Monthly Archives: December 2009

Word for the Year

Tis the season for resolutions.  In the past I have made them, yet I never seem to stick to them.  Maybe because I’ve never really taken myself them seriously.  Two years ago, a fellow scribe and great cyber friend introduced me to the concept of a word of the year.  Last year I gave it a try, along with taking the NaNoWriMo Big, Fun and Scary Challenge.

I finished the year a lot more satisfied with myself as a person and a lot closer to my goals as a writer, a mother, a wife, a sister and friend. 

My word was No.  It forced me to consciously deliberate every committment I was asked to make.  “Can you…?”  No.  “Can you…?”  No.  “Can you…?”  Yes.  Before it was one yes after another and a tired and cranky, over-extended me.  I have been much more effective this year at my extracurricular projects and a lot less stressed.

That little word freed up time for me to write and be a better person.  I shall forever remain fond of the journey it took me on and hope I never forget the power of just saying NO.  It makes YES so much sweeter.

My 2009 Goals were as follows:

BIG
1. Learn to say no! (See, it was so powerful it actaully made my list.)  I am thankful to have allowed it into my vocabulary.
2. Restructure business to maximize income and minimize time. Puts less stress on DH- prolonging lifespan.  Still working hard at balancing my love for my job and my effectiveness in terms of time and finances.  I hate that BIG is not easy. 

FUN
1. Visit out of state sibs at least once this year.  I did visit my sister, but failed to travel to my baby brother’s home.  However, both of them, along with my nephews and my little sis came for a visit this summer so I consider it a success.  Josh, I know you won’t.  Hopefully I’ll get to Atlanta in 2010.
2. Submit 2 mss/week. Yikes! With time off for good behavior/crisis, this will total 100.  I learned a lot by failing at this goal, which ended up being deliberate halfway through the year.  For many writer friends, sheer quantity of submissions seems to be the norm.  It’s a numbers game.  I believed that, too, until I started submitting.  Then I realized it was a quality game.  I am much more deliberate and thoughtful about submissions than I have ever been.  I hope the agents and editors thank me for not innundating their mailboxes with inappropriate manuscripts.  Condolences to those I have.
3. Reclaim 17yr old body. AKA bikini ready by summer. 5 lbs. Lots of toning.  Yes, then no, now back to working on it again.  Darn holidays are so hard on the rear end.  Not to mention the extra padding is nice in the winter.

SCARY
1. Start a website or blog. Uber scary for the technotard.  Success.  One I was petrified to attempt and one I now love with a deep passion.
2. Organize my closets- again. And again. And again.  The again implies an ongoing process that never ends.  I guess that’s what happens when you have four kids, a hubby and a dog.  Not to mention that I’m a serious closet pig.  Out of sight and all that jazz.  Yes.  Yes.  And yes.  Sadly, I will spend the next three weeks doing it yet again!

So there you have it.  My 2009 in a nutshell. 

I am currently deliberating between two new words for the year and am seriously considering the Big, Fun and Scary Challenge.  I would like one writing goal and one personal goal in each category with a word that ties the essence of my year together.  It’s a lot to contemplate in a short time, but I still have a day to figure it out.

Maybe your comments can shake something loose.

If you partake in goal setting, resolutions or words, please share them with the rest of us.  If you don’t, I’d like to hear why not.  I love hearing different perspectives and learning everything I can from each one. 

Please have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve.  I want nothing more than to share another year with you all!

cheers and warm fuzzies~ cat

Blogability

When I spilled the secret of my blog to close family and friends, my sister-in-law responded with a very tongue in cheek “post” of her own.  In essence stating she had absolutely nothing to say, no reason to say it and nobody to listen even if she did.

Yet billions of blogs litter cyber space, chatting away about things like potty training and purchasing tractors to pithy takes on the publishing industry.  Blogs cover every topic that could potentially be interesting, as well as many others that undoubtedly are not.  However each and every one serves a purpose to the author as well as to the readers, no matter how numerous or few they may be.

So how many blogs are there?  I couldn’t find a current answer, though I think they are squeezed into the bright new world as often as babies are delivered to excited and expectant parents.  I can’t help but wonder if the death rate is similar.

