Thursday, October 29, 2009

TTFN and Happy Halloween!

I just wanted to let you know that I will be taking a blogging break during the month of November so I can focus on writing during National Novel Writing Month! I think I'll still post once a week (maybe Fridays?), and I'll try to catch up on a few of your blogs once a week too, but mostly I'll be absent from the blogging world. (I imagine many of you will be too.) I will miss you, but I'm really excited to be immersed in writing again!

So, until next week. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

"This is so humiliating," thinks the dog.

Oh and I'd love it if any of you doing NaNo would leave your usernames in the comments so I can add you as friends. My username is NBB. GOOD LUCK!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Things I Learned From My Kids: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Did you know it was Benjamin Franklin who coined that phrase? He was a smart man.
Thank you Google.

So let me ask, what do you get when you mix an unsupervised 2-year-old with a tub of blueberry yogurt?

The answer:
It happened this morning and the picture shows only a small portion of the carnage. There were probably 20 dollops about that size covering our living room floor. And do you know what makes it so much worse? We JUST had the carpets cleaned (less than two weeks ago)!

Two hours of scrubbing and a half gallon of carpet cleaner later the floor is still covered in purple spots. I hate yogurt.

Yeah. This is the reason that I don't blog or write while my two-year-old is awake. He must be watched at all times or something like this happens. While he was painting carpet with yogurt I was reading blogs, so this was TOTALLY my fault-- bad mommy!

This last week I've been gearing up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). You all know about it now--right? Right. I've had all this prep time so I've done a few things I've never tried before-- outlining and character sketching.

I'm liking it.

It's quite a bit more preparation than I usually do, (because usually I don't prepare at all, I just jump into writing) but I'm hoping it will save me some time in the revision process, because usually I go into a project with no idea how the story will end, and end up rewriting a hundred times until I get something I'm happy with.

I haven't written anything on this manuscript yet (November 1st here I come!), so my outline may not be all that useful when it comes right down to it, but I am cautiously optimistic.

Have any of you ever tried to use an outline? (I know some of you use one on every project!) Do you think it makes the writing process easier? Do you stick with it or just use it as a general guide?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Things I Learned From My Kids: How to Build

We had some interesting responses yesterday. I asked that question
(What are you doing to make your story salable?) and then realized I have no idea how I would answer it! There are a few practical answers like I don't write 300,000 word manuscripts, and I don't use adverbs with reckless abandon. But mostly I think I, like you, just try to write a story I love and hope that other people will like it too.

Anyway, thanks for your responses--you are smart people.

Now for today...

Every so often my whole family plays blocks on Sunday afternoons.

When we first got our blocks and started building stuff together I often wanted to make something functional (like a house for my girls' dolls or a stable for their horses), but functionality was not my girls' main concern. They wanted to make tall, beautiful towers and didn't care if their creation was useful.

When I write I often fight a tendency to just tell the story and be done (This is probably why my manuscripts tend to be short). Sometimes I don't pause to flesh out the characters or let my main characters have fun together. My beta reader Marie was wonderful about pointing out places where she wanted to see more interaction between my main characters.

I am learning that building a story is more than just getting it told. It's the little moments that make books worth reading. And, like building with blocks, sometimes I need to enjoy the towers and not focus so much on making something practical.

Does that make sense? I just made Halloween cookies with ten 8-year-old girls and my brain is a little fried.

Do you struggle to include the little stuff that makes stories great? Or do you have to cut because you have too much little stuff?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Things I Learned From My Kids: Life Isn't Fair

This one is really more what I teach my kids, but it kind of goes with the theme. So here goes...

Last night my daughter threw a MAJOR tantrum. She's 5--way too old for tantrums. She was mad because my husband picked a book for bedtime reading that she didn't like, so she slammed the door and told him she wouldn't read it. Then he told her if she was going to throw a tantrum she wouldn't get ANY books. This (of course) caused her to scream, "IT'S NOT FAIR. IT'S NOT FAIR" for ten minutes.

When I finished putting the baby to bed and my husband finished reading stories to our happy 4-year-old we went in to address the tantrum.

"Mom, it's not fair that Daddy wouldn't read me a book," she said.

"Things aren't always fair," I told her. "You made the choice to get upset and slam the door, and Daddy decided you shouldn't get a story since you threw a tantrum."

She screwed up her little face and pouted, but she didn't argue anymore. We completed the rest of her bedtime routine and she went to bed.

