Friday, July 31, 2009

Ticket in hand, don't know where I'm going

I did something hold-my-breath scary. I put my first page of a YA fantasy on Writing It Out, Beth Revis' awesome blog. She is holding her first critique week, featuring query and/or first pages. I'm in two critique groups and have done round-table critiques at conferences, but this is a first for me--putting it out there on the World Wide Web. Just one more step if I am to complete the novelist journey. So if you want a glimpse of my WIP, hop on over. All advice welcome. It's like I'm in a train station, ticket in hand, with an unknown, but hopefully, exciting trip ahead. (I find even publishing this post is scary. What's with that?)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A ghost at home

Author Lisa Schroeder has a chock-full-of-ARC giveaway happening and has come up with an impressive number of ways to enter. One is to post a shout out. Another is to take an unusual photo of one of her books. You get another chance to win if you give her permission to use your photo.

I decided to pair I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME with this little painted cottage, because her tale is about a girl who doesn't want to leave her home after she discovers the ghost of her boyfriend is hanging around. I was amazed how much I was moved by this book, because it isn't written in traditional format and I love to be lost in long, rich tales. This is free verse so the story is quite lean, but Lisa has managed to pack it full of emotion and tension.

Me, being me, I wasn't satisfied with one photo. Lisa had mentioned putting a pet in a picture. I am pet-free at the moment, so I chose this little lamb, who once accompanied me to scary surgery. I thought Ava, who lost her Jackson and is sure it's her fault he died, needed the lamb, just like me. Ava says:
All I needed
was Jackson.
I wish all he needed
was me.
Here is an excerpt after she finally goes out with a friend:
I wave
and smile
like everything's fine,
while inside I'm freaking out
because I don't know
if he's waiting for me
on the other side
of that door.
Lisa Schroeder's contest is here. In the archives of her blog is a wonderful anecdote about a teenager who never finished reading a book until she discovered I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME in a library. It's a story to warm any writer's heart and send her back to the keyboard.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I might be all wet but I'm having fun

Having spent some contemplative time recently along the shore I gave thought to how I approach life, and, of course, writing--which is integral to my life.

Am I a fisherwoman or a surfer?

Both require patience and skill but one seems more passive, the other aggresive. I'm sure some people would debate this, especially since a fisherman reeled in a Great White Shark in San Diego last week! That ought to get muscles pumping, adrenaline surging.

But mainly, fishing is passive compared to surfing. I'm not trying to say one is better. Fishing can yield sustenance. Surfing results in endorphin rush. Both give personal satisfaction. I've done both but not in a long time.

As a writer, if I wait quietly like a fisherman, ideas may leap up from the deep, filled with energy. And if I sit bobbing on the water, waiting to see the dark rise of a building wave, then put myself in position and paddle hard, I might catch a most amazing swell.

Either way, patience and preparedness are key. Do you see yourself or your writing as fishing or surfing? Or am I hopelessly waterlogged?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Contest challenge

I seem to be up for challenges lately. So I plunged in when Suzanne at Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness asked her readers to write a short story using the opening line "It all started with a fortune cookie" and the closer "The roses bloomed in Orkney."
First, I considered a humorous story of a guy shanghaied and ending up pressing shirts in a steamy laundry, then a cookie factory where he pens personal messages. But I went for a relationship-driven story instead. There are so many amazing stories that have been submitted, you really can enjoy yourself by dropping in for a visit. The entries prove that if you give a bunch of writers the same prompt, you will get vastly different stories. The human brain is a magnificent thing.
If you read this post Sunday, there is still time to enter and possibly win Suzanne's great prize.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I went to the sea for enlightenment and found a lost world, a hidden seadom, the pillars that hold up our world. See how the ocean is supported by those pilings? Did you know about this? It's simply amazing to think I've walked the shore so many times and never glimpsed it's secret underpinings.
Gotta think that the designers and engineers realized that the weight and movement of such a vast amount of water would require serious structural elements.
Kinda like a story. How's that for a segue?
So what's the story of this shimmery land beneath the ocean? Tell me, I'm dying to hear what you think.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sea me

Sometimes you gotta just stare out to sea and contemplate your next move.

I'm there right now. Whether it's another chapter of rewrite, the next blog or life stuff, I'm needing some stare time.

So I'm taking off for a couple of days to deal with some things and find enlightenment.

I leave you with this vista.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Need a hand, Sisyphus?

