Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to Make Time Magically Appear

For the past two weeks, I've been getting up earlier than roosters three days a week to run for 20 minutes before I wake my kids up for school. "Earlier than roosters" means exactly 5:15.

On Wednesday my husband kissed me good-bye while I was still lying down, which was so completely not part of the plan that I leaped out of bed. You should know that leaping out of bed is not something I do often. Most often I move out of bed by millimeters, but if he was kissing me goodbye, that could mean only one thing.

It was 5:47. Dangitall, I needed to get that 20 minutes of running in somehow!  I got dressed as fast as I could and sprinted to the treadmill. As I ran, I entertained myself by imagining what the rest of the morning was going to look like. It was going to be ugly, of that I was certain.

After running, I took the quickest shower ever, and rushed into my son's bedroom to send him scurrying into the shower. Only then did I look at the clock. Somehow, miraculously, I was back on schedule. It was 6:20.

It was like having an extra half hour appear in my morning.

You'd think I would remember something magical happening like that, but I quickly forgot. I blame the mist from the Percy Jackson series. You know the one that keeps the dull, regular humans from noticing magic... Then I started doing research for this blog post. I haven't gotten nearly as much writing done as I need to lately, so I began googling topics like "finding time to write" and "how famous authors find time to write."

I quickly realized that time doesn't really magically appear in my morning. It's impossible to 'find time to write'. I have the same 26,400 seconds in my day that Stephen King has in his, and he writes 10 pages every single day!

What I realize, looking back on my Wednesday morning amazingness was that by inching out of bed millimeter by millimeter, by staring vacantly at the wall for who knows how long after I finally stand up, or whatever else it is I do in the morning, I manage to waste half an hour.

The lesson?
Any task will expand to fill the time allotted to it.

Writers fall victim to this trap all the time. Such a large part of writing is spent inside our own heads, or "getting ourselves out there" on the internet that it's incredibly easy to never actually GET to the writing part.

What can we do about it?

JK Rowling says:
“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.” 

Shannon Hale says:
Oh man, I am so sapped. I am a Vermont maple in winter. I've got two mobile almost-one-year-olds and a 4 yo and 7 yo and a husband, who counts as maybe a 10 yo... Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, I'm in no shape to be dolling out advice. I barely survive. I'm sure you know what I mean. This marvelous, marvelous chaos. But my center is my creative time. For 2 1/2 hours four times a week, I have a babysitter, and I close my door and write. Turn off the mommy craziness, turn on Writer Woman. It's not an easy transition, but I have to do it. I just have to.

There's the key! Somehow find time to devote to writing. Set clear goals about how much I am going to accomplish.

Here are 2 great posts about squashing productivity into its allotted time:

Finally, I want to tell Sarah how much her posts inspired me, and how much I will miss them. She's figured out another key to being productive: figure out your priorities and give them priority in your life. Thank you Sarah. You will be missed.

Friday, March 30, 2012

On Writing, rules, and life

This is going to be my last blog post, for a while at least, so as a farewell I decided to condense all of my stored-up wisdom into a crash course in Sarah-thought. The textbook for this course is Stephen King’s On Writing. Don’t worry if you haven’t done the reading; I quote the important parts.

Writers love rules. They give us goals, guidelines for revision, and nits to pick—not to mention fodder for arguments. On Writing has rules about everything from active voice to daily word counts. King advocates pantsing over plotting, though he doesn't acknowledge the level of storytelling genius he brings to that equation. He is a Strunk & White devotee, as every writer should be. Most famously, he admonishes against adverbs and overzealous dialogue tags:

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

If you have a rotten tomato handy, get ready to throw it at me. (That was a metaphor. I am not responsible for damage to your screen.) 

Here goes: I think the occasional adverb can useful. Consider:
Option 1: “I trust your judgment,” he said, but she knew from the tone of his voice and the faraway look in his eyes that he wasn’t really paying attention.
Option 2: “I trust your judgment,” he said absently.
The first is more descriptive, but what if that extra sentence slows down my pacing? I don’t buy the argument that tone can always be inferred from well-crafted dialogue. Sometimes I want a mismatch between what is said and how it’s said. An adverb can handle that problem just fine. You may call it lazy; I call it efficient.

I know better than to argue for an adverb beyond the confines of this post. But while I'm still on my soapbox, I’ve gotta say what’s in my rebel (gangsta) heart: Adverbs are just words, yo.

Mary Sue and Gary Stu's love triangle
has a heartbreak-free resolution,
 and all utterances are adverbial.
Travesty... or delightful classic? 

“To write adverbs is human, to write he said and she said is divine.”

Simplicity in dialogue tags seems as much a fashion as a rule. I just finished reading my well-worn copy of Maysie Greig’s Janice, a pulp romance published in 1932 that elevates creative dialogue attribution to art. The characters are pinnacles of propriety and there isn’t a hint of sex anywhere in the book, yet the male love interest managed to ejaculate twice. That was the only tag that gave me pause, but maybe my reaction says more about loss of innocence than abuse of vocabulary. The book was still a page-turner, still rich with well-crafted detail, and still one of my favorites.

The Heart of the Matter

I may quibble, but all of King’s advice is solid. My real argument is with those who quote his rules of mechanics while ignoring the heart of the book, which is this:
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. […] Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.
Drink and be filled up.”

The Unbreakables

Back to rules. Maybe it’s the beach living, but as I get older I’m becoming one of those free spirits who owns a few too many peasant skirts and tends to say: Rules, schmules. I advocate learning rules only so that breaking them becomes a conscious choice.

Even in my most contrary moods, though, I still think two of King's rules are unbreakable. The first is a practical matter:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
The second is about finding balance:
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around."

Moving Furniture 

Sadly, not my actual desk.
I have to say thank you to the wonderful Prosers who invited me here. Thank you for your support, for your friendship, for the chance to have my voice heard. The inspiration I’ve found from your posts is part of what helped me recognize when I was starting to lose my way. When I was getting busy instead of getting happy.

It’s time to push my metaphorical desk into the corner. Writing isn’t the only water that’s free, that sustains me, that’s magic. My five-year-old read Hop on Pop to me the other night. He truly read, and he was so proud of himself. 

