Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z: Zombies and Zepplins


With the exception of a little Easter weekend snafu, I successfully completed the A-Z Blogging Challenge. How cool? (Yes, allow me a minute to soak it all up.)

I've met many new (and wickedly intelligent) people who have some incredibly insightful blogs. I know my writing will improve simply as a result of reading so many blogs written by people who truly love the craft of writing and in order to repay their kindness, I'm pointing my writer friends to these informative blogs every chance I get.

So, without further adieu, I leave you with an image from my favorite show Fringe, which happened to include zepplins and zombies in one of their recent episodes. (The screen shot is Peter hanging from the zepplin, safe from the zombies on the roof.)

And really, if you haven't watched Fringe, do yourself a favor one weekend and check out season 1 if only to watch Walter Bishop (aka John Noble, aka Lord Denethor).


Friday, April 29, 2011

Y: Ya, you bet'cha

I believe that Joel and Ethan Coen are talented filmmakers, but as native Minnesota boys, why the need to make such a mockery of our Scandinavian-based accent?

Frances McDormand won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of police chief Marge Gunderson in "Fargo." The movie had its funny moments and that was all well and good. It drew attention to our lovely state and even us Minnesotans chuckled at the absurdity of it all.

Until an internet friend of mine told me she figured I sound like Marge.

Wait, what? You think Minnesotans sound like this:


A member of my crit group is working on writing a leprechaun in her story. We've been working on trying to help create the right lilt to his dialogue. It takes a good ear to write a dialect and done poorly, the leprechaun could end up sounding as stereotypical as Marge in Fargo.

Have you written any of your characters with an accent? Do you have any examples of books where accents have been done well?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X marks the spot

(I'm not going near my Google reader to see how many other bloggers use this title. I'm sure it will be many.)

I'm a sucker for a good treasure hunt.

Naturally, pirates come to mind when you think of treasures. But it doesn't have to be a locked chest with untold riches. The prize at the end can be something else. A book. A letter. A vaccine. A power to harm or a power to heal. One ring to rule them all. The possibilities are endless.

I imagine a good scavenger hunt complete with clues and riddles works well in MG books. Though a semi-known author by the name of Dan Brown catapulted mystique and treasure into a story surrounding religion and art and that was certainly NOT an MG book.

I think of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Muppets Treasure Island, Indiana Jones (but not the new one), The Pirates of the Caribbean, and so far, The 39 Clues series that I'm reading. (Side note: are there really going to be 39 books? That seems a bit much.) In these stories, the good guys are feverishly working to solve the next clue before the bad guys, who are naturally right behind them, hot on the same trail.

Treasure stories are like an artichoke. You have to carefully peel away the outside layers to work further inside. And there's no shortcut to the inside. You have to start out and work your way in. Challenges and obstacles litter your path and you constantly wonder, "What if this isn't the right way?" You search for clues and meaning in everything you hear or see. What is important? Or worse, are any of those so-called clues really red herrings?

I love reading books with good riddles and mysteries so naturally, I thought it would be great fun to write one. Yikes. Have you ever tried to sit down and compose a riddle for your story? It was harder than I thought. I had to "age" my riddle so it used words that sounded older, which was another layer of complexity.

But the biggest payoff? No one in my crit group solved it until the preemptive reveal in my book. Awesome.

Have you read any adventure books with maps, clues, word problems, etc? Please share!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W: What about cover art and writer vs author?

This blog is actually a two-fer because two topics have popped up:
1. Where do you get your cover art?
2. Are you a writer or an author?

First, cover art.

As part of "winning" NaNoWriMo, if I get my act together, I can print out a free proof of my novel from CreateSpace. This is all well and good, and the lure of having my novel on my bookshelf is enticing. But I'm starting to stress over making the front and back cover.

I have no intentions of selling my book online or to the masses. (Yes, all of you = the masses.) But I don't want a sterile white cover, either.

Have any of you had to mock up your own cover art? Do you use creative commons images or are you one of those savvy artistic writers who can whip something up in InDesign?

I would love to hear any tips or tricks you've picked up along the way. I'm not artistically-inclined and would love to Google "perfect image for my book" and find the answer, but that's not how this works.

Second topic: Do you consider yourself a writer or an author?

This is by no means a new question, but I saw Rachael Harrie touched on when you call yourself a "Writer" today in her blog and I wanted to provide my answers and maybe get some other views.

To me, I am a writer. I write stories, poems, emails, etc. But I am not an author--yet. In my mind, an author implies "arrival." It means I've created something for sale and I am an established, professional writer.

