Monday, March 28, 2011

What am I here for?

I don't like the term "platform." What image does it conjure up in your head? I see spotlights and microphones and pressure to perform, even when it's a virtual spotlight/microphone on the internet.
I see regular schedules, planned events, a certain flair.

I am not keen on those things (though I admire folks who can pull off a genuine platform). I feel uncomfortable in the spotlight. Hey, I'm a writer! I want to direct all my attention to my characters!

Even when I'm teaching (I teach GIS software classes), I'm happiest when I'm directing questions back to my students and hearing their thoughts and ideas. And that is what I love about blogging. I get to share a little bit of what's going on in my head, I can get your thoughts and ideas and input, there's a wonderful interchange that isn't under any pressure, and I don't have to be in a spotlight.
I don't think of my blog as a platform. I'm not selling anything and I don't have an agenda.
However, I do wish my blog had a little more focus. Things are pretty random here. I haven't even been able to settle on posting on Mondays and Thursdays vs. Tuesdays and Fridays.
This weekend I discovered a wonderful blog called Shrinking Violets Promotions with a tag line "marketing for introverts." The word marketing almost scared me away. The word introverts pulled me back.
(begin tangent)
Holy Toledo, if you're an introvert, or doth protest too much that you are not but suspect that introversion lurks down deepeth, then you've got to read their Introverts' Bill of Rights. Extroverts must read this too. It will help you understand us, though you will still roll your eyes at us just as much, if not more.
oooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOooooooooo (that's me rolling some virtual eyes at myself)
(/end tangent)
So after reading the Bill of Rights and feeling like I should start wearing a "I am an introvert and proud of it" badge, I found their Online Persona Workshop. I liked the idea of developing an online persona much more than developing an online platform.
I have a weakness for Wikipedia like I do for chocolate, and ye ol Wiki says this of persona:
In ancient Latin, persona meant "mask." Today it does not usually refer to a literal mask but to the "social masks" all humans supposedly wear.
But as I read more about the Shrinking Violet version of persona, it sounded more like the opposite of a social mask. They call an online persona "an internet presence that you are comfortable with, that makes you accessible, and doesn’t feel like shilling." It's about being genuine - not about wearing masks.
Discovering one’s online persona is very much like discovering one’s writing voice; a fascinating and enriching journey inward. It’s more a matter of uncovering and re-connecting with what already exists in the first place. To really be effective at this, you need to wipe away market considerations and popularity considerations and go authentic. Just like the strongest writing voice, the strongest online persona will come from that truly authentic place.
OOOhhhh! An analogy relating to voice! I'm sooooooo hooked.
The workshop is a series of ten exercises - I tried the first one "Why do you want to be online?" and I loved the results. So I think what I'm going to do (remember now, this blog has an element of randomness, so no plans are set in stone) is post about each of the ten exercises as I work my way through them. With feedback from you guys. Because I love your feedback. I crave your thoughts and ideas.
And if anyone wants to join me on this developing your persona thing, that's be bonus, like chocolate ice-cream with thick ribbons of fudge kind of bonus.
At the end of it I hope I'll have a little more focus here to tie together all the oxygen-deprived thoughts that come from Writing at High Altitude.
So, why do I want to be online? Not to market myself, that's for darn sure. As I worked through the exercise (which includes making a list of your ten favorite places on the internet and finding if there is anything in common with them), this is what I came up with:
First of all: I want to be online to connect with other people. With writers and readers and magic-bean eaters. I love to ask questions and hear crazy wonderful answers from right field, left field and from the peanut gallery. It expands my little world and inspires my oxygen-deprived brain cells.
Second of all: I love encouraging people. A lot of us are on this bumpy road of creativity that we hope might lead to publication. A road with roller-coaster thrills, abrupt turns, dead-ends, and weird round-abouts. It's a lot easier to navigate this road with help. Other people can provide the expert help. I like to provide the "I'm here with you, keep writing!" help. And the occasional "I discovered this cool thing that helped me, maybe it will help you too." For those of you querying (I'm not there yet) I'm your cheerleader on the side-lines.
More about persona next week. Right now, I'd love to hear your reasons for being on-line. And what are your favorite blogs to follow?