I don't know what point in life kids decide that things should be fair. It's certainly not something we teach our children. Life is NOT fair. It is wonderful and horrible, happy and sad, glorious and miserable, but it isn't fair.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but publishing isn't fair either. Is there a brilliant author out there who writes prose that could make angels weep, who can't manage to get an agent, much less a publisher? Yeah, if fact, there are probably hundreds. Are there people who can barely string sentences together who get book deals? Definitely (ahem, think of all the celebrity tell-alls).

Blogger/Author Jody Hedlund asked the question yesterday "Does Today's Writer Need to be Perfect to Get Published?" and the answer, of course, is NO! Would it be more fair if only the "best" writers--the ones with flawless, beautiful prose and complete command of the English language were the ones to get published? Yeah, I think that would be fair, but that's not how publishing works. The books that get published are the books that publishers believe people will buy.

Publishing isn't fair. If we want to be published writers we need fantastic, salable stories (and even then there are no guarantees).

So I'll ask you these questions: What are you doing to make your story salable (not necessarily perfect)?

Things I Learned From My Kids: How To Wait

Last week was so fun for me. I enjoyed getting to know you all a little better. I think I've made more friends with this blog in the last month an a half than I've made in person in the last 10 years. So thanks everyone. It's nice to know you.

Now let me tell you a little story. On Saturday I decided to take my two youngest children to a swine flu vaccination clinic in my city (the clinic was only for children 6 months to 4 years so my 5- year-old didn't qualify). So, because I am a very conscientious parent, I decided we would go an hour early just so we could get a good place in line and definitely get the vaccine. I also talked my two sister-in-laws into bringing their children and coming with me.

We arrived at the very large empty shopping complex where the health department was administering the vaccines and stood in line with several thousand other early people at 9:00 AM. My children got vaccinated at 1:30 PM. All the time in between we spent freezing our little patoots off waiting in the parking lot (and trying to keep our 5 children under 4 from being hit by cars). It was an excruciating wait. 4+ hours is an eternity for kids that little--they were hungry, thirsty, cold, they needed to use the potty, they wanted to play in the street, they fought with each other--it was MISERABLE.

My writing group girls and I have recently been discussing how difficult it is to WAIT during every portion of our journey to publication.

Write Book--Wait. Revise. Send to beta readers--Wait. Revise. Send to agents--WAIT. Get an agent-- CELEBRATE! Revise. Agent sends to editors--WAIT. Get offer--CELEBRATE! Wait for editor revisions. Revise. WAIT. WAIT. WAIT. Book comes out! Do it all over again.

Publishing is not a business for impatient people. There is no instant gratification. Everything takes a long time--kind of like the line for swine flu vaccines.

When we got home from the clinic I said to my 4-year-old. "It's been a really hard morning, huh?" She looked at me funny so I tried again. "Wasn't it terrible standing in line all morning?"

She replied, "No mom. I got to play with my cousins."

I learned two things on Saturday. 1. No wait could ever be as bad as four-and-a-half hours in a freezing cold parking lot with 5 tiny children. And 2. If we keep ourselves busy with other fun things the painfully slow publishing business won't seem quite so painfully slow.

So I'll ask you: Are you doing something while you wait? Are you writing that next book? Are you staying busy with other things in life?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Getting to Know You: Who is your biggest fan?

I'm excited about this one. I am a firm believer that every artist needs a fan. I am very blessed to have many people who support and encourage me in my writing endeavors. I come from a huge family (I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters) and all of them read multiple drafts of my novel and offered tons of praise and very little criticism (this is why I needed my critique group.) But my #1 fan is definitely my husband.

This is him and me--both looking very crazy--we might have overdosed on chocolate.
My hubby is always there for me. If I need extra time to write he takes the kids outside to play. If the house is a disaster when he comes home from work (which it is at least half the time) he never says a word, and often helps with dishes and laundry in the evenings even though he's spent all day at the office. He's read my manuscript almost as many times as I have, offering a few suggestions every now and then, but mostly just telling me how brilliant I am (I try to remind myself that he's biased). He was more excited than I was when I called to tell him that Sara had offered representation. He believes in me, and his encouragement buoys me up as I pursue this dream.

Hopefully we all have people who believe in us. Who is your biggest fan?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting to Know You: What Would You Do if You didn't Write?

