Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Light in the Darkest of Days

    The week following Christmas brings a new mood of anticipation. After closing the cookbooks, tossing the shopping lists, and sorting closets and drawers to make room for gifts, time regains its normal rhythm, if only for a short while. The short, grey days call for reading, reorganizing, and reflection.

     As 2014 approaches, I look forward to new challenges. My middle child will graduate and move away to begin college. My oldest will be planning her wedding. I look forward to teaching a writing class and self-publishing my first novel. Making a resolutions list seems overly ambitious when I think of what the year already has in store. With such a full plate, slowing down to enjoy the moment must take precedence over checking another item off the list. Maybe slowing down should be my solitary goal.

     Will your goals give you a sense of peace and accomplishment? Did you make a list of both short- and long-term goals? How many resolutions on your list are writing-related?

     I'm hoping the new year brings you much joy and fulfillment. Cheers, my friends!




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

First Drafts: When to Hold and When to Fold

     Not long ago I ditched a first draft despite reading herehere and especially here that it's a big no-no. Never, never look back before the first draft is done, they say. Push forward! Don't give up!
     I gave up. I didn't care what they said. That story was not ready to be told because a) I didn't brainstorm/outline/eatenoughchocolate before I sat down to write; b) a new idea seduced me and booted the first draft to the curb; c) I talked about it too soon, without fleshing out more details; or d) all of the above.
     Regardless of reasons, I'm 20,000+ words into a new first draft and I'm still in love with it. Each time I sit down to work, there's the same giddy anticipation I feel as when I know there's a sprinkle donut to eat with my morning coffee. I'm happy again. I'm not struggling with it. I'm having fun.
     So if I've been absent lately, now you know where I've been.
     Have you ever ditched a first draft for another writing project?


Monday, November 11, 2013

When A Seed of An Idea Grows into a Book

     Ideas come from a variety of places. What we read, where we go, who we interact with all come together into a eclectic alphabet soup of experiences. When we write, we draw from our own personal well of these experiences. This summer, nineteen lucky writers from the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles (CBW-LA) group attended a one-day workshop led by Nutschell Anne Windsor. Stories, essays, and poetry grew from these writing exercises, and were polished into pieces that became the group's very own anthology titled, Story Sprouts.
    Edited by Nutschell Anne Windsor and Alana Garrigues, the anthology is a mixture of writing exercises and tips, poetry, flash fiction, picture book-length fiction, and essays. Each writer submitted two pieces: one piece on a writing-related topic, and the other as an essay, poem, flash fiction or picture book piece of their choosing. Windsor and Garrigues agreed to tell me a little more about how a day of writing turned into a book-length project:

So Story Sprouts grew from the exercises presented at a one-day workshop. Can you tell me more about that? 

Alana: Absolutely! So, Story Sprouts grew from the exercises presented at a one-day workshop, but for our authors, their entire contribution (two pieces per author) was written and revised, start to finish, during a six-hour workshop. 

Nutschell: I had previously facilitated creative writing workshops for CBW-LA in order to give our members a chance to improve their writing skills. The exercises were designed to spark their creative minds, and also to hone their use of the language. Participants enjoyed the workshop, saying the exercises rejuvenated their love for writing and inspired them to come up with their own pieces afterward. I thought I would take this challenge to the next level and allow our members not only to let their creative muses run free and improve their writing skills, but also give them the chance to earn some publishing credits. 

Did the participants go into the workshop with the idea that their work would eventually be published in an anthology?

Alana: Yes. The workshop was publicized as a single Writing Day complete with exercises (and food!) in which all participants would produce two pieces for publication. They knew their pieces would be edited to produce a quality anthology. We asked people not to come with ideas about what they would write and allow the exercises to guide them, which was challenging for some. But, we wanted the pieces to be created in the moment. Partially because it is so honest and raw and beautiful and partially because we know that our best work should be saved for our own personal publishing glory. We didn't want people to bring their manuscripts that they've been writing and editing for months - we wanted to give them some time away from their "babies" to revisit the passion of new story ideas. 

Nutschell: The workshop’s main goal was to give our members their first taste of publication.  First time writers often dread writing queries because they feel that they lack the credentials to make their author bios stand out. Some writers even shy away from identifying themselves as writers because they lack confidence in their abilities. Through this workshop, participants not only gained publishing credits, but the confidence to pursue their writing careers with vigor and determination. Story Sprouts is the first of their many achievements –something that will inspire them to keep on reaching for their writing dreams. 

How did the revision process work for the stories? 