CAVEAT: If you call yourself a writer, an author, or the Queen Mum, I'm not judging you. This is just my attempt to discern between the two words.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V: Vying for time

I'm not sure how you all do it.

To be a good writer, "they" tell me I'm supposed to be well-read. Especially in my genre. Okay, I can see the logic. Except that reading now takes longer than it used to because I read to look at the language equation, not the overall story. As soon as I realize I just spent 5 pages reading for witty dialogue, voice, and setting, I have to go back and re-read the same section to make sure I'm following the story. Suddenly, reading in my genre takes twice as long but it's for a good cause.

Then there's my crit group. Talk about peer pressure. Every two weeks, I hand off another section of my story to my 3 group members and hope they still give a dang about my plot. I also receive 3 sections to read and continually feel the bar being raised.

My time is divvied up between work, training for my half marathon, tending to household responsibilities (laundry, food shopping, dog walking, etc), my crit group responsibilities, and before I know it, I feel like there's only a tiny sliver of my energy pie left to put towards writing, editing, and reading.

So many worthwhile hobbies pull at my available time and I think, "How do moms do it?" If I had to take care of another human being right now, I'm fairly confident the HM wouldn't happen. And the book would still be sitting in my brain instead of sorting itself out on paper.

In an effort to see my time crunch, I decided to make my own pie chart. Here, you can make your own!

Huh, look at that. Out of the available 168 hrs per week (7x24), approx 26.7% of that time is spent at work. The exact same amount of time is spent doing "other," which is code for screwing around.

Putzing, fiddling, killing time. Surfing the web. Baseball games, blogs, Royal Wedding information (yes, I'm going to get up early to watch this Friday), news, weather, paying bills, Bransform, shopping, you get the idea...

Okay, so clearly, I have time in my week available. I need to redirect my web time and turn it into reading/writing time. And since I'm only human, maybe I can bump up that relaxation time by a few hours since really, reading is synonymous with relaxing in my world.

How does your pie chart look? Do you have a large amount of "other" time?

Monday, April 25, 2011

U: unexpected surprises

Like going on vacation and thinking all your blogs were in the queue, just to find one missing.

C'est la vie and all that jazz. I'm going to blame it on the tornado that blew through on Friday night (all is well) and the ridiculous amount of food I consumed. Who has time to check their blog when there are red velvet cupcakes, chicken liver spread, cheese, trifle, pudding dessert, mashed potatoes, and oysters on the half shell to eat?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T: Tropes and travel

I've learned a lot since starting the A to Z blogging challenge. Most of what I've learned has been insightful and inspiring. Alas, I've learned a few things that made me cringe once I applied it to my own writing.

One of those cringe-worthy lessons?

The use of tropes.

If you know what they are, then you're many steps ahead of me. I had to do some research and the first site I landed on was I clicked around and found myself in the "Topical Tropes" section, specifically reading up on fate and prophecy tropes.

One look at It Sucks to be the Chosen One and I started to cringe. I wasn't sure if I wanted to hide my stories from ever seeing the light of day, or simply hack, hack, and hack some more until any token "tropish" trait was scrubbed from my story.

But why stop at characters? Oh no, tropes can be applied to your overall plot. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I read Sliding Scale of Free Will vs Fate. Aw, crap. If you need to reach me, I'll be in my study, my brain a big pile of mush.

In other happier news, I think it's time to Travel again. My passport needs another stamp and while I want to see a new country, I know Ireland. I know how to get around, what to expect, and where to go. Why would I go somewhere else? I haven't purchased any tickets yet. I keep hoping airfare prices will drop by, oh, five hundred or so dollars.

But let me tell you, after hearing the threat of more snow this weekend, Tahiti sounds fabulous right now. If I ever get there, I'm going to stay in one of these overwater bungalows. I'll likely only go once, so I might as well go big or stay home, right? And yes, I made the photo extra big on purpose.

Friday, April 22, 2011

S: Setting

Yet another problem I've found in my writing (if you want to know some of my other problems, just read earlier posts...) is the setting.

No, I take that back. I can see my setting well enough, but telling showing you the reader my setting is hard. I see it clear as day in my mind but struggle translating that image into words with slim to no adjectives.

My boss read the first six pages of my story the other day. He told me he liked it, but he mentioned he could've used a bit more description. Colleagues of mine had read the same pages three months earlier and some of their comments said the description of the antiques shop was too much. They recommended that I cut some to keep the pace of the story moving along.

Cut? Add? Embellish? Strip down? Who's to say which is correct?

My current crit group has pointed out a few scenes where they don't have a solid picture in their mind of how something looks. The fancy boarding school, the creepy monsters, they all kind of seem "blurry." Time to thumb through my thesaurus and find strong adjectives to add. And there's nothing wrong with taking a few sentences to set the scene. It's when you come across four or five pages of exact detail that the reader starts to twitch.