During the hour or two I can steal while the kids are in school, I want to focus on finishing a first novel that I might be at least a little bit proud of, starting a sure-to-be-better second novel, and reconnecting with the joy in fiction. But when the school bell rings, my laptop really ought to turn into a pumpkin. 

(Don't worry. You'll find me lurking around these parts after dark, like a vampire...)

With love to Sheena, MaryAnn, Sabrina, Susan, and Melanie. Drink and be filled up.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Collaborative Writing Part 2: letter games

All while writing my post last week about collaborative writing in the form of real-time collaborative writing, I was thinking about my original collaborative writing project: letter games.

It all started when I came across a book by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. 

The authors wrote the book entirely by sending letters to each other from the point of view of their characters. The picked a setting ahead of time… and then were not allowed to discuss plot at all, just let it develop naturally. And yes, it has to be real letters. Or else it's not quite so fun to get the story in the mail.

The idea of not knowing where my plot is going today makes me want to hide under the kitchen table with a mug of hot cocoa and a flamethrower to use on anyone who tries to take my outlining away. But five years ago, when I was young and carefree, it seemed like a bold adventure.  So I roped in my good friend and fellow writer Teri, and we got to work.

Teri and I ended up working on two letter games. The second never quite finished, which is entirely my fault, unfortunately. But it was amazing to watch how these letters and the plots involved.

Even then, I tried to plan and steer the plot certain ways. But Teri, living thousands of miles away in North Queensland, Australia, often failed to heed my attempted psychic transmissions on how to shape the story. She'd end up taking the plot somewhere fantastic but entirely different. And thus I was forced to abandon my supposedly brilliant plan and come up with something else - which invariably turned out to be better than my original idea.

I love the places you can go from writing a generic letter from an interesting character. And thus, a headstrong businesswoman in future LA and a colleague in Australia turned into an international conspiracy of government magicians, mysterious pendants, and an epic showdown in a South American jungle. AND, I got one of my first published stories out of Sasha, my character (in combination with a Hatrack Contest). The story, called "Tacos of the Apocalypse" was published at the (appropriately titled)

For the second game, a young woman in a convent and her roving warrior lover turned into the ultimate battle of good and evil featuring elves, dragons, and a game with the devil itself. That's the one we didn’t finish, even though I came up with the Best Ending Ever for the game Sage plays with the devil).

I do miss the letter games, particularly Sasha. Sasha was hilarious, and a very easy voice to slip into. I suppose she's a little bit of a clichéd character too – her hardass quality is rather overdone. But maybe I need to worry less about characters being a teeny bit of a caricature, because a strong voice is more important? What do you guys think of that?

And despite silly statements about me and flamethrowers, I do miss letter games. Maybe I should go write that last letter in the second game now. We'll see if Teri forgives me for the three year break.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mmm - Popcorn and Book Deals

Amazing Discovery of the Week:

You can make microwave popcorn using a brown lunch bag! For some reason I never knew this. I thought I had to buy the microwave popcorn complete with nasty chemicals, or else haul out the air popper. But Nooo!

  • Simply combine up to 1/2 C popcorn with a dollop of oil (1 tsp or less depending on how much popcorn you use). 
  • Put it in a brown lunch sack, sprinkle with a little salt, fold the top over twice and pop it in the microwave - this is important - standing upright (not on the side like you do with store-bought microwave popcorm). 
  • 2-3 minutes later (listen for the popping to slow down) - voila - popcorn! How cool is that!

Sometimes it's the little things that make my day.

So, on to writerly things. I thought I would bring to your attention the amazing Kate Hart. Yearly, she puts together a round up of YA book deals - what's hot now, what's trending, what's fading - in fabulous full color graphs. Please check out all one, two, three of her wonderful posts on the subject.

I love Numbers + I love Graphs + I love Writing = I love Kate Hart's Posts

Beyond just the general coolness of the graphics, there's all sorts of interesting stuff to dig into. I know we all need to write what we love, but don't you ever get the littlest bit curious how your preferred genre stacks up? 

Probably since I love my Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Dystopian, I was surprised by the size of the Contemporary Market. Sci-fi has been trending recently as the 'new Dystopian' from all I've read. And while people talk of Paranormal fading and the Thriller rising, I'm not seeing it so far from this graph. Interesting. What would you like to see more of? Less of?

Next up, should you be planning that seven book series? Apparently only if you're writing Paranormal.


And lastly, I know, I know, none of us are in this for the money - are we? But don't you just wonder what you might expect if you got the magic phone call from an agent, and then the even more magic phone call from a publisher?

The data is a little more rough here since nearly three quarters didn't report monetary figures at all. 17% had six figure deals (but consider, most of those are established authors since under 20% of book deals this year went to debut authors). I have heard the advance for debut authors is more likely in the $5k range (do any of you have any data on this?), although a fellow Hatracker, J.N. Koury, recently inked a deal for her debut, Origin, which looks amazing! Congrats!

Please take a minute and look through Kate Hart's blog. I have been so impressed by the quality and effort that has gone into this round-up. This overview barely scratches the surface of all the good stuff she has posted there. 

Happy Writing!
and popcorn eating


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Strong Female Characters or Strong Characters that are Female

Watching the Hunger Games movie last weekend reminded me how much I loved Katniss. She was at her best in the first book, tough, resilient, and self-sacrificing, and yet vulnerable and so full of pain and self-doubt. She was strong and weak, smart and blind, compassionate and unforgiving.

She was a strong female character and a strong character that was a female.

On absolute write (a writers forum), someone posted the question about which type of female character do you prefer a strong one who does the rescuing or a weak one who needs to be rescued. My answer is I enjoy both as long as they are interesting and fit the story being told.

There is nothing wrong with a damsel in distress as long as she is not saccharine sweet who would never hurt a fly and is beloved by all woodland animals and small children (or dwarfs). Some idealized version of what some think a woman should be. Or a plot device to show off how amazingly awesome the hero is and a reward for him once he saved the day.

A weak female character can be compelling. She can be a delusional faded southern belle, so damaged that she hides from truth of her past, preferring magic to realism and what should’ve been to what really happened. She can be past her prime and no longer able to rely on her charms and beauty to get by, completely at the mercy of the kindness of others.