Alana: During the workshop, authors went through a voice revision and a point-of-view revision for their second piece. Once they settled on the right voice and POV for their pieces, they had an hour to revise and submit. Nutschell can share more about the revision process for the morning piece, which started as a free write and ended as a piece of poetry or prose "On Writing." 
      After the workshop, I did both content and copy editing for all pieces. I paid very close attention to the author's voice and the essence of the story, but I did some structural changes here and there - moving a paragraph or two around or adding subheadings, and tightened some stories up. The pieces were very strong - we are fortunate to have extremely talented and diverse writers - but of course there were areas to edit, especially after only working on a piece for such a short time. I hope that all of the authors feel the edits improved their pieces.
     Once I was done, I sent it to Erin Elizabeth Long with Biblio/Tech and she did a final copy edit. She also looked at the structure of the anthology as a whole to make sure it flowed between exercise, narrative and submission.
     Then it was off to the book formatter and uploaded to print! Surprisingly (for me), there are still some tiny typos in the manuscript. I've definitely learned that nothing works to catch a typo better than sitting with a printed copy of the book in hand. Computers and print-outs just don't quite cut it! (Can I admit that?)

Nutschell:  The “On Writing” pieces were born out of a guided freewriting exercise. Participants focused on the question “how do you feel about writing?” and used it as a guide to write continuously for a few minutes. Afterwards, I asked participants to read through what they had written, and to underline words or phrases that call out to them—either because of their beautiful sound, or because of the meaning they impart. Choosing one of the short literary forms (poetry, flash fiction, essay) participants then used these words/phrases to come up with their first piece on writing. In the second half of the workshop, participants were given writing prompts to spark story ideas. Writing exercises on Point of View and Voice helped them figure out the best format for these Story Sparker pieces. They were given an hour to review and revise both On Writing and Story Sparker pieces before submitting them at the end of the workshop.  

What was the timeline from idea for Story Sprouts to the final product?

Nutschell: The seeds of the Writing Day workshop came out of a board meeting on October 27th, 2012, when we were discussing possible fundraising activities.  Tiffani suggested a Write In day, in which we got all members together in one room to just sit down and write. Lucy and Angie jumped in with suggestions on how to make the Write In day more fun—with activities ranging from games to massage tables! Alana suggested creating an anthology that would feature works by members. I suggested tying the anthology in to a creative writing workshop, much like the ones we previously had, so that members who attended the workshop could have their work published in the anthology as well. Somehow all of these suggestions got combined together and in January of this year, we decided to host the Writing Day Anthology Workshop. 
The workshop was held on June 22nd, 2013 and four months later Story Sprouts was born.

AlanaNutschell and I then took about four months to publish the book. One of the CBW-LA board members, Tiffani, transcribed the entries written by hand into .doc form, while I edited the submissions for grammar and (some minor) content and wrote the narrative surrounding the anthology pieces. Nutschell, who had organized the workshop, threw herself full-throttle into the business side of things, securing the ISBNs, managing the publishing timeline, contacting our book formatter and making sure we dotted all our i's and crossed all our t's with the cover design, blurb, copy edit, and so many minute details! 

How will you be using the profits from the book? 

Alana: Well, interesting thing about publishing ... it costs money! We went into this looking at it as a fundraiser, but everything costs money, from the ISBN to the professionals who design and format the book. So, we'll first use profits to pull ourselves out of the red on the project, and then all of the money will be reinvested in the club. We have monthly fees for website hosting and Meetup.com membership, and we don't have our own facilities, so we pay to meet at a local library or meeting room every time we host an event. This will help pay for those expenses, plus some marketing and promotional material.
If we do end up making a profit, it will all go into improving and expanding our programs!

I can see other writer's groups being very enthusiastic about putting together something similar to Story Sprouts. Do you have any advice? 

Nutschell: Do your research on independent publishing and make a plan. And work as a unified team. This anthology was born out of many meetings and thousands of emails between board members. Be open to suggestions and be prepared for surprises along the way. 

Alana: This was a WONDERFUL project. It was a true team effort and a labor of love. My advice would be to have fun with it, and decide from the start who will be responsible for what. You also want to figure out who your market is. If the focus is on a group project, you could probably put together a nice PDF file and share with the group and save on a lot of costs. If the focus is on both creating an education and support handbook for writers and promoting your authors, sit down and make a budget. And make sure you utilize all of your volunteers' talents!  All five of us on the board have our own unique talents - Nutschell is a visionary who is ridiculously organized and efficient. I am full of ideas, a decisive editor, and a strong nonfiction writer. Angie is a genius at soliciting community and business support. Tiffani and Lucy encourage us to look at ideas from several angles, and know how to prepare a party like no other! We knew that anytime we needed an errand or a task completed, Angie, Tiffani and Lucy would be there in an instant, allowing Nutschell and I to focus on the writing details and the bigger picture.
     Anyone interested in doing something similar is welcome to first look through the book, and then get in touch with us. I think a lot of the format and information can be gleaned from reading the book, but we would be happy to talk to people about our experience! And - we're also happy to come visit your group if you're in the L.A. area and talk about the book and the Writing Day workshop!

Finally, you held your launch for Story Sprouts two weekends ago in LA. How did you celebrate?

Alana: We had a party! A "launch" party at the airport. (Get it?!) Lots of food, mocktails named for our favorite authors.