So, picture this if you will. A girl in her mid-30s spending the weekend bowling, eating chocolate, laughing, and making her nephews sick on mass amounts of Easter candy. I can't wait.

If you're celebrating this weekend with family and friends, I hope you enjoy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R: Rochester and Darcy

Sommer Leigh blogged a few days ago on K for Kissing. In her swoon-worthy post, Sommer mentioned Veronica and Logan's first kiss in Veronica Mars.

(Please excuse me, I'm having a Logan Echols-induced moment...)

Anyway, Sommer's post led me to think about those quintessential romantic moments. You know the ones. Those moments where you kind of gasp, sigh, and try not to cry?

Here are a few of mine and while I'd say they're in no real order, I will put Jane Eyre first. Toby Stephens is the ultimate Rochester just as many romance fans will agree that Colin Firth is the only accepted Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Jane's impassioned speech is a rallying cry for women out there who feel like an ordinary person in an extraordinary world:

"Do you think I'm a machine, that I can bear it? Do you think because I am poor, plain, obscure, and little that I have no heart? That I am without soul? I have as much heart as you and as much soul. And if God had given me some beauty and wealth, I would make it as hard for you to leave me as it is now for me to leave you."
Score: 5 out of 5 sighs

I tried to find video clips from Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility (1995), especially Elinor and Edward's final scene when she learns the truth about who Lucy married. Emma Thompson earned her Best Actress nod in this scene. You watch it and tell me you don't feel her struggle to remain composed while overwhelmed with emotion. Well, I'd link it here, but I can't find it.
Score: 3 out of 5 sighs

As far as swooning goes, I couldn't really get behind the Elinor/Edward romance as much as I could reserved Colonel Brandon and impassioned Marianne Dashwood. The bedside vigil he held while Marianne fought for her life? I sigh just thinking about it.
Score: 4 out of 5 sighs

I will leave you with this scene from Pride and Prejudice. Yes, the A&E version, not the Hollywood knock-off. There are other scenes that are more sigh-worthy, but for anyone eager for a Colin Firth lake scene...

Oh, Darcy. We forgive you for your earlier proposal. 

Score: 5 out of 5 sighs (for the entire A&E production)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q: A query, of sorts

I am afraid of the query process.

There. I said it.

Thankfully, I'm nowhere close to that step, so I can continue to sit here with my head in the sand and ignore it for a while longer.

I am, however, working on a query of my own. I'm putting the final touches on a proposal to my local writing center to teach a 2-day seminar on preparing for NaNoWriMo.

The proposal isn't due until Friday but holiday travel plans force me to submit my application tonight. This means I also have to clean up the first 10 pages of my 09 NaNo.

I need to work on that and get some blogs in the can for later in the week, but I feel guilty, like each blog is supposed to impart some great wisdom or witty thought. Talk about the pressure!

I hate to cut this one short, but duty calls. If I want the education panel to take my request seriously, I need to spend time polishing my writing.

I like to consider this my query trial. [Pleasepickme, pleasepickme...]

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P: Prologues

I really like prologues. Personally, I don't find them confusing as long as they're done well. Emphasis on the last word.

How do I know what "done well" means? It's hard to say. For me, the prologue tells a very short amount of backstory before your story actually begins. It clues the reader in on something that will or has happened throughout the course of the story. Perhaps it tells your readers something that happened in your MC's past, or explains a component of your story that wouldn't otherwise fit in.

If you haven't checked out Pub Rants, you're missing out on a super helpful blog on publishing, writing, and just about anything related to the publishing world. The blog author, Kristin, chimed in with her two cents on prologues. Here's a hint: she's not a fan.

I also drink the Bransford Kool-aid and will stare at you quizzically if you tell me that you're a writer and you've never A) heard of Nathan Bransford, or B) checked out his website.

Nathan chimed in a few years ago on the prologue debate and it still bubbles up on the forum. Nathan's argument is simple. If you can remove the prologue and the story doesn't change, you don't need it.

While I know that Nathan is kinda the Yoda of all things publishing, I just can't break away from my prologues. I use it to set the (usually ominous) scene. In an effort to be very honest about my own skill level though, I think the fact that I rely on a prologue tells me I have room to improve my craft. I shouldn't rely on the prologue to make my reader think, "Oh! This sounds interesting."

No, I have to do that by myself. Just not right now. I finally have a decent prologue on my hands.

Do you care if the story you're reading has a prologue? Would you be willing to include one in your story?

