Monthly Archives: May 2010

Memorial Recap

This weekend was bitter sweet. 

We headed up north for our annual get-together with my DH’s family.  The littles water skied, swam, had bonfires and played with their cousins.  We big people relaxed, reminisced and had a great time.

I read three books.  Great books.  Incredible books.  I guess that’s what bad weather for one of the days and eight hours in the car can do.  I’ll try to recap those for you later.  I also picked up a few books on my TBR list for me my big kids, thanks to the reviews from some of my blog buddies.  

In addition, we celebrated DH’s 40th birthday.  Not surprisingly, he had a golf theme.  We ate a Titleist Pro V golf ball cake, shared stories (please, God, don’t let my children share his childhood adventures) and sang Happy Birthday twice.  All in all, a sweet weekend.

The bitter part occurred far from our vacation, yet too close to home.  Our little town was the unfortunate site of one of Minneosta’s holiday weekend fatalities. 

Sadly, three children in Eldest’s grade were directly and significantly affected.  My heart and prayers go out to these children and their families. 

I would also like to honor our victims of war.  May they always be remembered for their bravery, courage, loyalty and patriotism.  I do not take their gift of blood lightly and embrace the freedoms they have given me.  My world is a better place for their sacrifices.

For those soldiers still on foreign soil, thank you for your willingness to fight for the freedom of others.  May you return home safely to those who love you. 

God Bless~ cat

Are you a real writer or a wanna-be?

Last night we enjoyed our final concert of the school year.  The kindergarten class sang their hearts out to a packed auditorium. 

I am always amazed at the enthusiasm such young children possess.  They have shed their shyness from their preschool days and aren’t too old to be uncool yet.  They sing with unabashed pride and confidence.

When they make mistakes, they keep singing.  They simply pick up on the next line or the next song and don’t let the wrong note deter them from their goals.

We can learn a lot from the enthusiasm of these youngsters. 

Often, we write our first novel with the mentality of a child.  We write enthusiastically, letting our words fall to the paper.  When we are finished, we can’t wait to show it to the world. 

Novice writers often do.  They forget that even a simple song needs lots of practice and a dress rehearsal.  Instead of honing their skills and properly editing their work, they submit newly completed manuscripts to 100 agents, get a slew of rejections and, in a fit of frustration, age 40 years. 

They become writing curmudgeons.  They are disallusioned and embittered.  I see it on AQ.  I read it in the comments of blogs.  In college, I  was the recipient of a failed-writer’s anger via English 101.  Thanks prof.  

But what if these budding authors stayed young?  What then could they do?

Exactly what you are doing, I would guess.  They would sing with enthusiasm, make mistakes and tackle the next song.  They would practice a hundred times and never grow tired of their favorite words.  They would maintain the magical draw to writing that they felt while penning their first novel.

In short, they would be writers.

My wish for you today is to find your voice.  No matter what you do; practice, practice, practice.  And then sing with the enthusiasm of a kindergartener.

~cat

Mood Writing

Every week, Middle Son has to write sentences using his spelling words.  He’s a pretty sharp kid and a good writer for being in second grade.  He’s also a moody child with a half empty glass. 

Last night he diligently wrote his sixteen sentences then went to bed.  DH and read over his homework and laughed our tails off.

“Tony kicked Kallie.”

“Kallie got nailed.”

“I got pounded.”

“She shouted.”

I don’t know if his spelling words themselves elicited such violence or if Middle was in a funk. 

But it got me wondering.  How much of our writing is affected by our moods?

For instance, I imagine writing a murder scene would be extremely difficult if I was feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.  Likewise, a romantic scene would probably suffer if my dog just died.  I don’t even like to think what might appear on paper if someone knocked on my garage door.

How does your mood affect the flavor of your writing?  Do you have days when everything is pounded, nailed and kicked even when they aren’t supposed to be?  How do you balance your mood with your end product?

Verbal Warfare: do you engage in conflict?

Conflict is good in a novel.  However, I’ve been finding more and more of it on the internet.  Blogs and forums are filled with differing opinions.  Which, in and of itself, is good.  It allows us to learn other perspectives and understand things outside our limited views and experiences.

What isn’t good is when discussion crosses the line.  At times, I quietly lurk because I’m afraid of taking a shot to the face for writing the wrong thing.  It’s like a bad game of Nerf darts–one where you don’t know if your allies are your enemies.