Nutschell: We also invited past speakers who facilitated this year’s workshops for CBW-LA, along with family and friends. Everyone had the chance to pile their plates up with delicious food, and to make their own mocktails. We also created a program to celebrate our authors’ achievements. We presented each newly published author with a certificate, asked them to sign a big Story Sprouts poster and to sign many book copies, in their first ever book signing session. There were many awesome giveaways (like a $75 salon gift basket, gift cards from Olive Garden, etc) thanks to Angie’s solicitation powers, and almost everyone went home with something. We ended our program by cutting a yummy Story Sprouts cake and lifting our (plastic) wineglasses in a toast to this year’s achievements and to future achievements. 

Congratulations, ladies! It sounds like CBW-LA had a wonderful experience publishing Story Sprouts. Tell us where we can find a copy. 

Alana: Right now it's only available on Amazon for print and Kindle. We do have an .epub version ready to go, but we're testing the waters with the Kindle Select program for a few months before we jump on the iBook bandwagon. Then we'll see what works best. We will try to get the book into some local bookstores as well!

Nutschell:  And of course members and anyone attending our workshops also have the opportunity to buy the books from us directly at our events. 

Alana: I would just add that this is the first of an annual tradition. Our next Writing Day Anthology Workshop is slated for May 2014, and we'd love as much participation as possible! 

Alana and Nutschell, thanks so much for sharing the truly inspiring process of creating Story Sprouts! I loved learning about your experience, and I'm sure writing groups all over will enjoy this innovative approach to supporting and celebrating our fellow writers as well. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ready, Set…Write!

   Some of you started the day early, geared up for NaNoWriMo, fingers itching, and ready to write. I'm already a little more than 700 words into the day, but taking a short break to announce the winner of the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, so:

Congratulations, Megan McGowan Parsons!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

On the Eve Before...

   Sugar-crazed activity here today amid NaNoWriMo-prepping, getting the porch ready for trick-or-treaters, and going through the piles on my desk.
     A few things Nano-related: if you like all of the side distractions that go along with committing yourself to a chair and screen for the next 30 days, you'll like what I've found. A calendar with a quote or prompt, and that word-count earmark built into every day of November. Also, see Laini Taylor's 'Calendar of Cuteness for extra incentive ideas if coffee and chocolate don't do it for you. And thank you, thank you, Gypsy Karla for finding that prompt jar link for me the other day. If you get stuck anytime in the next month, having one of these next to your laptop might help shake things loose.
     There is still time left to enter the Spooktacular Giveaway; today's the last day.
     Oh, and Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Are You Ready for NaNoWriMo?

     This morning I visited my usual blogs and then ended up at the National Novel Writing Month site. While updating my profile, I saw a related link about a writer who keeps a jar of popsicle stick prompts next to her computer. Each stick posed a question for your character (s). They were great questions to think/write about if you stall at any time during November. I thought I copied the link, but then I copied something else and LOST IT! So if anyone comes across my missing popsicle stick prompt jar article, please forward!
     Since I mentioned the NaNoWriMo profile, does anyone else hesitate to give the title and synopsis of their intended project before you even begin? Sure, I have ideas but they're little inklings of ideas. To me, it's almost like inviting a terminal case of writer's block into my head if I were to commit to a title and summary of a project before it even began. I'm leaving both areas blank for now.
     If you need an inspirational phrase or motto for the month, visit Enchanted Inkpot for a selection of wise words. My favorite: 'When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt.' Henry J. Kaiser
     Also, the Spooktacular Giveaway is winding down. The last day to enter giveaways at the participating blogs is Thursday, October 31st. Click on the Spooktacular link in the right sidebar to go to the full list of blogs.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Off Days

     Yesterday was an 'off day'.
     Everything I wrote sounded stilted. But it happens. When the creative well runs dry, it's not permanent. There's just a little hiccup in the process.
     I sat at the computer for an hour, powering through my initial word count before I got up. Then I tossed a load in the washer. Folded what was in the dryer. Parked myself in the chair again and type, type, type.
     That half hour produced some of the most uninspiring prose ever written. It was almost as bad as the first hour. The words were so off I was surprised the delete key didn't take control of the whole mess.
     During the summer of 2007, our family took a trip to the Southwest. Our ultimate destination was Albuquerque, where our boys would happily sweat their guts out during a four-day football camp organized by Brian Urlacher, now-retired linebacker for the Chicago Bears.
It's almost practice time. First-aid tent ready and waiting
On the first day of camp, our youngest complained his head hurt. He was the first one to sit (in the shade!) in the first-aid tent. He parked himself in a folding chair, drinking Gatorade and mopping his forehead. Minutes later, Mr. Urlacher walked over.
     "What's wrong with you?" he asked.
     Our son rubbed his forehead and related the problem.
     Mr. Urlacher patted his shoulder. "Take two Tylenol and get back out there."
     I thought of that day as I sat down yesterday for the third attempt at writing something usable. Again, the muses were not being kind. I was convinced that they took the day off. After lunch, I took the day off from writing as well. I knew I'd be back at the desk this morning. And I am.
     Sometimes half the battle is just showing up.
    Take two Tylenol and get back out there.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bookshelf Dilemma

