Sunday, August 30, 2009

Favorite sentences

I was just thinking about some of my favorite sentences ever. You know, those sentences that you read and you stop and think. Wow. That. Is. A. Great. Sentence. Then maybe, being a writer, your next thought is "I wish I had written that!"

(Every once in awhile I'm really proud of a sentence I have written too, but I am thinking today of sentences that I have read.)

Here are two of mine.

I love this one:

"I fear your argument is beguiled by ostentatious erudition."

Anyone know where that is from? I heard it, loved it, memorized it. It is Abigail Adams, to John Adams, telling him that his speech is too flowery, in the A&E movie John Adams. I don't know if that is a quote directly of hers or written by screenwriter Kirk Ellis. Darn, I should have asked him last year at the writers' conference where we met him....

A favorite first sentence for a novel. "Delirium brings comfort to the dying." The passage goes on to describe someone drowning in freezing water. It is written in first person by that drowning person which I have just now realized is not apparent in this sentence. I wonder if that was on purpose? (Dick Francis, by the way, guilty pleasure.)

I know I am not the only one who collects favorite sentences. They dont have to be FIRST sentences of novels, although they often are. That is the nature of first sentences I guess. We work especially carefully on those.

Any favorites come to mind?

Help with Words

Hi All,

I need some words and so far the thesaurus has only given me the obvious. I need positive words to describe a 13 year old girl, words that could be used to describe a pretty photograph of her. Nothing too old for a 13 year old like stunning, sexy, etc.

So far I have words like appealing, refreshing and engaging. Bright, sparkling, even beguiling.

Come on all, whatcha got?



Saturday, August 29, 2009

Good Advice

Every once in a while, I run over to Edittorrent, a great blog about all things writing. I started reading when they had a great series of posts on log lines and pitches.

Today, they had link to RU (something for you romance writers, Amy!). The post had some great advice about incorporating action into even the slow, introspective parts of your story. Nothing terribly new, just terribly well put.


Friday, August 28, 2009

A quote inspired by posts

This quote came to mind twice in the last day. The first time it was inspired by Scott's post on instinct. The second time it was because of Patrick's post about quotes. So here it is:

"Craft involves technique. Craft has rules. If a potter doesn't center the clay on the potter's wheel, he can't throw a pot. If a cabinet maker doesn't measure the wood carefully, cut corners at the proper angle or join those corners correctly, she can't build a level table. What the potter and cabinetmaker produce may be art. But they could not produce that art without craft. In craft, it's the process that matters." Nancy Lamb, from The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children.

If you're a children's writer, and you haven't read that book, I highly recommend it. It's probably the best book addressing craft and process that I've read. And no, I'm not partial to it just because she mentioned a potter. Although that is a big reason I love that quote so much!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What do your favorite books look like?

I've been cleaning my apartment lately, sorting through those piles that grow like dust bunnies on steroids.

All that to say, I've been going through lots of books. You can tell the ones that I've spent a lot of time with.

My 20 year old paperback Anne of Green Gables books are missing covers. The pages are yellowed and brittle. There are chocolate stains on more than a few pages.

My green, cloth covered, A Christmas Carol has hot chocolate stains on it's cover and pages.

Fran Slayton's When the Whistle Blows has spaghetti stains on a few pages.

I could go on, but you get the picture. (It probably involves me eating something, which seems to be what I do when I settle down with a good read.)

So what do your favorite books look like? Are they pristine? Food stained? Tear stained? I'd love to know.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Have you ever done this?

So, I was having a bad day a few weeks ago. There I was jogging down a trail, trying to figure out whether to be angry, or cry, or do both at the same time. Then I realized I had an audience.


One part of me was smack in the middle of that awful day. The other part took notes. It tried to figure out how to write a scene where my current MC felt what I was feeling. What would she do? Say? How would I describe her expression?

The awful thing is that I've done it when having conversations with other folks. I try to stop as soon as I realize I'm doing it. I want to devote all of me to listening about what's going on with them. But not before squirreling away a few notes to myself for future writing.

So, please tell me that I'm not the only one that does something like this.

Monday, August 24, 2009

This made me laugh

My dad cut this out of the paper for me years ago, and I found it this morning while cleaning out my closet.

What can I say? Writing for children can give you a lopsided sense of humor.

