Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Blind Eye

I'm 6 years behind, but I just finished "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger.
My sister said the movie wasn't great, but the trailer explains the premise of the book pretty well.

This is less a book review, more of a book club discussion with myself. This book was really amazing...but I have mixed feelings. When you start to write, you start to understand why shows have so much murder and fights and sex. It's entertaining. That's what writers and actors do. They take us to the highest highs and the lowest lows and let us experience situations without having to live with the consequences. I think that can be good and bad. It depends.

Like many avid readers, I disappear into books. I hear nothing, see nothing but the story. And when I pause a story, it's disorienting, so I like to read books all the way through, regardless of the number of pages. But even when I'm done, I get echoes of scenes in my head. So when I read a book where a child dies, I remember how that affected the other characters and hug my kids a little tighter. If the story involves lost love, my gratitude for my husband is renewed.

'The Time  Traveler's Wife' was beautiful. When I was done, I held my children. I kissed my husband. And I thought about who we are becoming. What kind of a person he will be in twenty years? Who will I be? I hope that we will be better than we are now.

But some echoes leave me feeling icky. I wish that there wasn't the scene where Henry is alone with himself in his bedroom and his dad walks in. Thankfully, the writing was vague. Throughout the book, the reader is present in the bedroom with Henry and Clare, but I do not think that the writing was meant to arouse as much as it was to explain how important sex was in the lives of these characters. It was a force of bonding, reconciliation, healing, 'a means to an end' for Clare, and a type of gravity for Henry. Is it not so important in all of our lives?

Do those scenes ruin the book for me? My brain thinks that it should have, yet I still felt uplifted. I'm not sure how that works. If you have characters having sex before they're married, but they've already met when he's thirty-something and they know they're going to get married, is it still as bad? And how much information is TMI?

I really liked the idea that if we could know who our spouses were going to become, we wouldn't mind the wait. So, I'm glad I read most of it. How about you?
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beta Readers Comment Form

I'm trying to wrap up my edits by the end of the year so I can let my beta readers tear my manuscript up. That means I won't get it to them until February at least, but that's why it's a goal :)

I've had some friends read a few chapters, but I haven't gotten the detailed responses that I would like. So I'm playing with "Beta Reader Comment Form a-1".

Here's what I'm considering-
  • A page at the beginning of each chapter so they can have it out when reading to make notes on.
  • It will be preprinted with the reader's name on it so they will 'own it' and feel obligated to fill it out.
  • Every sheet will ask things like (this is still tentative):
    • Is there any events/actions that were confusing?
    • Did the character do anything that felt "wrong" for their character?
    • Did you ever think "That's dumb. Why didn't they just (fill in the blank here)?"
    • Could you clearly see the action when reading? What was confusing?
    • Did you skip/skim any? (Please mark where)
    • Do the chapter titles work?
    • Is any of it too slow? or feel like a summary (too fast)?
    • Were you pulled to keep reading in this chapter?
  • At the end I will ask for feedback on the title and if it matches the book. I may give a few options and ask which one they like best after reading the book.
  • I will ask if any books they've read remind them of my book.
  • What were their favorite scenes?
  • What were your least favorite scenes?
  • I will hug and squeeze them and tell them they are my good, bestest friends for life. Possible beyond.
That's what I've come up with thus far. I'm hoping this will help me completely avoid wasting their time and my paper. And I will tell them about the comment forms before they commit to reading. Just a few thousand changes to make and it will be ready!

What am I missing? How do you help your readers help you see potential problems?
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Open Mouth, Insert foot

A few weeks ago a blogger got up on a soapbox and blasted a group of people that make up roughly half the country. I stopped following her blog. I agreed with her overall point, but the angry tone bothered me, and I thought she was misrepresenting the opposite side.
I've read some authors' blogs that seem to effortlessly combine personal and professional, and I'm trying to do that. I know enough not to get into politics, potty training, and  religion...but really? What if the politicians are debating a potty training bill and I have some religious objections? How can I not blog about that?

So, I've been thinking about blog content and what my personal rules are.

Why blog?

We all want to be understood and writing is a way to express yourself (and my preferred venue). Plus there's something nice about someone leaving a comment.

A lot of readers develop a friendly mindset towards 'their' authors and like to get to know them better. It helped me to be a better mom/writer when I read Shannon Hale's blog. We can encourage each other.
But I wish I hadn't sought out info on a few writers, just like it bothers me to know too much about some actors/actresses. It kills the magic when someone gets arrested doing something icky, for instance.

Does there have to be a general match between your blog tone and your books?

I think that happens naturally- the things that interest you enough to put in a book are probably the same things you blog about.

But I have avoided talking about religion here because it is not 'professional'. But this is about writing, and I write around religious topics. My characters are not perfect, some believe in God some don't-much like the people I know in real life. Is my self-imposed taboo on religion misplaced? I'm still thinking about that. It's such a personal part of me- one I like to talk about, but only if I'm sure the other party is interested.

How much is too much?

I don't generally have impulses to whine on the blog about other people, but it's important to remember that the internet is forever. I NEVER write anything that I would not want my husband, my mother, or my church friends to read. Even down to the books I review.

And I have a few long-standing conversational rules that I try to apply- never make it all about yourself, ask questions, don't complain, don't say anything about someone that you wouldn't say to their face, and do what you can to help others be happy.

I try to remember that it's a 'blog', not a 'bdiary', and I have a special notebook to write my personal thoughts in. And I don't share that I burned dinner (unless I was writing when I smelled the smoke), dentist appointments (except here), or that my kids call Burger King 'King Booger'. That's on my family blog. Just because I can type it doesn't mean that everybody wants to read it.

What are your guidelines? Do you lean towards personal or professional?
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review my first attempt at a book trailer!

I have some need video editing software, and had never used it.
Is the font legible? Is the heart beat cool or distracting? What feelings are evoked?
Most important, are you engaged?

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. -Kelly

Pulse Trailer

Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Proof of Progress

I've finally submitted Ch. 10 to my crit group, done a few reviews of other's work (I'm trying to get back in the habit, but haven't been critiquing as much since summer happened.) I'm putting all of the scribbles above into the computer, but mostly the marks are quick suggestions. 99% of the time I play some more. I've been wondering if I can do this. I'll share a few incidents.

On a road trip last weekend, I took a turn driving. Nathan wanted to sleep, but told me he wasn't quite drowsy enough. He asked a lot of questions about my book, listened to a plot summary of the first 8 or 9 chapters, then told me he was ready to sleep. I said fine, let me finish telling you about this chapter. I continued with the summary, asked him a question (Probably 'Does that make sense?') and got no response.

I'd totally set myself up, since he told me he was really tired and starting to nod off, but my inner scaredy-cat pounced. "You bored your husband to sleep," she purred. (This is why I don't like cats. Just kidding, cat-people. I like cats fine, wouldn't mind having one, except they like to sit on your computer or open book or whatever, and I have kids to do that.)

In his defense, he does fall asleep really fast, and had been working a lot, not sleeping enough, etc.

But still. He fell alseep.


I have about six chapters out with my mom, and another friend has the first three chapters. I've been waiting for them to bring it up.

No more. Last night I asked my mom how much she'd read. She knew I was really asking what she thought and said "It's better than the last version I read". Ouch. Bad Kitty.

She did say it in a really sincere way, not an I-have-to-tell her-something way. The first version made her cry, so for it to be better is good, right? (But mothers all cry about that kind of stuff. I cry over my kid's word-for-word copy of their teacher's example of a Mother's Day card.)

I was hoping for a call three weeks ago, her asking me to email her the rest Because She Has to Know What Happens Next! If your mom won't do that, who will?

But still...

I've gotten back two reviews from the crit group. Both were positive and honest and reassuring to my battered ego. They did not say it was perfect, ready to publish, but I knew it wasn't. I just want some progress.

