Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Five Things I'll Never Write

I've now had five books traditionally published, and published one myself, so I recently launched a new website ( with a tagline: "Your friend for feel-good fiction".

That tagline tells you a lot about me. I want my books to uplift and bring happiness. I want people to get warm fuzzy feelings as the close the book after reading the last page. I want readers to get pleasure from my books.

To that end, there are five things you will never find in one of my books. Not now, not at any time in the future:

1. A Sex Scene
My mother reads my books. More than that, I tend to feel that intimate moments between couples really should be private even when that couple is fictional. I really don't see any circumstance in which detailed description of sexual acts can advance the plot of a book.

2. Swearing
I hate swearing. It's poor use of language, "the attempt of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully" (Spencer W. Kimball), using words out-of-context purely for shock value. I defriend anyone who swears on Facebook, and I remonstrate with people who swear in the street within earshot of my children. My books will never contain a swear word.

3. Misery
I really don't understand the recent craze for misery memoirs, with all the horrors of people's abused childhoods laid bare. I know there are horrible parts of life. I know that atrocities happen, and that many people are very damaged by what they go through. But as Marvin the paranoid android said, "Life's bad enough as it is without wanting to invent any more of it." There's no place in my books for any seriously horrible stuff.

4. Politics
I write for an international audience, with my books available worldwide. Expounding my views on UK politics is the very quickest way to alienate readers, and will be pointless and senseless for many of my readers who don't happen to live on these islands.

5. Bad spelling, grammar and construction
I'm a horrible grammar nazi. Yes, there may be the odd typo in my work (although I do use editors, some always slip through) but I really work hard to make sure my writing is good. Maybe it's because I read too much great literature, but I always feel that it's important that a book is actually well-written with meaningful metaphors, evocative description and dazzling prose. I don't claim to be able to achieve this all the time, but I really do try. I'm currently reading a book by a huge author (and I mean really huge - billboards all over the underground huge) and I'm astonished to find that it's really badly written! I mean, the guy can't write for toffee. Unless I can read back my work and feel it stands up to some of my favourite authors, that there are parts I'm proud of, and that it really is good, I'm not going to submit or publish it.

Because if I'm going to call myself "Your friend for feel-good fiction" my books needs to make you feel good, they need to be good, and you have to be able to trust me as you would a friend.

Monday, July 29, 2013

She felt confused.

About a week ago I posted on the MMW facebook page that I am reading James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner.” I had heard great things about this book, lots of “Oh, you HAVE to read this!” I get excited when I hear stuff like that, and I knew it was a hot commodity when I had to put my name on a reserve waiting list at the library to get the next available copy.

So I started the book, and the story drew me in right away. However, now that I have started writing my own book much more seriously, I have started approaching every book I read with a mental red pen. I am far more critical than I ever used to be. I feel like every book I read has lessons in it for me- great attributes I should emulate and weaknesses I should avoid. And so, sad to say, I’ve been mentally marking the heck out of “The Maze Runner.”

The main character, Thomas, is thrown into an extremely precarious and unnerving situation in the beginning of the book. It’s a great way to start, because the reader is just as clueless as he is. The problem is that the author doesn’t seem to understand that the reader feels just as clueless as Thomas, and he seems to continuously feel the need to tell us how confused Thomas is. Don’t get me wrong- there are several times when Dashner does a great job of showing instead of telling. Unfortunately, he just seems to get lazy at times and throw all this emotion-specific language around in the reader’s face.

Here’s an example: At one point in the story, another boy is in some serious trouble, facing punishment for something he had done to Thomas. As the reader, following the story right along with Thomas in a limited 3rd person POV, we know what has happened and how Thomas must feel. But, just to clarify, Dashner says,

“Thomas was horrified by the whole affair- he couldn’t help feeling responsible even though he’d never done anything to provoke Ben. How was any of this his fault? No answer came to him, but he felt the guilt all the same, like a disease in his blood.”

And then just 3 paragraphs later:

"Every word from the kid was like a fist punching Thomas in the stomach, making him feel more guilty and confused.”

Okay, out comes my inner editor:

1. We know Thomas is horrified, because we are horrified.

2. We know he feels responsible- who wouldn’t?

So if I were editing this, I would cut out the whole first half of that first quote and make it something like this :

“Thomas knew it wasn’t his fault, yet guilt swam like a disease through his blood.”  Short, sweet, same message.

As for the second quotation, to me, the first half of that sentence says it all. If someone’s words feel like a fist punching you in the stomach, isn’t it safe to say that means they make you feel awful? And like I said before, as the readers, we know exactly why Ben’s words make Thomas feel awful- we’ve been with Thomas this whole time. And in case we didn’t, we got it from that first quotation just a couple (short) paragraphs before. So, if it were up to me, I would simply say, “Every word from the kid was like a fist punching Thomas in the stomach.” Period. We know he’s guilty and confused. No need to feed us emotion words.

Let me grab one more example for you:

“Sadness filled him like a heavy poison. Alby’s screams, now distant but still audible, only made it worse. He had to squeeze his hands to his ears every time he heard them.”