p.s. you've got to check out Janet Johnson's and Vicki Rocho's Brawl & Haul contest! It's a girl-fight and funny and you can win a 10 page crit from agent Sarah LaPolla! Open until April 1st.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Nature of Magic

My fellow crusaders Laura Diamond and Tessa Conte are hosting the Nature of Magic blogfest today and tomorrow. A chance to share what magic means to our characters. They are also offering chapter critiques to three finalists.

And hey, just so you know, there's also a chance to win critiques over at Oasis for YA until April 1st.

This 465-word excerpt is from my YA historical fantasy, A Handful of Scars. The scene is where sixteen year-old Sidain learns a little about the magic she's about to inherit.

“Sidain,” Ehrulen said, startling me out of a wind-induced reverie. I’d almost forgotten he was sitting behind me. “Tell me your first impression.”

I hesitated. My first time ever out on a boat - I felt a little queasy, and a little thrilled. I thought about how my mother had loved the sea, and my face tightened. I did not want to tell him any of this.

The wind shifted, making the sail snap and shudder. The rope-man adjusted the sail until it caught the wind again. I staggered, trying to keep my balance as the boat heeled over.

"Tension," I said.

Ehrulen lifted his shaggy eyebrows almost high enough for me to see his eyes.

“Go on,” he said.

“Um, the wind is moving us, but it’s a tense kind of movement. Not relaxing and mindless like walking. It’s like riding a half-broke horse, about to take off running without warning.”


“And far more powerful,” I said. “I feel so – exposed out here.” Especially since I couldn't see the shore now. Why couldn't we sail parallel to the shore, instead of away from it? We were surrounded by wind and water, with only some planks of wood and a square of sailcloth between us and those two dominant elements.

“Which is more powerful, the wind or the waves?” Ehrulen asked.

He was testing me. I thought about how the wind stirred up the waves, making it seem the more powerful of the two. The sky had greater breadth, spreading out across both land and sea. And it had unmeasurable height, probably even higher than the sea’s depth. But the water – it had weight. The wind could ruffle its surface, but the surface only. The waves were a meaningless movement compared to the great currents underneath, and beneath those the depths where only the sea monsters could possibly live.

“The wind is greater than the waves,” I finally answered. “But the depths are more powerful than both.”

Ehrulen stared at me. I ran my tongue over my lips, and the wind immediately dried them.

“We can harness the wind and ride the waves in this boat,” he said, with a nod. “We can choose our direction and travel across the world faster than by any other means. But.” He stopped, and I knew he was waiting for me to answer.

“But… we don’t really control the elements.”

He nodded again. Then he stood up beside me. He had perfect sea legs, like the rope-man. We both stood facing into the wind, and when he spoke, his words barely reached me before the wind snatched them away.

“So it is with the power of Lassil, Sidain. We harness its power like the sail harnesses the wind. But we never truly control it.”
So there you have it. I'm traveling on Sunday March 27, but I promise to visit more folks in the blogfest on Monday!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An unconventional voice technique

The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud, features a main character that is a 5,000 year old djinn (genie), with the ultimate know-it-all, how-can-I-mess-up-your-life attitude.

(If you haven't noticed by now, I jabber a lot about mythical creatures. I've been overdue to feature a djinn; these "spirits of smokeless fire" are one of my top three fav critters, along with dragons and gryffins.)

