Thursday, December 6, 2012

English in the trenches—conjunction junction, what's your disfunction?

If you grew up around the time that I did and watched Saturday morning cartoons, the title to this post instantly brings a School House Rock tune to mind. I liked them so well that I set up a tape recorder next to the TV on Saturday mornings, hoping to record School House Rock songs to listen to later. (This was before CDs and DVDs.)

Combined with the occasional comma, I've noticed that there is quite a bit of usage confusion going on out there when it comes to conjunctions. If you suffer from conjunction disfunction, here are a few tips to help you.

Conjunctions can join words, phrases, or clauses.

Bob and Fred are tormenting the neighbor's cat. (Compound subjects)
The neighbor's cat is hissing and clawing. (Compound verbs)
The cat is jumping into the air and onto Bob. (Compound phrases)
Bob is bleeding, and Fred is laughing. (Compound sentences)

The main takeaway here is that the two parts which you join with a conjunction have to be equal to each other. This means you cannot join a word and a phrase with a conjunction. They are not equal.

Bob and ran to the store.

Obviously joining a subject and a verb with a conjunction doesn't work. It doesn't even sound right, so it's unlikely anyone will make this mistake. However, there are other possibilities which are more subtle.

Bob, frustrated (word) and showing quick thinking, (phrase), is dropping the angry cat on Fred's head.

This sounds a little better, but it's still wrong. You can't put a word and a phrase together with a conjunction. In the School Rock vein, it's like trying to hook up a bicycle and a train car. Not pretty.

So today's lesson is two-fold. Don't try to join unequal sentence parts with conjunctions, and don't mess with your neighbor's cat. It will be bad. Very bad.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book cover memory lane

These are some of my favorite Nanowrimo covers. (I'm feeling reminiscent rather than exhausted because I didn't actually do Nanowrimo for the first time in several years.) But still, it's nice to think about those manuscripts of yesteryear. Here are some of our covers:

This was from 2009. Honestly, I had more fun doing the covers than anything else.

A cover for a friend, but she ended up doing something else.

Hubby's cover. He did a World War II novel (of course) for Nano.
Probably my favorite creation, although my daughter ended up wanting to do her own instead. (I didn't really mind. She was spreading her own wings.)

One of my daughters' covers.

Cover for 2010. Not terribly exciting, but I thought it worked, considering I was churning out 1667 word per day and not getting enough sleep. 

The novel I never write. Never. Year after year I consider it and never do it.
My serious sci-fi middle grade novel. Someday this one will have a real cover made by someone else.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

English in the trenches—what is a sentence, anyway?

Your proofreader has scrawled a note on your manuscript that says, "This isn't a sentence."

You look down and consider that the "sentence" in question has a capital letter at the beginning and punctuation at the end. Isn't that enough? Actually, it isn't.

When writing for young children, there are editors who are touchy about the use of complete sentences. This is because they want your writing to be a good influence on those impressionable youngsters who are still in the process of learning the English language, rather than annihilating it like the rest of us.

As you write for older children, you're allowed a little more leeway. Dialogue, in particular, sounds stilted when it's written as complete sentences. This is because no one really talks that way except for aliens from other planets who, if you've noticed, never use contractions.

So what is a sentence?

A sentence must meet two requirements.

1. It must contain a clause.
2. It must sound complete.

In case you didn't know, a clause is made up of at least a subject and a verb. Independent clauses sound complete, and therefore are sentences. Here are a few examples.

Bob threw the ball.
Mary is friendly.
Jennifer is running.

By comparison, here are some dependent clauses. You'll notice that they don't sound complete, even though they each contain a subject and a verb.

If Bob threw the ball.
When Mary is friendly.
Where Jennifer is running.

These could be fixed by attaching them to an independent clause or by rewriting them.

If Bob threw the ball, he's in big trouble.
When Mary is friendly, she doesn't eat your Cheetos.
There is a vicious bull in the field where Jennifer is running.

In short, a sentence has to have a subject and a verb, and it has to sound complete. If it doesn't sound complete, it must be fixed before the grammar police nab you.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I'll get to them in future posts.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Where Is the Phoenix?

