Tuesday, January 31, 2012

30 Snapshots

Aaaaannnnnnnd we are now closed for submissions.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Then you probably didn't stop by my blog over the last week, when Lillie McFerrin, Angie Richmond, Daniel Swensen and I were tweeting the beflergins out of our Blog Hop Contest. Tons of people visited our blogs and read the guidelines and looked at the photo prompt, but in the end it was an even thirty people who were brave enough to go out on a limb and give their 300-words-or-less "story snapshot" of the writing prompt.

For the next week, Lillie, Angie, Daniel and I have the daunting task of narrowing those thirty down to five winners --- and it ain't gonna be easy. There is a LOT of raw talent out there!

While we agonize over the worthy winners, I encourage you to check out the Blog Hop Page and follow the links to the various entries and see which ones you like best. Not only will you have spent your time on a good deal of quality reading, but I am willing to bet that (a) you will be astonished at the variety of creative responses that sprang from one bizarre photograph (we certainly are!); and (b) you will find some amazing blogs that you must follow.

And you must follow them - of course! Because anyone cool enough to put their skills "out there" for all to see are never without roots and backstories and deeper waters.

Go out and do a little wading. I dare ya'.

And just for the record - this is not the only blog hop that you will find here. I've decided that when I hit 100 followers on my blog I will do some kind of writerly competitive awesomeness as well.

So  go - read, follow, and put on your writer's thinking cap.

And above all ---- write.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Providential Kindle Swap

What - no witty, sagacious update for Monday, posted promptly at midnight?

My, am I off my game.

Monday snuck up on me. Evil, evil Monday. Boo.

Usually I have several blog posts lined up, and have them set to auto-update at midnight EST on any given day - on Monday through Thursday at least. But this week the autoposting completely slipped by me.

A large part of this is that I've been distracted in a good way - with a thorough rereading of my earlier works-in-progress, that I honestly haven't looked at since I put them in mothballs in autumn of 2010. It was about that time that I was encouraged by some writer friends to branch out into a different genre, and not limit myself to one kind of writing, or one category of tale-weaving. That challenge led to an interesting cascade of decisions and thinking, resulting in my current project of which I've been dropping such hints and summaries: Castle 8.

But then a funny thing happened. My father and I both have Kindles, you see, and every once in a while we do what we call a "Kindle swap." This is not a sneaky way to snap up purchased tomes, by the way - purchased books on Kindle, as a general rule, do not transfer from one Kindle to the next. When we plug our Kindles into the computer one after the other, and transfer the files, the only things we are going for are those books which are free anyway. Common domain books. We are both such nerds, we are interested in swapping out titles like Sun Tzu's The Art of War or Boswell's Life of Johnson.

We did another such "Kindle swap" late last fall, and were rewarded with lots of lovely nerdy titles to lose ourselves in, equally trading out Dr Faustus for The Complete Sherlock Holmes, The Man From Snowy River for The Story of the Volsungs, Maximilian in Mexico for The Dispatch Riders, and G K Chesterton's What I Saw in America.

Lots of great nerdy stuff. Ya'll should come over for story-time at OUR house.


What I had forgotten was that, lumped in with all these forgotten tomes, were several PDF files of my working manuscripts. Partly as a back-up measure, partly because I've been meaning to reread them anyway, I had taken each of my WIPs and converted them to 22 pt font (Times New Roman) and then to PDF format, so I could read my own works as a "real" book on the Kindle. I like doing this because honestly, there are a TON of errors I never see in my own work until it is a totally different format. The more formal the presentation, the more quickly I spot my own shortcomings.

Only I hadn't looked at most of these WIPs in over a year. I forgot they were even there; and then I made the Kindle swap with my dad over this past Thanksgiving.

The upshot is that, as he sifted through all the oddball titles I had given him (no stranger than the ones he'd given me, I assure you), he realized he had several raw manuscripts on hand as well. I had already asked him to read through Castle 8, so he did that. He surprised me by saying he really enjoyed it, that he thought I had something that was more than just publishable, it was good.

Coming from my dad, that is high praise. He always reserves his judgements till he has sifted all the information, and then his praise is always in exact proportion to the merit of the situation. So for him to say that he truly enjoyed what I had done - I was thrilled.

Then he found my other manuscripts - the ones that had been "in storage" for well over a year.

Suddenly my days were punctuated by lots of text messages with exclamations and questions, and comments about how he - my dad, mind you - could not put the books down. The other books are all part of one big sprawling series, and it's a fantasy series to boot. My dad is generally not a fantasy reader, but by the messages he was sending me you would never guess that.

His response was so unexpected (for me) that I spent the weekend reading through the books again as well, trying to see them from his eyes. It's odd how just knowing someone else is reading your work will make it seem new all over again (and show you yet OTHER errors that you've never seen before).