I read a crit partner's new version of her ch. 1 and it was so much better. It wasn't perfect, but her hook was there, characterization was there. Somehow it made me happy for both of us.

Where have your big lifts come from? If you want to hear a great podcast on how to use emotion in the writing process and guide the readers' emotions, check out this "Writing Excuses".
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review-Stephen King On Writing

I've read some Stephen King- It, Carrie, Thinner, Misery, The Mist, but it's been a while. Most of that was because I have a cousin that LOVED Stephen King, so the books were around. But it's been a long time. I checked out The Stand a few weeks ago, and realized pretty quickly it wasn't for me. So, be aware that this is Stephen King, and he uses common words as they are commonly used.

The book is in two parts- the path that he walked to become a writer, and what he calls the "Writer's Toolbox" and both are useful in their ways.

The major take-home from the memoir 'inspirational' portion was that Steve-the-kid thought words were fun. Writing was a game.

After he was caught writing satire pieces about teachers, and the school arranged for him to channel his pen through work at a newspaper. When the newspaper editor John Gould marked through the 'bad parts', Stephen had a mind-bending moment of clarity. 'Ahhh. This is how editing works.' (my paraphrase)

Gould said, "When you're writing a story, you're telling yourself a story. When you're rewriting, you're taking out all the parts that aren't the story."

It's interesting that most writers refer to what other writers have told them. There's an unofficial apprenticeship system at work.

I had a similar experience- though the lesson was different- with a college writing teacher who said that the words should make the story clearer. That 'artistic' expression can limit understanding. I didn't agree
immediately, but I see the point now. If you write poetry, fine. Be as symbolic and obtuse as you want.
But a novel must have a plot, must build into something, must develop in some way. The ones I like to read, anyway. 

Stephen King says that a decent writer can become a good writer, but not a great writer. How do you know if you are a great writer or a good writer? Are brilliance and marketability separate issues? Is this a question you should ask?

What I got from this: If you love to write, then write. Write the scenes that heat your pillow. Name the characters the walk just behind you, a little to the left, nudging you towards your desk.

I wonder if I have the kind of faith (or pig-headedness) it takes to spear rejection slip after rejection slip onto a spike on the wall as he did. Maybe I could make a separate email folder instead?

I loved reading about 'Carrie' getting sold. I loved his brother's science giant electro-magnet experiment blowing a transformer box. I appreciate the gentle acknowledgement of his own faults and addictions, especially how he sold his monster desk and got a modest one and tucked it under the eaves in his converted stable loft.

"It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

The 'Toolbox' section reviewed some basics- vocabulary and grammar and why you must master these (and not reach for words that you can't use correctly), but the thing I liked best was his reference to the 'glass teat'. Anybody care to guess what he was referring to?

Other points I appreciated-
  • Writing makes you a writer. Don't wait for someone to let you call yourself that. Don't let other things (ie-tv) get in the way. Writers must read. MUST.
  • He's written books plotted and unplotted, and lists some of each.
  • Write for your ideal reader, not for critics or the market or to avoid Those Letters, wherein readers 'gleefully' inform that they have been offended.
  • How he thinks about description, dialogue, and symbols. I won't get unto all that here, but it is a nice discussion, worth reading.
There is only one writing exercise- He gives you some plot points  about a woman in an abusive relationship and then asks you to switch the genders and write it. Then he invites you to email him the result and he promises to read at least part of it with great interest. Which made me laugh. I may send a little vignette out. It would be fun just to know that he's read something I wrote.

Here's a video that covers the basic tone of the book. Enjoy!
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. Leguin

If you haven't read any of Ursula K Leguin's books, definately do. She's the daughter of an anthroplogist and a writer, and it shows in her simple to read (but not simple to understand) scifi. I was first introduced to her via "The Left Hand of Darkness" as required reading in a college anthropology class. We also have her children's book "A Ride on the Red Mare's Back", and it is lovely.

So, she knows how to write. But does she know how to teach writing? Can anyone teach writing, or can you only learn it? That's a bigger debate than I want to get into here.

But I like EXAMPLE. How can you tell me how to use setting to move the story without giving me something great to read? Le Guin gives wonderful, lengthy, varied examples from Mark Twain to Virginia Wolf to Jane Austen. The part of me that likes to skim had a hard time not reading ahead to her next discussion, but I forced myself to slow down and enjoy the words. And they are worthy of study.

One of my favorite sections was on point-of-view. Le Guin writes a single scene from multiple POVs: first person, limited third person, involved author (or omniscient author- she has her own pet terms), objective narrator,observer-narrator in first person,objective narrator in third person. (Yes, there are more POVs than first, second and third limited or omniscient.) She also talks at length on POV changes and how to do so effectively, and then gives examples from literature. I learned quite a bit about a subject that I already understood pretty well, plus extras like POV standards in some genres.

Although all of the exercises appear designed to make you more aware of your writing and to learn technique, two stood out.

The chastity exercise (great name!)
 What are we to be chaste about? Use of adjectives and adverbs. Write a piece of narrative prose up to one page without using adj or adverbs. And no cheating by using dialogue.

A terrible thing to do
Take a piece up to four-hundred words and cut it by half.

Yikes. I cut a four thousand word short story in half to fit submission requirements, and it was extremely eye-opening. I think you have to do this exercise before you do a final revision on your manuscript. It forces you to economize, to distill meaning, and reveals how much is fluff. This is the best writing exercise I've done.

I am "love 'em and leave 'em" with most books, but every once in a while I find a keeper. This one goes on the short list.

What writing exercise has surprised/shocked/delighted/tortured you?
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Where do we go from here?

Click here to set the mood
Okay, book. Have a seat.
Things have been really good between us lately, and I appreciate that you've been trying. But I found out something about you a few days ago, and I need to clear the air.
Your ending is rough. It was shocking, actually. I'm partially to blame; I've worked the first half a million times, and the second half has only gotten two quick passes. Of course you feel neglected. But that's no excuse.
Have I grown as a writer and you haven't kept up? Are we in different places? Have I done this to you? Your scenes are shallow, you're pathetic fallacied, and you don't even answer my questions, questions I have been raising since page one. How about some resolution? Is that so hard for you?
Fine. I'm angry. I tried to hide it, tried to be Pollyanna. I was looking for an easy fix, a silver lining, but I've given up. I will have to rewrite EVERY sentence. Didn't I just write these sentences?
You're hurting me. You're giving me little choice but to eat another bowl of ice cream and curse your complicated "this isn't easy for me, either" plot.
But I'm not ready to give up on us.
I'm not going to spend this evening reading "Harry Potter" or "The Chronicles of Narnia" or any of my other comfort books. I won't fool myself into thinking we're going somewhere by sketching some cover art ideas or plotting a sequel. I'm not sure we can make it, honestly.
But I'm done pouting, done whining to my husband and sister and anyone else who will listen. I'm ready to try.
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

coming picks of creative writing books

I am a library reader. I love to log on at home-where it doesn't matter who is laughing, crying, dumping puzzles out or who has to go to the bathroom- and search. Search reviews. Search similar books categories. I've developed a habit where someone online recommends a book, and I log onto my library account and request it, right away.

I've read maybe fifteen books on writing- some fantastic, some decent. I requested another 20 to be sent to my home library and will be bringing you my take-home points from each. The librarians will be glad to see me since there aren't a lot of shelves. (FYI-150 books came up in the search. Writers love to talk about writing, don't they?)

A lot of this is subjective- things that might have blown my mind six months ago I may have read in several places, and I won't be impressed in  the same way I might have been. And I know there're so many author/agent blogs out there, but there's something about a book. I'll let you know who it's aimed at, or try to.

I'll focus on some loose groups- workshop books, famous writer books, and genre books- how to write romance, mysteries, etc. Plus a few other categories as I figure this out.

