Monthly Archives: April 2013

Mostly Dead

I’ve had an interesting and busy winter. So much so that I forgot to water the plant in my bedroom. Sometimes I would see its brown and dying leaves just as I fell into bed. I knew I should water it, but I didn’t. I was too tired. By morning, the plant was forgotten in the rush to get kids to school.

Needless to say, this neglected flora curled upon itself and gave up. I was left with a withered knob of root. It broke my heart because this plant came to me as a housewarming gift over twenty years ago.

The plant’s roots were deep, coming to me from my mom and dad from their spider plant that had traversed the United States back in 1979. The mother plant is likely as old as I am and still prolific under my parents’ care.

Refusing to flat-out murder my plant, I performed one last act of kindness. I watered it and put it back in my room beside my bed.

As you can imagine, it’s not dead. It was just mostly dead, lying dormant, waiting for the right moment to shoot back to life.

Writing is exactly like my mostly-dead plant. Sometimes we have to neglect them (ie, trunk them) for a period of time. The market might not be exactly right and we need to give our manuscripts a rest before we revive them. Or, our writing is immature and our plots underdeveloped. Great, pop them into a state of dormancy and pull them out when we are better equipped to rejuvenate them.

We shouldn’t be afraid to set our writing aside, because if there is something good inside–if the roots of plot and character run deep–then mostly dead will come back as something healthy and beautiful and very much full of life.

Have you neglected your writing this winter? Trunked a novel you love? Given up on nurturing your passion altogether? If so, now might be the time to revitalize your wordsmithing.

On the other hand, if your writing has shriveled, wrap your manuscript with care and set it aside in a period of forced neglect. Move on to something more pressing. Your manuscript will wait until you’re ready for it to bloom.

But, the big question: how do you know which stage your manuscript is in?

Curious minds want to know.

A to Z: Omens

Omens, portents and just plain bad feelings. I have them right now. We are facing yet another winter storm–hello, Mother Nature, it’s mid-April, why more snow?–on only the most important day of the year so far. 

We are supposed to leave for State Speech tomorrow. It’s raining, right now and I have a bad feeling that the snow will come full force and we will be stranded four and a half hours away.

Not good for real life, but great for novel fodder. 

I can just picture the fall out from something like this and the what ifs are going crazy. Things I would be sick to see in real life, but would love to explore in my writing. These gut-wrenching moments when life changing decisions are made and the very air around you is wet and heavy and sends chills along your spine. 

Omens, portents and bad feelings. Great in writing, not so great in life.

How do you foreshadow bad things to come?

 

 

A to Z: Niggle

Niggles. As in those little thoughts that eat away at you, that interfere with normal, everyday mental processing and do a tap dance on your emotions.

Yeah, those niggles.

Everybody has them at some point or another, and if you say otherwise, you’re a liar. But why would you deny them in the first place?

They can motivate us to do better, push us to be stronger and just plain encourage us to examine the world from another perspective.

As a writer, I get niggles all the time. Are my characters flat? Is my plot filled with more holes than Great Aunt Melba’s handmade doilies? Will readers like my writing style? Will I ever finish the dang novel?

I’ve learned to use these niggles to my advantage, carefully weighing their worth and using them to push me past expectations.

I hope my speechies can do the same as they face the State Speech Competition this weekend.

And now for the Letters I missed:

  • H is for hypothetical. The great What-if? can jump-start our creativity, but even in fantasy or sci-fi, we must stay grounded in some sort of reality. If we don’t, we risk losing our audiences.
  • I is intense. Yeah, life can be intense. Sometimes the bad seems to pile up, up and up. Yet when we write, we need  pace our characters emotions, providing a balance between light and dark. We need some peaks and valleys to appreciate the full range of character growth. And if we forget to write it in–our readers will be exhausted for never having a quiet moment to collect themselves.
  •  Joy. When something goes our way–“hey, I got a book deal” (really, I did)–we need to be gracious with our exuberance. Jumping up and down in front of our competitors is never a good idea. I saw this at Section Speech this past weekend when a senior received fourth place. She smiled and accepted her medal with a polite nod and a thanks. Had she placed in the top three, I guarantee you she would have done exactly the same thing, smiling and nodding despite the joy of being able to advance to state.
  • K is for kitschy. While we want our writing to appeal to the masses, we should strive for something more than tasteless drivel. Personally, I prefer niche-y. As in quality that appeals to a select population. A big population would be nice, but a discriminatory one.
  • L is to languish. Or, actually, not to languish. Often, we writers concentrate so heavily on one story we can languish in a holding pattern that keeps us from growing and honing our craft. My advice is to get moving. Write something new. Check out a different genre. Write a short story or an article to get over the hump.
  • M is for mediocrity. It’s easy to settle for less. As writers, we can be so driven by our goal to succeed that we lose sight of the true purpose behind our dreams. Personally, I want my words to impact my readers. I want them to come away from my writing in a way that makes them contemplate their lives and drives them to reach their potential.