Now ~ I know he's my dad, and I know what people say about taking the praise (or criticism) of family members too close to heart when setting out on the road to publication. But my dad has always been my most meticulous copy-editor, the one who would always tell me when I was wasting my time with shallow plotlines or bad writing. He once famously ripped a piece of my writing for including too many "limpid clear pools and azure blue sky" --- and with good reason. It was a horrible bit of work, and he honored me by saying so. That's why I've always valued his opinion on my writing: because I know he will always tell me the truth.

So now I've received an emphatic double thumbs-up from him on this other series, which has had a chance to marinate in the back of my head for over a year, and whose lines I can read through more objectively than my purported "current project" Castle 8.  Certain things that I thought were horrible and ought to be eliminated (entire chapters, in some places) now don't seem quite so grotesque. Other things I was proud of I could now cut out without thinking, and I see how it would elevate the overall composition of the book.

Which makes me wonder: which project do I put forward first for publication? The one that I've been sinking myself into for a solid year now, which works well but still needs several layers of spit-polish and beta readers; or the one that's been in my head since I was twelve, and has been collecting dust for sixteen months?

That is what caused me to spend large chunks of my weekend reading my own PDF files. It's also why my blogging posts fell by the wayside.

[But o look....I think out loud with a keyboard in front of me, and voila! ~ a blog post. That hopefully didn't turn your brain to applesauce.]

This is going to take some considering. Knowing which WIP to float by the agents first is a big first step - especially for me, since Castle 8 and the "mothballs project" are in two totally different genres, and would need to be queried, marketed, etc very differently, and probably to very different kinds of agent.

Again - this requires some thought.

No quick answers on this one, I'm sure. I don't expect any.

But I do know this: I am very grateful for PDF conversions and Kindle swaps - whatever the consequences.

Anyone else been in this sort of quandary before? Who else writes in multiple genres at once?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

6SS: Sneaking Finn

Six Sentence Sunday

In keeping with last week's post, I have put up another six sentences from my current work-in-progress, Castle 8:

“She’s coming back!”
The tool belt was half buckled, limp and heavy in Finn’s hands. He had half a mind to take it off again, and smack Greg with it. How unfair, to bring up mother at a time like this.
“She might come back - or she might send for us,” said Greg. “If you run off with the cannibals for days on end, you might not be here when she returns, or sends word for us to join her.”

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ob-La-Di Silliness

Weekend silliness returns!

I double dog dare you not to smile during this one.

(Link courtesy of YouTube, as usual.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Agent Tweets #5: Boredom and Bungling Blogs

Welcome to the 5th edition of Agent Tweets, a weekly post that highlights and responds to
 publication-centric comments from agents and editors, gleaned from Twitter.

FYI: I do not name agents and editors quoted in these posts. 
The quotes listed here are indicative of the spectrum, and 
just happen to be the most compellingly worded variations. 

Today's Agent Tweets: Blunt Honesty #2

The more you say your novel is like your life, the less excited I am. We aren't objective about our own lives

Why This Matters:I can totally see what someone might find this offensive, if it were embedded in a responding email or critique. We know the microcosm of our own lives. We are intricately acquainted with the miracles and pitfalls, large and small. Of course our own experiences are an enormous legacy in our own lives - we've lived through them.
     But think about it: an agent or editor owes you nothing in the way of compliments. You want them to like your work, even love it? You've got to sell it on its tangible allurements. Saying that it mirrors your own life - when they don't know you from Adam's housecat - isn't going to grab their attention, even if you have lived the most amazing incredible fantastic death-defying OMG-You-Won't-Believe-What-Happened love-conquers-all kind of life.
     Also, the original point still stands:  We are not objective about our own lives. We've lived it, so of course what we've been through matters most to us. We are essentially self-centered critters, after all.

What To Do: Look at your own work from an outsider's point of view, and write your hook and summary from there. Can't look at it from an outsider's POV? Get a literature-savvy friend to help. My writer's group is constantly doing rough-draft hook-and-summary blurbs for one another, so that the creator of the work can see what it is that draws a reader in. Using that as a springboard, you can then work on selling your work because it has x and y and z, and not because it's based on the All Fantabulous Me.

Authors, proofread your blogs. It looks suspicious (at best) when your sub is great & your blog is littered with errors.

Why This Matters: It is when we are in our "comfort zone" that we are most likely to let our guard down. Our spelling and grammar worsens. We become sloppier, lazier, more colloquial. Since our blogs are our "home" on the web, it's where we tend to kick our shoes off and kick back, so to speak. We take off the mask and show our true colors to those who dare to come find us at our home base.
     However: one of the main reasons for a writer to begin a blog - especially if they intend to showcase their work - is to set up an internet presence. It is a presence, moreover, that most agents or publishers will expect, or at least ask about, when you finally make it into that Inner Circle of Consideration. When that happens, the blog becomes part of your resume.
     Of course you still want to be "the real you" on your blog. Who doesn't? Freshness and realism is a large part of the appeal of having a blog, especially if you intend to establish a professional reputation through your writing. But think of it this way: If you go in for a job interview, wouldn't you want to know whether your pants were unzipped, or your blouse was misbuttoned, or you had ickiness hanging out of your nose?
     You would never want to show up to an interview that way. Even if it's for the initiation into a ninja-nun-biker-gang. I don't care how casual, formal, freaky or docile the dress code is - you'd still stop in the bathroom on the way to the interview and check to make sure everything is zipped, hooked, buttoned, wiped, aligned, or artfully askew in the right gangsta way before you walked in for your interview (or initiation/hazing ordeal). 

