Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Yep, that's my car.
I got hit by a car yesterday, or I should say a truck slammed into my car in a parking lot with me and my kids in the car.  We are all fine, which is great, but still there is a lot of crap to deal with.

A lot of things had to come together to put me in that parking lot at that exact moment.  In fact, it almost feels like it was fated to happen.  First of all, it happened in the parking lot of my dentist office.  I was taking my oldest in to get her cavities filled--if only we had been better at flossing.    Second, her original appointment was scheduled for last week, but she got sick, so we had to reschedule.  They offered me an earlier spot, but I asked for a later appointment (I’m not much of a morning person).  And third, when I was getting ready, I almost took a shower, but I decided to skip it since it would make us late.  Now I wish I had been five minutes late.  It feels like the universe arranged all these events to put me in that parking lot at that time, so my poor car could be wrecked.

But why?  Why would fate want my car to be wrecked?  To teach the other driver to next time look before he backs up?  Maybe my accident saved some poor kid on a bicycle from getting ran over.  Or did I need to learn to be more assertive and honk earlier, or just grow from the experience of dealing with a car wreck? 

I don’t think so.  I think it just happened.

I’ve been driving for…hmmm, I don’t want to really calculate it, let’s just say for over fifteen years, and this was my first car accident.  With the number of cars on the road and the amount of time I spend driving, it really is surprising that I haven’t been in an accident earlier. There probably have been plenty of times when I made small choices that kept me from getting in car accidents that I don’t even know about.  I think the odds were stacked against me.

When I was young, my older brother got into a car accident.  His friend was a new driver, and he was driving a little too fast and lost control of the car and hit a tree.  Neither my brother nor his friend were wearing seat belts, but the friend was thrown from the car and died instantly and my brother stayed in and lived.

Physics kept my brother in the car, but small permutations in the direction and the speed and a hundred other little factors could have dramatically changed the outcome.  My brother could’ve been the one lowered into a grave at the age of seventeen.

I remember family members believing that my brother surviving the crash was a miracle that God had spared him.  They believed there was a reason he survived, that he had some great purpose.  But what makes my brother more important than his friend?  Why should my family get a miracle and his friend’s get a tragedy?  I do believe in God, but having him choose to save one life and let another die doesn’t fit my idea of God. 

Picture taken by me.  I love sunsets.
But it seems to me that we, humans (at least most of us), want there to be a reason behind these things.   We want there to be a purpose to tragic events.    We don’t like randomness, we like patterns and purpose because they give us the illusion that we have some control over what happens to us, that if we can learn something from the tragic event, we can stop it from happening next time. 

I think this is why random acts of violence like the tragedy in Aurora disturb us so much.  We understand crimes of passion, murder for inheritance, and even gang violence to some extent.  And because we understand the motives, we feel we have some control in preventing these things from happening to us.  But in these random shootings, there is no logic, there is no pattern, there is no way to protect ourselves and our families from these tragic events.  All we can do is play the odds.  And even when the odds are greatly stacked in our favor, it still leaves us feeling powerless.  

And in that powerlessness, we need to feel some semblance of control.  I think this is why we need stories.

We may not always see them, but stories are made up of patterns.  Even when the story is not predictable, the pattern is.  Everything that happens in a story has a reason, and eventually all threads tie together, building towards the climax.  Everything in the story has a purpose.  There is a sense of control in a story that we don’t have in real life, and I think that is what makes a story meaningful and satisfying.  Seeing in the story that control that we wish we had in real life.

I think we need a place where everything makes sense; where even when bad things happen, we know lessons will be learned and hearts changed, and all that suffering will have a purpose.  Stories give us that, and I think we need it.

Maybe our lives are nothing more than a series of random events strung together (or maybe it’s not, but only seems that way), but that isn’t necessarily bad.   We are made from those random events.  Our experiences, even the minor ones, shape us into who we are.  How different would you be if even small moments in your life were changed?  Just because there is no reason for these things to happen to us, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from them and grow and change.   And maybe stories can inspire us to look for opportunities to grow and embrace that change, so we can find meaning in events that had none.

Or maybe I just hit my head a little too hard during my car accident.  J


Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympian Effort

I love the Olympics.

 I always have.

This is me
 in the
Paige Turner Era.

 So much so that when I was a kid, I used to pretend I was an Olympic Gymnast named Paige Turner. 

(For realsies. I was born to be a Proser.) 

I don't know exactly what it is I love about the Olympics. Maybe it's the pageantry, or the history, or the fact that every nation is joining together in peace to try to be their best. Or maybe it's the Olympian's themselves-- dreamers who've sacrificed so much for this one day, for one race or competition, and success or defeat is one stuck landing, or step out of bounds, away.

I think writing is like that. There are more Prosers out there than there are Pros. More writers will not receive medals, or awards, or even shelf space than there are writers who will.

And that's okay.

In fact, that's kind of awesome.

I tell my kids all the time that I believe in them. I tell them that they can do anything they want to do, be anything they want to be.  Rock Star? Absolutely! Doctor? Sure, I'll just pay for that medical school with my imaginary shoe box full of money. Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming?  Yes, but that means you'll have to learn how to actually put your head under water, Child of Mine.

Truth is though, they probably can't do everything (Brilliant and perfect though they are). 

Am I helping them by lying to them, or am I hurting them?

One of the problems that happens when people believe in you, is that their belief turns heavy when reality starts poking in her head. It can  start to feel like you aren't working to achieve a dream for yourself, but because your teachers, or parents expect you to. And then, when you can't, or even when you don't want to do your dream anymore, it feels like you are failing them.

 There is nothing so soul crushing, I've found, as realizing you aren't being everything your parents and teachers dreamed you would be.

I've started to change my words. Now, whenever my children say they want to be something, I say, "I just want you to be the very best YOU you can be."

Do you think, even for a second, that the slowest Olympian's parents aren't beyond proud of their child? Can you think, even for a moment, that the athlete who places last, or who doesn't qualify for the final race, isn't an Olympian? 