Tangled Ashes by Michele Phoenix

 A chateau in France that is used for the Nazi Lebensborn program... A baby rescued... An American company hired in present day to rehab the chateau... A man in need of redemption... A woman who seems out of place caring for other people's children...

 The premise has so much promise and the author handles the language and transitions well. The story begins in an intriguing way with the viewpoint of a sixteen year old French girl, Marie, who works for the Nazis at the chateau to provide for her family. Gradually, she realizes what is going on especially since her friend and co-worker is caught up in it.

 Juxtaposed with the World War Two story is a modern story about an American company rehabbing the chateau to serve as a high end hotel and restaurant. The American in charge of the rehab, a man named Becker, has been sent to accomplish the job by his partner as an alternative to alcohol intervention therapy. A mysterious Frenchwoman designer irritates him, but facilitates the process of the rehab project. Another Frenchwoman, the lovely Jade, cares for the property owner/developer's children and begins to minister to Becker as well as a mysterious man who lives on the fringes of the property.

 Unfortunately, Becker never becomes likable or truly redeems himself. The bulk of the modern story is about his tortured relationships, his victim mentality and his ongoing and unsuccessful battle against alcoholism. Even Jade unravels. Then, the promised mystery from the Nazis in France during World War Two, also delivers only sadness and despair in its revelation.

 Spoiler alert.

When I reached the end of the book, I felt cheated. I had put up with all the anger and failure and depression and fear of the characters, and at the end of the book all I got was more anger and fear and depression. The World War Two story ends badly. And then, when Becker abandons Jade, who is fighting cancer, to go home and get alcohol treatment, I wanted to strangle him – and the author – for stringing me along. I know people with horrible life problems and I don't enjoy being pulled down into their misery. The book only hints at the saving grace of God, but never manifests it. The book, like Jade's church, has “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2 Timothy 3:5)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

English grammar from the trenches

I've noticed that language as a whole is on a downward slide. Between texting and emails, we're learning to ad lib like never before. Even in the best of circumstances, we only use a small chunk of the vocabulary Shakespeare used in his day. Something must be done.

Now, it's not that I'm an English whiz compared to a friend of mine who was an editor and now runs a close-captioning company. His level of perfection is possibly beyond me, but I can hold my own and detect perhaps 95 percent of the troubles most writers would do well to avoid if they wanted to keep their credibility as craftsmen of the English language. No matter where we each are, we could always be better and use a hand up from our English-using pals. Maybe you're mystified by compound sentences (like I used to be). Perhaps you're confused by perfect tenses and spelling rules. Whatever the case, I'll be posting a few simple lessons which should help.

(And in respect to that sad comment about Shakespeare's vocabulary being so superior to our own, I'll be giving you a word to add to your cache. Your mission is to use it in a sentence and impress your friends, family, and coworkers.)

If this post has depressed you too much, check out this Shakespeare version of the Three Little Pigs.

Word for the day

eucatastrophe—[noun] a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending.

Example: Do you prefer a book with a eucatastrophe?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Don't be yourself (at least not all the time)

Wait a minute. What do you mean, don't be yourself? What about tibi ipsi esto fidelis and all that jazz? Aren't you supposed to stay true to yourself and refuse to compromise by eating milk chocolate when you really prefer dark? 

Recently I've been reading "The Plot Thickens" by Noah Lukeman. It's taking me awhile because I'm studying and taking notes, but even though I'm only on page 100, I'm amazed by the value of his book. The first two chapters are about getting to know your characters, inside and out. In those chapters, Lukeman has created enormous lists of questions which help a writer develop an incredibly detailed bio of her characters. The result is that by the time you finally write your story, it practically writes itself because you have come to know your characters so deeply. An added advantage is that characters written from such a detailed background come across as three dimensional and real to the reader rather than flat and stereotypical. 

So I might not be a cagey old grandpa or a spunky twelve-year-old super-spy, but thanks to Noah Lukeman's help in fully developing my characters, I can get into their heads and be them and even have their adventures for awhile. And the better I'm able to live through my characters, the better my readers will be able to do it, too. So the moral of this post is that in real life, yes, you do want to be yourself, but when it comes to writing, you don't have to be. When you write a story, you can and should be someone else sometimes, at least temporarily.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Rendezvous with success

Darcy Pattison had an awesome post last week on Fiction Notes entitled, 'How Do You Get So Much Done?' It's a question that she, as a writer, hears every so often. Darcy's answer is that, when it comes to writing, she keeps office hours. Just like any other job, and even though it's in her home, she writes at specified times of the day. When she had children, her hours were a bit shorter and designed to fit around their school schedules. Later she was able to expand them to an 8 to 4 work day.