What To Do: Check the mirror before going public even before your everyday audience. Check your spelling. Check your facts. Check your grammar. Make sure you look your best for that Inner Circle who visits your blog regularly. That way, when you surface on the radar of the professionals, your blog is ready for Prime Time.

Do you have a blog? How do you manage the real-time editing that goes into such an effort? What about your hook-and-summary? What's your best approach to handling that?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

FSF: Radiance

Thanks again to Lillie McFerrin for setting up the Five Sentence Fiction challenge!
Today, something a little less fictitious - observed this past weekend at the hospital:

Five Sentence Fiction: Radiance

He's been away since Christmas, ever since the ambulance took him away in a delirium, sirens wailing, leaving two small boys and their distraught mommy behind.

Three weeks passed in an ongoing cascade of fever, blood clots, a leg amputation - barring him from his family, threatening to sever him from his soul. Every precious hour lay under siege, while ICU added the sterile yet well-meaning imperative: no children may visit where death treads so near.

Then the fever turns - the amputation is healing - he is moved to a real room, with a window and a television, a smiling nurse and half the number of drips and IVs. Two red-haired boys stumble into the room, clamber to reach his bed first, their round faces suffused with joy as they bring dawning hope in their outstretched arms.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Flip-Top Brains

Reminder: Have you joined the blog hop yet? 300 words or less puts you in the running for some lovely writerly prizes! Check out yesterday's post for details!!!


Today's Post: In keeping with my friends over at Surly Muse and Dasia Has a Blog, I have succumbed to the 20 Question Blog Meme and have opened my flip-top brains (as it were) to let you peek inside. (I am very sorry if this is a traumatic experience.)

So here we go....

1. As a blogger, what do you draw inspirations from for your posts?

I’m a history/lit teacher, so I can spin a lecture out of straw – literally. My problem is making sure that I hit on things that, if not original, are at least enough off the beaten path that people will want to read it. For that I think back on my writer’s meetings, or classes with my students, or simply on those things that bug/irritate/inspire/confuse/amaze me.

2. If you could swap blogs with another blogger for a post, who would you switch with and why?

Ahhh! Too many choices. Anyone from my NoInklings Tribe would be awesome, although at the moment I should probably tip the hat toward Surly Muse or Dasia Has a Blog, as it is their fault I'm unleashing all this drivel on an unsuspecting public.

3. If your blog had a theme song, what would it be? Why?

“Through the Looking Glass” by Hypnogaja….I absolutely adore this song – mostly because of my Lewis Carroll obsession, and also because it’s just an amazing song.

I want to listen to it on repeat loop before every major writing spree...and then do the actual writing in silence.

4. What is your writing process for a post?

Certain blogs – like the Agent Tweets series, or my silly weekend posts – are regular spots for which I plan ahead. Others are entirely dependent on what’s knocking about in my brain at the time. Some are ideas that grow on me, that I keep in my blog feed and gradually work on in fits and bursts.

5. Your blog requires a cute, new, mascot - what would it be?

A blue-footed booby!!! I swear, are these not the coolest things EVER?!?

6. Do you feel you express your "true self" on your blog?

Pretty much. Just not all at once.

7. What is your biggest online pet-peeve?

Really tiny font. Especially if it’s the fancy sort. =p

8. If you could live in a fictional universe, where would you live? Why?

I’m assuming that the rule of “you can’t take it with you” applies to universe-shifting alterations; with that in mind I would probably say The Commonwealth from Silverlock, by John MyersMyers. That way I could have constant access to all the wonderful great characters from literature (even the obscure ones!), and have new adventures with them, even if I were permanently robbed of the books they represent.

9. You're having a bad day, you're upset, you're angry, or you're sad - what is your go-to comfort?

My writing, actually – or my artwork; although it’s usually not a good idea to try to do pottery when you’re angry, as any stage of the process requires something of a light touch.

One of my tree mugs. Yes, I make these. When I'm not writing.

10. What is your favorite inspirational quote?

If not me - who? If not now - when?
- my dad

11. If they were to make a movie based on your life, who would play you, your leading lady/man, your best friend, and your rival?

I've always envisioned Winona Ryder as the actress for my part, since we're both short brunettes with big eyes, and born within a year of each other. As for the other roles....I have no idea. That will be the largely fictionalized aspect that Hollywood would no doubt dream up. :)

No, we don't really look alike. But I do like her. And I picked her as my "Hollywood Me" 
when I was thirteen, so I doubt I'll change that bias any time soon.

12. Do you think the world is going to end in 2012?

No. Personally, I think the Aztecs got so far with their calendar counting and then thought “You know – we’ll all be dead by then, so why bother counting any further?” and just stopped. Either that or their chief mathematician croaked before they finished the project. 