Oh good grief. After viewing the post I realized you can't see it and I can't get it to fit. But you can click on it to see the whole thing!

Pearls Before Swine

Does organization equal motivation?

Any of the Slushbusters can tell you that I'm an organized person. I like order. I like creating it. I like working in it. I do not like maintaining it.

Unfortunately, in order for me to write consistently and well, I need to have a level of order in my home office. And I've let that go, resulting in procrastination with my writing. Sarah posted the other day about distractions. Right now, my office is full of them. I use that space primarily for writing, but also for keeping my knitting supplies. Which have slowly taken over. Inspired by Tess Hilmo's post on public humiliation, I am going to re-organize my office, which I hope will re-energize my writing.This is what my office looks like this morning. I just cleaned the fish tank. The big wooden thing on the desk is a yarn swift, used for holding skeins while winding balls of yarn on the ball winder, which is attached to the desk to the right of the computer. The brown bag on the floor is full of wool for a sweater. I've already wound two balls of it, which are sitting on the floor. None of that stuff used to be in my writing space. It was confined to the closet, or at least to the baskets in the bottom of the bookcase.

This is what my office used to look like:This environment made me focus on writing. Look how happy I am in my uncluttered space. The goal is to get the office looking that way again, refocus, and get down to writing!

Friday, August 21, 2009

In case you were looking for more writing blogs

Thanks go out this morning to Scott, one of our followers. He gave all his followers a shout out on his blog, A Writer's Blog. Link on over to see the list of his followers' blogs. There are lots of other writing blogs, and although I've seen a few, I intend to check out the others over the next few days.

Scott definitely gets the "Community Builder of the Day" award from me today.

The exciting life of a writer

I noticed this week that ABC is playing reruns of the first season of Castle, a show about a best-selling mystery writer who helps cops from the NYPD solve murders. I started watching it because I'm a fan of Firefly. If Captain Mal wanted to play a mystery writer, I'd go along for the ride. And then I really started enjoying the show...

But I digress.

As I washed the dishes last night, I thought about how little writing Richard Castle does on the show. Once every show, we see him in front of his computer for a few seconds. Once we saw his outline- very similar to the way cops organize their evidence. He'll discuss his aspects of the plot he's wrestling with. But for a show that claims to be about a best-selling writer, there's precious little writing.

I mean, come on! The man's a writer, let's see him write.

Then that (very tiny) light bulb in my head went off, and reminded me of what you've probably already realized.

A show about a writer writing would be the. most. boring. show.


Seriously. Watching grass grow would be more fascinating.

Let's say you're watching me write. I sit down in the Barnes and Noble Café, get my laptop up and running, and...

I write. (3 min)

Fiddle with my iTunes playlist.

I write. (5 min)

Wonder if anyone's commented on my most recent blog post. Check blog post.

I write. (3 min)

Make faces as I try to figure out just what to do with a character.

I write. (7 min)

Mumble dialog under my breath.

I write (30 sec.)

Re-check blog post.

I write. (9 min)

Watch people walk by.

I write. (5 min)

Think about blog post.

I write. (1 min)

Re-recheck blog post. Mentally slap self on wrist. Close internet browser.

I write....

Riveting, huh? The most interesting parts where the bits when I wasn't writing.

No wonder they have Castle help the cops.

Pondering the plot lines of Castle reminded me that writing really is hard work. It's not interesting to watch. It's not interesting to read about. Sometimes, it's not even interesting to do.

It's worth it. I'd be the first to admit it. But I understand why there won't ever be any form of entertainment that focuses on the act of writing.

Truth is, non-writing activities are far more interesting. Like writing blog posts. (Slaps self on wrist. Prepares to turn off internet browser after posting.)

So what about you? What distracts you from your not-always-entertaining-but-oh-so-worth-it writing?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Can you tell I love this conference?

As beginning authors, the Slushbusters sometimes bemoan the fact that we can't afford to go to the big writing conferences in New York and Los Angeles. That doesn't mean we live in a literature vacuum. I've mentioned before that we are lucky to live in an area with a lot of writers. Of course, we don't have as much going on as New York, but we hold our own. One gleaming example is the James River Writers Conference.