I've mentioned before that writing is my outlet. It is what helps me to remain sane, even though I rarely get out and some days my kids are the only people I talk to. If I didn't write I would have to have another outlet.

Maybe I'd take up pottery. I've taken a few pottery classes, and even though I am incapable of making any piece taller that 5 inches, I like it. I believe in getting my hands dirty--it's therapeutic. I might also get more involved in vegetable gardening (sometimes I sound like an old woman even to myself!) We had a fun little vegetable garden this year, but I didn't spend enough time on it--writing was always higher priority (as my frostbitten melons and tomatoes can attest).

What would you do with your free time if you didn't write?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Getting to Know You: Who is your writing hero?

Thanks for all the comments on yesterday's post! I thought it was so interesting that some of you read mostly the genre you write (it helps to keep you in the right mindset, helps to keep you current) and some of you avoid the genre you write (don't want to be influenced by it, don't want it to affect your voice). I think it's great that we're all so different.

So today I thought I'd ask about your writing heroes. I think most of us decided to write because we loved something we read. The author I was obsessed with when I decided to try writing (2 years ago) was Shannon Hale. She writes YA fantasy (and some other stuff too but her fantasy is the best, in my opinion). I read THE GOOSE GIRL and her Newbery Honor winner, THE PRINCESS ACADEMY, and thought they were so much fun. They reminded me of books I'd loved when I was a kid. I wished I could write something so great, so I tried to write YA fantasy--and failed. But at least it got me started.

I'd love to meet Shannon or just see her speak (apparently she's hilarious). Maybe someday.

Did your writing journey begin with a book or an author you loved? Who is your writing hero?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Getting to Know You: What Do You Read?

Wow, we write a lot of different genres! YA was the winner (I think more than half of us write YA-- at least sometimes), but there were a few other MG writers, some non-fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, picture books, contemporary fiction, steampunk, chick lit, women's fiction, sci-fi, Christian, and paranormal. I'm glad we aren't all writing the same thing! And I'm glad to know such an interesting mix of writers.

Today I thought I'd ask, what do you read?

I like almost all fiction. I love 18th and 19th century English and American literature (Dickens, Austen, Hardy, Bronte, Twain, James etc.). I read a lot of children's, MG and YA. I like fantasy, women's fiction, memoirs, and a little bit of science fiction/dystopian.

I don't read much romance, non-fiction, chick lit or paranormal, but when I do I'm usually surprised by how much I like them.

What do you read? Do you do read a lot of books in the genre you write?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Getting to Know You: What do you write?

I thought it might be fun to get to know you all a little better this week. So everyday I will tell you a little about myself and then ask for you to do the same. And I'll share some fall pictures, because some of you live in places where leaves don't change colors-- places that I will be incredibly jealous of come December. :)

I have written two books. The first was a fantasy for young adults--the result rests in a desk drawer, never to see the light of day again. The second, the book that my agent read and loved, is middle grade set in the real world (no vampires, fairies or wizards-- just regular kids).

I have ideas for stories in many different genres including, women's fiction, dystopian YA, YA and middle grade fantasy, picture books, and plain old middle grade.

I'm feeling like middle grade is the place for me right now because no matter how hard I try, my voice comes out eleven-years-old. So for now I think I am going to stick with middle grade, though I might try out YA again in a few years.

So my questions for you today are: What genre do you write? Have you written books, or do you have ideas, in other genres?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Love Fall

It's supposed to be in the seventies all weekend. Perfection.

What do you love about fall?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Story Tantrums

Last night my son threw the craziest tantrum of his life (he's only 2, so you might thing this isn't saying much, but believe me, it is). For no particular reason he screamed, kicked and flailed for 30 minutes straight. It was ugly.

To make matters worse halfway through his tantrum it was bedtime, so I (foolishly) tried to get him into pajamas. He didn't want to put on pajamas.

Five minutes later, my arms bruised from his constant kicking, I handed my still un-pajamaed toddler to my husband. Using his magic daddy skills, he managed to coax the boy into jammies and bed--a small miracle.

Sometimes my story throws tantrums too. I just can't get it to do what I want it to do no matter how hard I try. I'll rewrite and rewrite again and still the scene won't be right.

That's when I have to make myself step away--spend some time on another part of the story (or even a different project). I come back when I've had a few days to think it over and I try again. Sometimes it works and sometimes I have to step back again (and again, and again).

When it's finally right it feels good to have faced the challenge and come out victorious.