13. If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?

This is the perennial question that always shows up on these things, and I’ve always been totally lame when it does. I’ve never been able to think of a single thing about myself that I’d like to change – quirks, sins, faults and shortcomings included. If I’m going to be a flawed human here on planet Earth, I’d just assume stick with what I’ve got till I pass through the veil.

14. What is your favorite season and why?

Winter. I love the world when it is cold and gray, and pretends to be dead. I love how sounds travel farther and sing clearer; that the nights are longer; the way sunsets reflect in icy lakes and bleed through the ribs of barren trees. I adore the way winter chases people into holidays and gatherings, to commune more closely with their fellow man. I love winter fog and snow. (But I do hate the heating bills.)

15. You've been bitten by a vampire. Would you fight it with all your undead being or would you embrace it for all it is worth?

To quote Peter Pan: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.” I would probably (after a good deal of pouting and readjusting) settle into my new vampire life, and show the Cullens how to do it old-school. 

(Team Dracula all the way, baby.)

16. Have you personally met any of your blogger friends?

I have the honor and privilege of knowing the fantabulous personalities behind Hannah Project 195, The Articulate Vermiculate, The Other Side of Sorrow, and Amanda McCrina. But I most assuredly would like to add to that list. 

17. What does your favorite pair of underwear look like?

I’m supposed to have favorites among underwear??  O_o

18. Have you ever drank something right from the container in the refrigerator knowing other people will have to drink out of the same container later?

No – mostly because I’m absurdly clumsy, and would likely spill it all over myself and the kitchen. I could probably get away with it, though, as most of my house guests don’t drink soymilk. 


19. What is your favorite word and explain why?

weregild.  I fell in love with that word ever since my Beowulf professor lectured at length about weregild, the ancient Celtic idea of the "blood payment", and all the cultural consequences and expectations that entailed. According to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), weregild (or wergild) is defined as: "The price of a man's head; a compensation paid for a man killed, partly to the king for the loss of a subject, partly to the lord of the vassal, and partly to the next of kin. It was paid by the murderer."

Honorable mentions: schwa, covenant, trebuchet, denouement, iamb, shall, clew

Lord of the Rings is the only book I've found besides Beowulf that mentions the concept of 
weregild in its appropriate context. Ironically, it is Isildur who pronounced The One Ring 
"as weregild for my father's death, and my brother's. Was it not I who dealt the Enemy his death-blow?"

20. 2011 is soon coming to a close, is there anything you'd like to do different on your blog in the year 2012? 

Diversify, maybe? Trying to change up the teacherish posts with more me-ish posts, especially ones that exhibit more of my writing. I'm working on this. (Promise. )

More blue-footed boobies! .....OK, I'll stop now.

Didja check out the Blog Hop Contest? You should! Submissions accepted for only six more days!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Blog Hop Contest!

Hear ye, hear ye - O ye writers!

I am teaming up with Lillie McFerrin, Angie Richmond and Daniel Swensen for a fantabulous blog hop, to celebrate our magnificent community of blog followers and writing cohorts!

What's a blog hop? So glad you asked.

Here's the scoop:

Photo by Luis Beltran
Write a piece of flash fiction, poem, or song (300 words or less) using the photo above as your inspiration. Post it on your blog anytime between now and when the link closes. Every eligible entry will qualify for a chance to win one of the prizes listed below. Links will close for submissions January 31st. Lillie, Angie, Daniel and I will then read, debate, and decide on five winners for the following:

1st: Fifty page critique by Lillie McFerrin
2nd: Twenty-Five page critique edit by Angie Richmond
3rd: Fifteen page critique by Angela Goff
4th: Ten page critique by Daniel Swensen
5th: A copy of Steven King’s On Writing

Winners will be announced February 7th.

Copy and paste the linky code below with your entry. Spread the word! We look forward to reading your take on this amazing photo!

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                document.write('<script type="text/javascript" src=http://www.inlinkz.com/cs.php?id=116954&' + new Date().getTime() + '"><\/script>');</script>
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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday

For my first ever foray into Six Sentence Sunday - I hereby present you with the opening six sentences of my work-in-progress, Castle 8, which I previewed for everyone the other day:

Six years after the second end of the world, Finn Swackhammer’s alarm went off at dark-thirty and woke him out of a sound sleep. 
The actual time did not matter. In the Underground, time no longer meant anything. Ever since the world first ended nine hundred years earlier, the people had lived in constant darkness, and “dark-thirty” was just a way to say the alarm had gone off at its appointed interval. Finn’s alarm reminded him it was time to ride the rails, and the cannibals were waiting for him. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jane Austen's Fight Club

Forget Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I'll take an Austen heroine who knows a half Nelson from an upper cut, thanks.

This is a Vimeo video, not YouTube, so I can't embed the link here.....you'll just have to go visit the...

....and see it for yourself.

(Trust me.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

FSS: Poison

Five Sentence Fiction!