 An Olympian isn't an Olympian because of a medal they wear. What makes a person an Olympian is the effort that brought them there-- the sacrifices, the heart, and the stubbornness.

A writer isn't a writer because they've been published either. What makes a person a writer is the effort, the heart, and the stubbornness that they won't give up. What makes a writer is...writing. Simple. So often our dreams, and the dreams of others reflected on us, can get in the way of the words. So often, fear of not achieving dreams, and often fear of ACTUALLY achieving our dreams, gets in the way of putting words on a page.

Advice for today: stop focusing on the pressure of the podium, and just be your best. Have fun. Break the rules. Go crazy.

We can only do the very best we can, so be proud, because your best IS enough.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Not-So-Helpful Advice

I've read a lot of books on writing.  Some of the advice in them didn't really make an impact.  Others have changed the way I write forever.  No single author has influenced me more than Orson Scott Card, and considering I met most of my fellow Prosers through his writer's forum, I get the feeling I'm not alone.

My slightly understocked reference section at home
I've read his book How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy so many times that my copy finally gave out and I'm faced with the task of buying a new one.  Characters and Viewpoints has fared a little better, probably because I sat down and made a master copy of the most helpful advice and saved it to my hard drive.  I love every explanation, every tip, every example Orson Scott Card uses.  I come away from those two books with a sense of "Yes I can!"

But not every writing book is fantastic.  In fact, some are downright wrong.  Advice comes in all shapes and sizes, and while I've seen the "butt in the chair" advice a million times, I don't always agree with it.  So here's a look at some advice I stubbornly ignore from time to time.

1. "Writing equals ass in chair."  --Stephen King, On Writing
I'm sure I'll get reamed for this one, but hear me out.  Sometimes you shouldn't force yourself to push through that tough spot.  Sometimes you need to take a breather.  You never know where a fix will come from.  Inspiration can happen in the shower, at the park, on a long drive.  Sometimes your brain just needs to step back look at the story from another angle.  I'm not advocating procrastination.  I'm just saying give your brain a break once in a while.  You never know what you'll come up with.

2. "It can be fixed."
I always attribute this one to Orson Scott Card, though now that I'm sitting down and actually looking for the reference, I can't find it.  I want to start by saying, I love this advice.  It is scrawled on the inside of ever journal I own.  Usually I see those words and they fortify my resolve.  I power through whatever block I'm having and worry about fixing it later.  Then there are times when I want to carve those words into my computer and set that sucker on fire, because let's be honest, it can't always be fixed.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't write it.  You'll learn more from the mistakes than you will from success.  But once in a while, you'll have to face facts and let a plot line, character, or entire story go.

3. "The first million words is trash."
I first heard a variation of this when reading Michael W. Dean's $30 Writing School.  Since then it's been popping up all over the place.  At first, I simply took it for fact.  Writers, like everyone, have to pay their dues, and a million words seemed reasonable.  (Did I mention I was 19 at the time?)  Since then, I've learned a few things.  For starters, what I write can be called a lot of things: a rough draft, a learning experience, a stepping stone.  Trash (or any interchangeable expletive) isn't on the list.  I've hit my million words and I'm still growing as a writer.  There are things in my earliest stories that I still love, and things I know are glaring errors in my newer drafts.  I wholeheartedly believe you can't measure quality from quantity, and I wish this phrase (like many annoying opinions masquerading as truth on the Internet) would just die already.

4. "Don't even bother."
This usually comes from an unsupportive (and usually bitter) family member/friend/acquaintance.  I'm sure they mean well (nope, can't even write that without rolling my eyes) but this is probably the WORST advice anyone can ever give a writer.  Is writing hard?  You bet.  Is it lousy pay?  Usually.  Are the odds against me?  Oh, yeah.  Here's my question for you.  So what?  If you want to write, write.  You don't need anyone's permission to be a writer, and while support is nice, you don't need that, either.  Writing is a solitary business.  We sit for hours on end at the computer and pour our skill, talent and hearts into our work.  Some days, it's agonizing.  Your characters, plot, and dialogue all seem to fight against you.  Other days, all the words are there and you can't keep up with the flow.  Those days are, for lack of a better word, magic.  They are rare, for me at least, and the majority of my days are somewhere in between these two extremes, but it's the magic that keeps me coming back for more.  If I'd followed the "don't even bother" advice ten years ago, I'd never have found out what those days are like, and how great it feels when I find them.

I've learned the hard way to take advice with a grain of salt.  I still collect the Elements of Fiction Writing books, and I'm always on the hunt for the next blog that will help mold me into a better writer, but at the end of the day, I've got to stick with what works for me.

So what makes your list of worst advice for writers?

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Writing Mistake That Has No Name

Vacation is over. It lasted longer than we expected because we missed our connection in New York and got stuck there for 24 hours. It was one of those increasingly rare instances where the airline took responsibility for the delay and gave us a hotel room. Thank goodness they did, although they did everything in their power to infuriate us before they actually handed it over.

Once we were finally ensconced in the room though, it was heaven. I was so exhausted that we ate lunch and then I fell into a deep, deep sleep for who knows how long. After dinner I still managed to sleep through the night with no trouble at all.

Our flight back had few troubles, and I slept for the long car ride home too, and then I slept in this morning. I feel sorry for my husband, who not only drove home while I slept, but also had to get up before me this morning so he could head back to work. I don't think he took a nap at the hotel room either, although I guess I don't know for sure. Elephants could have been tap dancing next to me and I wouldn't have noticed. I feel like it's my duty to be as rested as possible when he gets home. J

Last week, I blogged about my trip to the libraries near my sister's house. The selection was amazing, so I picked up a few books I'd never heard of. I nearly always end up picking YA or Middle Grade Fantasy, but I just couldn't resist a few books from the adult section. I'm not going to name any names (I can't remember the name of the book I plan to talk about anyway. It's driven me crazy all morning!) but the genre was christian-based romance.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
(Figuring out how to find free pictures to use on-line took up
most of my morning. This is the best site I found.)