In my real life, I wear many hats.  Almost all of them are in a conflicted arena.  I try very hard to impress upon my clients that they don’t have to agree.  They simply need to listen, understand and respect the other side.

I do this because I have learned the only universal truth in the world: there is no such thing as truth. 

Oh, we each have our own truths and we vehemently hang onto them.  But the reality is there are more opinions than there are people. 

In this respect, the writing arena has many truths.  One for each writer, and all based on personal experience and moral convictions.  Yet we continue to ask loaded questions, looking for the “right” answer.  And others continue to answer these questions with their own truths. 

Most often, people are respectful.  Yet every once in a while, a huge conflict arises.  The mob mentality takes over and we end up shooting darts at each other.  Feelings get hurt, things are said that can come back and haunt us and we leave communities we once loved.

I would like to offer a gentle reminder for myself and others.

  • Respect the other perspective.  This doesn’t mean we have to accept it.  We just have to accept that there are more versions out there than the one we currently believe in.
  • Listen and validate.  It  never hurts to say, “Hey, I can see your point.  I’ve never thought of it that way.”  Again, this isn’t agreement.  It is simple respect.
  • Agree to disagree.  “Those are all valid points, however, I still believe XYZ.” 
  • Hold a conversation, not a war.  When we exchange ideas, we grow as people–even if we never change our minds.  Just listening to and learning from others gives us depth and enriches our lives.  Warfare takes away from that.
  • Remain professional.  Seriously, this is vital for those of us commenting as writers or other industry professionals.  Do not engage in verbal warfare.  Do not name call.  Do not attack individuals.  Ideas are separate from the people who voice them.
  • Don’t let the conflict elevate our emotions.  If we find our hearts racing and our fingers itching to shoot off a response, we need to walk away and save our comments for another time. 
  • Lastly, don’t ever say, “It’s just common sense.”  There is no such thing as common sense.  What seems universal to one may be completely foreign to another.  That doesn’t make others stupid, it just means we all come to an issue with a different set of life experiences.

I don’t know if you’ve visited Layinda’s blog, but she’s a great one to ask questions that really make me go hmmmm.  I love reading her perspective and the responses she gets.  Better yet, everyone who comments there already seems to know that their truth isn’t the only truth.  It’s a refreshing break from the snippiness I’ve seen elsewhere in the cyberworld. 

Another favorite blogger who handles herself and her controversial topics well is Michelle.  She always prefaces a loaded post with a reminder that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and that we need to be mindful of those differences.  I love how she does this. 

And, in the words of one of my favorite AQers, “This is just my opinion.”  It may or may not be right, but it works for me.

Do you engage in conflict or do you avoid the hot-button topics altogether?  How do you handle yourself when you read a comment that makes your blood boil?  Have you ever left a community/blogger that has too much warfare?

Also, do you know of other great blogs that respectfully discuss difficult topics pertinent to the writing world?

When Rabbits Grow

When rabbits grow, they multiply.  And not like 7 x 6 = 42. 

More like 1 x 1 = a litter.

My back yard is full of bunnies.  They eat my lilacs, poop on my sidewalk, and chomp away all the buds from my perennials.  They are a royal pain in my back side. 

Which reminds me of a WIP that is quietly hanging out in the TBRevised pile. 

Sometimes we get carried away with story lines and we let those plot bunnies multiply.  We think it adds tension and drama and depth.  And to a certain extent they do.

But sometimes, we end up with a whole litter of them and they run out of control.  They take over the main conflict, nibble at the important story lines and out number the MC. 

I should have let DH shoot them when he had the chance.  But no, I’m a sucker for those fuzzy little ears and milky white paws.  And their noses….  Be still my heart when a baby bunny twitches his little nose my way.  I’m a sucker for bunnies.

Sadly, my TBR manuscript shows it.  One agent suggested it might be too issue heavy.  What I think she meant was prolific. 

I’m going to don my farmer’s overalls and chase down my plot bunnies.  And the next time two of them shack up under my shed, I’m going to let DH give them the boot. 

One plot bunny is nice.  I think I’ll keep it that way.

Do you have a problem with runaway plot bunnies?  How do you balance the population in your manuscripts?  And how do you decide which plot threads add to your manuscript and which ones eat away at the gist of your story?