Monday, April 18, 2011

O: Ode to the Outline

On April 11, author Aprilynne Pike participated in a conference call with David Farland's Writer's Groups (learn more here). Aprilynne Pike is the author of books such as WINGS, SPELLS, and ILLUSIONS, which if I'm reading this correctly, will be available in 15 days! Check out her website here and tell me you don't want a fancy aqua tutu too!

During the conference call, Aprilynne discussed with listeners her tips and tricks on creating an outline for your story. It was so simple and yet, she presented a way of drafting a story that I hadn't heard. Her outline technique had order to it and if your outlines look anything like mine, the key element missing is order. Arrows pointing to sections two pages before, scribbles, notes in the margins, and large blocks of white space that say [major plot point 2 here].

In order to see the basics of Aprilynne's outline, you really should click over, but here's a nutshell:

It involves a sheet of paper, your story's timeline, some nominal counting skills, and your imagination. The website also offers an MP3 version of the conference call, but as of this exact moment, the link wasn't quite ready.

Anyway, the only reason I didn't bust out a new outline for my story over the weekend is because I'm anal and need to use a sheet of computer paper, not lined paper. Seeing as I might be the only wanna-be author without a printer at home, I had to wait until work this morning.

But trust you me, I will be counting out my hash marks over lunch and working on my new outline!

You tell me: How do you draft your story? Do you outline, or are you a 'pantser'? (As in, fly by the seat of.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Still playing around

Some of you may notice this is a new background. I won't lie. I've been looking for this background ever since I saw it a few months ago. Silly me, in my rush to make a blog, I never explored all of Blogger's options.

Lo and behold, there are images to choose from! How is a girl to choose between this and the library? Or the constellations? Or the galaxy?

It was tough, but this style won out. I think it's easier to read.

If you have any feedback, please share. If you don't like it one bit, I want to know that as well.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

N: National Novel Writing Month

I wonder if Claudie is going to use this same topic? I hope she does. From what I can tell, she's as much a fan of NaNoWriMo as I am. And as a ML, I bet she has all sorts of stories and tricks.

My story begins with National Novel Writing Month. It's a 30 day, 50,000 word endeavor. If you hit 50K words, you win. If you don't, better luck next year. No obligation, no money to play, and no golden ticket to publication.

This was my very first foray into writing my story. I discovered NaNo around May or June of 2009 and spent my summer in a plot-induced fog. Fragments soon became ideas that became major plot points and before I knew it, I had half of a college-ruled spiral bound notebook full of ideas.

National Novel Writing Month
My next step took me 40 miles outside of the city. I dropped my dog at my friend's house and headed north for 24 hours of a peace and quiet at a communal retreat. I had no idea what to expect, but for $40, all my meals were included (as was unlimited access to coffee/tea!) and I had a room in a log cabin all to myself.

No internet access, no phone calls, no television. Just my notebook, my pen collection (I couldn't decide on a color), a fresh stack of 3x5 lined notecards for my character deck, and all my books on writing.

During my time at the retreat, I made a fantastic outline, drank endless pots of tea, and walked around in my sweatpants and slippers like it was my house except for any responsibilities. It was bliss.

Ten days before my first NaNoWriMo, I went to Ireland but the story was still running on the hamster wheel in my head. I returned home late Sunday night and had Monday to catch up on laundry, sleep, and start writing.

I have since navigated my way through two NaNo's and am openly boasting when I tell you that I "won" them both. The 2010 NaNo process turned into a critique group that still meets twice a month and I'm currently submitting a workshop concept to the local writing center in hopes of introducing new writers to the Nano ropes.

While I have great ideas and great intentions of making the necessary revisions to my 09 and 10 novels, my 2011 NaNo is starting to interfere. Seeds of a plot are starting to bloom and I have a stack of papers on my desk that are filled with character description, setting ideas, and the workings of an outline.

Six and a half months and counting...

Friday, April 15, 2011

New ARC contest!

I interrupt the A-Z blogging madness because I have to share the news (and no, not just for my own benefit but because I bet you will want to know!)...

Tahereh Mafi is hosting a contest here to win one of her ARC's of her new book, SHATTER ME.

Check it out! As a wanna-be published writer, just seeing these books all stacked up, spines aching to be broken... yeah, it was kinda inspirational. I'm not gonna lie.

Congrats, Tahereh!

Check out her blog!

M: Motivation and middle grade books

Happy half way through the A-Z Challenge!

Here's a snapshot of how my brain works:
Last night I talked myself out of working out because I was feeling motivated to work on my book. I got home, dealt with the dogs, ate dinner, and promptly lost all motivation. Spent the rest of the night on the couch watching tv and reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

(Note to self: sitting on the couch with a pen and writing journal means nothing unless one actually writes in said journal. Writing fail.)