I've tried reading this type of book before, and something in the writing almost always bugs me. This was true long before I became someone whose inner editor won't shut up long enough for me to enjoy a good book, so you can imagine what it's like now. On the plus side, I think I put my finger on what isn't working for me in those stories.

I tried to google my findings to see if there was a name for what I'm talking about. I think it has something to do with point of view and dialogue, or maybe exposition. It goes something like this: (ignore all the other problems with these paragraphs and only notice the problem I want you to. J)

Alice hurried of the store nearly fifteen minutes later. She put her hand to her mouth to stifle her laughter. "What happened to you?" Jake was covered from head to toe in silly string. If it hadn't been for his piercing blue eyes, she might not have recognized him at all.


Alice squealed in delight. "Are those for me?" Jake stood before her, carrying at least three dozen red roses.

Did you catch the main underlying problem here?

I'm reading in Alice's point of view, and yet Alice is talking about something I don't know about until several sentences later. I only elected to finish one of the books filled with this type of writing, and I ended up skimming it. In fact, it really lends itself to skimming, because my eyes jumped ahead to figure out what she was talking about, and then I didn't bother going back to fill in the missing pieces.

This is one way to fix the problem:
Alice hurried out of the store fifteen minutes later. She stopped short, staring at Jake, who was covered from head to toe in silly string. If it hadn't been for his piercing blue eyes, she might not have recognized him at all. Putting her hand to her mouth to stifle her laughter, she said, "What happened to you?" 
Same poorly written story, but at least I feel like I'm seeing things at the same time that Alice is, and not several seconds later.

So, dear Prosers--have you ever noticed this kind of writing before? I'm curious to know if it bothers you. Have I been stuck reading one genre for so long that the styles of other genres seem wrong to me now? Whether this is a mistake or a valid style choice, I'm wondering if it has a name...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

But is it the future of publishing?

I’m taking a short break from the dark fiction series for a couple of weeks, in part because I’m out of town next week, and in part because what I want to talk about today has something of a deadline.

Before I get to the main topic of the post, a few things.

1) Guess what I did on Tuesday night.

I met Sarah.

Yes, our Sarah. She was down in San Diego on vacation with family and she took a night away to meet me for coffee. We talked books and writing the entire time. It was fantastic, and she’s just as sweet and wonderful as in person as online.

So that’s two Prosers I met in two months. Anyone else want to come to San Diego? :D The weather’s gorgeous, and we have zoos and delicious bakeries……

2) NPR is running a poll of the top 100 YA books of all time. They have a list of about 250 up on their website (which seems like not that many to me). There are a few glaring omissions (discussed here), but a few good ones. Some of the easiest votes for me were The Last Unicorn, Howl’s Moving Castle, the Song of the Lioness series, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Dark is Rising series, and the Abhorsen series.
On to the main topic!


In case you haven’t heard, kickstarter is a crowd-funding source. Basically, you put together a project, and ask people for money in exchange for rewards.

For example, take this project I discovered today. The organizers want to launch a satellite into space – with 100 student science projects on board. Each project has to fit in a ping pong ball. The project is free for students. I think it’s an amazing thing, for a child to know that something of theirs has been to space, and to see the results of that experiment.

If you want to support the project, you pick a pledge level, anywhere from $1 to $3,500. For pledge levels of $10 and above, you get a reward – for $10, for example, you get to send a business card message into space. For $50, you get a photograph of your name (with others, on a business card), in space. I think that’s worth $50, but I need to buy groceries, so it’s not happening.

Kickstarter works wonderfully for some types of projects. For music, it’s allowing some musicians to raise funding for creating albums and promotion. Amanda Palmer raised over a million dollars for her upcoming album. Insane, no? With so much music going online and out of record stores, it makes sense that new sources of funding could become very popular for music.

So could this apply to the publishing industry? There are some similarities – writers and musicians can put their work up for free (or a small price) on the internet, but have to contend with everyone else who’s doing the same thing. I think Kickstarter could be a great thing for an author who’s self-published a few books and has gained a loyal following, but who needs an advertising budget to make it to the next level.

There are caveats, of course. With Kickstarter, if you don’t reach 100 percent of your funding goal, you get no money. If you don’t have enough supporters, or you ask for too much money, you might lose it all. And you’re competing against a whole other group of people who are looking to catch the eyes of funders.

One brand new middle grade writer was wildly successful with his project. I forgot to back it in time, but I hope I can find a few of the books once they're finished. 

From the description of the project:

11 year old Ada has a problem: her governess, Miss Coverlet, has quit her job to go get married (a dumb idea if ever there was one, if you ask Ada) and her new tutor Percy ("Peebs") is a total drip. She'd rather be left to her own devices – literally – inventing things and solving math problems and ignoring people altogether.
She's also forced to study alongside the imaginative girlie-girl Mary, who's always going on about romance and exotic travels. Fortunately, Mary's appetite for adventure leads her to propose the two girls open a detective agency, and when an heiress shows up with a case about a missing diamond, it's the perfect puzzle to coax Ada out of her shell.
This is the made up story about two very real girls – Ada, the world's first computer programmer, and Mary, the world's first science fiction author – caught up in a steampunk world of hot-air balloons and steam engines, jewel thieves and mechanical contraptions. For readers 8-12.

Doesn't that sound lovely?

The author has a page on his blog giving tips on successful Kickstarter projects. 

I'm also excited about this project.

I've wanted to be a part of Clockwork Phoenix for a long time (it's edited by Mike Allen!), but I never seem to have a story ready when the anthology opens. The other things I love about this project is that whatever they make over their goal goes toward paying the authors pro rates.

Mostly, I love Kickstarter because it's a wonderful feeling to back talented creators and scientists and artists. Maybe I would do something like this someday, but it's a long way off so far.

What do you think? Do you like the idea of crowdsourcing your next novel?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Product Review: Master Edit

Master Edit was one of the first writing tools I acquired (my dh got it for me), and I still find it useful, so I thought it would be worth mentioning to all of you.

The best way to explain Master Edit is probably to view the YouTube clip below, but I'll also fill you in on the basics.