 You've probably seen the t-shirt, maybe in one of those museum store catalogs mailed around the holidays. It reads:
This is what FULL looks like!
      There’s no such thing as too many books.
     The first time I saw one I thought, Yeah, right. 
     Whoever came up with that lived in a library.
     With enough money in the budget to build an additional wing. 
For the past few years, I've steadily gained more books
than I've given up. To anyone who doesn't
love books, this is not a problem. So give some away, they
say. What's the big deal? 
Ohhh, but they have no idea the seriousness of that
notion, do they? Give some away like it's as
simple as recycling the morning newspaper? I want NEED
them all.
As if nine bookshelves isn't enough, I've come to realize
it's time to add another. They are full.
Books lie horizontally on top of the vertical ones. And
they're two rows deep in spots, hiding the titles
behind them.
So I've embarked on a desperate attempt to convert an old oak entertainment center into a bookshelf.The lightbulb
moment came as I moved said entertainment center into the catch-all room which is the
stopping point before it (eventually) makes it out to the curb. The piece owns a new coat of stain and
sealer, and awaits my husband to cut and install two extra shelves. But he'd better hurry: three books
made their way home with me last night after a Barnes and Noble stop. And the release of four books
later this month will need room, too.
Full shelves are good for the publishing industry, mind you. I feel no guilt. 

      And speaking of bookshelves, The Bookshelf Muse (one of the best writer sites EVER!), has moved to a new location on the web and is now Writers Helping Writers. Site overseers extraordinaires Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus and the soon-to-be released Positive Trait Thesaurus: a Writer's Guide to Character Attributes and its companion, The Negative Trait Thesaurus: a Writer's Guide to Character Flaws, want to assure writers that the Bookshelf Muse 'is not going away! It's just moved over to a different corner of the internet.' 
     Their two new books release October 21st. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Giveaway Time!

     First, thanks to I Am a Reader, Not a Writer for sponsoring the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop this month. It runs Oct. 15-31, and almost 400 blogs are giving away books, gift certificates and other prizes! Check out the LinkyList below the Rafflecopter entry form.
     Since one of my new favorite author's is Kendare Blake, I'm giving away a paperback copy of her paranormal title, ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD (loved this book)! And if you enjoy it as much as I did after reading it, I'm also throwing in a $15 Barnes and Noble gift card so you can buy her second book in the series, GIRL OF NIGHTMARES.
     Thanks for stopping by! a Rafflecopter giveaway


Friday, October 11, 2013

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

It's not too late to sign up for this gigantic hop, my friends!
 There are nearly 400 bloggers giving away gift cards and books - how can you pass on that?
 Visit I Am A Reader Not a Writer by October 13th to get on the list!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Keeping Up with Trends, First Drafts and Stephen King

       Our local writer's group met last week and talked about new releases for the fall, from picture books to young adult. Katrina Pollitt, children's department outreach coordinator for the Normal Public Library offered a stellar presentation. She brought stacks of books, summarizing each one and noting the trends she's seeing in books for fall 2013. While it's easy to spot popular themes in young adult by the covers, it's not as obvious in picture books and middle grade. After a good two hours, we were an enlightened bunch!
        So I'm still (still!) working on a first draft and it's giving me headaches. To date, I've deleted more words than written, added characters then told them to get lost days later, and made more fruitless attempts to outline because it SHOULD be easier to work with a plan, right? Then I came across Karen Woodward's post today of a Stephen King interview which appeared in The Paris Review. I should have remembered that he doesn't outline after reading On Writing but it slipped my mind. So for today, I'm content to call myself a pantster and know that I'm in good company.
     And two other recent posts which spoke to me:
     I loved this post by Donald Maass last week at Writer Unboxed. While he reflects on his personal journey mid-life, he offers some questions you should be asking of your protagonist while you write his or her story.
     Since I sometimes struggle to sum up my latest project in the most eloquent way possible, Rachel Gardner's post on How to Pitch was on my radar yesterday.
                                                                                                         Happy writing!

Friday, August 9, 2013

He Said/She Said: Writing Seriously Good Dialogue

I'm on a blog break this month. Please enjoy these fantastic links to posts and articles for help in writing dialogue.

9 Steps to Writing Dialogue with Rich Subtext http://chasharrisfootloose.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/dialogue-with-subtext/


An award-winning screenwriter on writing dialogue http://www.fastcocreate.com/1682092/oscar-winner-william-monahan-on-how-to-write-unforgettable-dialogue (My fav link here!)