When I read Darcy's post, I had a revelation moment. Maybe it was the simple way she put it, but it really hit home to me, because the single biggest problem in my own writing is that I act like writing is a treat for when everything else is done, rather than a job to do first.

It's possible there is no single ingredient in the writing life that guarantees success for a writer more than writing consistently.

There's a vast difference between having a dream and having a plan.

Honesty time. What does your writing days look like? Do you keep a regular rendezvous with your work in progress, or do you only touch base once in awhile? Do you have a daily time when you write? When is this? If you're a consistent writer, has your skill increased? Do you believe a writing plan can lead to fulfilled writing dreams?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A lesson learned from Snow White

If you've read the fairy tales, then you might understand the danger of comparing yourself to others. Remember that wicked queen in Snow White? She could have been a happy person if she had just quit asking that mirror who was the most beautiful of them all. I mean, really. People do get older. What did she expect?

Of course, you probably aren't one of those people who talk to mirrors and expect to get answers. And you may even have become resigned to the fact that eventually, you're going to see a few wrinkles here and there. But when it comes to your writing, what then? Do you glare at your hazy reflection on your laptop screen and ask, "Why did that writer get a book deal while I've been slaving away for six years with nothing? What's better about his writing?"

Actually, there might not be anything better about his writing, but you just fell into the trap of comparison. It's a dark hole, and no writer will ever find success in it.

The truth is, there are a myriad of reasons why any one editor or agent accepts a manuscript on any given day. Sure, you've educated yourself so that you aren't the goofball who sends fiction picture books to houses that publish adult nonfiction self-help. Yes, you've honed your craft so that you don't send in faulty work, hoping professionals will ignore your horrendous plots, shallow characters, or unrealistic dialogue. And you rewrite and run it past our critique group until it's as perfect as you can make it.

But sometimes, it isn't that your work is poor. Sometimes it's just not what that one person who is slogging through the slush pile is looking for. And sometimes, someone else's work is. That's okay. It's part of the way publishing works. If you're producing good work, someday you'll be the one freed from the slush.

So take a lesson from Snow White and avoid comparison. Enjoy the success of your writing comrades, but focus on your writing. Take heart. Your writing is as unique to you as your own finger prints. Some people will like it, and some won't, but it's born out of who you are. That's just the way it should be and the way it will be if you don't give up.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Paying the price

As we remember the sacrifices of the military men and women in our country, it's also a good time to reflect on how those sacrifices have directly affected our quality of life. Thank a veteran or remember a veteran for the freedom you have, and have a great 4th of July!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Where have you been?

And the answer to that question is, right here, actually. I've been homeschooling and drawing rather than writing. Well, that's not entirely true. I have been writing for and I've been working on my picture book manuscripts. After organizing them and their submission records into one handy (albeit enormous) three-ring binder, I'm pushing a few of them back out into the slush piles. It feels good.

Also, after six months of nagging doubts about my middle grade novel, I finally solved a problem that's been bugging me, so it's back to work with that now that I have it worked out in my mind.

So what have you been doing with your summer?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sometimes you just have to get even with the inner editor

The writer was knocking out the story. She was excited because she had finally gotten past awful chapter seven and was in the zone, happy and oblivious. Then she heard a knock at the door. Not knowing better—the writer never seems to learn—she innocently opened the door with a smile on her face.

Standing before her was a figure wearing one of those fake Groucho Marx glasses-nose-and-mustache numbers to hide her true identity. The writer recognized her anyway. It was the inner editor. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun like it always is, and she had twelve yellow number two pencils sticking out of it like an intellectual porcupine. She pulled off the disguise and peered over the reading glasses sitting on the tip of her nose, carefully tapping a manicured fire-engine red finger nail on her cold, curving smile.

"I can't believe you wrote this." She snorted.

The writer felt confused. She had to pull herself out of the story-world she had been in and back to reality in order to answer. "What do you mean?"