Blogs are certainly hard to maintain.  They take time to set up, time and energy to post and the inclination to return comments on comments.  They take creativity–even for hard non-fiction sites.  Each post needs to be well thought out and executed in language that keeps readers coming back for more.  I can only assume they are as easily negelected as my New Year’s resolutions.

A quick Google search turns up more blogs than imaginable and begs the question of whether the authors are “qualified” to write them.  I could feasibly write a blog on anything if I did enough research to sound like I knew what I was talking about.  Or is that even important?  Opinion is passed from person to person faster than headlice between bedmates and with blogs as the medium, readers could find themselves quickly mired in a world of untruths and not even know it.

“But I heard it from my best friend’s father’s uncle’s cousin’s friend who knows the step-granddaughter of the uncle of the president’s neice so it must be true.”

But even if it’s true, does anyone want to read about it?  My new blog has a nifty little feature that tracks the number of visits to my site each day.  My last one did not.  It amazes me to watch the fluctuation of hits.  It also makes me a little paranoid and I find myself wanting to check it–obsessively and compulsively–to figure out my Blogability.

Why do people read it?  Why do I read other blogs?  What makes a blog good enough to enjoy a long life for anyone but the writer?  Or is it enough for the writer to simply write?  If no one reads it, does it really exist?

My Blogability criteria is this: do I feel a connection to the writer, do I find the writing interesting and informative and do I feel compelled to check it out the next day?  If the answer is yes, a blog has Blogability.  To me.

For example, I love the warmth and sincerity I find in some blogs, while others inspire me or stretch my way of thinking.  Some amuse me and others are rock solid information centers.  Some motivate me by the sheer energy of the author and others are like curling up with a cup of hot cocoa in front of the fire place.   

I’d like to learn more about the blogosphere.  For example, why do bloggers blog and why do readers read?  What keeps them coming back for more?

Perhaps your comments can help unravel a little of the mystery.  How many blogs do you follow (or maintain)?  What gives them Blogability?  Have you ever dropped a blog?  If so, why?  Are the number of hits on your blog important to you? 

My blog is a journey and I think I would write it even if nobody read it.  Though I must admit I really enjoy connecting with all of you.  It’s an unanticipated pleasure and one I hope to maintain for a long time.

~cat

Fingers Never Forget

It’s been six days since I last held my keyboard.  When I booted up my computer this morning and began typing, my fingers flew across the keys.  Miraculously tapping letters in the correct order to form coherent sentences and fluid passages.  I was happy to learn that fingers never forget.

The physcial act of writing appears to be almost as soothing as the cerebral aspect of it.  Over the long weekend, I missed it. 

I wonder if writing is an addiction.  Physcially, emotionally and psychologically.  I think it may be.  I have heard of many writers who dabble in the craft, only to give it up for Real Life.  I definitely have.  And yet I keep coming back to it in much the same way an alcholic returns to the bottle. 

The drive become stronger with each dabble and the frequency between bouts shortens.  I come back to writing with renewed vigor and intensity, while the thought of not writing makes me want to throw up–literally.  My stomach hurts at the thought of not being able to write anymore. 

The pathway from my brain, and the incessant chattering of characters therein, to my fingertips has been forged.  I was fine during the long, snowed in weekend as long as I didn’t think about it.  I deliberately left my laptop at home so as not to be tempted during the midst of the Christmas celebration.  Out of sight, out of mind. 

Like an alcoholic, I steered clear of the bar and it worked. 

Until this morning when I woke up.  I had planned on getting up and working out with DH.  However, as soon as he left the warmth of our bed, my laptop called to me.  I was alone.  I had no responsibilities at 5:30 am.  And my computer was in my bag next to the night stand.  The temptation was more than I could handle. 

I booted up my laptop intending to finish my edit on my chapter book.  Yet my fingers instinctively hit the internet button.  I chastised myself as I waited for my homepage to load.  I knew that if I let this insanity continue, I would not get to my editing before the day demanded my attention elsewhere. 

I checked my emails and told myself to ex out.  Self said, “I can’t leave my fellow scribes waiting.”  After all, it had been six days since I last posted. 

So here I am.  Commenting.  Checking out Cassandra’s blog and posting on my own.  I’m thirsty for more.  It’s that first tiny sip as I perch precariously on the edge of the wagon.  I feel myself tipping over the edge.  I see the road on which I will land and yet I can’t stop myself.  When I am finished here, I will open my file and lose myself in the beauty of the written word. 

