Monthly Archives: July 2010

Need Novel Fodder? Visit Snopes.

This summer our little community has been infested with earwigs.  These nasty looking critters don’t cause undue damage to humans or property regardless of what the urban legends purport.

Thanks to About.com: Urban Legends

Earwigs have a horrible reputation as murderous creatures.  They’re believed to sneak into a sleeping person’s ear and burrow into the brain, supposedly causing death or insanity.

While these insects look like a sci-fi movie gone wrong, the only harm they cause is a mild pinch when handled by humans.  The moral of the story is don’t believe everything you hear and don’t molest earwigs.

A quick online search can pull up hundreds of crazier than crazy stories.  As writers, we would be remiss in ignoring such fun and fascinating tales.  Their uses are plentiful. 

  1. We could have a character subscribe to an urban legend and act accordingly, creating quite the fun personality quirk.
  2. A firm belief in such odditities could ultimately save the day when everyone is ill prepared to deal with an unbelievable twist later in the story.
  3. What if the urban legend is true?  And nobody believes it except a few key characters?  Yeah, what if earwigs really did cause insanity, but that they’ve gotten smart?  Instead of hiding out in the ear, they pop in, cause damage and then slither away into the night?
  4. What if the urban legend isn’t really true, but everyone believes it? 
  5. Why not take a Snopes story and give it a twist?  Personally, I like the story of the robbers holding people up at snake point.  But what if the cops used snakes to flush out the robbers instead?

The world is full if infinite possibilities.  All we have to do is open our eyes to the possibilities.

Have you ever worked a myth into your manuscript?  If so, how?  How well do you research your information before typing it into your story? 

A quick look at snops.com can bust your chops with something you used to believe as gospel.  It can also be a great way to waste the afternoon.

Hugs~

Title Me Popular

I finally got caught up on all my comments after being gone.  In the process, I popped over and checked out my spam filter and had to laugh long and hard. 

Titling our posts can create quite the interesting attraction to certain…uh hum…customers. 

For instance, my post “My Nose Doth Grow” captured the attention of spammers wanting other body parts to…well…grow. 

I’m guessing I can toss out “my” and “doth” as the instant attraction culprits.  “Nose” likely is not the victim either–that one is reserved for plastic surgeons.  So, sorry to throw you under the bus, Grow, but you must have tickled the fancy of a certain subset of lurkers.

Which makes me wonder: do online landscaping companies net as many body enhancement spam messages whenever they blog about growing flowers, green grass and trees as I did talking about lying?  If so, I’d quit the business.

Ultimately, this whole spam thing brings me full-circle to a writer’s online presence.  What we write and how we write it greatly impacts the type of viewer visiting our sites.

Duh.  That’s about as common sense as not picking your nose in public. 

But we can forget how vital it is to come up with a snappy post title that will garner us the attention we want.  We, who pick through thousands of words to write whole manuscripts precisely and succinctly, forget the full impact of choosing our title words carefully.

I often type search words into google and end up at a random site that has nothing to do with the topic I requested.  Mostly, it is a result of titles.  And while these tangents can be fun to those of us who quest random knowledge for no reason at all, my guess is that most people don’t like being seriously misdirected.

How much thought do you put into your post titles?  Do you find that the use of some words garner unwanted attention, while others garner no attention at all?  What’s your funniest search engine story?

Loaded Connotations

My DD is newly in love.  Her friend’s brother has captured her heart.  The other day, I asked what she did while at BF’s house.  She blushed all the way to her belly button.

“Nothing.  Not that.  Nothing.  We don’t do anything, Mom.  I promise.”

Me: “So you just sit and stare at each other?  You don’t talk or watch television or play games or anything?  Just stare?”

She, with her blush subsiding: “Oh, that.  We hang out and talk or watch tv or play on the computer.”

Sometimes we forget that words can be loaded.  We don’t realize all the subtle connotations that are attached to simple phrases.  Yet as writers, we need to be hyper vigilant about the words we choose and how they can impact our readers.  Especially when we write cross-culturally or across generations.

When we write, we cannot accurately portray the way want the meaning to sound.  Body language, facial clues and vocal inflection are not present on the printed page.  This makes it essential for us to understand all the connotations of a given word before committing it to paper.  Otherwise we end up with stammering, blushing readers who fail to grasp what we intended to say.