I will review the "Idiot's Guide to Writing", though I don't like the title. The best title I read was "You're not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffee shop."

Open to suggestions! What books have helped you become a better writer?
Strunk and White is off the table, okay?
Glutton for Punishment?

Writing is rewriting. No kidding.

I have an imaginary world, separate from the world in my novel. The world of writing my novel. It's a place where I read through my stack of pages, make a few notes, then click my pen and put it away. It's fine. All these changes are cosmetic. The bones are in place, the description is relevant to the story, the characters are deep and consistent...but it's not real.

I'm finishing my hard-copy edit- my third pass at the whole manuscript. I THOUGHT that the end was in decent shape, but it is not. The last hundred pages are over-complicated, confused and convoluted. The good news is I thought of a way to streamline the whole thing, but it involves cutting that chunk and rewriting.

I remember thinking "I'll have to come back to this," and just wanting to get my characters to the end. That was fine, then. I needed a frame to start with, and that's what a first draft is for me. An ugly, chipped-paint, rusty, teetering scaffold.

My second pass was mainly to learn more about the craft of writing- a really long writing exercise about believable dialogue, fresh description, a weaving together of story elements to form a cohesive whole. I did a lot of workshop critiquing and read a lot of agent tips and writing articles in this pass.

So, now I'm in the third edit. Streamlining plot, refining characterization and motivations, and checking details. Cutting passive voice, deleting/adding commas, checking commonly overused words (just, that). I also have a habit of  using multiple verbs when one will do- ie- I thought I saw, I turned to see, etc. I'm not sure what that's called, but I recognize it.

I've also started a fourth edit using Microsoft Narrator (mainly so that any submissions I make to my crit group will have an extra pass of editing), where I listen to the computer read me the text. Narrator is a bit of a pain because it won't read from Microsoft Office, so I copy the chapter I'm working on into Notepad. The narrator goes as fast or slow as you want, but it feels safer to me to take notes fast, and then make the changes in Office slowly. The really nice thing about Narrator is it came with Windows. So maybe you already have it.

My next step after the Narrator edit is to hand out the full manuscript to some Beta readers. After responding to their comments, I think I'll be ready to query. In my dreams:)

I critiqued a friend's first chapter a few months ago. He hasn't read it, nor will he until he finishes his first draft. I think that's fine- that's what I did, too. Not because I didn't want feedback, but I wasn't sure I could do it. I needed to get the boost from concluding the story and believe that I was a writer before I had people tell me what was wrong with my writing. So, join a crit group if you can, but not if you're not ready to learn. Because humility and learning like to hold hands. They're going steady.

One day I'll read my MS and feel satisfied. Or at least tolerably pleased. But we're not there yet. And that's okay.
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breakthrough on Comparable Novels and Genre

Whenever I see a book that has a concept- however trivial-that is remniscient of something in my book, I feel a bit sick. What if someone has my idea-gasp-and they've already published it?

A book featuring sinkholes as spiritual portals churned my stomach- until I realized their concept was totally different than mine. Big sigh.

But...what if...that attitude is wrong?

Genres get hot because bestsellers leave people wanting more. Haven't we all picked up a book hoping it will be as good as ______?

Writers should wish comp books a great run in the same way that homeowners want houses in the neighborhood to sell high when theirs is going on the market.

I'm going to read some reviews and see if anything resonates with the themes, plot, world-building, etc. of my novel, then pick a few books to actually read and see if anything makes the short list.

Finding comps is a problem because my paranormal romance is not full of heaving bosoms, ripped clothing, or even sex. Anybody know of a 'clean' paranormal romance? Do they exist?

Outside of Christian Lit, all I can think of is Twilight, and it's YA. Can I say that I am glad that Twilight is big? It has proved that you don't have to show everything to take the reader back to the thrill of first love.

My book is comparable to "The Giver" by Lois Lowry (for the theme of the need to experience all of life- the good and bad) crossed with "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer (for the romantic tone), plus some Jewish mythology thrown in. The problem is my book is not YA. Are there any adult fiction books that sound anything like this? Is this Urban Fantasy? Except the main section of the book takes place in the country, which would make it Rural Fantasy.

Seriously, the line between paranormal romance and urban fantasy is very fine. I pulled this Gwenda Bond quote from Wikipedia, which got it from Publishers Weekly, 2009-

"T]he terms urban fantasy and paranormal romance are often used interchangeably. But most of the category's major editors work on books that fall into both categories and caution that while the two frequently cross over among audiences, there is a key distinction. Avon executive editor Erika Tsang explains: "In paranormal romance the relationship between the couple is the focus of the main plot. In urban fantasy, the world that the couple exists in is the focus."
I suppose that the focus is on the couple, which would make PULSE paranormal romance. It just doesn't fit in with the paranormal romance I've read so far.

In a side note, I would never compare my novel in a query to "Twilight" because it can't be done without coming off as presumptuous. Unless you are Stephenie Meyer. Then it's fine to say "I've been working on something a bit like Twilight."

But it's an indicator of unrealistic expectations and uncontrolled ego for an unknown author to do so. And I don't want to admit my unrealistic expectations straight off the bat.
Glutton for Punishment?

The Last Apprentice

The Last Apprentice Series by Joseph Delaney

I haven't read the whole series- just the first four books-which right there tells you that these are a great read. I might read one book in an okay series, but not two, and certainly not four.

Tom Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son with some odd talents like seeing the dead. His parents have run out of money to pay for a more "mainstream" apprenticeship, so Tom is sent to the Spook to learn the art of fighting witches, warlocks, and other evil creatures that make life hard for folks in the County. It is lonely work, and some of it is scary, but Tom is a natural. He soon meets a girl in pointy shoes (the exact kind of girl in the exact kind of shoes that the Spook warned him to stay away from!) and struggles with if she is a benign witch or a malevolent one. Tom can't trust her...but there's something about her that makes him want to.

The Last Apprentice has the most innocent 'romance' I've seen in a recent series- it's very believable and doesn't push kids into adult situations. There's no mention of kissing until Alice's cousin tries to entrall Tom in a later book.

It reads a little darker than early Harry Potter, but is on par with the later ones- there are boggarts and witches, spirits and demons, and Tom spends a lot of time digging pits and lining them with his iron and salt mixture to trap them.

There's an interesting theme about the role of a Spook versus the role of a priest. In the beginning books, Tom seems to think that the priests just pray and aren't active enough in their fight against evil, but his tone changes as he becomes more experienced. I don't know how that will turn out, but the Spook respects his brother the priest, though the reverse is not true. 

Tom does make a lot of poor decisions, but some young men do *wink*, so it's not unbelievable. I'm not prone to nightmares, and didn't find the images particularily scary, but a lot of other reviewers have. I will wait until my son is at least 12 to introduce him to Tom Ward, but I'm sure they'll be good friends!  
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review of Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie

I recently started reviewing books for the Richland County Public Library. Here's my review for Tender Graces.

"Virginia Kate left the mountains of West Virginia when she was a girl- sent away with her brothers to live with her well-intentioned father and new stepmom. She grew up, but the whispers of her mountain never left her heart.
So when her mother needs her again years later, Virginia Kate returns, bringing the ghosts of her childhood with her. She struggles to understand why her mother gave her up and to retain hope that her mother ever loved her.
Virginia Kate relives the humorous, the heartbreaking, and the joyous as she reconciles her childish understanding with wisdom.
TENDER GRACES feels like walking down a new path with an old friend, and the characters are believable and immediately engaging. The dialogue is so real that you feel like an eavesdropper, the scenery is beautiful without being overwhelming. You'll shut this book with a tear in your eye and a smile on your lips. Really."