Thanks to Lillie McFerrin's marvelous Five Sentence Fiction challenge - this week, writer's choice - I've decided to take the plunge with the following writing prompt:


Only three words were uttered - nothing more. I could not have anticipated the response it elicited. How was I to know the bruise was so raw, lingering just beneath the surface, still throbbing from an injury I never saw delivered?

"Company policy requires...."

Bile hardened her features and sharpened her tongue, as she unleashed a tsunami of resentment on me.

Do you participate in Five Sentence Fiction? You should!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Nose in the Air

Welcome to the 4th edition of Agent Tweets, a weekly post that highlights and responds to
 publication-centric comments from agents and editors, gleaned from Twitter.

FYI: I do not name agents and editors quoted in these posts. 
The quotes listed here are indicative of the spectrum, and 
just happen to be the most compellingly worded variations. 

Today's Agent Tweets: Blunt Honesty #1

Agent Tweet:  "There's no editor to muck things up." I disagree with this. I speak from experience, having read self published stuff that needs an editor.

Why This Matters: Oh my, how this hits home with me - especially now, that I'm getting feedback from my first real battery of beta readers - you know, the ones who don't owe you any compliments, and haven't sat at your Inner Circle Writer's Meetings and listened to you drone about your wonderful vision for your tale, and who you want to star in the movie when Hollywood inevitably comes knocking at your door. Getting solid feedback on your WIP (work in progress) is a huge part of the journey toward getting published; and the more hard-core the feedback, the more you realize that you can't go down that editing road alone.

But even beta readers are not editors. Unless you hit on a very savvy beta reader who happens to be an editor in real life (which I figure is the publishing world's version of winnning the lottery), you're not going to get the real, bare-knuckles, literary fistfight you need from a beta reader. And your manuscript certainly won't achieve it's highest level of greatness from purely your own edits.

An excellent example of this is, I think, The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. You're probably already familiar with the teenager-turned-bestselling-author who created the four volume series about dragonrider Eragon. I know quite a few people who are entirely enamored with this series - very savvy, well-read, creative people whom I love and admire. But on this one point - the literary worth of the Inheritance Cycle - we do not see eye to eye.

If you've read the entire Inheritance Cycle - congratulations. You are to be commended for doing what I could not. You have endured a long, wandering, detail-obsessed, superfluous tale whose verbosity would have made Charles Dickens cower. (Incidentally, I am very much a Charles Dickens fan. Just sayin'.) For my part, I could not get halfway through the first book. I just couldn't. I felt as though I was trying to read tar, or eat taffy that has the annoying habit of never dissolving in your mouth.

Please do not misunderstand me. At rock bottom, I do think Paolini is a very talented young man - but a talent unleashed a little too soon, and with too little mastery of his inherent skills. His original book, Eragon, was self-published - and I think it shows, loud and clear. He gave too free a reign to his natural gifts, while his inherent weaknesses were never strengthened. Though he did eventually find a publisher, Eragon was left largely in it's original form, thereby dooming the remaining three volumes to only build on - and thus magnify - the structural weaknesses of the first book. (I've had readers tell me they were able to skip entire chapters of book four without ever once losing the thread of the main action. The only other book of which I've heard such a disheartening assessment was Moby Dick.) The truly brilliant work that the Inheritance Cycle could have been never happened - because the tale went straight from a seventeen-year-old brain to a public audience, without a professional edit to bring discipline and precision to his overall work.

Which, of course, brings us back to the original Agent Tweet - that an editor really is NOT there to "muck up" your story. They are there to help. Since an editor is not emotionally tangled up in the tale (which we, as authors of our own stories, inevitably are), they have the objectivity to see structural issues in your tale that you cannot see - things that obscure the overall message of your book, that dim its brightness, or undermine its emotional punch.

Even if you do self-publish, you still want to enlist the help of a reputable editor, such as Sirra Edits - and she is by no means the only capable editor available to self-pubbed authors today. Check out the web, find someone willing to take on your novel and give it the spit-polish it deserves. Making your novel the absolute best it can be is, after all, the only way to stand out in an increasingly-chaotic publishing crowd.

Anyone out there self-publishing? What are your thoughts on the editor stage of the process?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Castle 8 Confessions

I am such a coward.

No - really I am. Or at least I feel that am - especially when it comes to my writing.

You wouldn't guess it by looking at this blog. It's stuffed full of posts, ranging from the informative to the downright silly. I started this blog back in late September with a very specific end in mind: to somehow pave a way - or at least part of the way - toward my future writing career. Build a platform. Get my name out there. And so on.

I knew it would happen gradually. These things do take time, after all. And I should add that I've had a marvelous time building up this blog, and have no intention of slowing down. However - while I love posting all these helpful tips and anecdotes on writing (next Agent Tweets episode coming up tomorrow, by the way), it is supremely easy for me to hide behind my teacherishness and serve up little mini-lessons by the dozen.

The big omission? Anything pertaining to my OWN writing.

Now, please know - I am not changing horses in midstream, nor intend to fill this blog with my own delusions of adequacy. As Daniel Swensen so perfectly said it in his blog post yesterday - blogging is really about others, not yourself.

