Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday 7: Night-Listening

Beginning today, I am branching out with my own little spin on the "Six Sentence Sunday" challenge that has gained such popularity on the web. I've got my own reasons for not participating on the official blog, so I'm posting seven sentences from my current, newly merged-and-trimmed manuscript, renamed Taproot.

Here are today's sentences:

Then there was a splash that ended in a slap of damp earth, and a rustle among leaves; and while the movement traveled seamlessly through the undergrowth, the footsteps of the creature shifted…changed…and then it was bare flesh padding the open earth. Not paws. 
Gair was so surprised that his eyes flew open, and all other night-noises pressed in on him again. The stamping and mumbling around the campfire was especially loud and grating. 
“Nasty, noisy dwarves!” Gair scowled – and then remembered he was a dwarf himself, and quite possibly the noisiest of the whole lot. It was a shock, to remember that he was one of them. How long had he been caught up in his night-listening?

Comments? Questions?
Let me know in the comment section below!
And as always - thanks for reading! 

Friday, April 27, 2012

1st Performance: Success!

O my crow.

This must be why people pursue acting as a career.

Mind you - I have no delusions of adequacy when it comes to myself. I know I don't belong ON stage. But my students sure do. Tonight was their first of two performances of Midsummer Night's Dream, and they nailed it like you wouldn't believe.

Fairies pass the time mugging it for the camera, while one of 
my set/props kids crashes my photo...again.

We decided afterwards that maybe we do need a "sabotage your neighbor" rehearsal every year. It seems  the random burst-into-song moments from yesterday's practice actually helped in a backward way; meaning that it had everyone so off kilter that when we started getting responsive participation from the children in the audience tonight (all to hysterical effect), everyone kept a straight face despite the fact that the audience was helpless with laughter on several occasions.

Oberon get his eye makeup. Did I mention a 10-year-old 
made his crown? (Impressive, yes?)

For a homemade production, it really came off with flying colors. Makeup, props, dialogue fell into place with bobbles so minor they're not worth mentioning.

The tinker lines up for inspection, sweet tarts in hand.

The Duke of Athens and Snug the Joiner wait for the curtain to rise.

To say that I am proud of these students is a massive understatement. I know I keep saying how hard they've worked for this, but really - you have no idea HOW hard. Our academy is so small that fine arts only happen on Wednesdays. That means only sixteen days in ONE semester in which to practice, make props, and hone our skills for the coming challenge - plus a week of dress rehearsals. That's ALL.

Nick Bottom strikes a pose - sans donkey head.

And to nail their performance as they did tonight - lines, songs, pratfalls and all - is astonishing. But not unexpected.

Because - in case you didn't know - I teach the most amazing students in the history of the universe. (Just in case you were wondering.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Visual Dare 2: Water-Road

Here is your weekly Visual Dare! You can use this photo in one of two ways:

     * incorporate it into your current Work In Progress - literally, or figuratively
     * use it as a 100 word flash fiction to get the brain going in a different creative direction.

Give it a try! Feel free to post your creative responses to the prompt in the comments below (if it's 100 words or less, plus personal comments, of course!).

Here's your dare:

Photo by: Peter Gutierrez

Where does this take your writing - even for a short burst?
Let me know in the comments - in summary or 100 word excerpts!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Visual Dare 1: Surreal

OK. Here's a little something that I would like to make a weekly event, if there's enough interest. My intention is to help my fellow writers jumpstart their writing, wherever they are - because of course we all get stuck. All. The. Time. (Especially if you're like me.)

Below is a visual dare, such as I've given in the past. You can use this photo in one of two ways:

     * incorporate it into your current Work In Progress - literally, or figuratively
     * use it as a 100 word flash fiction to get the brain going in a different creative direction.

Either way - it should thwart the writer's block doldrums, at least a little bit.

Give it a try! Feel free to post your creative responses to the prompt in the comments below (if it's 100 words or less, plus personal comments, of course!).