First, to use Master Edit, a block of text is pasted into the text box. After that, the program will scan for a number of different writing gotchas by simply clicking on the menu at the bottom of the page.

Weak words (was, were, look, felt, etc.) can be highlighted along with the number of times they appear.

In a similar vein, repeated phrases can be checked (this is probably one of the most useful features for me - how many times do I want 'someone searching someone's face' anyway?).

Sentence length is analyzed and displayed using different colors so you can easily see if your paragraphs are varied enough.

A lot of other features are also included, such as checking for dialogue tags, -ing words, conjunctions etc.

This isn't a tool to use at the rough draft stage, but I have found it quite useful for a final tightening of my work and to catch mistakes I would have otherwise glossed over.

Overall, I would recommend this product. For more information, the Master Edit website is: http://www.masteredit.net/


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Classics

When I was in junior high, teachers started forcing me to read the classics, and I continued reading them through high school and college and I even read a few by choice.  And what I discovered was that I actually enjoyed most of the classics that I read.  Of course there were some that didn’t appeal to me on any level, but most of them were really good stories.  But then there were those that I loved, absolutely loved.  And whenever I think about my list of favorite books of all times, I always come back to those classics. 

I’m not trying to pretend that I’m some sort of intellectual.  Ninety nine percent of what I read is genre fiction, and I love that too, but the stories that really moved me, haunted me, changed me were all classics.

So here is my list of the top six (I was going to do five, but I couldn’t decide which one to take off) favorite books of all time.  I think these books are brilliant, nearly perfect, inspiring, beautiful and just plain amazing.

I listed them in alphabetical order because honestly they all tie for number one.

1.  Crime and Punishment  by Fyodor Dostoyevski 
 I loved this so much when I was in high school.  I found Raskolnikov fascinating with his warped philosophies.  But this story was more than just a moral internal struggle.  The plot was intricate and interesting with lots of great characters beside Raskolnikov. 

2.   Les Miserables  by Victor Hugo
This book could use a good edit, IMO.  But even so, it is pure brilliance.  The plotting is top notch the way all the threads come together at the end. But the themes of redemption and love and compassion really resonated with me.  This is one of those books that made me want to be a better person.

3.   Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I love the dark side of human nature, and nothing is more fascinating then putting preteens on an island and watch then turn into the monsters that they feared.   Just an intriguing concept executed brilliantly.

4.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I love a good romance, and this is certainly is one of the best.  But more than that, it is a witty and insightful social commentary much of which, if you think about it, can be applied to our society even today.  And of course, there is Mr. Darcy.  :)

5.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I loved the characters in this book, especially Scout and Atticus.  But I think exploring complex issues like racism through the eyes of a child gives new valuable insights into these problems.   Another story that made me think twice about myself, and how I perceive others.

6.  Wuthering Heights by  Emily Bronte
A lot of people don't like Wuthering Heights because they think of it as a romance.  I don't see it as a romance, but an exploration of the darker, obsessive, self-destructive side of love.  Even love has a dark side.

When I was in high school and first played around with writing, these classics that I loved so much made me feel that being a published writer was an unattainable dream.  I could never put words together so beautifully.  I could never say anything so profound, or weave a storylines together so seamlessly.   I could never be so witty or create such intriguing characters. 
I wrote a novel in high school for myself, but I never believed for a moment that I could ever write anything worthy of being published.

And while I still know that I will never write anything that compares to these classics, I now know that a novel doesn’t have to be at that level to be published or loved or meaningful.  There are genre authors who I think are amazing and brilliant and insanely creative, but their level feels more attainable.  While they are still towering above me, I feel if I try harder, think deeper, and keep writing, I just might get there.

But even if I spend my entire life dedicated to writing, I know I will always be standing at the feet of those giants:  Austen, Bronte, Dostoyevsky, Golding, Hugo, and Lee.    They are truly geniuses.

So who are your writing giants?


Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Some Things Should Just Stay In Your Head.

 We live in a society of over-sharers. If you are mentioning your child's poop online, you've over shared. If you are telling feelings on Facebook that really you should be sharing to a couples councilor, then you've over shared. 

Dear Taylor Swift...you've over shared.


The line of propriety is clear. If you don't have anything nice to say....don't say anything at all.

As writers, we have the responsibility to be honest. To, as Hemingway stated, sit at a typewriter and bleed. There is nothing you can say about yourself that is over-sharing. There is not too much sharing about your own feelings, your own perceptions, or your own experiences.


If what you are saying involves someone else, or is sharing someone else's secrets, you are not being a writer when you tell it, you are being mean. If what you are saying is embarrassing to the other party, then you are shaming them in front of all your friends without giving them an opportunity to respond.

I think we also have a responsibility in our writing to be kind.

Soap box over.


Speaking of soap boxes, I watched a news story on Sunday about Soap Box Derby. Here's a link  to help getting started in Soap Box Racing. I love this idea. Kids, ages 7 - 17 can participate. They build the cars (from kits) using tools,  spending time outside with their parents. There's mini races, and national competition, where teens, male and female, meet together, have fun, and race downhill in cars they built themselves.

I love that setting for a story idea. It feels very 1950s, but it's still happening, right now.

We've talked about the line in the sand that comes from writing for teenagers. How much sex, drugs, profanity, etc. is too much inside YA fiction. I'm not trying to talk about that.

What I do think, is that there are so many things out there for grownups and teenagers to explore that aren't cutting edge, or borderline inappropriate. There are so many stories out there that don't need question marks.

There are enough story ideas out there that are...kind.


* Not posting a picture because of legal issues.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Legal Issues

Hey guys, I'm handing over today's post to Roni Loren, guest blogger over at Pub Rants.  Go check this article out before you hit your Pintrest, post another blog, or even make a meme at Very Demotivational.  You might just avoid a law suit because of it.  You can find the post here.  (Thanks to MaryAnn for the heads up about this one.)

And before I sign off, I just want to put in a plug for a cause very near to my heart right now.  I'll start by saying I'm sorry all my posts are so dark lately.  I guess Colorado is having a tough year.

