Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On the passionate homestretch

Last week I posted about this has been my hardest NaNoWriMo ever.  Other Novembers have been hard because of travel, or sickness, but this time around, it's the story itself that was frustrating me. I just couldn't capture the vision (or even bits and pieces) of my vision for this story.

Turns out, blogging about my frustrations really helped. Even though I didn't get into the specifics. Just the act of sharing "I'm so frustrated!" (and all your kind and encouraging comments) helped me get past the frustration. Also much thanks to Julie Dao and this post of hers which reminded of the power of journaling through slumps.

The very night after blogging, ideas started to flow. I was able to isolate a few of the issues that were troubling me and some ideas about what could work, instead.

I had all these detailed character sketches for this story; so why weren't my characters working? Why did the main character feel so flat?  Part of the problem that I finally pinned down is that the character sketches were from 5 years ago (I wrote the draft of this story over 5 years ago. My plan this year was to completely rewrite it). Five years ago, I was really good at finding quirks for my characters, and I knew what their flaws were and their strengths. I even knew that all-important question: what do they want so badly that it drives everything they do? But I didn't know their passion. And, it turns out, that was a major missing factor.

So I've learned I have a really hard time writing characters that aren't passionate, and if I can't write the characters, I can't write the story.

The past week the writing has been going a lot better. I don't have the whole passion thing figured out, but I do know that it means digging deep into a character: into their past, into their fears. It also means seeing details that only they would see. Which is sort of the opposite of digging deep: this one sort of requires a light touch. But both require living in their shoes literally almost all day, every day for... well, let's say the month of November. (My family eagerly awaits the return of my attention. Most of this month I've been off in novel-land).

This post from Writer Unboxed: the Point of Writing, also really helped, especially this part:

  • Writing is about finding out who you are, what you have to say that is not the same as what everyone else has to say, and how to express it in the strongest possible terms.
  • The point of writing is to tell a story with your insight, the perspective that only you have.
  • The point of writing is to think deeply and to inform, entertain, communicate your insight with your readers.
  • The point of writing is to seek truth.  And it doesn’t matter how you do that, or whether you’re writing thrillers or detective stories or comedies, or picture books for children.  Truth is what will give your work resonance and power and make it worth reading...

I was close to giving up on this NaNoWriMo, but now I'm going for the win. Or rather, Lurching for the win.

Glad to be going into Thanksgiving tomrrow with a thankful mood regarding this story, which is my oldest and most beloved story, my "baby" but also definitely my "problem child."  Also thankful I have a clear holiday and weekend - no travel or plans (other than a yummy turkey dinner) - to compete with catching up my word count!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The writing isn't working

I'm having my worst NaNoWriMo ever. This month is usually a rush. Frustrating at times, exhausting, but oh - the ideas! the random lovely/scary things that appear and make me wonder, did I write that? where did that come from? I usually end up chopping up what I write for NaNo; a lot of it gets cut or heavily revised. But NaNo always gives me a solid diamond core.

Not so much this year. I have this vision my head that just isn't coming out in words. I don't expect the writing magic to flow every night, but the thing I've come to depend on with NaNo is that if I keep spewing the words out every night, then the drudgery momentarily turns to magic, here and there.  Into my third week now, and I'm not seeing any sparks flying yet. I'm holding onto my vision for this story, and trusting the process of visiting it every night, putting one word after another, trying not to give up.

My vision for this book (working title, Refuge) is a blend of the real world with completely magical mythical creatures. It isn't a portal into a magical world like Narnia, or a reverse portal where something magical finds itself stuck in reality; it's not a clash of two different worlds... it's sort of the real world and the magical one tentatively meeting each other, brushing edges  and sparking static electricty, but still hiding in the shadows. It's also about what the two worlds need to learn from each other. 

Plans for this story go back many, many years and includes inspiration from sources like Legend (the 1985 movie with Tom Cruise); the Island Stallion by Walter Farley and the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. More recently, the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, Pegasus by Robin McKinley and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor have sparked new passion into my original vision. I have a rough draft and years of dreaming; what I had hoped to do during this NaNo was to stitch the new vision into the old but now I'm wondering if I have maybe too much "grand vision" and "dreaming" and not enough of it distilled down into concrete ideas. And yet, I have a solid outline, tons of world building and character sketches - but something is still missing to make all of the ingredients work together. 
Even if the magic doesn't kick in during this round, I love this story too much to give up.  A story like this deserves as much time as it needs to fully come together. Maybe its waiting on me to grow some more, learn some more, collect more experience and heartbreak and passion. 

There are 10 days of NaNoWriMo left and I'm going to keep plugging away. 