What words rub you the wrong way?  How do you handle passages that offend you?  Do you reread them to look for alternate meanings or do you simply put the book down and move on to something a little less confrontational?  Is this something you look for when editing your manuscripts?  If so, how do you balance what you wanted to say with what might actually be on the page?

Creative Coloring

Color is an interesting thing.  Like smells, we attach certain memories and feelings to certain colors.  Unlike odiferous things, the tint on the walls can play a big part in how our brains work.

A simple splash of paint can affect us physically and psychologically.

Ever notice that food joints bombard us with red?  That’s because the color triggers our feeding frenzy.  Simply changing the hue of your kitchen can help you shed pounds. 

Feeling dull?  Black and white–nice attire for a penguin or a groom–can actually decrease a child’s IQ if used extensively. 

Yellow?  Most babies adore it.  Most adults hate it.  A pale shade can decrease irritability, as can light peach or cream.

Feeling blue?  Actually, blue slows your heart rate, and is a great choice for a relaxing spot at the end of the day.  Or, a great spot to open your SASE’s. 

On the other hand, red excites the body and mind.  While this color increases your heart rate, it can also increase your IQ if used as a cue for learning.  Think stop lights, stop signs and fire engines.  Kids love them and can tell you very young what those colors mean.

Orange is similar in how it impacts the brain’s desire to attach memories to the color.  Danger signs are a prime example of using this color properly.

Lastly, green is a learning color.  It’s associated with fertility, renewal and creativity.  Got writer’s block?  Hop in a green room or step outside to a lush garden.  In no time, you’ll be adding words to your daily count.

So, what colors do you surround yourself with?  Is your office/writing space a warm, comforting blue that lulls your muse you to sleep, or a vibrant burnt orange that excites you?  Do you find that a walk in the park can spark creativity?  Or are you killing plot bunnies brain cells by working in a modern office with black and white furnishings?

hugs~

White-washing the Grime

Welcome to the verbal tour of my preschool house (yes, I promise this will be relevant to the written word).  As we enter the kitchen, you will note that the walls are freshly painted and the old-style cupboards lend it a quaint air.

No…wait…don’t!  Awww, shoot.

Tell me you didn’t just open that cupboard.  Tell me you didn’t notice the fingerprints of previous owners.  Tell me…

Yep, we did contact paper the shelves.  I know, the inside of the doors themselves could use a white-wash to make them fresh and clean.  Fine.

Ever feel this way about your writing?

You have a perfect manuscript with perfect characters and a perfect plot.  Everyone loves it on a beta read.  You dream of it making the endcaps.  It’s awesome!  Except…

You can’t quiet put your finger on what bothers you.  It feels a bit dull.  Bland.  Smudged.  Used.

Sometimes when we spend so much time rewriting our plot and characters, we lose a bit of the magic we first felt when we wrote our rough drafts.  We’ve read our manuscripts so often that our brains no longer read the words.  They simply regurgitate the idea we know we’ve written.  We’ve given into the impulse to cut and paste and tweak and add, even as we’ve promised ourselves this is the final read-through.  It’s just so darned easy to do on a keyboard. 

This is the time we need to grab our metaphorical paint brushes.  This is when we print out a paper copy of our manuscripts onto crisp white paper and give it an honest read.

I know, this costs money and kills trees.  But I promise you, when you read your completed manuscript this way, it just feels different.  Some of that old magic seeps in through your fingertips.  Your eyes appreciate the clean lines of black print on white paper instead of computer screen shades of gray.  It’s not as easy to tweak a word or two and after a few pages, you see your manuscript in a whole  new light.

It finally feels like a book.

 What tips do you use to trick your brain into thinking it is reading a book instead of editing your manuscript?  How do you white-wash the grime so it feels as if you are reading your book for the first time?

Anonymous Book Rants

I finished a YA novel about a month ago that I was less than thrilled about.  While reading it, I chatted with a few great friends about this book and how I love, love, loved the author’s blog and purchased the book out of a sense of loyalty and excitement.

I did not, however, love, love, love the book.  To the contrary, it took me well over 100 pages to even like the female MC a little bit.  I never cared about her before she turned bad, then she was so bad only to suddenly turn so lovable-ish.  To her male counterpart, anyway.  To me, she seemed like the poster child for Manic Depression. 

As a whole, I struggled to read the book, even though the writing was good and the premise was better.  My stumbling point?  The character execution.  Even at the very end, I never really cared about the female protag and all my emotions were wrapped up in the male’s suffering and conflict.