It may be hours before I come to my senses and realize I have lost half a day.  Like all addicts, I will feel guilt.  Guilty enough to motivate me to finish the afternoon responsibly.  Guilty enough to ignore my manuscript tonight.  Guilty enough to understand the raw craving and the consequences of giving in to the urge to work on my NaNo novel. 

Yet not strong enough to put my writing away for any length of time because I am an addict and fingers never forget.

Over the years, I have reprioritized things in my life to accomodate my addiction.  I have learned to let my house go just enough that it is still clean, but not perfect.  I haven’t turned the television on in years for myself to enjoy.  I have cut back on my reading and have given up my more mild hobbies of scrapbooking and card making.  I have sacrificed some pleasure to feed my addiction.  Thankfully I had the luxury to do so without significantly impacting my family. 

How about you?  Do you find writing to be a mere hobby or a driving addiction?  How have you reprioritized to accomodate your desire to write?  Do you feel any sort of guilt connected to the time you spend at your keyboard?  If you’re a non-writer, what activity in your life could be considered an addiction?

I have always thought there should be a support group for writers.  Then again, maybe there is and it’s called networking…

cheers~ cat

Gearing Up

Work, my real job, has kept me off my blog.  In the upcoming days it will be snow and the Holidays. 

Here in our little town on the prairie, we are gearing up for a whopper of a storm.  Twelve to eighteen inches of snow, strong winds and drifts from six to ten feet tall.  Sounds fun!

Smells like a great setting…

  • For the picture book: something about snow angels.
  • For the chapter book: weathering disappointment and making the most of the situation after missing that all important and anticipated event due to snow.
  • For the middle grade novel: stranded at school over Christmas break.  Seriously, could life get worse than that? 
  • For the YA: okay, this topic may be overdone already, but still with a unique twist, it could be spectacular.

I’ll leave the adult themes up to those who write them.  Namely my thriller or romance friends who could definitely use a snowstorm to create the right amount of drama and tension. 

I may post between now and next Monday, but then again, the holidays and the storm may keep me sufficiently occupied.  In case I don’t “see you” again, I wish you all a blessed holiday season.

As I say to my big kids when they leave the house: be safe, be good and have fun!

Happy Holidays~ cat

I’m it. And you get to read about it!

No, I don’t have a big head and think I’m all that and a bag of chips.  Instead, I got tagged by a good friend and fellow writer, Jemi Fraser.  On her blog, Just Jemi, she tagged me to share a little bit about my writing by answering multiple a handfuls of questions.  And since you’re here, you get to read about it. 

1)What’s the last thing you wrote? What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?
The last thing I wrote was my National Novel Writing Month Young Adult novel: Whispering Minds.  The first thing I wrote that I still have in a box in the basement is a short story about an alien attack on Earth.  In it, the MC learns that fear of the unknown can be far more dangerous than reality.  I was in the 5th or 6th grade and the handwritten-in-smudged-pencil story still sends a slight shiver down my spine. 

2) Write poetry?
I try really hard not to, though I may qualify as an oral poetry teller.  I make up goofy, rhymy stuff for my kids all the time.

3) Angsty poetry?
I don’t remember being an angsty kind of kid and I certainly never wrote poems about puberty and boys and other angsty stuff.  Ugh!

4) Favorite genre of writing?
Anything juvenile.  I love bullies, mysteries and a little hint of romance.

5) Most annoying character you’ve ever created?
A parrot who never shuts up.  He sings annoying little ditties throughout my chapter book, Treason on the High Seas. 

6) Best plot you’ve ever created?
I think the one I just finished.  I love the mystery and the intertwining of reality and mental health in Whispering Minds.  However, my all-time favorite story is Treason. 

7) Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?
The last line of Whispering Minds.  It blows me away and makes me want to double check my sanity.

8) How often do you get writer’s block?
I never have writer’s block in the sense that I have no ideas.  They proliferate faster than caged rabbits.  However, there are times when my current WIP is sluggish.  I’m learning to get around that by writing a quick idea or two and skipping forward to the next vivid scene.  This approach seems to help.

9) Write fan fiction?
Never.  Still not exactly sure what that is…

10) Do you type or write by hand?
Laptop.  I actually got a netbook from my loving and wonderful DH.  At two pounds I can about put it in my pocket.  And the pages never rip out!