I've enjoyed chatting with Kathryn, and you can get to know her at her website. Or Kathryn is also an editor of the literary magazine, "Rose and Thorn". They've just updated their website, so take a look. I enjoyed the short story "Can't Sleep" by Tai Dong Huai, about an older father talking to his daughter about his own father's death. Have a great weekend!

Glutton for Punishment?

Review of 'BUY-OLOGY' by Martin Lindstrom

I'm reading the recent books on marketing and neuromarketing in the public library, and I started with BUY-OLOGY by Martin Lindstrom. At the end, I relate this to keeping reader interest. It's basically the same skill set.(I got the cover from Amazon. You can't really click to look inside. Sorry.)

A few things stuck out-

1. Warning labels and pictures of tumors etc. on cigarrette packaging light up the craving centers of your brain.

2. Sex is Extremely Interesting- too interesting, in fact, for people to remember the product clearly.

3. We are emotional creatures, pretending we're rational.

First, a message from our sponsors. Ivory Soap. Is it a little warm in here?

Okay, back to cigarrette packaging. Back in the day, I had a developmentally disabled client who picked the skin on her fingers until it bled. My job was to determine the cause of the behavior, and give her caretakers a procedure to follow to decrease the behavior.

I discovered that the mere sight of a bandaid would start her picking. In behavioral terms, this is called a discriminative stimulus. A really great example of this is the Krispy Kreme "Hot Now" sign. That neon lights up, and you get hungry.

It sounds like the same mechanism. Your brain doesn't look for appropriateness when it makes associations. It looks for reliability. And the warning labels--designed to be noticeable--are very reliable at predicting a nicotine rush. Can you imagine seeing this and getting a jolt in your brain that it's time for a smoke?

Warning--yucky picture of a tumor below.
The hair is kind of nasty, too.

THIS PHOTO ACTIVATES PLEASURE CENTERS in smoker's brains in the UK, where these labels are used. If advertisers were smart, they'd plaster these health warnings all over billboards and magazines as public service announcements. Oh, wait...they do. It seems like a warning, but acts like a trigger.

It appears the most effective advertising is low level and insidious. Lindstrom writes about American Idol and Coke. The judges drink it; I knew that. But did you notice the warm-up room?

Concerning point number two-Sex. Our brains get so jazzed looking at sexual images that few brain cells are left to remember our names, much less which restaurant has these burgers. Seriously. I checked McD's, Burger King and Wendy's before I did a general search for "sexy hamburger commercial" and came up with Hardees. Don't click on this if you are a recovering pornaholic.

Overtly sexual advertising is less effective, according to Lindstrom, than merely being sexy, and he predicts that in ten or so years, after things have gotten MUCH more blatant, there will be a down swing in sex in commercials.

I doubt we'll ever go back to the simple sexuality of Schrader Universal Valve Caps, but advertising will be more integrated- though not neccessarily more subtle. Like the product placements in 'Heroes'. The cameo of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" made me poke my husband and say, "Ohh! That's an ad!"

Why is this so interesting to me as a writer?

Covers are their own type of branding. There's a well-muscled man with shoulder length hair, and buxom woman held tight against his chest. You know EXACTLY what you are getting when you buy a romance. A dude on a horse with a sword, a slightly grizzled, gray-bearded man in cloak beside him, and a thin woman with pointy ears and a long bow. Epic Fantasy. Etc. If you're a well-known author, the prominent feature of your book is your name (I can read KOONTZ on my bookshelf from across the room).

Covers do the same thing an ad in a magazine does. A cover should be familiar so you have some positive associations, and fresh, so it offers something new. Which is what agents seem to want in manuscripts. Different, but not too different.

The most effective covers will tell a story on their own. They will make the reader FEEL.

Third item gleaned from Buy-ology:we are emotional first, then rational.

Psychological phenomenon like Sour Grapes and Sweet Lemons are a part of every intro psych class. We talk up what we have, and downgrade what is unattainable, i.e.- I never wanted that promotion. I'm better off without him. I'm glad I got in a car accident; my car was old.

We roughly value things based on how much we pay for them. The interesting thing is, according to Lindstrom, we also enjoy them more. We enjoy them even more if we perceive them as high value, and perceive that we've gotten a deal.

Thus, the existence of 20% off stickers that drive me nuts. Can't people see through this? Do people think a store could stay in business if they weren't getting money to cover costs plus a mark-up?

This also explains why carpet stores are perpetually going out of business. But it still helps us assign value as we make a decision. It makes it easier for the consumer to feel good about the purchase.

So, I'm thinking about offering my book on Amazon for $34.99. And the 'perfect condition' used books will be $19.99. What a deal!

And I'm going to infuse the pages in Chapter Nine with the smell of campfire. Maybe Chapter One will have vanilla and frangipahi. Scented books are coming, I promise. (Scent is the biggest portal into our emotional brain. Sensory BrandingTM. Publishing example- Paper books have a sensory brand that is vastly different from eReaders.)

Marketing has parallels to basic storytelling. Don't let your character sit alone, musing about the terrible situation he's in, let him interact with another character. Better yet, he thinks she is hitting on him, but she's saying he's hot temperature-wise, not hawt. Interaction is interesting to our brains.

I get thirty pages into my book before you know my character's hair or eye color. I'm not sure if that will stand once I get editors and agents involved, but it's deliberate. A hundred pages in I give a concrete age for the protagonist.

I want women from 14-40 (and beyond) to be able to easily fit into her head. I don't want to put up a barrier in a first-person narrative, and I deliberately start with a scene that is familiar across the world- climbing a tree, afraid of falling. I'll let you know if it works.

If you find this interesting, please let me know and I'll keep writing about it.

One of life's disappointments is discovering that the man who writes the bank's ads is not the one who makes the loans.

Glutton for Punishment?


First of all, the Tooth Fairy visited last night. Emma's trap for fairy dust did not work, but the Tooth Fairy inadvertently (so we guess) walked across the dollar she left, leaving a very clear trail of high heel prints in gold glitter, about a size .03. Kapow! Take that, neighbors and friends parents! Our Tooth Fairy ROCKS!

Second, I have decided to split my writing and personal life into two separate blogs. Because "Ink Well" has been used, I am keeping my url "" for my personal life and have created a new writing blog "Book Readress". Get it? You are all welcome at either one. I just want to be free to talk about potty training without coming across as unprofessional:) I would also like to encourage you to click the button that says "Follow" because I'm not linking on Facebook every time I blog.

Third, I have a new publishing plan called "Live to be a Hundred". I was looking over Slate's list of powerful octogenarians, "80 over 80", and noticed that 18 of them were listed as writers. This is not counting the # 1 pick, President of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson. He's written several books, so it should be 19/80. So roughly one out of four of the powerful octogenarians have written a book. Many of them are memoirs, but still. I tend to procrastinate, so I gave myself an extra twenty years.

Fourth, your comments make me smile.

I'm surprised we didn't get one of these letters from the Tooth Fairy.

Dear _________________ :

Thank you for leaving one [1] tooth under your pillow last night.

While we make every attempt to leave a monetary reward in the case
of lost or stolen children’s teeth, we were unable to process your
request for the following reason(s) indicated below:

( ) the tooth could not be found

( ) it was not a human tooth

( ) we do not think that pieces of chicken bone are very funny

( ) we were unable to approach the tooth due to excessive odor

( ) the tooth has previously been redeemed for cash

( ) the tooth did not originally belong to you

( ) the tooth fairy does not process fingernails

( ) your request has been forwarded to the Nerve Ending Fairy for
appropriate action

( ) you were overheard to state that you do not believe in the tooth

( ) you are age 12 or older at the time your request was received

( ) the tooth is still in your mouth

( ) the tooth was guarded by a vicious fairy-eating dog at the time
of our visit

( ) no night light was on at the time of our visit

( ) the snacks provided for the tooth fairy were not satisfactory,
or were missing

( ) we discovered evidence of unsafe tooth extraction as follows:
[ ] string
[ ] pliers
[ ] gunpowder
[ ] hammer marks
[ ] chisel
[ ] part of skull attached to tooth
[ ] no dental care
( ) other:

Thank you for your request, and we look forward to serving you in
the future.