Here's your dare:

Photo by: Tommy Nease

Where does this take your writing - even for a short burst?
Let me know in the comments - in summary or 100 word excerpts!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Contest Entry: Cooper and the Death-Cat

ATTENTION: Allow me to say that I had almost indecent fun putting together this entry for Anna Meade and S J I Holliday's amazing Once Upon a Time flash fiction contest. So much fun that I really don't care if I place for any of the amazing prizes (of which there is a plentitude - check it out!). I am excited because I am pleased with what I've done here. Very pleased.

If a nursing home seems an odd place to find the beginning to a fairy tale - well, all I can say is that I have spent copious amounts of time in nursing homes over the past several years, as various loved ones have gone there as their last "holding place" before their death-leaving.

I've had lots of time to think about Moosie and Cooper, and fiesty Beulah Judson.

But that's for another post. Read the entry, check out the contest, and enter with a creation of your own!

(347 words)

Moosie the death-cat made another circuit at Woolsey Nursing Home. She sniffed the air at each doorway, tufted ears pricked and tail swishing, before moving on to the next room. The overworked, checklist-choked staff sometimes second-guessed when death was near. Not Moosie. She always knew.
            “Tag on Judson, room nine,” said the aide to the nurse fumbling with her medicine cart.
            “Moosie’s in the door?”
            “No – on the bed.”
            On the bed. When Moosie took to someone’s bed – you called in the family.
            The nurse left her medicine cart in the hall and peeked in room nine. Beulah Judson was upright in her hospital bed, talking to her toes.
            “Don’t look at me like that. Cooper wouldn’t like it.”
            As usual, thought the nurse (they never had learned who Cooper was); but where’s Moosie?
            An angry hiss answered her from beneath the bed. There she was – under the bed, not on it. Her back was arched, fur bristling, tail straight as an arrow.
            “I’m not leaving yet. Cooper promised.”
            The nurse pricked up her ears. Beulah Judson wasn’t usually this lucid – even when she did talk to Cooper. And what was wrong with Moosie? This was not her usual bedside manner.
            Hiss. Scratch. YOWL. Scrambling beneath the bed – a blur of striped fur – and Moosie flew from the room, screeching like a banished demon.
            “Cooper! Leave the cat alone!” scolded Beulah.
            Another voice lilted through the room – a cool, sprightly voice that nonetheless sent chills up the nurse’s spine.
            “The cat was here to take you,” said the voice. “I thought you weren’t ready to leave.”
            “Damn you, Cooper - what took you so long? I’ve waited decades.”
            “Too many changelings, not enough children.”
            “I’m too old to changeling,” said Beulah, while the nurse looked wildly about for the source of the voice.
            “To have a changeling,” the voice – Is that Cooper? – said. “And you’re never too old to trick the Others. Do you want out?”
            “Hell yes,” said Beulah.
            “Then how will you leave?” said Cooper. “By death – or changeling? We could use you, you know.”

Comments? Questions? Let me know what you think!
And above all - check out all the other wonderful entries!
(see links below)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

FSF: Armor

Another 5 Sentence Fiction!

Don't know what I mean by that?
for details.


I stood before his office door, steeling myself for this long-delayed conversation. My fingers knuckled round the door-latch as I sucked a sharp breath between my teeth, forcing back every skittish thought and worrisome doubt that plagued me. What if, what if, what if...?

Can't go there - you are strong, you are ready, you are the better person, you are right, I told myself.

I held onto that one thought, twisted the door-latch, and went in.

Never participated in five sentence fiction? Check out the above link and join in!
Comments appreciated - let me know what you think!

Agent Tweets #9: Finding a Voice

Lately my writing friends - online and here in my hometown - have had a lot of discussions about finding your writing "voice." It's something that we are all struggling with, on some level. All writers do, at some point. I would even say that it is a constant battle to nail the right "Voice," even if you've been writing all your life and have a bijillion best sellers.