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The sometimes overlooked hard part of NaNoWriMo

Last week I posted on things I love about NaNoWriMo, thirty days of writing frenzy. This week I'm posting on what I don't like about it, which is preceisely ONE THING: not being able to read November releases I've been waiting ALL YEAR FOR. (I *might* bump that up to 2 things, sleep deprivation being the other one, but even sleep deprivation has its benefits. I think it ups my idea quotient. Just hope I don't get into any driving accidents).

It's just not fair when books you've been dying to read come out during the month of November, when I'm supposed to not be reading anything but my NaNoWriMo manuscript (and I shouldn't even be reading that, I should just be adding new words to it!)

There are four books, three that just released, that I'm drooling to read! (can I resist the compulsion for the entire month of November? Especially when one of the books is titled Compulsion? ha! Stay tuned.)

A Thousand Pieces of You  chasing an enemy across parallel universes and then falling in love with him? (if I interepreted that blurb correctly: I can't resist falling-in-love-with-misunderstood-enemy  stores)

Compulsion  here's the line from the blurb that made me sit up and take notice: "South Carolina plantation....a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions"

Mortal Heart  Fantastic series, assassin nuns, historical fantasy... and one of my favorite book reviewers (Shae at Shae Has Left the Room) says this one just couldn't get any better.

The Map to Everywhere  Need I say more? A book with a map central to the premise? This map geek can't resist.

Illusions of Fate released in September, and it just now came on my radar... how did I miss this? Look at the COVER!!!  That teacup!!!!! And the blurb! Laini Taylor says its like "Howl meets Mr. Darcy" - now if that isn't a intriguing mash-up, I don't know what is.

but if This Shattered World was coming out in November, and not December 23 (yeah, guess what's on my Christmas list!) I would totally forget my NaNoWriMo word count until I finished reading this book. Which might take me less than 24 hours, I'm sure.  These Broken Stars (the first in this series) was one of my top 5 favs of 2013 and this one sounds just as good. "But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war" 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Insecure Writer: Pitch Wars and NaNoWriMo

Nothing like putting yourself out there to the whole world to light a match to insecurity. At least when you are querying, you are only putting yourself out to one or two at a time. When you enter an online contest you're out there for anyone to see whether you got agent requests or not.
The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
So I'm going to be out there tomorrow, November 6, on the Pitch Wars alternate showcase on Dee Romito's I Write for Apples blog. Yesterday and today are the main Pitch Wars pitch showcases on Brenda Drake's blog, where I've been stalking and mentally cheering on my favorites. Some of my favorites are also agent favorites (4 or more requests!) and others haven't had an agent visit yet at all, which perplexes me. But then again, "favorites" is such a subjective thing.

We know that, right? (I have to keep telling myself this). Writers who have started putting themselves out there to see if they get any bites? There's going to be people who love our ideas or characters and think our writing has potential, and then there's going to be a LOT of people that skip on to the next offering, because your stuff doesn't click with them. And that is okay (I have to keep telling myself this!) We're allowed to be different and like different things. This is a good thing.

Still, I'm insecure, but I love that the timing of Pitch Wars coincides with NaNoWriMo, because that helps, and here's why:

1) because there's nothing like another new exciting writing project to get your mind off the other project that's getting the occasional nibble but not any solid bites.

2) I love the #LifeDuringNaNo Tumblr. Oh my gosh people, this gif!! Whenever I rediscover the Muppets' Beaker it's like rediscovering how to laugh like a little kid. It made me laugh for like five minutes. My teenager heard me laughing last night and actually got out of bed to come see what was so funny.
Plot holes 

3) I love the author pep talks for NaNo. This year, I've already been inspired by Chuck Wendig's donuts. Donuts!! Writer donuts! (these are the kind of donuts that are even better than sugary donuts)

4) NaNo makes me fall in love with all my little writer rituals again. Like how I want to take a picture of my writing recliner (I don't use a desk) and the fairy lights decorated around it and the bulletin board of inspiration and ideas on the wall next to it and an upended wooden box on the floor next to it that is just the perfect perch for a mug warmer and a mug of tea. (You know about mug warmers, right? Absolutely essential for writing. You might get inspired and write like crazy for a half hour, and then when you come up for air your tea or coffee has gone cold! You need a mug warmer!)