Again, this just feels wordy to me. Clearly, the sounds of his friend (well, “friend” might be a stretch, but I think Thomas at least respects him) screaming would be disturbing to him, especially after the day this kid has had. But I think it would tighten it up a bit to say simply,

“Sadness filled him like a heavy poison. He heard Alby’s screams in the distance and squeezed his hands to his ears."

[If only he could shut out his own pain so easily. ooOOooOh!]

To me, that just paints a picture. He is sad. SCREAM. Hands squeeze to shut it out. Ouch, right?

When I write, I’m trying to always be thinking about decluttering and streamlining, cleaning and tightening- saying more with less (not that you’d know it to read my lennngthy blog posts). There’s a quotation out there that says something to the effect of, “You’re finished editing not when there’s nothing more to add, but when there’s nothing more you can cut.” Or, as Stephen King always says, “Murder your darlings!” Ha.

Anyway, these were just a couple of examples that stood out to me. But like I said, the story is really compelling, so I’m still enjoying the book. I was really hoping as I read that this was Dashner’s first book, because then this kind of stuff could be excused. But it’s not. It’s like, his 15th or something. I was talking with my mom about it and she says that she’s noticed that sometimes with successful authors their editors get lazier with each subsequent book. It’s a possibility, I guess.

So that’s my two cents. Maybe I’m being nit picky. And goodness knows he’s doing something right if he’s published over a dozen books and I’ve published, let’s see...none. (In all fairness, I haven’t actually finished mine yet, though I am plugging away diligently, so give me a break!) Anybody else want to weigh in? Anybody else play editor when they read?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday So What Quick Tip: Summary

This Quick Tip comes from something that happened at my critique group. I had answered an email about it earlier, but now I realize that others might benefit from the answer I gave both of them.

Just because you are in a dialogue scene doesn't mean you have to actually say it. Here's what I mean.

Let's take Jennifer. In the first two chapters of her story, we as the reader go on a date with her. It's awful.  Then next day in Chapter 3, Jennifer has lunch with her best friend and gives her all the details over lunch. Here's where the tip comes in: As a reader, we just experienced the date. We don't need to have the entire thing rehashed for us. Unless you want to add a zinger or two to emphasize, don't bore the reader. Keep it in summary.

Example Don't:
"So Marc picked me up last night in his beat up truck. Then we went to the worst restaurant, La Shay. The food was sub par anyway, but to make matters worse, Marc put a cockroach in my food after I had eaten most of it so that the meal would be comped. Later, I had to buy the gas when we almost ran out. And then when he dropped me off he tried to kiss me." Jennifer shivered from the memory of Marc's duck lips and bad breath.

Now keep in mind, we just barely read all of this as it happened.

Example do:
"Have a seat, because I have a doozy for you." Jennifer scooted into the booth and gave Amanda the grimy details of her date. She didn't leave out a thing from the cockroach comped meal, to the near miss kiss at the end. Jennifer shivered from the memory of Marc's duck lips and bad breath.

Amanda fell over laughing in the booth. "I can't believe he made you pay for gas. This one definitely goes in the record book."

In the second example, we aren't giving a factual recitation but more the after effects and the reaction. Hopefully, this will mean the reader doesn't get bored and start skimming over the parts they already know.

So that's your quick tip, unless it's new interesting info, put it in summary instead of giving the play by play

Friday, July 26, 2013

What I Learned from the Zimmerman Trial


Ever since the George Zimmerman trial ended, I've been trying to hear/read all sides of the arguments that have erupted.  I don't think there's a simple answer as to whether or not the verdict was correct, but here are a few things I've confirmed for myself.   

1.  Appearance - not just skin shade, but age, level of attractiveness, weight, disability, manner of dress/tattoos etc. - is not a reliable indicator of what guides a person's heart.  

2.  Anyone roaming around after dark risks being viewed as suspicious - this is not unreasonable.

3.  Gun ownership is generally supported - until somebody gets killed.

4.   If we call 911 for any reason, we need to follow the directions given.

5.  When confronted with an aggressor, it's best to WALK (or run) AWAY.   No fracas is worth dying for.

If only Zimmerman had let law enforcement handle his concerns....if he had not carried his gun into the street...if Trayvon had not been out late, looking in windows...if either one of these people had just walked away, not engaged with the stranger in the night - the outcome might have been different.

As it was, the teen and the man chose to fight.  Both felt justified  I assume both were equally scared and angry.  It's tragic that one of them - either one of them - didn't make a different choice.  Then, or earlier.

Over the course of the trial and afterwards, I kept reminding myself that our judicial system is based on facts (not necessarily truth) and governed by imperfect human beings.  Even at its best, it can still fail.  Every verdict has people simultaneously rejoicing and crying. 

Which brings me to my final reminder of the week, which is that only God knows the truth of every matter.  He knows Trayvon's heart.  He knows George Zimmerman's heart.   He alone is fully just and fully merciful.   We might argue the Zimmerman trial for years to come, as we did the O.J. trial, but in God's eyes, the matter is already settled.