Basically, there are two kinds of Voice employed in writing:

     * Author's Voice: a specific writing style that conveys the author's attitude or personality
        Examples: Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, Jane Austen's cheeky no-frills delivery, anything by Kurt Vonnegut or Oscar Wilde

     * 1st person and/or Character Voice: the speech/thought patterns of a specific person in a book
        Examples: Huck Finn, Bella Swan*, Silverlock, Billy Pilgrim, or [insert favorite character here]

* Not a fan of Twilight, but in terms of voice - Meyers nailed it. Gonna give her credit for that.

Voice is the kicker: it is what draws a reader in, and keeps them sucked into your world as they flip page after page of mind-blowing plot development. Well executed, it is a multilayered whirlpool that sucks your reader in and keeps them in - because that's when your tale, and the people in it, become believable. Badly done, it can torpedo your whole manuscript.

Lately I've scoured both the web and hard copy literature for help on this. Not surprisingly, this is something I've seen several agents have tweeted about lately. Here are some of the Voice issues that have caused a few of them to vent about it via Twitter:
In a contemp YA novel, those things contribute to the overall voice. Minutiae matters. Word choice matters. I just had to put it down.// If a character is obviously shouting and obviously annoyed, you don't have to tag their dialogue with "she shouted in annoyance."// And teenagers (adults, too, for that matter) use contractions in their dialogue more often than not. Otherwise they sound... wrong.// You can have a character voice that's meant to be more proper. But when ALL the char's are talking like that, it's an issue w/ the author.
[regarding a rejection] This is really sad b/c I loved the premise of the novel. I even liked the writing style (if that makes sense). But the voice was all wrong.

Why this is hard: You can have a manuscript rejected just because the voice was wrong? Even though it's an awesome original idea? Yyyyyyep. Apparently so.

How this helps: The above tweets indicate that a good story still grabs the hard-sell reader, even if the Voice is wrong. A strong rewrite should put the manuscript in question back into the running. In other words, though the manuscript was rejected because of Voice, it is by no means the end. Voice problems are correctable.

How Do I Correct This?:

     * Write with a specific audience in mind. It may be one person, or one general subgrouping of people (middle school girls, for instance); but if you know who you are writing for, then your Voice will naturally fine-tune itself to that audience.

     * Careful word choice: The first tweet addresses something that every writer figures out eventually: that there is no such thing as an accidental word choice. Every word is deliberately included, or deliberately eliminated. Fluff suffocates - or, even worse - obscures your meaning.

     * No cookie cutters: Again, as the above tweets indicate - don't make everyone talk the same. Even if all your characters are from Depression-Era South Carolina, they're all going to be from different corners of life. Your mechanic won't speak like the banker, and neither of them speak like they're a freshman at Clemson.

What about you? How do you handle problems with Voice?
Let me know in the comments!

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Bear of Very Little Brain

“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”

- A. A. Milne

Apologies in advance for such a spontaneous, unstructured, rather lengthy post --- but bear with me.
If you're a writer, especially - you'll appreciate the chopsticks and #stabbylove embedded herein.

Chopsticks and Salad Forks

Yesterday I sat down to an Easter lunch with friends at a hospitable home, in front of a great bay window with a view on rolling hills, dense woodland, a glittering lake and winding paths. The table was set with lovely centerpieces, the best linen napkins, and more than the usual "eat-and-grab" arrangement of plates and silverware ~ you know, two forks, the dinner plate and the salad plate, goblets and water glass, etc.

With most of my table, I was a guest; and I was charmed by the decor and hospitality of our wonderfully gracious hosts. But the young men on either side of me were flummoxed. For one thing, their ideas of fine dining did not extend to having more than one plate, fork, or glass. The first few moments of the meal entailed me giving quiet instructions ("Start with the outermost fork and work your way in." or: "Small plate for salad and h'ors deourves; big plate for everything else."). There was a bit of comic fumbling in the beginning, but they managed. If our host noticed our emergency evasive maneuvers, she was too gracious to indicate as much.

Later the conversation drifted to another dinner guest, who is moving to South Korea later this year. She rattled off a list of things she needed to do before boarding the plane, including learning how to eat with chopsticks.