JRW is a small conference by industry standards. That doesn't mean it isn't good. In fact, I think its small size makes it better. Here's why:
  • With about 250 attendees, the speakers (agents, editors and authors) aren't overwhelmed. They actually have time to talk to everyone. There's time built into the schedule for socializing and networking. Lunch is served on the premises, and snacks are available in the hallway throughout the day, encouraging participants to hang around and chat.
  • Speakers come from a wide range of writing genres and backgrounds. Of course fiction and nonfiction authors and editors come, but poetry, magazines, television and movies are also represented.
  • There's a balance of topics ranging from craft to marketing to treating your writing as a business.
  • Every attendee is given an opportunity for a five minute pitch session as part of the conference. Sessions are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • The folks who put on this conference are committed. They've been doing it for years, and they really care about making it a great experience for everyone who comes. If you need to tell them something, good or bad, they are right there, available and approachable and willing to hear your feedback.
  • I've heard some of the speakers, authors and editors alike, comment that this is one of the best conferences they've been to.
Now, the only drawback for the Slushbusters is that this isn't a children's writing conference. It doesn't matter. I've been the past two years, and the stuff I've learned applies to all kinds of writing. I'm looking forward to this year's sessions on dialog and humor. And Karen Lotz of Candlewick is coming, so I feel like children's publishing will be well represented.

Obviously, some of the Slushbusters will be going again this October. If you're planning to go, let us know. We'd love to meet you in person!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Interview With Author Fran Cannon Slayton

Today the Slushbusters welcome Fran Cannon Slayton, author of the middle grade novel When the Whistle Blows. We've come to know Fran through our local SCBWI and kidlit community. Her book is a coming of age story of boys living in the railroad town of Rowlesburg, West Virginia in the 1940's. When the Whistle Blows has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Fran is the secretary for the Class of 2k9.

What books from early in your life made a big impression on you? Why?

There were three books that made a huge difference in my life at an early age: 1) Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, 2) Sounder by William Armstrong, and 3) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. The thing all three of them have in common, besides excellent writing, is that they drew me into a place and circumstance that was completely outside my own world and made me think about important concepts like justice, time and love.

What one thing or person helped you the most with your writing?

I can't point to one single person, really. My mom encouraged my poetry writing when I was in grade school by typing out and mimeographing copies of my poems. My middle school English teacher, Mrs. Fisher, helped me understand sentence structure by making me diagram sentences. My husband has always encouraged me to pursue my dream of writing. Father Chet Michael taught me how to follow my calling. Author Michelle Green helped me to find my voice, and my editor Patricia Lee Gauch helped me to deepen my method of storytelling. It has taken a village to make me an author!

I love that answer. How true for so many of us! What is one of your favorite parts of When the Whistle Blows? Why do you like it so much and how did it come to be?

I'm very fond of the character Thaddeus Ore in my book. I like him because I created him completely from scratch and he's so vulnerable. As an author I just wanted to take care of him. But he had a story of his own that was different from the way I wanted his life to go in the book. So I had to let him go his own way. It was kind of hard, but the book turned out all the better for it.

How different is the final product from your first conception of the book?

Well, my initial concept was to create a novel that would be told in a series of short stories, so in that sense When the Whistle Blows came out exactly as I conceived it. On the other hand, at the beginning I had no idea that I'd have a chapter with a football game, I didn't have a good grasp of Thaddeus Ore or his fate, and I didn't know how the story of The Society was going to be revealed - or even what its history really was. So there was a lot I found out along the way!

At what point in the writing process do you prefer to have other people read your work? Do you want feedback at the first draft stage, or once you’ve done all you can with it and don’t know where to go next?

I don't know that I have a one-size-fits all answer to this question. For picture books I generally like to have the whole manuscript finished and polished before I show it to anyone. For When the Whistle Blows, I showed it to my critique group chapter by chapter as I was writing it. I'll likely do the same for my work in progress, although there is a part of me that would like to have an entire draft done before I show it to anyone this time. I don't really like much formal feedback from my critique group until I have made the part of the book I am showing them the best I can. The exception to this is my husband - I'll read less than perfect drafts of chapters to get his feedback as I am writing.

Interesting. Most of the Slushbusters prefer chapter by chapter feedback as well, but I don't think that's typical for a lot of authors. Beyond critiquing, the Slushbusters have grown into good friends who support each other through successes and failures. How have other writers in your community done the same for you?