Bartimaeus, this djinn full of delicious attitude, already has a strong voice. But the author uses an unconventional technique to ramp up the voice even more. Here's an excerpt in the first chapter (no spoilers) where an inexperienced 12 year old magician is foolish enough to summon Baritmaeus:
You don't often get small ones like this squirt calling up entities like me, in the first place. The kid cleared his throat. This was the moment. This is what he'd been building up to. He'd been dreaming of this for years, when he should have been lying on his bed thinking about racing cars or girls. I waited grimly for the pathetic request. What would it be? Levitating some object was a usual one, or moving it from one side of the room to the other. Perhaps he'd want me to conjure an illusion. That might be fun: there was bound to be a way of misinterpreting his request and upsetting him.(3)
That (3) is a superscript (my html skills were unable to duplicate this in true stunning superscript form). The superscript references the following footnote:
(3) One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life. I rustled up a mirror.
The book is FULL of footnotes. It's got more footnotes than a phd dissertation.

And I had a blast reading it (without any flashbacks to college research papers). Many of the scenes are written in the young magician's point of view (no footnotes) and he's a bit of a melancholy character, so I was always happy to get back to the point of view of Bartimaeus with his endless bottom-of-the-page quips (there's at least one footnote for every three pages of Bartimaeus). I thought it was a powerful method to ramp up the character's voice without overwhelming the plot by hanging too many fanciful ornaments on it.

But I was curious what other readers thought of this unconventional method, especially the target 9-12 year old age range for this book. You can't tell the age of reviewers on Goodreads (thank heavens for that, in my case) but I did notice that quite a few reviewers didn't like all the footnotes. Some mentioned that they were distracting and made the book hard to read, constantly having to jump down to the bottom of the page and then find your location in the text again.

What do you think? Do you enjoy skipping up and down the page to enjoy funny anecdotes in a strong voice? Or would you rather sacrifice some voice for a "smoother" reading experience? And has anyone run across any other unconventional methods for developing voice?

P.S. C.A. Marshall posted statistics on genre that entered for her "win a free professional edit" contest. Really interesting results broken down by adult, YA and MG and includes number of boy MCs vs. girl MCs.

P.P.S. I finished and reviewed Like Mandarin, by Kirsten Hubbard, and it's wondddddddddderful (all the d's means it's spreading wonderful germs). There's a mythical creature in this book, too! Really! I contest that it should be listed as paranormal YA instead of contemporary YA. Here's proof:
I wished for the power to destroy whatever monster made her sabotage herself. If one even existed. Maybe it was Mandarin's official mythological creature.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Show me the voice

It's time for the "Show Me the Voice" blogfest, hosted by Brenda Drake. Natalie Fischer with the Bradford Literary agency has critiques for three winners, and she has a couple of great posts on voice HERE and HERE.

Also, there's great opportunity at YAtopia to get your two sentence pitch seen by an agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. Open until March 24 at midnight or until 150 entries.

Here's the first 250 words of my YA historical fantasy, A Handful of Scars. Please give me your feedback - I'll be visiting the blogs for all my commenters in return (as always).

It all started when my mother asked me what I wanted for my birthday.

“Our old place back at court,” I said, glancing around our one-room hut and at my frayed sleeves. I don’t miss all the finery so much as I miss the respect we used to have. People bowed to us when we passed by. Now they throw clods of manure.

My mother didn’t say anything but her shoulders slumped. Hornets. I’ve never learned to think before I speak. I hadn’t meant to upset her. It’s not her fault that… no, stop right there. Not going back to those old memories.

Our door-guardian bared its teeth and flicked its tail at me. Just being protective of my mum, but I hate it when it gets hissy with me. I shot an imaginary arrow at it.

My mother frowned. I shrugged.

“You know what I want for my birthday, mum.” I sidled up to her. “Same thing I’ve always wanted. A living-stone.”

“Sidain.” She said my name like a sigh. “You know I can’t. It’s too dangerous. If they catch you with one – ”

The door-guardian interrupted with a squawk, flapping its wings wildly. It couldn’t fly – it’s not a real gryffin, just a pathetic clay imitation of one, animated by my mother’s living-stone. But I have to give it credit for its sharp ears. Someone was approaching, someone our guardian didn’t trust.

My mother spoke a charm and the gryffin froze into a statue, just as the door burst open.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Leprechaun vs Gancanagh: character showdown

IMAGES removed in case of copyright violations (7/27/12)

It's bugging me that I'm forgetting something today. Something to do with... wearing a certain color? honoring part of my heritage? Maybe it'll come to me...

