Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ring Out the Old?

I have never been a fan of New Year's Resolutions. I'm sure that has something to do with my resolve lasting a month, at most. Something about February always made any resolutions fly right out of my head. Mardi Gras, maybe? Then, six months later I would remember and feel bad about not following through. I hate feeling like I've dropped the ball.

Last year, some friends and I decided to change the way we do "resolutions." Instead of saying what we're going to do in the new year, implying that there was something wrong with us or the way we did things before, we decided to discuss all of the great things we accomplished in the new year, as if they had already happened. Each person took a turn saying how great their year had been, and all of the fabulous accomplishments they made that year. It's hard to stop once you get on a roll, and it's hilarious to hear what starts coming out of your own mouth when you're not thinking about it.

I'll start by saying how fun it was to participate in Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge. It was so much fun to come up with a new picture book manuscript each month. I was really impressed that I was able to get those all completed and finish the first draft (and first-round revisions!) of the YA novel I was working on as part of my last lesson in my ICL course. And let's not forget how awesome (and inspirational and challenging and fun...) it was to complete an application to Clarion and get to go to the workshop this summer! I'm sure it was all possible because of the writers' group that Karen Buchholz and I started at Celebration Spiritual Center. I got so much more done as part of a diverse group than I would have gotten done on my own! That's just the tip of the iceberg, though - 2012 was such a great year!

What about you? What did you do in 2012?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

All I Want Is...

Dear Santa,

I've been (mostly) good. I started lots of projects and even finished a couple. I posted almost regularly on my blog (until November, when I dropped off the face of the earth). But look, I climbed back up, and I'm writing and posting and only procrastinating a little.

For Christmas, I'd like a little more focus. I'm doing my best with the one I have, but it's kind of slippery, and I lose it a lot. Maybe I just need a bigger one. Ooh, or maybe one with handles! Then I could hold on to it long enough to finish this workshop application, or work some more on one of these novels I've started.

Thanks!

Me


So that's it - my letter to Santa this year. I really need that focus I asked for. I've got a lot of projects that I want to FINISH next year, and I'll need focus to get them accomplished.

What would your letter to Santa look like this year?

Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNovember

Today is Halloween, and we all know what that means - National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow!

This year I am going to try to have a basic outline before I start. (Yes, that means I have to start - and finish- the outline today.) This will be my third NaNo, and if I finish the outline today it will be the first where I started out with any sort of real planning ahead of time.

The first year I tried NaNo, I actually tried twice. I tried by myself in April after I bought the No Plot No Problem Novel-Writing Kit. I have two words to describe that attempt: epic fail. I tried again in November, when everyone else does NaNo. I signed up on the site, but other than going to the first write-in for about ten seconds and leaving, I did it alone. That time I finished. I am the proud author of a completely useless manuscript. It has plot holes, plot craters, probably even plot canyons. It has too helpful characters, too useless characters, and characters who need to be edited out.

I tried revising it, until I realized that what it really needs is a complete rewrite - from the first word on. It's terrible. Totally, mind-numbingly horrible. Does that mean it has no value whatsoever? Not at all. There are some parts I could use if I rewrote it. More importantly, though, it taught me that I can finish a novel-length work. More than anything, it gave me self-confidence. That makes it worth every second I spent on it.

I tried NaNo again last year with a little more planning. I had a couple of characters who wouldn't leave me alone, and I thought I had a plot idea. What I really had was an idea about the world they live in and the very beginning of a plot idea. I worked on it for the beginning of the month, then got sidetracked by my sister's wedding. That time I didn't finish. The story, though, lives on in my hard drive. I bring it out every now and then and work on it a bit. I'll finish it someday.

That's why this year I want to try with an actual plot outline in hand. I want to finish, but I also want to be able to revise the story into something usable. An outline will, I hope, give me the guidance I need to keep me from writing a rambling, canyon-riddled plot like I did the first year. I just need to write the outline. Guess what I am doing between classes today?

What about you? Are you NaNo-ing? Will you do it with or without an outline?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

Several months ago I made a change in my eating habits to better my health. I started eating more whole foods, making a conscious effort to include fresh fruits and veggies and avoid preservatives (and many other food additives). One of the things I have been trying to avoid is high fructose corn syrup. I started reading labels, which meant I stopped buying a lot of things I used to buy all the time. It also meant I stopped drinking anything other than water.