The inner editor sashayed over to the computer and pointed a long, accusing finger. "This. I mean, apart from the obvious grammatical mistakes, it just doesn't flow. What were you thinking?"

The writer felt her creative juices begin to evaporate under the inner editor's withering gaze.

The inner editor pressed her advantage.

"There's no way you can go any further until you get this thing fixed. And as penance, you're going to have to go back and rewrite every chapter you've written so far at least ten times until I'm satisfied." She leaned against the desk, shaking her head sorrowfully. "Don't think you can get any substandard writing past me. I saw the notes you made about chapters eight and nine. The plot is implausible, the characters shallow, and the dialogue ridiculous. I doubt it's worth putting it down on paper. In fact, I'm thinking we need to junk this whole project and start over from scratch."

The writer's eyes glazed over. She was almost completely paralyzed now, caught in the evil clutches of the inner editor.

"And don't think you can blame me for any of this drivel. It's all your fault. You're the writer, after all." The inner editor smirked before checking her impeccable manicure.

The writer shook herself, and a spark appeared in her eyes. "Hey," she said. "That's right. I am the writer."

The inner editor flinched. "Now, now. I didn't mean you were in charge, or anything like that. You need me or you wouldn't ever produce a decent manuscript." She began to edge toward the door, but she wasn't quick enough. The writer grabbed her by the collar and gave her a quick shove into the hallway. The editor stumbled away, trying to regain her footing. "Hey! That is no way to treat an editor!"

"Out!" The writer was back in control. "When human resources sends you to Acapulco because you're a pest, you need to stay there until I ask for your help during rewrites." The writer began to shut the door, but paused for a moment. "Oh, and by the way. No one is going to pin writer's block on me when you're really the culprit. Scram!"

The inner editor scurried down the hallway, picking up number two pencils that had worked loose from her bun as the writer shut the door firmly behind her. She dusted her hands and took a deep breath. A sense of freedom, nay, of creativity, washed over her like a cool rain. She sat down at the keyboard, fingers poised for only a moment before they began to tap the keys.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An oldie but a goodie: Appeasing the publishing gods

Feverish drum beats echo through the sultry jungle night as natives bearing torches, like a line of wavering fireflies, make their way up the side of a rumbling volcano. The tropical breezes drift past unnoticed as they climb past trees and around boulders, each clutching a sacrifice to his or her breast.

Finally, as they attain the rim, the reverberation of seismic activity throws them to the ground. Their chief is the first to struggle to his feet.

"My fellow writers!" he thunders to the crowd, "we must appease the publishing gods. Have you your sacrifices?"

As one, their affirmative cry rises over the grumble of the volcano.

"And are they first drafts, unedited and pure in their original form, printed on pastel paper in colored inks so they are sure to get the attention of an editor?"

"Yes! Yes!"

"Are you certain you have made no attempt whatever to research which publishers might be interested in your genre or type of writing?"

"Yes!" The natives are in a wild frenzy by now, waving their manuscripts over their heads.

"It is time!" shrieks the chief. "Throw your sacrifices into the volcano. The publishing gods must be appeased!"

In a cascade of colorful papers completely lacking sufficiently postaged self-addressed stamped envelopes for return responses, the manuscripts plunge into the fiery depths where they are incinerated before they can touch the molten maelstrom below. A wailing keen fills the darkness as the natives hurry down into their jungle huts.

"Do you think we'll hear anything this time?" one native whispers to his neighbor.

"Absolutely. This time I added a handwritten note about how my kids and wife loved my story. I'm guessing they'll get back to me in less than two weeks. By the way, I'm looking for an illustrator for my picture book. Can you recommend anyone?"

New Blog/Website

I am so excited about my new website. This new WordPress site is fun because it is easy (at this point). It combines all the things I love: photography, writing, music and video! And, it is making my walk to work much more interesting because now that I have my cellphone camera, I can document cool and interesting things every day. I don't seem to have a lot of words to say about them, yet, but I am enjoying looking at my world in a fresh new way! -- the website

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book review of 'Phillipa Knickerbocker Glory and the Ice Cream Castle'

Saturdays hold a special lure for Phillipa, for they are the day on which her mum always makes her a special ice cream treat called a Knickerbocker Glory. What girl wouldn't like giant glasses loaded with ice cream, sprinkles, and fruit?