Sincerely, The Tooth Fairy

From Funny Jokes blog.

Glutton for Punishment?

Why a Style Sheet? Or, How to Pretend to be a Professional Writer

I have a 382 page document sitting on my desk. It has 107,096 words in it.

Some of those words are 'gray'. Some are 'grey'. I didn't really think about it until I checked out a book on copy-editing. Some people actually pay attention to this stuff. Who knew?

They care, for instance, if you use:



Chapter One/Chapter 1/Ch. 1

Geroth (What is that? Only I know how to spell it, because I made it up.)

So, I read the book and started a style sheet. Now I can hyphenate consistently, use the same capitalizations, know which numbers to spell out and which to numerate, and generally look like a pro.

And when a real copyeditor gets my manuscript, I can give them the style sheet and avoid a few marks of the dreaded Red Pen. They'll know that 'geroth' is a real fake word, that Sleep is so important it's capitalized, and that I wear makeup, not make-up, when I want to feel la-ti-da. Or is it 'la ti da'? (I need a style sheet for the blog.)

But, you ask, how does one make a style sheet?

It's so easy.

On a legal pad, I made three columns and three rows. Nine boxes. Top left box is A-C, top middle is D-F, top right is G-I, etc. Under the G-I, I have written geroth. Then grey. Then Home. (I just started it. I haven't come across any A-C or D-F words yet.)

Then I have a space at the bottom labeled Miscallaneous where I demonstrated my chapter heading (I made a heading format on Microsoft Office, too, but sometimes things happen and I don't want to have to scroll to another chapter to see how I did it before.) And whenever I wonder, "Should it be 600, or six hundred, or six-hundred?" I can check in two seconds instead of 'finding' on the screen or flipping through pages if I'm working on a paper edit. The style sheet lets me pretend I'm organized, and that's a good feeling.

Another nice thing about the book 'Copyediting' is the inside covers give the copyediting symbols, so when I get my marked up manuscript back, I'll know what they mean. (It's not exactly what I learned in ninth grade english class.) Like making an 's' curve over and under words or letters means to transpose them. Or if you run a delete line through something, then change your mind, you put dots underneath it, meaning stet, or let it stand. (Stet will also over-ride the copyeditor's suggestion, but I'm just using this for my own edits right now. As a writer, I'd think carefully before ignoring their edits)

I learned the most doing the practice exercises. You, too, can develop your inner copyeditor. Then you'll get this joke:
Q. Does anal retentive have a hyphen?

A. Only when used in adjective form. Ha ha ha. That was a good one. Hey, why aren't you laughing?

Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Question: What number am I thinking of?

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: Authors, do not send out your manuscripts until they are ready. Agents and editors will remember, even if they don't know that they're remembering. I'll explain.

Whenever I see the fractal pattern of an MRI, I am reminded of how I felt standing at the lip of the Grand Canyon.

On real MRI film, I recognize the amygdala, the frontal cortex, and the hippocampus, but that's about it. People who study the brain can learn a bit more, but there is still a limit to how much they can process, and how detailed they get. How long would it take to sort through all of the millions of neurons that fire while you decide if you want to watch "Fear Factor" or "Dancing with the Stars"? But computers can do it in real time.

I listened to an interview on NPR of Orson Scott Card yesterday, and he said that if he knew what story would get a response like ENDER'S GAME, he would have written it. Card has been extremely successful, so it's hard to feel bad for him, but I know what he means. As a writer, you want to touch people and connect with them. If you're not doing that, you might as well write textbooks. Textbooks on brain imaging, perhaps.

Check out this video of an fMRI of a brain watching the trailer for "Avatar". Amazing, huh?

What images illicited the strongest responses? The alien? The kiss?

Will we put people in an MRI and watch their brain while we read our entire book to them? Our editor might come to us and say, "Cut this paragraph. The test listener wasn't engaged. And Ch. 7 needs a bump. Can Wanda slap Gregory then? Or they could have sex. Either one."

The funny thing is that the first fMRI done was by researchers trying to understand "The Pepsi Challenge" blind taste test (and now Pepsi, according to this *wink* article, is done with trying to change people. Thanks, Jeff). Researchers wondered why people would continue to drink Coke if some of them liked the taste of Pepsi better. They discovered that emotions help process decisions. I don't drink Co-cola anymore, but I still think of it fondly, because my grandma loved a snickers bar and a coke. LOVED them. Together. And when I think of Coke, a tiny part of my brain accesses my memories of her. EVERYTHING we look at gets checked against our previous experience.

It's a little tricky ethically. Input changes brain chemistry. Would you like it if someone wanted you to buy Miracle Whip and injected dopamine into your brain so you'll put some in your shopping cart? Watch this (ten seconds will be plenty to get the gist. Miracle Whip is the new beer.) and tell me if that's not the intention. In the comments below the video, however, people- apparently young people- are a little, shall we say, confused about this new direction, and someone compares Miracle Whip to orthopedic shoes. In other words, "Don't bother, MW. You're not cool." Neuromarketing says it doesn't matter too much what the hipsters say, the association between MW and cool is being made.

Are we ruled by these associations? No. Are these associations bad? Not necessarily. But think about this:

At the marketing meeting hubby went to, the speaker, Steve Whigham, told a story about a marketing guy who approached a bum and gave him ten bucks to let M.G. write the bum a new sign. The bum agreed, and M.G. left for an hour and then came back to see how the new sign was working. The bum gave him his ten bucks back and told him how great the sign had worked- instead of the usual $6-7 a day, he'd made $60. And what did the sign say?

"What if you were hungry?" Simple empathy.

Is marketing reminding us of things we already decided or manipulating us? I don't know.

For Thursday- my first experience with Sonic and a new game system with a foil hat. Yep. It reads your mind.

Answer: 1984

Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sky writing

I apologize for not getting this out yesterday, but I'm sick and have the same bedtime as my kids until I feel better.

I did some brainstorming on marketing. Skywriting is my favorite. How I would love to look up at the beach and see my first scene written in one mile high letters (that's the size of the letters, not the altitude. Really.) It's almost dramatic enough for this writer's ego. Perhaps if the entire throng of beachgoers were taking notes, slack-jawed and/or teary-eyed…Oh. Hello. I forgot you were here. Ahem. Sorry about that.

I said last time that the average person is exposed to 30,000 advertisements a day (according to marketing guru Steve Whigham). How do you get your book to stand out among all of those? And WHAT has to stand out? Do you need a bright yellow cover? An Oprah's book club sticker? (Yes. Give her your soul. She will sell a lot of books and your soul will get time with Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil, so your soul will be self-embracing and in a happy place, surrounded by Oprah's favorite things.)

Let's talk about Oprah's book club. Love it or hate it, a recommendation from Oprah sells. Why?

Steve claims that 95% of decisions are emotional (based on brain-imaging studies- more below on this.) So how does Oprah make us feel? I notice four basic responses.

1. Loyal Oprahites- want to be able to send her emails about the book, detailing how the book changed their lives, their children's lives, their neighbor's life. These people consider Oprah a close personal friend and REALLY want to meet her. They take her recommendation as seriously as if she were their priest/minister/best friend/psychiatrist/medical doctor rolled into one. They have learned how to read because Oprah suggested it.

2. Casual Oprahphiles- tune in every once in a while, maybe thumb through her magazine in the checkout. She says some interesting things and most of it is pretty good. These people have read at least one of her other book picks- possibly because their book club picked it- and they're willing to give her recommendation a chance. They like how they feel after watching Oprah- grateful that their life isn't so messed up, hopeful and ready to put their life in order, serious about fixing the ills in the world, etc.