Ah, but how good can the life of a Dr. Pepper addict be when she's off the juice? Another time I had tried "dieting" - which meant no more Dr. Pepper. After a couple of months of nothing but water, I switched to Diet Dr. Pepper, and life went on as usual. I just traded one fake sweetener for another. (Corn growers can say what they want, but they'll never convince me highly processed corn goop is anything remotely resembling "sugar" or a natural sweetener.)

This time, though, I found I didn't want anything other than water. I didn't have any of the so-called caffeine headaches when I stopped drinking soda. I didn't miss the flavor of it, I didn't crave it, all I wanted was water. That's a huge thing from someone who used to drink at least two bottles every day.

Fast forward to today. Soda makers have been advertising sodas made from real sugar instead of corn syrup. Dr. Pepper got on the bandwagon and started making what they call Heritage Dr. Pepper. Being a reformed Dr. Pepper girl (or so I thought), I bought one. I don't know that it's really any better for you, and I certainly wouldn't call it a health food, but everyone deserves a guilty pleasure once in a while, so maybe this would be mine.

My first thought when I opened the can was, "This must be how ex-smokers feel." The smell of the soda was like nirvana. Nothing has smelled that sweet in a long time. How great this was going to be! I took a sip, expecting that familiar flavor, that strange tangy sweetness.

What I got was a mouthful of eww. Seriously. Yuck. How could I ever drink something that tasted that bad? I can tell it's the same flavor I liked before. It's familiar, I just don't like it anymore. Months of avoiding exactly what I used to like have changed my tastes (I think), and I recognize the fakeness of the flavor. Give me water over that any day. Don't get me wrong, I applaud the companies for using real sugar, and I am glad the option is available for other people. I'm just not one of them anymore. I'd still say, "I'm a pepper," but give me water to drink, thanks.

Does that happen to you? Do you find yourself wondering how you could ever have liked something when you try it again after a long hiatus? Do you miss it, or attempt to reacquire the taste? I think I'll be glad my tastes have changed and remember my Dr. Pepper days fondly, but not try to go back to them.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How Amazing Can He Be?

We went to the movies yesterday to see Captain America. I love superhero movies, especially Marvel superheroes. Apparently I have been living under a rock since early 2010, because I was surprised to see a trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man. It looks like the same movie Sam Raimi directed. Only, you know, with no Sam Raimi. Peter Parker's in high school again. Gee, I wonder if he'll get bitten by a radioactive spider and become a superhero.

I was under the impression that studios did a reboot of a movie franchise when they wanted to update it after a number of years or, like Batman, there was a ridiculously bad film they needed a do-over for. Spidey 3 just came out in 2007. I'll admit wasn't great - but it didn't suck like Batman and Robin. (Yes, I am aware Batman is a DC comic.) So why bother rebooting the franchise so soon?

We already know what happens in high school. Remaking the same thing, even if you put a new spin on it, is disappointing. Show us what happens next. A lot of us aren't watching just to see an action movie. Some moviegoers *gasp* actually care about the characters. So show us what happens next with them. Otherwise, don't expect us to shell out ten bucks just for the ticket to see the same thing you showed us a few years ago.

For the non-moviegoers or non-superhero-loving people among us, It feels like I picked up a book in a series with an author I like and found it written by someone else entirely. Someone who has a totally different view on the characters and what happens to them. Someone who doesn't really care what happened already and wants to change it. It's like saying oh, yeah, we didn't mean all that stuff in the first book, ignore it and read this instead. I trusted the first author, and it hasn't been long enough for me to accept the new spin on the book.

Maybe it won't be like that. Maybe it won't suck as much as I expect. I still think I'll skip it and watch the Avengers instead.

How do you feel about reboots? Have you seen something like this outside of a movie? How do you feel when authors do this in a book?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

How Old Are You?

I finished reading Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer today. It's about a Chicago teen, Jenna Boller, who gets offered a job as a driver for the elderly president of the company Jenna works for. Jenna's family situation is less than ideal, so she decides to do it. Jenna convinces her mom to let her accept the job and takes off cross-country with Mrs. Gladstone.