A damsel in distress doesn’t have to weak. She could be a strong, smart, witty woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and follow her heart but is constrained by social conventions and therefore is unable to save herself and her family from disgrace and poverty. It is okay for a female character to need to be saved especially if she is saved by a hero as awesome as Mr. Darcy.

And sometimes that damsel in distress grows into the strong-save-the-day heroine, and yet is still deeply flawed and emotional scarred by what she knows is coming but can't stop.

Just because a strong female character saves the day does not make her a good character. She can be smarter, stronger, and braver than every male character, but be as two-dimensional as a damsel in distress and feed just as easily into a male fantasy. Just a different idealized version of what a woman should be, only this time with a big-ass gun.

But a strong female character that saves the day can be a compelling and amazing character. One who doesn’t show the men up, but holds her own among them. Who speaks her mind and fights for what she believes is right and even has a maternal instinct. Who isn’t afraid to use a big-ass gun but does so wearing sensible attire.

The thing is that making a female character physically or mentally strong does not necessarily make her a good character, and having her save the day does not automatically make her the embodiment of feminism. There is a difference between a strong female character (a female character that is strong) and a strong character that is female. Explained much better here (read it; I promise it is worth three minutes of your time).

Strong characters (male or female) are ones that are well-rounded, compelling, complex, contradictory, and real. They don’t have to be strong people, they can be weak, but they have to be interesting enough to carry the story.

I think sometimes writers are so afraid of showing weakness in female characters that they go to the other extreme and think every female character needs to be like Buffy (for the record, I love Buffy). But if this strength is forced on the character, she can come across as just us two-dimensional as the Princess who sits in the tower waiting to be rescued.

Don’t be afraid to let the female characters have some weakness, vulnerability, and even be saved every once and a while. Even Katniss was saved by Rue and Peeta, and indirectly by Cinna and Haymitch.

Remember it is more important to have a strong character (male or female) than a character that is strong.


Monday, March 26, 2012

What to do when your imaginary friends talk back to you.

Um... Panic?

So last week, I wrote about how everyone's tastes are different, and told about one of my favorite books, The Obnoxious Jerks, by Stephen Manes. One Proser's Treasure

Yesterday, I saw Mr. Stephen Manes wrote a comment back...

Funny. I'm the guy who wrote that book, along with more than 30 others, including a new one about ballet that at 900+ pages is the opposite of flash fiction (you can check it out at And as coincidence would have it, The Obnoxious Jerks is set to return to "print" as an e-book in a week or two.
You're right. It never did win any awards. But it did rack up some good reviews, and for a time it was under option for a Hollywood movie that never got made. (The one person I knew who claimed to have seen the script--of course, they would never think of letting me take a whack at it--said it was truly ghastly.)
Like several of my other books, this one seems to have attracted something of an underground following, which was almost impossible for an author to find out about before the advent of the Web and the Google Vanity Search. It's gratifying to know that you've written something that's touched someone else, particularly when you're not the bestseller type. 
This book is one of the few I've written that has elements of autobiography. In my formative years, a bunch of us high-school misfits put together a club called The Lancers. Its logo was a steel pen, its motto "The pen is mightier." But though we did manage to pull a few authority-tweaking pranks, we were neither smart nor secure enough to invite girls into our ranks.
Thank you for putting fingers to keys so that your very moving words could appear on the screen. And rest assured that the e-book will have a much better cover than the awful one you displayed or the only marginally better one the publisher stuck onto the paperback. 


Ahem... So, after giggling like a twelve year old girl at a Justin Beiber concert, I read every word of Stephen Manes comments out loud to my husband, while the children looked on, and the meatloaf slowly congealed. During dinner, spastic little giggles escaped me, and then after I  left the table, I analyzed every word he said, and every word I said, and then every word he said again, also like a twelve year old girl.

Calm down, I told myself. You've written books as well. Four of them. He's a human being, and he's just another writer.You know writers. You know a lot of writers. He's not Justin Bieber, and you are not a twelve year old girl.

 I have a lot of friends that are writers, but they are all wannabe writers like me. I don't know why, but once someone gets published, I freak out and get nervous in their company. I was invited to join a book group that had a ton of awesome writers, including the brilliant Jessica Day George, and after going once I panicked over the depth of the awesomeness, (My little duck feet paddling at the top, like a creature that's full of hot air.), and quit.

To calm me down, I thought of guest Proser Karen Tiberius Smith's post some of my best friends are authors, and reminded myself to breath (yet again).  Then I thought of Sarah's post foray into fandom, and congratulated myself on not saying something idiotic ...unless that's what I'm doing right now...breathe Sheena, breathe.

But, mostly, I thought about how glad I am to be a Proser. If I hadn't been brave, even for a second, and emailed MaryAnn about maybe starting a blog together, I would never have had my voice heard by some 17,000 people, including the person who wrote one of my favorite books. I'm so grateful I was able to say thank you to the person who wrote the book that made my life better. I'm so glad he was able to hear how much that sweet funny book means to me.

Part of the advice you hear as a wannabe writer is the need to find your voice, but for me what I'm learning right now, is the need to make my voice heard.

I've had stories in my head my whole life. As  I began my writing adventure, those stories were kept between me, my computer, and the imaginary people at Hatrack. And that's the way I liked it. Now, I'm trying to open up that imaginary world a bit more, and let in people who will pay me. :)

It's scary pushing against the safe boundary of being silent. No one can criticize me when I don't say anything. But no one can hear me either.

And I'm ready to make my voice heard. Even if it sounds like a twelve year old girl.

So thank you, Mr. Stephen Manes for commenting, (and to google for sending you here). You are welcome back anytime. I'll try to keep the Squeeing to a minimum.

But no promises.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Write What You Love

And Love What You Write

Completely Unrelated Hunger Games Update: 
I took my older two kids to see it last night. It was fantastic. My kids were not quite so wowed. Perhaps it's because they have not yet become as cynical about books-to-movies as I am, so they had higher expectations. A piece of advice for all you who have yet to see it: Get there early enough to get good seats. We got SO sick sitting in the third row. There are a lot of extreme action close-ups and camera jumps that would have been so much better from farther away. I can't wait to watch it again from the comfort of my own home.

