Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tempting Top 10 lists

That's my theme for the April A-Z blogging challenge -"Tempting Top 10 Lists."

I'd like to transition from a very narrow niche blog, focused on writing, to something broader that will appeal to more people - people who (in addition to all my wonderful writing friends) may be interested in reading my books someday when I get them published.
******We interrupt this post to announce the winner of Scarlet, the new YA retelling of Robin Hood (where Will Scarlet is a girl) by debut author A.C. Gaughen.  
This giveaway was part of the Kick-Butt Character blog hop in which I discovered dozens of new must-read books and new book bloggers. At, I entered a range from 1-77, the number of comments. That's a new record of comments for me! Phew - it's gonna take me a while to meet all the new people, but since they were willing to follow me, I'm eager to follow back. gave me the number nine - Laura Marcella you are the winner and I'll be emailing you for your address.
Okay, back to the program.

I've been pondering how to transition from a writing blog to something broader for months now, reading lots of posts (in particular author Roni Loren has addressed this issue really thoughtfully). The problem was figuring out what was I going to transition to?

I started experimenting with something new, my Friday "Mythical Madness" posts, because as y'all know I am crazy about mythical creatures - well, myths in general. I figured it was good to start with something I loved (because hey, it's worked really well with writing  (YES, I still plan to continue to post on writing on a regular basis, just like Roni Loren does). But blogging about mythical creatures is still a fairly narrow niche. (My younger children love it: my husband and teenager - not so much).

What better opportunity than the A-Z blogfest to stretch out and try new subjects? Y'all are going to get a buffet of topics, a hodgepodge, a veritable smorgasbord of everything I can think of that sounds tempting - from food to fantastical places and lots of stuff in between.  At first I was daunted by the idea of coming up with ideas for 26 posts in ONE MONTH, but when I started tossing some ideas around, things got a little crazy. Ideas started breeding like rabbits. Now I'm not claiming they were all particularly *good* ideas. Some of them might fail, spectacularly. But the only true failure is when you give up, right?

By the way, if you are interested in a truly mind-bending challenge, check out the Make Something 365 website. If you had unlimited time, what kind of creative challenge would you take on for 26 days (A-Z blogfest) or 365 days (Make Something challenge)?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A twist on a classic legend, and a Scarlet giveaway

As part of the Kick-butt Character Blog Hop, I'm giving away a copy of the debut author new YA release, Scarlet, by A.C. Gaughen. Visit the blog hop links below for a selection of over a hundred other book giveaways with characters that will make you want to stand up and cheer.

I couldn't resist a YA version of the Robin Hood legend - with a very intriguing twist.

Robin Hood's gang is almost as famous as he is: Little John, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian and Will Scarlet - well, in this case, Scarlet is a girl in disguise. And she is one tough knife-flinging, prison-breaking, don't-you-dare-send-a-guy to protect or rescue her girl.  And she really adds some interesting new tension between Robin and John Little. Makes you wonder where Maid Marian fits into this new take on the legend, doesn't it? Hah! I'm not telling.

What I love about this book:
You know how the Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is praised as being "pitch perfect" for its setting and time-period? Well, Scarlet's voice is "pitch-perfect" for medieval times (at least, it comes across that way). I was a little nervous at first with Scarlet's slang, but trust me, you're in the hands of a master with this book. I've read dozens of books with medieval settings, but Scarlet's perfect pitch has done the best job of pulling me into the time and setting.

How to Enter to win Scarlet:  become a follower of my blog and leave a comment with some way for me to reach you. Ends at midnight on March 28. One random winner will be picked from the comments.

Optional: what's your favorite legend? And what's your favorite twist on a legend? Oh, the possibilities! Take a look at this picture I found on Deviant Art - this twist on the Sleeping Beauty legend made my imagination go into overdrive... now I'm going to have come up with a story about a girl who wakes a sleeping prince with a kiss (after she's defeated the evil witch or queen in some clever way, of course).(Because being clever and loyal and helpful is just as kick-butt as throwing knives or martial art moves). 
Source: Sleeping Beauty by s-girl

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How to make writers laugh

An author and a brain surgeon went golfing one spring day and the brain surgeon said, "I'm taking six weeks off this summer to write a book!"