You might have heard about the tragedy that took place on opening night for Batman The Dark Knight Rises.  Twelve people were shot and killed, while another fifty nine were injured in a shooting that took place inside a theater in Aurora, Colorado.

I've been to that theater.  I knew some of the people at that screening.  One friend on Facebook posted that while she and her family were not hurt, the man sitting behind her was killed.  For me, this is hard to fathom.  It's worse when you hear the stories of the people that lost their lives.  One man died on his twenty-seventh birthday.  Another died shielding his girlfriend from the killer.  The worst was the death of a six year old girl.  I can't begin to process so much chaos and sadness.  I can't comprehend the mentality of anyone willing to inflict this kind of devastation.

It's like Alfred said in The Dark Knight: 

"Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

So if you go see Batman, please, enjoy the show.  But if you find time, go donate a little blood in memory of the people who died on Thursday night.  You never know when the people in your community might need it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Lovely Libraries

My Old Library
We moved recently, so I can't boast that I live near the oldest library in Maine anymore, but it was my library for twleve years. The front desk was a large desk in the middle of a smallish room lined with bookshelves. There was another smallish room in the the back lined with children's books. The checkout system involved pulling the library card from the back. There was an honest to goodness card catalog with cards typed out on a typewriter. It was like stepping back in time. It rarely had the books I wanted to read, but I loved that library.

We're on vacation this week, so of course we've visited two different libraries. We're just that kind of family. Holy macaroni! They are so cool! My sister and her kids took us. The return room in the first library is made out of glass so you can look in and see the whole return process. You place your book in the slot marked "book return" and it zooms down a conveyor belt and passes through a laser. The laser reads the bar code to check the book back in and to decide which bin the book belongs in.   The rollers on the belt lift up and another set of rollers slide the book off the belt and into the correct bin. If the book has a hold on it, a printer prints up a slip and a librarian takes the book directly to the "holds" area.

But the fun doesn't end there! Oh no. Then I got to go looking for books. So many shelves! Even though I'm reasonably well versed in the world of books, there were so many I'd never heard before. How many can I read while I'm on a crazy busy family visiting vacation? Certainly not the 8 that I picked out. But still...
The Fountain of Books Accidentally Left Behind
Then the real excitement begins. Using my sister's library card (shhh!!!! don't tell the library please!) my kids and I placed our books four at a time on this metal scale looking thing, and the names of the books popped onto a screen! It was magic.

And the next week, we did it again at a different library, with an even better selection of books. That time, my nephew bagged all the books he wanted and threw the bag on the scale, and the computer read them! And then we sat near a spectacular fountain right outside, and that bag got left on the far side, where we'd never notice it. Some kind soul noticed, and when we returned several hours later, the bag was waiting with the incredibly patient librarian.

I love libraries for everything they do to make my world a brighter place. That's probably why I sat in the bookstore today and cried when I read The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore  by William Joyce. Libraries come in all shapes and sizes. I'm much too tired to help you out, but if you look on the side bar, I even wrote a post about Maine's amazing Books By Mail program. Do you have a story about a library in your life?
I've never actually seen this library before, but I'd sure like to.
It's in Kansas City.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our own little dystopias

Last week, I shared a few thoughts by YA authors on why dark fiction is so popular. One article, however, made me pause. It contained a sentiment I’ve come across a few times before. The idea has always bothered me. 
The question of why these dark novels appeal to teenagers has been around awhile, and there’s a pretty standard response. It tends to be some variation of “these are dark, pessimistic times with the economy and culture; the darkness of the subject matter reflects those fears.”  
My thoughts on that? Ha and double ha. I don’t believe it.
In my experience, the teenagers who are loving the dystopian themes are generally the ones who don’t have to face it. Would we be so enamored with dystopian fiction if we lived in a culture where violent death was a major concern? It wouldn’t be escapism.
Well, of course not. When reading the Hunger Games, I don’t think “Oh man, I hate it when my dystopian dictator takes on a personal vendetta against me!”

So indeed, dystopias and dark fiction in general don't reflect the outer world of the American teenager. But maybe they reflect the inner world of a teenager. Maybe the average teenager doesn't live the danger of apocalyptic events or war. A lot of teenagers can have moments when they feel like their world is ending.  In terms of the suffering of the world, that could be considered quite small. But is that comparison really fair? Your pain is the only pain you know. Comparing your own suffering against the troubles of the world isn't really the key to erasing your sorrow.

The point is, my world doesn't have to be a dark, terrible place for me to identify with dark fiction. Reading a character who shares the same type of sorrow (no matter the world they live in) can be very heartening. Finding out the kind of sorrow you feel as a teenager isn't unique can make you feel less alone. 

At least, that's how it was for me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Molasses... Snails... Children at Bedtime...

Turtles... The last five minutes of the workday... My writing...

Sometimes I think writing is not so much a journey as a steeplechase. I find myself writing along, thinking I'm doing alright and then, BAM, there's this giant hurdle in my prose - unnecessary adverb usage that just has to be surmounted, or writing realistic dialogue, or how the crud do I plot this thing, anyway? And just when I think I've gotten over one obstacle and take a  few steps on firm literary ground, BAM, I recognize some other hedge holding back my writing.

My latest barrier is the speed of my writing, which, as you may have surmised from the title of this post, is


Not a little tardy, but S... L... O... W...

Stephen King writes 2k every morning without fail (except maybe that one time he got hit by that car). Shannon Hale has a sitter come over four days a week, locks herself in her room and forces herself to write for hours. She consistently publishes a book a year. Thousands of people doing NaNoWriMo somehow find the gumption to write 1,667 words every day in November.

The truth is, professional writers put words on paper in a regular, dependable way. And to become like them, I'd better do it, too.