11) Do you save everything you write?
No.  I cut ruthlessly and move on.  I know it’s a big no-no, as everything can potentially be used again, somewhere, but I feel it’s a little like losing a page and trying to rewrite.  It never ends up the same and often lacks magic.  Starting from scratch always works best.  Especially since the plot bunnies are so prolific.  I never lack for words…

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?
I choose not to “abandon” any of my writing.  I let it simmer–sometimes for years.  It’s like a Thanksgiving dinner.  The turkey takes longer to finish than the corn.  It’s all a matter of timing and putting my efforts where I’m most effective at the moment.

13) What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
I have three, so not really a good answer. 

  1. My chapter book, Treason.  I love the humor and fun narrative. 
  2. My middle grade, Postcards from Reading Camp, for its impact on literacy and humor.  Always humor and mystery plus a bully.
  3. My newly finished YA, Whispering Minds.  It has rounds of edits to go through, but I love the psychological thrill it gives me.

14) What’s everyone else’s favorite story you’ve written?
Treason.  My kids LOVE it.  Even my big ones.  So do my crit buddies.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
Until Whispering Minds, I wrote for the younger crowd.  The love was hinted at through a little tension and a peck on the cheek.  I guess I have one angsty book but it’s a middle grade and not really drama-filled.  Please note above my love of humor.

16) What’s your favorite setting for your characters?
Camp Crusoe from Postcards from Reading Camp.  Who doesn’t love a good ghost story around the bonfire, quirky bunk mates and irresponsible camp counselors?  Not to mention I was a camp counselor in Northern Minnesota and there is no better place in the world than the BWCA.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Too many to count.  I’d say roughly eight, between the various editing stages.  I have no current WIPs in regards to actually writing a rough draft, though a prompt from a writing friend is compelling me to begin a new one. 

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?
Several.  Nothing big or impressive.  Mostly fun stuff.  My favorite was a book from a blogger buddy.  I choose to believe it was my stellar writing and not the buddy factor or significant lack of other entrants that earned me the award…

19) What are your five favorite words?
Scooch.  Scrummage.  Prolific.  Curmudgeon.  The most beautiful is family.

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?
Probably Gemini Baker from Whispering Minds.  She’s got a lot of stuff to work through that stems from my love of psychology and child advocacy.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
They call to me.  Seriously, a phrase or sentence comes to me as plainly as if someone shouted it.  It’s the voice that brings the characters to my writing.  I can have an idea stewing around for years and never write it until the right voice waves its metaphorical hand at me.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Ironically, my first published-for-money short story was the product of a dream.  Almost in its entirety.  It must have been a good dream because it made the annual “Best of” anthology.   : )

23) Do you favor happy endings?
Absolutely.  I write for kids and if there is ever a need for hope and happiness, it is for this age group.  Though I guess Whispering Minds kind of breaks this warm fuzzy pattern with it’s last line…

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Definitely.  My internal editor never shuts up.  I did learn to pass on plot holes this NaNoWriMo season, though I can’t pass up a misspelled word, etc…

25) Does music help you write?
No.  I am auditorally-challenged.  I get sidetracked within my own head.  To deliberately encourage outside noise would be intollerable. 

26) Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops in your head.
“It is better to die right than to live and be wrong.”  Junior from Treason.

Told you it was a lot of questions!

And now I will tag three bloggers you may not be familiar with.  For other awesome blogs, check out my sidebar.   

  1. Greenwoman is a NaNoWriMo buddy.  Michelle has an amazing outlook on life and a talent for photography that stuns me.  Her blog is filled with slices of literature, beautiful pictures and humorous insights into life. 
  2.  The WriteRunner holds a special place in my cyber heart.  In part because Andrew is one of the most honest and  helpful critiquers I’ve ever had and also because I love his whimsy. 
  3. Dirty White Candy inspires me.  With nearly a dozen published novels, Roz Morris provides great tips from a writer who’s gotten somewhere. 

I hope you enjoyed a peek into my writing life and will also check out my cyber buddies along the way.  Writing is a community and any support is greatly appreciated.  Even if it’s a quick jaunt to check out a new blog.  You never know what fun and exciting stories are a mere key stroke away!

My Holiday Gift to You

Two things struck me this morning as I got ready.  One, I’m a liar.  And two, I’m a creature of habit.