In addition, it was written in first person present from two points of view.  Every character switch took some time for me to get back in sync and heightened the disconnect.

That said, I read the book in about 24 hours.  Which was certainly better than another book I tried to read last month and have yet to get past page 17. 

That snooze book was a prequel to two books DD and I read in a past lifetime.  When the first book of the series came out, DD and I devoured it.  The second book she loved.  I was luke warm about it, but still read it and enjoyed it on several levels.  Yet after much begging and pleading, DD refused to read past the first chapter of book three. 

It took me several years after her bad review to even give it a try.  I picked it up last month for something to do while on the stairmaster.  I got as far as page 17, and only because I have to read while working out and nothing else was in my reach.  My beef: the third book looped back to the beginning.  Long before First Book ever took place.  Long, long before.  Star Wars it was not.

Then there was the book right after the 17 page disaster.  While I greatly enjoyed the book as a whole, I hated the ending.  It was so in-your-face not-finished that I could barely gag down the last few chapters. 

Intuitively I knew I was in for a non-complete ending.  You know the ones that say, “Well, we got some of this wrapped up, now go back to the bookstore in six months and you can buy the rest of the story.”?  Fingernails on a chalkboard annoying.

So there you have it.  Three things I hate in books.

  1. Unsympathetic characters.  Ones I never connect with and therefore don’t give a rat’s patooty what happens to them.  It makes for unsatisfactory reading.  I want to love the characters I’m ignoring my family for. 
  2. Books that are tacked on.  Those 17 pages felt like tedious backstory to a story I already read.  Oh wait, that’s exactly what it was.  You can’t hook me with a good story and then expect me to remain faithful when the last book is a moral lesson on how the first two books came about.  Along similar lines are the middle books of a trilogy.  For some reason, many of them feel like a rope bridge between a great start and a great finish.  It’s like the trilogy should really only have two books because that’s where everything good happens, but the author/editor/marketing department wouldn’t know what to call it if they did.  A literary duet, maybe?  A bilogy? 
  3. Lastly, books that are so obviously part of a trilogy or series they feel unfinished.  I hate to be swindled, and I feel like this is the biggest con game around.  Give me a book that is done.  Make me love the characters so much I have to read more.  Want to.  Love to.  Will be heartbroken if I can’t.  Do not–I repeat–do not force me to buy the next book with a cute little ploy just to get the rest of the first story.  That’s the fastest way for an author to get on my list.

That said, very few authors make my list.  I like to give them each two shots.  The first book I’ll buy.  If it falls on my naughty list, I’ll beg, borrow or steal the second one, but not buy.  If both titles leave me flat, I file the author’s name away for good.  This may not be fair, but life is short and if I never added another book to my TBR list, it’s still too long for me to finish in this lifetime.

Now that you know my novel pet peeves, what are yours?  Without  naming names, of course.  What book traits put an author on your banned list?  Once there, is it possible for them to get switched to your TBR pile in the future?  If so, how?

Submitting, Marriage and Deli Sandwiches

On the way home from New Orleans, we stopped at a gas station.  I grabbed a turkey sandwich to appease my hunger.  Before taking my first bite, I glanced down and realized the bun was moldy.  It had expired a week previous. 

When I returned it to the cashier, she was more than a little grumpy and acted as if I had offended her by asking for a refund.  Even though I didn’t gripe or accuse, she took it personally.  By the way she was acting, I’m sure it ruined her afternoon.

Today, DH and I celebrate 18 years of marriage.  Over the course of the years, we have learned to let the little things go.  We have learned to understand the situation and ferret out how it relates to us.  In other words, we don’t take our spouse’s bad days personally and no longer get offended over things outside our control.

These two seemingly unrelated things–marriage and moldy deli sandwiches–reminded me of the submission process.  As writers, it is our responsibility to put forth our best manuscript.  However, acceptance or rejection by an agent is outside our control. 

We must learn to gracefully accept our returned manuscripts and not waste valuable time and emotions by getting offended.  Instead, we need to simply acknowledge that not all agents like moldy turkey on wheat.  We need to understand that many variables outside the quality of our manuscripts actually impact the decision to accept or reject.  We need to discontinue taking rejections (and even critiques) personally.