Write What You Love and Love What You Write:

I pulled out one of my old manuscripts this week. I'd been putting it off, but several die-hard fans (including my sister, my daughter and an incredible friend in Texas) wouldn't let me shelf it entirely.

It's a paranormal romance. For some reason, that has always embarrassed me. After all, I'm the one writing blog posts about how much I love romantic subplots, remember? But in this book, there is no mistaking that the romance drives the plot. It comes complete with blush-inducing elements like overpowering magnetic attraction and a love triangle. There's even a chapter where my main character stays in bed for a week after her hero leaves her.

I expected to cringe. I expected to shudder. I expected to X out long swathes of the story as I read it.

But it's good.

Yes, the dialogue needs tightening, and a couple of minor characters could use a facelift. And yeah, the ending has never felt quite right to me yet.

But! I'm smiling as I read it, and for whole pages I forget that I'm supposed to be editing. My villain is hot--and possibly redeemable. My main character is so much more adventurous than I'd remembered. There are shivery, smoldery moments.

It's exactly what Sheena talked about in her post and again when she said "Write the books you want your kids to read. If you think there needs to be more balance on one side or another, then write that kind of book." My story is the kind of book I would like to read. I need to stop worrying about the reaction of some imaginary audience, and simply have fun! In my opinion, the world can't have enough light-hearted love stories, so why should I be embarrassed to write them?

Perhaps I'm the only one who subconsciously believes that the rest of my stories have to be some cookie-cutter  duplicate of my first one. Especially in this day and age, that's a pretty silly thought. My next book could be hard-core science fiction if I wanted, and I could still get it out there. (It would take a lot of effort to write, though I suspect it wouldn't be as difficult as trying to write something contemporary. I don't know why that seems like such an impossible task to me. But I digress...)

So here, with all of you as my witnesses, I am making a pledge. Earth's Gate (Terra's Gate) will be published in 2012! Though it won't be called Earth's Gate OR Terra's Gate. Those are crummy titles for a paranormal romance. They sound way too sci-fi, and I haven't written that one yet. 

It's too bad The Lost Gate is taken. That might have worked. Or Funny Tragic, Crazy Magic. That would have been good too. 

I just had a scary, spontaneous thought:

Announcing the FIRST ANNUAL "NAME MELANIE'S BOOK" contest! Submit your entry by June 15th 2012! The winner will win a free electronic copy of my book and their name in the acknowledgement section. 

I haven't asked them yet, but I think I will ask the three above-mentioned "die-hard fans" if they will be the judges. 

I will post a synopsis next week, for those of you think that might be helpful.

I'm not certain if the submissions should be e-mailed to me or posted publicly. Any thoughts on that?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dark Themes in Young People's Literature

The YA community rallied in response
 to the WSJ article, and Maureen Johnson 
sold t-shirts (for charity, of course!).

or: Why English Teachers are Awesome

With the mania surrounding The Hunger Games this weekend, the question of the day is once again: How dark is too dark for kids? Blog posts and op-eds are weighing in on the topic, many referencing a controversial article published in the Wall Street Journal last June, in which children's book reviewer Meghan Cox Gurdon called The Hunger Games "hyper-violent" and included it in a list of books that exemplified what she viewed as a troubling trend in books for young people.

I read and loved The Hunger Games, but I haven't read many of the other books mentioned in the article, so I'll have to stick with what I know, most of which was written before YA took up half the bookstore. 

I chaperoned my younger son's class trip to the zoo yesterday, and had the surprise pleasure of sharing my seat on the bus with a high school English teacher. Talking to her got me thinking about books I loved when I was young. I wasn’t an avid reader until college, which might be why most of my favorite books were required reading.  

Elementary school: Across Five Aprils, Bridge to Terabithia, A Separate Peace. Each year the 5th grade class had to write and put on a play of Johnny Tremain, and I still can’t resist bringing it up in spirited family arguments about religion and government. Junior High: Flowers for Algernon and Ivanhoe and Watership Down and Fahrenheit 451. High School: Romeo and Juliet, Main Street, The Great Gatsby, The Jungle, Our Town, The Scarlet Letter, Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, Lord of the Flies, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, Hamlet... 

I loved almost every book that was ever assigned (with the possible exception of As I Lay Dying).

In 9th grade we read Nineteen Eighty-Four, and I was spellbound from the first page to the last. We had to write a paper comparing one of the works of fiction we’d read to a non-fiction book of our choice; I still remember writing mine on Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Bridge at Andau, about the Hungarian revolution. Examining the parallels was thrilling, like watching a huge jumbled puzzle come together into a coherent image. History has always been my worst subject, and books were the only place history ever came alive for me. 

If your goal in life is to be a subversive influence on young minds, don’t write books. Don’t teach history or government. Teach English.

I still remember exactly how and when my love affair with assigned reading began. In 4th grade, we read a story that admitted, outright and without a hint of sugar coating, that children are awful little creatures. Being surrounded by children and also still a child myself, I found this admission both terrifying and long overdue.

1959 collection containing
All Summer in a Day
The story was All Summer in a Day, by Ray Bradbury. It imagines children living on Venus, where rain falls constantly and the sun only shines for an hour every seven years. On the day the rain is supposed to stop, the children turn against Margot, the misfit girl who is the only one to remember the sun. They lock her in a closet, forgetting about her until after the sun has come and gone.

I didn’t know who Ray Bradbury was and I didn’t think about whether this story was famous or important. I only knew that it had been written for me. (I was both tender-hearted and narcissistic.) 

I hadn’t grown up enough to understand that almost everyone has some Margot inside, and the difference is only in how we express it. I didn’t know yet that adults often hide their own insecurities—their fears that the world could turn on them on a whim, that the pillars of stability might one day be confetti blown away by the winds of luck, circumstance, or the baser parts of human nature. What I understood was only this: Someone else knew what I knew.

When I was reading All Summer in a Day, grownups didn’t lecture about bullying and no one ever got in trouble for using the word “stupid,” or for saying anything that wasn’t on George Carlin’s infamous list. The current generation of parents aims to enforce kinder, gentler childhoods. The jury is out on how well that’s working. I don’t think children have changed much. They still delight in pressing each other's buttons with a sharp stick. They still vie for power, they still play King of the Hill, they still test the boundaries between cruelty and guilt and empathy and self-preservation. In other words, they are still human. 