But part of that involves giving of yourself. In a writer's community, that means going out on a limb with those skills you profess to have.

So, after a bit of quiet and good-natured heckling from friends (you know who you are), I've decided to branch out a bit more with the writing blurbs. I've decided to at least occasionally participate in Six Sentence Sunday, in which writers are encouraged to share a six sentence blurb from the more riveting corners of their work-in-progress. I've also decided to join in the fun with Lillie McFerrin on her blog, with her weekly 5 Sentence Fiction challenges.

For the moment, however - as a token of good faith that I will not permanently use this blog as an extension of my composition and history classrooms - I hereby put forth the following summary of my current work-in-progress. Consider this a down payment of literary transparency to come. :-)

Castle 8

The Underground has been quarantined for centuries, running on the impersonal laws and mechanical system of a “big brother” tyranny that dissolved long ago. Crippled by earthquakes, mired in darkness, victimized by gangs, the Underground is on a path to self-destruction. But the Swackhammer brothers – math genius Greg, illiterate poet Errol, cannibal safe-cracker Finn and the illegally-born March – know there is something more beyond the Underground, that life hasn’t always been this way. 
Severed from all history, literature, music and culture for so many generations, no one in the Underground has the least idea how to save, let alone rebuild, their world. The Swackhammers are thrown headlong into that mystery, as they scramble to escape the Underground and recover what was lost – at whatever cost to themselves.

Anyone else out there doing Six Sentence Sundays? Five Sentence Fiction?
Is the "book blurb" anything that sounds remotely interesting to you?
Let me know!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guest Post: People Are Complicated!

Thanks to fellow Y5 writer McKenzie Barham for the following guest post!

Sometimes I walk into Publix and have a meltdown. Not because of the aisles and aisles of delicious food, or the deli bar or even the cute little stand  with balloons.... Nope. I freak out because I see people.

Now, I am homeschooled, but I’m pretty normal for a homeschooler. I have a couple friends and I don’t wear culots and stuff, although I still battle my sci-fi obsession. So why do people freak me out?

well... I’m  a writer. I like to write books. Books which usually include characters. And you know what?


Grocery stores are the perfect example of my frequent frustration. You only get a glimpse of people at grocery stores- the screaming toddler in the parking lot - the old man in the scooter grocery thing - the flirting employees on the toilet paper aisle. (I have actually witnessed this - very awkward.) But these grocery store glimpses can be so revealing! The way people interact (or don’t) , the ways they walk - heck, the way they push their buggies can be revealing.

Now don’t be deceived - you might think you have that sweet, little white-haired lady all figured out. You think she’s buying that cake mix to surprise her grandchildren (all twenty of them) when they come over for Christmas dinner. But is that all there is to this woman? What about her hopes? Her dreams? What she REALLY thinks about her twenty grandchildren? For all you know she could be a world champion kick boxer and could be obtaining a degree in marine biology - just for the fun of it. 

Sooooooooooo... what does this have to do with writing? I’m so glad you asked. :) 

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with how complicated people are... but at the same time I find myself underwhelmed with how flat my characters seem. I read all these fantastic books and think, wow, I could never pull off a character like that. How do I get inside the head of someone that well? Well enough to accurately portray them so that my readers and I are on exactly the same page?

First of all - no one is boring. When was the last time you met a truly boring person? I bet never... because if you start paying attention you can find something interesting about anyone. (This helps your social life too - trust me, I’m homeschooled.) I also think people’s imaginations are much stronger than we give them credit for. They’re good at filling in details for themselves - just give them something to work with. You don’t have to figure every single, minuscule character until you have Multiple Personality Disorder. (I have a villain who kills a lot of people because of this.)

Second of all... your readers will never entirely be on the same page as you. Hopefully the same story and characters but someone is going to hate your favorite character and love the dumb pushover character and have a strange fascination with the one that makes you gag. Give them the important things - which doesn’t necessarily require a full body description - and let them form their own opinions. Write what interests YOU about the character... but don’t feel like you have to explain everything. We’re not dumb. Okay, some of us might be but let’s just generalize for the sake of my blog post. 

Oh no! Wait!! What about the reeeeeeeeeally important chars? Like the main ones? The ones that you dream about day and night and never get any rest because they’re always bothering you and asking you stupid questions - oh your’s don’t do that? *Awkward*

Well... for those of you that do have these problems here is my wise and treasured advice: 

Figuring out your character is going to be just as much a journey for you as it will be your readers. You can’t know everything from the beginning and you won’t know everything in the end. (That’s deep wisdom right there, people.. I’m going to be a philosopher when I grow up...) You might have to write a little teensy paragraph of a back story to help you out. You might have to start from their flipping birth! Or you could be like me who ended up writing one of my darling characters a whole freaking book just to figure him out. 

Yeah. Guess what? He still surprises me.

But what if all of this doesn’t work?! What if McKenzie is just not helpful and as wise as she thinks she is? 

Here is the last of my sage advice: Let me tell you about Julian. 