The author stared at his friend and said, "That's a stunning coincidence. I'm taking six weeks off this summer to become a brain surgeon."

Here's another good one: 

And here's a classic (click for larger text).

Please come back on Friday, I'll be having a giveaway for the newly-released YA book, Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen (as part of the Kick Butt Characters bloghop). 

Scarlet is the story of Robin Hood retold in young adult fashion and one of his cohorts is actually a girl in disguise. I can't resist a twist on a famous legend like this. More details on Friday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

38 ways to check for character life-signs

I procrastinate so badly with revisions that I have been known to clean my entire house instead. And once the house is clean,  I procrastinate further by compiling check-lists of things I need to consider when revising. Because putting together a check-list still makes me feel like I am getting revision done, even though I'm really not.

Here is the first of 5 checklists I have put together to help during revisions (with some additions in 2014: I'm up to 46 items on this checklist).

A picture of a handsome character doesn't hurt when working on your characterization, either. This one is from Pride and Prejudice (Rupert Friend as Wickham).

Character checklist

Main character: 

1. When you introduce your main character, is she/he doing something - an action distinctive to him/her that also raises a question and sets a hook?
2. Do you clearly state what your main character wants within the first few pages, and what's standing in their way?
3. Does your main character make an active choice instead of just reacting to what's thrown at him/her?
4. How many ways is your main character distinctive from others around him/her? Is it clear right away who the main character is? Does the main character get enough space? (in other words, don't introduce a bunch of characters all at once)
5. Does your main character have at least five problems that need "fixing"? Is at least one of those five things an internal conflict? Does he/she have an old wound from the past that affects them currently?
6. Does your main character have a "save the cat" action in the first five pages? (source: Blake Snyder)
7. Does your main character have some quirk, power, or characteristic we admire and would like to have? (source: Shallee MacArthur)
12. In the opening scenes, does your character state (in a dialogue) their view of the world and their circumstances? Luke Skywalker: "Well, if there’s a bright center to the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from." (source: Plot to Punctuation)
7. How many ways can you get the reader to "bond" with your character in the first chapter? (source: my post)

8. Does your main character have an affect on other character(s) around him?  (source: Donald Maass)
9. Is your main character affected by other character(s) around him? (source: Donald Maass)
10.  Does your main character have at least one difference from their stereotype (and possibly more)?
11. Does your main character have a distinctive view of the world? A distinctive attitude? (e.g. rebellious, inquisitive, carefree?) Does he/she directly or indirectly state the motto he/she lives by? (source: Roni Loren)
12. Does your character have distinctive dialogue, specific words they use? (source: Carolyn Mackler)
13. Does your main character purposefully notice somethings and ignore others? (source: Writer's Digest)
14. Does your main character's dominant sense (hearing, vision, taste, smell, touch) come through in the first scenes? (source: Writer's Digest)
15. Does your main character's temperament come through in the first scenes?  (competitive, problem-solver, peace-keeper, impulsive, pessimistic, etc - Meyers-Briggs interview questions are a great prep for this)
16. Does your main character have both specific and universal traits? (source: Linda Sue Park)
17. Does your character change over the course of the story? (character arc). Do they realize they need something other than what they thought when they first started out? Is the character arc related to the story's theme? (source: Stan Williams)
18. Have you filtered descriptions through your main character's point of view, for instance how does a particular setting make him/her feel? (source: Story Sensei)

Other characters: 