5) I love that we get a whole month that's labeled a special writing month, with lots of people participating in the madness (usually I feel very alone in my madness)

6)  Rainymood.com and Rainycafe.com (or your own personal writing playlist). In past years I've used Brandford Marsalis as my background music; this year I'm into gentle rainy white noise.
“A moderate level of noise enhances creativity compared to both low and high levels of noise. Moderate background noise induces distraction which encourages individuals to think at a higher, abstract level, and consequently exhibit higher creativity.”
7) NaNoWriMo reminds that my main reason for writing isn't to get published. Sure, that would be awesome (but I'm also aware that it's not ALL awesome. Goodreads reviewers scare the living daylights out of me). My main reason for writing is simply that I love making up stories and characters and places and events. It feeds my soul.

How about you?

Coming next: the things that I DON'T like about NaNoWriMo. (Thankfully, it's a shorter list!)

Also, no matter what happens with Pitch Wars, requests or not, I'm so thankful to my mentor, Veronica Bartles, and all the other mentors who donated so much time to help us revise and polish our stories and pitches, and cheered us on. Amazing people.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Venice, painting, secrets and disguises

4.5 stars to Color Song, by Victoria Strauss:  a sumptuous historical set in 1487 Padua and Venice, rich characters (Sofia! Bernado!) and an artist's quest that resonated with my own artist's soul. Not that I'm a painter, but Giulia's passion for creation is universal for anyone who loves to create things, no matter the medium. This book had me looking up Renaissance painters like Giovani Bellini (who plays a small part in the book) and revisiting my Pinterest art page with new appreciation. Here's a painting by Malcolm T. Liepke that reminded me the character, Giulia, and her passion for the perfect blue.

This story is full of beautiful attention to detail and a living, breathing, smelly, sparkling depiction of Venice with its canals (how easy it is to travel around by water; how nearly impossible by foot) and its water doors. 5 stars for the setting. The convent at Padua also felt starkly real, and the painters' workshops there and in Venice were so well described I feel as if I could open the door and step inside.

5 stars for the premise, too. I simply loved the idea of a color song, the way the newly mixed, still-wet paint colors would "sing" for Giulia, each color with their own unique voice. 

As a woman, Giulia's painting is frowned upon, even prohibited. She disguises herself as a boy in order to escape the convent and apprentice herself to a master painter in Venice. Along the way she makes an unusual friend and ally in Sofia, a wealthy courtesan, a fascinating character. Sofia’s insight on Giulia:
“I think perhaps I understand you better now.” Sofia tilted her head, embracing Giulia in her cool amber gaze. “Why you would leave your home and travel so very far alone to a city where you are a stranger to apprentice yourself to a master you do not know. It is your gift that demands this of you, no? Your gift demands everything of you.”
Sofia’s son, Bernardo, plays the romantic interest, but he wasn’t as distinctive. However, because of Giulia’s disguise as a boy, her relationship with Bernardo is based on lies and deception, that added interesting tension to the story.  In fact, the theme of secrets vs. truth runs expertly (not too heavy-handedly) throughout the book.

I loved all the Italian words and historical tidbits that sang through this story like battagliole (mock battles on the bridges of Venice) and chopines (platform women’s shoes), and all the details about Venice, "La Serenissima, the daughter of the sea," where ."the salt water ran like blood through the body of this strange city." 

Another thing I loved about the story was identifying to Giulia’s struggles (and inspirations) as an artist, which any type of artist, not just a painter, could identify with. 
This was not the perfect work that had existed in her mind. It was only the imperfect rendering that was the best her skill could manage. Yet Giulia was not dismayed. For she knew that she would try again – and again, and again, for as long as it took to gain the experience, the judgment, the understanding to get it right. And perhaps she never would get it right. Perhaps she would never attain that flawless blue, never create that perfect image, never find the ultimate point of balance between what she could accomplish an what she could dream. Yet wasn’t that the point? To be drawn onward, ever onward, in pursuit of your deepest passion? To look back at the end fo the race and knew that you had never done less than the most you could do?
I thought Giulia’s unique gift of the color song would tie into the plot more, but it doesn’t. My favorite genre is historical fantasy, and the premise of the Color Song hinted at some fantasy, but I wasn’t disappointed when the book didn’t end up going that direction, as the color song did serve a purpose in theme of secrets and truth. 

And as for the unfairness of Giulia not being able to realize her full potential as an artist because she’s female, I felt the author found a good balance between the realism of the time and the hope of change in the future (nicely rounded out by the epilogue).
...beauty must also be shared. It had no value if it was hoarded, closed up inside a secret like a miser's gold inside his counting room. And suddenly she could feel it: all the beauty she would create in the years to come, all the splendor that would issue from her hand, burning in her like the light of a thousand torches, so intense that for an instant it seemed she must be consumed.