I gain my peace from that.

What are your thoughts on the Zimmerman trial?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Do Reviews Really Matter?

A dear friend published her first book last month and it's selling steadily. I'm very happy for her, and the concept behind the book is original and intriguing so I see no reason it shouldn't become a huge success. (Take a peek here in the UK or here in the US.)

However, it's only in the last couple of days that her book has had its first two Amazon reviews. Although she has been contacted privately by people who have loved it and were eagerly awaiting book 2, it was several weeks before any saw fit to say so publicly in the form of a review. My friend spent this time feeling extremely anxious and curious about how her book was being received by the wider world.

Received wisdom is that reviews are essential to a book's success, so naturally authors crave them. We want to know whether or not people liked our book, because good reviews are affirming and reassuring. Oh, and they make other people more likely to buy it, too.

I wonder how important they really are, though. For one thing, most people don't believe five-star book reviews. Regular readers of indie books have read enough terrible books with a string of five-star reviews to know that authors ask their friends to provide these reviews (whether or not they've read the book) so they can't be relied on. Amazon knows this too and is taking steps to improve the credibility of its reviews, but it's a difficult challenge. In the meantime I ignore five-star reviews and look to the content of the remaining reviews.

Neither is the number of reviews a book has any indication of how good it is or how well it has sold. I recently downloaded my daughter's favourite book, a bestselling novel her whole class had read as part of their literacy and history curriculum. It had no reviews. Not one.

For another thing, reviews of books (as opposed to, say, vacuum cleaners) are subjective. Some people will like what other people hate, and vice versa. Look up your favourite book ever, ever, and you will see that someone will have given it just one measly star. In fact, don't bother, I'll do the leg work for you. Take Pride and Prejudice, surely one of the best books ever written. Reviewer JLT said, "I hate Jane Austin [sic] what a bore why oh why does everyone rave about her???" (Maybe, JLT, because she knows how to use punctuation.)

My husband is currently reading my Work In Progress (actually I've finished it, so it's not technically in progress) and he loves it. That means more to me than any review. Yes, I know he's my husband so he has to say nice things to me or sleep on the couch, but he's also the most honest person on the planet. I know, for example, never to ask, "Does my bum look big in this?" because he will tell me the truth. So the fact that he wonders why editors and agents have turned it down means more to me than any five-star review.

So don't take too much notice of reviews. Maybe they're not quite as reliable or important as you think.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Did You?

Last week I posted about seeing people as our Father in Heaven sees us- laying aside the snap judgments and assumptions and loving others because they are our brothers and sisters.

Did you?

If you did, I would love to hear about it in the comments section.

In other news, guess who turned one on Saturday?

I cannot believe it has already been an entire year since this little angel graced us with her presence. She is truly a gift of joy in our lives!!

Many thanks to my friend Debbie Stafford for doing these incredible photos for me (my other photographer moved back to California! But at least I get to enjoy the work of even more of my amazing creative friends!)! If anyone lives in the Richmond area and you need some photos, be sure to check her out. You can see more of her work here: Debbie Stafford Photography. She is a Mormon Mommy Photographer rock star (and incredibly sweet and fun to boot). 

Hope everyone has an awesome week, and I look forward to your comments. :-)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I Believe In Magic

When I look back on my childhood I have mostly sunny memories that glisten and sparkle in my mind's eye. I had iconic summer moments sitting in the sunshine eating popsicles.  I think I had a pretty magical childhood.  I never doubted that the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and the Tooth Fairy were real.  I played with my siblings wonderful games of make believe.   
Now that I have children I want to preserve that magic.  I know not every parent agrees with the whole Santa and Easter Bunny thing, and I can appreciate them wanting to be completely honest with their children.  But what if you could do both? 
I'd like to think I haven't lied to my kids.  When they ask me questions about Santa or the Tooth Fairy, or any other magical person I typically ask them what they think.  Lately my older daughter has been asking a lot about real magic.  After a play date with our neighbor where they were playing with plastic wands purchased at the store my daughter asked if we could make our own real magic wands.  She was pretty insistent and I thought it would be a fun project for us to do together.  I dug out some old hair chopsticks that I've had since high school and we made some wands.  We even drilled a small hole in the back so we could fill it with glitter, giving the wand its ability to do magic.  The wands turned out pretty cute and both my girls were thrilled to have their own real magic wands.  After a few minutes of playing my older daughter came up to me and said that she didn't think her wand was working or that she didn't know how to make it do real magic.  I sat down with her and we talked about what we both thought real magic really was.  In the end I told her that I believe real magic is made in our imaginations because when we imagine or play make believe we can create anything, we can be anything, we can see and hear what ever we want, and when we practice enough we can feel anything we can imagine. I reassured her that with practice using her imagination she would be able to do all sorts of magic.

