuary's grounds.

   Though I spent most of my volunteer hours with the dogs, I helped staff members one morning by making the pigs' breakfasts (lettuce, pellets, mixed veggies, cranberries, almonds), filling shiny metal pans. In all, I filled pans for about 20 pigs.
   Working with the pigs was a hoot! I was instructed to exercise one of them down the lane, carrying a plastic pail filled with dried fruit. Enticing him to move, even by baiting him with the fruit, was a challenge. He definitely had his own agenda.
    I never realized pigs were so smart. The staff said one pig in residence a while back wore a different-colored hair ribbon on her head each day of the week. If anyone dared give her the wrong color on the wrong day, she pitched a fit!
   Jack, Jezebelle, and Jeffrey were just plain adorable.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for IDEAS

    Here's the thing about ideas: when I'm deep into a project, the ideas materialize like popcorn. Not ideas about my project, mind you, but ideas for other things I should be writing. I wish I were more prolific, able to flesh them out before they fade away or become less interesting, but I'm a slow writer.  
     I love what Ray Bradbury has to say about ideas: 'If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed quickly, to trap them before they escape.'
    Along with reading, a writer benefits from experiences as well. Try new foods, visit out-of-the-way places (museums, national parks, country backroads instead of the interstate), or take a class in something out of your comfort level (bellydancing! hypnotherapy! medieval combat!). An idea for your next main character or setting may be as close as your morning newspaper or the community education catalog.
   Keep your eyes open and the pens and laptops ready!
     
    

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for HOPPING (BLOG-HOPPING, THAT IS!)

 
     Thanks to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I'm 'mind-bloggled' (a little blog humor there...okay, never mind) that there's so many of you out there!
     During this first week, I've discovered a new term - 'flash packing' (meaning 'affluent backpackers');  learned some Swedish to honor my ancestry at life is good, and vowed to teach myself to knit by watching YouTube videos at the suggestion of Pirate Knitting.
      What I find frustrating is the amount of blogs I like (you deserve kudos, people, for the fantastic content you're all churning out) and how to keep track of where to find them again. Just listing the blogs above took forever to find again so I could link back and mention their names. I couldn't even find one of them.
      Is there a more organized way to 'hop', to keep track of who you've visited and followed? This is relatively new to me, and that Linky list stretches for miles! Do you guys have a system?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for GOBBLEDYGOOK

     It's a great word, isn't it?
     I'll admit I was a bit stuck on 'G' for the Challenge. Then I remembered a handy book I have entitled, The Henry Holt Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Orgins, by Robert Hendrickson. Perfect!
     According to Hendrickson, here's how gobbledygook came into existence:
     'Gobbledygook means obscure, verbose, bureaucratic language characterized by circumlocution and jargon, and usually refers to the meaningless officialese turned out by government agencies. The late Representative Maury Maverick coined the term in 1944 when he was chairman of the Smaller War Plant Committee in Congress. Maverick attended a meeting, at which phrases such as 'cause an investigation to be made with a view to ascertaining' were rife. He wrote a memo condemning such officialese and labeled it gobbledygook, later explaining that he was thinking of the gobbling of turkeys while they strut pompously about.'
     I love that a politician compared his fellow politicians to turkeys!
     There are a few more letters for which I have yet to come up an idea. Maybe I'll be pulling Word Orgins out again soon...

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for FAVORITE FIRST LINES

That first line should blow your readers away!
     When I look for a book to read at the library or bookstore, the cover art and title always draw me in first.   Like many others, I'll read the jacket copy and, if it intrigues me, I move on to the first line.
     I've read through many books' first lines, looking at the different ways authors entice readers. When I went to a workshop taught by young adult author Richard Peck four years ago, he admitted to spending several hours each week at a Manhattan bookstore looking at first lines. 'You're only as good as your first line,' he said. So I spend a lot of time writing and rewriting mine.
    Here's a handful of some of my favorites (middle-grade and young adult):
    'My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.' - Kate DiCamillo, Because of Winn Dixie, 2000.
    'If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time for it.' - Richard Peck, The Teacher's Funeral, 2004.
    'I come from a family with a lot of dead people.' - Deborah Wiles, Each Little Bird That Sings, 2005.
    'Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.' - Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Does My Shirts, 2004.
    'Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day.' - Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, 2011.

     Tell me one of your favorites! It doesn't have to be from a children's title. Don't forget to leave the title and author's name, too.
     `

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for EXERCISE

     As a writer, I find it hard to fit in time to exercise. I'm home much of the day, working at the computer, but when I'm not, I fill my non-writing time with cleaning, shopping, the usual mundane things. Exercise, to me, is not fun. I count it as one of those mundane tasks of the lowest order - ironing, scrubbing the shower, weeding. You get the idea.
    Up until a couple years ago, I belonged to a health club. I enjoyed it for the most part, but driving fifteen miles to get to it ate up too much time and gas (I live in a rural area). I have since forced myself to walk two miles a few times a week around town. I also love to bike when the weather permits (since central Illinois didn't have a winter this year, biking season lasted longer than usual!), walk the dog, and do gardening/yard work.
     So even though I don't like exercise in the traditional sense, I try to stay active. I guess my 'fitness plan' works for me. Even with frequent stops at the pantry for munchies when I'm stuck on a scene, the exercise I do get seems to keep me at a healthy weight.
    How do you stay active when your job or hobby keeps you sedentary?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for DOG TOWN