Writing Dialogue Specifically for Children http://www.ellenjackson.net/dialogue_61473.htm

On Using Dialogue Tags http://www.scribophile.com/academy/he-said-she-said-dialog-tags-and-using-them-effectively

5 Tips for Writing Dialogue http://nybookeditors.com/book-editing-copy-editing-proofreading-self-publishing-blog/2013/7/16/dialogue#sthash.1SkPUiIV.dpbs

Helpful Books on Writing Dialogue
Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin
Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress
The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

Friday, August 2, 2013

Developing Characters: Blog Break Series

     I'm on a blog break this month. Please enjoy these fantastic links to posts and articles for help in developing the characters who populate your stories. If you think of it, leave a note about the link you found especially helpful and why.
     Happy Writing!

Helpful Books on Character Development
Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin
Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress
The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Slowing Down

     So according to the newspaper sales fliers, August starts the official Dog Days of Summer.
     Soon versions of this late summer sentiment will show up on the back-to-school sales ads — 'Dog Days of Summer Sale' with captions like 'Hot Buys' and 'Sizzling Savings'. Until now, I've been ignorant as to exactly what are Dog Days. So after a quick research trip to Google, I found where that term originated:
        'The Romans referred to the dog days as dies caniculares and associated the hot weather with the star Sirius. They named Sirius the "Dog Star" since it was the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). It's also the brightest star in the night sky. The term was also used earlier by the Greeks, as referenced in Aristotle's Physics.
        Dog Days were thought to be an evil time when 'the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures grew languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies," according to Brady's Clavis Calendaria, 1813.
       Madness, fevers, and hysterics? Yes, I can relate. This happens to me when the temperature gets above 90.
       August is a busy time, too. School starts. The cogs in the publishing world turn a little faster. For me, it's a good chance to stay indoors and finish the project I've been working on all summer. With that, I'm taking a blog break until Sept. 1st. Instead of regular posts, the next five Fridays will feature a themed post with links to some of my favorite articles on writing. I'll be linking to posts on Developing Characters this Friday, August 2nd.
        Stay cool and see you in September!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Setting as a Living Thing

     I love this photo. It's a visual summary of what every great setting should have: depth, mood, and a story of its own.
     We road-tripped through the country one evening after dinner to this spot, to this barely-there cemetery at the end of a dusty, white gravel road, hidden amongst a grove of old-growth oaks and maples. Some of the markers had been eaten away by the elements and the encroaching trees and shrubs. If you looked into the woods at the perimeter, you'd see more gravestones here and there, ones that hadn't been swallowed by ground cover and rotting timber. It was dark in those woods. Coupled with an eerie quiet, the place seemed ageless and a bit chill-inducing in the approaching dusk.
     In The Fire in Fiction, author Donald Maass writes, "It is the combination of setting details and the emotions attached to them that, together, make a place a living thing."
     Leaving the cemetery, we drove to the next town over to get ice cream. Even while we sat outside on the cement tables and enjoyed our root beer floats, my thoughts returned to the graves and the shadowy woods, and the feelings associated with that lonely, quiet spot among the trees. I look at this picture now and I can easily recall those same emotions one year later. As Maass suggests, bringing real-life experiences to the fictional worlds we create help them come alive.


Monday, July 15, 2013

A Week in the Woods Revisited

   I'm back from northern Minnesota, having spent last week there writing, reading, hiking and loving the sights and sounds of the north shore of Lake Superior. It's beautiful country, made all the more special by the peaceful cabin the woods where we stayed with our gracious hosts, John and Erica.
     Since I've been gone, I haven't yet announced who won the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop that ended last week. The winner is:

Jennifer Mathis

    Thanks to everyone who entered. If you've followed me by GFC or Twitter, I look forward to catching up with you in the next few days.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Whatcha Reading?

   I'm packing a ridiculous amount of books to read while on vacation next week, more than I can get through even if I were reading half the day away. And there's so many I've been saving for this point in the summer that now I can't choose! Hardly a life-or-death decision, but my bag begs for me to show it some mercy.
     There's Save the Cat by Blake Synder, which I'm halfway done with now (highly recommended for structure-challenged writers!). Also, Marcelo in the Real World; The Best of Edward Abbey; Following Atticus; Men and Dogs; and May B, by Caroline Starr Rose.
     See? Ridiculous.
     What are you reading?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Within the Pages: Destiny Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Destiny, Rewritten
by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Published by Katherine Tegen Books,
 imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

     I knew I'd like this book even before I opened it. What book-crazy kid-turned-grown-up, who spent much of his or her childhood roaming the aisles of libraries and bookstores wearing this same look of wonder wouldn't adore this cover? And the back cover sums the cover art perfectly: 'Possibilities, everywhere. It was exactly the kind of place you never wanted to leave.' Cover art aside, Destiny, Rewritten is a charming addition to the middle-grade market. This book makes me want to find my very own volume of Emily Dickinson's poems in a used book store and fill it with personal commentary and anecdotes. Read on to find out more about why you should read Destiny, Rewritten:

     First, the summary from HarperCollins's website: 

     'Eleven-year-old Emily Elizabeth Davis has been told for her entire life that her destiny is to become a poet, just like her famous namesake, Emily Dickinson. But Emily doesn't even really like poetry, and she has a secret career ambition that she suspects her English-professor mother will frown on. Then, just after discovering that it contains an important family secret, she loses the special volume of Emily Dickinson's poetry that was given to her at birth. As Emily and her friends search for the lost book in used bookstores and thrift shops all across town, Emily's understanding of destiny begins to unravel and then rewrite itself in a marvelous new way.'