Which of these letters are you guilty of? Which ones drive you to reach your goals?

Curious minds want to know.

A to Z: Derailed, but for good reason!

So, I went into the A to Z Challenge with high hopes. Then a four day snow storm hit that squashed my internet. Then we had to squish four days worth of speech practice into a few hours, compete at Sections and celebrate our Eight To State victory.

Alas, Monday rolled around and I have missed a good many letters…

But, like I said, it’s all good.

My Dear Daughter and her duo partner placed third at Speech Sections and will be heading to the State competition this Saturday. Their piece is from Jodi Picoult’s, The Pact. This past summer, they contacted Ms. Picoult for permissioin to use her novel for their speech. She graciously said yes.

As an author myself, I would be flattered to have a student ask permission to use any of my writing in a speech tournament. I can’t tell you the number of books DD has purchased after hearing a selection from a competitor.

Yet, not only will DD and her duo partner advance to State this weekend, but six other of my speech students will as well. Including a seventh-grader who totally rocks his Prose piece. I am humbled and amazed.

My posts will likely be sporadic at best for the next week as we eat, breathe and dream speech, but I will return next week in full force!

Thanks for your patience and best luck to all the wonderful kids across Mineesota who have advanced to the highest level of competition. Best Luck!

 

A to Z: Great Literature

Last year, a tiny handful of my speech team traveled to the Cities for state speech. We stayed in a hotel with the Adrian speechies where we were blessed with a late night reading of a ridiculous picture book on pants.

This pants book has become a running joke between several of our members. Much to their dismay, nobody can remember the name of the book.

Sadly, some of my very favorite books from my childhood have suffered this same fate. In my mind, they were great books. Fabulous. Everything a fantastic story should be.

Being out of print may say otherwise, but that doesn’t change my childhood mind. Those books were great.

So, what makes literature GREAT? In my mind:

  • Character connection. If I don’t click with the character, there’s no point in reading. But clicking doesn’t mean loving. It simply means that I care enough about the character to invest my time in his/her life.
  • Relevance to my life. Can the story cross the time in which it was written and still matter on a gut level? White Fang, for instance…
  • Some sort of social or moral commentary. Will a book change me, or at least get me thinking? That’s a keystone for great literature.

This might not be the list others use to determine the greatness of novels littering bookstores and classrooms across America, but it works for me. If a story doesn’t move me in some way, it cannot make the Great Literature bookshelf in my mind.

What characteristics must a novel have to make your great literature list? Why?

Curious minds want to know.

Oh  yeah, and the pants book: if you have ever read a book about a dude whose wife made him pants and everyone wanted to touch them because they were so awesome, please pass along the title. They would love to find a copy of this pantalicious story.

P.S. Because I somehow missed E and F: E is for EEP, as in shoot, I missed Friday. And for the fact that as a writer for kids, I often make up words. Some people like them, some people hate them. I personally think they can be fun and give a little character flair.

F is for family and all the freakin’ awesome support they give me. They rule my world. Thanks so much for letting me write while the dust bunnies run free.

 

A to Z: Dig Deeper

Words cannot express the pride I feel for one of my speech students. Tonight at Family Night, she earned a scholarship for summer speech camp–a thing she loves more than anything. Instead of accepting it, she relegated herself to fundraising for her tuition and passed the scholarship on to a fellow speechie she thought deserved it more.

I have to agree.

This other young lady unexpectedly lost her duo partner two weeks ago. Instead of giving up and calling it a season, she dug deep and prepared a whole new speech. Her second performance with this new speech just happened to be subsections. And she just happened to earn Fourth Place and will be moving on to Sections next weekend.