I don't believe I was lying to my child, then or now, when I tell her I believe in magic and that magic is real.  As writers we are creators of magic.  We create worlds and people that don't exists in our every day lives.  We create something out of nothing.  We can take that nothing and with our magic we can make it become anything.  Magic lives in our imaginations and we have the incredible opportunity to share that with the world. 
Go ahead and believe in magic.  I do. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday So What: Creative Mind and Mental Illness

There is a demon that lives in my mind. It feeds on happiness and grows so large that it blocks out the light. The time is coming when it will crack through the veneer I have built. Then may God have mercy on my soul.

----My thoughts at age 15

I have always had a bit of flare for the dramatic, leaned towards the creative side of life. In turn I have also struggled my entire life with depression and anxiety. It is my belief that the two are inextricably sealed together.

This week, another famous actor died after a struggle with his own demons and self medicating with alcohol and illicit substances-- Cory Montieth. He is only the most recent in a very long list of artists. I am not glorifying him or justifying his choices, I am looking at the root, which I understand.

To be an artist is to paint with your emotions. That can be words on paper, notes in a song, a performance on a stage, images on a canvas, and much more. We are the creative mind. To be able to emote, to share and touch someone, we have to bear a little piece of raw nerve. We have to regularly be able to tap into an emotion that some might prefer stay buried. Then, after a masterpiece is built, we hold it up to the world and say, "here, judge my heart".

I feel things deeply and viscerally. That can make joy utterly euphoric and within the same day a rejection casts me into a pit of snakes that bite at my ankles. Sometimes I feel like I am saying, "Love me, love me because I can't love myself." I could be wrong, but I believe many other artist, actors, singers, and writers feel the exact same way.

Some people use drugs and alcohol to treat themselves and dull their feelings. Others seek help from a professional. Many ignore it entirely and live in fear of discovery and do whatever is necessary to keep a face to show the world, but keep their tears confined in the corner where no one is watching. On the flipside there are others who are very open and brave about their struggles, a fellow writer Robison Wells is an excellent example of this.

There are as many ways of coping as there are people under the moon. Talking to someone helps, as does spilling my feelings into my writing or music. I've had medication that has helped and others that zombified me. I've prayed to God to steal my soul in the night. But if I had given up in the depths of my dispair then the pain might have ended, but so would the joy.

My biggest point is that there is no reason to be ashamed. The way I am and the way I feel gives me access into a universe that many are blind to. Though it means I have to walk carefully as not to get lost in that place. But I am not damaged goods. And neither are you. If you are struggling with mental illness, realize that doesn't mean you are less.  It means that you are more. You have more heart and more soul than can be contained. You are the creative mind.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Firing Your Editor

Let's face it nobody wants an editor that is so critical they never see anything good. You know what I'm talking about, the type of person where nothing is ever good enough. Those people are never pleased and you should get as far away from that type of editor as you can. But what if that editor is YOU?!!

Yep, that's my problem. My inner editor is taking over my life and she is not fun. She is overly critical of my writing and NEVER thinks it's good enough. But now she has moved beyond just being critical of my writing. I can't read books or watch movies without this overly critical voice in the back of my head telling me how it could have been better. My favorite authors are suddenly lacking, even my favorite TV shows are losing their appeal. This needs to stop! It is paralyzing my writing. Am I the only one that has this problem? Please tell me some of you have dealt with this before.

How do you silence your over bearing editor when it's in your own head??

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Incognito Authors

So JK Rowling has been unmasked as the author of the "astonishingly assured debut" novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, writing under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. There's much to say on the subject (I particularly like the fact that it was rejected by several publishers) but what most intrigued me is why she chose to publish anonymously.

JK herself said, "being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without the hype or expectation." I hear you, sister. I too prefer publishing without knowing that millions of people are camped outside bookstores eager to get their hands on my newest novel.

Oh, wait, not so much.

But actually, the pressure on her must have been tremendous, and the fact that The Casual Vacancy was not as well received as had been expected (because, seriously, how do you follow Harry Potter?) might have left her feeling a little fed up with the whole business. In those circumstances, it's hardly surprising she wanted to dispense with all the media frenzy and just be a normal author. Maybe she wanted to see how well her book sold and how well it was received without wondering how much those reviews or sales figures were influenced by her name being on the cover.

Well, it had some excellent reviews from people who are doubtless now feeling vindicated, and sold 1,500 copies in hardback, which some commentators have said is "disappointing" but personally I think is excellent. I know I'd have been thrilled with that anyway. I've only twice sold that many copies in paperback. So good for her, and I'm sorry she was outed earlier than she had hoped. (Particularly sorry because some of the newest reviews are now focussing on Harry Potter and her little stunt, rather than the book itself.)

She's not the only author to pull this trick. Madeleine Wickham was a successful author who wrote a book in a slightly different genre and sent it anonymously to her agent. The agent accepted, all the while thinking, "If this didn't say Sophie Kinsella on the front I could swear it was written by Maddy." Sophie Kinsella is now more successful than Madeleine Wickham.

Steven King also writes under the name Richard Bachman. Ruth Rendell also writes as Barbara Vine. In some cases authors choose to write under a pseudonym when they switch genres, but not always.