This morning found my back aching, eyes blurry and brain fuzzy after writing 5,000 words yesterday. I felt a bit like Sisyphus facing the boulder. But am I sorry? No way.

I stumbled up my local mountain trail at 6 a.m. looking at a sky blue as a robin's egg and strewn with wispy clouds. I had to push a bit to make myself climb uphill, just like I did to keep writing, but the reward was a clear head, a refreshed body.

My reward for yesterday is three solid chapters of rewrite. I looked at it this morning, and it rocks--very little to toss. I'll find out soon enough if my crit buddies agree, but I'm feeling very positive. I learned from the experience that I can do much more than I thought, even what seems impossible. I'm not saying I would do marathon writing as a practice, but every once in awhile it serves a function. It's invigorating and shakes up the status quo.

Thanks to all of you who cheered me on. I owe you a cool drink someday.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Could I hear a Woot?

Twelve hours ago I posted that I would try to write 5,000 words today in the rewrite of a YA fantasy. I did it! Woo-hoo!
I really did not expect to when I reached mid-afternoon burnout. I was just over 2,000 and felt I didn't have enough juice to keep going. Loser, I said. But then I decided it wouldn't hurt to keep going and see what happened.
What is really neat is that I didn't thrash myself. I actually did 20 minutes of yoga, made meals, took care of business e-mails and phone calls, and still made the word count.
I've always worked with deadlines and goals but this took it to a new level. Happy re-writer here.

See you when I come up for air

Sorry my photo of this postcard is off-kilter--so am I. It's early and I'm about to make a big commitment. This picture of a 4,500-year-old marble carving of a harp player sits in front of my keyboard. I found the postcard in a box of pictures I collected from museums and got chills when I discovered I had acquired it. My WIP is a YA fantasy about a girl with unusual harp-playing ability and roots that go back to the dawn of time.

Today I plan a marathon-writing session on the rewrite of that novel. I was inspired by Megan, as she was by the 10K for Writers. I'm not going to start a new work, since after two months of letting it rest I've finally started my rewrite. But I like the kick-in-the-butt of setting a goal, making a personal deadline.

I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, the annual challenge to write 50,000 words in a month. In 2008, there were 119,301 participants. NaNoWriMo's collective word count--1.6 billion words. Just wow. A friend of mine, Gayle Brandeis, wrote a first draft of Self Storage in NaNoWriMo. She was already the winner of Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for The Book of Dead Birds. But like many writers, she wanted the power of the deadline. So I know it works.

Since I'm a free operative, what goal to set? In the last few weeks since I started to rewrite I produced about 5,000 words/19 pages. The original novel is about 90,000 words. I'm going to try for another 5,000 words of rewrite today. I have no idea what to expect, but don't we all love a challenge?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Well read

Neil Gaiman gives the best advice on reading aloud here.
Have you ever heard him read? Sooooo good. His tips will help anyone--whether you are reading to a child, at a booksigning or to a critique group. So link on over and get advice from the master. Any personal reading aloud tips you want to share? Or moments you'd rather forget? heh-heh

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Got game?