So, if my hurdle is your hurdle, here are a few tips I've picked up recently to help with consistency, substance and output:

On why a bowl of coco-crunchies and visiting that website for the 10th time in the last 15 minutes may seem more important than putting words on the page but really isn't:
"Is the Fear Monster Eating Your Words?" from Amanda Hannah over at YA Highway

A few reasons why writing consistently is essential:

A reason to keep you writing right now:
Write or Die

And the icing on the cake...(I'm using ellipses a lot today, aren't I?)... I linked previously to this great post by Rachel Aaron about how she bumped her writing up from an already amazing 2k per day to an astounding 10k. Well, Lindsay Smith (whose blog I've just run across, and love), has gone one better. In the spirit of  Couch to 5k, she's hosting
Block to 2k
She's up to week 4, but it's never too late to join in.
I am.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lost Parents

I love the movie The Lost Boys.  It may be a little campy and a tad predictable, but it’s still a great movie.  It has a great style, amazing soundtrack, vampires who are real vampires although they look like 80’s rock stars, humor to play off the horror aspects (which are really rather mild), and did I mention the awesome 80’s hair?  But what I like the most about this movie is the focus on the family.

Yeah, a horror movie about teenage vampires has themes of familial love and actual grown up characters that play a role in the story.  The teenage MC has a brother and mother and even a grandpa who all play a role in the storyline, and somehow the movie still works.   Seems to me that YA paranormal romances and urban fantasy with the disturbing lack of parents could learn a thing or two from the movie Lost Boys.

The Missing Parent Syndrome in YA

I’ve read a lot of YA mostly urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and dystopia, and there are so few decent parents in any of the books.  In Hush, Hush, Nora’s mother leaves her alone in an old farm house for weeks at a time while she’s on business trips.  In Hunger Games, Katniss’ mother had a nervous breakdown after the father died and was pretty much useless.  In City of Bones, Clary’s mother gets kidnapped.  In Everneath, Nikki’s dad is running for mayor and doesn’t seem to have any time for his daughter who disappeared for six months other than making sure she takes drug tests and works at a soup kitchen for PR reasons.  And while Charlie in Twilight was at least a fully formed character, he’s not going to win father of the year with all the times he ditches Bella to go fishing on his days off.  I have seriously tried to think of one story that had good parents, and the only one I could think of was Matched by Ally Condie.

 As a parent, I find this disturbing.  As a writer, I see this as a missed opportunity.  Why not include concerned, meddling parents?  They can bring more tension or complicate the plot.  If the MC told their parents about their new discovery of vampires, werewolves, or fairies, the parent is most likely going to think the MC is crazy or on drugs, so it is believable that the MC wouldn’t tell them, and even if they did, the parents could not believe them or even make things worse.  Why not have the parents ground the MC on the night their supposed to save the world because of all the sneaking around they’ve been doing lately?  I think a caring, involved parent could play an interesting role in the story.  At least it is worth considering.

Have you seen me?
Lost, a caring, loving parent in YA literature
Excuses for not including Parents in YA

There are a lot of reasons not to include parents in YA.  But to me it all boils down to wanting the characters to have more autonomy, which is funny to me because this could easily be solved by moving the characters to college age, but for some reason no one wants to read about college-aged protagonists, so instead there are these high school protagonists living and behaving like college students.  I think if you have a protagonist in high school their lives should reflect someone in high school, and that includes those pesky parents. 

Here are some common excuses to keep the parents out of the story.

Teenager MC needs to be the one to solve the problem.  Sure the MC needs to solve the problem.  I guess the idea is that if there are diligent, caring parents around that they will solve all their kids’ problems for them.  I wish that was true.  My oldest is only seven, and I can already see that there are some problems I can’t fix for her.  I’m sure that I will become more and more powerless as she gets older.  I think that is how we grow up.  And I know the more serious life-threatening things would warrant parental involvement, but that would only happen if the MC actually told the parent.

When I was a teenager I hardly ever told my parents about what was going on in my life, and I think  most teenagers are like that.  I’m sure there are exceptions and some teenagers who tell their parents everything.  I hope my kids are like that, but it seems very realistic to me that teenaged character would keep things from their parents.  If the situation involves a supernatural element, the teen would be even more unlikely to confide in their parents for fear their parents wouldn’t believe them.

And if the MC is in a life and death situation there are a lot of adults they could go to:  teachers, police, friend’s parents, aunts and uncles, etc.  So making the parents unavailable does not force the MC to solve the problem on their own.  There has to be another logical reason for the teenaged characters to not go to any adults.

My point is that there are a lot of ways to force the teenage characters to solve the problem even if they have good, attentive parents.  And it might be more interesting and complicate the plot to have the characters have to sneak around their parents to save the world or hook up with their dangerous, supernatural boyfriend.

Parents aren’t important to the story.  Sometimes the parents aren’t important to the story, and while it is true that you shouldn’t include or spend much time on characters that aren’t directly related to the plot, having well-developed and believable parents adds depth and realism to the story.  If you have a character in high school, who is still living with their parents (or parent), it is unrealistic not to have the character interact or at least think about their.   Parents also play a pretty significant role in who a person becomes, and I always appreciate the added depth when an author takes the time to develop the parent, and shows me hints of the MC’s childhood and where the character came from.  So I think even if the parents doesn’t play a direct role in the plot, they still impact the story.  And showing the parent-child relationship is important.

Some parents are not good parents.  Yes, some parents aren’t very involved in their kids’ life.  They could have demanding jobs or be a little self-centered or even neglectful.  All of these happen in the real world.  And honestly, I don’t have a problem with having inattentive parents.  This can be done very well.  In Holly Black’s White Cat, the main character Cassel comes from a family of con artists and mobsters.  His mother is in prison for running a scam.  She is absent and also a bad parent.  This is integrated perfectly into Cassel’s character (explains why he is the way he is) and feeds into the plot.  It is believable, and actually pretty brilliant.  And Katniss would not have the survival skills she needed if her mother hadn’t broken down out after her father died and forced Katniss to provide for the family, Katniss would never have had the survival skills to win the hunger games.  So having a bad parent can definitely work for the story.

But a lot of times I see evidence of a neglectful parent, like in Hush, Hush, but I don’t see how the mother’s lack of parenting impacts the character.  If the only reason for bad parenting is to get rid of the parent, that is lazy writing.  If you want to have a neglectful parent, make sure you show the repercussions of it.

