Monthly Archives: January 2012

School Presentations: Best. Rush. Ever!

I just got home from speaking to a fourth grade class about writing.

Nothing beats it.  Inquisitive faces staring back at you: wide-eyed, cringing, grinning, laughing all by the power of your words.

Thanks, Mrs. S, for the great opportunity!

If you’d like to know more about school presentations, please join me next Wednesday over at From the Write Angle.

 

Controversy Alert! Judgement Day

Our tiny town lost a child yesterday.  A first grader succumbed to cancer.  Whatever your faith, whatever your nonfaith, whatever your journey or life experience, this is a tragedy.  A life lost before it got started.  A potential never reached.  Silence, not laughter.  Emptiness never to be filled with love and joy and the growing pains of raising an innocent child to adulthood.

Sadly, a dear friend relayed the loss of a child in her hometown two days ago.  An eighth grader took his own life.  Rumor had it he was bullied.  Another loss.  Another silence in the hearts of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, basketball coaches, peers, future employers, a future spouse and future children.  Another gaping hole where once a child lived.

Each and every life is precious.  Each and every one.

Yet, if I started layering these stories with other information, opinions might begin to change.  Humans are judgemental.  We let our values and prejudices interfere with our basic human compassion.  We put ourselves–and those like us–on pedestals and deem others somehow inferior, somehow less deserving.

I hear it all the time.  As a court advocate for kids, as a mother, a member of social groups, a Christian, a wife, a coworker.  Every role I play puts me in a position to hear–and pass–judgment on others.

Too often, I hear compassion slip away as information is revealed.

“Her dad is black.”  Or Hispanic.  As if this is somehow the reason behind the grades a child gets in school or how well she sits in class.  For the record, plenty of “white” kids get poor grades and fidget through first grade.  They also bring weapons to school and drink and get detention for smart-mouthing teachers.  Yet, I’ve never heard, “Her dad is white.”

“He’s gay.”  As if this somehow negates the very idea that he could love a child without having perverse thoughts toward it.  Hello, folks.  Lots of molested children are victims of heterosexuals.  Lots.  More than you care to consider.  Some of them by biological fathers or grandfathers or uncles or brothers or mothers.  Yes, that happens, too.  And far more often than you’d care to consider.  Our children’s sexual safety isn’t in danger from homosexuals, but rather from a pool of psychologically aberrant individuals taken from every race, religion, gender and profession.

“Ugh.  She lives in a trailer.”  As if this automatically relegates a child to a life of unwashed clothes, headlice and burger flipping.  I grew up in a trailer, as did my business-owning, neat-as-a-pin, liceless brother-in-law.  I’ve been in tidy trailers and trashed mansions.

“But they’re Muslim.”  Or Catholic, or Buddhist, or Methodist, or Lutheran, or Atheist, or Wiccan.  As if these people are incapable of doing anything productive, compassionate or selfless simply because of what they believe or don’t believe in regards to faith.  Plenty of Christians I know are hypocritical, selfish and judgemental.  Just like plenty of people in every other religion or nonreligion known to man.

We are human.  We persecute those different from us.  We are brash and cruel, thoughtless and dehumanizing.  We forget the very basic, underriding compassion for others even as we tell the world how wonderful we are.

We suppress and oppress.  We judge people on factors that may or may not have any impact on events, behaviors or failures.  We generalize and stereotype.  We inhibit and prohibit.

We forget to strip away the irrelevant information and remember that underneath, we were all innocent children.  Are innocent.  That we are all precious and deserving of respect and compassion regardless of where we came from, whom we love or what our faith.

Take a moment to evaluate your own prejudices and judgements.  Ask yourself where they came from and why you feel the way you do.  Consider if your feelings have been passed down through the generations and have relevance in your life in the here and now.  Is it a stereotype you’ve learned from television, the newspaper, your preacher?  Is it a generalization you’ve made based on personal experiences?  Is holding onto it conducive to living your life?  Do you take into account other’s personal experiences before foisting your values onto them?  Do you have room to improve?

You don’t need to answer those questions here, but I ask that you think about them as you go about your day.  Don’t let the loss of our innocent children slip away forgotten, because underneath the labels we paste on ourselves and others, we are all inherently the same.

hugs~

*Thoughtful and respectful commentary is welcome, regardless of the content.  However, any blatantly disrespectful comments will not be approved.  This blog does not support attacking individuals or groups of individuals for any reason.