And the playground, no matter how much we sanitize it, is still a jungle. 

As a parent, I understand the need grownups have to pretend the world is nicer than it is, and that the rules are a little more straightforward than they are. I understand why we might be intolerant of the melancholy and angst that plague some young people more than others. After all, that kind of thinking can lead an innocent astray—to becoming, at best, an outsider, and at worst, a drifter who has chosen to reject the societal delusion of money and now lives shoeless on the beach where he sports disturbingly long toenails. We want our children to be happy and productive and safe in the world they've inherited, because the alternatives are terrifying.

But children are smart, and eventually they figure out that Sesame Street doesn’t tell the whole story. Nothing is so disrespectful and alienating to a child or adolescent as to say, “You don't know enough about the world to feel what you think you feel. Now go play.” They do know. They know so much more than we want them to.

Many of the books I loved were exhilarating for their darkness, and darkness belongs to children as much as adults. Young people know how to explore heavy themes without imploding. All Summer in a Day is their story. Lord of the Flies is their story. Hunger Games is their story. Writers dive into aspects of human nature that adults often either won’t admit or can’t explain, and no one ever has to put on a brave and happy face for a book.

I wish parenting were only about sharing wonder and joy. I wish I could shield my children's innocence forever. I wish I could promise that nothing—no individual, group, government, business, church, band of zombies or act of God—could ever change their world for the worse. That they will always be autonomous. That their happiness and their survival will always be in their control. That they will always do the right thing.

But of course, I can't. I can only hope that the connection I forge with them is strong enough to carry us all through the rough spots of growing up.

Great books don't make promises and they don't gloss over the messy parts of life, and best of all, children don't need or expect them to. Great books invite young, thoughtful warriors to the literature club with open arms. “Come in, friend. Think what you think and feel what you feel. We are all and none alone here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Collaborative writing

MaryAnn chose for her post this week to write about the show Avatar: the Last Airbender. Which is great, because I had been planning to write about the show this week too, and now instead of trying to describe the show, I can tell you to just go read her post!  
(really, you should anyway, for her tips on writing antagonists. On my part, I spent the first season just wanting to give Zuko a hug.)

Also, I'm just going to put this up here for MaryAnn, and any other fans of Uncle Iroh.

But I had actually been planning to only talk about the show tangentially. See, late last year, after listening to me complain about how I could never get my characters to feel real, and that I had some trouble getting myself to write, a friend coaxed me in to joining her Airbender fanfiction group.

I'm not going to talk today about the legality of fanfiction. In our case though, we don't write for anyone bur our small group, we certainly don't attempt to sell anything (definitely not legal, as well as Not Cool), and we don't even use the characters from the show, but our own characters. We just go off from the general setting and events of the series and make up our own plots from there.

There are two ways we write: taking turns on posts on a forum, or all taking turns writing in instant messenger. Basically, it alternates so that each character has a chance to give their perspective and move the scene along. Planning for these sorts of things is a little like improv sketches: you agree about what the scene is and then go from there.

And thus, here is what happens when a by-the-numbers writer enters into the world of collaborative fiction.

1)  What do you mean, I can't make a five page outline first?
It's been a long, slow struggle for me to find the most efficient writing methods for my personality, my ideas, and my (lack of) work ethic. What works for me is lots of planning, outlining, writing out thoughts and ideas in various Microsoft Word documents, deep analysis of characters before writing.

This does not really work when you're sitting on AIM with three other writers all waiting for you to come up with the next portion of the story.

And so I have to come up with something right there on the spot. It's not always good. It's sometimes pretty terrible. But as long as it moves the story along, well, my fellow writers forgive me.

There are still some miscommunications. Last week, I was doing my usual thing of putting out my ten ideas first to get rid of the silly ones, but my fellow writers just said, "but those ideas don't make any sense!" but as I was trying to explain about the list of ideas, the discussion had moved on without me.

In other words, it's good for my ego from both sides.

2) Timeline
This is perhaps been the biggest learning curve for me: we write multiple storylines at the same time. Sometimes decades apart. I'm all, but how do we know that something important hasn't happened in the interim? How can I plan if I don't know what happened already???? To be honest, I'm still not entirely comfortable with this, but I'm doing my best not to appear calm and collected. (note: I am only partially successful at this).

3) Characters
As I have mentioned on multiple occasions, one of my great weaknesses as a writer is character. I tend to come up with great plot ideas rather than great character ideas. This writing group is entirely character based. My first character was kind of a flop, but then I randomly came up with Kalliyan.

This is Kalliyan, as drawn by Shin (one of my fellow writers). For those of you who know the show, she's a waterbender from the Foggy Swamp Tribe. She loves chickens, trees, and making new friends. She makes her money as a mediocre fortune teller (her talents are unreliable, and she's more likely to be able to tell you where you'll be in four days, five hours and sixteen minutes than anything helpful about your love life). She's also incredibly naïve and unprepared for life outside the swamp.

I don't know how it happened this time, but Kalliyan is the kind of character I dream about creating. I always know exactly what she'd do in every situation.  And Kalliyan definitely happens to the plot, rather than the other way around.

And prior to this experience, I would have sworn that I was terrible at humor. But Kalliyan (who is, admittedly, a bit of a caricature) absolutely lends herself to silly situations and sayings.  And yet, when I try to write funny stories for publication, I come up absolutely blank. And that just goes to show how crucial good characters are to great stories.


Have these experiences change the way I write? Maybe not in any direct fashion.  Writing for the forum and writing for publication seem to exist in two different spaces in my head. But it's given me confidence that I can come up with ideas and workable sentences on minutes' notice. And that's a good salve for those nights when nothing seems to go right.

Also, I'm having a lot of fun.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Hunger Games Game

Pssst, bet you haven't heard:

The Hunger Games movie comes out Friday!

Early reviews are excellent. So, in honor of the movie, I thought a little question and answer quiz might be fun.