Never once has this young lady complained about her situation or said anything negative or hurtful about her duo partner. She’s stronger than that. Better than that. Digging deep is what she does. Luckily for those blessed enough to be around her, she taps right into her heart of gold.

Both these young ladies dug deep, and both are coming out winners.

Sometimes people ask why I write for kids. The answer is easy. I love them. I love all their quirks and whimsy. I love their intelligence and dedication. I love their ability to live in a grown up world while still occupying that magical realm of childhood. They amaze me each and every day, and they never fail to remind me that life is so much more than what you see on the surface.

Breanna and Lexi, you rock my socks off. All forty-four of my speechies, you rock my world. Because of you, I am a better person.

What have you learned from a kid in your life? If you work with them on any level, why do you do so? How do they inspire you to dig deeper within yourself?

Curious minds want to know.

 

A to Z: Control

As a speech coach and a mother of a speechie, I celebrated last night when many of my students broke finals at the subsection meet. They came up against strong competitors in all thirteen categories and collected two dozen awards. Four of them came home as First Place Champions, including my Dear Daughter and her duo partner. I am Crazy proud!

Speech is full of C’s, but the most important one is Control. It’s not the camaraderie or the competition that matters. It’s not even winning. It’s learning how to control yourself, your performance and your reactions.

My head coach and I demand that our team is a class act. They have learned to clean up after themselves and to congratulate their competitors. They are a community that prides itself on being respectful and respectable. They support each other unconditionally. Via hard work and dedication, they’re building a set of positive character traits that will carry them through every aspect of their adult lives. In short, they have learned to control their natural teenage impulses and become shining examples of the teen potential.

They are also learning that the only person they can control is themselves. They cannot dictate that others change or even which changes someone should make–personally or competitively. They cannot control a judge’s preference for humor over drama. The only thing they can control is their own performance. They either bring it or they don’t. They have no one to blame for their failures and no one to thank for their success. They alone are in charge of what they do and how they do it. In speech, we measure success based on The Best: as in, I did my best today.

However, regardless of how our speechies perform, they still have no control over the outcome. And this, my friends, is the hardest lesson to learn.

When you feel as if you’ve been gyped out of a great score or that you’re better than the competition, raw feelings stew together: anger, frustration, hopelessness, sadness. It’s human nature to feel these when things don’t go our way. And quite honestly, we cannot control how we feel. We can only control how we act despite our feelings.

Yep, you heard me. Teenage kids being judged–fairly or unfairly–and found short of their own personal expectations can still control their own actions. I see it every weekend from January through April. I see amazingly gracious losers.  I also see gracious winners.

I have never, in my twenty-five years of working with kids, seen an activity that teaches life lessons of control quite so well as speech does.

I don’t need to explicitly translate these lessons to the writing world, as they’re pretty obvious. Yet these lessons, shown by a bunch of middle school and high school kids, can make or break our reputations in the publishing arena. So take heed and control yourself.

How do you control yourself as a writer? A parent? A professional? A competitor? What tips do you have for mastering control of your emotions in tough situations?

Curious minds want to know!

P.S. Congrats to all the Subsection competitors in SW MN and good luck next week at Sections. You rock my world!

 

A to Z: Baseball

This morning Middle Son pulled a crumpled note from his backpack and nonchalantly handed it over. “Here, mom, I got this a couple of days ago.”

This, of course, being the all-important sign up sheet for the summer baseball meeting. Which is, of course, tonight–when both Dear Hubby and I are out of town.

My little boys LOVE baseball. They live it. We live it every weekend between mid-May and mid-August and every week day for practice or games. It literally consumes our family.

Writing, of course, is exactly like baseball.

It’s all-consuming and takes a whole team.

I’ve been working with a few publishing houses over the course of the last few months and it is very clear to me that without every single player having their head and heart in the game, my novels will not make it to the playoffs. They will not become League Champions. Instead, they will sit in the dug out, spitting seeds into the dirt and wondering what they heck happened to their potential.

So, who makes up Team Novel?