Warning: Here There Be Spoilers. (sorry, Melissa)
This is not a review, just a discussion about what makes The Hunger Games work. So come play, your life won't be forfeit. I want to pick up the thread of previous posts about the longevity of myths and the soaring popularity of young adult fiction.
In case you somehow missed it, this book is both a hot seller and a critics' delight. Wouldn't we all love to have our book be a Kirkus starred review and get kudos from the New York Times and Publishers Weekly? There are a few voices who say it's been done before; the Japanese novel, Battle Royale, has a similiar premise. And it's not hard to see elements of Thunderdome and Lord of the Flies. No really new ideas, right? Just original voice.
Author Suzanne Collins said in a Scholastic interview that the idea came to her while channel surfing and finding lines blurred between reality shows and war coverage. And she was fascinated by the Greek myth of Theseus who volunteered to go to the Minotaur's Labyrinth when Athens was forced to pay Crete with the lives of its children.
In The Hunger Games, sixteen-year-old Katniss volunteers to replace her younger sister, whose name is drawn by lottery. In this futuristic world, a dominant central government forces twelve districts to pay tribute by each sending a boy and a girl to participate in a game only one may survive. The games are the ultimate reality show with secret cameras following the kids as they struggle to kill opponents and survive a hostile environment.
So let's dissect the novel:
*Written in first person present tense. I didn't even notice for some time because I was immediately caught up in the tension. It fits the fast pace of this book.
*Grabber opening with it being the day of "reaping," a word which was chilling even before I knew what it was, but I wanted to find out. By page nine, Katniss tells her best friend she never wants kids, and you know something is so bad she doesn't want to bring anyone into this world.
*Scene setting. Goes from almost medieval hard-scrabble existence, in which Katniss hunts illegally to feed her mother and sister, to a garish, hedonistic Capitol, where Katniss is transformed into a media darling. I bought into it, given the history of humankind.
*Characters. Drawn individually with organic quirks. Easy to keep track of a multitude of characters because of this.
*Moral dilemma. Katniss is a survivor and a hunter, so she approaches the game using her physical and mental skills, but she is thrown off by her compassion for others. She tries to see that as weakness but never truly succeeds.
*Deception. Katniss tries to second-guess when she is being "played." Sometimes she gets it wrong.
*Build-up. It is half-way through the book before Katniss steps foot on the playing field. But the tension increases steadily to that point and then becomes breathless.
*Romance. Well, not Twilight stuff. Katniss has a soul mate in her best friend, who is left behind to see if she survives the games, but on the playing field she is maneuvered into a pretend romance with her fellow tribute player. At least, she thinks it's pretend. It she is mistaken, all the rules are out the window.
*Ending. Several unexpected but believable twists. Katniss does something sure to infuriate the powers-that-be, so the tension and path to Book Two beckon.
For me, all the above worked. (hence my squeeing in the last post about a contest for the second book).
But I want to hear what you think. Did this book capture you? Why? Did you find flaws? What? Any insights you have that we can all benefit from in our own writing? Thanks for any comments on this.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Me going squeeeee

Sorry to be squeeing in your ear, but author Lauren Barnholdt is offering an ARC of Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire. I'm burning for Catching Fire. I will post and link and cross my fingers and wish on stars. Ever since I read The Hunger Games, I've been craving the second book. Perhaps you understand my desire. Of course, then I'll have to wait forever for the third book.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Out of the fire

Years ago, I bought this rug from a friend who'd traveled to India. This carpet was handmade in Nepal, if I remember correctly. The phoenix captured me then and never let go, with it's body the color of fire, so vibrant, so full of energy.
My fascination preceded Harry Potter meeting Fawkes or Neil Gaiman's "Sunbird" (Fragile Things), in which an eccentric group of gourmands discover the eternal bird.
The myth of the phoenix, rising from its own ashes, shows up since the dawn of civilization and across cultures. It was said the sun god Helios would stop his chariot to listen to the young bird sing. Tales are found in Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia, Lebanon, China and more.
Early Christians modified the mythical bird into a story of resurrection. In the National Portrait Gallery in London is a painting of Elizabeth I with a medallion featuring a phoenix rising. It is conjectured that she wore it to symbolize her road to power. You might recall she had a few difficulties left behind by her father Henry VIII and her half-sister Mary.
I've come up with a few modern phoenix stories (Rowling and Gaiman above). Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Eudora Welty wrote a hardscrabble tale of the regeneration of blacks after slavery in "A Worn Path," which features a protagonist named Phoenix on a recurring journey. Even her apparel is transformative--an apron of bleached sugar sacks and a cane made of an old umbrella.
The British sci-fi show Doctor Who has Time Lords who get transformed over and over. And I can't help but think of the powerful autobiographical work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, in which a horrific childhood is turned into a bright future--much of it beginning with the knowledge and wonder found in books.
So what is it that makes a story, such as the myth of the phoenix, immortal? What plucks such a universal chord? Do you have any thoughts on this or would you like to mention some book you read or wrote that mirrors a phoenix tale? As always, I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Smiley here

Time for colorful, wacky, wonderful fun, folks. I just won this month's contest on MG Higgins' blog. If you haven't visited, it is a delightful place to drop in.
The children's writer and artist has done a series of colored-pencil drawings called Veggie Puns. Guess the name of the artwork and you win a laser print. My brain cells were working and I won this one. But I think I shall make you find the answer on her site. Or you can give me your best guess. (P.S. Of course, I can't give away my new print, which hasn't even arrived yet, but if anyone should guess the punful title, I will send a book from several I'd like to pass along. Honor system, since you can't look for the answer already on her site!)
And while we are having fun, check out Talking Potatoes for a belly laugh. This site is especially a hoot for children's writers, parents and kids.
Sometimes silliness is the best medicine.