Character Who Would Have Your Back: Emily, of course. She makes things happen, even if it means embracing acts of deliberate randomness (like sleeping on her left side instead of her right, stepping on sidewalk cracks, etc.) to change the course of her destiny. She's forgiving, too. When someone alters her prized book, it doesn't take her long to admit it was meant to be.

Character Who Makes a Great Sidekick: Emily's best friend, Wavy. She's loyal, smart and doesn't think twice about engaging in the risky business of skipping school when Emily needs her most. And some of the instances when she and Emily add to each other's sentences, creating crazy scenarios in the uncanny way that best friends can, well, they're some of the best parts in the book. 

Character Who's A Tad Annoying Yet Lovable: Emily's live-in cousin, Mortie. When he's not helping Emily and Wavy navigate their way between bookstores, he's nose-deep in his spy book. He's the tag-along little brother type with a good sense of direction and soft spot for stray dogs. 

Why I Read Destiny, Rewritten: Last fall, I went to the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference where editor Molly O'Neill mentioned this book. Since then, there had been much blog buzz about Destiny so I picked it up shortly after its release. I'm so happy I did!

What are you reading now?

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Summer of Staying Focused (or Thinking Positive): A Friday Five

   Three weeks into summer vacation and I'm not complaining yet about being unproductive - a record! Several projects have been keeping me busy:
  • Bookhounds is hosting the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop from July 2-9. I love Bookhounds because 1) they review many great books; and 2) the description under their blog title reads 'Books, Gardens, & Dogs, three of my favorite things. There is still time to sign up if you want to participate. 
  • Submitted an essay for an anthology. Fingers crossed!
  • Read the funniest essay this week by YA author Libba Bray on her woes of crafting a manuscript. It's long but worth it in advice and chuckles. 
  • I'm s-l-o-w-l-y making progress on the rough draft. Today I wrote almost 1,800 words at warp speed, but upon reading it at day's end, decided it was GARBAGE and deleted almost half. Maybe tomorrow...
  • Happy Summer Solstice! Why not celebrate with a just-released copy of Solstice by YA author P.J. Hoover
    Have a great weekend!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Snapshot Bios: Monday Mini Challenge #5

Faces and snapshot bios of some famous criminals
 incarcerated at Alcatraz. Hopefully your characters will be
more law-abiding than these guys! 
     As I work on the rough draft for this middle grade novel, I'm filling in character worksheets as I go. Some of the characters seem fairly well-rounded for this early stage, others not so much. These personality-deficit characters take a little more muscle to flesh out.
     To get started, I like Darcy Pattison's blog post on Fiction Notes. I sometimes use her strategy to begin, writing my character's description as a simile. From there, I'm looking at one of my favorite craft books, Creating Characters Kids Will Love, by Elaine Marie Alphin. She suggests interviewing the character and gives two pages of sample questions. Years ago, I went to a workshop given by Richard Peck. He shared that he writes a first-person poem about all of his characters to get started.
     There are a bazillion exercises to help develop characters. Can you write a simile about one of your characters following Pattison's advice?  About about interviewing one of them? Better yet, have your character write you a pen pal letter, introducing him or herself.
   You have five minutes.
   Ready, set, GO!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Saying Yes: Five Ways to Boost Your Writing Life

     Last year I wrote a post about the word 'No' and the value of turning down obligations that get in the way of writing. I'm as guilty as anyone of filling up the calendar, chipping away at the time I could spend writing. But I've also discovered a few things which lift me up when my writing life doesn't feel in sync.  
  • Connecting with other book people in person. Sure we're online all the time, blogging, interacting on listserves, tweeting and commenting on Facebook, but how often do we get face time with our critique partners, librarians, or maybe writers/poets at live readings? We are so often alone while we write that meeting people, especially like-minded people, gives us an encouraging boost. If you live in an area far from opportunities to meet people in-person, set up a Skype/Facetime date with a critique partner. And do take advantage of one-day workshops and writing conferences. If you've never attended an event with dozens or hundreds of book-loving people, you don't know what you're missing!
  • Try a new activity. Even when you're not actively writing — surprise! — you actually are. Okay, so taking an extended weekend to shop the outlet mall in the next state over is not the best use of your non-writing time. And I'm not suggesting signing up for a month of community ed classes on creating with paper mache. But if it interests you, go for it, especially if one of your characters runs a homemade pinata business. Being serious now: the point is, new experiences open up the world for your characters, too, helping you to make them three-dimensional with passions and interests all their own.
  • Exercise. A healthy body equals a healthy mind. 'A sound mind in a sound body is a short but full description of a happy state in this world.' - John Locke, English philosopher. 
  • Set Weekly and Monthly Goals. Are you making steady progress on your writing? Do you have off days (like everyone else)? By making weekly and monthly goals, you can see at a glance what you've accomplished. I set goals in three areas each month: reading (number of books), writing (by tracking word count), and business/social media (blog posting, contests, etc.). Then I break these goals down even further into weekly goals. If I don't make a mini-goal during the week, so what? I have three more weeks to pull it off. The pressure is minimal and tracking your accomplishments help keep the morale up. 
  • Help Someone Else. Remember when you were a beginning writer? You had endless questions about craft, goals, the industry? Guess what, someone else is at that point right this very minute. There's been several people who've helped me from the beginning. Early on, I promised myself that I'd return the favor to someone else someday. The pluses of mentoring someone is two-fold: someone benefits from your expertise nd helping someone else can lift your spirits. 

