Thursday, March 29, 2012

Amtrak, Books & Canyons: ABCs of a Week on the Road

     Last time I checked in here, I was prepping for a trip. Well, I'm still gone and will return in time to post on the first day of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. As you can see from the title, I'm getting into ABC mode. I'm so looking forward to blogging everyday, and am anxious to see what so many of the participants have planned for their own blogs.
Angel Canyon, near Kanab, Utah
    My week has been filled with adventures (there's a hint for my first blog post on Sunday): riding the Southwest Chief to Flagstaff (a 29-hour train ride!), loading up on books at a local store before the peaceful drive up to Utah by myself, and finally arriving at the animal sanctuary where I've been the last few days. I have enough material to keep me writing for years.
    As I ready posts for the Challenge, I've gone back and forth on whether I need a theme. As a writer, I hope to focus on something writing-related each day. However, after being at this sanctuary and experiencing the tireless efforts of the staff and volunteers who give their time and talents to animal welfare, I'll also be writing a little about my stay at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.
     If you'll be visiting Here's the Story in April, I hope you'll enjoy the stories. After this week, I have many. See you on Sunday!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Have Manuscript, Will Travel

     I'm packing this week for a trip.
     Cold weather clothes, check.
     Hiking boots, check.
     Maps of northern Arizona, southern Utah, check.
     The trip will be a new experience for me; I won't have my family with me for much of it. Also, I won't be in true vacation mode since I'll be working at an animal sanctuary. But when I'm not walking dogs or cleaning cages, I'll be back in my rented room, working on a new manuscript.
     WIP, check.
     I'm not fooling myself this time. On previous trips, I've pack my laptop, notebooks (yes, multiple), writing pens, craft-related books and magazines, and the novel I was reading and another I hoped to read. After each of these trips, I came home to realize I haven't read those books. I haven't filled a fraction of pages I'd hope to with new writing. And my laptop was used more for Googling directions and making reservations than for crafting stories. The vacations were great, but not productive in terms of physical writing. My ambitions were too broad and unfocused.
     This time the expectations are simpler and more defined. Traveling with a manuscript means making a plan. I've found it hard to write new material when I'm away from home unless I give myself specific writing prompts to work on while I'm away. Here are a few examples of prompts I may work on:
  1. Write the scene where my MC meets her love interest for the first time.
  2. Describe the MC's style and her favorite outfit.
  3. Write a conversation the MC has with her best friend when she discovers she's been tricked.
  4. Write about an encounter the MC has with another passenger on the train.
     See what I mean?
     I'll also be collecting story props - brochures, post cards, train schedules, maps, etc - of things to help me visualize my characters and scenes. Back at home, these props sometimes offer more of a multi-dimensional sense of place than a journal entry. Last year I collected hand-painted notecards of the landscape, a menu from an historic hotel (a setting for my WIP), and a floor plan of a local art coop. How will these things help my story? Well, even if these details don't end up in the actual story, they trigger memories, the sights, smells, and sounds, of a particular place.
     This plan isn't overly-ambitious; it's broken into small , doable chunks. I'm pretty confident it will work for me.
     Writing plan, check.
     If you write while on vacation, how productive are you? What do you do to make the most of your writing time?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Busy Silence

     Either everyone is preparing posts for the Blogging from A to Z challenge, enjoying the Spring-y weather, or packing for the Bologna Book Fair. There's very few new posts this week; it's quiet out there, don't you think?
     Me, I'm winding down with revisions and hope to be finished by next week before I leave for a spring getaway to Arizona-Utah. I'm looking forward to revisiting the Flagstaff area after spending a week there last March. From Flagstaff, I'll be heading to Kanab, Utah to volunteer for a few days at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. My family discovered the sanctuary last year, tucked away in a side canyon north of town.
I'll be surrounded by dogs, cats, pigs, horses, and lots of smaller animals. I signed up to work mostly in Dog Town (cleaning, walking, giving belly rubs, but I'll help where I'm needed.
     If I can't find inspiration for a few stories there (or at least for some posts), I'm not a writer. Looking forward to the long, peaceful train ride out there, the scenery, and especially to meeting some new animal friends.
     Stay tuned...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Five Bits of Writing Randomness and Ten More Questions