Does your story throw tantrums sometimes?

Taking Criticism

(There's something wrong with this post, so if your comments got deleted I am so sorry!)

Criticism can be a really great thing for our writing. I love getting my manuscript back from my writing group (or my family members when they aren't being too nice) covered in red marks. It reminds me that they care.

I'd feel bad if my story was so awful they didn't bother pointing out that I used "your" when I should have used "you're," or that Chapter 25 felt rushed, or that the third paragraph in Chapter 14 was confusing. Criticism is almost always a good thing.

Except when it isn't that good.

I once got a comment from someone in cyberspace that he/she thought my idea was stupid and that my book was sure to be a "dud". OUCH!!! But, even though that criticism was NOT constructive, it did help me to see some of the weaknesses of my plot and work to compensate for them. It also served as a reminder not to take criticism personally, and never to say such a thing about anyone else's work.

I think I've gotten better and better at taking criticism and incorporating the good and throwing out the stuff I don't totally agree with. With every beta read my manuscript gets better, and I am convinced I never would have made it this far with my writing if I trusted entirely on my own skills.

Do you take criticism well? How have good critiques helped your writing?

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm going to WriMo

That's right. I decided I'm going to participate in National Novel Writing Month. All the girls in my writing group are doing it, and I don't want to feel left out. :)

I planned to participate unofficially, and start on my manuscript now instead of in three weeks, but I decided it would be better to wait a few weeks and have the support and camaraderie of thousands of other writers. I was checking out my region on the NaNoWriMo website and there are a lot of writers close by. There are events to get everyone together, and I think it might be fun to meet some writers face-to-face.

I'm going to outline a few scenes before November 1 and possibly work on one of my other projects for the rest of October. When November comes I'm going to work hard, blog little, and finish a novel!

Any of you doing NaNoWriMo?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ode to Audiobooks

Several months ago Nathan Bransford had a post asking whether or not listening to an audiobook counts as reading. About half of the responders said yes and the other half said no. I thought it was interesting because I am a major audiobook "reader."

I think the answer to his question is "yeah, sort of."

Listening is obviously not just like reading. The reader's voice, the inflections that they use, the speed at which they read can all add to (or detract from) the words on the page. But whether you listen to or read a book the end result is the same--you know the story and can talk about it with other people who have read it.

I listen to about the same number of books that I read. I find that a few years after I consume books I can't remember which ones I listened to and which ones I read. I know the story and that is the important thing.

I love to listen to audiobooks in the car, while I do dishes, fold laundry, mop the floor, and make dinner. Sometimes my husband and I will listen to an audiobook in the evening while we play a board game or do a puzzle together (this makes us sound like old people--we're not. We're just nerds.).

Reading time has become increasingly difficult to scrounge up as I've had children. Some days I can't get three minutes together to sit down and read a book, but I can always listen to one. So, whether or not it counts as reading, I am very thankful for audiobooks and their ability to keep me connected to the outside world.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you hate them?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sometimes We Need to Cut

Yesterday several sweet people decided to follow my blog and now I have more than 50 blog supporters! Yay! I am so happy to know you all. Thank you for your excellent comments and support during my first month of real blogging.

This is my dog:

He is a Britany Spanial/Border Collie Mix and we adopted him a year ago. We love him. He's excellent with kids, he has awesome frisbee catching abilities, he hardly ever barks or chews. He is almost the perfect dog... except, he sheds like crazy.

Our solution to this one thing keeping our dog from perfection is to shave him several times a year (who am I kidding, there are a few more things that keep him from being perfect--like his love of eating diapers--but we work with what we can.) He looks like a rat, instead of a cute furry dog, but he doesn't cover the house and our clothing in long white and rusty-colored hairs.

I love the way my dog looks with all his hair, but he is a better fit for our family without it.

Likewise, sometimes I love a scene in my story, but I know the story as a whole will be stronger without it. It might feel a little naked when I take the scene out, but it will be better in the long run.

I've rewritten the end of Underground many times. One of my endings featured a scene with police dogs. It was a pretty good scene--dramatic and also a little funny--but it didn't fit with the story as a whole, so I canned it and wrote another ending (and another and another) until I finally had one that was right for the story.

Do you have a scene you loved that you had to cut? That you should cut but haven't yet?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Best Laid Plans

Ah yes, well a few weeks ago I made some goals. I stuck to these goals for exactly 2 days. Then it was the weekend. The next week we were going out of town and I was kind of busy. This week they just seemed too hard.