Thank you to NetGalley and Skyscape for an advanced copy of this book, which did not influence my review in any way.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Meet My Character: Cam

I've been tagged for the Writerly Meme Blog Tour by my critique partner and longtime blogging friend, Julie Dao

I've been outlining and character building for a new project for NaNoWriMo this year, so it was tough to decide which main character to share: from the new project, or from the project I'm currently querying.  I've only shared a few things about my project-up-for-query, and never anything specifically about Camria, the MC of this YA contemporary science fiction.
What is the name of your character? 

Her name is Camria Jimenez, but she goes by Cam, thank you very much. She is secretly proud of being the daughter of two astronauts, though she has no aspirations of pursuing space herself, and she HATES the nickname "space twins" that the public has given her and her twin sister, Liz. 

When and where is the story set?

Cam's story is set in the here and now; she goes to high school in Buffalo, New York. But, she's about to choose a course that will take her far, far away from everything she knows. 

(Yes, that's a reference to a galaxy far, far away. Princess Leia from Star Wars was an inspiration. I always wanted a version of Star Wars from her point of view). 

What should we know about her?

Cam lives in the shadow of her twin sister, Liz, who is both a brilliant student and very popular at their high school. She tells herself she doesn't mind being the lesser-known twin, since she loves acting and aspires to the lead role in her school's upcoming play... until a terrible accident happens that changes everything. 

But it’s the things that I can’t do now that I want to tell him about. How I loved the thrill of standing on a stage pretending to be someone else, playing a role that was completely defined, saying words that were completely scripted. Somehow those constraints were not constraints to me — they freed me. I didn’t have to be afraid of saying something stupid. I could pour my passion out in perfect words. 

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

While Cam and Liz were touring a space shuttle facility, a freak explosion occured that killed Liz and blinded Cam. Six months after the accident, Cam is still struggling to adjust to her changed life. It's hard enough that she's blind, but National Security agents keep pestering her, questioning her about the accident and everything in the past, which makes it hard to move on. Also, she can't shake the sense that her sister is still alive. 

What is the personal goal of the main character?

Cam will do anything to get her sister and her sight back.  A new "transfer student," (i.e. undercover agent), Lander, hints that Liz might still be alive and that he has access to new technology that can restore Cam's sight. He offers to help her, in exchange for memories accidently implanted in her mind during the explosion that stole her sight. 

Falling for Lander is a complication Cam's trying to avoid...without much success. Here's an image on Deviant Art that fits Cam and Lander perfectly. 

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

STAR TRIPPED is the working title.  See my Writing page for more details and a short excerpt.  Star tripping is just a game on our planet, but else where in the galaxy, it's... well, now that would be a spoiler. 

When we can expect the book to be published?

I'm querying STAR TRIPPED right now and hope it will get picked up by a major publishing house. But if that doesn't work out, I do plan to self-publish it at some point. 

Thanks so much for tagging me, Julie! I would like to pass this on to one of my CP's Akossiwa Ketoglo, and two writers/bloggers whose stories and characters I've been wanting to know more about, Leslie Rose and Melissa Marsh

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stitching Snow: here's to lady programmers

Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis
Personally, I can't get enough of scifi retellings of fairytales, so the more the merrier! This one is loosely based on Snow White, with some space travel and new planets. Snow's "domestic duties" are mechanics and programming, which she calls "stitching". Her seven dwarves are her bots programmed to help her. Dopey = Dimwit and Grumpy = Cusser. These guys were definitely my favorite part of the story.

As a part-time lady programmer myself, I loved Snow's mechanical and programming prowess (not so sure about her cage fighting habit, though; was it really necessary? she was plenty tough enough without throwing that into the mix).  

I read this book on Adobe Digital Editions, which has the unfortunate habit of NOT SAVING YOUR HIGHLIGHTS if it closes down unexpectedly (like if your battery runs out). So I highlighted half a dozen things I was planning on sharing or mentioning what I liked about this book... and sadly, can't remember a single one other than how the one planet was named Windsong, which annoyed me at first, because it sounded sort of My Little Ponyish. But eventually we get to see the setting a little more and the name comes from the whistling canyons. I longed for more world-building details like this one. I also longed for a little more development of the evil Queen (the emphasis is actually more on the evil King, Snow's true father who is still very much alive and irksome in this version of the story). Also, I believe Kip equated to the Huntsman, and I wanted to know more about this character too, but he always seemed to get skimmed over. 

The relationship between the Prince and Snow was refreshingly antagonistic to start out with and continues to have its ups and downs throughout the story. 

Overall a fast-paced, entertaining read; I wish I could remember more to say about it! Thank you to Net Galley and Disney-Hyperion for a free digital review copy.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Places books have made me want to visit

Books that make you want to visit places: this is an important subject to me, because I literally chose the place where I live (Laramie, Wyoming) based on three books I read as child, the series starting with My Friend Flicka, by Mary O'Hara. When I was about 10 or 11, I told my parents I wanted to move to Wyoming.  I moved here when I was 24 and have been here ever since.