"Oh that's easy," I said. "If you can hold a pencil, you can use chopsticks. I can show you sometime."

More chatter. Conversation funneled back to me again on the topic of sign language, as everyone wanted to pick my brain about the manual alphabet, as well as several basic signs (including a few sign requests which I flatly refused). Our host sat at the end of the table and was amused (I think) at our impromptu sign language class, resulting in a silly challenge which I won easily: fingerspelling the whole alphabet with both hands at the same time.

By the end of the meal, we all joked that everyone needed to be in someone else's class, including my "classes" on chopstick use, American sign language, and fine dining etiquette.

"But I want to learn something too," I said. "What will you teach me?"

"Teach you?" said the young man to my right. "What can we teach you? You know everything!"

Oh dear.

It was meant as a compliment, of course, and I took it as such; but at the same time I wanted to shake my head and say: I don't know jack crap about a lot of things. Do you know how stupid I've been with my writing lately? --- but that would have sounded even more nerdy than fingerspelling the alphabet ambidextrously, or offering chopstick lessons. So I kept quiet.

Hello. I'm a Pooh-Bear.

I am a Bear of Very Little Brain. Especially when it comes to writing.

I am often told that I am very smart. Maybe it's true. Maybe it isn't. I have certainly spent my time perusing nerdy and esoteric reading over the years, and accumulated a lot of knowledge as as result. (You are, after all, reading the blog of a gal who in ninth grade picked up - and read - a book on how to write in italics, and thought she had discovered the mother lode of literary coolness.)

But anyone who really knows me can also put that absurd nerdiness in perspective: I have an unfortunate tendency to overlook the obvious.

This is glaringly true when it comes to my writing. In my current WIP (or, "work in progress" for you non-Twitter folk), I have been faced with the daunting challenge of combining two manuscripts into a 246,000 word behemoth (which I affectionately call my "baby walrus") and paring it down into ONE single, streamlined story that I hope to start querying later this year.

Merging Traffic

The reasoning behind merging the two manuscripts was simply this:

     Manuscript I dealt with 3 main characters: A, B and C. Character C, however, is enchanted and therefore mute until the last five chapters or so of the book.

     Manuscript II was intended to show Character C's life in her next big challenge, after she returns from her journey in Manuscript I.

     HOWEVER...Somehow Manuscript II, once written, began before the events of Manuscript I. My brain wanted to show how Character C got into her enchanted pickle. So I wrote it. Then, once I got Character C to the point where her path diverged to meet A and B, I thought: Jinkies. I should show part of Manuscript I from her point of view - shouldn't I? That would eliminate the need for a lot of the descriptive/backhistory nonesense that's bogging it down.

What a great idea! said my creative side. And it was a great idea. Still is.

But boy is it a lot of work.

Know the crazy part though?

It shouldn't have been AS much work as it's been lately. I've made it harder than necessary.

Thank you, nerdy chopstick-wielding Angela for trying to use the extra forks where they don't fit.

Don't Kick a Dead Horse

Here's the pitfall I fell into:

Manuscript II began before the events of Manuscript I. Showed C in all her dwarfish glory (yes, she's a dwarf), and how she ended up getting into a hot mess of ugly magic that pretty much derails her life for almost a full calendar year.


Once I showed her being taken away by evil villainous kidnappers, my brain wanted to barge on through and write what happened to her family while she was gone, since their adventures set the stage for Character C's adventure when she finally returns home. I got pretty far, too. About 60,000 words worth of dwarfish adventuring, for those of you who like that sort of thing.

Where's the problem?

When I merged everything into the 246,000 baby walrus, I also merged the extra adventure. I only needed the first 5000 words or so from Manuscript II to get Manuscript I off to the right start; and yet I dragged along ALL. THAT. EXTRA. LUGGAGE.

And it was Dwarf luggage, at that. I don't care what you say about dwarves being cute and short - they're heavy.  (Use dwarves sparingly in your fantasy writing. That's all I'm saying.)