I am fortunate to belong to two fantastic local critique groups. One of my groups has become very close and in the past year we haven't been critiquing as much as we've been sharing our lives, celebrating our triumphs and successes and challenges and setbacks. It's fantastic for me to have a group of friends who really "get it" from a writer's perspective, both in terms of craft as well as the business of writing. Sometimes, unless a person has trodden down the path of prospective publication, they don't really understand the emotions, frustrations, questions and struggles that we writers go through on a daily basis. It's great to have a group of writerbudz to share it all with.

Of all the possible readers in the world, who would you most like to hear had read your book and loved it?

Well, I am of several minds about this question. The first name that popped into my head is Alan Alda because he was one of the writers for the TV show M*A*S*H, which was my favorite show as a kid. M*A*S*H pulled off an incredible balance of humor and poignancy that is very difficult to achieve. I would like it very much if Alan Alda liked my book. So that's my gut-reaction answer.

The business-savvy side of me immediately thought I'd like for a big movie producer, preferably Rob Reiner who directed Stand By Me, to read and love my book (and of course immediately decide to make it into a movie!) Or Oprah. Having Oprah like it and choose it for her book club would be very cool too.

But really, the people who I most wanted to read and love it already have: My dad. My mom. My husband. Pretty awesome.

I'm sure it was especially important that your dad love it, given that the stories in the book are based on his life, and because of the family themes throughout the book. What is the one question you haven’t been asked but are always dying to answer?

If someone wanted to send you a present, what should they send you?

Just joking!

Great answer! Thanks, Fran, for stopping by to chat with us. For more information about Fran and her book, as well as a video interview about it, check out Fran's website.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nicola Morgan would kill me

Nicola Morgan had a great post today about getting one's bum in gear when it comes to writing. She argues- and I agree- that being published is more about hard work and dedication than luck.

It was exactly what I needed to read. I've been far too distracted by job searches lately.


if you would like a bit of luck, take a walk outside tonight or tomorrow night. The Perseid meteor shower is ... showering. Should be lots of shooting stars to wish on.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The equivalent of a three hour slideshow...

So I'm going to hijack this writing blog for a moment. I was tempted to sit you down and subject you to all 405 photos and 40 mini-movies of my time in Bosnia. I decided to keep it far, far shorter.

Mainly because I don't know how to load it all on Blogger.

Just to fill in the blanks, my dear friend Enesa is from a village in central Bosnia. This year, I went home with her and met her family.

I have so many memories and impressions:

The incredible generosity of the people. No one (except Enesa) ever laughed when I messed up in their language. Even when I told them I was eating with my butt (and not a fork).

Swimming in the river Krivaja behind Enesa's house. I'd never been swimming in a river before, and I'm still inordinately proud of the stone I plucked from the bottom (I'm guessing 10 feet down) when the guys dared me. Seriously. I brought it home with me.

Trying to dance one of the folk dances.

My amazement that strangers didn't try to kill me when they saw how poorly I danced.

The bus driver who tried to set me up with his son- only after asking Enesa if I had a university education. (This man with the kind face was the only matchmaking parent who asked about my education.)

Enesa's mom trying to feed me 1) whenever I looked hungry, 2) whenever I came into the kitchen, 3) whenever I had gone more than an hour without food, or 4) just whenever.

Enesa's father, without fail, changing the TV to an English-speaking channel whenever I sat down near the TV.

Enesa's sisters (Elvira and Azra) and cousins (Adnan, Selma and Dino) taking time to speak to me English.

The presents that neighbors brought me when they heard it was my birthday.

Of course, the war was there as well. I remember asking Enesa about warning signs I spotted along a remote road. They looked like the signs we put over gas or oil pipelines. They were for landmines.

I saw deserted, partially destroyed houses. Enesa said that probably the entire family that lived in the house had died. People whose houses were destroyed either rebuilt them or tore them down to remove reminders of the war. If a house hadn't been touched since the war, there probably wasn't a surviving family member left to touch it.

One day, we visited Mount Vlašić, the highest in the region, that had been held by Serb forces. It was so high you could see for tens of miles- great for recognizance and for shelling the lowlands. It was some of the most beautiful country I'd ever seen. Enesa told me about the fighting there, pointed out the scar where the artillery had been dug into the mountainside.

And then we realized we were standing in old trenches.