Phillipa loves Knickerbocker Glories so much that she's sure she could eat them every day, but one Saturday when she closes her eyes to savor the creamy goodness on her tongue, she gets a surprise that she hasn't bargained for. Sheopens her eyes to find herself in a strange, sticky tunnel which leads to a magical land complete with castles and a queen who wants Phillipa's help in tasting ice cream.

Phillipa agrees to do the queen's bidding, but as flavor after flavor pours out of the ice cream making machine, will Phillipa finally discover that, as much as she loves ice cream, there is such a thing as too much?

Phillipa Knickerbocker Glory and the Ice Cream Castle is a self-published book by new UK author Sarahjane Funnell. A nicely bound paperback containing colorful illustrations by Amie Bilsby, Sarahjane's book will appeal to the younger girl who loves ice cream, castles, and a little fantasy for good measure. Visit Sarahjane's website for more information about her book or to download Phillipa Knickerbocker Glory coloring pages, recipes, and desktop images.

A copy of this book was provided by the author for this review. There was no compensation received for this review, and the opinions expressed, whether positive or negative, are my own. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Did you ever get the feeling that something was missing?

Last week we packed up and headed to Grandma's farm for a well-deserved spring break week in the country. After we arrived, I took a deep breath of that good country air. There would be few phone calls and absolutely no internet. I had all my art stuff in multiple bags and rolling carts. It was going to be great. That is, it was going to be great until I realized I had left something important far, far behind at home.

My suitcase.

After a good laugh at myself, I headed out to Walmart and pick up a few things I absolutely had to have to make it through the week. With those purchases and a couple of t-shirt donations from my brother and my mom, I was in good shape. After all, I reasoned, it's not like I needed a lot of special clothes to burn brush, play with barn cats, and hike in the fields.

But for that split second when I realized I had left something fairly important behind, I could have kicked myself. I really do hate it when I mess up.

Which brings me back to writing. Have you ever finished a story, chapter, or book and gotten the uncomfortable feeling that something just isn't quite right? What do you tend to leave behind in your writing? Is it your characters? your dialogue? or (heaven forbid) your plot?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lost in Byzantium

I have become so fascinated with this lost empire that was a trade, governmental, cultural, scientific and knowledge hub of Europe and the Middle East during the middle ages. The architecture, the influence of Greek language and study, and its art still remain.

Byzantine history should also serve as a warning since our own country's history in some way imitates it. The U.S. was deliberately created to be a Christian nation. Constantinople, the Byzantine capitol, was established as the new center of power for the Christian Roman Empire in 324 AD. Located advantageously between Asia and Europe with land and sea access, it was specifically chosen and designed for that purpose.

The Empire fell to the Ottomans in 1353 and Constantinople and most of the Asian portion of its empire has been a Muslim entity ever since. For over one thousand years, Byzantium was a powerful Christian force, but for almost 800 years it has been a seat of power for Islam. What happened? That is a fascinating story indeed, and that is where we should set ourselves to learn from history. As a writer, my job is to tell the lessons of history in a fresh and interesting way that can be understood in our own time. One can only get lost in research for so long...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The diligent hand: don't underestimate it

Photo by Mary Morgan
I completed an interview this week of illustrator John Manders. Among his many accomplishments, John has illustrated more than 30 children's books. Beyond that, he's also done more illustrations for children's magazines than I care to count. Taking valuable time from his busy schedule, he answered my questions in more detail than I had expected, which was tremendous. Like a vein of gold running throughout his obvious joy at illustrating and sometimes writing children's books, you couldn't miss the central message.

The secret to his success is that he works hard. Very hard.

Every day, John gets up early and goes to his studio where he puts in a solid day of work. Yes, he takes out time to walk his dog India who likes to doze nearby while he works. Yes, he has dinner and takes walks with his wife while they catch up with each other in the evening. But even after a long day, he often returns to the studio for a couple of extra hours of work. By my calculations, I'm guessing that he's probably logging ten hour days. Maybe more depending on his deadlines.

The moral to this story? Never underestimate diligence. Sure, you can be talented. Sure, you can be smart. Those are good things. But good, old-fashioned hard work is the foundation that will cause you to have the staying power of a true craftsman of excellence in whatever you do.