I think all writers are, by nature, liars.  Or at least fibbers.  We have to be to make all these things up.  Yet I’m guessing that not all writers or even liars, and certainly not good moms, teach their children to lie.

Last night I lied to my Middle Son right in front of Youngest.  And Youngest caught on admirably for his wee age and joined me in the ruse.  Oh Hannah, slap on the shackles and take  me away to the naughty mommy farm.  I don’t deserve these precious kids.

Anyway, we were in the store picking up last minute gift tags, tape, school holiday gifts and a present from Youngest to Middle.  During the “what to buy the school kids” debate, both boys decided they wanted a Bakugan–for themselves.  (Which could be spelled wrong, as I don’t really know what these things are, other than a boy game with little balls that smash into each other and “break”.)  Middle in particular wanted these delightfully expensive toys.

When he walked around the corner, I whispered to Youngest that he could get one for his brother for Christmas.  Like all kids with big ears, Middle returned and demanded to know what I had whispered to his sibling.  With a straight face, I said, “I told him I would buy it for his birthday.”

Youngest, with an equally straight face, continued.  “I really want this and it might not be here for my birthday.  Mom says I can’t open it until then.”

I worried that he believed my lie and I was now locked into buying this set of “broken” toys for a January birthday when all I really wanted was to get out of the store with my Christmas shopping done. 

Youngest turned to me and winked.  What a LIAR HEAD!  I had never been so proud of his cunning.  Then I panicked.  Maybe lying is genetic.

 Truly, I think it might be.  At least the propensity for it.  Otherwise how would he have done it so smoothly at the tender age of five?  Without prompting? 

I won’t get into the moral issue of fibs, white lies, exaggerations, sarcasm, falsehoods or whoppers, in part because I don’t know if one can truly distinguish one from another.  A lie is a lie no matter how small and regardless of purpose.  Or is it? 

The Easter Bunny.  That dress looks fine.  I like your new haircut.  Nope, I’m not mad.  The fish was this big!  Need I say more?

I’ll just say that I’m less concerned with the collusion that Youngest and I perpetrated than with habitual lying.  Partially because habits can be troublesome if they are of the wrong ilk.  I like some of my habits.  For instance, I don’t have to remind myself to brush my teeth.  It’s one of those good habits.  Followed by shuffling into the kitchen to  make coffee, getting the kids up and blogging (when Real Life does not intervene.)

This morning, I shuffled and measured.  Mindlessly.  DH is gone and yet I, a creature of habit, didn’t adjust for his absence with the coffee.  I still made ten cups, because to do otherwise would actually call on brain cells that otherwise don’t get activated for this task.  Hence the word habit. 

I am a creature of habit and I lie.  This morning, I choose to applaud these quirks.  I think they make me a better writer.  I write (or engage in other writerly activities) almost everyday. 

Without this habit, my writing would still be in the “hobby” stage rather than the “serious-about-getting-published” stage.  This habit has made me a better, stronger and more active writer.

Now for the lying.  Not quite so easy to justify, though if I creatively give it another name I can tweak it to sound amazing and admirable.  Please follow my logic:

  • Lie
  • Fib
  • Fabrication
  • Imagination
  • Creativity
  • Fiction
  • Novel
  • Publication
  • Author
  • Best-seller

Okay, you get the picture.  Writers are amazing at conjuring up what if scenarios and pairing them with endearing characters and enticing plots.  All made up in our heads.  And if it is not real, then it must be false and any falsehood, by definition is a lie.  See how this circle works?

By nature, writers use their gifts to tweak reality and stock shelves across the world with fiction.  We expand on the truth, for every book has a small kernel of it, and give our readers a delightful surprise.

Imagine how thrilled Middle Son will be to tear away the wrapping from his gift and find his heart’s desire.  That is how writers want their readers to feel.  When we can elicit that same excitement from between the covers of our books, we will feel the heady rush of joy that Youngest will feel on Christmas Eve. 

My gift to you this season is the permission to lie.  Habitually.  Use your talent to expand on reality and create magical worlds with endearing characters and enticing plots.   Believe me when I say that in the world of writing, fabrication is a good thing.

What gift do you wish to pass on to your fellow scribes?