Meanwhile, I was wondering what mythical creature could I use as a character in a YA paranormal novel to catapult me to stardom?* (or stardoom, as I originally spelled it; aahh the irony) Vampires and werewolves abound. Angels and demons are close behind. Fairies and their fey variations are a-plenty.

Not sure what made me think of the Irish today, but I decided to look up some Celtic mythological creatures.

Leprechauns would appear, at first glance, to be cliche. They've been commercialized to death on cereal boxes and sports teams. They abound in poems and short stories. But I couldn't find a single modern YA novel with a significant leprechaun character. Come on, people, leprechauns are hard to catch but if you can, you get three wishes! Or a new pair of shoes! They may be old and wizened in appearance, but they are supposedly fabulous dressers, very debonair.

It might be tricky to turn a leprechaun into a sexy male love interest - but he could play a great antagonist. Or your MC's clever friend. Maybe a paranormal negotiator. And who says we have to keep to traditional descriptions, anyway? Why not a tall, handsome leprechaun half-blood? Hmmm.... (image removed of famous actor in leprechaun hat)

Now let's look at the gancanagh, also known as a love talker. We already know there's some potential here, if you've ever read Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series. Niall is a gancanagh faerie, but there's definitely room for more of these characters in YA. The Gancanagh description from Monstropedia:

Gancanagh seduced young maidens with his enchanting voice and whispered nonsense then would promptly disappear, leaving the maiden to cry away for him. Few of his victims live for very long afterwards dying of despair and a broken heart. To meet him meant bad luck, and whoever was ruined by ill-judged love was said to have been with the gancanagh.

In traditional lore, a Gancanagh is supposed to look similar to a leprechaun, complete with a clay pipe. But a creature that's called a Love Talker, and can make humans girls pine after him, even to their death? Move over sexy vampire, this guy sounds like serious competition. With a little imagination, maybe someone like this? (image removed of young man smoking pipe) 

So, what's your vote for the next YA paranormal star? Leprechaun or gancanagh?

*I'm not gifted at sarcasm, apparently. This post was just written to have fun on St Patty's Day... y'all are taking me way too seriously. Er, well, the picture of the pipe dude does give me some ideas.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bear wrestling, sumo style

My posts are always writing or story-telling related, even if the relation is sometimes as slim as a politician's promises. The disaster in Japan has been very much on my mind, and all my little writing ups and downs and discoveries seem like minor silly things right now.

I'm sure everyone has seen the sob-inducing scenes of tsunami destruction. But it's so easy to forget about other people's problems, especially if you don't have any personal connection there. I don't know anyone from Japan or even anybody that's been to visit there! My sum total knowledge of Japan is from WWII war films my dad loves and from Memoirs of a Geisha.

To educate myself and my little girls a little more about Japan, we've been looking at maps and pictures and I've been reading them some Japanese folktales. Which is where the bear-wrestling comes in (and the link to writing/storytelling).

Kintaro is the folktale of a little boy with super-human power. His mother was forced to flee to the mountains when he was a baby. He grew up with animals as his friends and he would sumo-wrestle with bears (doesn't that conjure up quite the image!!)

Instead of riding a horse, Kintaro used a bear as his mount. His great strength was witnessed by a samurai, who asked the wild boy to join him. He was reluctant to leave his mother all alone (ah, the tender-hearted hero) but with her encouragement he went on to become a great samauri and win renown by defeating a terrible ogre (a Japanese "oni" - just discovered me a new mythical creature - cool!)

Just to balance all the depressing images we've been seeing on the news from Japan, I'm including a couple beautiful pictures. I'm a geographer, so I'm always fascinated by unique land forms and natural wonders. This is a picture of Amanohashidate, a natural land bridge on the western shore of Honshu, the largest island of Japan (did you know Japan has over 3000 islands? though only 426 are inhabited).