I've written in many genres (gentle women's fiction, historical, comedy, romance, thriller, religious and sci-fi) but always under my own name. Mostly because I can't afford to set up different websites for all my extra identities. But also because I'm saving the pseudonym for when I want to put something out without having to face all the hype and expectation.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Through His Eyes

First, let me say that I had a GREAT time sprinting with Betsy last week! Check out the comments section on that post here and you can see how we did. I felt pretty good about what I accomplished and I’m thinking we should do it again next week- anybody game?

This week I felt the need to write about something that has been on my mind lately. Betsy’s “Working Rant” from the other day ties right into my thoughts. I feel like lately I’ve been witnessing a lot of misunderstandings. Some mine, some others. I think we have a tendency to look around us and assume things about people- both good things and bad things- without considering that we don’t have all the facts. 

For example, I have several single female friends. They are wonderful people, and they face challenges that I do not. Sometimes, however, I think they look at me with my husband and kids and think that I have it made. That my life is smooth sailing. Now don’t get me wrong- I am blessed. I mean, really, really blessed. But does that mean my life is perfect? No. My husband works a lot- there are many nights that the first time I see my husband all day is when he comes in and tells me goodnight when I’m already mostly asleep. My kids can drive me crazy, I feel the demands from all angles- my family responsibilities, my church responsibilities, my desire to write and improve my talents. There are times when I envy those women- they don’t have to always check with someone else before they make decisions about their homes or their kids or their finances. In the evenings once the kids are in bed (if they have kids) they don’t have anyone else waiting for their attention- they can watch whatever show or movie they want to watch, or read, or write, or take a bubble bath and no one will mind.

Plus, marriage can be hard. It takes work. When you make those promises, your concerns suddenly double. Their worries become your worries, their heartaches and challenges your heartaches and challenges; their goals your goals. You are living with another person whose mood and happiness (or lack thereof) can affect your entire life in a big way. They’re not a child- you can’t teach them and shape them and raise them. What you see is what you get, and the only person you can change is yourself. 


Their joys also become your joys. And even more importantly, your joys become their joys and your challenges and goals become their challenges and goals. I remember when I went to Girls’ Camp once a few years back and I naively thought I wouldn’t miss my husband that much. I was surprised by how stressful it was to not have a Person. You know, your Person. The one you talk to just to decompress, the one you know loves you even with all your ugly parts. The one who gives you a hug and says it will be okay. It would be very difficult to have to get by day to day without that Person. Plus, he mows the lawn. That’s super helpful too. ;-)

It’s just not fair for us to compare situations, because both have their own challenges and struggles and high points and low points. 

This is just one example- Betsy brought up writers and non-writers. There are also the battles between stay-at-home moms and working moms. The ones between young people and older people, men and women, people with kids and childless couples- the fact is that we are all different, and we all face different challenges, and yet we all feel that need to judge one another. Remember that saying about how if we all threw our troubles into a pile and saw what everyone else had, we’d reach in and grab ours back out? I think that’s true.

What I believe is this: it is not our job to judge or assume. It is our job only to love. And you love people and appreciate people not because of the challenges they face, or  how well they deal with them, or because their lot is harder than yours. You love them because they are a child of God, and He loves them.

When I was in the Young Women program, I used to do “value experiences”- goals I achieved to complete my “Personal Progress.” One week I chose to complete an experience that said, “For one week try to see people as your Father in Heaven sees them.” I liked it because it seemed easy enough, so I tried it.

It changed my life.

Suddenly, it was like I was seeing the world through a different lens. I’d like to think I’d always been fairly compassionate, but it was nothing like this. There were people who had always annoyed me whom I began to truly love. People who I had always thought were stuck up/rude/self-centered- when I began to see them through the eyes of my Heavenly Father, I felt nothing but love. If they acted in ways that were obnoxious, or said things that were hurtful, I just thought, “This person is struggling and they just don’t know how to handle it. I wish I could help them more. They are so beautiful inside and they just don’t know it. They don’t know how special they are.” Quite simply, it changed my whole perspective.

Since then, I have tried very hard not to judge. I am not perfect. Let me say that again: I AM NOT PERFECT! (Shocker, right?) I still make snap judgements. I still think others have it easier, or are lazier, or just don’t “get it.” It’s hard to remember to love sometimes.

I also believe that there are people out there who are simply not good for my well-being, so I avoid them. But I try to remember that they are children of God too, and rather than spend time and energy ranting about them (either out loud, in writing, or in my head) I accept that they have some challenges going on right now that don’t really have anything to do with me, and I love them from afar and hope that maybe someday we can better understand one another.

Who was it that once said, “Love one another”? 

Oh, right. That was the Savior. (He’s pretty smart.)