Shake Up Your Writing Muscles

I’m not gonna lie, I hate working out.  Yesterday I shook up my work out routine and I’m paying the price.  Instead of relying on the machines for my strength training, I did a few sets of squats that ended in a standing shoulder press with weights.  Not a big deal right?  I mean, lifting is lifting is lifting.

Not!

I can barely walk today.  My thighs burn like a forest fire on a hot July night because of this little tweak in my routine.  No pain, no gain–or so the saying goes.  And it’s true.  To build muscle, we must break it first.  Yet, working our muscles in the exact same way each and every time we hit the gym only trains our muscles to memorize the routine and work more efficiently, thereby burning fewer calories.

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

Have I mentioned how much I hate working out?  How insane a person must be to think this is FUN?  That self-inflicted torment is so not right on many levels?

And yet, there’s a lesson in here.  If our muscles get bored with the same exact routine, doesn’t it follow that our minds would as well?  That if we only ever write in the exact same place, in the exact same way, each and every day our creativity will suffer from our over-efficiency?

Imagine how much stronger our writing could be if we were unafraid to push ourselves and try something new.  Instead of writing our slow and steady pace, what would happen if we wrote–for just one day–like we were a NaNoWriMo participant?  Or, instead of flying entirely by the seat of our hip-hugging low-riders, what would happen if we actually fleshed out some portion of our novels ahead of time?  Or, what if we wrote in the laundry room or the bathtub or in the middle of the food court in the mall?  What if we performed our day backward and ate dinner for breakfast and started writing after lunch instead of before it?

I’m not suggesting we shake up things every day, just every once in a while to give our brains a little boost.  A little infusion of otherness that challenges our writing muscles and keeps them from getting bored.

How about you?  Do you think this is beneficial, or do  you believe that adhering to a strict schedule is the most productive way to write?  What do you do to shake things up in your writing routine?  What parts of your writing routine are sacred and therefore must never be disturbed?

Curious minds want to know!

Novel Failings of a Non-Baking Mom

Middle was asked to go to a friend’s house.  He excitedly relayed a fond memory from sleep-overs past at this particular home.  Namely that the mom makes dessert.

This triggered a memory for me: one in which Eldest told my sister (after he spent the night there baking dozens of cookies) that his mom (ie, me) didn’t know how to make cookies, only buy them.

For the record, I do know how to bake and can whip up a mean pumpkin pie–homemade crust and all.  I also only ever buy Oreos for my kids,  even though Eldest made it sound like our pantry is filled with boxes and bags and containers of these sugar-filled treats.

Early on in our marriage, Dear Hubby and I simply ate our meals sans dessert.  It was a habit we haven’t broken.  Neither of us are huge cookie fans, so batches of them mold well before they are consumed.  Ditto for cake.

In fact, we don’t even make cake for birthdays anymore because nobody in our house really eats them.

I’m a bad mom.  A failed mom.  A dessertless mom.

But…but, none of our kids are chubby, they devour zucchini and think that pomegranates are candy.  They are deprived, but not too much, as every once in a while, I will bake as a special treat.  They eat a little of it and we usually throw the rest away.

In other words, while they like desserts, their love for them is more ideological than real.

In my mind, great novels are zucchini and pomegranates.  They are roast beef and baby baked potatoes, chicken breasts and salads.  They are rare desserts on special occasions.

All the way from word choice to plot points and characterization, stable and steady is the key.  Solid, filling, healthy.  Then when we use an adverb, it really packs a punch.

Desserts–love them or hate them–too much is never a good thing.

As a reader, what do you consider the dessert of a novel?  What little things sweeten the books you love?  What makes a novel hard to choke down?

As a writer, what is your stand-by dessert, the one that usually needs cut to lean up your manuscript?

One of my shortcomings is packing too much into a tiny space.  Because I write about heavy issues, I have to be very careful not to make my novels issue heavy.

Blacked Out: taking the what-if approach

Online research today may be a bit more difficult to come by as sites across the web are silent in protest of proposed legislation. 

The writer in me asks, “What if these sites remained black?”

What if?  Truly.

The old part of me–the precomputer craze and easy information access part–says, “So what?”  Twenty years ago, we went to libraries, read newspapers and watched the news.  We held human conversations with those who had more knowledge than us.  We still learned.

The traditional publishing part of me says, “Yay!  Dead tree books will stay alive forfreakinever.”

The human rights part of me says, “Holy crap, here comes 1984.”

And for those who don’t know about George Orwell’s novel, I’d provide the link–except you’d get sent to a blank screen–which makes my gesture meaningless and your ability to read free information nonexistent.

So…what if?  You decide.