Motivation to train for the upcoming half (T-minus five weeks!) and/or work on my book is gone. I'm now desperately seeking susan motivation. Or an idea.

Speaking of my book, I believe it can be classified as middle grade. The mc is a 15-yr old boy and he's off on an adventure with his school buddy to save the world. Yeah, that's the macro-level version.

Since I had such great luck asking for dystopian recommendations, I'm now asking for MG adventure book recommendations. I've read the Percy Jackson books, I listened to both The Graveyard book and the first Ranger's Apprentice book on CD, and I've done the Harry Potter/Hunger Games.

The jury's still out on whether or not I want to read the Lemony Snicket books or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I don't have anything against them, but I just can't get behind them, either.

I realize MG is a huge umbrella and just doing a google search on MG books brings such a wide variety. I'm looking for books geared more toward adventure. First up? Book 1 from The 39 Clues series.

You tell me:
Where is my motivation? 

Wait, what? No. Wrong question.

You tell me:
Have any MG adventure books you'd like to recommend?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L: Laughter

Okay, so I'm getting the hang of this daily blogging thing, but I have to admit that it's becoming more difficult to come up with topics, even though I have a whole list of topics here on my desktop. I'm just not that into them anymore (hey, isn't that a book?).

I've read almost all the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich. And though it breaks my heart, I have to say it: the books became formulaic somewhere around book 10 or 11. Stephanie is a bounty hunter who never improves, has annoying co-workers and family members, has two hot love interests that never work out, and is cursed with terrible luck with cars. I thought I had just reached my fill.

Then I read Finger Lickin' Fifteen and laughed so hard that I had tears streaming down my face.

I kid you not. I'm not just saying this. Really, I cried from laughing so hard.

Books have made me cry twice in my life. One was Harry Potter Book 6 (and no, I was NOT crying from laughing. Not at all.), and the other is Finger Lickin' Fifteen. I'm pretty sure Where the Red Fern Grows made me cry, but I quit the book when I figured out what was going on and haven't touched it since.

I'm not sure what made Evanovich's hot dog scene so funny in FL15, but it worked. That being said, I still haven't read book 16. I'm afraid it will slip back into the formula and the happy memories I have of the other books will be overshadowed with frustration.

So, in an effort to keep things short and posit an easy-to-answer question, I ask you this:

What is the funniest book you've read?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K? Knives!

Um, okay. Let's see, words that start with the letter k...

Kale? Nah. Yuck.
Kraken? Oh, I like some good monsters!
Kickboxing? Love it but not sure anyone else gives a damn.
Kindle? I want. And I'm guessing others will use this term as well.
Knaves? No, I just like the word.
Knife? Hmm...

Okay. Let's go with knives. Swiss army to machetes, we've got knives!

Since I'm still in dystopia land, I've been thinking about what sort of stuff needs to go into my Apocalypse Survival kit. Duct tape. Rope. Ammo. Rollerball gel pens. Refills for my pens. Countless journals. Fluoride tablets. Matches. Batteries. Maybe a little indulgence like a small photo album.

What else? What am I missing? Oh! A can opener. A plastic Ziploc bag for my pens and journal wouldn't be a bad idea.

I bet a blanket would be handy. And bottled water. Assuming my AS kit will be the size of one of the big totes they sell at Target, what else would fit?

Man, I don't know. I might need two AS kits. Seriously, I would need that much space if not more.

What would you put in your Apocalypse Survival kit? 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J: Jupiter and space books

This A-Z challenge is getting tricky as the days pass. I hate to do it, but I'm making a short post today.

I came across this snippet from a School Library Journal posting about the ever-popular topic, the "next big thing" in YA. You can read the article here.

The general response was that steampunk books and stories about dead teens were coming up whereas vampires were on their way out. Most surprising to me was the hint that stories about space were coming up.

As a total space nerd (space shows specifically! Let's talk BSG, DS9, TNG, any of them!), this sounded wonderful to me and I've kept my eyes open.

Have any of you well-read people come across a YA book that deals with space? Space travel? Space stations? What have you read? Tell me all about it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

I: Imagination

My imagination has run amuck.

It was a quiet weekend and aside from lofty running and writing goals and a baseball series, I didn't have much on the docket.

On Saturday, I woke up and got in a 9 mile run. Not the 10-11 I had hoped for, but I did 9 and felt good. The fact that my knees weren't screaming on Sunday is hopefully a sign I'm getting stronger.

