Monday, September 28, 2009

Filling in the Gaps

Although I'm constantly reading, there are so many great books that I've missed. While I read ROMEO AND JULIET and OTHELLO two or three times each, I never hit A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. (I saw the play, but that totally doesn't count.) I read 1984 in high school in 1984, but I never read ANIMAL FARM.

Moonrat keeps us posted on something several people are participating in called Project Fill-in-the-Gaps. I love that; it's comforting to know even editors have missed classics. Participants create individual lists of 100 books they haven't read yet, and they set goals, a time line, and everything! It's a great idea, and I applaud those who are doing it.

Are any of you Project Fill-in-the-Gaps participants? I'm not (at least not yet) because I'm a wimp. I'm on the OCD side, and the thought of an official to-be-read list that's 100 books long is still a bit daunting to me--especially since I'm trying to keep up with new titles too. But aren't we all?! I'm still considering signing up; it sounds super fun! I'll let you know if I jump in on it.


In the meantime, I'm working on my own unofficial list, checking off some of the great books or plays that got away. Number one on my list, which I'll start reading tonight, is THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton.



I read and write YA, yet I never read THE OUTSIDERS, the book that many people consider to be the first YA book ever. Wow. Now that I've confessed this, I'm hoping all of you will still respect me in the morning. Of course, I'll have started it by morning, so please be lenient with your opinions of me. Tee-hee!

I'm sure all of us have books that got away. What are some of yours? Come on...you can tell me. ;)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What I'm Reading

Instead of kicking off What I'm Reading with Frappuccinos, let's get it started with other good stuff: flowers, brownies, and why my kids rock. :)

When my daughter and my husband were out running errands last weekend, my daughter wanted to bring me flowers
just because. These are the ones she picked out for me.



She knows I love orange. Aren't they beautiful?


On Sunday, my son volunteered to bake something for my critique group meeting on Monday
just for fun. How sweet is that? He made Mini Brownie Cups from a Hershey's cookbook.



They had a mocha glaze, and he added chocolate shavings to be creative. OMG, people. If love has a flavor, I think I've found it.

Okay, now. Let's get all literary...




I just started GRACELING by Kristin Cashore, and so far it's soooo good! After the premise, the writing itself was the first thing to grab me. I immediately noticed and liked her verb choices in the very first chapter. Does it mean I need to get out more when verbs get me wound up? Probably, but let's not dwell on that.

I'm only on page 110, and I'm glad it's not a short book--it has 471 pages to savor. Don't let that discourage you if you're in the mood for a quick read. I usually enjoy reading books slowly, but I'm flying through this one. It definitely has an addictive quality.


The reason I picked up GRACELING is it's a suggested read for a workshop I'll be attending in November. Now I'm suggesting it to you!


Your turn.
What are you reading?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Synopses

Whether you fear them, despise them, think they're not so bad, or love them, synopses are a reality in a writer's life. The sooner we become skilled at writing them, the better.

As we all know, synopses come in many forms: the blurb in the query letter, the one page summary, the two page summary, or even a longer summary that gives the blow-by-blow of the plot. The synopsis I'll be focusing on is the one pager since that's what agents who rep YA authors request the most. Also, it's what I have the most experience with, and it's what's on my mind today. :)


In his book
THE FIRST FIVE PAGES: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO STAYING OUT OF THE REJECTION PILE (which I recommend reading), literary agent Noah Lukeman stresses that the prose in the manuscript itself is usually considered before the synopsis. He says the synopsis is often ignored by agents unless the writer manages to hook them with his or her writing in the manuscript. Then the synopsis is considered. That makes sense, and it tells us how fabulous our manuscript pages have to be--an incredible idea alone won't do it. But whether an agent reads the manuscript or the synopsis first doesn't change the fact that our manuscripts and our synopses have to shine. Something I've heard is "good enough isn't"; agents are currently receiving more submissions than ever, so our submissions have to be great.

I used to dread synopses. Now I have a better perspective on them, though I don't know that I'll ever rejoice when it's time to write the first draft of one. It can feel intimidating until we manage to pound out a draft that we really like, a synopsis that matches the tone of the book, tells what happens, and doesn't exceed the word count.