So for this week, I extend an invitation to you. Judge not. Love. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Their battle may not be the same as your battle, but they may not have the kind of strength you have. The snake may seem weak and lazy to the bird, but the snake has no wings. (That’s not a quote- that’s all me. But it’s good, right?) Meet people where they are. For one week, try to see people as your Father in Heaven sees them. Let Him open your eyes to your brothers and sisters, and prepare to be amazed.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Otiose Lexicon

I recently read a book that I quite enjoyed.  I liked the story.  I liked the characters, for the most part.  I liked the overall idea behind the story.  That being said, I did have one issue with this book.  The book was a YA novel, however popping up every page or so was a word that I had no idea what it meant.  I will be the first to admit that I don't have an extensive vocabulary (not the greatest quality in a writer).  However, when writing something aimed at teenagers, with teenaged characters I kind of expect it to be written in a style and language that would reflect that.  At first I thought that maybe the author was just trying to incorporate new vocabulary words into our YA literature to help people grow their vocabulary. I can appreciate that because when I do come across a word I'm not familiar with I like to look it up, and with the help of a magic fairy and a whole lot of luck I might remember it, thus increasing my own vocabulary.  Not only did this become distracting for me, having to stop and look up words every couple of pages, but it started to make the characters a little less believable.  These were teenagers, after all, and they were using words I had never heard of.  As I made my way through the book these unfamiliar words started to annoy me more and more.  I started thinking maybe the author just wants the world to know how great her vocabulary is.  Here's a few of the words I came across in one chapter:

If any of you know what these words mean off the top of your head then kudos to you!  I did not.   

I don't typically like to give a lot of negative criticism, and I really did like the book, so I'm taking this as a learning opportunity for myself and my writing.  I think it's important to remember what crowd it is you're writing to.  And I think it's a wonderful thing to increase people's knowledge and vocabulary, but it should be within reason.  I think I'll stash this little nugget of information in some corner of my brain and hope that it will help me to improve my writing. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Saturday So What: Working rant

This is rant. You have been warned.

So I was talking to someone today, and after I told them what I do (writing) their reaction was as follows:
That must be nice not to have a real job. At the end of the day, I am just exhausted. Maybe I should be a writer. After all, how hard can it be to sit at a computer telling stories all day.

I believe I showed great restraint, because that person is still alive.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you, WRITING IS HARD WORK!!!

Sitting for hours at a time, exercising the most important muscle - the brain- is freaking exhausting. I am in a cycle where I'm writing, revising, writing, revising, making one clean chapter per day.  After about 6 hours, I can't even remember my name. Usually, I think it's Scarlet, my character.

I have panic attacks when I realize the gravity of how big the story is that I am telling. How many little emotional nuances need to be shown, rather than told. Pacing, formatting, structure, voicing, character depth. I personally think the fact that we can create worlds that draw people in is a miracle in itself.

We work our butts off, try to keep our houses from burning down around our ears, and make less per hour of labor than a McJob. Without the benefit of discounts on Big Macs.

So here's to you, fellow writers. I appreciate you. When I am sick of being in my own head, I appreciate the public service you perform by letting me into yours for a little while.

The next time someone questions the cleanliness of my household, because "Hey, I'm a stay at home writer, I should have time," I cannot guarantee that person will survive when they are written into my book.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Accidental Blessings

Sometimes life intervenes, and the plans you had...well, they just don't matter anymore.

My plan to write a post for MMW this week changed when our daughter was in a car accident last week.  In another state.

I needed to write about it, but it took me a week to process it.  I posted that piece on my blog HERE, and I invite you to join me there to see how good God is even amidst damaging events.

I can only bow before Him and say, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

In Another World

A few years ago I got into a video game. It was called Grabbed by the Ghoulies and was an X-box game which involved fighting your way through a haunted house using items of furniture and wit and wiles to defeat the ghosts and ghouls. It's the only video game I have ever played.

My kids and I loved this game. On one level there was a broom which made a particularly good weapon. So that you knew you could pick up and use this broom (and other items) a little white hand icon would appear on it. I knew that I was spending far too much time playing the game when I went into my kitchen one day, intending to sweep the floor, and stood by the broom waiting for a hand icon to appear so that I could pick it up. That's the point where I gave up Grabbed by the Ghoulies and I have never played another X-box game since.

If my experience seems odd, though, think about how often you read (or write) a book and have problems getting your brain back into the real world. When it's a really, really good book it can often become difficult to entirely leave it behind when you close it (or switch it off). Ever read a Jane Austen book and found yourself walking with a little more poise, or enunciating more clearly? Or been halfway through a Harry Potter and wondered whether some of the more unusually dressed people around you might actually be wizards? I'm currently re-reading Wool and at times I find myself marvelling at the sky above me.

Which books have you read which have brought you so completely into their world that you struggle to leave it?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Talking Tuesday: Beginnings

How many pages do you give a book before you decided whether or not it makes the cut?  In a society so focused on instant gratification and saturated with endless sources of entertainment, the number of pages an author is granted keeps shrinking.

I will state that your brilliant hook may not need to be your focus during the writing of your first draft.  If you focus too much on only your first chapter you may get sucked into the pit of first chapter rewrites never to be seen again.  It can be worse than quick sand so beware.

Would the classics pass the test of today's media consumer?  Maybe.  It depends on the reader, I am sure.   Would your first chapter be an ace?  Hopefully!  Let's answer a few questions to determine how well you are doing.

1.  Is the voice in your opening compelling or sleep inducing, much like that of Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off?