Light Your Writing Fire

Friday night arrived with an impromptu party for our teens.  Part of the celebration included a bonfire in our outdoor fire place.  We simply lit the kindling under the stacked wood and walked away, allowing it to burn beautifully for hours.

Not all fires are that easy to care for, however.  Over the years, I’ve built more fires than I can count and have learned a thing or two in the process.  Like the fact that bonfires are a lot like writing. 

Of course they are.  But how?

  1. All good fires start with tinder–the little spark that burns hot and fast with the sole purpose of igniting the kindling.  A story simply cannot be written without an idea. 
  2. Kindling.  These small sticks nurture the flames.  They are subplots and character sketches, setting and conflict and dialogue.  They are little snippets of ideas that gain strength as they grow, united in their journey to create a unique and beautiful story.  Every story, like every fire, needs to be nurtured and fed.  
  3. Wood.  Once we have a fire started, we layer on logs–small ones at first, followed by large, sustaining ones.  This is our writing–our very words that we commit to paper.  For ideas and outlines, no matter how awesome they may seem, are nothing until they are put down on paper.  No words=no fire, and we are left with nothing more than a brief flash of something great that will never be realized. 

So now we have a magical spark, a grand plan and some words.  You may think we have succeeded,  yet with the utmost assurance as a bonfire master, I can tell you these components are merely tools for making a good fire.  We can build our framework around them and still end up without a place to cook marshmallows.  Why? 

The single most important factor in building a fire is a good draft.

If a firebox or chimney doesn’t draft well, a fire will splutter, smoke and die out.  A fire built right on the ground faces a similar demise without the circulation of fresh air.  All fires require a good draft, yet not all fire pits or fire places provide a good supply.  When this happens, we spend more time tending the fire than enjoying the soothing crackle of the wood and the sticky sweetness of s’mores.

Likewise, our writing needs similar care. 

And I don’t necessarily mean an outline or a rough draft.  I mean it in the truest sense of a bonfire.  A draft is that breath of life.  It is the air that feeds the flames.  It alone keeps our fire crackling.  Without a good draft, we have nothing more than a pile of tinder, kindling and logs. 

How do you ensure your writing has an adequate supply of fresh air?  How do you feed and nurture the flames of an idea so your story doesn’t splutter and die out halfway through?

And have you had a s’more yet?  I haven’t, but I can hardly wait for the weekend when I know a bonfire, marshamallows and sweet chocolate await me.

Too Much Noise

This morning we set out to participate in a fundraising walk for Cystic Fibrosis.  As a group of about 75 adults and kids milled around before the shotgun start, the sky darkened and the wind picked up.

A quarter mile into the walk, thunder rumbled and lightning streaked across the sky.  We returned to the park shelter just as the rain began. 

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a park shelter during a hail storm, but I can tell you it is way over stimulating.  Rain drops pounded on the roof, the wind howled at about 35 miles per hour and nickel sized hail pelted trees, cars and the tin walls.  Trapped inside the confines of the shelter, all 75 people waited out the storm by shouting to each other. 

It was utter chaos.

Like some books I’ve read.

The characters shout over each other to be heard.  Plot lines howl, side by side, competing with each other.  And on top of it all, we are pelted with thinly disguised “messages”. 

I just finished such a book.  Ironically, I started it on the way to the CF walk and finished it on the return trip home.  It was loud, obnoxious and chaotic.  I can honestly say I was glad when it was over.

Much like the storm.

Usually I love a good thunderstorm and find them soothing.  The pattering of rain and the rumble of thunder calm me.  In fact, before kids, DH and I used to pop in a thunderstorm CD before bed every night and crank it up.  Sleep was never so magical.

Some authors are masterful at weaving together complicated plots and introducing seemingly unrelated characters.  They are natural story tellers.  Their writing crescendos as a storm peaks and tapers off to leave the reader satisfied and oddly comforted.

Lesson learned.  Pay attention to the overall rythm of our writing.  A thunderstorm is soothing.  A hailstorm is anything but.

What books have you read that fall in the thunderstorm category?  Which ones mimic the chaos of a hail storm?  Which type of story do you prefer?

Make Your MC Human

Yesterday, I was happily writing when someone knocked on my door.  Instantly, my muscles tightened and my heart beat a little faster.  I gritted my teeth and pasted a fake smile onto my face.  As I jerked the door open, I wondered if people could smell anger like they can fear?