Only then can we gracefully remain in the writing biz for eighteen years and still enjoy the process.  Only then can we wave off a moldy sandwich without causing a scene.  And only then can we enjoy the ebb and flow of all that life–and writing–throws our way.

hugs~

Barely Breathing

Le Sigh

First the trip, then unpacking, cleaning my school, hosting long lost friends, interviewing for the paper and building a swingset.

I think that’s enough for two days.  Tomorrow is my 18th wedding anniversary (I love you DH), but I will try to sneak into my comments and finish catching up from my trip to New Orleans.

Until then, keep writing. 

Hugs~

Home again, home again. Jiggity-jig.

Okay, so it wasn’t quite that fast.  Forty eight hours on a bus in less than a week is more snailish than anything.  Certainly not worthy of jigging.  But home, sweet home.  Nothing in the world is like it.

After six nights of sleeping in various beds, I finally got to sleep in my own last night.  I woke up to my alarm clock–a soothing melody–and not the annoying buzz of the hotel version.  I drank my coffee, not a six-dollar Starbucks’.  At home, I get free refills and don’t have to wait in line.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Youth Gathering was amazing.  The food delicious.  The atmosphere out of this world.  I recharged my spirit and soaked up the energy of thousands of kids.  I even participated in the Guinness worthy “largest boomwhacker choir”.  It was a blast.

Writing conferences are like that.  They energize the soul and spark the creative muse.  They feed us with delicious tidbits and foster lasting friendships.  They are the lifeblood and the pulse of the writing community.

But at the end of it all, the experience is nothing more than a jumping off point.  At a National Youth Gathering with 30,000 people or a conference with 120 people, the experience is ours to take from and use when we get home.

 I guarantee you that returning to the comfort of your bed, your morning coffee and the melodious buzz of your real life will suck the energy away if you do not foster it. 

You can lead a horse to water…

You can equip a writer or a Christian with all the tools they need to succeed in their newfound lifestyle, but you cannot make them use the tools you have given them.  Nor should they use every one immediately.

Vomiting children will take time and patience.  Demanding jobs will suck up valuable time.  Significant others will require the return of our affection and rejections will weigh us down. 

My recommendation for those who attend conferences, conventions or gatherings of any sort is this:

Incorporate only one or two things into your real life.

Seriously.  Just one or two.  We hear so many great ideas and become passionate about applying each and every one to our lives–writing or otherwise.  But it is too much.  We simply cannot maintain a healthy relationship with our pre-conference/gathering/convention lives and our post ones if we try to do it all.

How do you stay energized after attending mass events?  What tips can you provide that will help us balance our pre and post lives and still come out better for the experience?

Have you ever returned home from a mass event only to find yourself more dejected or unsure than when you left?  If so, why and how did you overcome it?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Seven Writing Sins: Wrath

Feel my rash.

My DH’s brother cracks me up with his idosyncracies of the oral language.  We are all guilty of mixing up our words and saying something we never intended to say.

The written word is even more difficult to decipher accurately due to the lack of body language and inflection.  Yet writers continue to engage in written warfare on the web.

Wrath is expressed in haughty emails after a rejection by an agent.  It can be found in dissenting comments on blog posts.  Forums are rife with wrathful expressions by frustrated or angry writers.

Whenever we open our mouths, in real time or metaphorically, we run the risk of offending someone important.  A particularly nasty comment about African, Jewish book writers ten years ago can, and does, crop up in an agent’s google search.  Too bad for us that Dream Agent hails from Nigeria and has Jewish grandparents.   

WRATH=REJECTION

The whole purpose of  being a writer is to sell material.  To agents.  To editors.  To the reading public.  We cannot do so if we continue to engage in verbal warfare.  There is a way to express opinions appropriately.  Slandering others on the internet is not the way to do so.  It will alienate readers and garner instant rejection by those in the know.

  • Write with care.  What you say can potentially affect people you like, trust and respect.  The feelings will not remain mutual if you can’t keep your slander to yourself.
  • Write with respect.  Don’t diss people, even if you disagree with them.  Rather, disagree with the comment, the method or the point of view. 
  • Do not engage in heated debates in public places.  These biting words will come back to haunt you–and your potential book.
  • If you can’t say something nice…

Well, you get the picture.  Play nice in the publishing sandbox and others will play nice with you.

How do you combat the urge to shoot off a surley message?  What are some ways to control your temper while still fighting the good fight?