Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bringing Home the Baby

Some of us have brought home a new baby, and we know that intense new period of getting acquainted.

After all I've read and heard over the past few weeks, it came to me that creating a new character is like that getting-acquainted-with-baby period and requires a lot of devotion. The best part is that your new character shouldn't wake you up at night. But if he/she does--get to know them.

From author Rachel Vail, I learned that we should be listening to our characters as much as we should be listening to our own children or spouse etc. We've all experienced that magic that comes with the character-they eventually reveal their own agenda, temperament and idiosyncrasies--at least if we're listening to them.

At Deren's recommendation, I headed over to the and read through a panel discussion on voice. Several gems of advice we're given of which here are just a few.

Anica Rissi:Often it's not what makes the voice teen so much as what makes the voice so clearly NOT teen.
But if it's teen, it's all about the intensity of the moment. Teens don't have a ton of perspective on what's going to matter in 5 years, 5 minutes. It's all about NOW.
I don't mean to be condescending here. There's something amazing/wonderful about that, and I think one of the reason adults read YA is to reconnect to that intensity.

Anica Rissi:
Read and read and read and read is an important thing to do. But you should be telling the story that only you can tell, the way that only you know how to tell it.

Suzie Townsend:
If you know your character inside and out, your character's voice should overpower the voices of other things you've been reading.
For Emily:
Joanna Volpe:
WritingLeigh--ABSOLUTELY. Voice trumps all. Heck, if there were another angel book with a completely compelling, fresh, exquisite voice that we've never heard before, it certainly has a good chance at selling. Good writing is good writing.
Suzie Townsend:
Jessica, the voice needs to feel immediate and authentic no matter the tense. And of course the tense has to hold steady throughout the ms. If it jumps back and forth between past and present with no rhyme or reason then it's frustrating and in need of editing.

A couple of other tips are filling out questionnaires for your character. Yesterday afternoon on the back of a tandem bike coming down a canyon fast, thoughts about my character came to mind. "What would my character keep hidden in her drawer?" I knew immediately. That was the first time I could answer a question about her so quickly. This must mean I'm getting to know her a little bit better.

In conclusion, if your voice is not genuine, sincere, authentic, it is more than likely that you have not gotten to know your new baby. And just like a new baby, they require the effort, time, devotion and getting to know you period.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

BYU's Reader's Symposium

In a small group of apprx. 15 people, I asked Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall), about her writer's group. I could tell from a previous address that the group played a big role in her success.

The story she told was that SP&T was really her mother's story and she wrote it as a picture book to honor her mother who was at the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease. She wanted the story to be simple and visual so her mother could still understand it. Also, she was running out of time because her mom was getting worse.

While at her writer's group meeting, she presented what she thought was a final version. Fellow writer Jane Yolen said, "You know Pat, this is really a chapter book.

Ms. MacLachlan was so angry, she threw the manuscript on the ground.

As you may or may not know, the book was re-written as a chapter book and went on to win a Newberry, was made into a movie with Glenn Close, received various other awards and opened up a lifelong career for Ms. MacLachlan.

Ms. MacLaclan also shared that she's been in the writer's group with Ms. Yolen for 35 years. This means that they have played an important role in each others' very successful careers. AND, they were willing and had the backbone to give/take criticism.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Baked Potato vs. The Buffet

For the upcoming Reader's symposium on July 15-16, I am required to read and critique ten books by the contributing authors. Some of those are picture books, thank goodness. Brandon Mull is one of the authors and I have picked up Fablehaven (again) but I'm finding a different reading experience as I try to read for understanding of its success.

What I have found might be understood by a simple comparison to two different meals. The first meal is a potato bar- a giant Idaho spud. Simple, yet it provides endless possibilities for embellishment-sour cream, bacon, ranch dressing, chili, chives, chedder, jack...etc. etc.There's no question what the crux of the meal is-a potato.

The second meal is one of those Vegas buffets-huge room with every kind of food imaginable and nothing is incredibly good because there is so much.

Fablehaven is a baked potato with great embellishment-a simple premise or starting point: grandchildren visit grandparents who run a preserve for mystical creatures. From that premise, Mull has added all the mystical characters, their intrigue, a few mysteries that are explained well. The mysteries aren't resolved yet (p. 137) but the mysteries are well laid out: grandma is missing, the Society of the Evening Star has a clear goal. There's nothing elusive. We don't know what the chili tastes like yet but it's clear that it's chili.