Happy Writing!


Friday, June 7, 2013

Outlining, Schmoutlining

     I like winging it.
     A manuscript would take much less time to produce if I had a blueprint before I started writing. But really, it's wishful thinking.
     Aside from a few pages of vague notes, my characters perform better if I don't boss them around in the rough draft stage. I've told them an outline would help. They don't care. But I'll keep trying, and when I see a different method for outlining, I take notice.
     I found an interesting exercise for outlining the other day over at Teaching Authors. This exercise was conceived by Alicia Rasley, but was brought to my attention by TA contributor Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford. Thank you, Jeanne Marie!
     In "Outline Your Novel in 30 Minutes", Rasley suggests you set a timer and answer a set of nine questions, allowing yourself three minutes for each question. Touching on plot points and character motivations, the questions allow you to respond quickly without becoming bogged down with the details. Honestly, it may take you more time to read the article and prepare yourself mentally than the actual exercise.
     I can see this exercise as a useful tool to use a few times in the early stages of writing. I'll be trying it for the first time today as a warm-up. Try as they may, my characters won't be able to stop me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Change of Seasons: Shifting a Character's World View

     Change is on my mind a lot lately.
     My middle child will be a senior next year, and our youngest is only two short years behind him. Suddenly the house seems too big and too quiet much too often. Where once I looked forward to getting out for peace and quiet, some 'me time', I now find I'm here alone more than I want to be. I'm thinking about 'me time' in a different context now. When the kids were small, time was scarce. Now it can be a great expanse.
     Change is inevitable.
     I'm struggling with a character in my work-in-progress. I worry that she isn't changing enough throughout the course of the manuscript. Or that the scene when she realizes she needs to adopt a different world view isn't strong enough. Yet I can't be TOO obvious or I risk sounding like I don't trust the reader to figure it out on her own. After finishing Donald Maass's The Fire in Fiction, I'm rereading (and highlighting like crazy) parts on inner turning points and measuring change over time. It's a fantastic guide if you struggle with showing emotional conflict like I do.
     Change is hard.
     Last night I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Great movie! The book, by author Stephen Chbosky, was even better (in my opinion) in the way that words sometimes pack a bigger emotional punch than images. There is a scene in the book when one of the characters wrestles with change:

     'It's much easier to not know things sometimes. Things change and friends leave. And life doesn't stop for anybody. I wanted to laugh. Or maybe get mad. Or maybe shrug at how strange everybody was, especially me. I think the idea is that every person has to live for his or her own life and than make the choice to share it with other people. You can't just sit there and put everybody's lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can't. You have to do things. I'm going to do what I want to do. I'm going to be who I really am. And I'm going to figure out what that is.'  

     Change is empowering.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Transitions and 'Making Good Art'

     It's that time of year for ceremonies, newspaper photos of graduates in caps and gowns, and the parties. Of course, the parties. I can't help but think of Neil Gaiman's  commencement address from last year which he gave to the graduating class at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He urged each one of those students to follow their passion, to not follow the rules, and to 'make good art'. I wish I could have heard this message at eighteen and about to head off to college to study journalism. Whatever impact it might have had, it's one I wouldn't have forgotten.
     A friend told me recently about a man she'd sat next to on a train, a twenty-five-year-old stock broker who had majored in business at the insistence of his parents. He was unhappy, recently divorced, and hated, hated his job. He openly wished he worked in a more creative field, one in which he could fulfill his desire to 'make something'.
    That man's elusive something is what Gaiman's speech encompassed. It's a great motivator if you need one, and it makes me feel thankful that I'm a writer. It's not too late for that young guy to follow his passion. It's never too late to 'make good art.'

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for ZONE

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've been in a blog post-writing mindset for each of the last 30 days at least.
     Blogging daily is hard, people! But I loved it -, loved meeting new people and favorite new blogs. But now it's time to switch focus, get back to a work-in-progress that stalled in mid-March (thus the Challenge came at a good time), and find long stretches of writing time again. I look forward to working in another kind of ZONE, a single-mindedness dedicated to one manuscript, a set of characters, a setting that I'm slowly growing familiar with. As with all first drafts, it's been a series of stops and starts; I'm anxious to finish it so I have something to start fixing (I'm much better at fixing than creating!). 
     Thank you to everyone who stopped by this month during the Challenge! 
                                                                                              Happy writing!