3. Oprah Indifferents- Think, "Crap. She recommended another book. Everybody is going to read it and be talking about it, so I should, too." A lot of 'book people' may fall into this group. (In a parallel example, the buzz around Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" has made some people read it, just so they could weigh in) This is, as are the rest of my Oprah categories, merely conjecture.

4. Oprah Reactionaries- WILL NOT read a book because she recommended it-but they won't be buying the books, so I only mention them. But they exist, as evidenced here.

Notice that these categories are related to identity (If I read these books, I am a good, caring person. Oprah said so.) Reactionaries have an opposite though equally strong emotion, which I will call non-identity. (I will not become a sheep in Oprah's herd.)

So you can send Oprah emails every day until she asks you on the show, you can drop leaflets from planes (think propaganda drops during WWII), stick flyers on people's windshields, tables at cultural events like fairs,tattoos, blogging, spamming, become best friends with the indie (independent) bookstores within a twelve-hour drive of your home, etc. Lots of people spend a lot of money looking at what motivates people to buy.

Did you know supermarkets use video of customers to measure time spend in a store, time standing in the aisle waffling about what to buy, observing what products people go straight for (and thus should be advertised outside, since by the time they get inside the decision is already made)?

I've wondered why they stick books like "Coffees of the World" and "The Ultimate Tulip Guide" in the entry way at Barnes and Nobles. Marketing people call it "decompression", and the purpose is to ease us into the shopping experience, to let our brains adjust. I think they use those books to give us some easy decisions. To give us confidence that we are in control. It reminds me a bit of a lobster trap. Here's another trap-

"Often a customer struggling to decide which of two items is best ends up not buying either. A third "decoy" item, which is not quite as good as the other two, can make the choice easier and more pleasurable, according to a new study using fMRI carried out by Akshay Rao, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota. Happier customers are more likely to buy. Dr Rao believes the deliberate use of irrelevant alternatives should work in selling all sorts of goods and services, from cable TV to holidays." (From this article in "The Economist")

So, the ideal situation would be to have a table with your book, the bestseller comp book, and a decoy book, like "Famous Quidditch Matches in Hogwarts History" or "The Life and Times of Dr. Carlisle Cullen". You'll have some fans that will pick the decoy, but most people want to relive the emotion of a golden book. They've already read the golden book, the decoy is out, and that leaves your book. Which looks pretty interesting, actually. In his email newsletter, "Daily Kick in the Pants", David Farland says this:

    "In fact, most purchases that most active readers make are based upon the fact that the book resonates with other works that they have enjoyed. The readers almost never make a conscious connection, but it is there.

    "As I mentioned the other day, we choose the category of fiction that we do because we are looking for a certain type of controlling emotion in our work. The word "genre" doesn't really explain what we're doing when we choose our fiction. Instead, the sections in the bookstore ought to be titled "Wonder, Romance, Drama, Intrigue, and so on...

    "Sometimes the resonance that induces us to buy a book comes from the cover. My own fantasy novels have covers by Darrel Sweet. Sweet of course is famous for doing the covers for Terry Brooks and Robert Jordan, two of our best-sellers of all time. So when readers look at my novels, they are immediately reminded of books by those authors."

I can see what he means. The publishers are very aware of cover art and what it conveys- hence the recovering of Wuthering Heights to look more like Twilight. More on this Tuesday, including how to make a living as a bum. Really. It's a good gig.

What emotion do you read for? Some possibilities- Adventure (like Dan Brown), romance (Stephenie Meyer), humor(Dave Barry), wonder(J.R.R. Tolkien), drama(Jodi Picoult)? Does it change?

What did one book say to the other one?
I just wanted to see if we are on the same page

Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Move over LeVar…

Nature abhors a vacuum. Apparently, so does the world of literature. Just weeks after the announcement that Reading Rainbow would be a warm memory/Trivial Pursuit question, Osama Bin Laden has stepped up to help Americans fill their bookshelves.

After last week's controversial picks, he decided to go with a classic: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Mr. Bin Laden says, "The only thing that could improve this great literary work would be if it were set in Mecca."

He also comments that the scene where the rabid dog forced the community indoors and Atticus Finch—whom he refers to as Atabak al-Finzi—arms himself and shoots down the foaming, stumbling dog (representative of the Great Satan, America) was personally inspiring.

"A man willing to sacrifice his life to set a people free is an example to our martyrs," Osama explained.

In a twist, Osama discusses one of his least favorite books, "A Very Hungry Caterpillar," which exposes the consuming and destructive nature of Western Civilization. Says Mr. Bin Laden, "It doesn't stop eating. This book trains American children, from a very young age, to oppress others. We would never let our children wallow like pigs in this filth."

In closing, Mr. Bin Laden said, "Of course, you don't have to take my word for it."

For Thursday, marketing. Do you know how much marketing the average person is exposed to daily? According to a marketing seminar my hubby attended, 30,000. Yep. Thirty THOUSAND. I'll give some ideas about how you can make that can work in your favor.

Love is in the Hair...

Glutton for Punishment?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

From the mouth of a babe

I don't remember learning that Santa wasn't real, or finding out where babies come from. But I read my first book (Max the Cat) sitting at our dining room table in Tamarac, Florida when I was four or five. I remember reading my first poem to my mom and that it rhymed dove and love. We were in our old blue and white conversion van, driving from our home in Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa to visit the grandparents. My mom told me she loved it, and I was so proud of myself.

I dug through a box of my old diaries and yearbooks yesterday. I found the poem I read to my first boyfriend when he stopped calling, entitled 'Mimes Suck'. What sophisticated imagery!

I'm glad I hadn't thrown away the diaries because, though painfully adolescent and confusing, they're a great resource if I ever want to write from a teenage girl's perspective. *wink*

I also found the lit magazine from my senior year in high school. Before I found it again, all I remembered about this poem was that I'd used the word rape, and I'd wondered if people interpreted that to be an event in my life. (It actually referred to the forceful nature of love, changing us without consent.) A lot was going on at this time- hormones, with my parents' divorce, death in the family, hormones, and the fact that my first love didn't last. No kidding, huh? Here it is, warts and all:

A candle sits there aflame

The wax melts into the form that it came

The fire burns the candle's thread,

A puddle grows by her whose strength has fled.

This flame too hot to let live,

This type flame has never a thing to give.

Curse the match who struck this spark

By the candle who ever bears this mark

Of cold wax which has no shape,

This gray pool is the one sign of rape.

This fire once long wished for

Was late seen not as an escape door.

It should not be wanted so,

For this love flame burns with a hurting blow.

None is in love always

And smoky storms cover love's bright gold rays.

So, new candle, fresh in mind,

Avoid the hot flame which melts all your kind.

In a Zen-writing book "Writing Down the Bones" Natalie Goldberg purports(that's the first time I've used that word) that everybody has to write their quota of junk before they can get to the 'good' stuff. Here's a review that matches my opinion.

What did you do with your old journals and bad poetry? (everybody has some, right?)Was writing a chore, a joy, therapy, a friend, a burden in your formative years?

Check back tomorrow for Osama's weekly book picks.

Hubby had Isaac, our 8 year old laughing over this.
What does a duck army yell when they're fired upon?
What does a squirrel army yell when they're fired upon?

Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Girl Can Dream

I pull out my slim, purse-sized, indestructable (even if I drop it in a sink full of dish water or slam it in the trunk of my car. Yes, I destroyed phones in those ways.) reading device. Sweet. It’s fully charged after only half an hour. Or perhaps it charges itself without being plugged in...

I browse a list of books (similar to the one I just finished) on my NetBoox account (only $19.99 a month. Awesome dream!)