It was a nice summer read - easily finished in a day. Some of Jenna's observations along the way made me laugh out loud. Jenna's a city girl, and her reactions to (and bafflement by) an old Texan's figures of speech were perfect. Overall, I thought the book was entertaining, and I liked seeing Jenna come into her own.

I had trouble with Jenna's voice, though. She just didn't feel like a teenager to me. If we were told she was in her late thirties, I'd have an easier time believing it. I know there are responsible teenagers, teenagers with a good work ethic, teenagers who really care about doing the right thing - I see a lot of them every day at school - but I have a hard time imagining a teenager who would take six weeks of her summer vacation and spend it with old people and inspecting shoe stores. I really can't understand a teenager who would take six weeks away from friends and not call them even once (or really even give them much thought). I liked the rest of the book enough, though, that I could mentally adjust her age and keep reading.

As a reader, can you adjust the age of the character in your head and keep going? Or do you just put the book down and walk away if something's not believable? I like to finish the story if I can, and this one was enjoyable enough (and the problem small enough) that I could make a mental adjustment and move on. I'll definitely pick up the sequel, Best Foot Forward, and see what Jenna does next.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I want to be Neil Gaiman

Okay, maybe I don't really want to be him, but maybe I can be like him. I seriously think I might be his biggest fan. If he wrote directions on a cocktail napkin, I'm sure they would be just as dark and lovely and riveting as any other story he's written.

Which is why I was surprised when I read his blog yesterday. Mr. Gaiman (mostly) spoke about going to the Shirley Jackson Awards and had this to say about his chances of winning:

"I looked at the list of nominees, did some mental handicapping, sat back comfortable in the knowledge that I wouldn't win and definitely didn't have to worry about making speeches..."

Really? My first thought was, "The judges must be morons." (They aren't.) It made me wonder. When do we, as writers, ever get over that "I wish I'd revised that one more time" or "I wish I'd written that story instead" feeling? Do we always have that case of little nervous jitters even when we're famous and write award winners and bestsellers every time we sit down to write?*

Maybe we do.

Granted, I have no idea what Mr. Gaiman was really feeling. It sounded like nerves, though, and it was endearing. I want to be (okay, be like) him even more now. To write stories like that and still be nervous about their reception? Genius plus humility. Amazing.

What about you? Do you have an idol? What is it you like best about him or her? Do you think we ever get over those nerves or stop thinking we could have done better? I think we stagnate if we stop striving to do better. Agree or no?

He won two awards, by the way.

*Yes, it's hyperbole. (No, not hyperbola.) I told you I was his biggest fan!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Inspired by What?

People say the most amazing things on the internet. Today I saw the most creative, most vulgar way of expressing disregard for someone’s opinion. When I got over the shock of seeing those words in that order (on what amounts to the front page of the newspaper), I immediately started trying to turn it into a line of dialogue.

It was everything a metaphor should be. It was descriptive – it immediately painted a vivid picture in my mind. (Oh, how I wish it hadn’t.) It was economical – in a mere five words (four if you leave out the f-bomb) it expressed a depth of loathing and contempt that is rarely seen in essay-length work. I was almost jealous of the mind that came up with it.

Except I can’t imagine ever being comfortable having those words associated with my name. Do I really want to be known for saying that? Granted, it was creative – a perfectly crafted metaphor, but I don’t want my characters to say it. Even without the f-bomb.

So I filed it away. Someday I’ll have a character who needs to express that level of disgust with someone. I’ll pull out that metaphor, dust it off, and rewrite it to be something I wouldn’t be ashamed to have people read. That one bit of vulgarity inspired me to create something that expresses the same depth of feeling, but wouldn’t make a sailor blush.

For me, inspiration can come from anything, anywhere. What about you? Have you ever been shocked by what inspires you?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Getting What She Deserves

I’ll admit I sometimes watch Buffy reruns for inspiration. There’s a good laugh in almost every episode, even the serious ones. The thing that brings me back time and again, though, is the consistency of the characters and their depth.

For those of you who don’t know (both of you), here’s a simplified recap of the show’s premise: Buffy Summers is the chosen one, the one girl in the world who has the super-human speed, strength, and agility to take on the vampires and win. Other than her Watcher, she keeps her identity as the Slayer secret and walks through the world alone. Except Buffy’s not so good at secret or alone. She has a circle of friends who help her out and, I think, keep her sane.