Monday, April 29, 2013


       Once in awhile, I'm invited by our school district to come into a class and talk about writing. Last spring, it was an organization at the high school hosting a career dar. My day involved giving the same talk to five rotating groups. I'm not a natural at public speaking, but get me talking about writing to students and I'd bore them to sleep if I wasn't given a time limit.
     I could tell some kids in the audience would rather have been back in their classrooms, heads bent over their books, pretending to read, and instead catching a few zzzz's before the bell rang for the next period. But others listened, bright-eyed and leaning forward in their seats. Seeing them, I knew if they weren't already writing their own stories, they would be soon. They had that look in their eye.
     I remember the first time I realized I could be a writer, and would be a writer someday. Mrs. Oliver invited her friend to visit our class and talk about writing. I wish I could remember who the author was,  but I do remember her standing in front of our class holding two of her books to her chest. I thought, WOW! she actually MADE that book! There was a real live person who created that very real book, and not some ambiguous name on a cover in the library. The realization was electric! I thought, I can write stories and see my name in print someday. I can do that, too!
     And that someday came true, thanks in part to an author coming to my school so many years ago.
     Who inspired you to be a writer?

Saturday, April 27, 2013


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.
    'When you use words, you're able to keep your mind alive.
 Writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.'
  - Gao Xingjian, Chinese emigre novelist, playwright and critic, 
2000 Nobel Prize for Literature. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for WAIT

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.

     Sometimes I come across a piece of my writing that I don't recognize. 
     This happens most often when I clean out writing files. I find years and years of unfinished work, a paragraph or two, sometimes a page, oftentimes more. Once in awhile, I'm pleasantly surprised by what I read, even though I can't remember having written it. But more often than not, it's bad. No wonder it was stuffed in a file!
     You want this objective point-of-view when you revise. Maybe not to the point that you've forgotten the project all together, but putting your work aside to 'cook' is essential during the revision stage. Problems become a little more apparent — a sagging plot line, a one-dimensional character, stilted dialogue. And how long should you wait to dive back in? I've heard anywhere from a minimum of three weeks to two months.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for VERIFY

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.

     If the press's initial handling of the Boston bombings could serve as a lesson on how NOT to release information to the public, it would be a long, fruitless search for a more accurate example. The networks broke with the 'news' of key details, only later to retract their stories when authorities came forward during the press conferences with information. In a few words, it was sad and embarrassing.
     One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone says 'I heard'. These two words usually have a name or names attached, coming in the form of gossip, a juicy story full of half-truths. I hear this too often when I substitute teach, especially at the junior high and high school level. It's awful, to exploit for entertainment or to improve one's 'ranking' in the social hierarchy. For years, I've told my kids never to repeat gossip, especially if a) they didn't hear it from the subject him/herself, or b) they didn't see it happen. Two books that illustrate the snowball effects of gossip and the harm it can cause are Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why.

'Never make negative comments or spread rumors about anyone.
It depreciates their reputation and yours.' - Brian Koslow

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for UNBLOCK

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.
     As writers, we've all been blocked at some point. Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies for getting unstuck and I've tried my share. Here are my favorites:

  • Write at a different location. Lately I can't write at my desk. I've been staring at the curtains behind the desk, obsessing that spring is happening outside and I'm stuck inside. I want to pull them back, study the pink flowers on the redbud tree, watch the school buses rumble back and forth down the road. But I can't because everyone will see me looking out the window and think, 'Look at her. She must have writer's block, the poor thing'. So yesterday I unplugged the laptop and moved to the dining room table. Instead I can see a  hint of the backyard and a bird feeder hanging from the apple tree. And just like that I finished a chapter after lunch. 
  • Read a similar work. When I work on a manuscript, I have 2-3 similar books that have the same feel, tone, and/or subject matter as my project right beside me. I read a few pages of these books to 'get in the mood' for writing, as kind of a mental warm-up. 
  • Make a list. If I'm stuck on a scene, I make a list of sensory details that my characters might see or encounter in the setting. A chain-link fence, a cardinal, a bike with a flat tire at the side of the curb. He/she might hear a car horn, smell fried chicken, or feel the texture of the trunk of a maple tree. These details might flesh out the scene that is giving you trouble. 
  • Avoid writing for a day. Wait, what?! Now you're thinking, She's trying to get us writing again by telling us NOT to write? But it's works! I stay far away from my desk, even shutting the door. And the kicker is I can only do mundane, annoying things like iron (which I hate), weed (even worse), wash windows, and  clean out the utensil drawer. By days end, I'm so looking forward to sitting down to write the following day. 
     What's your strategy for curing writer's (or any type of creative) block?
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