(This post is part of Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top bookish ten list theme, every Tuesday) (see the full list here). 

To this day, I have never read any other books that have such a vivid, vibrant, emotional connection to place and setting as these books. I dearly wish for books that make that connection to place, and I was surprised at how hard it was to make this list because so many books have excellent settings, but not a deep connection to them.  Here are the ones that do have that deep connection to a place:



My Friend Flicka
Green Grass of Wyoming
Thunderhead
At Home in Mitford
Anne of Green Gables Boxed Set
White Fang
River God
All Creatures Great and Small & All Things Bright and Beautiful
The Call of the Wild
Daughter of Smoke & Bone
The Bronze Bow
The Island



All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot, set in the Yorkshire Dales
I got to visit the Yorkshire Dales many years ago, and it has been the most vividly remembered of the places I've been to in Europe (with the Swiss Alps being a very close second). I am 100% sure the strong memories are because of my deep love of these stories.

The Mitford series by Jan Karon, set in a small North Carolina town in the Blue Ridge
If there were any other place in America I'd want to live besides my own beloved Wyoming Rockies, it would be in the North Carolina or Virginia Blue Ridge/Appalachians, in a small town like Mitford.

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, Prince Edward Island
Haven't been there yet, but it's on my bucket list.

Jack London's stories set in Alaska/Yukon
Absolutely, emphatically on my bucket list

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
This is non-fiction, but it still tells stories: stories of the land rather than of characters. I actually visited the slick rock country and canyonlands of Utah before I read this book, but the land so deeply impressed me that I began to look for stories set in this most unsual of wildernesses.  Abbey's stories and descriptions of the Utah deserts always bring me back to my first time hiking in a state of wonder through Canyonlands National Park.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, set in Prague, Czech Republic
I'm not much of a city girl, though I've been very fortunate to have opportunities to visit great cities like London, Paris, Rome, and most great American cities. Currently, this is the only large city that I specifically want to visit, and I blame it totally on this book.

I can't talk about books with a sense of place without mentioning James Michener. I've read Alaska, Centennial (set in Colorado), Chesapeake, and the Source (set in Israel), and all of them have brought these places alive to me.

Amazing places I want to read more great stories about, and visit someday:

These are places that I love because of all their fascinating history, and purposefully seek out books about them to read. I've listed some good books I've read set in these places, but have not yet found THE BOOK. The book that really makes that hard-to-describe deep connection.

Greece.  Some good books that have whetted my appetite: the Island, by Victoria Hilsop (set on Crete); My Best Friend, Maybe (set on Santorini)

Egypt.  Have read so many books about ancient Egypt; would love a modern book set here, too. The book that has stuck with me the most: River God, by Wilbur Smith.

Italy.   Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm sure I've read many others set in Italy. But none of them really stuck with me, and I really want something to stick.

Israel and the Levant. The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth Speare. Would love a book set in Damascus, Bagdad, Babylon or any place in Israel, Lebanon, Arabia, etc - modern or ancient. Ancient Sumeria or Persia. So many books touch on these places, but I want one that is deeply tied to place.

Russia. I've read some Tolstoy, and probably half a dozen other stories set here, but most were character-based or so broad in scope it was hard to really get connected to any particular place, to make that deep connection.

What story has made you want to visit a place?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday: where did the time go?

Today we are flashing back to 2002, 12 years ago when I just finally getting on my feet again after becoming a mom. I had no idea how exhausting and time consuming it would be. I was looking forward to my maternity leave as a VACATION!!! Ha!!!

Just about the time this picture was taken of me and my daughter at Glacier National Park, I had figured out how to start enjoying myself again. Now, I certainly enjoyed my baby girl from the moment she was born, but enjoying myself? not so much. Adjusting to less sleep, adjusting to hauling baby stuff everywhere, not being able to pick and go where-ever when-ever I wanted...

The biggest thing about parenthood is that you keep wondering where did the time go? I think kids are little time vacuums that suck away your time,  Granted, they give you lots of joy in return, but they definitely steal time.  Days just don't feel like they have 24 hours in them anymore. There's some sort of time warp going on.  I can't believe, for instance, that baby girl in the photo is taller than me now and 13 years old. It seems like just yesterday!!

Terry Pratchett has a lot of fun playing with time in his book, Thief of Time (published in 2002).
He basically takes every single common saying about time and wrings every fun twist or warp out of those sayings. So for instance, "where did the time go?" - well, suppose that there's an order of History Monks that tend to time, that can store time and redistribute it as necessary? They are secretly responsible for moving time around from, um, time to time (grin). 