All that Manuscript I needed was a new beginning. And I gave it cancer.

Hello. Did I mention that I'm a Pooh-Bear? Also, I don't know anything about baseball.

Bottom line? I've been editing out a 246,000 manuscript lately, and trying to pare it down to 80 - 100,000 words, without letting go of ANY of my plots, subplots, sidekicks or "favorite parts."

Ugh. The "favorite part" curse.

OK fellow writers - let's quote Sir Thomas Quiller-Couch together:

Kill your darlings. Kill your darlings. Kill your darlings.


So here I've been the last few weeks, gradually cutting out things here and there, when I could have cut out 60,000 from the very beginning by NOT PUTTING IT IN WHERE IT DIDN'T BELONG.

But did I think of that? Nope. Not at first.

But something yesterday triggered the "Eureka moment" that helped me through that self-imposed brick wall. It was before the luncheon - that's why I was shaking my head at myself when my friend made the "You know everything!" comment - and it was late that evening before I was able to sit down and remove what I should have never inserted in the first place: 60,000 words of dwarf-in-the-caves nutzo adventuring that had nothing to do with things that live ABOVE the ground (which is where the adventures of A, B and C take place).


The baby walrus has now been trimmed down from 246,000 words to 133,477. So it's roughly half it's original size.

Still needs about 40,000 more words off the top, just so I can rewrite and insert scenes that MATTER into the final copy without breaking the word bank (literally).

But in all this - thanks to my good friends at the dinner table yesterday - I learned two things:

     1. You only have to be hit over the head with something once. So - hopefully, this will be the only time I'll be this dense about something THIS OBVIOUS in my writing.

     2. I don't know anything about baseball.

Maybe I should sign up for classes.

Questions? Insights? Feedback?
Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

FSF: Tears

Another 5 Sentence Fiction!

Don't know what I mean by that?
for details.


     I stood over the tiny coffin, fingers knotted through a small linen dress - worn only once - and tried to ignore the well-meaning neighbor speaking platitudes in my grief-deadened ears. 
     Why won't she go away? 
     I had held it in for as long as I could - for my husband, my mother, for my little Wills, who couldn't understand why "sissy" had to "go away." I wanted to go away - follow my Katie through the Veil and care for her there, if I wasn't allowed to do so here. This nightmarish Duchess from Wonder-less-land, with all her useless morals, needed to go away before I lost it here, where everyone could see.

Wow. This isn't exactly traditional Easter fare, is it?
Somehow that's just where the writing prompt took me.
Thoughts? Opinions? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

(and Happy Easter!)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Plugs, Progress, and a Question

It's spring break for me, and this means that I am finally coming up for oxygen. Expect more activity on this blog in the near future.

Even though the posts have been fairly anemic lately, blog silence does NOT mean that things have not been productive in Angela-Land. Not by a long shot.

Here's the skinny on what's going on at the moment:

The Plug: First of all, I have to make sure you all know about the fabulous Fairy Queen herself, Anna Meade, and her splenderific Once Upon a Time writing contest that she is hosting with the equally admirable (and no less magical) S J I Holliday.

Why is their writing contest so amazing?

     1. It's about fairy tales.

     2. It's international.

     3. They have their own TRAILER on YouTube. Check it out:

The Progress: That 246K word baby walrus that I talked about last week? 25K words off the top, baby. A chapter edit a day so far, and the pounds keep dropping. Am I stoked? Yes I am.
    I've also tweaked the site a bit, with pages devoted to the Five Sentence Fiction and Flash Fiction that I've written for various blogs since the beginning of the year. Check out those pages, and look for new entries as the year goes on.

The Question: I am long overdue on giving you guys another installment of Agent Tweets. What topic would you like to hear about next: (a) author's vision vs agent's vision for a book; (b) problems with finding a character's "voice"; or (c) editing tips in general? (There are a ton more topics, but those are the ones most prominent on my mind right now, what with all this editing I'm doing.)

Got an idea for the writing contest?
Have a vote for the Agent Tweets?
Let me know in the comments!