I see a mistake in my writing as I see the mistake of a buffet full of unappetizing food. Tons of stuff laid out with no clear center. My premise isn't at the center of the plate with the details enhancing the taste of story the same way they enhance the taste of a potato.

Now, I'm going to look for the potato in my writing. And add for the lovely details it needs to make it taste good.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ode to Procrastination or a Pathetic Examination of the Self In Ideal WRiting Circumstances

This is in response to my friend and writing blog colleague about what to do when we get stuck writing. Here goes. True to the title--IT's quite pathetic.

I'm all alone, sequestered for five days at the beach. Alone. My laptop, a dozen resources and an amazing time to kick off at least one novel. Do you think?

I start the day with a beach walk, a little surf kayaking, a ride around the island, ( twice a day) a visit to the library, watching tv all night the first night, a promise never to do that again, renting a movie the next night, connecting with old friends via the internet, planning party for friend in LA, taking two naps a day, get the picture?

A one time attempt to write and....I don't know.

Before this incriminating examination, I had planned to comment in Shelley's post all my suggestions for writing inspiration, and then I realized none of it worked. And it boils down to discipline. Yep. Good old fashioned discipline. Thank-you my friends for the medium to discover my own weakness. So I have 24 hours before I'm leaving on a jet have inspired me to use discipline. Thank-you, thank-you. I will report --no I'll be at girls' camp next week--I will report on Saturday-or maybe before girls' camp my effort at teaching this old dog new tricks.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

When You Can't Wait To Get Home To Write

Last night, I was at a very fun event. But I couldn't wait to get home to write.
Writing is an amazing form of expression and communication.
I'm preparing a manuscript for submission to the LA SCBWI conference.
You know how you feel when you having a magnificent secret or when you've put something away for yourself to savor when you have a minute? A giant chocolate bar, the last piece of cake, a movie you want to watch all by yourself, the last chapter of a novel? This is how I feel about this conference. Four days at the Hyatt by myself to learn as much as I can about writing. Dinner with my best HS friend. It is an absolute indulgence. And so is writing.

Friday, March 26, 2010


At the beginning of this semester, I implemented a new writing program. I bought the students their own .99 cent notebook. The notebook was to be kept in the class. I had them personalize the front covers with nothing more than images from magazines affixed with glue.

Over the last few months, I've noticed that there are only four or five notebooks put back in the box each day. Ok.

Periodically, I check their notebooks for the required work. Today, I had three students come to me and ask if they could just show me their notebooks right now because they didn't want to leave them at school and then I had a student clutch her book and say it was her "security blanket." Did that make my day?

So, here is my thought/question for us...we write on our computers and if you're like me, you don't like to drag it along, fire it up etc. I know there are little hand held devices that are like notebooks, but the print is so fine, I'd have to put on my glasses-so what do you have to write on, quickly, constantly, when you're on the move? I have a little pink book that was given to me. But because I rely so much on computer writing, I haven't used it for a few months to write down those little details that make writing so great and unique. As soon as I finish this post, I'm putting it back in my purse.

What is your writer notebook?

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Jumping Fun Exercise!

I love the present participle and how it can take on the adjective form. For those of you who don't enjoy this grammar stuff-hang on, I'm going to show you the application that can sharpen your writing craft.

We can take a plain old verb and change it to a present participle by simply adding ing. We can then use it to modify a noun. Notice the fun language and description that comes to life.

verb: strut

present participle: strutting

Used to modify a noun: His strutting image reflected across the pond. (I'm making these up as I go).

Here are some of the descriptions my students came up with:



“The loitering stars twinkled a sense of comfort.” Shannara J



“The walking hair of the boy needed to be smoothed down.” Jenna K

Cynthia Rylant in her Newberry award winning book The Relatives Came, writes about hugging time, and uses the proper noun Virginia as an adjective, "wrinkled Virginia clothes." So verbals and nouns can both function as adjectives. You know when you've come up with a good one-it's a joyful surprise.

Anyone willing to try and post your effort?

Friday, March 12, 2010

There IS No Such Thing as a Writer

There are only re-writers.