1.  My friend was so disappointed by the actress chosen for Katniss - she didn't look a thing like what she'd imagined. I thought Katniss was perfect, but Peeta, not so much.
So, if you could pick one actor and replace him/her, who would you pick? Why? And for bonus points, who would you rather see in the role? Here is a list of characters.

2.  If you had to be a tribute, what District would you want to be from?

3.  If you were a tribute, what super secret talent would you wow the judges with?

4.  You have a day off and can do anything  you want. Besides Katniss, Peeta and Gale, which character would you want to spend your day with, and what would you do?

5.  If Prim had gone to the games instead of Katniss, which tribute would have won the games?

6.  What are your top three books made into movies that really worked for you?

7.  If Cinna were to design something for you, what would it look like?

8.  Effie effuses: 'May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor.' What quip would you make up to describe the games?

9.  Who's going to the midnight showing?


* Images from and

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Antagonists: Depths and Motives

It has been a long time since I’ve blogged about TV. I know everyone is dying to know what my latest TV obsession is (Merlin, thanks a lot Sabrina), but I’m going to talk about an earlier obsession, Avatar, the Last Airbender.

NOT THIS (Trust me if you haven’t seen this movie, don’t)


Yes, it is a cartoon.

The Premise

There are four nations each with the ability to bend one of the four elements: water, earth, fire, and wind. Every generation the Avatar is born who is the only one with the ability to bend all four elements. The Avatar keeps peace and brings balance to the four nations.

When the Fire Nation starts a war with the other nations, the Avatar disappears. One hundred years later, a water bender finds an iceberg with Aang (the new Avatar) frozen in it and frees him, but now the Fire Nation has nearly conquered the world. So Aang (A twelve-year-old boy) needs to master all the bending forms and defeat the Fire Lord to bring peace back to the four kingdoms.

The series

You really have to watch a few episodes to appreciate it, but it has all the elements of great storytelling: an overall complex plot, deep characters with rich back stories, an imaginative and fully realized world, and it is really, really funny. It just goes to show you that great storytelling can be found anywhere.

There is a lot to learn from this three season series, but the one thing that stood out the most to me was the main antagonist, Prince Zuko.

Prince Zuko

Prince Zuko is the one in the back
He is the prince of the Fire Nation who was disgraced and banished. He has to capture the Avatar in order to be able to regain his honor and return home to reclaim his birthright. He is intelligent, unrelenting, assiduous, and has some serious anger issues. He is a formidable foe for Aang and his friends.

Over the course of the series Zuko’s backstory is slowly revealed: his insecurities, his loss of his mother, and his desire to be accepted by his father. This enriches his character, strengthens his motive, and makes him very sympathetic.

I’ve heard the advice to make your antagonist the hero of his own story, and this series illustrates why this advice works. In fact, after a few episodes of watching Zuko’s character developing and how Zuko’s storyline often parallels Aang’s, it becomes apparent that Aang and Zuko are both protagonists, only on different sides. And I started to be equally invested in both their stories and hoped that they would unite against the Fire Lord, Zuko’s father, and turn from enemies to allies.

Not every story can or should develop the antagonist to this extent. Some stories really need an under-developed big bad especially when the antagonist is more of a symbol of evil than a character (like Sauron in LOTR). But most of the time, adding some depth to the antagonist strengthens the story.

Pros of having a well-developed antagonist

Increases or deepens the conflict-The stronger the motive of the antagonist, the stronger the conflict is.

Zuko doesn’t just want to capture Aang. He needs to. He is banished from his home and stripped of his honor. The only way he can return home and become the heir to the fire nation is to capture the Avatar. There is no other option for him, and he is determined and obsessed and this just ratchets up the tension.

Makes the plot more interesting-A lot of times, the antagonist drives the plot as much as the hero, so if you have an interesting, well-developed antagonist with real motivations and goals and not just acting like a plot device, your plot will be a lot more interesting.

Zuko always behaved intelligently and true to his character, this put Aang and his friends in a lot of sticky situations, and it was interesting to watch them get through it. When Zuko did make a mistake, it was true to his character and not just a plot device to help the protagonist out (see the Evil Overlord List).

Everything is more dramatic-When the antagonist is seen as a real person and not just some two-dimensional evil overlord, the conflict feels more real. It becomes two real people fighting for different goals, and even if it is clear who is right, just knowing that each have a clear, strong motive, makes the whole thing more dramatic.

When Zuko and Aang fight, knowing what each of them is fighting for and what each of them has to lose makes the fight scenes so much more dramatic and exciting.

The con

The antagonist could take over the story. The stronger, character-wise, the antagonist is, the stronger the protagonist needs to be. Otherwise the audience will start cheering for the antagonist.

In Avatar, they purposely made Zuko as important to the story as Aang. I have to admit that Zuko was my favorite character, but Aang and his friends were just as strong, just as well-developed, and really I loved them all.

Like I said before, not every antagonist needs to be this well-developed, a lot of great stories don’t. But if it can work for your story, it is worth the effort. Personally I love a real, complicated, deep bad guy or girl.

Okay, now I think I need to work a little more on my antagonists. :)


Monday, March 19, 2012

One Proser's Treasure...

We've been winnowing at Flash Fiction Online, which basically means we read the best stories of the initial slush round, and select the final few that will receive that awesome "Yes!" that we are all waiting for.

There's a story in this round that I love. I LOVE it. It's the kind of story that I wish that I had written, but I'm just glad that someone did. It's beautiful, and haunting, and clever.

Sadly, most everyone else on staff gives it a "meh." A meh. This brilliant beautiful story brings the consensus of staffers to a "Meh, not so much." feeling.


It's okay, really, in the long run, to write a story that most people say meh to, and a few people love. It's part of what makes writing a risk, and what makes writing so addicting. It's like gambling. You can do your very best work, stand back and say, "This is the best that I can do." and people will still not care.

 But that doesn't mean the story isn't amazing, or brilliant, or extra special. It just means it hasn't found it's right audience.

I take a lot of comfort in that.

If it had this cover,
I might not have picked it up.
When I was about fourteen, I picked up this hardbound book without a cover, for 25 cents at my local DI. The Obnoxious Jerks by Stephen Manes. It's about this group of smart funny teenage boys, and this shy, teased young actress, Leslie Freeze, who tries to join into the group. She is ignored, belittled, accepted, respected, admired, flirted with, and then fought over.