After the run, I made a list of books people had recommended to me in my D is for Dystopian post, and headed out for my local library.

Let me just take a moment to express to you all how much I love my library. Serious. I love this place. It's old, dingy, and in desperate need of expansion / facelift / demolition / rebuild... I don't know. It needs help. But in the meantime, there's no better way for me to kill time than to trudge into the YA/Children's basement and see what treasures I can find.

I did a first this weekend: I had a two book weekend.
One on Saturday, one on Sunday. How decadent!

This would be great except one was Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and the other was Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

By time I finished, I didn't want to eat but I couldn't decide if it was because I was afraid of getting fat or because I felt the need to ration the food in my pantry.

I feel most disturbed by Pfeffer's book. I still feel the need to buy bottled water and canned goods. But I can't forget how beautifully written Anderson's book was. I came across numerous passages I wanted to underline for future reference, except it was a library book and that wouldn't have been very civic-minded of me.

I didn't get any writing done, but I fed my inner author with two excellent books, so I feel it was a fair trade. Now I'm off to find hopeful, inspirational quotes and pictures of life. I need to scrub my brain from my dystopian-induced crazy imagination.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H: Half marathons and writing

As some of you may know, I'm training (and let's use that word lightly) for my very first half marathon, which is five weeks from tomorrow.

I haven't been very good about sticking to my training plan. Oh sure, I've done the long runs on the weekends, but it's the short mid-week runs and the strength training that eludes me.

The same can be said for my writing. In theory, I can sit down on any given day and pound out 2000 words. I won't have quality prose when I'm done, but I'll have a start. But in between those writing sessions, I struggle with my training.

I don't spend much time reading in my genre. I don't get to know my character. I don't fill out the holes in my outline. And let's not even ask me about my ending. (What ending?)

You can run a half marathon by just doing your long runs once a week, but it won't be a competitive race. I need to make the time to improve upon my times, work on my pacing, and pay attention to my heart rate just like I need to keep my character's motives in line and aim for action on every page.

You can run a half marathon and you can write a book. I would go as far as to say anyone can do it. But how well do you want to do it? That's the key. If you want to be competitive and finish under 2:30 or write your book the way it should be done, then you need to put in the mid week training.

My mid week training for writing now includes a blog. And a critique group. It's a start. If I could only get better at producing words instead of playing the part of author, then I'd be set.

Buying the shoes, the heart rate monitor, the Gu packs, and wicking tops don't make you a runner. No, you have to get out there and earn your miles. I also have to earn my book; I have to train harder.

This weekend's goal?

10-11 miles and approx 2000 words. Preferably words that include "the" and "end."

Friday, April 8, 2011

G: without question, g is for grammar

I'm kind of a snob. Not that kind of snob who wears fancy designer labels, gets invited to swank parties, and hobnobs with the upper echelon of society.

No, it's worse. I'm a grammar snob.

I can't help it! My inner editor constantly looks for grammar mistakes even when I remind her, "You're not so perfect either." It's useless though, she never listens.*

So, because I feel like it's time for a list, here are some of my bigger grammatical pet peeves:

I see this and twitch. And then giggle because I know what's coming. That's right friends. Meet, alot. (If you haven't read this freakishly funny blog on the alot, please go read it now. I'll wait. It's that good. Now go, read!)

Maybe I missed the memo, but when did x slip into these words? I certainly don't remember learning this in grade school

Okay, c'mon. Seriously? We're a bunch of writers and we're still having this discussion? Moving on...

(See which/witch comment.)

General punctuation
This warrants its own category. My inner editor keeps her eyes peeled for three key components: capitalization, placing punctuation within the closing quotation mark, and run-on sentences. And naturally, the use of serial commas.

Alas, before you think I'm some high and mighty writer, or just high (*rim shot*), I have to be sure to give my grammatical confessions.

Dear Strunk and White purists,
Please forgive me for I'm pretty sure my grammar has sinned. I like my adjectives. And my dialog tags.

I use my mc's first name instead of interspersing him or his. (This has gotten so out of hand that my crit group now circles them all when more than 10 appear on a page.)

I have a problem cutting excess words and my verbs aren't very exciting.

I still haven't mastered the proper usage of semi colons, em/en dashes, and I'm pretty sure 80% of my sentences initially come out passive. I also use creative license with the use of ellipses and parenthesis.

Toward vs towards? I don't know. Gray/grey? Not sure about that either, though I think this has something to do with US English vs British English.

But please Strunk and White devotees, don't judge me. I'm working on it. Just please promise me there won't be any quizzes on objective and subjective pronouns. I still have alot** to learn about those.

How about you? What are your biggest grammatical pet peeves?