I don't know if it's true, but I just read that Harper Lee's one and only magnificent novel was rejected 50 times. Imagine all the in-between re-writes. And in-between those re-writes were probably some great friends. Who told her it wasn't quite there. Yet. Keep going, but this part is really bad, and this character is sooooooooo in-authentic.

True story: My family and I were swimming in the ocean. We got in at point A and got out at point B. In between, the part of my bathing suit that covered my behind, ripped. When I walked out of the surf I had no idea I was so exposed. But my family let me know right away so I could cover-up.

I decided to give my manuscript to two voracious readers at school. I printed 2 copies without my name because I really wanted an HONEST opinion and if they knew it was me, I feared not getting an honest opinion. It felt really wonderful knowing I was anonymous and I would get honest feedback. The second student wasn't there, so I sent the other manuscript with a fellow teacher whose been asking to read my stuff and has daughters who are writers and readers. Paranoia set in--What if it's really terrible? Will I embarrass myself in front of colleagues? One of my students? Ugh. Then I wondered if you, my wonderful writing friends really haven't told me that my rough manuscripts are terrible? And that is what this post , I think, is supposed to be about.

A writing group should be the family that walks out of the surf with you and lets you know your backside is exposed. Before you send your stuff into the world.

I know this is sort of a recurring theme in my posts. I'm not sure why. Personal insecurities?

I'll let you know what my beta readers really think.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Going With the Flow or What To Do When the Flow Dams

There's been a cyber discussion among my writing group about life's little and big interruptions: hospitalized child, death in the family, a pregnancy, etc. I remembered the words of Katherine Patterson that always bring peace when my writing train is de-railed, "The very things that keep me from writing are what give me something to write about." I believe her reference was specifically to children.

Currently my focus is on the 55 children in my classrooms. My focus on a new curriculum has kept me from writing consistently. I won't be teaching forever and I believe the trade-off, the things I am learning will immensely help my writing. We are focusing one hour of our two hour block on writing. When I have to teach something I always learn a ton.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Voice Revelation

I've always thought that I could write like a fifteen year old. I'm not fifteen but I've been fifteen. And twelve and fourteen. And every age for a few decades. But I can't write like a teen anymore.

I owe this revelation to my students. In their fiction and nonfiction writing, some of their "voices" are so fabulous. And of course they have authentic fourteen and fifteen year old voices.
Currently I have a seventeen year old teaching assistant. I've asked him to write along with the class and share his writing process and his drafts. Today he had the students enthralled with his piece about entering his "man cave" on a Saturday morning to spend the day with his XBox. I read his piece just before retiring for the night and had a smile on my face in my last awake moments as I recalled a particularly funny line.

This has been a fantastic learning experience for me. I hear the real voice and I don't have it. Plain and clear.
I'm questioning my ability to speak and write in first person as a MG novel writer.
I may start writing in 3rd person narrative. Again.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Writing Personal Narrative With My Class

The piece below was written in tandem with my class. I went through several drafts and was able to show them a final color coded version that was highlighted red for cuts, blue for changes and blue for additions. The color coded version wouldn't show up on the blog-I guess black is the standard and only color available. So please leave a comment with your email address if you want the example.

Writing with the class I hope has created a new enthusiasm. Foremost they see my passion, my bad writing and hopefully a transition/evolution to something that's decent.
And yes, I'm very embarrassed about the shoe count. But the piece helped me realize why.

I’m riding my bike when I see a young man wearing shoes that are duct taped so many times, he limps each time he takes a step. When he lifts the left foot, the heel hangs off. On the down step, it slides back into place. He looks like a nice kid, but what about those shoes?

He acknowledges me with a nod of his head.
“I was just wondering, your shoes, I have a daughter who loves to wear her worn out shoes. Are you the same?”
“Do you walk to school everyday?”
“Sometimes, I take the bus when I can catch it.”
“Where do you go to school?”
He names his school. “That’s a long way to walk.”
He keeps looking down.
“Well, I was thinking. I have this gift certificate for a free pair of shoes and I know I’m not going to use it. Could you use it?”
“Really. If you would just write down your address and I can send it to you. What d’ya say?”
He’s wishing I’d go away.
“C’mon, you’ll never see me again. I promise.”
I reach in my backpack, pull out a scratch piece of paper and the kid actually gives me his address. And his name.