 I loved that book. I must have read it more than a hundred times. I read it in Junior High, while people where drinking and doing drugs and having sex, and I was too shy to even hold a boy's hand. I escaped into it in High School, when I didn't get a part I wanted, or some dumb boy didn't like me, or when I thought my mom liked my sister better. I read it in College, when my friends were drinking and partying, or cheating on their wives, and yet another dumb boy didn't like me.

 My copy became waterlogged, dog-eared, and stained with chocolate ice cream. I read it so often that I still have scenes memorized. Every time I read it, no matter where I was, in my mind, I was fourteen, high up in the branches of my reading tree, above my loneliness, or heartbreak, or anger.

My much read copy was thrown away one weekend when I accidentally left it when I came home to do laundry. I don't blame my mom, it looked like garbage. I've bought another copy since, but it isn't the same.

Now objectively, I can see that this book isn't all that special. It didn't have a huge print run. It never received any awards, and it's currently out of print. But that doesn't mean it didn't save my life. That doesn't mean that it isn't SO special and important, even if it's only special to me.

That book is why I write.

I know my book isn't ever going to be perfect. I know it might never be picked up by a legacy publisher. But one day, some young kid will pick it up from the bottom of a 25 cents bin, or pick it up for 99 cents through Amazon, and they will read it, and love it until its pages are waterlogged and dog-eared, or until the digital copy has been read so often it becomes damaged.

Because even if a hundred people hate it, or criticize it, or even just don't care about it, one person might just love it.

And I'm writing this book, for her.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Marketing to Young Adults

It is spring in New England. That one perfect day a year when the weather is pleasant AND the bugs haven't woken up. I shouldn't be in the house. I should be on a beach somewhere. Besides, I enjoyed writing my series about romantic subplots, but when it was done, I was way past ready to move onto other subjects. But, lurking there in the back of my mind was some unfinished business.

Writing each of those 5 posts took interminably longer than usually takes me to write blog posts. My writing fell into a pattern that looked something like this:

Step 1: 
It's time to write about rule number 1. I remember that incredible scene from the television show XXXXXXXX XXXX? It illustrates this concept so well.

I go to youtube and hunt for the scene, stopping to watch a few of my other favorite scenes along the way. An hour later, perfect link in hand, I start to type my post. And I stall.

Step 2:  
I hunt through the house for books that will fit. I pile them around me in teetering stacks, and type out quotes from them until I have enough for a novella size blog. But nothing is working. Finally I realize that the first scene, the one from that amazing television show  XXXXXXXX XXXX doesn't belong. 

Step 3: 
So I delete everything and start from scratch.

It doesn't belong because XXXXXXXX XXXX, which was always a guilty pleasure anyway, had morphed into something morally reprehensible to me. I shouldn't market it to you, and possibly get you interested in it. Even if it didn't end up being something that bothered you, sharing it with you would be betraying myself.

But I love the characters in XXXXXXXX XXXX so much, and its writing is so phenomenal, that I find myself working through this torturous journey of self discovery not just once, but five separate times. I'm a little slow.

Line in the sand
I knew that someday I would need to do a blog post about how we, as writers, determine where our line in the sand is. Just like our hero needs to have an honor code, we need one too. I'm not ready to write that post yet. Every time I try to pin those thoughts down, they flutter away, just out of reach. It's a much more complicated discussion than it appears to be on the surface.

Here's the one piece of it that I feel as though I could eventually make a hard stand about, although even this is slippery and keeps changing shape whenever I try to grasp it. It's about the kind of books that are marketed as Young Adult.

Last week I read two YA books.
One of them, Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, had two sex scenes.

The other one, The Clockwork Prince, didn't.

A little background info:

I write young adult literature. I would estimate that roughly 95% of the books I read would fit into the middle grade/young adult genres. When I started reading young adult books, my mind was filled with the beautiful worlds of Tamora Pierce, Shannon Hale, Sharon Creech and Jessica Day George. Eventually I found the drop dead hilarious romances of Janette Rallison, and the heroic adventures written by John Flanagan and Brandon Mull. It was a giddy time--like a gas-guzzling American, I didn't believe that my supply of To Be Read books would ever dwindle. My oldest daughter, and to a lesser degree, my oldest son, went on this book-reading adventure with me. We would read over each other's shoulders, or stay up late so we could trade books back and forth.

Then we grew up. Without even realizing it, we got into darker stuff. Some of it was beautiful. Some of it forced us to talk about what we believed about right and wrong. I worried about letting my youngish son read the part in Hunger Games with the muttations at the Cornucopia. That may have been the first time my husband and I disagreed about what was appropriate for our kids to read.

Eventually, our supply started to peter out. For a while, we blundered through fairy tale retellings. We read all the good ones, and a good portion of the not-so-good ones, and then my daughter and I parted literary ways. She got into the darker romances while I headed into the world of dystopia and sci-fi like Shipbreaker, and Incarceron.

Because of this, the first time my daughter read a book with a sex scene, she was on her own. The book was Shiver, from a series she adored, but which I couldn't begin to be interested in.

I suppose it was naïve of me in the extreme not to realize that there might be sex in young adult books. With a little more experience under my belt, I'm now hard pressed to think of a contemporary young adult fiction book without sex.

I realize that "young adult" literature is a relatively huge umbrella. My fourth grade daughter probably never would have picked up The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, and if she had, she would have dropped it in horror the first time she saw the F-word in print. Though she doesn't talk like that, the teenager she has become is too seasoned to even flinch when she reads the words. It makes me sad. I long for the days when we sighed over the beautiful imagery in The Book of A Thousand Days, even as I know she needs to figure out where to draw her own moral lines in the sand.
Back to those two books I read last week.
In Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, there is very little description of the sex. Amy has to face some very real consequences for her choices. I liked the book. It was heart-wrenching and beautiful. I enjoy the occasional story about someone climbing out of the dark abyss of tragedy and learning to live again. Do I think it ought to be marketed as young adult? Probably. I did find the unspoken elements of statutory rape and casual sex disturbing. It was one of those books that practically begs for people to talk about their own values and what they would do in the same situation.