(*Murphy's Law now suggests my comments will include people pointing out all my past/present/future blog mistakes. Go ahead. I've earned it.)
(** yes, that was intentional.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F: Facing your fears

The boss is out for the rest of the week, I have my weekly latte, and I just cranked up Les Miserables on my computer. No better time to talk about fear and introduce you to my friend Jack Finnegan.

I've known Jack since elementary school and one fond memory I have is Jack singing Phantom of the Opera very quietly on the bus. That was my first introduction to musical theater--thanks, Jack!

I digress. This blog has nothing to do with show tunes and everything to do with fear. And Jack.

I was afraid to start a blog and even more afraid to tell people about it. What if it sucked? I was afraid to tell my friends I was doing NaNoWriMo for fear... well, I don't know what I was afraid of. But embracing the role of writer? That's scary. That involves risk, a real likelihood of no money, and even worse, bad reviews.

Jack was generous enough to take time out of preparations for his around-the-world adventure, City Love Song, and talk to me about how he got beyond the fear. His first line made me stop and rethink my entire approach to writing:

"It took a little more than ten years for me to stop chasing my dream and start building it."

Jack Finnegan
City Love Song, 2011
Oh, snap! What a great perspective. I've been thinking about what it would be like to be published and I never actively stopped to look at how I can build my dream. I suppose this blog is one step. Applying to teach at the local writing center is another one. Slowly, I'm building my own framework.

Better than the framework though, is Jack's faith. He explained, "...there are things I don't understand, or know how to do. But I have friends and colleagues and family members who have my back. Even if the work were to collapse, I know that I myself would be okay."

Jack's right. He will be okay. He has the framework of his dream in place and a great support network to catch him should he ever fall. (Which he won't need but I'm sure he's grateful for nonetheless.)

I am excited to follow Jack's adventures but I can't lie: I'm a little envious. He's doing it--he's living his dream. But instead of passively watching, I can build mine. It might take ten years or more (likely more), but if you love doing something, isn't that reason enough?

How about you? Do you feel your fears hold you back from reaching your dreams? How have you worked around that fear?

("I Dreamed a Dream" is now playing. How apropos.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E: Exercise or edit?

Online literary guru Nathan Bransford posted a blog a few weeks back about the struggle to find balance between writing and living your life. You can find the blog here.

I appreciated Nathan's blog because I felt like I was doing something wrong. I couldn't find my balance.

I'm faced with a looming NaNoWriMo print deadline and a wip that is nowhere close to being ready. I have sections of writing to read from my crit group, a dog who needs my attention, Yankee baseball games to listen to, friends to see, sleep to catch, and a full time job.

And oh yeah... there's that little issue of the half marathon in less than six weeks that I'm not quite ready for.

I feel guilty when I choose writing over running, especially as spring approaches.
I feel guilty when I choose running over writing because it leaves me so physically and mentally tired that I don't want to write for the rest of the day

I fear the only option left is one that's going to kill me: I need to wake up earlier.

Just typing it hurts.

The funny part to all of this is that my life isn't really that busy! I'm not a mom. My job doesn't demand that I bring work home with me. My friends are all terribly understanding of both my writing and running obligations. But I can't seem to get my act together lately.

I'm going to blame the arrival of spring until an otherwise suitable scapegoat comes to mind because I refuse to believe waking earlier will somehow whip my book--or my butt--into shape.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D for dystopian

I was on the phone with my mom the other day and we were talking about her e-reader. She finished her latest Danielle Steel novel and commented how she needed to get some new books. Sensing an opportunity, I tried to tell her about the books I've been reading.

See, I've been kicking around a story idea for this year's NaNoWriMo. I'm still working out the details in my head, but I think it will be a first person YA dystopian novel. And in order to better understand the genre, I've been reading some recommended dystopian books.

But can someone help me explain to a 65 year old woman what dystopian means? I tried to sum it up as books that deal with the loss of individual freedoms, or take place in a repressive "utopian" society, or involve some futuristic genetic or medical related issue, but I'm not sure if that's necessarily right.

Do any dystopian books end happily? Have you found any that give you a sense of hope, or is the main purpose to make the reader grateful for our current society, warts and all? I have a hard enough time reading these books, I'm not sure about how my psyche will handle writing one.

I've read The Giver by Lois Lowry, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, and The Diary of Pelly D by LJ Adlington. And though I prefer stand alone books to multi book stories, I also read The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.

How do you define the dystopian genre? And if you have any recommendations on YA dystopian stand alone novels, please let me know.

P.S.--Sommer, no worries. I'm working my way up to Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Character arcs

Rumor has it that your characters are supposed to grow over the course of your story. Great, something else to keep track of. As of my incessant use of commas and prepositional phrases weren't enough!