Then there's the idea that Time, if personified, must be female, because "Time waits for no man." 

The saying that "procrastination is the thief of time": well, Procrastinators are real things in this story. In fact there are even portable, wind-up procrastinators that you can use to make more time for yourself.

Portable procrastinators also mean that "you can live on borrowed time"

"Time stands still" - trying to remember how this one is played out - something to do with History Monks being able to slice time? 

There's also a twist on "There is no time but the present"

A "child of our time" - ahh!! don't dare say too much about this. 

"Time plays tricks on us all" 

"Time bombs"  Soooo cool!!!!

"People have been messing around with time ever since they were people. Wasting it, killing it, sparing it, making it up. And they do it. People's heads were made to play with time"


"...Time was alive. He said it acted like a living thing"

On page 19 I met Miss Susan for the first time, (ah, time!) and Miss Susan is a grade school teacher. But trust Terry Pratchett to play on every possible boring old teacher trope out there and make Miss Susan both the penultimate quintessential teacher ("no dog ever ate the homework of one of Miss Susan's students, because there was something about Miss Susan that went home with them; the dog brought them a pen and watched imploringly while they finished it") and a complete satirical statement on teachers as well ("Susan did an unusual thing and listened. That's not an easy task for a teacher"). 



"And, er, what you are you, Miss Susan?"

"Me? I'm... a schoolteacher."

She followed his gaze to the wrench that she still held in her hand, and shrugged.

"It can get pretty rough at break time, can it?" said Lobsang.

Then there's Igor. He's a servant to a mad scientist, OF COURSE. He's actually an Igor, because there are many Igors, there's actually a whole temp agency of Igors where you can request a servant to assist you in your mad scientist pursuits. 

This Igor is unfailingly polite, and might appear to be a bit simple-minded, but he's really not. And then there's the business with all his scars and stitches (which are not really anything to be concerned about, they're "just cultural") (which leads into a satirical discourse on "cultural").

The code of the Igors was quite strict.
Never Contradict. It was not part of an Igor's job to say things like "No, thur, that'th an artery." The marthther (translation: master) was always right. (all Igors have a lisp)

Never Complain. An Igor would never say "But that'th a thouthand miles away!"

Never Make Personal Remarks. No Igor would dream of saying anything like "I thould have thomething done about that laugh, if I wath you."

And Never, Ever, Ask Questions. Admittedly, Igor knew, that meant never ask Big questions. "Would thur like a cup of tea around now?" was fine,, but "What do you need a hundred virginths for?" or "Where you expect me to find a brain at thith time of night?" was not. An Igor stood for loyal, dependable, discreet service with a smile, or at least a sort of lopsided grin, possibly just a curved scar in the right place. (because, Igors pass down their body parts. This Igor's double-thumbed hand was passed down from his grandfather and stitched into place)
Definitely a great book to study when it comes to writing satire and twists on character tropes like school teachers, monks, auditors and mad scientist helpers.

What's your favorite time-twist book?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Insecure writer: where did my voice go?

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
I'm pretty sure I've posted about this before: of all the problems that confound writers, the thing I feel most insecure about is "voice" - that unique, almost undefinable expression or way of looking at, talking about or showing the world that every artist needs.  I am struggling with voice, AGAIN.  A crit partner re-read my first chapter, which I showed her oh-so-proudly because I streamlined it (very nicely, I thought) thanks to help from my PitchWars coach. And she agreed, oh yes, this is good... but one problem, your 2nd main character sounds pretty much like your first main character. He needs a more distinct voice. 

Ah yes, my old nemesis: my characters sounding too much alike. I'm already insecure about my own voice, not to mention my characters' voices.  (Truly writers are odd creatures: the only people who WANT more voices in their heads!)  

Issue #1:  I've been thinking for two weeks now about how to give this guy a more unique voice. And it hasn't come to me yet. 

Issue #2:  I recognize my voice when I read it, when it comes spilling out of its own accord, but I can't force it, and lately it seems to be really scarce. I think a major reason being is this whole past year I've been doing nothing but revisions, and almost no fresh drafting. Can you edit out your voice? Can you edit it back in? 

Fortunately, another writer here in Laramie, Emily Moore (@EGMoorewriter) found me online (I live in a small town, this is close to a miracle, connecting with another kidlit writer!) and we got together and decided to  start a local writers group.  I have another friend who just recently moved here who was also interested. So we had our first meeting this week and we did a 15 minute writing prompt exercise, and a 15 minute free write.  I know that free writing and prompt writing are both excellent exercises to tease voices out (and new ideas!) but it's really hard for me to push myself to do these on my own.  Or in the online writing community.  Sometimes there's just no replacement for meeting face to face with other writers!