~cat

Prolific Characters

It may just be me, but I think we have a few too many toothbrushes in our house.  Nineteen for six people seems excessive.  Granted we have three bathrooms, allowing one to argue that six toothbrushes in three bathrooms is okay.  You know, on the off chance that a chopper-scrubbing emergency might occur anywhere in the home.  Something like a displaced popcorn hull that could be fatal unless removed in 2.2 seconds in the nearest bathroom.  Quick, no time to run upstairs.  Our speed and agility might be the difference between a family of six and a much smaller fam of five.  Thank our toothbrush hoarding foresight for warding off that disaster.

I can’t imagine a time when I would need to brush my teeth in any room besides my own bathroom.  And, quite honestly, neither can my kids.  All four of them brush their teeth in the master bathroom.  Hence, one bathroom times six people equals thirteen toothbrushes too many. 

How did we collect so many?  I honestly don’t know. 

But I do know that peripheral characters in a novel can proliferate as easily as excess toothbrushes.  As writers, we tend to add characters willy-nilly.  The grocery store clerk debuts in chapter three.  The ice cream man stops by in four and seven.  The teacher arrives on time for chapter one, but is truant until the finale. 

But, we might argue, somebody needs to give our MC her change after bagging her much needed groceries.  Someone needs to throw the protag off the trail and the ice cream man is the perfect combination of smooth and cool.  The teacher helps solve the crime.

My answer.  Too many toothbrushes.

When our novels have too many characters, readers can lose interest.  It’s hard to split our time, attention and loyalties between too much of anything.  For younger readers, it can be a simple matter of character overload.  They become confused and can’t effectively keep the names straight.  Once the door of discontent opens, the covers of a book close. 

Middle grade and YA readers can tolerate more named characters than the youngest readers, but they still want a small enough cast to care about each character.  Even a little bit.  Remember that grocery store clerk?  If he has a name and a description, someone might walk away mighty upset that his only role was to bag canned goods.  The teacher?  Heck, even I have trouble remembering a character fourteen chapters later.  The impact on the reader will be non-existent. 

Even adults (or it just may be me) hate when characters flutter in and out of novels, but don’t really have any meaning.  It’s a waste of time to describe a character who has no impact on the story. 

So how many is too many?

I searched endlessy to find the correct answer.  Alas, Google doesn’t seem to know either.  I then turned to my bookshelves hoping for some clear cut resolution to pass on to you.  Again, I had no resolution.  My findings indicated anything from one MC to dozens of characters  is okay–picture books included. 

  1. Middly Grade Hatchet by Gary Paulson.  One MC.  A handful of peripherals.
  2. Picture book Donna O’Neeshuck Was Chased by Some Cows by Bill Grossman.  One MC and dozens of farm animals, a boy on a bike, town’s people, etc..
  3. Chapter book Roscoe Riley Rules #1: Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs by Katherine Applegate.  One MC and a dozen or so peripherals. 
  4. YA Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  One MC.  Peripherals: too many to count.
  5. Adult fiction Thr3e by Ted Dekker.  One MC with a strong support character and antagonist.  A small handful of peripherals.

This tiny sampling shows there is no definitive answer to the number of characters a book should have.   And so, as I have nothing concrete to pass along to you, I will provide you with my perception after being an avid reader and writer for many long  years.  Sorry I can’t be more informed, but here it goes:   

Get rid of the characters you don’t really need.  Often times we can roll several incidental characters into one.  This new creation can be fleshed out and have an impact on the story.  Maybe the ice cream guy and the grocery clerk are one person.  This makes the red herring premise even more realistic if he seems to “show up” everywhere. 

The teacher?  I suspect she could also show up in a few more chapters at key points.  For instance, behind the MC in the grocery line.  Even if she doesn’t say anything, she can witness something small and make her heroic effort at the end more plausible. 

Be judicious in naming your characters.  Not everyone needs a name, a title and a description.  If they are nothing but a warm body in case of a popcorn hull emergency, they don’t need a prominent place in your novel.  If you indtroduce them, they will become important for that simple fact.  If they’re not important, don’t name them.  Or better yet, throw them out when you clean up the bathroom edit your manuscript.

I apologize for asking a question I can’t rightfully answer.  Each manuscript is different in scope and depth.  Some may require a large cast while others work well with a mere handful.  It is up to you to determine if characters can be combined or cut completely.  Only you know if they are essential to the outcome of the story.