There is no sex in The Clockwork Prince, but it's not from lack of trying. Vividly descriptive scenes with no thought of self-restraint. There are scenes of people taking drugs, just to escape, just this one time...and scenes of people getting magically roofied so they can do what they've always wanted to do with that verbally abusive (but hot) guy. Tonight I'll be with him, but tomorrow I'll go back to HIM and...for goodness sakes. This is a young adult book.  
Just so we're clear--this is not where
I'm going with this. 

Or at least it's marketed as a young adult book.

What do you think?

Should there be limits on what is marketed to our teenagers (and let's be honest--to our pre-teenagers as well?) But what would those limits be? Books help us to define our own moral boundaries, and that's hard to do if none of the books we read ever jar us with that feeling of dissonance.

On the other hand, the books that are coming out these days are all about pushing the envelope for YA, and there isn't much farther to push it. The saddest part is that no one seems to be pushing back.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Find the real story beneath your BIG IDEA

Are you putting the finishing touches on your dystopian YA novel about kids who are chosen by lottery to fight to the death on national television? If so, this post is for you.

MaryAnn’s enlightening post on emotional resonance has had me pondering what else poetry can teach us about story. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a poetry workshop with Richard Jones and subsequently falling in love with his collected poems in The Blessing. He talked about where he got his ideas, and how everyday things can inspire poems like The Altar, about the joys of sharpening a pencil. But he also said that some themes come up again and again, such as the tragic death of his young nephew. His analysis of whether this was a problem, which I'm paraphrasing from patchy memory, was something along the lines of: So what? Mary Oliver's been writing the same poem for thirty years.

If you’ve read much Mary Oliver you’ll know why everyone laughed. You’ll also know she’s one of the most universally loved poets of the last few decades. 

To say that reading one Mary Oliver poem is like reading them all would be like saying that every time you hug your child is exactly the same as every other. Of course it isn’t. He grows and changes and sometimes he hugs hard and sometimes he hugs soft, and sometimes he asks in a whisper if reindeers get Christmas presents and sometimes he tells you I love you the best of all, Mommy, except also I love Daddy the same because I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

You wouldn’t ever not want another hug, just because you’d had hugs before.

Storytellers seem to diverge from poets here. No one wants to reinvent the wheel, or more pessimistically, beat a dead horse. (Even worse: a flesh-eating horse that won't die.)

The speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons publishes two laugh-out-loud lists of dead horses: Stories We've Seen Too Often and Horror stories We've Seen Too Often

When I'd finally caught my breath again after imagining the horrors of being a slush reader for Strange Horizons, I noticed that star-crossed lovers, man vs. nature, kidnap & rescue, and any others of the 1, 3, 7, 20, 36 or 42* basic plots were not on these lists. Maybe that’s because it’s a speculative fiction magazine, but my money is on the fact that classic plots don't hinge on clever world-building or twist endings.  They are frameworks for universal experience and emotion.

Some authors do amplify their stories with fascinating new ideas, which is exciting. It’s also rare. And relying on originality to sell a story is risky; someone else may have had the light bulb go off just before you did. 

When I think about what makes poetry work, I realize that a unique premise is overrated.  I think this is true even in that skeleton of the literary closet called genre fiction. 

My current, never-ending work-in-progress has vampire characters. Sometimes I wish I had a 12-step meetings for vampire writers where I could publicly admit I write them and everyone would nod and welcome me and we’d all drink weak coffee in styrofoam cups. 

I guess I’ll just admit it online and make my own coffee.

This novel was never supposed to be about vampires. Supernatural undead aren’t the point of the story. Fear, love, courage, family, finding your way out of a rock and a hard place… those are the point of the story. I could change the vampires to some other ambiguous evil, or even take out the supernatural altogether, and I may someday. Paranormal stuff is fun to write, but the premise is not the story.

Most of the items on the Strange Horizons lists are ideas where the premise is the story. For instance, #12 on the Horror List:
Initiate into religion discovers that the religion is actually killing/destroying its initiates.
Before we continue, I must review the warning from the fiction list:
One more thing: We know it's tempting to look at this list as a challenge. Please don't. In particular, please don't send us stories that intentionally incorporate one or more of these items.
In other words, don't try this exercise at home. And if you do, don’t send it to Strange Horizons.

Back to business: I don’t know that this plot isn’t salvageable. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But I do know that if the whole story is just building up to this horrifying revelation, you will never meet the challenge that you were already advised not to take but we’re hypothetically taking anyway.

Let’s say you already started this story, and now you stumble across this list and bang your head on your desk. You declare you’re done with fiction forever because you’re a writer, and prone to histrionics.

There’s a good chance you initially approached your story with the time-honored question: What if? Perhaps: What if a religion’s sole purpose in recruiting new initiates was to kill them? You were very proud of your idea until you read that website, or this post.

I say the game isn’t over! Maybe, just maybe, the premise isn’t your problem. Maybe it’s the question. 
What if? is a great question. I support what-iffing. But if you think your story has already been written, you might need to ask, What would it feel like?

What emotional state makes a person vulnerable to a predatory cult in the first place? How does it feel to find acceptance? What does it feel like to have your sense of meaning—of purpose, of life and death, of God—crumble under the weight of betrayal? How do you find the will to fight?

When a timid voice of intuition tells you something is wrong, what does the air feel like on your skin? What do you smell? What seeps through the filter of your senses?

These aren’t light questions. These are heavy questions. Some of them are questions that poetry asks all the time. Poems grapple with love, friendship, grief, loss, meaning, death… They tackle these over and over and over again, and yet poetry has never been exhausted. 

Neither have stories.

Whether you’ve written The Hunger Games, Twilight, or murderous cult story #12, don’t despair. Figure out what your story is really about—not the cool what if idea, but the story underneath. The what would that feel like? story. That's the story that only you can write, and when you find it, the rest is fixable. I think.

And if you lose your way, read some Mary Oliver. That same poem she’s been writing over and over? It never gets old.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own…
                                               From "The Journey"; Dream Work 

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
                                                From "Wild Geese"; Dream Work

*Okay I made up that last number. It just seems like there should be 42 basic plots.