Julian was a character that made his debut appearance during my Nanowrimo novel this year. Julian was boring. I know - people are never boring. But he broke, shattered and absolutely pulverized this rule. He made me cringe to think about. So I broke one of the Seven Deadly Sins of writing.

I started basing him off of one of my friends. *insert screaming fury of a thousand writer punishers* I knew it was bad. But it was Nano and I was desperate. Now please cover your eyes and scroll through this part....

It worked!! 

Let me back track. I was truly and utterly stuck. I knew what I wanted and I had no idea how to write it. So I started looking for someone who in some way, shape or form reminded me of Julian. I will reiterate the advice I’ve read: Don’t be a stalker!! (Which I wasn’t. I hope.) Don’t be obvious because that could get super awkward and painful. (Especially if the character dies or is the black-hearted villain.)

But play with their personality quirks and try them on your flat characters. When you write, you draw from what you know about the people around you anyway, unless you live in a dungeon with only rats for friends... I think it’s perfectly all right if you pay a little extra attention sometimes. (To the people, not the rats.)

When I finished my book on November 30, I felt like my character had definitely evolved from My Nameless Friend to, well, just Julian. I had to find an example of the kind of spirit I wanted to capture but Julian didn’t turn out to be a carbon copy. He’s got quite a large unique personality now - sometimes I want to slap him and sometimes I want to marry him. But think of him as Julian - no one else. 

I broke a rule, sure, but I think I had to to find Julian. Julian is still similar to my nameless friend, but that’s probably only obvious to me, and I’m really and truly pleased with the way he turned out.

Why did it work so well?

Well... ‘cause people are complicated. :)

McKenzie Barham is a fun-sized, book-obsessed redhead who plans on taking over the world with her writing group (the Y5), becoming a multi-billionaire, and then (with the Y5) building a cabin in the mountains with a Beauty and the Beast library. At the moment, however, she is slightly distracted by finishing high-school and surviving Ms. Angela’s humanities classes. ;) She can be found on Twitter as @Love_Kenzie or at her blog: The Other Side of Sorrow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fog and Water

Shortly after New Year's my hometown experienced some unseasonably warm, humid weather for January (even for Georgia). It poured rivers all day, with hardly a letup. Late in the afternoon, I made a quick run to the store, and by the time I finished the world had grown dark outside.

As I approached the exit doors I blinked my eyes, and did a double take. I thought I was seeing an odd reflection back through the sliding glass doors - but no; the world really had changed that drastically in only half an hour. What had been a damp, clear, break-between-the-clouds world when I went in had been replaced by the thickest, densest, most ghostly fog I had ever seen. Standing on the sidewalk, I could not even see the opposite side of the street.

The drive home that night was interesting, to say the least. Though I was only five miles from home, it was a winding, corkscrew five miles - alongside vast acres of rolling pastureland, down into marshy hollows, round hairpin curves and over one lane bridges. I traced the route from memory, because I could not see anything except the encroaching fog, and the eerie wells of light that punctured the mist above me. More unsettling was to see the full moon rising in a clear night sky, high above the fog embankment. Beyond the highest trees, painted like a colored wash above the goblin-gray sea of restless fog, was a band of starry sky with the moon at its heart, hung like an enormous pearl on a satin ribbon. Below, every mist-bound tree cut an imposing figure, marching out of the vagueness with the dark, stern presence of a giant at large. The last bands of sunset cut through the topmost coils of vapor, picking out the bare crowns of oak trees like the many-pronged horns of a mystical creature.

I drove about ten miles an hour all the way home, alternately watching the shrouded road before me and gaping at the glory-streaked netherworld pressing around me - above and below, near and beyond. I was full of wonder at the sight; and yet one persistent thought kept running through my mind:  This is why people believe in fairies.

It is small wonder why, in every high school and college literature class, teachers burden their students with lectures on symbolism and motifs. There is, after all, good reason for impressing something such as, say, the water symbol on students of western literature. In nearly every classic tome water generally represents, on the surface at least, memory. This is why we can study Galadriel's mirror from Lord of the Rings, the great river (the Mississippi) at the heart of Huck Finn, or that disastrous sheet of ice in Ethan Frome and pull from each a family resemblance, so to speak, in what those scenes communicate. Individually, the water symbol adds extra layers of peculiar meaning to the plot at large. Yet despite the disparate nature of their respective tales, Lord of the Rings, Huck Finn and Ethan Frome all contain in the water symbol the impress of memory. Events long gone that cannot be recovered, for good or ill - that is the common truth that resonates with the reader.

Fog is another such symbol. Mystery, of course, is the essence of its nature, its allure, and its danger. It is a living shroud for the natural world, a ghostly harbinger of death and portents, that rises and abates when least expected. It confuses the most level-headed guides, makes familiar terrain as foreign as a distant planet, and brings doubt where certainty once prevailed. Symbolically and in reality, fog is about obscuring the truth, covering with doubt, and taking what we thought we knew and transforming it into the unknowable and threatening.