I’m off to purge my home of extra toothbrushes.  Gotta make room for the new ones!

Tales from Technology

Our world is simultaneously bigger and smaller than it was twenty-five and fifty years ago.  This is a tremendous benefit to grandparents and writers.

Last night my Middle Son had a music concert.  Week night events are nearly impossible for grandparents to attend.  My parents are three hours away and DH’s are four.  Not an easy, hop-in-the-car jaunt when the musical event is sandwiched between two work days. 

Had the concert taken place fifty years ago, our parents likely would have been living in the same town or even the same house as us.  They would have had no problem attending a week night event.  Twenty-five years ago, they might have been a town or two away.

As technology has advanced, so has our mobility as a society.  Now-a-days, we judge proximity by states not miles. 

Yet last night, an amazing thing happened.  Our parents did attend the concert.  Our school is in the infant stages of webcasting school events.  From four hours away, DH’s mom nudged me via a text What is he wearing?  Is he next to the girl in the red dress?  Oh, I just saw him speak!

It was magical to share our lives from so far away. 

And some astute authors are cashing in on this magic.  They have begun virtual book tours and blog tours.  They speak at events through webcasting, chat on the phone with book clubs or discuss topics online via chat sessions. Connecting to a wide range of people is limited only to an author’s  imagination and determination.

All this technology has expanded our global reach.  We can be the guest of honor on a blog in Australia.  We can attend a school visit in Europe.  We can “chat” with authors and readers from one coast to the next, all from the comfort of our home. 

Yet as our world expands, it also shrinks.  Technology takes the miles away and brings our family, friends and loyal readers from states away and puts them back in our home towns and right into our living rooms.  We can connect on a personal level despite the distance. 

With this magical new world comes greater responsibility.  As writers and as humans, we need to be hyper-conscious of the ease of technology.  We need to safegaurd our relationships.  All of them.  I think technology could easily replace personal relationships.  It could become so comfortable to web-cam from home to home that the urge to visit and be visited diminishes.  After all, why bother with the inconvenience of travel when it is easier and more cost effective to boot up the computer?

As technology becomes the norm, we may be able to attend events without ever really showing up.  Which is fine if you would prefer Aunt Maud to spill her cranberry vodka on her own carpet while you said quick hellos from across the room continent on Christmas morning. 

But what about writers?  My worry is that, unless we are mindful, technology can create a chasm between writers and readers.  It would be rather easy to revert back to the smoking jackets and hermit-like ways if we can sip our cranberry vodkas while “speaking” to a room full of kids.  This valley could become an uncrossable canyon in terms of knowing our audience and really connecting with them.

Do you feel that technology enhances or detracts from a relationship?  What concerns do you have about going “virtual”?

Confession

I am not Catholic, but if I could and knew how, I would crawl into a confessional and admit my guilt.

Sadly, my confession will firmly place the blame on another person.  One I don’t know, but will blame anyways for my inability to accomplish anything important yesterday and today.

The first half of my confession is to admit that I am a hopeless book addict.  Over the years, I have gotten much better, and can actually read a book over an entire month.  I hate to do that, as  I love sitting down with the characters and the story and gorging myself on their lives.  However, Real Life usually gets in the way and I have to read a book in bite size pieces and be content with a page or two at a time. 

A few days ago, I finished Graceling.  Kristin Cashore’s debut novel was such a delight that I couldn’t stop reading until I devoured the entire thing in less than a half a day–with interruptions.  Oh, the dreaded interruptions.

Which leads me to the second half of my confession.  Last night, I cracked open the companion book to Graceling.  Fire was just as riveting and amazing and heartfelt as the first.

I read myself to sleep and (don’t hate me, dear fam) couldn’t wait to rejoin the characters again this morning.  I almost pushed my kids off to school and I’m quite certain DH felt more than a little confused at my rushed peck and absent-minded good-bye as he left the house.  My book was waiting.

*sigh*

I blame Ms. Cashore.  Her charge is writing a great book.  I hope someday to write lyrical tales that make people want to kick their family out of the house, curl up with a blanket, a cup of hot coffee and live in a land of my make-believe. 

If I ever succeed in doing this, I will gladly take the blame for loyal readers hurriedly sending their families away and coveting hours of solitude where they get absolutely nothing done.  I would love nothing more than to learn that someone cared enough about my characters to forget the laundry in the wash machine.  It would make me giddy to envision a reader pulling her nose out of my book, blinking into the waning light and realizing with a rush of excitement and disappointment that an entire day had magically slipped away.

