Sunday, June 27, 2010

Writing phobias

A while back I read a fun post about different kinds of household phobias and I identified with a lot of them. Like how my husband has "trashcan-a-phobia." Somehow the act of opening the cupboard door where the trashcan resides must be quite terrifying to him. Surely monsters will leap out if the door is opened. Therefore the sink and the counter tops are a much a safer place to leave unwanted items.

Some other funny household phobias: book-shelf-a-phobia: fear of putting a book into a bookshelf because it will no longer be easy to find (resulting in a stack of books by your bedside so tall it might fall over and crush you in your sleep). Clothes-basket-a-phobia: fear of putting dirty clothes in a basket; it's much safer just to drop them on the floor NEXT to the basket. I personally have toilet-seat-a-phobia, fear of sitting on a toilet without wiping it down first - I live in a house with recently potty-trained twins. Just because they use the potty doesn't mean they use the potty, um, neatly.

I also have a few writing phobias. The biggest one of course is fear of the blank page! I will go to any effort to not start writing on a blank document.
Another (very healthy) writing phobia is fear of losing my work. I might only type two new sentences, but by golly I'll spend more time uploading the new version to Google docs or email than I actually spent writing.

Fear of writing during a full moon. Really, the strangest stuff comes out. It's spooky.

Fear of writing about any place I've never actually BEEN. Even after days of research, this terrifies me.

Fear of writing on an empty stomach. Always keep chocolate stashed nearby.

Fear of writing before 10 am. I am NOT a morning person. I have tried to get up early to write, but it physically pains me. My brain hurts. The computer keys stick. Files mysteriously disappear. Everything works sooo much better after 10 am, two cups of highly sugared and caffeinated tea, an English muffin, a stroll around the garden, a peek into a book or two. One thing I'm apparently not phobic about: procrastination.

What writing phobias do you have?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Love you Dad, even though you don't like what I write!

(Skip down a bit for the Wannabe Writers part).

My Dad has never thought much of my fiction writing (fantasy? women's fiction? -- he reads mostly biographies about famous and powerful men).

But regardless of what I write, or if I ever get published, my Dad still thinks I'm the greatest person in the world (well, maybe after my mom. I don't have any brothers or sisters, but my kids - his grandkids - might be close to trumping me).

The best thing about my Dad is how he always made me feel like a princess when I was growing up. Little did he know that he was feeding my fantasy worlds! The other cool thing about my Dad was he saved every single card I ever made him (he always asked for home-made Father's day and birthday cards). One day he got out a shoebox and let me see all the cards I'd made for him over the years. Some of them made me grimace, some of them made me perk up my eyebrows and say "hey, not bad for a twelve year old" and some of them made me laugh out loud. But more than the cards themselves, it was the idea that he cared enough to save them all.


An update on writing: The good news is I've been busy writing - the bad news is I've been neglecting this blog. I haven't been able to think of any interesting topics to blog about, and didn't want to take time away from my WIP to really brainstorm for this blog. But ah, isn't that the beauty of memes? So today I am revisiting Sarah's wonderful Wannabe Writers meme.

Where I am in the writing process: Four chapters into at least the fifth re-write (I've actually lost track of the number of revisions) of my first novel which I just can't seem to let go. With a couple of excellent new crit partners, I really feel like I can get this story tightened up by cutting some slow chapters and rewriting with more action, more attitude, and more angst. Well, that's the plan, at any rate.

My current problems: My story is told from the point of view of two main characters, kind of like how Shiver (by Maggie Stiefvater) is written, switching chapters between Grace and Sam. Grace and Sam were both written in first person. One of my characters sounds great in first person. The other MC sounds weird in first person. So I changed her back to third person, but I feel like for a middle grade novel it's going to be too jarring for kids to not only have to switch back and forth between characters, but also between first and third. What do you guys think?

This week's question (from Sarah): Do you carry a writing journal around? Do you believe jotting down the ideas as they come is the best way? I used to be so good about doing this. After reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, I fell in love with her advice to ALWAYS carry an index card or two and a pencil in your back pocket. Just the very act of sticking those cards into my pocket made me remember it was my RESPONSIBILITY as a writer to observe details of settings, dialogue I overhear, idiosyncrasies of people. Not to mention jotting down ideas. I need to get back into the habit.

These days, I have to keep track of so much family business (four kids and a very disorganized husband) that I only notice really odd or funny things. Then I freak because I don't have a notebook to write them in and if I write it on a receipt chances is are I'll forget and throw it away. But I'll NEVER remember if I don't write it down. So I have everything from the play date for my daughter to the grocery list to the key word of a writing idea jotted down on the back of my hands.

Do you carry around a writing journal or are you the kind that scribbles on napkins, receipts, the back of your hand?

Wannabe Writers is a writing group for the un-published and anyone is welcome to join. It's a place where future authors can ask questions, share stories, and get feedback. Click (here) to find more about how it works.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag day - and the awesome WriteOnCon

This photo surfaced in the media on Memorial Day, but I'm always at least a week behind in the news (because I'm a writer. News in my make-believe world comes first. Ahem. That's my excuse). So I decided to post this photo for Flag Day. The photo is three years old already, but really, it's timeless, isn't it? I don't think I'll ever forget this image.

John Moore recorded an image of Mary McHugh at the grave of her fiance Sgt. James John Regan (who was killed by an IED explosion in Iraq in February 2007) at Arlington National Cemetery, May 27, 2007.

At the writers' workshop I just attended, one of the presenters showed this photo and said, "This is why we write. This woman has a story to tell. Someone needs to write it."

