Friday, March 29, 2013

Eat, Write, Sleep, Repeat!

 

     Most of my family is enjoying Spring Break in sunny Florida. Me? I've had a busy week, too, which started with an 8-inch snowfall. It's also been filled with stripping wallpaper, spring cleaning, learning to crochet, and watching Walking Dead reruns at night (no wonder I haven't been sleeping well).
    But I've also been writing ALOT, of course! I've made great progress on a first draft and written a dozen blog posts for the A-to-Z Challenge which starts next Monday.
    That's 26 blog posts in April!
    And there are an incredible 1500 bloggers participating!
     Last year, I didn't plan ahead and spent each day writing that day's entry and searching for the letter graphic to accompany the post - waaaay too stressful! You can check out the list by clicking on the A to Z badge at the right.

     Hope to see you next week!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Five: What's Up


     I haven't done a Friday Five post in a long while. Maybe you're curious about what I've been up to writing-wise, maybe not.  Regardless, I'm listing them anyway since it gives me a good sense that my writing time is filled with more than just trips to the snack cabinet or scratching the dog's belly.
  • I've done it again and signed up for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I'm #663 on the list of over 1,100 and counting (yeah, I know, a MONSTROUSLY HUGE blog hop!). There's still time to get your name on the list. Click on the A to Z badge at the right to check it out. 
  • Spring Break starts today! A quick stop at Barnes & Noble yesterday (quick in terms of a bookstore visit anyway) yielded two books on writing: Natalie Goldberg's brand new The True Secret of Writing and The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. I'm especially excited to read True Secret because Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones is comparable to Ann Lamott's Bird By Bird, at least to me. I love how she weaves setting into her writing books. She's from New Mexico, one of my favorite places. 
  • Progress on the new manuscript is...is...progressing! After a few starts and stalls, it's finally flowing as it should be. Ended up with 3,000 words this week which were not even that embarrassingly bad for a first draft. And I hate first drafts, by the way. 
  • Over on Maggie Stiefvater's (Shiver, The Raven Boys)  blog, she's hosting a cool way to connect with writers who want to share their work via her 2013 Critique Partner Love Connection
  • Lastly, my dear friend Heather sent me this interview with author T.A. Barron, which made me smile and think, Yes, I totally get this. If you have a couple minutes to spare, check it out. 
    Happy writing! 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Within the Pages: The One and Only Ivan

 The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
Published by HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.

     I was reluctant to read this story the first time I picked it up. In the mood for something light-hearted, I read the jacket copy and decided I didn't want to immerse myself in an animal rights story. I eventually did read The One and Only Ivan and it has turned out to be my favorite middle-grade book since Because of Winn Dixie. It was my mistake for thinking it wasn't light-hearted. Katherine Applegate's charming cast of animal characters as well as Julia, the girl who helps Ivan help his elephant friend, Ruby, offer hope in the seemingly bleakest of situations. Here's what I loved about Ivan:

First, the summary of The One and Only Ivan from the HarperCollins website:


     Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
     Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Character Who Would Have Your Back: Ivan, of course. He like a patient, protective brother to his animal friends and keeps the promises he makes, no matter how impossible they seem to fulfill.

Character You Never Hope to Meet: Mack, owner of the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade and Ivan's keeper. You can't help but cheer for Ruby when she gets the best of him in one scene. If only Mac was on the receiving end of his own claw stick, but I think the animals would have been kinder to him had the roles been reversed.

Character Who Makes You Laugh and Want to Cry at the Same Time: Little Ruby. She's so naive and vulnerable and full of hope. And I loved her endless questioning, so like a toddler with a never-ending case of Why? Why? Why?

Character Who Could Lighten a Tense Situation: Bob the dog. A stray, Bob sneaks into Ivan's cage daily to impart his wry humor and street-wise smarts. He's perfectly comfortable sleeping on Ivan's belly at night and doesn't have any use for humans. Still, he's easy to love and his one-liners are classic.

Why I Read The One and Only Ivan: I had intended to read it when it first came out, but as soon as it started getting Newbery buzz, I held off. Every year I buy the Newbery winner and Honor books in hardcover so I waited until I could get my copies with the pretty gold seal on the cover. It's not likely I'll  find a book this year that I'll enjoy more than this one.

What are you reading now?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reading Like a Writer

     I have a thing for openings. And endings. Well, and transitions from time to time, and...
     Before I began writing fiction, seriously writing, I paid little attention to technique as I read. Every book I read, I read for pleasure.
     But when I started going to workshops, conferences, and classes and reading Writer's Digest, the SCBWI Bulletin, and blogs, blogs, blogs, the craft behind the stories became a little more interesting. While wondering what would happen next, I started paying attention to how the author kept me turning pages.
     Several years ago while on vacation, I took a paperback book that I love immensely, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, and marked the hell out of it with a highlighter. I underlined transitions between scenes, favorite end-of-chapter paragraphs, and how she described settings. Then I went through it again and noted how she introduced her characters, handled emotional conflict, and built suspense. There were other details I looked for, but I zeroed in on those examples in that particular book. It was a tedious exercise, but pretty enlightening.
     When I love a particular book, there are certain broad elements that always stand out to me. In the books I've read most recently, it was voice in The One and Only Ivan and Our Own May Amelia; the vivid settings in The Forest of Hands and Teeth and Divergent; and I loved the characterization and dialogue in The Fault in Our Stars and Wonder. 
     Each of those books would be at the mercy of my highlighter if I had the time to study each author's skill at writing those books. Too many other books to read and stories of my own to write keep me from repeating the 13 Little Blue Envelopes exercise, but I encourage you to try it. Being a writer means there's no end to learning how to be a better one, and what better teacher is there than a well-written book.

   


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