I google map the young man’s address and pick a shoe store only a few blocks from his house in case he has to walk. While driving to the shoe store, I wonder why it’s so important to buy this young man a pair of shoes. It’s just a pair of shoes…but here I am-- driving by the boy’s house to make sure he didn’t give me a false address. I feel like a stalker.

I once read if you have more than one pair of shoes, you’re wealthier than three quarters of the world’s population— What does it mean if you have fifty-eight pairs of shoes? Are you rich, old or really insecure?

My memory of the shoe fairy coming to take away my patent leather red shoes is still vivid. The kitchen was electrified like a lightening bolt had struck the room. I must have wanted more than anything for it to be true-how else could I endure the ugly white corrective shoes I was forced to wear- the punishment from a silly jump I took off the top of the dresser in a pair of my mother’s high heeled shoes. Doctors and x-rays. It wasn’t broken but I needed help. Help came in the form of these shoes made for babies learning to walk. I was so ugly in those horrible shoes.
I walk into Famous Footwear and stroll down the aisle of teenage boy’s shoes. I want him to have enough money so he can wear his shoes with pride. But they’re more expensive than I thought. No wonder the kid is walking in duct tape.
I’d like a gift card,” I tell the cashier.
“Sure, how much?”
This is tricky. It has to be just the right amount so he has to be wise.
“Fifty dollars.”

I remember my grandmother’s pride while wearing a good pair of shoes and my mother’s anger when my sister and I broke her exquisite gold and green heels after sneaking into her closet to wear them just one more time. I remember when my father took me shoe shopping and explained that classy women only wear close-toed shoes. I wonder why my father took me shoe shopping and I think he must have seen a need. My husband and I were in college which means we had a small apartment and a sparse income. My shoes were probably worn and it must have been that worn shoes were unacceptable in my family. The first time my grandmother met my husband to be, she was congenial, she liked him, but at the end of the meal she pulled my mother aside and told her to buy my fiancĂ© a new pair of shoes. Everything Tony was, he wasn’t enough.

I put the Famous Footwear gift certificate in an envelope, write his name, his address and affix a stamp.
Return address? No.
Personal note? Never.
Because when he steps forward, I want him to see the shoes he deserves and not the stranger who thought he wasn’t enough.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Contest Opportunity

Head on over to for the entry rules for a chance to win an agent critique.

It's a great blog too.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

In the Words of Shannon Hale

While organizing and cleaning out files, I found these words of advice from Shannon Hale. I'm unsure if it came from an interview, a blog or wherever. But it's worth reading.

Getting through a story

And in my ongoing quest to answer emailed questions, here's one I get a lot: "I'm writing a book and having trouble finishing it. Do you have any advice on how a person can get their thoughts out or should it just come to you naturally?"

First, I think the writing process is very unique for each writer, so what works for me may not work for you. But in my personal experience, I wasn't able to finish a book until I:

1. Had lived long enough to have something to write about. I tried for 15 years to finish a book, but was unable until in my twenties. I think I needed to experience enough and have a certain maturity to be able to look at story with perspective.
2. Learned to make and keep daily writing goals. Until I decided, I'm writing this many words or pages each day until I'm done, no matter what, I was never able to finish any stories of any length.
3. Accepted a lousy first draft. Once I really understood that I was never, ever going to write something wonderful on the first draft, I gave myself permission to write a bad draft and found writer's block didn't haunt me in the same way. Remember, it's true for most writers that rewriting is easier than writing a first draft, so the goal is to get that sucker out.
4. Discovered my own writing process. Do you outline with obsessive detail? Do you discover the story as you go? Do you write the story linearly always or do you jump around to any scene that appeals to you at the moment? Once you know your own writing process, getting through your book will be easier. But, in order to discover that process, you have to WRITE. A lot.

Try to have fun with your story. Try to enjoy the writing process. Turn off any thoughts of publication and just find your story. I think that's the best advice I can give.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Clarity After The Storm

The storm that pounded the coast this weekend eventually caught up to the Rocky Mountains. One night, it snowed harder than I ever remember. I had to drive to the bottom of the hill to pick up my daughter whose friend's car wouldn't make it up the hill. On my way, I watched a four wheel drive slide sideways down the road. Daunting.