With my WIP, I wrote the first draft of the synopsis well before I wrapped up the first draft of my novel. As I've been revising my book, I've been periodically pulling out the synopsis for revisions too. This evolution has been helpful even though the main plot points have stayed the same. Fresh eyes and time give us so much insight. I asked my critique group to look at the first draft of my synopsis months ago and the current draft just this week since I wanted other trusted fresh eyes to peek at it, too, before I query.


What I like about working on a synopsis is I find boiling my book down helps me see if things are big enough. And although it sounds weird, there
is something liberating about having only one page. My least favorite thing is that I can barely touch subplots--getting the plot down to one page is tricky enough!

Maybe we can share tips/things we've learned so we can perfect our synopsis writing skills. Here are some of mine:

*During my first attempts, I put too much emphasis on the beginning of my story in the synopsis just as many novice writers take too long on the story's setup in their actual manuscripts. If you have 250 words, 125 shouldn't be covering the first chapter.

*Imagine yourself sitting with people around a campfire. Now tell them what your story is about. It sounds soooo basic, but this really helps me write a synopsis. It makes it sound like a story instead of just passed information.

*Only include enough characters to tell the story.


Can you offer any tips from your experiences?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Photos for Inspiration

Last week, a couple of you mentioned beaches, mountains, or other places in nature as your ideal writing spots. I, too, am inspired by nature, but I like to head indoors to write after I take in my share of the fresh air. I realize that's a little lame, but I yam what I yam. This is why I retired from camping about six years ago. My poor hubby...camping is one of his favorite activities. My son still loves going with him, but my daughter has followed in my footsteps. If the boys go camping, we have a girls weekend at home and go to dinner and a movie. That's what we did two weekends ago even though the boys were camping close to the Quileute Reservation near Forks, and my daughter and I are both TWILIGHT fans. You'll be happy to know my husband and son made it back without any vampire or werewolf encounters, though they did see signs for tours.

When I was out running this morning, I took some pictures, hoping they'd help inspire us and get the writing juices flowing. Washington is just so darn pret
ty, even I can take beautiful (albeit slightly blurry) pictures! I realize showing nature photos on a computer is kind of like offering scratch-n-sniff coffee and pastry stickers to visitors who've come for tea, but bear with me. We're writers. We have good imaginations. Put in a sounds of nature CD or imagine the cries of sea gulls as you view my pics.
















For the TWILIGHT fans, here's a picture my husband took of Second Beach, west of Forks.

Didn't Bella go to First Beach? First Beach is through that little whole in the headland on the right.

So are you feeling inspired now? ;)
What are your writing goals for today?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Stretching Ourselves

I suck at tennis. I'm not being modest--I'm really bad. My kids are good at it, but they learned early that they didn't get their tennis skills from me. While they'd tap the ball over the net to each other, I'd miss it completely or hit home runs over the fence. Too bad, really, because I've seen some way cute tennis skirts. Also, what if I get an agent or an editor who is totally into tennis, and he or she wants to play a match before a very important business lunch? I'll have to hire a stunt double for our court time then switch places before the food, drinks, and talk. Yes, these are the things that concern me about my future life as an author.

While tennis skirts and tennis business lunches are excellent reasons to learn to play, I wasn't really inspired to hit balls around until a few weeks ago. The kids and I were at a t
ennis court with my friend Sheila because the three of them wanted to play. Before leaving, I demonstrated my lack of tennis skills. I thought Sheila would just laugh, but looking back, of course she wouldn't. Sheila, who is also my writing mentor, used to coach tennis.

When she told me I don't have to throw my leg spasmodically into the air when I hit and she demonstrated how to move, I was able to tap a couple balls. It reminded me of the "wax on, wax off" moment in THE KARATE KID when the karate guru is having the boy do things that
will later help his instruction. It really was nothing like the movie because I'm never going to play in a tournament, let alone kick ass and bring down tennis bullies. Still, I felt like I was having a moment with my personal guru, though it may have just been temporary insanity brought on by dehydration. Call it what you want, but it planted a seed in my brain: just because this doesn't come naturally to you doesn't mean you can't benefit by trying it.