Parenting in The Lost Boys

I know this is an older movie, and I’m not sure if everyone has seen this movie, so I’ll try not to spoil it.  If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do even if you’re not a fan of horror.  Honestly, I don’t think it is that scary although it is a bit gory at times.  It is actually pretty funny.

It also is very similar to YA.  It’s about a mother who moves her two sons (both teenagers) across the country to live with her father after her divorce.  The whole story is centered around the oldest brother, Michael, trying to fit in with a new dangerous gang and impress the hot chick that hangs out with them.  Of course they all turn out to be vampires and are trying to turn Michael into a vampire as well.    These vampires are really living the teenage fantasy.  No parents, no rules, dress like rock stars and drive expensive motorcycles. They “sleep all day, party all night, never grow old. Never die” (tag line from the movie).  I liked these vampires in that they definitely had bite, no angst just party animals that kill without any remorse. 

What keeps Michael from being seduced into the vampire way of life is his strong bonds with his family.  He has his brother Sam who he has as close of a relationship with as you’d expect two teenage boys to have.  Sam kind of tags along and takes cheap shots at Michael, but it is clear that they look after each other.   

Micheal’s mother is kind of an ex-hippie type, very sweet, very loving, but not great with discipline.  She is genuinely concerned about the change in Michael’s behavior and actively tries to connect with him.  She's a real character, not a cardboard excuse for the boys to be left alone.  They’re teenagers; it’s normal for them be on their own at times.  But the Mother isn’t absent.  She is there, and she is trying.  We see that in the movie.

There is also a grandpa who is less involved.  He is a great character, a taxidermist who is used to living alone, a bit of a recluse.  The boys steal his car and try to get rid of him when the vampires are coming after them.  For the most part he is a realistic obstacle for them to get around rather than someone to go to when they need help.

I don’t want to give away the ending, so I’ll stop here.   But while the plot revolves around the brothers, the mother and grandpa both play a significant part in the story, and I think the movie is stronger because of this.  

If absent parents play a significant part in your plot line, then, by all means, get rid of them, but make sure their absence is felt.  However, if it doesn’t, consider keeping the parents around.  Try work them into the story or have them complicate the MC’s life a little.  I think it might be worth a little effort to find those lost parents.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Yes, I Do Have Control Issues

I'm in a bit of a writing slump.

See, we're selling our house, and the process of change is taking up all my mental energy. Also it takes up time in the day to clean a house.

Who knew?

My house and I have always had what's known as a professional relationship, (namely I don't touch the house more than would make it feel uncomfortable), but because our house is on the market, we been forced to become intimately acquainted.

I thought I had levels of cleanliness, with having the in-laws over being at the top. But no. House Showing is the new top level of cleanliness.

I don't like change, not in real life. I like to have changed. The process of change itself... Ick.

Usually when thrust into moments of change, I like to retreat into a world of make believe where I can control every aspect of every fictional person's life. ( Perhaps that's a bit too honest) But right now my brain isn't accommodating such escape. I don't have a story idea that I love that I can vacation too, at least not until Sabrina puts something into the mail.

(hint, hint)

So instead... I've decided to start (officially) trying to get FTCM published. I've started a query a week program, where every Wednesday, I research a new possible agent and send a query in their general direction.

I missed/skipped/ pretended Wednesday didn't exist last week, so this week I have two queries to put in the (e)mail. I'm excited about the process...although it feels remarkably like change... and have developed a sort of coping mechinisim for dealing with Selling my House/ Querying.

Five Tips for Dealing With Change

Tip 1. Try not to live in the future. 

Don't imagine the house you'll move into, or spend the giant royalty check. Failing that, lower your imaginary expectations. Don't say, "Oh it's just for fun, let's go crazy," Imagine a smaller print run, or a lower place on the bestseller list. Imagine an imperfect home so that when reality finally hits, you won't be frustrated.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” 

Tip 2. Do everything you can, and then happily stand still. 

I'm gonna quote scripture for a sec ( feel free to skip if it ain't your thang.)  "D&C 123:17 Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." You can't control the future, but you can control your attitude. Choose to be happy- no matter what.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” 
― Dalai Lama XIV

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” 

“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” 

Tip 3. Get busy doing something else. 

Spend time with friends. Write a new story. Invest in the life you have right now, because right now is ending. 

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” 

Tip 4. Don't make long term decisions with short term emotions. 

If someone rejects your query, that doesn't mean you should change/delete entire chapters. Save often, and keep hard copies.

Give a man a fire and he's warm for a day, but set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life.” 
― Terry PratchettJingo

Tip 5. Get ready first, then jump. 

Don't send queries without making sure you are happy with the query. You can't go back in time and unquery. And if you figure out how to unquery, let me know. You can control where you're going, by getting ready for it, and then taking the steps to get there.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...” 

― Dr. SeussOh, the Places You'll Go! 

Wish me luck!

(Or send a maid service.)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Genre Hopping

I do my best not to compare my work with another writer's, but there are some differences I can't help but notice.  The biggest--the one I get worked up over on a regular basis--is my inability to pick a genre and stick to it.

Any time I meet a new writer, it seems like one of the first things they ask is, "What genre do you write?"  I can understand this question because genres are so distinct: sci-fi, fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, paranormal, contemporary, young adult.  It helps writers identify with one another, and creates a great jumping-off point for networking.

So what do I write?  Let's see.  I write sci-fi-fantasy-urban-dystopian-paranormal-steampunk-young adult.  I might try my hand at horror next.  Or romance.  Or cyberpunk, if that's still around.  I swap genres like it's nail polish.  Maybe I'm still trying to find my niche, or maybe I have trouble settling down.  I feel like I'm missing out on that identifier that other writers come to so easily.  I'm waiting for that day when I wake up and say, "Okay, I'm going to write fantasy for the rest of my life."  So far, it just hasn't happened.