Writing to the End: Completion is the Battle

I’ve been helping Dear Daughter with her speech.  She picked a doozy.  A heated, biased, controversial topic for her original oratory.  One category that cannot portray the depth of her feelings or expose her own personal beliefs.  In short, it’s been nearly impossible to pen.

DD has great ideas.  She has a fabulous outline.  She has snippets of stories and supporting facts.  What she doesn’t have is a cohesive first draft.

Completion of this rough draft isn’t half the battle.  It is the full battle.  Without a complete rough draft, she has nothing to edit.  Despite the fact that her idea is compelling and seemingly amazing in its envisioned entirety, she will never succeed in competition until she gets it all down on paper.

Guess what, writers?  Our rough drafts are no different.  Every day, I have more ideas fall out of my ears than stray fur falls off Sock Dog.  Though I could take a picture for illustration’s sake, you’ll have to believe me when I say the amount is unreasonable and bordering on grotesque.  Every day, I have amazing ideas and compelling characters, yet until I can wrangle them into a cohesive story, the sheer magnificence of their existence is meaningless.

Tape this to your computer.  Completion is the battle.

It doesn’t matter how poorly you fight, you will never win the publishing war if you quit midscript.

What tips do you have for completing your novels?  What do you do when your writing stalls/writer’s block hits/your muse defects?  How do you ensure that those great ideas get written from beginning to end?

Personally, I fire my Inner Editor during rough draft writing.  I give myself permission to insert notes wherever I am regardless of where they fit into the story.  I encourage myself to gloss over sections with the briefest of mentions to transition me from one scene to the next.  This has done wonders for my sense of peace and my over-all ability to create complete rough drafts.

 

Online News from My Writerly Muse

I’ve got some great things going on despite the date and the fact that I’ve spilled every single plate/cup/bowl/dog dish/etc…that I’ve picked up.  As a precaution, I shall steer clear of ladders, black cats and dastardly villains like Freddy and Jason for the rest of the day.

  • I’ve signed up on GoodReads.  If you’re a member, friend me and we can share our literary loves.  I know my bookshelf is empty (sidebar at left), but I told myself I wasn’t going to add books until I read them–after I joined.  That means all the great novels I’ve read in the past will remain off my shelves unless I read them again.  I do, however, have several great novels on my to be read shelf of soon-to-be debut authors.  It’s never too early to start thinking about future publications and even preordering them to show up on your doorstep upon their release.
  • I have three winners for my #WTGV (Want to Go Viral?) book give-away.  One lucky student (Lisa), parent  (Sharon) and professional (Angela) have received a free copy of this amazing book.  Thanks to all who helped spread the word regarding the best must-read book ever, Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman.  If you haven’t heard about it yet, click on my #WTGV tab at the top of my blog.  Even though we didn’t reach our million people mark by the end of December, I’d still like to give away one more copy of Want to Go Private?  Anybody who comments on my blog between Friday the 13th and Friday the 27th will be put in another drawing for a free copy.  Participants must reside in the US for shipping purposes.
  • Speaking of books: another writer friend and AQCer got a two book deal. He might sound familiar, as I’ve talked about R.K.Lewis before and provided links to his online articles over at Criminal Element.  Mister Lewis writes gritty noir with more voice than the pages can hold.  Congrats, Robert!
  • In contrast, Susan Keogh’s nautical fiction takes history to a whole ‘nother level.  Susan is a fellow crit partner, AQCer and a lyrical writer.  Her debut novel, The Prodigal, was recently picked up by Fireship Press.  So, if you haven’t been keeping track over the past months and are a writer, you might want to join AgentQuery Connect.  There’s a whole slew of good stuff going on over there: friendship, critique help, writerly support, agent offers and publishing deals.  Seriously, what are you waiting for?
  • And one last thing.  I blogged over at From the Write Angle today.  There I unveiled my Friday the 13th terrors in regards to being a writer.  But never fear, I did leave you with some tips and tricks to keep your body and mind sound during your writing journey.
  • Oh yeah, Dear Hubby and I are going out with some friends.  While sweating my way through my work out this morning, I got us a date.  Yay!  So, if ever you feel lonely, hit the health club.  You’re sure to run into like-minded peeps.  Even if your calendars don’t quite mix, those few moments of socialness are as uplifting as the 500 crunches I do each day.

How about you, dear readers?  How does your Friday the 13th go?  Is it filled with a bad case of the dropsies and unlucky ladders, or do you have some shining moments to pull you out of the doldrums?

Curious minds want to know.