Comments? How do you cultivate excellence in your own craft? Have you seen benefits from your stick-to-itness?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Revisiting Shakespeare

One of the greatest writers of all time was William Shakespeare. To start your Monday, here's a post that will tickle you if you're a Shakespeare fan. (Just think of it as something to get your creative juices flowing and your funny bone in shape.) 

I absolutely dare you not to laugh during this piece. I don't believe you can do it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

It gave me chills

When I was in college, I had an art teacher who drove me up a wall. He taught graphic design, and when I created something for his class that he didn't quite connect with, he could never tell me why. Our conversation concerning one of my lesser projects might be something like the following.

Me: What do you think?

Him: Hmmm. I'm not sure.

Me: What do you mean?

Him: It's just not quite there.

Me: How can I change it so it is "there."

Him: I'm not sure. It's just not quite right yet.

Me (later in the privacy of my room): AAAAUUUUUGGGGHHHH!

I know what you're thinking, but I'm not bitter. Really.

I read a passel of blogs on writing because, like many other writers, I'm trying to become a better writer. I enjoy reading great stories, and I want to know the secrets so my writing can be great, too.

But the main reason behind my study (which includes regular books on writing as well) is that I don't want to just write intuitively. Unlike my design teacher, who knew what was good or was not good when he saw it but couldn't tell me why, I want to actually know what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.

That's why I have to share this post from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing from this week. It was so awesomely stupendous that I believe every writer who is serious about writing books that readers can't put down should read it. This is one of those posts you need to read. It's that key.

Enjoy! : )

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A favorite quote

I saw this today and liked it so much that I wanted to share it. I'm sure it's true about many things, but I believe it can be well-applied to the writing arena.

Don't only practice your art, 
But force your way into its Secrets,
for it and knowledge can 
raise men to the Divine.

Ludwig van Beethoven

(To watch The Piano Guys' Beethoven's 5 Secrets and enjoy the music they posted with the quote, check out this link.)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Double duty: is your writing pulling its weight?

I've been reading Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, published through Writer's Digest Books, and I've been noticing a common theme. No matter what you're writing, whether it's setting, dialogue, drama, backstory, etc., Nancy encourages you to always make it do double duty, thus maximizing your word usage and the impact of your writing. 

Wow! I thought. Great idea! Then I began to wonder if I did this. The unfortunate answer was not often enough. In fact, I realized that the only time I was applying this powerful double strength writing was when I was doing it unconsciously. If I wanted to be published someday, I couldn't afford to miss out on this opportunity to make my writing better.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about with the double duty thing, here's an example. Say you're writing a scene which shows your main character trying to obtain an after-school job. Here's a paragraph that focuses on setting:

The bell jangled above Isaac's head as he pushed open the worn wooden door of the pet shop on Main Street. After his eyes adjusted to the dim interior, he threaded his way through a clutter of dog toys, bird cages, and pet food until he found the counter at the back over which the grey-haired owner Mr. Stanford  peered at him from under his shaggy eyebrows.

We've described the pet shop in which Isaac has chosen to look for a job, and we've even described its owner a little. There's nothing wrong with this, but could the description do more? Could we write this description in such a way that it actually does double duty and also paints a picture of Isaac's character in the bargain? Let's try again.

Isaac pushed open the worn wooden door of the pet shop on Main Street and jumped as the bell jangled above his head. He shuffled from one foot to the other, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior while he got his bearings. After a hesitant cough, he threaded his way through a clutter of dog toys, bird cages, and pet food until he found a counter at the back over which the grey-haired owner Mr. Stanford peered at him from under his shaggy eyebrows. Isaac swallowed a couple of times and opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

Ta-dah! Now we know where we are, but we know some things about Isaac, too. He's timid rather than bold and cocky, and he comes across as cautious. It would seem that he's either not comfortable when talking to adults or that he doesn't know Mr. Stanford well. Possibly he's a little scared of him. Even without the skilled hand of Nancy Kress, I've made my little setting do more work than it did before.

How about you? Are there ways that you can consciously get your writing to do more?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Creating Something New

I sometimes wonder why I write when everything has already been written. Walking into the library with no plan and just wandering the fiction shelves can be quite overwhelming (although I do it). However, it looks like everything in the world has been written about – over and over again. Then I am in a mood for something "new".