Yet, the next day, the air was crisper and clearer, and the mountain so far away was shimmering with details. Details that I usually wouldn't be able to see. I saw every crevice, every line, every road and beauty heretofore seen. Breathtaking is an inadequate word. It's like trying to explain how much you love a person when the word love is limited by all the phrases we expend or waste it on: I love ice cream! I loved that movie! I love a rainy day! I love my children.

The clarity that came from after the storm gave me hope for my WIP. I've written it from different POV's, approached it from different strategies, framed it in different storytelling modes. I love the premise, but the attempted creation of this story has been stormy. I know the storm will pass; persistence will bring clarity.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Expecting the Worst From the Best

My latest pursuit of seeking a teaching certificate put me smack in the middle of 7th grade. Again. And it's funner the second time.
This time I came to seventh grade with:

* zero self-conciousness,
* sure knowledge that seventh grade is a sliver in time,
* twenty-six years of mothering,
* knowledge that bad behavior doesn't mean bad, and if you get in a photograph with seventh grade boys, YOU WILL BE BUNNY EARED.

But it IS what I expected and that is why the photo is so endearing. It is the same reason that we compassionately hold babies that cry, forgive children that say "I hate you mom," and keep our cool after our sixteen-year-old's first car accident. It is what we expect and we are prepared for these moments.

Because I expected to be bunny eared I did my best to prepare. In the moment before the photo was shot, I thought I could swat away their attempts; but I only made it more fun...which leads me to conclude, expect the worst in the best, prepare the best you can, then smile and say cheese.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Finally, a book I really love and wish I had written. That must be the ultimate compliment and a standard for a one's personal canon of best books--Do I wish I had written this book? A few days after I read it, it wins the Newberry!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

First Impressions, First Lines

First looks. You can't be everybody's friend, you can't read every magazine on the rack, and you can't sample everything in the bakery window. You have to make snap judgments based on first impressions. Did you go for the pink frosting with sprinkles because it looked the best only to later sample the plain brown pastry that was ten times more delicious? Too bad, too late, we have to go with first impressions. There's not enough time in this lifetime.
Slip into the slippers of our warrior agents and editors. Imagine 1000 queries in your inbox. Same rule of thumb on choosing a pastry. You can't taste, smell, touch every manuscript so you must rely on first impressions.
I've taken the first lines from a list of books-the kid's reading list featured at See if you can see a pattern, a pull, or a hook that would make a great impression, because, it seems, that's all we have.

By Nick Hornby "So things were ticking along quite nicely."

Shark Girl
By Kelly Bingham: "I remember the first time, and the last time, I wore my pink bikini."

Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial
By Jen Bryant "That morning, Jimmy and me had hiked clear to Connor's Pond, halfway up the mountain and back again."

Paper Towns
By John Green: "The longest day of my life began tardily."

By Margaret Peterson Haddix "It wasn't there. Then it was."

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
By E. Lockhart "I Frankie Landau-Banks, hereby confess that I was the sole mastermind behind the mal-doings of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds."

Skulduggery Pleasant
By Derek Landy; illustrated by Tom Percival " Gordon Edgley's sudden death came as a shock to everyone-not least himself."

Red Glass
By Laura Resau "Even before the boy appeared, I thought about the people crossing the desert."

By Gary D. Schmidt "Henry Smith's father told him that if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you."

The Wednesday Wars
By Gary D. Schmidt "Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me."

Generation Dead
By Daniel Waters "Phoebe and her friends held their breath as the dead girl in the plaid skirt walked past their table in the lunchroom."

After Tupac and D Foster
By Jacqueline Woodson* "The summer before D Foster's real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn't dead yet."

A Curse Dark as Gold
By Elizabeth C. Bunce* "When my father died, I thought the world would come to an end."

I definitely see a pattern. What do you see?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The admonishment to write consistently and everyday is like the number one song on the radio-you hear it over and over again. Annie D. a fellow writer and friend recently gave an insightful perspective to this admonishment: When they say to write daily, I'm seeing another reason why it's so important. Think about a time when you've picked up a book and read it quickly, in a day or two. Now think of a time when you've read a book a day here and a day there, as time permits.