All jokes aside, developing your character's arc is harder than it sounds. I've been thinking a lot about the LoTR and Star Wars series for their treatment of the Hero's Journey, compliments of Joseph Campbell. Information about the Hero's Journey can be found here.

Once familiar with the concept, you see it everywhere. Disney movies, Star Wars, LoTR, and what I feel is one of the better examples, Homer's Odyssey.

Bringing it back down a notch since I'm nowhere near Lucas, Tolkein, or freaking Homer (!) in my writing chops, I have been paying close attention to incorporating elements of the the Hero's Journey in my current wip. The tricky part is to do it so it's not so glaringly obvious.

Look at the Call to Action followed by the Refusal of the Call. Your hero learns what needs to be done and declines. No thanks, they say. And then they list all the reasons they can't do it. Usually, those reasons include being physically too small because really, who doesn't love a good underdog story?

The whole idea of the Hero's Journey is fascinating. If you're working on an adventure story, it will help organize your events and will hopefully engage your reader to keep going, eager to see how your main character comes out on the other side.

Or if you're a nerd like me, keep a list of the steps handy while watching The Fellowship of the Ring and tell me you don't laugh at Step 4: Crossing the first threshold when Sam and Frodo physically stop to point out they're leaving the Shire. Nicely done, Peter Jackson.

No? You don't laugh? Never mind then. I'm just a dork. Carry on.

You tell me--how do you treat a character arc? What does that mean to you?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

B: Brain food

I live in Minnesota where summer lasts for 12 weeks if you're lucky. This time is sandwiched by 4 weeks on either side by spring and fall, leaving the remaining 32 weeks as a brutal, windy, snowy winter.

32 weeks of a physical need to carb load. Pastas. Breads. Cookies. Muffins. Whatever you're making or baking, I'm eating.

The upside of these 32 weeks is that I spend more time on my writing here than I do during the summer. Why write when you can motor around the lake up in St. Joe on a pontoon boat with your bestie and a cooler full of beer? Seriously. Which would you rather do?

Okay, I'm getting off topic. Talking about the lake will do that to a girl...

After the holidays I try to keep my weekends clear of commitments so I can work on my writing. In preparation of a writing weekend, I head to the food store Friday to stock up. This usually involves a bag of Thomas' hearty whole grain bagels, a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese, a jar of Smuckers no sugar added raspberry preserves, strawberries, greek yogurt, bananas, graham crackers, and for dinner, pasta with fancy sauce. And of course, plenty of coffee with creamer.

I call this my brain food list. Stuff I need to have on hand for my writing days. I write upstairs but can come down to the kitchen and prep something from the list, and head back upstairs with a fresh cuppa joe and plate of goodies in my hands without missing a beat of my character or plot.

Friends of mine consume mad amounts of candy while writing. M&Ms, chocolate, cookies, jelly beans. Others live off of fruit and water only (that would kill me).

How about you? What foods do keep in the house for your dedicated writing days? Any other writing day "must haves" in your world?

Edit: I forgot to add the other things that B is for! D'oh!

B is also for
Yankee baseball. Happy Opening Weekend!
Battlestar Galactica. So say we all, right?
The Buckle - that store for 15-yr olds in the mall where I dropped $100 on a new pair of jeans. Yup, $100.
Barnes and Noble, where I'm headed this afternoon.
And buds, as in the new buds showing on my lilac bushes. C'mon, Spring! You can do it!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A is for announcements. And Anti-Blah.

If you're reading this, that means I successfully posted my very first ever blog post. Cue the hallelujah chorus.

Here's the deal. I'm two days late in participating, but I am participating in the April A to Z blog challenge. More info on the challenge can be found here.

Without further ado, I present my first blog: A is for Announcements. And Anti-Blah.

The announcement part has been taken care of. I have a blog. I hope to update it regularly enough with enough quality information that you feel compelled to follow me. This blog will primarily revolve around my writing adventures, but I'm also training for a half marathon and have half-baked plans to travel some more. Don't be alarmed if either of those topics pop up on this page from time to time.

A is also for Anti-Blah. If you don't know what I mean, that's okay. I'm going to be a blogging dolt for a moment and reference something that only a small number of people will understand.

I'm part of a vicious girl gang (and by vicious, I mean terribly supporting and wonderful and by gang I mean group) and without their encouragement, I'm not sure this blog, or my writing "career" would be here. So kudos to my AB friends.

Take a moment and thank your friends for being the cool cats that they are. I'm fortunate to have some great ones.

Off to look at B...
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