I asked my son for a tennis lesson later that week. He was adorable, knowledgeable, kind, and patient. He taught me forehand and backhand basics then fed balls right to my racket. He had me practice my serve, and since I don't technically
have a serve, he had his work cut out for him. We did drills and ran around like crazy, using a full basket of balls. (We also decided that we'll have to invest in one of those little tubes that makes ball pick up easier.) I missed a ton of balls, but I hit more than I
ever have in my life, and there was only one over-the-fence-homer.

Am I good now? No, I still suck. But I suck a little less. The best part was having fun with my son and feeling proud of what a great guy he is. Another really cool part, the part I'm emphasizing today, is how good it felt to stretch myself and see I could do something I never knew I could: hit tennis balls and have a few land where they should.


As writers, we have "specialties", things that come easy to us. That's all good--great even--but I never want to limit myself. We have to challenge ourselves. That soun
ds ridiculous, in a sense, because lots of us are aspiring authors, and what's more challenging than signing with a great agent and getting published? Not much. And those who already are published have a whole new set of challenges. But what I'm talking about is growing as a writer.

For example, I wrote animal stories throughout my childhood. Then, as an adult writer, that's what I started out doing. For some reason, writing animals seemed more natural to me than writing humans. Unfortunately, the market for anthropomorphism could have been a lot better. I had to stretch myself to write people as my main characters. Now that's what I enjoy doing best--writing YA (and middle grade) with human characters.

Please understand that I'm
not saying animal stories are easier or somehow "less than" people stories--I still love animal stories. And for someone to succeed at getting any published--wow. But for me, animal stories were within my comfort zone. I needed to push myself to exp
and upon my strengths.

Which brings up another point: play to your strengths. It might sound like a contradiction to what I just wrote, but I don't mean it as one; we need to do both. An agent told me to play to my strengths and that mine is humor. Humor is something that feels natural to me, something I love reading and writing. Will I abandon it to stretch myself as a writer? Of course not. But I want many strengths. Don't we all?

I recommend reading Jane Yolen's book TAKE JOY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO LOVING THE CRAFT. She touches beautifully on stretching ourselves in a section labeled
Be Careful of Being Facile (pp. 71-72 in my copy). It's a wonderful book by an author I've long admired.


So...how about you? What are some of your writing strengths? What are ways you hope to grow as a writer? Also, if you know anything about tennis, how good do you have to be before you're allowed to get a skirt?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This and That

Blogging Class
I signed up for a blogging for writers class that's in October. Is that weird since I'm already blogging? It's just one day, and maybe I'll learn new ways to jazz things up and make my blog "an experience to remember", LOL. I bet I'll pick up some worthwhile stuff since I'm pretty new to the blogosphere.


SCBWI-WWA Meeting
Our first Professional Series Meeting for the 2009-2010 season was last night.
Elana Roth, an agent at the Caren Johnson Literary Agency, spoke to our group about Plot and Pacing. Her talk was great, and I left feeling energized.


COFFEEHOUSE ANGEL by Suzanne Selfors

I read it last week and loved it! Her stories are so unique and memorable, and her characters feel three-dimensional. She's a friend, but I'd be a fan even if I didn't know her. (When I posted about it before, I hadn't read it yet; I just knew it was out.)


Who says money can't buy happiness?

My hubby came home from Costco bearing gifts.


Love. That. Man.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Your Writing Paradise

One of my brothers lives in Hawaii, and he sent me this picture. I don't know if you can see it, but there's a second rainbow off to the right a bit. (Is that what people call a "double rainbow"?) He and his kids saw this last week on the way to school. Isn't it beautiful?

The awesome part about having family in Hawaii is that when you visit your family, you're in an incredible spot. The downside: it's expensive to fly out, and driving isn't an option. Thus, you can't see each other as often as you'd like.


The last time we were in Hawaii, I wrote. Just for a couple hours here and there, but it was great. After my family and I goofed around on the beach and in the pool, they were more than happy to bail every now and then to explore on their own while I got in some writing time. I'll try not to whine about how I
had to listen to waves lapping on the sand while I typed. (Oh, yeah--that's sarcasm.)