It used to be hard for established writers to jump out of one genre into another.  Nora Roberts took the pseudonym J.D. Robb so that she was free to branch out into mystery.  That was the norm, but it's a norm that is slowly disappearing.  Like many things, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer are leaders in the genre-hopping field.

Just in case you haven't heard, the world is about to get a brand new J.K. Rowling book to devour.  Nope, it's not Harry Potter.  It's not about wizards.  It isn't even a children's book.  It's called The Casual Vacancy and it comes out in September.  It's just about as far away from the genre that launched her career as a person can get.  Will it be a success?  We'll have to wait and see.  I know I'm pre-ordering it, and there are thousands upon thousands of other twenty-somethings like me that grew up with Harry Potter and are ready for the next book from a beloved writer.

Then there's Stephenie Meyer who is, of course, world famous for her Twilight series.  I had a baby, but I managed to read them in three days.  Still, it was only this year (February, to be exact) that I read her adult sci-fi The Host.  To be fair, it wasn't that much of a breakaway from her original series, but it opened her up to a new section in the bookstore, and a larger pool of readers.

The list goes on.  Famous writers like Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, and Terry Goodkind have all stepped out of their comfort zone and tackled a new genre.  They've all got one thing in common which makes it okay for them and difficult for me.  They've got credentials and I've got a pile of notebooks and a laptop full of ideas, outlines, and stories that have never seen the light of day.

So my question, oh people of the Internet, is this: does a writer need to stick to one genre, or is genre hopping considered acceptable?  For me, I think I'll stick with what I know, and maybe eventually I'll find my place in this great big world of storytelling.

Friday, July 13, 2012

In which I hijack The Prosers because Facebook won't let me type a status this long

I could be the poster child for Facebook. I moved across the country 12 years ago, and many of my friends have scattered across the globe. For me, Facebook has given a second chance to important friendships that got lost in the hubbub of getting married, starting careers and finding our place in the world. Facebook-haters say that if they didn't care enough to stay in touch in the first place, why would they want to find them on Facebook? That must be the reason why I have a Facebook account and they don't--because I do care.

What I Do On Facebook:
I can't be the only person in this world who got a wedding announcement from their dear friend who works for the FBI and then lost the envelope that had her return address and new last name. And then I moved. It's a true story, and sadly, as far as I can tell, she's never gotten a Facebook account. I'm still hopeful that she'll turn up someday. (We'll just gloss over the fact that someone from the FBI ought to be able to find me, shall we?)

When I got engaged, my best friend was a guy, and for reasons too convoluted to mention here, we lost touch. Years later we found each other on Facebook. We live on opposite coasts, but when he was out my way, I got to visit with him and meet his wife and daughter. In what other generation would that even be possible? Technology is a wondrous thing.

I've got more stories like that than I could possibly share here--people that left a hole in my heart, and Facebook filled it. You know who you are.

At least for me, networking=making new friends. As a writer, Facebook has given me the opportunity to get to know other writers across the world so personally that it's easy to forget we've never met face to face. Writing projects have matured there, friendships have grown and I've received and given writing help. Writers spend so much unstructured time on the computer that we've almost co-opted sites like Facebook and Google Plus. Sometimes I just get the shivers when I look at all the raw talent that surrounds me on Facebook. It's incredible.
Staying in Touch
Even my friends that live within a 20 mile radius are pretty scattered. Facebook has given me a way to get to know many of them in ways I never could have without it. It's helped me to keep in touch with teenagers from church, and to get to know some of my children's friends and their parents. As passing acquaintances, we might never have realized how much we have in common. But as Facebook friends, some of them are my favorite people.

The Dark Side of Facebook
Up until a couple of months ago, one of my favorite pieces of Facebook has been the opportunity to get to know my dad's side of the family. They too have scattered hither and yon, and they use Facebook to keep in touch. As we've gotten to know each other, I've acclaimed Facebook far and wide as a gift from God himself.

Last week, my dad's sister, who also happens to be one of my childhood heroes, unfriended me on Facebook. Over the years, I'm sure lots of people have taken my name off their account. But this time it hurt. It really made me stop and think about how what's happening on the computer screen isn't real. I can't see what's happening on their end of the connection. All the information I have is what they tell me. What I think is lighthearted banter might actually be a seething mess of sarcasm and anger. What I think is the gentle rekindling of a friendship might actually be a desperate neediness and anger that I'm not doing more. What I think of as a conversation between friends might be ennui or even repressed judgment. How would I ever know?

(Fictitious characters are so much easier to understand. Few authors would dream of creating such an unreliable narrator, and I probably wouldn't read that sort of book.)
Whether it was logical or not, being unfriended by my aunt and the subsequent fall-out made me question other people, including her children, who I used to babysit when they were small. I've loved getting to know them and their families, in spite of living across the country from them. But what if it isn't real to them at all?

My husband is not a member of Facebook. The very idea is laughable. He's one of those people who rolls his eyes and reminds me that Facebook and reality are two very different things. Last night, he and I had a long heart to heart. At the end of the conversation, as I expressed my hurt and confusion, he asked me one question that changed everything. Of course I can't remember the exact phrasing, but it was something like, "Were your expressions of friendship and love authentic?" and my answer was unequivocally yes. Maybe I'm an aberration, but I've tried to use Facebook as a place to show people my most authentic self. Then he said, "Then don't ever change."

And that fixed it all, because he's exactly right. I'm going to leave my heart out there for people to hurt. My Facebook friends, it's all real. When I find out Scott has started writing again, and I say I'm excited about it, it's because I feel a real connection with Scott, who I've never met, and probably never will. My happiness for him is genuine. When I say that I'm glad that I can talk to my cousins, because I've loved them all my life and I'm sad we lost touch, I mean it, and I've got to let myself believe that they mean it too.

And when I say that my aunt was my childhood hero, there isn't some deeply hidden insult encoded in that. I don't mean that I liked her until I grew up and realized that I was better than her. I mean that there are pieces of me that only exist because my life touched hers, that the obstacles she's overcome astonish me and that she raised three amazingly empathetic and kind-hearted children. I'll always be glad they are in my life.