How do you find your voice? And your characters' voices? 

Monday, September 29, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

Absolutely True Diary of  Part-Time Indian just shot to the top of my favorites read so far in 2014, and got added to my list of all time favorites.  My husband even read this book in less than 24 hours, and he's not a reader. He hates to read, but he loved this book. In fact while he was reading it if I happened to ask him a question, he'd give me that glazed, "what did you say? I'm in the middle of a good book" look that I'm guilty of all the time (a couple times I think he was doing this on purpose just to give me a taste of my own medicine but a couple times I'm pretty sure it was genuine.) 
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


14 year Spokane Indian, Junior, decides to leave the rez and go to a nearby mostly-white suburban high school.  Almost everyboy on the reservation treats him like a traitor, including his best friend, Rowdy. Not everyone in his new school is that thrilled about his bid for a life with more opportunities, either. 

Junior is smart and funny and self-deprecating and scatters  hand-drawn commentaries (e.g. cartoons) in with his words. Which came first? Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian? they are remarkably similar in style (right down to all the bathroom humor. Warning: this book is full of, um, very physical humor). But Sherman Alexie's book treats a desperately serious subject with both humor and heartbreak. 

I'm fourteen years old and I've been to forty-two funerals. That's really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.

Another funny/sad example is how the Indians would get pulled over by the police for  DWI's  (Driving While Indian). But before I get to the heartbreaky parts, gotta share some of my favorite parts. 

After Junior, his friend Rowdy was my favorite. (warning: gross parts ahead)

Rowdy didn't believe in himself. Not much. So I tried to pump him up.
"You're the toughest kid on the rez," I said.
"I know," he said.
"You're the fastest, the strongest."
"And the most handsome, too."
"If I had a dog with a face like yours, I'd shave its a.. and teach it to walk backwards."
"I once had a zit that looked like you. Then I popped it. And then it looked even more like you."
"This one time, I ate, like, three hot dogs and a bowl of clam chowder, and then I got diarrhea all over the floor, and it looked like you."
"And then you ate it," Rowdy said.
We laughed ourselves silly.

Junior has a hard time making friends at his new school, but he finally falls in with Gordy. Who is a super smart nerd and gives Junior a new perspective on books that made me want to meet Gordy in real life and high-five him. 

We ran into the Reardan High School Library. "Look at all these books," Gordy said.
"There aren't that many," I said. It was a small library in small high school in a small town.
"There are three thousand four hundred and twelve books here," Gordy said. "I know that because I counted them."
"Okay, now you're officially a freak," I said.
"Yes, it's small library. It's a tiny one. But if you read one of these books a day, it would still take you almsot ten years to finish."
"What's your point?"
"The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know."
Wow. That was a huge idea.
Any town, even one as small as Reardan, was a place of mystery. And that meant that Wellpinit, that smaller, Indian town, was also a place of mystery.
"Okay, so it's like each of hese books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all the books ever written, it's like you've read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn."

Another character I fell in love with was Junior's grandmother, the only Indian that was enthusiastic about Junior leaving the rez school.

Now, in the old days, Indians used to be forgiving of any kind of eccentricity. In fact, weird people were often celebrated.... my grandmother, she still hung onto that old-time Indian spirit, you know? She always approached each new person and each new experience the exact same way. Whenever we went to Spokane, my grandmother would talk to anyoe, even the homeless people, even the homeless people who were talking to invisible people. My grandmother would start talking to the invisible people, too. Why would she do that? 
"Well," she said, "how can I be sure there aren't invisible people in the world? Scientists didn't believe in the mountain gorilla for hundreds of years. And now look. So if scientists can be wrong, then all of us can be wrong. I mean, what if all of those invisible people ARE scientists? Think about that one."  
So I thought about that one: [ draws a cartoon of Invisible Mountain Gorilla Scientist] 
 After I decided to go to Reardan, I felt like an invisible mountain gorilla scientist. My grandmother was only one who thought it was a 100 percent good idea.
"Think of all the new people you're going to meet," she said. 'That's the whole point of life, you know? To meet new people. I wish I could go with you. It's such an exciting idea."

A kind of funny but sad part was when a billionaire shows up at the reservation to dole out his "graciousness" to the Indians....

"I'm not Indian, but I feel Indian in my bones"
... we all groaned... he was yet another white guy who showed up on the rez because he loved Indian people so much.

Then there's a really cool scene at the high school which ends with Junior's classmates stomping out of the classroom in protest.