Japan is also famous for its gardens. This a picture of Kenroku-en at fall, click the link to see many more beautiful photos. Both the land bridge and the garden were unaffected by the earthquake.

I hope this story and these pictures keep you thinking of Japan and sending hope and prayers to the hundreds of thousands affected by the earthquake.

Other more encouraging news: did you hear Carolina Valdez Miller got an agent! YAYYYYYY! She and some friends are hosting a hugi-humungi-awesomi collection of giveaways. And I hope you've heard of Tahereh Mafi's excellent book deal news, too. If you haven't discovered their blogs yet, I predict your week will be considerably brightened now that you have.

My writing life had a little brightening/inspiring moment this weekend, too, when my daughter brought home her school art on Friday and showed me her drawing of a heart garden.

Heart Garden.

What image do those two words generate in your imagination? My little brain just went OOO-AHHH at that image. Take two unrelated things - hearts and gardens - and put them together and all sorts of new ideas bloom out of that union.

Have you had any unexpected ideas or inspirations lately, or something beautiful that came out of a disaster?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Screenwriting tips for novelists

I used to ignore anything to do with screen-writing. I wasn't exactly a snob - but well, yeah, maybe I was. Scripts just seem so bare-boned! They only come alive when actors start to work their magic!

Turns out, just because you don't plan to write in that format doesn't mean you can't learn a whole lot from it.

Laura Pauling has an excellent post on Should writers follow screen-writing tips, with good reasons why you might, and might not. Using Save the Cat, a screen-writing book by Blake Snyder, she does a bang-up analysis of How to Train a Dragon (movie) and Princess for Hire (book). I learned a ton, and I'm waiting for my bookstore get in my order of Save the Cat.

In the meantime, I had fun looking up some screen-writing stuff on the web.

10 screen-writing tips you can learn from Raiders of the Lost Ark: at least five of these tips apply to novels as well as movies. Here's one that really jumped at me: the Power of an Active Protagonist. This refers to:
the hero who makes his own way, who drives the story forward instead of letting the story drive him. In the very first scene, it’s Indiana Jones who’s going after that gold idol. It’s him driving the pursuit of the Ark. It’s him who decides to seek out Marion. It’s him who digs in the alternate location in Cairo. Indiana Jones' CHOICES are what push this story forward.
(Important to note: these are tips, not rules. Some of my favorite characters are ones that have to deal with situations that are dropped on them. But even with reactive characters, it's good that they react actively. Ahem. React actively? Anyone got a less tongue-twisterish way to say that?)

Another screen-writing post: the 11 laws of great storytelling. The first few of these 11 "laws" are specific to movies, but when you get down to #8 - #11 there are some things that novelists might prick up their ears and pay attention too as well, such as
Be aware of theme, and keep it consistent throughout the script. Theme is a tough nut to crack. When I ask my students the theme of Die Hard, they often restate the film’s core concept (or, in Hollywood terms, the “logline”), saying something like, “It’s about a cop thwarting a group of international terrorists while saving his wife and a bunch of innocent people.” While this is true, it doesn’t quite touch on theme... Die Hard is really about a man trying to reconnect with his wife.
I think this applies to novelists because I've recently read several posts about what agents want out of a pitch. They want to hear your book's title, genre, wordcount, logline and THEME.

Here's a website,, that provides structure analysis of many movies including Inception, Toy Story 2, Thelma and Louise, Juno, A Beautiful Mind, The Incredibles, Jaws... the list goes on. An incrediable story-teller's resource. Alot of the analysis is based on the Hero's Journey, an analysis of the universal (maybe) structure that underlies all (maybe) stories. Just to prove how powerful this Hero's Journy thingie is, at first glance you may not see much in common between James Cameron's Avatar and Disney's Pocahantas. Then again:

One last amazing resource: a series of posts called the "Hero Project" at the Cockeyed Caravan, a screen-writing blog. Look for the Hero Project in the side bar of this blog to see a list of all the posts, but it basically culminates in this amazing post, Putting It Altogether, where you get a great analysis of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo and- (be careful) - maybe an analysis of your own life, too.