In which I have nothing to say…

The Christmas tree is still up (though on its way down), Middle Son has been sick with a 104 temp and I’m laboring over a novel edit.  Sadly, it’s too nice to be anywhere inside taking care of sick kids, errant holiday decorations and recalcitrant MC’s.

Alas, however, such is the life of a Stay at Home Mom/Full-time Writer.

  • cuddles up with Middle and his chicken noodle soup
  • ponders plot holes while watching Christmas tree bulbs glimmer in the sunlight
  • listens to Sock Dog snoring in her kennel–not eating socks, not retching them up, just snoozing peacefully

And now I feel better.  It’s a beautiful day to be a mom and writer.

Peace and happiness to all my bloggerly readers!

Reaching your Goals: in writing and life.

As the first week of the new year comes to a close, I want to share an observation about resolutions.

  1. The health club is packed.  Everyone and their grandma wants to get in shape this year.  However, not everyone and their grandma will.  By mid-February, Anytime Fitness will be half as busy.  By the beginning of summer, only a few diehards will remain.  Only a handful of resolutioners (yep, that’s my new word) will be bikini ready in twenty lifetimes, let alone by the end of 2012.

Why?  Because it takes more than a whim to reach a goal.  It takes proper goal-setting, perseverence, motivation, skill, ability, training, support (human and fabric) and time.  To name a few.

Guess what?  Becoming a writer is no different.  Minus the sports bra, of course.

To keep you on your resolutionary path, I’ve pieced together tidbits from past posts.

  1. Assessing Success.  Make sure your goals are specific, measurable and attainable.  You can’t succeed if you never define what success means.  Likewise, reaching a goal is impossible if you set your sights on attaining things completely outside your control.  In other words, failure is guaranteed when we dream of wearing size one pants on size six bones.
  2. What’s Your Writing Weight?  Understand the process. Take  time to learn the nuances involved in reaching your goal.  Weightloss does not occur overnight.  Neither does publication or good parenting or better organization.  Only by understanding the journey, can we prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.
  3.  Didn’t Feel Like It.    Don’t hit the snooze button–figuratively or literally.  Some days it’s nearly impossible to get up and get going, but don’t give into the temptation to take the day off or buy into the excuse that your muscles (brains or butts) are too tired, too sore or too stressed to work out.  They’re not.  It only seems that way when you’re nestled under the covers.  Once you get started, you’ll always be thankful you did.
  4. Getting Back Up.   And when it feels like you’ve done everything humanly possible to reach your goal and the only alternative you have left is to throw in the proverbial towel, don’t.  Success never comes out of quitting.  Instead, take a peak at your goals and seriously reflect on your reasons behind setting them in the first place.  Redefine them if you must, but don’t walk away from the challenge–and the dream–that prompted you to set your goals in the first place.

How do you prepare yourself for goal setting?  What tips do you have to help others reach and/or maintain their goals? 

Curious minds want to know.

Writing Research: Pain or Pleasure?

I don’t write sci-fi or medical thrillers or historical anything.  Not because I don’t love reading them, but because the research needed to make the finished product accurate and believable is outside my realm of capability.

And yet, I research heavily for almost everything I write.  For an entire year before penning Whispering Minds, my YA psychological thriller, I scoured the annals of psychology and read book after book–both memoirs and hardcore textbooks–to get a broad understanding of my subject matter, as well as a very nuanced view of individual cases.  And I have a psychology background!

Before penning even one word about my Native American MC, I read countless websites, highlighted hundreds of passages in several new books I purchased and conversed with real-live Indians.

Now, I find myself steeped in viewing youtube videos and reading a multitude of new books on a certain delicate subject.  And this is just the start.  Over the course of the next six months, I will continue to ferret out as much information as I can on the matter, although, barring a strange occurence, I don’t plan to start this next novel until November.

I’m an information junkie.  I love reading about any and every topic I can think of.  I love piecing together little things to create something new and exciting.  I love writing fiction.  I love the creative license it gives me to manipulate facts within the realm of acceptable.

But first I must learn the realm before I can push the outer boundaries.  And so I research.  To me, reading about obscure topics is exhilarating.  Research of this kind is so much pleasure that I almost feel guilty.

How about you?  Do you research your novel ideas before ever writing, or do you wing it and confirm facts later?  Or do you simply write within the realm of the “common known” to avoid painful research?  Or, conversely, do you write so far out of the realm of normal that you create a world of unknowns?

Does research give you hives, or do you derive pleasure from tracking down any and all information you can on a topic?  What does research look like for you?

Curious minds want to know.