One thread that runs throughout the show’s seven seasons is Buffy’s need to have someone to love. She needs someone who can understand her, someone who can accept what she is and love her because of, or maybe in spite of, it. She needs something good, something happy, to balance out the suckage of slaying all the time.

First, she finds Angel. He’s a vampire who was cursed by a gypsy many years ago, so now he has his soul. He doesn’t prey on humans; he tries to keep them safe. Angel was never my favorite. Even the first time I watched the earlier seasons, I thought he was too much the tortured hero. There’s too much of the martyr in him for me. Plus, he doesn’t solve Buffy’s problem – if he feels true happiness he loses his soul and becomes evil again. Not such a good thing when you’re looking for someone to be with.

When Buffy goes to college, she meets Riley, a down-home farm boy from Iowa. Riley’s more than he seems – he’s a member of a super-secret military group trying to neutralize the “sub-terrestrial” threat. Sounds good, right? He’s nice, he’s cute, he fights vampires and demons. He’s also human. Buffy’s not, not really. She’s something more and I think she deserves more than Riley could give her.

Enter Spike. Spike has been a baddie throughout the series. He’s a vampire looking out for himself and no one else. Mostly. Until he falls in love with Buffy. Then he’s still bad, and still looking out for himself, but he really wants to impress her, make her love him. He does horrible things in the process, but in the end he chooses to regain his soul so he can be worthy of Buffy. That’s what does it for me. That makes him better than Angel, better than Riley. He made the choice, knowing that she might not love him back and that he would still have the soul (and thus the guilt for all he’d done). Even without a soul, he loved her.

Of the three major love interests Buffy has, I would want my characters to be more like Spike. Even though he starts out evil, even though he’s despicable through most of the series, his redemption was believable. He was the one I loved to hate, hated to love, and then just loved. He’s the one I want to emulate - I want characters you feel something about, characters who are real.

What about you? If you’ve seen the series would you pick someone else? What about the minor interests, or the ones that went nowhere? Would you want your characters to be like them?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Story versus Craft

I was researching fiction contests the other day and found a link to last year's winning story for a fairly prestigious contest. Thinking it would give me some insight into what the judges wanted, I read the story.

The piece was beautifully crafted. Every sentence was tight, each scene moved the plot along, and the grammar was perfect. But (you knew there was one coming) the story bored me. I've seen the same story done in the same way (though maybe not crafted so well) at least a hundred times. It didn't offer me, as a reader, anything new.

It brought up a discussion between a friend and me. As a reader who is not a writer, she says she'd rather read a great story with clunky prose or grammar errors. She doesn't care how beautifully crafted a piece is if it has a story that she's seen over and over or that doesn't hold her interest. As a writer who is also an avid reader, I am not sure where I draw the line.

I can only think of one book I ever stopped reading because I didn't like the plot. No matter how well-written it was, nothing could make me finish that book. I know there have been times, however, when I stopped reading something because poor grammar or awkward prose pulled me out of the story too often.

I aspire to have every story I write be as well-crafted as that contest winner. I also want to write stories that you, as a reader, cannot put down. I guess that's where my line is drawn - I want the best of both worlds.

What about you? Where's your line?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The One Who Waited

I finished what I suspect may be the last book in Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series today. I won't post spoilers, but the stories (It was a collection of short stories.) got me thinking about the character of Daemon Sadi.

Daemon is a Warlord Prince who waits 1700 years for his soulmate, the Queen he's meant to serve, to be born. Waiting 1700 years for anything says a lot about a character, but he waited 1700 years, most of them as a slave, and then had to wait for her to grow up. To me, that shows determination and a single-minded dedication to her that can be hard to portray in a character. It probably also shows that he's at least a little crazy. Why else would he wait 1700 years for someone who might never have been born?

Throughout the series, Daemon does some gruesome things, but Ms. Bishop always brings him back to being, if not likable, at least understandable. Daemon's sense of loyalty is shown through his waiting for, and interaction with, his Queen. If he does something gruesome or violent, it's because he felt it would protect his queen.