I suck at keeping goals. I don't know why I even try.

I am, however, fairly good at meeting deadlines. So I am going to resist the urge to manage my time in any organized person sort of way, and I am just going to set a deadline for myself.

I will have a rough draft of my next novel done by November 30.

I probably won't write everyday. I will probably read blogs, and books from my massive TO READ list. I will probably take naps. I may even do a little cleaning. But I WILL finish by the 30th, even if I have to pull an all-nighter on the 29th.

Do any of you suffer from a serious lack of organizational skills? How do you get your books done (daily goals, deadlines, mad rushes of inspiration, you don't--you've been working on the same book for 20 years)?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Music That Means Something

I found all of your insights into real vs. imaginary settings so interesting yesterday. Thanks to everyone for your comments.

Okay, I got tagged to share my 7 favorite songs weeks ago by my good friend Marie and then again last week by super-blogger Jen so I figured I should try to do it.

So first a confession: I love music but I don't LOVE music. I don't buy CD's, I usually don't listen to the radio, I own an iPod but it is filled with audio books. (You may all shun me now).

I do love it when a friend turns on a great song or I hear something wonderful on one of my very rare visits to the radio (or one of my very rare visits to the grocery store).

I don't really have favorites but there are a few songs I thought of that I really, really love. Here they are:

Isreal Kamakawiwo'Ole's (IZ) "Somewhere over the rainbow"

I just realized Karen mentioned this one too, but it is a great song.

Ella Fitzgerald's "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good"

Um, yeah, I love everything Ella Fitzgerald ever did. Her voice is rich and emotional.

Dixie Chicks' "Landslide"

My husband and I have argued over who does the best version of Landslide. I say Dixie Chicks, all the way.

Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune"

Both of my brothers are very accomplished pianists. They played this in high school. I've always loved it.

Colbie Caillat's "Bubbly"

Because it's fun.

Almost everything by Michael Jackson

I can't pick just one. I tried, but I love a lot of his songs.

Prayer of the Children, written by Kurt Bestor

In high school we had a men's chorus (Fifty 15-18 year-old boys) perform this. The lyrics and music are beautiful, and watching that particular group perform it was one of the most moving musical experiences I've had in my life (plus boys that sing are about the hottest thing in the world to a 16-year-old girl).

Many of you have been tagged for this already so I won't tag specific people. If you haven't done the music blog yet and you want to try, go for it! Or just tell me about a few songs you love in the comment section--that can count too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Imaginary Places

Yesterday I was kind of amazed at how many of you have set stories in real places, and even built stories around settings. I'm impressed.

Okay, so I'm going to be very honest here. Setting a story in a real place scares me. I mean, what if I get it wrong? What if people from the place I've written about catch all of my mistakes and tell me my description sucks? What if I can't bend my story to fit around a place that's real? These are probably irrational fears (or maybe not), but they are real fears for me at least.

The setting for Underground came entirely from my imagination. It's set in a small, fictional town in the U.S. with cookie cutter neighborhoods, an abandoned steel mill, and a very small police force. I tried briefly to find an actual city that would meet the needs of the story, but I couldn't find anything that would work just right (and I was afraid of all the things I listed above).

Do any of you non-fantasy/sci-fi writers make up settings? And do those of you who write about real places let the setting dictate what can and can't be done in your story? I am so curious.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Setting the Story

I missed you all over the weekend. I need to catch up on a lot of blogs this week!

We spent the long weekend in Leavenworth, Washington and while we were there I started thinking a lot about settings.

See, Leavenworth is a Bavarian village nestled in the mountains of central Washington. Its downtown is full of little German shops and restaurants and minutes away are miles of apple orchards and untouched forest. It is a gorgeous and diverse setting and the whole time we were there I kept thinking, "I should totally write a story set in Leavenworth." Unfortunately I haven't thought of one-- yet.

So check it out. (Sorry, my cheap digital camera and lack of photography skills don't really do it justice).

Yes, those are my kid's (and husband's) backsides. Aren't they cute?

Okay, so what I'm wondering is this: do you ever write stories BASED on the setting? I've never tried it before. For me the plot always comes first and the characters and setting fall into place later, but I know it can be done.

If you haven't ever tried to write a story starting with a setting, have you considered it? Is there any place you'd love to write about?