When I write fiction, I write to create something that either I would like, or that people I love would like. For instance, I am working on a novel with a setting that interests me at the moment and I think my neices might enjoy it. However, my interests are somewhat dynamic and eclectic, therefore my reading and writing choices change and shift. It must be the same with many people for books (and movies) are now consumed at an incredibly high rate.

This demand for a new twist or turn compels me to create something new – out of the old, along with some “new” ideas of my own.

My mother makes and my grandmothers made quilts. My grandmothers made them out of recycled clothing. My mother sometimes uses older material for effects. I personally like the older quilts better, although the fabric is more delicate. They have more of a story to tell, and I like stories, especially histories.

So, I write as I would choose to make a quilt – with an interesting pattern, using old and new materials, and that tells a story of history – creating something new.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Amazing Power of Research

In the process of editing and re-working my NANO novel, I kept getting stuck on certain plot situations. My imagination was working to fill in the gaps, but I feared I was pulling too much from embedded movie images (a downside of writing so much, so quickly).

I needed more accurate images, information and knowledge about the medieval world (for example, warfare descriptions and methodologies, and what life in a rich medieval city was like). I “stumbled” on the Byzantines and their capital, Constantinople. What I have learned and discovered is amazing and delighting and fearsome and…

I am so excited! My work is in a shambles. But, I have back story, history, and information to stir my imagination as I put some pieces back in a different order, as well as creating new pieces in this very complex puzzle known as a novel.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

And they lived happily ever...can I get back to you on that?

I've been out of the writing frame of mind since Nanowrimo. I was so sick at the end of November that when I gasped across the finish line, I just lay there on the ground waiting for myself to feel like getting back up.

The problem is that I never did.

So now I have a Nano novel of 50k plus words with no ending. I can't tell you how irritating that is to my kids, who have been waiting over a month now for the next installment. They got pretty used to picking up my binder of work-in-progress printouts that were being produced with happy regularity by myself as I was forced to kick out 1700 words a day. To suddenly have nothing new to read was trying. Fortunately John Flanagan came out with a new Ranger's Apprentice book so they scuffled over that for a bit while I was waiting for creative juices to spurt out somewhere.

Still nothing.

I don't know about you, but I tend to take the course of least resistance. That means that I'm drawing more than writing because it happy requires no conscious thought on my part. It's not really procrastinating.

Okay, so it is procrastinating, but in a sneaky productive way, because it does nothing to finish my book. So it is with a sigh, knowing that I must complete a task that I don't feel like doing, that I lay aside my 6B drawing pencil and instead pick up my pen/laptop to write something each day. It won't be inspired, but I hope by the end of February, it will be done.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

No to resolutions—yes to goals

Resolutions, it seems, have become passé. I don't know about you, but the word resolution causes me to immediately conjure up the image of a ball and chain in my mind. Perhaps it is because resolutions are usually New Year's desires that are 99% likely to go unfulfilled that they are so distasteful. Anyway, I'm not resolving to do anything in 2012.

I find goals, however, to be another thing altogether. I like goals. They feel achievable, and this being January, there have been lots of writing websites with encouraging goal (and resolution) ideas. The first four are from DiYMFA (Do-It-Yourself Writing Degree), but I found other great articles through the Writers Knowledge Base. If you want more on writing goals (and even writing resolutions), you're much better off using their search engine created just to help you find articles on writing than you are trying to Google.


: ) Beth

Friday, January 6, 2012

Three words

For some reason, January reminds me of standing at the top of a high mountain from which I can see far ahead. It's a beautiful view, even though the details are misted in haze. It's 2012, stretching before me and entirely unexplored but beckoning enticingly.

With that image in mind, during our first writing meeting of this year, each member was asked to give three words that could describe her goals for the year ahead. Here are our individual three word choices:

Laura—persistence, finalize, inspire
Beth—consistency, fun, explore
April—adventure, peace, progress
Christine—read, write, achieve
Enyth—write, gather (ideas), organize

I have to admit, I almost chose chocolate as one of mine, but with only three words max, I decided to go with more substantial choices. How about you? What are your three definitive words for 2012?