I noticed the same sort of thing in the last season of Doctor Who. Rory waited two thousand years for Amy to be released from the Pandorica. He loved her so much that he sentenced himself to two thousand years of waiting because he thought she needed someone to protect her. Rory is the total opposite of Daemon in terms of character - he's more the hail-fellow-well-met type than the kill-first-ask-questions-later type of character - but he waits just the same.

They wait. They wait because they are loyal. They wait because they feel a need to protect their mates. They wait because anything else would ring false.

As the characters have been drawn they have to wait. Obviously this isn't something we can use with the run-of-the-mill character, though. Humans can't wait a couple thousand years without some outside help. So what do you do with a human character? How do you show loyalty?

Maybe I'll need to know how to show loyalty in a normal human someday, but for now I think I'll stick with the ones with something extra. I like the ones who wait.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What's Your Status?

No, not the one-liner you posted on Facebook.

Your status is your dominance or submissiveness in relation to, well, pretty much everything. Apparently this is a well-known concept in acting. I had never heard it articulated quite that way until last week. Steven James (love him) wrote an article in the latest Writer's Digest about status. In it, he shows the ways a character's status can flow and change, adding depth to the character and making him more believable.

James points out that heroes should be high status, but they also should have some vulnerabilities. Nobody's perfect, and no one likes a character who seems to be perfect. Connections and interactions with other characters will raise or lower his status throughout the work.

Status is a great tool for revision.

Consider:
1. Tessa's eyes filled with tears. "Please, Jolie. Please help me."
2. Tessa refused to let her tears fall. "You won't help me? Fine."

In the first, Tessa is begging, needy, and brought to tears. She obviously is low status, submissive to Jolie. In the second, Tessa shows self-control, refuses to weep, and accepts that she's not getting help. She'll have to rely on herself. If Tessa is my MC, I'll choose the second version of this scene. I want her to have high status. Even if whatever she's reacting to in the scene is her weakness, I still don't want her to beg. Lower status is fine, begging is not.

What do you think? Had you heard of status before? Do you consider your characters' status when you're writing?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

NaPiBoWriWee Halftime

Well, maybe this is the third quarter. I'm pretty sure we're past halftime.

It's a good thing to have a busy schedule, and I love all the things I am involved in and get to do, but I really need to keep up with my writing. So far I should have four and a half completed first drafts of five different picture books. What I do have is three pretty good outlines, a half-baked idea for today, and a whole lotta nothin' from yesterday.

I'm going to try to get those outlines fleshed out today. I hope that will give me a better idea for today and something for yesterday. I'm pretty excited about Josephine the Coffee Bean, though. She just sounds like fun to me.

On her NaPiBoWriWee blog, Paula Yoo recommended focus booster as a way to, well, keep focused. I'll test it today and see how well it works for me. I can focus for 25 minutes at a time. Really.

What works for you? Do you keep a schedule? Do you work best in focused bursts?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Kelly's Release Day

Speaking of picture books, Kelly Hashway's MAY THE BEST DOG WIN will be released tomorrow. MAY THE BEST DOG WIN is the story of a little dog, Dash, versus the new Super Sweeper 5000. (The previous link is to the book at amazon.com)

Kelly's even having a giveaway on her blog, so click over and check it out!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Happy New Year?

Yes, I know it's almost May.

I've been busy writing, revising, and submitting. I finally improved my submission tracking sheet, so now I can keep track of things accurately, instead of, "Oh, I think that's still out at BigHouse. Or was that the one I need to send out again? Hmm."

Starting May 1, Paula Yoo will be hosting her third annual National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee). In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, writers will write one complete picture book a day for a week. Seven days, seven books. Sounds easy, right?

Hmm. I'm not sure about easy. I'll bet it'll be fun, but easy? A picture book has less than 1000 words, limits what descriptions you can use (after all, the illustrator plays a big part), and you still have to have all the parts of a good book.

Good picture books have a well-crafted story, with beginning, middle, and end and do it in only a few words. They have well-drawn characters who kids want to visit over and over again. Picture books have to be appealing enough that they'll be re-read. After all, what parent will shell out almost $20 for a book a child reads once? Not any I know.

I'm practicing this week with the Monthly Write Off over at the Writers' Retreat. Here's hoping I get the hang of fleshing out characters for short books with repeat readability. I'm sure I can do it, and next week will be tons of fun.

What was your favorite picture book as a child?