Kudos to Kristin Cashore for giving me one spell-binding day in which the laundry is unwashed, the dishes piled in the sink and dinner a slap dash of whatever there is in the house.  I hope to pull myself together and pull off the illusion that I did, indeed, accomplish something before DH gets home.  Otherwise, he may not feel so inclined to let me purchase her next book.

And that would be a tragedy.

Honestly?

Well, no.

Usually we don’t want the honest answer.  As writers, we don’t want to hear that our “perfect” manuscript is still in need of a great deal of work.  As moms, we don’t want to hear that our skin is squishy and we have gray hair.  (Yes, I’ve heard that and much more, as I apparently have one foot in the grave.)

My Youngest has a knack for telling it like it is–in his mind.  At five, he can be somewhat excused for this behavior.  Espcecially when he doesn’t mean any harm.  It doesn’t help that I laugh– he has the most sincere and charming way about him.  And if I really look at it from his point of view, it’s as much about him as it is about those he comments on.

As an example: Last night we attended DD’s choir concert.  Part way through, he leaned into me and said, with the utmost sincerity, “It’s amazing that an old grandma like that can play so fast.”

In his own way, he was paying the pianist (who, incidentally, is not an old grandma) a very sincere compliment.  To him, he was commenting on the fact that he could never hit all those keys and make such beautiful music.  (And no, Pam, it wasn’t you!  Your compliment was given in a dreamy voice, “Mrs. K is so talented.”) 

In defense of him, our perch from the upper level did not provide the clearest perspective.  Also, as I’ve mentioned before, my body is falling apart in his eyes.  But that’s because he’s five.  His body is young and fresh.  His world is vibrant.  Everyone older than his big brother is OLD. 

And the older we get, the more we learn to temper our versions of reality.  We realize that calling it like we see it can hurt feelings, even if the intention is good.  In time, Youngest will say, “Wow, she is an amazing piano player.”  Which is exaclty what he meant the first time around.  Just in different words.

How does this impact us as writers?  It gives us a fresh perspective on giving and receiving critiques.  It allows us to temper the way we phrase things without compromising the meaning.  As the critiqued, it should teach us that everyone has a different opinion and that we need to listen to what is intended, not always how it is said.

Sometimes in life we hear things we really don’t want to hear.  Even if we specifically asked for an opinion.  (Honey, do these pants make  my butt look fat?  Never mind, don’t answer.)  Writers, in particular, share this affliction.  We ask for critiques–which is hard in the first place–and put ourselves out there for someone else to judge. 

It’s easy to take critiques personally.  It’s easy to focus on the negative and ignore the positive.  It is extremely easy to get defensive and withdraw from the process. Yet if we walk away from this post believing that most commentary is given out of love or respect, we can better focus on the critique itself, and not necessarily the way it is given.

We can also learn to frame our words in a way that helps rather than hurts.  We can give specifics.  Playing a fast piano can translate into a novel that has good flow.  Squishy skin and gray hair can signify the excess use of adjectives and adverbs.  Talent can mean good character development. 

The best critiques are the ones that say, “I liked the way you used transitions to carry me through the novel.  You did a nice job with the flow and nothing felt abrupt or out of place.  However, since I know word count is important, you may be able to tighten up some of your passages by eliminating extra adverbs.  I specifically noticed the use of “suddenly”.  But that’s okay, my word is “that.”  It pops up everywhere!  I particularly liked the way you developed the antagonist in this story.  Making him a vet who really loved the animals he saved made him so real to me that I almost hated to hate him.”

Those specifics mean something.  It helps us learn our strengths and weaknesses.  And, it reads much better than this, “I liked the story and the antagonist, but your word count is way too high for an editor to ever touch this manuscript.”

In essence, they say the same thing.  One is just more useful and less hurtful than the other.

Fellow scribes: Share your best and your worst critiques in terms of helpfulness.

My fave: a little smiley face by certain words or phrases.  It lets me know that my humor is working where I want it to. 

My least helpful critique was for an entire middle grade manuscript.  In its entirety: That’s nice.

Honestly?!?!?

*If you want to read a professional opinion on critiquing, check out Maeve Maddox.