How does reading this way affect the meaning of the story? Does the story speak differently to you?

I'm seeing that consistent writing helps me write a better, more meaningful story. I'm more engaged with my characters.

I completely agree with Annie and the multitude of other voices- editors, agents, writer, who shout from the rooftops "Write everyday!" Yet, how many of us are as consistent as we should be? Annie's reading to writing comparison caused me to look at the way I read.

At this moment, I am reading When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; The Story of the World and The History of the Ancient World, both by Susan Wise Bauer; Homer's The Odyssey; Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle, and Have a Little Faith by Mitch Album.

I know. Quite the array of genres. But this is how I thrive as a reader. So, could this have anything to do with how I could thrive as a writer?

For many months I have been snailing at my new edgy YA. In the last month, I've gotten two new ideas for yet two new edgy YA's. But working on three YA's? Crazy, distracting, possible?

Because most writers are avid readers, here is the challenge: Look at the way you read. What are your patterns, time frames, even the hours you love to read? Do you sit down for hours? Or grab snippets of time here and there? What keeps your interest? While examining every aspect, see if you can apply your reading discoveries to your writing success.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Frolicking-Your First Assignment

This trip to the beach wasn't entirely for myself. By Monday afternoon, I hadn't played in my kayak or on a boogie board and my body was craving the salty water.
The day before while waiting for Mom's surgical procedure to end, I had taken a walk to the glider port on the La Jolla cliffs and wished for younger years, more time and a surf board.

Two days before, as a socializing adult, I had stood on a beach terrace and with mesmerizing fascination, had watched three human Merboys play in the waves. It was a short beach, surrounded by reef where the final wave curl ended right on bare sand. The Merboys were wave masters and I stood with a small crowd of spectators in awe of their prowess.
So, by Monday afternoon it was time to play. I squeezed, pushed, into my wetsuit and stepped into the surf.
The tide was strong and confused, making it hard to stand my ground but there was no need to. Instead I rolled and dove and floated. I discovered if I faced the wave in a runner's lunge that it shoved me back maintaining the pose.
On my final body surf, I rode the water until it was dime thin and running back to sea. My hands pushed through the heavy, wet sand; head down, dripping hair, I saw myself in my daughter who as a child, sat just like this,completely surrendered to the sea. I pulled myself up and cartwheeled up the shore.

For Meagan: Tomorrow. Wake up and surrender yourself completely to some form of play. Go outside and build a snowman, fill the front yard with snow angels. Lay out a blanket, turn on the hot air popcorn popper, and take off the top. Take a walk pretending you are seeing everything for the first time. Finger paint, draw a hopscotch board in the driveway with chalk. Then jump it-keep score against yourself besting your previous jumps. Take note of how you feel, how you laugh, how you feel silly. When you're finished, walk to your computer, your notebook and frolic with your words in the same way.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Forklift

Somewhere I read that a major publishing company stores the manuscripts they receive in a warehouse and the manuscripts are moved around on a forklift. Interns and bottom-tiered employees read the manuscripts with a flagrant eye. If the first sentence catches their interest, they move through the first paragraph. If the first sentence doesn't bite them-manuscript trashed. From first sentence, to first paragraph to first page--if it makes it past the first chapter, the manuscript moves upward to a more discerning eye.

With this in mind, I saw my opening sentence/paragraph with new eyes-in the trash eyes.
Here is my original:
Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, restlessly slept on the eve of departure for yet another battle. Weeks earlier, spies had brought news that the Russian and Austrian armies were preparing to invade France. Before sunrise, Napoleon’s Army would begin their secret march to thwart the invasion.

2nd Version: Napoleon Bonaparte, startled upright from his nightmare, reached for the silky toy bear hidden under his bed. Over thirty years ago, on the eve of his departure for military academy in faraway France, Napoleon’s mother, while smothering him with tears and kisses, placed the bear in his arms. He was only nine years old. Even then he had to hide Chou Chou,-- but Napoleon would become used to a life of secrets.

My thinking: Napoleon at war is nothing new-reaching for a toy bear is.

REality: This opening paragraph has been revised, succintitized, rewritten at least ten more times from these two examples.