In August,
Scott Perkins did a post asking people where they write. (By the way, if you haven't been to Scott's blog, I highly recommend it. He writes beautifully and posts often. Plus, he's a nice guy.) Last week, "Lazy Writer" Susan said in my comments section that music inspires her to write. I'll snake both their ideas and ask you to describe your perfect writing setup, your "writing paradise", in my comments section. If you choose to share, it doesn't have to be how you actually write each day, but what your ideal setup would be.

Mine?

1. Alone, but not all day--just for a good chunk of hours. Interacting with people, especially my kids, not only makes me happy, but it gives me great ideas! While I love coffee shops, I'd rather not write in one; I worry I do weird faces when I write dialogue.

2. Quiet. While music definitely inspires me, I like to write in a quiet spot. My husband, on the other hand, likes to work with his music playing. This is why we have to divide the house when he works from home. ;) "I call the den!"

3. I prefer writing in the morning and afternoon.

Your turn. How about you?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My First Blog Award!

Fiction Groupie (Roni) gave me the Splish Splash Award for a dazzling blog! Thank you, Roni! I'm so flattered you thought of my site!

Isn't it a pretty award?

If you haven't already, check out Fiction Groupie's blog because it's FABULOUS!


I'm going to pass the award to:

1.
Elana Johnson, YA Author
2.
Cindy R. Wilson
3.
Michelle McLean's Writer Ramblings
4.
Ranch Girl Ramblings

Congrats, ladies!


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Writing, Rain or Shine

Summer vacation is drawing to a close, and my kidlings are getting ready to go back to school. We've had a lovely summer with lots of clear skies and sunshine. Here's a picture that I took in June of the Seattle skyline. I remember it was a gorgeous day, so when I went looking for this photo today I was surprised to find clouds in the picture.

I'm from Southern California. I love it there, but I love it here, too. I even love the rain, most of the time. It's beautiful and not usually a drenching rain, but it feels like a constant once we turn the corner from summer. Do you know people here don't reschedule most activities if it's raining? It would be impractical. I was surprised the first time I saw kids at a local elementary school playing outside at recess when it was raining. Little League games don't usually get rained out unless there's lightning or the fields are too muddy. This kind of thinking reminds me of the persistence required for writing.

I work at my computer each day, and the story unfolds, bit by bit. I often can't wait to get going, and I long to get more of the story out of my head and onto the page. Then there are the times when it feels more like work, and I need to push myself to put in the time and move forward. These are the days that I have to make sure my story doesn't get rained out.


The Seattle Mariners play at Safeco Field, a stadium with a retractable roof. This guarantees that they can play, rain or shine. Regardless of whether you love or hate the Mariners, they have the right idea: we need to get our butts in our chairs to write, rain or shine.


In 2002, I took a fabulous class,
The Art of Fiction, taught by David Guterson. I wanted to absorb the guy's intelligence and abilities through something like osmosis, just by breathing oxygen from the same room for the eight or so weeks that it lasted. The class was one of the best I've ever taken. One of the many nuggets of wisdom that he offered (which I'm paraphrasing): when you're putting aside your writing at the end of the day, don't let your stopping point be right before a tough spot; that will make it harder to start up the next day. I learned so much from his class and that's just one tidbit, but I think it's like an object in a side mirror, being larger than it appears. Isn't it so much easier to slip back into your story when you're having fun and not feeling tortured? Or rained on?

I remember hearing two authors offer examples of how they get themselves into a writing mood. I wish I could remember who they were so I could identify them--I remember what they said quite well. One said he reads a few pages of something that is beautifully written by an author he admires. This inspires him. The other said he goes to the computer at the same time each day, and it's like he has an appointment with his characters. Something about it being habitual makes his characters come to him and gets his writing juices flowing at the same time, every day.


As for me, I try and follow all three examples of how to make it easy to jump back into my story whether the forecast in my mind says sunny and clear or stormy with a risk of flash floods.


Do you have any tips to offer that can get us through the rainy season? How do you get yourself motivated when you wake up feeling less than inspired?