Also, there is this different way of looking at tribes: 
I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream. 
I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists...And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends.

I loved the ending, how it ends on the rez,  not on the bad parts of the rez, but the good parts. The great, ancient trees (some of them older than Benjamin Franklin). And the spooky stories about Turtle Lake. And Rowdy talking about how Indians used to be nomadic, but they aren't anymore... except for Junior... "you're an old-time nomad," Rowdy said. "You're going to keep moving all over the world in search of food and water and grazing land. That's pretty cool."



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday: owning my oddness

Everyonce in a while I own up to my inner oddness. Usually  I try to keep it inside my head (or at least, my home. My family is understanding). Usually I try to appear like a generally normal wife, mom, professional mapmaker and writer (if any writer can be called normal). I might get a little too excited about maps once in a while, and I might let it slip that I'm a Trekkie and a Tolkien addict, but mostly the oddness stays safely contained.

Even here on the blog I keep up tidy appearances. Gushing about books is socially acceptable, after all. Confessing fascination with mythical creatures... no biggie, right? But something I don't often share is my love of lizards. My daughters buy me mugs with lizards on them for Christmas. And lizards pins that hang out on my purses. They know what charms me.

I used to bring my pet lizard to high school with me. Really. He was a little anole named Loki (I kid you not. Btw, this was way before the Avengers Loki) and I'd carry him around in my pocket and when I was bored in class I'd let him hang out on my desk. Amazingly, all my teachers were quite tolerant of this behavior and my economics teacher once borrowed Loki and taught a class with the lizard peering out of his front pocket.
Throwback Thursday: a picture of Loki from high school (I'm on the left. The year I died my hair black)
Here's where I use my oddness to also promote a very worthy book. I bought a copy of the newly released young adult fantasy Gates of Thread and Stone because
1) "gargoyles" was mentioned in a review, as in "Gargoyles had been native reptiles once" and gargoyles have definitely been underutilized in fantasy literature, in my opinion, and 2) reptiles - sweeeeeetttt!!! and 3) manipulating time never fails to make me prick my ears and 4) this cover. Look at the shimmery threads weaving around the title. MUST KNOW MORE ABOUT THE THREADS. 



oh, and 5) I read the sample chapters first and was so hooked, so very much hooked I must have gills. I fell in love with Kai on the first page when she says this:
A shoulder smacked against mine on the sidewalk. I didn't bother checking my pockets. They were already empty. But sometimes I left little notes in them I thought might amuse a pickpocket: "Try me again tomorrow. I forgot my diamonds at home" or "Might have better luck with that guy", alongside a scribbled arrow. Well, they amused me, anyway.

and oh, oh! 6) I kind of missed this part of the blurb at first, but by chapter 2, I was deeply impressed by the genuine brother-sister love between Kai and her older adopted brother, Reev.
When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability [to maniplate threads of time] comes from—or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reev stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home.
The ties between Kai and Reev run deep and strong through out the story, and explode at the ending into something breath taking and heart breaking. The ending! Whoa. Such a good ending. And all I can give is just this obscure hint:  if you've happened to have read Thief of Time, by Terry Pratchett, there are a few similar mythical characters that appear. To say which mythology would give too much away). 

But in addition to the stellar beginning and ending, the middle parts of the book keep up a good pace, too.  I caught a fun steampunk feel from the walled city Kai and Reev live in, especially the mechanical beasts that people ride: 
On the cobblestone road, riders steered enormous Grays in the shape of long-extinct animas: creatures with three foot horns, lumbering feet, spiny backs, or long slender necks that bobbed as they moved. Their massive chests glowed in two spots, indicating they needed two energy stones.

And then there are the gargoyles. Loved the creepy/beautiful scenes at the top of the spiral staircase:
The gargoyle touched its nose to G-10's knuckles, and then bobbed its head, its tongue flicking out to lick his fingers. It was almost... cute. 
(Really, lizard head-bobs are adorable. Trust me). I hope the gargoyles play a larger role in the sequel... they have so much potential. They reminded me of the flying lizards in the movie Avatar (without the wings, and a little creepier in this story). 

One last thing: the love interest, Avan. I loved the slow, quiet development between Avan and Kai, and just have to share this little tidbit about him and his tattoo: 
Avan’s tattoo of a tree: “I got the trunk and the branches done when I moved out of the shop. The tree had one leaf. Kind of like… the start of something new.” He rubbed his neck and shifted so that he was turned away from me. He actually seemed embarrassed. “Something good, I mean. I figured I would add more leaves as… well, as things changed.”
Okay, anybody else out there with pet lizards? Or what's the oddest pet you've read about in a book?