Still browsing. Nah. I'm tired of reading space opera and wizards. I want something romantical.

Something paranormal. In ‘Books I’ve Previously Enjoyed’, I find one that I actually enjoyed. I tap “Something Like This, But Different”.

This one’s about Lara, a girl who is kidnapped and taken back to the Garden of Eden. When she runs away and is detained by FBI agent David Hatton, she finds love and the strength to endure the pain of mortality.

Hey…that’s my book! Wow. My first novel. It did pretty well, too. It sure is nice that it will be in eprint until the end of time. Ahh, nostalgia.

I'll check out "People You Know Have Read". My sister recommends this one, and it’s rated PG-13. For nudity…that could mean anything. Let’s look-there’s a scene where she is in an accident and the doctors cut her clothes off to save her life. That’s sounds fine. Only 200 people have read it, but they’ve rated it four and a half worms, too. I wonder if they've all read the book. I wish somebody would figure out how to stop inflated reviews (hint, hint. I don't have a clue about how you'd do that, though.)

I’ll preview the first chapter. Hmm. Why is she doing that? Ahh, now I see…but what about her father and the ostrich farm? This is interesting and well-written, thus far. I’ll take it.

A Day Later…

Wow. That was a great book. I’d like to own that. I’ll just click here, pay the $3.99 to get my hard copy sent and then I can read it whenever I want.

And I’m putting a star next to it so my other sister and my friends will see that I read it and loved it. Add a few lines to recommend it, and I'm done.

*Fog clears. Kelly blinks in bright sunlight*

It was only a dream?

That sounds pretty easy, doesn't it, Sony/Amazon/Netflix/Barnes and Noble?

Heck, if Google could give me this experience, I might not mind them taking over the world.

What's your techno-dream?

This article from "Backspace" (retelling the 1996 cut of book supply drivers intimately familiar with their routes and the resulting drops in sales and pressure on the remaining books) is what prompted my dream. The great thing is that people will be their own market specialists in the near future- if Amazon hasn't done that already.

Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A little tolerance, please…

I wasn't sure about my tone in this, so I pulled it after a few hours, but rereading it now, I feel like posting it. Perhaps the context of my recent posts makes this make more sense.

Mari Mercado, an IB (International Bacchalaureate) student is faced with either reading a sexually graphic book or flunking the class. From the article:

"I read a lot. I'm an avid reader and I have an active imagination," she said. And when it comes to the passages she saw in her school assignment, "I'd rather not try to imagine it."

Do you really want to carry trash around... in your head?

Inflammatory, isn't it? You can tell by the large, red font. I did a tally of the first three pages of comments (about sixty), and this is where the chips fell:

Get Back, Religious Zealot! (waves garlic and wooden stake, 'cause they're sure not using a silver cross): 58%
We're not worried about her, but You're Going to Hell: 40%

You spells pornographic wrong: 1%

Well, your dumb. 1%

And to give you the actual, non-exaggerrated flavor, here's four strongly worded responses.

•Abbi from St. Pete- Another instance where compromise is shoved down a Christian's throat. If 16 year olds can't buy a porn mag, why is it okay for them to read about this in school?

•Mimi from New Port Richey - This is a 3rd year student in the program. She couldn't know what type of book she'd be reading in 11th grade when she signed up in 9th. Even if you don't agree, we need to ensure personal preferences are guaranteed in this county. Freedom!

•from dunedin- Grow up! The only reason people see this as controversial is because people make it that way. I went to a catholic high school and we read The Color Purple...parents had a hissy fit and we lost good literature because of it.

•Maire from clearwater- What is she going to do in college when told to read something she does not like? Life is supposed to revolve around her? How selfish.

Basically, I see the supporters viewing her refusal to read the book as a courageous act of personal integrity, but the majority think she needs to unwad her panties. Or, better yet, buy a thong (my interpretation of their remarks). You can also check out this discussion on Nathan Bransford's blog last week.

The article does not state what Mari's reasons are, but it mentions that she is a leader of the Christian club. The readers picked up on that, and several people (4 or 5) told her to give up on Yale and MIT because she doesn't want to read about other people boinging each other. Seriously?

Dave from SPHS IB Alum
She doesn't deserve to be in the IB program with her attitude. Should she get through and get into a secular accredited college, she will have to endure reading many other things she will doubtlessly be 'totally against'. Bible College awaits.

I would add that someone who doesn't smoke pot or drink has no business going to any college, but somehow a few people manage it. Like this clean cut Mormon gal at Harvard. Seriously, it's a great interview.

I don't believe that people re-enact every behavior they see and read, but it DOES affect world-view and what you think of as normal. Read up on concept formation and the role of memory in cognitive psychology. Here's a previous blog on Kelly's model of memory and why I'm careful about what I put in my brain.

It sounds to me like neither side wants to be told what they can or can't read. I say fine. Read whatever you want, but let her do the same. Why is it so insulting to say "I don't feel this book is appropriate for me"? That's what I'm trying to teach my kids- not that they should judge others, but that they are the first judge of what is good for them.

I checked out "Living Dead in Dallas" by Charlaine Harris- the second in the Sookie Stackhouse vampire mysteries. I haven't read any of her other stuff, but I want her agent, Eddie Schneider, to represent me (hello Eddie!) so I'm looking at other works he's represented. I had a great reason for reading this book, right? I loved it...until I got to the sex. If I want some romance, I will experience the details ONLY with my husband, even if that attitude keeps me out of MIT.

Here're some resources for those that are so inclined:a blog with clean book reviews! And another one that rates books like movies!

Ummm. I think I would just cross my legs!

Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, September 14, 2009

One Potato, Two Potato

I am a woman plagued by projects.

  • Pulse, a 110,000 word project at least three edits from completion.
  • Three picture books I've written for my kids. (I inked a drawing this week. At this rate I'll finish one book every five years.)
  • A midgrade novel about a girl who becomes queen of the pirates when her pirate parents die.
  • The short story "The Sweet Life" that I previously posted, but needs the tension ratcheted up (and four hundred words cut so that I can submit it to the ROSE and THORN ezine-accepting submissions again as of today!).
  • A short story I've outlined wherein a man lives in a culture where he must set up his spouse with a new lover before he can dump her- and in the process of finding someone willing to take her, he remembers the good things about her and changes his mind.
  • There's this werewolf astronaut story challenge floating around.
  • I have a couch to recover.
  • And a rocker.
  • And I want to terrace the back yard and am researching price points on materials and a Bobcat.
  • My next novel, about an Ancient Egyptian woman searching through time to find her lost son. I wrote the opening scene maybe two years ago and haven't gotten back to it.
  • Oh yeah...this blog.

I was talking to my sister, Jenny, who is an AMAZING artist and clothing designer, about her recent meet 'n greet with a brand representative Urban Outfitters corporate (she's the set designer in the Urban in Salt Lake City). The woman asked her where she gets her ideas, and Jenny said to me (nicely) that that is a question that people who create do not ask. They know that you take a butterfly net with you everywhere you go, collecting things until some of them fit together.

You don't have to know when you're going to use an idea, just that it appeals to you, that it feels real. For instance, the grass in front of a church we drive by is bare in places like the bald patches of fur on a mangy dog. I have no place to use that right now, but maybe I will one day. Maybe in my next novel Atum-Re (or whatever her name ends up being) will journey into a fertile land that an army has marched through and that is how the earth will look to her. I don't know.

Another example--I was struggling to come up with a way to transport my current protagonist between worlds. Then we went swimming in a cenote, a sacred sinkhole that was a religious center for the ancient Mayans. They believed it was an entryway into the spirit world, which was perfect.

I tend to get bored with things—my long-suffering husband has dealt with too many 90% completed projects to count (but who doesn't like sheets of drywall leaned against the kitchen wall for a year?)—so sticking with one story has been a struggle.