If you re-think your opening sentence: post the old and new and give your rationale.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Raymond Carver

Writers write, and they write, and they go on writing, in some cases long after wisdom and even common sense have told them to quit. There are always plenty of reasons—good, compelling reasons, too—for quitting, or for not writing very much or very seriously. (Writing is trouble, make no mistake, for everyone involved, and who needs trouble?) But once in a great while lightning strikes, and occasionally it strikes early in the writer’s life. Sometimes it comes later, after years of work. And sometimes, most often, of course, it never happens at all. Strangely, it seems, it may hit people whose work you can’t abide, an event that, when it occurs, causes you to feel there’s no justice whatsoever in the world. (There isn’t, more often than not.) It may hit the man or woman who is or was your friend, the one who drank too much, or not at all, who went off with someone’s wife, or husband, or sister, after a party you attended together. The young writer who sat in the back of the class and never had anything to say about anything. The dunce, you thought. The writer who couldn’t, not in one’s wildest imaginings, make anyone’s top ten possibilities. It happens sometimes. The dark horse. It happens, lightning, or it doesn’t happen. (Naturally, it’s more fun when it does happen.) But it will never, never happen to those who don’t work hard at it and who don’t consider the act of writing as very nearly the most important thing in their lives, right up there next to breath, and food, and shelter, and love, and God.

—Raymond Carver (introduction, Best American Short Stories 1986

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Be As Good A Person As Your Dog Thinks You Are

Had a good laugh when I saw this on a billboard.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jim Sheperd on Writing

In the July 2009 issue of O magazine author Jim Shepard, a National Book Award finalist, writes about getting the first draft down:
"But we need to be allowed to make that mess in the first place. When we shut ourselves down prematurely, it's as if we came across a child happily playing in the sandbox and asked what she was making, and when she said she didn't know, we told her, "Then get out of the sandbox. If you don't know what you're making, you have no business in there." Or if she answered, "I'm making a castle," we respond, "Oh, a castle. That's original. No one's ever made a castle before."'

"That girl in the sandbox has every right to respond, 'I don't know if it's original. I won't know until I've made it.'

"We need to do everything we can, when writing, to stay in touch with pleasure. With fun. With the passionate engagement that we all manage, as children. Not only because that will keep us going but also because it will generate the freedom and the energy that allow us to exhilarate ourselves, and so exhilarate others."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Beauty of Words

I often am captivated by the possibilities of language. I may very well express myself in a way that has never before been expressed or write a sentence never before written. Today I wrote on the board: wishy washy. One of my students questioned whether or not it was a word. Again the flexibility and fluidity of our language. I love words.

I especially love words when the imagery is so vivid, I can see what is happening.
From The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara-a Civil War Novel:

"He was telling the story about the time during a cannonade when there was only one tree to hide behind and how the men kept forming behind the tree, a long thin line which grew like a pigtail, and swayed to one side or the other every time a ball came close,...

"He moved as if his body was filled with cold cement that was slowly hardening,..."

Friday, January 1, 2010

Imitating the Masters

They do it in the art world, why not the writing world?

I've taken an excerpt from one of the Library Journal's best books for 2009. After reading excerpts from several, I can clearly see why they are the best books.

The beginning of From Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor immediately hooked my interest. I couldn't copy and paste so if you want to read more go to amazon' search inside option.

"There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, not her.The pert lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places sitting on their boyfriend's laps? No not them. The girls watching the lovely girls sitting on their boyfriends laps? Yes."

Using these best books as a model in the same way we'd use a Van Gogh, let's try our hand at imitation. Let's have our own writing exercise. Pick your own favorite passage from favorite book, type it in along with your own re-write..

I'll be first to put my self up for ridicule: There is a peculiar type of girl who will always find her way into a trap. You could walk through the children's park in Paris and recognize who they are: not her, not her, not her. The girl who waits patiently for her turn on a swing? No, not her. The girls swinging high trying to touch the sky with their pointed toes in red patent leather boots. Yes.

OOOhh, that was so much fun because I felt I looked at and wrote from a totally new angle. I love it. Now, must we worry about plagiarism? I wouldn't write a book like this but I would practice like this just to twist my thoughts around and think outside my gray cardboard box so I'm thinking outside of a shiny new Nordstrom box with a big blue bow. And a bell. And an origami dragon attached to the bow.