2.  Does your first chapter read more like a travel brochure showing all the pretty places in your setting?

3.  Were you so excited about the back story that your first chapter info dump is comparable to giving water to a thirsty ant with a firehose?

I did say a few questions, I don't want to overwhelm you.   I am sure you are a pro at writing extremely clever openings which quickly and effectively endear your main character to the readers while simultaneously conveying the conflict and setting.  I, however, have a lot of work to do... so I will leave the excuse for someone else.  I am off to write.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Join Me For a SPRINT!

My kids and their cousins lining up for sack races at their grandparents’ house over the weekend.

For those of you who follow MMW on facebook, I posted last week about a little writing “sprint” I did with Julie Coulter Bellon over at her blog. The way it works is like this: You come over to the blog at a designated time, prepared to write. You leave a comment on the post about the sprint (“Hey y’all! I’m in!”) and then start working on your WIP (that’s right, don’t go check facebook or e-mail- it’s SPRINT time!). Write as many words as you can for 15 minutes, then go check in by leaving a comment on the post again, this time with your word count (“I just did 300 words. Go me!”). Then write for another 15 minutes and come check in again (“Up to 573 now- whew!”).  You’ll do two more sessions of 15 minutes- making an hour total- and come back at the end with your total word count for the hour (“1,236 words! Woohoo!”).

I wasn’t so sure about this, but I decided to give it a shot because I knew I was going to have a busy weekend and I didn’t want to fall short of my weekly goal of 3,000 words. Well, I managed over 1600 words in a single hour! I was pretty surprised! And it brought me within 200 words of my goal for the week, so I was very pleased. I also enjoyed checking back in and seeing others’ comments about how they were doing- a little competition never hurt anyone, right?

So...let’s do it!

Let’s meet back here at this post at 10pm EST (that’s 8pm for all you Utahns- throw those kids in bed and get back over here, I’m doing it late so you can join us!) tonight (Monday) and leave a comment to let me know you’re in. We’ll write for 15 minutes, then check in at 10:15 (/ 9:15/ 8:15/ 7:15, depending on your time zone) and share our progress. We’ll continue doing that every 15 minutes till our hour is up. It goes by quickly, believe me!

I’m so excited!

Anybody ready to SPRINT with me??

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Don't Forget to Exercise Your Brain

     It's summer time and the sun is shining.  People everywhere are making their way to pools and beaches.  It seems there's also quite a few more people hitting the streets and jogging, walking, and riding bikes.  Summer time is a great time to get out and exercise.  Summer has a way of making us more aware of our bodies and physical health, but what about our brains?  I know for me summer provides so many great and fun distractions that sometimes I forget my brain needs a little workout too.  I have noticed over the last few years that when I get lazy mentally it's harder to get back in the groove of creative thinking and writing.  As a writer that can be a bit of a problem. 

     I have always loved logic puzzles and riddles, not to say I'm actually good at them, but I've always found them to be fun.  I love a challenge, and even more, I love the satisfaction I feel when I've solved a problem.  One of my favorite types of brain exercises are grid logic puzzles.  I remember the first time I was given one in elementary school and I have loved them ever since.  The object is to find the answer to the question given at the end of a riddle by using the few clues given to rule out all other options. 
    Another fun little brain exercise is the 9 dot game.  I'm sure many of you have seen this, and may even know the answer already.  You are presented with 9 dots set up as 3 rows of three.  The object is to use four straight lines or less to connect all nine dots without lifting your pen and without tracing over the same lines.  Think you could do it?


   So while you're out enjoying the summer season don't for get to give your brain a little love too. 
What are some of your favorite brain exercises?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Saturday So What: Binge Behavior

Hi, my name is Betsy, and I'm a binger. I've known it for a long time, but it's time to be open about it.

Binging is a practice of devouring mass amounts of something.

I first noticed it with food. My tummy never up and said, "Hey stop! I'm full." As most of you know by now, with a lot of work I have been able to conquer the overeating, but I haven't really changed the behavior itself.

I'm an not one of those people that would say "Oh, I'm reading that book.". That's because once I open it, I don't put it down until I'm done - as opposed to the reading it over the course of a month approach.

Then Netflix came around. Now I never have to wait week to week to see what happens on shows, I can watch the whole season in a matter of days.

The reason this is pertinent, is because I've noticed, I'm a bit of a binge writer. I do really well on focusing large quantities of time, ignoring everything else, and giving the computer mass amount of my words to consume. I've tried writing 300 words here, 250 more later, but for me, I have trouble staying in the tone and keeping it consistent when I come back to it. So I devote a few months to doing almost nothing but writing. From 9-9 with a few little breaks in between to feed kids or take them to lessons. It's stressful, hectic, and at the end I am positive that I never want to write again because I am so burned out. But then, time passes, and I'm ready for another story.

For the story I'm working on now, I am trying to tamp down that behavior a little. Instead of writing 12 hours a day, I'm trying to think of it like a semi- full time job instead. So far, I'm not nearly as productive as I'd like to be. But my kids are also able to have a little more mommy time.