  • Coaches- Our critique partners and sounding boards play an integral part in keeping us motivated and on the right track. They can give us the right cues on when to round a base and when to slide.
  • Umps- The editorial department makes the calls. They watch for strikes and balls and make the call on home plate. Without umps, our novels would be riddled with errors–some simple like typos and others glaring like MC’s eating three dinners in a row and never going to sleep.
  • Outfielders- These guys and gals see the big picture. Other than the batter, they are the only ones who have their eyes on the whole field. Graphic designers work hand in hand with marketing to create eye-catching covers that will pull together the most important aspects of a novel for our readers to drool over.
  • The Basemen- These dudes are the brains behind the game. They are like mini chess players calculating the opponents’ next moves and planning out their strategies three plays into the future. Our marketing departments are some of the most important players on the field. As are our street teams. Don’t ignore their power.
  • The Pitcher and the Catcher- This team of two needs to be rock-solid and is the core for which all other activity hinges on. The writer and the agent/editor. Without great writing (pitcher), the editor has nothing to catch and nothing to throw. And yet, the editor reads the batter and gives directives to the pitcher. It’s all give and take between them. Sometimes the pitcher and catcher are one in the same, such as when an author self-pubs. But never fear, the dichotomy is still there, as each of these positions require very different skills from the other. The self-pubber just has to work harder to accomplish what others do with two or more.
  • The Manager- The all-important spouse, significant other, parent, child, co-worker, friend or nanna who has your back. We all have that one person who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. Without them, we couldn’t manage to write.

Yet baseball is more than one team. It’s the audience we sit next to. It’s the concession stand workers providing us with ball park hot dogs and water to slake our thirst. It’s the opposing team and the grueling game played with them in the heat of summer.

Baseball is an experience, not a single event.

Writing is no different.

So today, reach out to your Team Novel–no matter what stage you are in your writing journey–and thank them for their support. Let them know you appreciate their efforts. And don’t be afraid to show your good sportsmanship. Congratulate someone on another team for their hard-earned win.

B is for baseball!

 

A-Z: Appetizer

Holidays are divine, as far as I’m concerned. While spending time with family always tops my list of great things to do, spending time with family in the kitchen surrounded by scrumptious appetizers warrants a spot one cloud away from heaven.

Suffice it to say, my taste buds were thrilled this past weekend. And now, thanks to Jenny Hansen, my appetite has been stimulated again.

Following in her footsteps, I’ve taken the A-Z Challenge. During the month of April, I will blog my way through the alphabet, taking only Sundays off for good behavior. If you are as crazy as me, you can join the fun by clicking on this link and signing up for a month of blogging madness before the end of today.

If you’re only semi-crazy, you can follow my journey and that of other insane and talented bloggers for the next thirty days. A list of their blogs will appear here. And don’t fret, not all of them are geared toward writing. Check the codes next to their name to see if one fits your interests.

For instance, I have a (WR) listed next to my blog which stands for writing. Other categories include things like crafting, cooking, gardening, gaming, movies, books, education, etc. You name it, someone is blogging about it. So, please, check out the list and see if any names tickle your tweeter.

In the meantime, I will do what I do best–tie together writing and real life!

APPETIZERS

The whole purpose of an appetizer is to get you hungry. Chefs have long ago figured out that stimulating the appetite with a tasty morsel can have you begging for more.

Writers are no different. We spend oodles of time crafting the perfect literary teaser for our works. We do this in the form of the elevator pitch, the query letter, the back cover blurb and the synopsis.

Like great chefs, we condense entire meals into delectable phrases and enticing sentences. We give our potential readers a tiny taste of what’s to come in one compact creation.

A is for Appetizer: that small portion of perfectly blended words that whet the literary appetite.

Perfect it like your favorite dish and stimulate your reader’s hunger.

My top five apps are, in no particular order:

  • Homemade guacamole. Add a margarita and I could die happy.
  • Chili conqueso. Simple, not pretty to look at, but incredibly delish.
  • Cucumber dill dip. Nothing says spring like a fresh scoop of this!
  • Buffalo chicken dip. Scooped up with celery…yummmmm.
  • And a plain old veggie tray complete with cukes, mushrooms, cauliflower and peppers of every color.

One of my favorite literary appetizers is from a quaint MG novel by Ingrid Law. Savvy has a supercharged cover for young readers and a jacket blurb that had me hooked.

Mibs Beaumont is about to become a teenager. As if that prospect weren’t scary enough, thirteen is when a Beaumont’s savvy strikes–and with one brother who causes hurricanes and another who creates electricity, it promises to be outrageous…and positively thrilling. 

What’s your favorite appetite teaser?

Curious minds want to know.