I know several writers who eschew using "traditional" symbolism. It was quite the fad for a while to take the established symbols and motifs from classic literature and turn them all on their ear. In some circles, it is still fashionable.

Yet I maintain that we should not shy away from established symbols in our writing. True, we don't want to be cliche --- that is the fear of every writer, I think, whether published or no. But if we dismiss all of the most basic symbols that appeal to our innate senses as humans, then we risk losing that subtle anchorage every writer needs in order to give texture and familiarity to their work. Appealing to the familiar and sympathetic in your readers goes beyond merely crafting believable characters with identifiable problems; it extends even to the ordinary symbols that, like fog, chase them through their days and twist the details of familiar life into new complexities, thus layering substance with urgency, and drawing your reader yet farther into your world.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

You Must Use the Force!

More weekend silliness!

This is a song by the zany group known as Moosebutter, but the video itself was arranged by Corey Vidal (the adorably geeky squirt pretending to be four people at once throughout the video). Video courtesy of YouTube, as usual.

Also: It's a pretty darn awesome tribute to John Williams. Just sayin'.

Doesn't this make your inner Star Wars geek happy?

If it doesn't, you need a dance with Ewoks. Or a chess game with a Wookie. Or something.

(PS - If you want to see Moosebutter in the original video - upon which this one was based - 
you can go here. But honestly, I prefer this version.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review: The Sauder Diaries

The Sauder Diaries: By Any Other Name

First of all let me say this: I am not usually one for giving book reviews. For one thing, I made the decision early on that I would not review a new book on my website unless I felt that I could unreservedly give it five stars. Of all the popular fiction that I've read - or attempted to read - lately, this is the first book of which I could pay such a compliment.

Hence: This is my first book review. 

Once I joined Twitter in September, I quickly saw that it was a gold mine of links to new fiction, debut novels, new authors, and the rest. I clicked through all of them, and made a list of books whose premise appealed to me, and then cross-referenced them on Amazon and Goodreads. I read summaries, reviews, etc and narrowed down the list even more.

I finally took a chance on The Sauder Diaries: By Any Other Name by Michel R Vaillancourt. I was skeptical, even so. I had tried steampunk before, and hadn't found anything that really grabbed me.  

All that changed when I downloaded The Sauder Diaries to my Kindle and devoured it over Christmas - as in, stayed-up-till-4am-and-lost-precious-sleep-because-the-book-wouldn't-let-me-go, kind of devouring. 

The Premise:
Michel's pirate-infused steampunk world is rooted in the historical fabric of Victorian Europe, in which the Crimean War ended with a stalemate and not a victory. Airships and clockwork mechanisms are the technology of the future, mad scientists and engine-driven dragons run rampant, and Russia stands tall as the supermenace overshadowing the world. 

Living amidst this vivid, turbulent clockwork world is Hans Sauder, a gentleman's son and German expat. While en route to University to study engineering, his airship is waylaid by the nefarious pirate ship The Bloody Rose. Confronted with a choice to either join the crew or be tossed overboard into the most volatile wilds of Europe, Hans reluctantly steps into the role of a pirate. As he is given the kind of education no university could have prepared him for, Hans finds himself at the center of a paradoxical world, where the Captain conducts piracy with a gentleman's keen business sense, the most lethal crew members are the women, and the dark underbelly of a "peaceful" Europe is exposed at every turn. 

The Cast
No shallow, cardboard characters populate this story; every pirate - from Italian Ethiope beauty Arietta to the deadly Captain-Gunner Annika, to the seemingly indestructible Blauchuk - is a multilayered soul with peculiar backhistories that feed the plot throughout, and drop ample hints for the series to come.  Meticulous attention is given to the ethnicities and cultural backgrounds of the time, resulting in dynamic, believable characters who walk straight into your imagination and take it over, as easily as they ambushed Hans.

Being a history teacher myself, I am notoriously picky when it comes to the books I read. The Sauder Diaries defied my skepticsm at every turn - and won the duel, hands down. Romance, warfare, intrigue, humor, and espionage were all interwoven with careful attention. Historical and mechanical detail nails down every scene with credible realism.
     There are a few passages where meticulous detail is given to the workings of the ship's machinery, but the action never stops cold while the exposition takes place. The movement of the characters among the innards of the Bloody Rose give ready movement and clarity to the mechanisms. While the detail is extraordinary, it is never off-putting for those who might not be history buffs, or possess a mechanical mind. 

The Verdict:
If I had known at the outset what a remarkable book this would be, I would have gladly paid more than the current asking price. I look forward to the promised sequel with school-girlish impatience. 

How do I find the book? Who is Michel Vaillancourt?
I'm so glad you asked. Here are all the pertinent details:

Michel R Vaillancourt:
                                   Find him on Twitter
                                   Find him on Goodreads
                                   Find his book on Amazon
                                   Find his book at Barnes & Noble
                                   Find him on Facebook
                                   Find him on his official website

Have you read The Sauder Diaries yet? Do you plan to? Let me know!
Or better yet - pick a link above and let Michel know!