19. Do each of your characters have a goal, something important that they want, and preferably in some sort of conflict with the main character's?
20. Is there at least one thing standing in the way of each character's goal?
21.  In the opening scenes, do each of your important characters face a choice or handle a conflict in a way that defines their character? (source)
22. When a new character is introduced, do their interactions with the main character reflect their differences and showcase the side of the character that is most important to the narrative? (source: Sarah Crowe)
23. When a new character is introduced, is he/she introduced in a setting that reflects some aspect of his/her character? (source: Plot to Punctuation)
24. When a new character is introduced, does he/she come with a hint of mystery or something that makes you want to know more about their backstory? (source: Plot to Punctuation)
25. Does your main character have at least three things in opposition to (or opposite qualities of) other important supporting characters? (source: Donald Maass)
26. Is there at least one thing about important supporting character(s) that your main character will never understand? (source: Donald Maass)

27. Do your characters do at least one common thing in an uncommon way? (source: Donald Maass)
28.  Do your supporting characters have at least one difference from their stereotype?
29.  Are each of your characters hiding at least one thing?
30. Do your characters have distinctive voice and dialogue from each other, preferably reflecting their personality?
31. Do your characters have distinct body language and actions in line with their personality? (source: Patricia Wrede)
32. Is at least one of your supporting characters a foil?- a best friend, sidekick, mentor, romantic lead, parent or virtually any other character who serves as an example or contrast to the main character (Source: Adventures in Children's Publishing)
33. Is at least one of your supporting characters a mentor to the main character, providing help, advice, or support on their way to reaching their goal? (Source: Adventures in Children's Publishing)

The antagonist (if your antagonist is a person and not an event)

34. Does your antagonist have at least one likeable or sympathetic characteristic?
35. Does your antagonist have a valid reason for their resentment (or other motivation)?
36. Does something happen to your antagonist that changes his/her course or intensifies his/her goal? (source: my post)
37. Does your antagonist have at least one difference from their stereotype?
38. Does your antagonist want or need whatever he/she is going after at least as much as the main character wants to achieve his/her goal? (Source: Adventures in Children's Publishing)
2014 addition: some great ideas from James Scott Bell's book, Write Your Novel from the Middle, that I thought should be added to the checklist:

39. How original is your character? Unique in some way?
40. How unpredictable is your character? Does he/she make decisions or respond in ways the reader won't see coming?
41. Does your character feel passionate about something? (goals, beliefs, etc)
42. What is your character opinionated about?
43. Does your character have opposing needs or desires, or experience conflicting emotions?
44. Is your character resourceful? do they solve a problem with a special skill or talent?
45. Do you show your character doing something even though they don't want to do it?
46. Does your character have a noble purpose? Do they overcome their own internal issues and fears or selfishness to act on behalf of others?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mythical books with horns and wings

IMAGES REMOVED in case of potential copyright violation (7/27/12)

Welcome to another edition of Mythical Madness - but instead of featuring mythical creatures today, I'm featuring mythical books. Sort of. (Sorry, no bookish horns or wings. That was just a fun thought and silly title).

Clarification: there are lots of books about myths, but that's not what I mean.

To my thinking, a mythical book would be a book that plays a part in a myth, and I know I've come across stories where the hero or heroine has to search for a mysterious or magical book that contains a secret or clue or spell... or books that write themselves... books that erase themselves... but for some reason I can't recall the names of the stories or myths or the books themselves (help!)

So, in lieu of actual books from myths, I present some magical pictures of books.

I live my life by this famous quote from C.S. Lewis -  You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.

This picture is called Dragon Tamer, by Lynn Lupetti, and it tempts me to write a story about dragons that cannot be conquered by the sword but only by words read-out-loud from a magic book. (image removed)

These books are so magical that they bring life to to the bookshelf they inhabit: (image remove)

Another magical bookshelf (image removed: a girl climbing a giant bookshelf where the books are as large as her) that inspires stories in my head about what kind of books a giant might read (just the thought of a book-reading giant instead of your typical club-wielding giant is delightful, isn't it?)

And please, PLEASE tell me about any magical or mysterious books from myths you might have heard of.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Middle Earth vs. Hogwarts vs. Damar

If I could have one ticket to any fictional world, I'd be torn between Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Narnia and now...a place called Damar, brought to life in The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley (and it's prequel, The Hero and the Crown).
I don't have a source (darn you, Tumblr) - please tell me if you know the source.