So here's what I want to know: are there any more bingers out there? In anything? And is it truly a destructive behavior or is it alright to let it have its uses?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Writing Education

As a Mormon Mommy Writer, most of us find ourselves buried in responsibilities. Most of us have children, husbands, and church callings, some of us even have jobs outside of the home. But the one thing we all have is the dream to write books that people will read. To accomplish that dream we must find the time to educate ourselves in writing. How do we do this? Many of us can't get a degree in creative writing, we're already engaged in a demanding program in which our resulting degrees will have first and middle names and share our last name! That program of course is called M.O.M. So how do we balance our writing with this most important education we are already committed to? Well, we get creative and use our resources.

 There are writer's conferences, (like ANWA Writer's Conference), online writer's conferences, (like The Muse Online Writer's Conference). There are blogs (like this one!!), articles, Author websites and many, many other resources. And just the other day I found another resource! Ever wish you could take a creative writing class at a prestigious university from a renowned, published author? Now you can. Brandon Sanderson's creative writing class is online. You can watch a semester's worth of his lectures and also participate in writing exercises and critiques. The best part is that it is free! (Because our M.O.M. degree is not cheap!) This program isn't run by Brandon Sanderson, and he will NOT be critiquing your work. But the opportunity this provides us is tremendous. I don't know who thought up this wonderful program, but I think they could claim honorary Mormon Mommy Writer status!
What other resources have you found to help you learn more about the craft of writing? Include links if you can!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Read it Again

My children can watch the same film over and over and over again. Usually something by Disney. They even watch the same few episodes of their favourite TV shows time after time. I think I've seen every episode of Autin and Ally and I hate it with a passion and tend to leave the room when it comes on, but it is repeated so often that those little minutes I've had the misfortune to witness probably add up to the entire first series. (Please tell me they cancelled it after one series? They cancelled No Ordinary Family and that was brilliant.)

Unless a TV programme or film is extremely good I rarely see the need to watch it more than once a decade. If it's a comedy I've already heard all the jokes; if it's action or drama, I know what happens in the end.

A book is a bit different, though. Have you noticed how much more you get out of a book when you read it through a second time? OK, so the grand dénouement ending may not have the same impact, but in a really well-written book those little allusions, signposts and ironies can be so much more effective. I'm currently re-reading Wool by Hugh Howey (do I mention often enough how great it is?) and I'm on the section where Jahns and Marnes are just beginning their journey to the down deep to speak to Jules. Knowing now what happens to them it's giving me the chills reading about their thoughts and conversations, and picking up all the foreshadowings and the predictions which I was completely oblivious to on the first read-through. And the knitting metaphor that's woven (sorry) throughout the book!  I completely missed it the first time. When Jahns speculates that the entire silo would unravel without her I gasped at the masterfulness of Howey's writing.

Books are much more detailed and intricate than movies, and most good ones improve on a second read-though. So don't just consign that book to a shelf, or give it away: go back to it a few months later and see just how much more enjoyment you can get from it.*

* Note: Especially applies to scriptures. I must have read the New Testament about fifty times, but just today I read a couple of fantastic verses in 2 John that I swear weren't there last time.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Talking Tuesday: Books into Movie

I love reading. I love watching movies.  I don't always love watching what I read at the movies.  I would say almost always I prefer the book to the movie, but generally I enjoy the movie as well.  I have heard many complaints about the movies not doing a  book justice.  On occasion it has been difficult to give up the vision in my head to accept those created in a movie.

I know some writers that think books should stay in their pure form, and that adapting a work to the silver screen is just selling out.  

What are your thoughts about books versus movies?

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Few Things That Have Been Inspiring Me Lately

Happy July 1st! Here are a few things that have been inspiring me lately:

Good writing...

“But the last one: the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after- oh, that’s love by a different name. She is the babe you hold in your arms for an hour after she’s gone to sleep. If you put her down in the crib, she might wake up changed and fly away. So instead you rock by the window, drinking the light from her skin, breathing her exhaled dreams. Your heart bays to the double crescent moons of closed lashes on her cheeks. She’s the one you can’t put down.”

- from The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

So true. 

And speaking of flying away...

Doesn’t that just scream FUN to you? I love those kids.

And a little more fun in the sun...

We thought she was so cute we tried to plant her to grow another one. Turns out she’s one of a kind.

And speaking of growing things...

It’s the first blossom on my morning glory! I’m a proud momma. 

And speaking of blossoms...

A few blooms from my hydrangeas. I love them. Like, really, really love them. I just sit at the table and gaze at their loveliness. I’m such a nerd.

Oh, no wait. This is the proof I’m a nerd:

It’s the alphabet. Made of pretzels. In all fairness, my son started it. But I took it as a challenge and we used our teeth to carve out every letter. And ate an entire bag of pretzels in the process. (Those things are fragile! We had to eat all the ones we broke.)

Oh, and one more thing...

This smile. It kills me. Love that little grin. 

By the way, I hit 21,000 words on my WIP this week. Woo to the hoo. Rock n’ roll, baby!

So...what’s inspiring you this summer?


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