The picture is of me, standing near one of the trenches.* Vlašić is the bit of mountain to the left of the bush. That picture reminds me so much of my visit there: a breathtaking land, as lovely as the people I met, peppered with reminders of grief and loss.

I'm sure if I were less jet-lagged, (or less worn out by rants about the use of 'raging') I could tie my trip to some aspect of writing. Truth is, I traveled through so many stories there, I'm not sure I would know where to begin.

* No, I'm not saluting or anything- just trying to keep my hair out of my face.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It makes me want to rage...

So I was just skimming a light, summer read sort of book and read something about raging flames. It was the umpteenth time I'd read about some force of nature 'raging'.

Really? Really?!?

Apparently flames, storms, winds, and water can't do anything but rage. Not even on the news.

"Tonight at six: Forest fires continue to rage just ten miles southwest of...."

"Hurricane-force winds raged through this small town last night..."

You get the idea. I can't remember the last time I've read or heard about fires or floodwaters that didn't rage.

And it's ticking me off. I mean, what if the river's just misunderstood? What if it's only mildly irritated?

So please, please help me. Have you heard nature described in any way other than 'raging'? What words were used? Or are there other cliches that make you overreact?

'Cause, yeah, I know I'm overreacting.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Post number 100, and it's not even ours!

Nathan Bransford is hosting a series of guest bloggers this week. Rick Daley was today's guest, and he had some great critique advice.

Since critique is the heart of Slushbusters, I thought I'd link to his post. The 100th post thing is just coincidence.

When everyone else is good too

Last night I watched the season finale of So You Think You Can Dance. Say what you like. It's a great show. These kids are incredibly talented and well-rounded dancers, and most of them have trained for years to get there. The winner this season was hard to predict, even for the judges, because everyone in the top 20 was that good. I think it was Jeanine's combination of personality and technical skill that gave her the little bump over the edge to win. Also, in the last interviews before the finale, she was more confident she could win.

Naturally this got me thinking about the competition for agents, editors, book contracts, and readers. Because there's a lot of really good work out there. And if everyone's work is good, it's hard to single out the ones who are going to make it. Which means we have to engage readers in much the same way the dancers engage the audience. Not only do we have to impress with our skill, but we have to let our personalities shine, and write characters people will fall in love with. That doesn't mean they have to be all nicey-nice. But they do have to be people you can't take your eyes off of, or in this case, can't stop reading more about.

Talent and hard work aren't enough. You have to find a way to be confident, unique, and endearing at the same time.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Famous Author, Food Lion and Quality of Life

Ever wonder where the elite authors do their grocery shopping? To my great surprise, I found myself in line behind our resident bestselling author, Mr. Legal Thriller at the neighborhood Food Lion. I knew right away who he was. I have seen his picture A LOT in the local paper. What was he wearing? What was he buying? What did he say to the cashier? And most importantly, why was he shopping in Food Lion? On this last question, I can only speculate.

This good-looking man wearing faded blue jeans and a crisp white dress shirt, had his sleeves rolled up his forearms and his top button undone. His chiseled face just made you melt with lust. (Oh, excuse me; I forgot this is a family-friendly blog.) He appeared to be in a hurry and got in the express lane with, literally, a cartload of beer and a splash of bottled water. Well, if you’re counting CASES of beer, he technically did not exceed the 15-item limit. Undoubtedly, he was about to throw a party--or would be the life of the party when he arrived with his trunkload of libations.

His choice of beers was pretty humdrum. Molson was the most exotic. But how exotic are you going to get in a Food Lion? It’s not like they’re known as a boutique grocery store. Our local non-chain international grocer has items from far-flung places on our planet and is more likely his usual shopping scene. Surely, Mr. Legal Thriller has tasted pale lagers, brown ales and stouts from the best brewing capitals of the world. Perhaps his taste buds grew accustomed to lesser brews before his first book hit the New York Times bestseller list. Though he did discuss with the cashier the merits of each of the different brewskies he purchased.

But why shop at Food Lion? Convenience? Low prices? No, I think compared to a place like Foods of All Nations he would not be recognized. I can’t say I blame him. It must diminish one’s quality of life to be so famous you can’t travel wherever you want. Restricted movement in our world, to my way of thinking, would be a form of imprisonment. For that I feel for him.