WARNING: this post is just a pure outpouring of love for a book. The kind of book that glows with its own warmth on a rainy day, like the one in this picture:
Again, I don't have a source (darn you, Pinterest) - please tell me if you know the source.
My first clue that I would love The Blue Sword came when the girl at the library who checked it out for me  said, "Oh, this is one of my favorite books. It's wonderful."

Wonderful is such an overused word we don't appreciate it anymore. But to be full of wonder is to think or speculate curiously, or to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; to marvel.

Among a million words, wonder ranks in the top ten. I think it outranks even beauty, because it has more dimensions than beauty. Really, I think maybe only love has more dimensions than wonder.

And so the highest compliment I can give a book is when it inspires love or wonder.

I started re-reading this book the moment I finished it. I'm reading it more slowly this time (I had to buy myself a copy, of course), savoring every moment, dwelling over paragraphs, soaking in the setting, smiling every moment.

This is the kind of book where if you are blue, having a bad day, you can pick it up and open to any random page, read for 10 minutes and it makes you - oh, the word isn't just happy, or excited, or inspired, or transported, - ah - it's all of those, which "wonder" marvelously encompasses.

On to specifics. 10 reasons (in no particular rank) why The Blue Sword fills me with wonder:

1) It's Victorian England/British Empire meets the Riders of Rohan (desert version). I could try to explain this, but it's much more fun to read it in the book.

2) It's got a magic with character. Kelar is a sort of living magic with its own will and purpose and apparent capriciousness.

3) The main protagonist is a girl named Harry Crewe.
All the buzz these days is about how readers want strong, resourceful women, fighters who might swoon over hot men but certainly don't have to be saved by them. Well, 30 years ago this book introduced a young woman who learns to wield a sword as well as any man, without bearing a grudge, a death-wish, revenge-wish, or even a chip on her shoulder. And her name is Harry Crewe. I  LOVE that name!
Gypsy, by Volker on 500px (Harry, minus the head-dress)

4) Corlath, the Hill-king You get to know him, but you never really KNOW him. I missed him in every scene he wasn't present. The man can start fires with his eyes, though he doesn't (except once) - it's not like a superpower; he is much too subtle.
Luke Goss in One Night With the King
Maybe not the best picture of him (but I couldn't resist the crown). Try this one:

5) Horses you must ride without reins. 
Windrose by *anndr on Deviant Art

6) A character that begs to be played by Patrick Stewart.
Patrick Stewart as Gurney Halleck in Dune
That would be Colonel Dedham (and Anthony Hopkins would be a great Mathin, by the way). 

7) Hunting cats. You know how you can train dogs and falcons to hunt for you? You can train cats, too, in Damar.

8) Wryness.  A great book will have many tones, but one overarching tone that raises the book head and shoulders above other mere novels, and this book is all about wryness. Isn't that a cool word, all by itself? Well, you just have to read it in action in this book.

9) Jumping points of view.
Not many authors can succeed in this; truly I think this is the second crowning achievement of a great author, getting the reader to move from one character's head to another's without blinking an eye (the first is, of course, stirring a reader so deeply they can't stop thinking about a book). I LOVE jumping around in the heads of different characters when it is skillfully done. It adds such richness to the story. You rarely see it even tried anymore.

10) Plot.
You really have to admire a plot that runs straight and true, beautifully simple, and yet avoids being predictable.You know what's going to happen, but it's HOW it's going to happen that keeps you turning pages breathlessly.

Well done, Blue Sword. Well done.  My world is brighter now that I have found this story.

My only question is, why did I find this in the middle grade shelves? Is it because the animals seem to talk? (even though they don't actually). Harry, the main character, is at least old enough to get married, though her age is never stated. You could call it either young adult OR adult fantasy. This is one of those universal books that appeals to all ages.

In case this post wasn't long enough (ha!), here's a link to my Goodreads review of the Blue Sword, which is three times the length. Yeah, I'm that crazy about this book.

What's the last book that had you casting characters for a movie while you were reading it?
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