You see, I despise people coming to my house via my garage door.  In part because I keep both garage doors and the service door closed.  But especiallybecause my front door has a welcoming sidewalk in which to lead visitors to my home.

So why do people feel compelled to open my service door and  navigate their way through a dark and messy garage?  And why does it make me so  darned grumpy?

I’m tired of the cliched OCD quirks in the novels I read.  Lining up shoes.  Compulsively straightening closets.  These are becoming cookie cutter traits.  I want new tics and quirks.

So, what do you have?  What irrational things bother you and how do you respond to them?  Have you ever incorporated them into your writing? 

What is the best movie or book pet peeve you’ve seen that makes the characters look human?

~ cat

I Dub Thee…

Names are difficult on a good day.  As prospective parents, we pour through baby name books in search for the perfect name.  As writers, we do the same.  We scour every newspaper, brochure, phone book or novel for a unique name to fit our unique characers.

But what about titles?

I’ve been fighting with a title for one of my manuscripts.  Feedback tells me it just doesn’t fit the style of my novel.  This is a concept that never entered my mind before.  I knew the title told about the events of the novel, but I’ve learned that this is not enough. 

Everything about a book has to be perfect.  It has to flow.  From the names of our characters to the titles of manuscripts to the style our stories are told in.  All of this must make a complete and satisfying package.  Because let’s be honest, a lot goes into the mental process of buying a book. 

  • Does the cover look appealing?
  • Does the title speak to me?
  • What’s the cover blurb telling me?
  • Author bio?
  • And finally, the first page…

At any point, we can be stopped cold and the puchase will never go through.

Readers, what do you look for in a title?  And how much does one play into your desire to read the cover blurb or even purchase the book?

Writers, how do you pick a title, and how do you know it works?

Kids 101: for writers and parents

Eldest is in the process of a huge class project for English.  His group is making an infomercial.  Needless to say, our house was the hot spot for filming Butter Nuggets.  Yeah, I know, total slang with a twist.  I’m sure Mr. Henry will approve.

The premise behind this cheesy cracker is that it makes your wish for bigger and better come true.  Just sprinkle Butter Nuggets onto your toy car and *shazowy* it’s a full size Mazda. 

Dipping your toes in the plastic swimming pool not good enough?  *kabam*  It’s a full size watering hole.

My favorite, however, is one Eldest will regret.  One of the gals is talking on her cell phone when her little “brother” (my youngest) annoys the heck out of her.  She wishes for a big brother. 

Enter Eldest, wearing Youngest Son’s outfit from the previous take.  Oh joyful laughfest.  This coming from the kid who refused to wear his rain jacket in kindergarten because someone called him a fireman.  The shirt barely covered his rib cage.  We won’t talk about the shorts.  At least not on the blog.

But it does bring to mind a question for both parents and juvenile lit writers.  How many of us are truly tapped into the world these children are living? 

In so many ways, the world is a different place than when we were growing up.  Kids are immersed in technology.  Friendships are born of ten word texts and virtual games.  Hand held devices are interacted with more fervently than a real person.  We can see this with the naked eye.  

But underneath it all kids are still kids.  They laugh and cry, love and hate and are passionately funny.  Hang with them before writing about them.  Hang with them when raising them.  Get to know them–really know them–and I promise you won’t be disappointed. 

Kids are great people. 

They are smart, friendly and social.  Make them pizza and let them talk.  Crack a root beer and listen.  Make yourself available and you’ll be amazed at how readily they accept you in their lives. 

If you write for kids, you must know your audience.  They are more than your memories and better than the outward signs you see in the mall.  If you are raising them, it is vital to create a connection of communication and respect. 

Laugh with them, love them and enjoy them before they eat too many Butter Nuggets. 

As funny as it was to see the “transformation” of the younger brother to the older brother in the space of an out-take, this section of the infomercial really hit home.  Kids grow up way too fast. 

As parents and/or writers, how do you stay connected to the younger set?  Do you feel it’s important to know kids individually or is it okay to lump them as a whole?  Do you have someone to give you an honest eye roll and let you know you’re on target, or are you guessing based on your own memories?

Because I can tell you that memories are faulty.  If we base our work off them, we will be doomed as writers.  Ditto for parents. 

hugs~ cat