Now that I have segued back to the topic of writing, if there is anyone in the kidlit blogosphere who hasn't heard the announcement this morning of a FREE, FREE, FREE, did you get that? FREE online writers' conference for kidlit (MC age limit 18 years), August 10-12 2010, then here's my humble announcement.

This is too good an opportunity to pass up. Thank you Elana Johnson, Shannon Messenger, Lisa and Laura Roecker, Jamie Harrington, and Casey McCormick for brainstorming this event and putting together an amazing list of participants - agents and authors galore. Not to mention all the giveaways they're also putting out.

Go to and make sure you get the widget - see my sidebar.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Character-driven action

I attended a writer's workshop this past week at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs. I selected just one of many excellent things I learned to share on today's post: character-driven action.

This wasn't a regular writer's conference with agents, editors, pitches, etc. Instead we got to pick from one of four published authors with years of experience, and join them in a small group for writing exercises, brainstorming, group feedback, and some one-on-one critiquing from the author. It was an intense three days! With all the writing books I've studied, critique groups I've been in, and past conference workshops, I was surprised at how much I still learned.

There's taking-it-all-in kind of learning, and then there is learning by application. This unusual type of extended small-group workshop gave me opportunity to immediately apply things and almost just as immediately get feedback and brainstorming. Amazing! It helped me work out some crucial turning points in my book, Raining Toward Heaven.

The most crucial thing I learned/applied was the idea of character-driven action. We all know how we need to start our first chapters with action to hook the reader. As soon as Kathryn Mackel, the author that lead my group, described character-driven action to me, I knew it was going to help my first chapter. It's putting your character in a situation that causes them to act, so we get to see something about their personality and their motivation.

My main character is in a coffee-shop that adjoins a flower shop and she sees a young man buying roses for his girlfriend. She feels envious because today is her first anniversary and she hasn't even heard from her husband yet - typical of his neglect of anything romantic.

My group helped me brainstorm character-driven action to start this first chapter. So far she sees something happening and reacts to it. But she's not doing anything. One suggestion was to have a kid come into the flower shop on the heels of the young man to purchase a flower for her sick mother. The kid counts out her change, but she's fifty cents short. My character offers to pay the difference. Now she's actually doing something that tells us about her character. I'm not sure if I'll use this particular example, but it definitely shed some light on the power of character-driven action.

Ending with a couple great quotes I got from the other authors at the workshop (James Scott Bell, Angela Hunt, Nancy Rue):

Good writing is where precision meets passion

Creating art is an interaction between you and God

We write a novel to evoke emotion

Just curious about that last quote, what do you guys think? Is storytelling about evoking emotion?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Writing, castles, and wildlife

My first of four days at a writer's workshop at Glen Eyrie Castle, in Colorado Springs. There are about 68 humans and abundant wildlife on the grounds - several bighorn sheep and a black bear.

We are encouraged to stroll around the beautiful grounds and let the scenery inspire us... and the wildlife too, apparently. As a writer that loves fairytales and fantasy, several days at a castle in the mountains surrounded by rose gardens and wildlife is about idyllic as I could imagine.

I am surprised that for such a small group, there are people from all over the country - and Canada, as well. We have four distinguished authors and get to choose one as our mentor and they will work with us and our stories for the next three days, such as trouble-shooting plot structure, developing characters, settings, etc. Many creative exercises are promised.

Living in a small town with a writer's group that only meets sporadically, it is so wonderful being surrounded by other writers who speak the same language (e.g. I can talk about my issues with character arc and they knowingly nod their heads instead of staring at me like I'm an three-legged alien with purple acne.)

In my darker moods, I sometimes think of writers (ahem, myself) as a sort of wildlife on the fringe of civilization, sometimes gawked at, more often ignored, occasionally considered pests. This workshop feels like a wildlife refuge for me, at the moment.

Where do you find refuge?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Inspired by a cowboy chocolatier

If you are a writer, you understand how the subject of "cowboys" is way overdone. It's a whole genre (Westerns). The subject of "chocolate", while it doesn't yet have its own genre, is also a popular subject. If you're going to write on either of these two subjects, you're going to need a unique twist.

But take two ordinary subjects and combine them. Then you have magic. How 'bout a cowboy chocolatier? I almost fell off my seat when a good friend, who happens to an expert on all things Wyoming, told me about Tim Kellogg, a genuine cowboy chocolatier.

Nearly five years after his first truffle sale, Tim Kellogg, the Meeteetse chocolatier, is well versed in balancing the roles of a cowboy and a chocolate chef. "I say that my dog loves me either way," he jokes. "I either smell like manure or chocolate." He learned how to make chocolate from his grandma, and started selling it in order to make enough money in high school to buy a saddle.

By day he works on a cattle ranch. Every night he makes up to 800 truffles for his candy store in Meteetsee, Wyoming, a typical tiny Wyoming town - population 351 (only 8 towns in Wyoming have a population over 10,000). He must get good business from all the tourists on their way to Yellowstone, or the population of Meteetse is noticeably overweight!

His truffles are a story in themselves with unique flavors like Coors and Jack Daniels, and my personal favorites, champagne, huckleberry, and key lime. I'm not sure I would be brave enough to try his signature Wyoming flavor, the sage truffle (in honor of the ubiquitous Wyoming sagebrush).

Doesn't a cowboy chocolatier sound like a great idea for a story character? I'm already brainstorming.

What two common subjects would you combine to create an interesting story or character idea?

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