     I love dogs.
     That was my main motivation for visiting Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, last week. When I filled out my volunteer application two months ago, working with the dogs was my main priority. Through the sanctuary newsletter and regular Facebook updates, I knew some of the stories behind the dogs. Some were rescued, some came from other shelters, and some were relinquished by their owners who had lost jobs. Whatever their situation, I couldn't wait to meet them in person.
Nectar smiling for the camera
     DogTown, as the sanctuary calls its dog area, is big enough to be a town. For one, it's 2.5 miles away from the Visitor's Center and stables. It's comprised of two areas, Dogtown Heights (for the younger, high energy-level dogs) and Old Dogtown (the mature dogs). DogTown has a total of 22 buildings, many of them yurt-style, each holding approximately 20-25 dogs. There is also a fitness center, a health clinic, and a separate Puppy Care Center. The buildings are surrounded by wide paths through the desert landscape, each marked for the dogs in a specific building.
     The dogs have full access inside the building and outside in their enclosures, which are yard-like with trees, rocks, dog houses, and high, jump-proofed chain-linked fences. In other words, the sanctuary folks have taken great care in the comfort of these animals.
     Some of them will be there the rest of their lives, because they are considered 'unadoptable'. Their previous lives left scars too deep for them to be rehabilitated. Take, for instance, Paladin, a regal German shepherd, who was tied up and used for target practice by his gun-toting owner and the guy's friends. While he has healed physically, Palladin doesn't trust people. The caregivers in DogTown, who work with him everyday, have helped him understand the world isn't as cruel as he first thought. Paladin has found his forever home at the sanctuary.
     If you want to look through the adoptable dogs at Best Friends, you can find them here. Notice that many of them are 'smiling', like Nectar in the picture above. That's because they know the sanctuary is one of the best places on Earth!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for CANYON

During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
     Last year my family and I hiked to the bottom of Grand Canyon. Carrying a 30-pound pack for four hours down rocky and hoof-pocked dirt trails takes a toll on the body but, man, was it worth it! Since my husband is a geologist, we enjoyed the added bonus of learning about nature's forces, how the river cut through the landscape to scour the rocks and expose millions of years of strata. 
     I bought a detailed map, a cross section of Grand Canyon. The different layers of sandstone, limestone and shale on the map are but a dull snapshot compared to the brilliant colors of the gorge when the sun spills over its cliff faces. Or how those colors look against the backdrop of a fresh snowfall and a brilliant blue sky like they did the morning we hiked out. Close-up you'll see the marine fossils like the crinoids and brachiopods. There are imprints of dragonfly wings and leaves, and the footprints of centipedes and scorpions. 
     That layering reminds me of a finely-crafted novel. On the surface, the plot, setting and characters make us want to take a closer look. The jacket copy and cover design sell us the story, promising excitement and intrigue. Only through reading do we discover the layers revealing motivations, character flaws, and revelations. The real story is in the details.
     

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for BEST FRIENDS ANIMAL SANCTUARY

During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
     My son and I regularly stop in at our local animal shelter, the Humane Society of Central Illinois, to walk dogs. At most, there are usually between 15-20 dogs in residence. In a separate wing, a couple dozen cats romp in two glass-enclosed rooms. Also, a few birds, guinea pigs, and rabbits share the Small Animal room. It’s a clean, welcoming atmosphere for the animals as well as for the volunteers and public who come to vist.
     So imagine the size and scope of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, in Kanab, Utah, as I give you these numbers: it’s home to 1700 dogs, cats, birds, pigs, horses, rabbits, and wild animals in rehabilitation; the sanctuary employs 300 people (and is the largest employer in town); it welcomes 2500 volunteers; and over 20,000 people visit per year. 
     Sprawled throughout the red and white-marbled walls of Angel Canyon, the sanctuary is a beautiful respite for abused, neglected, and unwanted animals, and a fantastic destination vacation for animal lovers looking to lend a hand for a day, week, or however long one’s schedule allows. For some volunteers, walking and socializing the animals is enough. What animals you wish to interact with and to what extent is up to you. Best Friends is just happy to have you there.
     My stay at Best Friends included shifts in Dog Town, Piggy Paradise and Rescue Village, which was home to hundreds of rabbits. In those areas, I cleaned pens, fed, and exercized the animals. On my last day, I signed up for a Puppy Socialization class, where eight of us helped introduce four Chihuahua-terrier puppies to new skills. 
     If this sounds ideal, you probably don’t need to hear the added incentive that the sanctuary is in the heart of Arizona’s and Utah’s spectacular National Parks, like Bryce and Zion Canyons, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Grand Canyon. They are all within a half-day drive. 
     Volunteering at Best Friends was a transforming experience. I’ll be blogging about it throughout the Challenge this month since there’s just too much to tell you right now. If you’d like more information about volunteering, visit www.bestfriends.org.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for ADVENTURE


During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
    Having hopped off Amtrak this afternoon, fresh from an adventure to the Southwest, I’m ready to embark on another. Starting today, I’m hoping to blog everyday during the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. 
     Isn’t writing all about adventure? I often start a new story, not knowing exactly where I’m going, trusting the process of getting it down first. Writing is reliving our experiences and seeing them in a different light. It’s about gathering all the people we’ve met into one big soup pot of characteristics - the physical, emotional, socio-economic, behavioral, etc. - and letting our imaginations build characters to tell our stories.
     Starting a new project is a wonderfully mysterious and exciting journey, one that fills me simultaneously with trepidation and anticipation. Looking forward to the blog challenge has had the same effect. Since beginning this blog last July, the number of times I’ve blogged in a month, at the most, has been eight times. Balancing manuscript writing with blog writing is a tightrope act, so upping the blog post output this month will definitely affect my other projects. I haven’t written the Challenge posts ahead of time, but I’ve tied as many loose ends together in the past few weeks as possible. Adventure doesn’t necessarily mean spontaniety, only that I be open to new experiences. 
     From J.R.R. Tolkien: "Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Looking forward to an adventurous April!
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