     If you were to make a list of five writing-related bits of news, what would they be? Sometimes they roll right off my brain, other times...well, there's a reason why I haven't done a Friday Five post since early last month. But I have some now, so here goes:
  1. See that Blogging from A to Z badge to the right? That's what I'll be doing in a few weeks, posting every day in April (except Sundays). I've got a list of ideas, topics for each letter of the alphabet. Participants will be blogging every day a few sentences written down for a scattering of those ideas, but I have the feeling it will be pretty off-the-cuff. We'll see! Regardless, I'm looking forward to the challenge. And you can still sign up - just click on the badge and that will take you to the A-to-Z Challenge homepage. Already about 1,000 bloggers have signed up!
  2. My reading pile is dwindling. I just finished an excellent YA book, Muchacho, which was actually a free ARC I picked up at a recent workshop. Author Louann Johnson gave an excellent portrayal of a high school juvenile delinquent-wannabe-turned-poetry-writing-romeo who chooses the later path to impress the girl of his dreams.
  3. On the theme of authors whose last name is Johnson, I started Maureen Johnson's The Last Little Blue Envelope. This is the sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes, which I loved. Think Bridget Jones in a European travel documentary/love story!
  4. Buying Scrivener this weekend. I've heard it's a little tricky to learn, but I've also heard it helps in a BIG way with organization. Hoping to do away with my post board map of chapter summaries. Wish me luck!
  5. I've been tagged AGAIN, this time with some really fun questions from Nick Wilford (do stop by his blog and say 'hi'. He's a real friendly guy!) 
    So here are my answers to the latest round of questions:
    1. Who is your favorite character of all time and why? My favorite character AT THE MOMENT is Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. She's a great mixture of strength and vulnerability.
    2. When is your best time to write? I love to write in the morning when I'm well-rested and the day is full of possibility.
    3. What is the most underrated book of all time? Oooo, that's a tough one. I'm going with the Captain Underpants series.
    4. How would you feel if a book of yours was adapted into a massively successful film that far outstripped the popularity of your book? As long as I get a share of the profits, it's all good. 
    5. What is your favorite cartoon? As a child, it was Scooby Doo. These days Spongebob Squarepants makes me giggle. 
    6. What do you do when you get stuck writing? Something really mindless like iron, dust, or pull weeds.
    7. Toast, cereal or a full fat fry-up in the morning? Hot cereal, preferably with fresh strawberries or blueberries in it.
    8. How do you feel when someone else looks at your writing for the first time? I'm more self-conscious when my family reads my work than I am with a critique partner, editor, or anyone with writing ties. 
    9. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? I'm pretty happy in central Illinois for now.
    10. What is one thing you hope to achieve by the end of the year? Ideally, I like to sell one of my stories, but I'll settle for finishing another manuscript. 

    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    Of Writing and Mentors: No Need to Walk the Writing Path Alone

         Last month, my 13-year-old son earned his Life Scout rank and began work on his Eagle Scout project. Since first grade, he has tackled his merit badges, mastered his knots, and learned to cook over an open fire. He's hiked to the bottom of Grand Canyon, taken a 50-mile bike trip along the Mississippi River, and camped on Isle Royale in the Upper Peninsula.
         These milestones have been accomplished with dedication, patience, and perseverance. His success is also due to the mentors in his group, older scouts and troop leaders, who've encouraged him along the way. Without these 'cheerleaders', my son's path to Eagle would have been rocky at best.
         Like the challenges he's faced, any writer knows the path to publication is best conquered while keeping company with other like-minded people, and ideally, people with experience.
         When I started writing for children, I signed up for a week-long writer's conference. In one of my sessions, the instructor looked to one student in particular for input. Through the course of the week, I learned this woman recently had sold her first picture book. She'd been writing for five years and had sold stories to all the big children's magazines. She had been teaching writer workshops already and her first book wasn't even on the shelves! She oozed confidence.
         If my own self-esteem hadn't been lacking back then, I would have invited her to lunch. I would have asked her for advice. It appeared she had taken all the necessary steps and progressed steadily toward her goal of being an author. I wanted to know her secrets, but my timidness held me back.
         Months later, I found a local critique group made up of children's writers. Each of the six ladies were waaaay more experienced than me. Throughout our twice-monthly, two-hour meetings, we shared our stories, rejections, and acceptances. I listened. I learned. They took me under their wings.
         No matter how long you've been writing, you don't need to go it alone. The SCBWI website has ways to connect with other writers through its Discussion Boards. A similar resource is available at author Verla Kay's website; her forum is called the Message Boards. And I know I've seen fliers hanging at the local bookstore and coffee shops calling for writers to join a group.
        If you're in the beginning stages of writing, I can't encourage you enough to make connections. It can be a solitary path, writing. Don't let your lack of experience hold you back from reaching out to more experienced writers. We all began at the same starting line.
        Did someone guide you at some point during your writing career? How has this person helped you?
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