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.