Okay my writerly friends: on a scale of 1-10, how helpful do you think screen-writing tips are for novelists?

Right now I'm at 7, but like all things with me, that's subject to whims and moods (grin). On a totally unrelated note, an update on my writing progress. Stalled. Severly stalled (not blocked... just... need to push past this awkward transition scene I'm in right now).

The past week I've been having fun with this little saying:

The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

I'm soooooo not a morning person. This saying provides hope for late-risers and maybe a little also for stalled writers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The experience. The sensation.

I've been mulling over this point from Alexandra Sokoloff's great post on first chapters:


I cannot possibly stress this enough. We read novels to have an EXPERIENCE. Make yourself a list of your favorite books and identify what EXPERIENCE those books gives you. Sex, terror, absolute power, the crazy wonderfulness of falling in love? What is the particular rollercoaster that that book (or movie) is? Identify that in your favorite stories and BE SPECIFIC. Then do the same for your own story.

So I started doing what she recommended, thinking about my favorite books (and movies) and what experience they delivered and how they did it. Problem is, many books deliver multiple experiences. I'd love to hear if any one has some example of this experience/sensation thing that really jumped out at you lately from a book or movie.

Switch in topics now, I'll try not to derail you (Sorry, I watched the movie Unstoppable last night. Wow. Talk about specifc images and a suspenseful "experience"!) I'm always thankful when someone mentions me on their blog, like Shelley Batt and Alison Stevens did when passing the Versatile and Stylish blogger awards on to me. It's wonderful to have your words acknowledged by someone else in the wide, wide world - which is the beauty of Rachael Harrie's Crusader project. E.J. Wesley, a member of my Crusader group, expanded on this idea by going one step beyond passing on a award: he's taking the time each week to highlight one or two bloggers. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I was sincerely impressed by his idea. So here goes:

You may have noticed that my blog isn't very visual. I sometimes copy images from google and flickr, but it takes such a long time to find that perfect visual that matches my thoughts and intents... yeah, I'm just lazy that way. But I LOVE other blogs that are visually creative. This week I'm highlighting these three bloggers who are creative visually and with their bloggerly words too:

EJ Wesley (
the Open Vein) - because of his great "highlight" idea (why did it take me so long to realize that best kind of promotion we can give ourselves is to promote others? Seriously!) And also he's so wonderfully off-the-wall (great selection of pics and videos) and at the same time dead-on with writerly observations about everything from coffee houses to music industry to the book industry. Still grinning over his take on territorialism in coffee houses.

Candice Kennington (
Suffering from Writer's Blog) - she's unpretentious and funny (both with her stick figures and her snippets of life), which is a special combination.You gotta read this post about "buss" - can't help myself, gotta give you a sample:
Me: "My blogger friend Chantele (proceeds to explain blog)... So do you know what the word buss means?"
Husband: (thinks for several seconds...) "Is it some kind of stick?"

Me: (overly pleased that I've stumped him for once and still ticked about losing Trivial Pursuit hundreds of times) "Nope!! You're wrong. You're wrong. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah." (Okay, I didn't actually say that, but my eyes did. I then told him the definition and my sentence.)"Wasn't my sentence a clever tongue twister? Are you sad that yoooouuuu didn't know the word?"

Husband: "Buss my Butt!"

Me: (Feigning shock and indignation and then laughing)

Husband: "or better yet, buss off."

Me: "Hey!"

Husband: "I'm sorry, was that the buss of death?"

Me: (Laughing, again)

Husband: "Here let me make it up to you." (Begins to sing) "Buss-a-me, buss-a-me muuuuuuuchooooooo..."
Akossket (Nye Louwon - My Spirit) - because her blog's tagline "a search for the writer in me" is so beautifully and openly shared both in her words and her sketches. I really want to post a copy of that sketch here, because I've felt the exact same way a million times (writing her right now for permission to post sketch)

More highlights in future posts...
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