I decided a year ago that my novel is the priority. I keep a list of edits to make and when I'm tired of going in order, I'll pick something from the list. I'm doing my third edit onscreen (I'm in Ch. 17, I think) and my fourth edit on paper (Ch. Ten- just finished nine this morning. Yea me!)

In my defense, short stories are part of my long-term goal of being a (paid) writer. I am trying to get some publishing credentials so I'll have something to put at the bottom of my query letter, and the process of getting a short story published should teach me a few things. Because how can you hope to hold a reader through four hundred pages if you can't hold them through ten?

To keep sane (relatively, at least), I take every Sunday off from writing or other projects. It's a time to relax and clear my mind. But every Monday morning, I start thinking about it again, and then it's go go go!

For me, the trouble is not getting ideas, but deciding which one to chase. Which is my next topic. Any tips?

Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson. You find the present tense and the past perfect.

Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Comfort Zone

Where do you write?

I look for a place that is quiet, and when that fails, I look for a room with a door that locks and my ipod. And when that makes me feel like a bad mom, I'll sit on the back porch with my laptop and squint at the screen while the kids chase each other around the neighbor's yards.

When the sun gets too bright, I'll open an umbrella and sit under that, but then the screen looks all stripey and I can't stop checking out my hair in my reflection, and then I move inside to the kitchen table and crack a window so that I can still hear what's going on.

The problem here is that I waste a lot of time trying to write, trying to remember what I was thinking five minutes ago, before [insert child's name] came crying home with a scraped knee, and I put some Neosporin on it and a bandaid, but the Neosporin smeared and now the bandaid won't stick and [insert other child's name] is crying because[insert neighbor child's name] told them they couldn't play 'soldier hide-out' because my child won't give them the big watergun, that is actually neighbor child's weapon.

So, I get a teensy bit frustrated.


School is back in. Three kids down, one to go.

Jojo does all the standard things a 2 1/2 year old does. He stands on the couch next to me and jumps, wets his pants for attention (I studied functional behavior from the man who invented it at college, so I'm sure what the function of this behavior is.), lays on the floor with his shoes clutched to his chest and cries, "Weady go, Mommy!" As in "I'm ready to go to the park/pool/YMCA/store/playgroup/Granna's/eat lunch with Daddy/walk/ride bikes/sidewalk chalk/just get me out of this house!

Sometimes I feel like that as a writer. I have six hours a week (when noone is sick- last week I got zero hours due to illness)to write in solitaire. I will drop off Jonas at my friend's house for preschool and have 3.0 hours to do whatever I want. She lives 20 minuites away, but the library is only 5 minutes away from her house, so I go to the library. It is a small, 24'x40' building, but there are several desks and comfortable chairs (really- my toosh didn't fall asleep at all last time)and it is QUIET. A heaven on earth. I get more done there, away from my messes and refrigerator than I do in any six hours at home.

I don't want to misconstrue things. I love my kids and they are amazing and so fun.

I'm just speaking to the frustration of having a reasonable goal- such as edit one chapter a week- and not being able to get it done! My family is my life, and I was happy without writing, but I wouldn't be happy without them. I do need some time to work on my goals, and writing satisfies my creative itch. I'm trying to set some boundaries for writing and children, because good fences make good neighbors.

How do you carve out time for yourself- whatever it is you do for you?

I drove car pool yesterday, and all the kids had watched Obama's speech. My kids couldnt remember anything that he had said, but Neighbor Girl and Boy informed me that he'd said a Bad Word.

"What word?"

"I can't say it."

"It's okay. I just want to know what it was. You won't get in trouble."

"The 's' word."

My kids nod, solemnly remembering the moment of horror.

"The 'ST' word!" girl chimes in.

Ahhh, this is why everyone was so worried. I dig and, though noone will say the word, find that Obama said that even if you make mistakes, it doesn't mean you're "that word." I'm okay with that message. Have a great day!

Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Advice to an aspiring novelist

Hello world! I have a friend that has just started a novel. She asked for some writing tips and is a little reluctant to join an online writer's workshop because of possible idea theft. (Links to the the best writing tips are at the bottom!) This is my response:

I was concerned about letting people know what my story is about at first, too. But now that I'm talking to writers and understanding how much work it is to get something publish-worthy, I think the feedback I get from OWW far outweighs any risk. Everybody on their has their own "baby" that they're nurturing, and it's just too much work to take someone else's incomplete idea. Anyway, you only post up to three chapters at a time, and someone would have to stalk you for months to get the full story, and you don't have to post the polished version if you don't want to.

In addition, your computer files have save dates on them, and if someone uses large chunks of your work- not just the general ideas, because that's very very hard to prove and also extremely unlikely- you're protected that way.

Unless you're writing term papers, the risk of plagiarism is very unlikely. More likely is what happened to Stephenie Meyer- She sent out a few copies of a draft and that friend gave it to her friend, which gave it to her friend, etc.

(This happened after she was on the NYT bestseller's list. Most writers have to struggle to find someone who loves them enough to struggle through the early versions, myself included.)

So unless you don't want to risk *anyone* reading it, I wouldn't worry about posting it piece by piece online. Of course, this is my advice and you have to make the decision about what you feel comfortable with. But even after starting as a good writer, studying and writing constantly for a year, I find the impartial advice of people that aren't afraid to hurt my feelings (and to tell me what works) is the best best thing I have done to improve. Way cheaper than conferences, too.

The great thing about being in a workshop is you can also read other people's reviews of other writers' submission. This helped me to understand the vocabulary, to have the words when something wasn't "right", and to glimpse what experienced writers see when they read. It's a whole new process.

If you don't find things that bother you or you wish that they'd handled a little differently in MOST of the novels you read, then you either pick the greatest books ever penned or you need to develop your inner critic.

Again, this is meant as friendly advice based on my experience. Read, study, write. Make sure you understand passive voice and can spot it (and slay it like a dragon).
Find out what an info dump is and make a solemn vow not to do so. Don't overuse
"that, just, really, kindof, sortof" or other words that aren't necessary. Avoid adverbs unless you really really need one. No more than one exclamation point every ten pages, and the same for metaphors. Get a book on grammar if you don't have one already.

Be aware that when you send in a MS, you will have to change italics to underline, because the agents have weak eyes, poor things! And you will have to have your MS double spaced, one inch margins, with name/TITLE/page # in the upper right hand corner. Start each new chapter half-way down the page. 12 pt Times New Roman or Courier are the preferred fonts.

There's also the option, if you're really concerned about theft, to write short stories and post those to develop your skill as a writer but keep your novel at home.

The thing about early drafts is that they're early drafts. I can't say if your idea will fly because I truly believe in the hands of a persistant writer any story can be worth reading.

I write (roughly) for plot and character the first draft, consistency and flow the second draft. Deep characterization and believability in the third draft (where I'm at right now). It takes a lot of work to get it pretty, correct, charming, balanced, smooth, flowing, engaging, generous, surprising, and lively. I read an author's blog who posted all twelve of his versions for his chapter one. I read 1,2,3,4,5,8,and 12...and wow. He was a hack in the first draft, but by the was good writing.

(And the book is getting published. I've searched for his blog but it's lost. Should have bookmarked it- Drat!)

My kids' guidance counselor has a quote on her bulletin board that I smile at everyday when I walk Eli to his door. "The great thing about being a writer is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. -David ???" I'll update tomorrow morning after I get his full name:)

Okay- that's all I 've got! Good luck, and send me your Ch 1. and a plot summary if you're still game:)

I would add, read up on writer's and agent's websites. A good place to start is my friend Teresa Frohock's Very Thorough Post of links to writerly tips. Nathan Bransford, super agent, put it all together in one place for you, too.
And, for anyone interested, I love Online Writer's Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy. Happy writing!

Is there another word for synonym?

Glutton for Punishment?