Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas! I hope you are all having a wonderful time with your families and friends. I'm nearly finished shopping and the wrapping is almost done as well. I wondered...what are you looking forward to unwrapping? For my kids, we've got some lacrosse equipment, a 4th Nintendo DS (When we drive down to FL to visit my side of the family, it will be the first time that we've had the same number of DSs as children who want a DS. I'm really looking forward to not having to teach my kids about sharing the whole 8 hr trip. Although the new one is a 3DS, so there will still be some room for squabbling!) There are also TONS of books- so their brains won't completely turn to mush! This Christmas, I am trying to spend more time just being with my kids. I laid down on the couch with Eli and Jojo for about 30 minutes and listened to them jabber on about Minecraft, and I felt noticeably more relaxed a nd happy. I'm not saying that my kids always relax me, but for that 30 minutes, it was true. They told me all about herobrine and wondered if I knew anything? (Nope. Herobrine is a character some claim to have seen in Minecraft--a sort of video game ghost story.) What are you doing to make this Christmas more than just presents and parties? Merry Christmas!
Glutton for Punishment?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

AWC part two...

So Kristen was Kristen Miller-Vincent from D4EO.

I met several authors who were a little green- like didn't know what a query was and I told one lady in particular about "query tracker" and "preditors and editors" and how helpful it was to follow agents on twitter so you can get a better idea of their style of interacting with people, tastes, etc. It made me realize a little more how much the internet writer family has helped me, so thanks!

My pitch with Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown went well- she liked the premise (a pregnant 16 yo girl gets possessed by the spirit of a dead Egyptian queen and begins enacting the queen's plot to rule the world and use the body of her unborn child to bring back the queen's son) well enough, although she thought Egyptian was a bit tired and it needs something to pull the story together more. I asked her if she had any thoughts about what that missing element might be, and she said that the video game (a game everyone is playing that the Queen uses to gain control over the
masses) was it. So I'm trying to figure out if what I have written is okay and it just didn't come out in my pitch strongly enough or I'd I need to make he game more central. I think the latter is more likely. I didn't get a partial request, but I will send a query when I get it all fixed up.

Lara was very nice and I felt at ease around her. I think that all writers should go pitch or do crits or something with agents face to face, because its been so helpful to me. I was a little nervous but not unbearably so, and I think that you can only get that kind of confidence from living through the thing you fear repeatedly!

We went to a shooting range a few months ago, and the experience is oddly similar. The first 30 or so times I fired the gun, the noise and the kick were so alarming that I didn't even see where my bullet went. But after so many repetitions, those reflexes calmed down and I was able to just shoot and work on my grip and aim and all that.

Anyhow, the pitch went very well and I feel like I got some really good advice about how to make my story more marketable.

Have a pitch story or link to share? I'd love to read your experiences!

Now I have to go study and make an outline for a paper. It turns out I dislike academic outlines more than those for fiction:)
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Atlanta Writers Conference

Quick blog...I'm at the Atlanta Writers Conference and had the pleasure of doing a practice pitch with two agents today: Jill Marr of Sandra Djykstrajistamijak Literary Agency and Kristen ???. It was supposed to be Marr and Judith Engracia, but there was a change, possibly due to hurricane Sandy? End result- I've pitched to an agent that seemed really interested in my story but I don't know her full name or agency!

So that's my assigner for the mixer tonight- find out her name so I can send a query to her:) Jill Marr doesn't rep YA, so that's a no-go, but oh well!

They were both lovely and most of their comments were that I should have included more info in my blurb, like I did in my verbal pitch. (We were asked to send in a 250 word description of our project. Mine was
300, but they wanted more info, more details about the world, more about the characters and remarked that the motivation of the antagonist made it unlikely for her to be flat, and they approved!)

They seemed very positive about the world building details and wanted that in the description as well- by far their most enthusiastic moment.

Hopefully that will help you all get your fingers on the pulse of agents everywhere! Don't be afraid to go over word count in blurbs as long as the words all matter, talk about motivations, don't focus so much on the MC that other characters important to the main conflict are neglected, and showcase what's special about your story (ie worldbuilding).

Wish me luck tomorrow as I pitch to Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown. Assuming she made it here, of course!

Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I'm Famous!

Check out this video in which Nascar honors the founder of the Autism Academy (my employer) for her work getting insurance companies to provide therapy benefits for children with autism. When she got this legislation ("Ryan's Law") passed in South Carolina, she started working with lawmakers across the country. Ryan's Law has been passed in 31 other states, which is amazing! The video was shot on location at the Autism Academy and you can see Yours Truly hard at work 40 seconds in.

If you are so moved, please vote for Lorri. She is one of four finalists and has already been awarded $25,000 to benefit the school. If we won the grand prize, $100,000 would go to provide scholarships.

Yesterday, I was working with a child who is typically the picture of happiness. But something happened while playing catch, and his eyes got all teary and he asked for a hug. He doesn't have the verbal skills yet to tell me exactly what upset him, but I'm working with him so that one day he'll be able to tell people how he feels and why, and be able to speak for himself instead of having to hope that we guess right about what the problem is. I feel incredibly blessed to work there and to be able to help these kids succeed.

If you want to support us, you can vote every day! If you feel REALLY strongly about supporting Autism Academy, you can vote once per email address as well. Last year, the total number of votes was 21,000, and voting is open for about 60 days. If 120 people vote every day, we can totally win this!

I won't be posting here about this again, but you can join the Autism Academy loves NASCAR FB page if you would like to get reminders to vote. I don't want to spam people, but I forget about things all the time and need a little prompt...

Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Much Frozen Pizza is Too Much?

I'm not dead. I could leave it at that, but I have a few minutes and I miss you guys and haven't felt good about dropping off the face of the planet.

My youngest is starting kindergarten this fall, and it's been a huge struggle for me about what I want to do. I will admit that my greatest hope was that I would get an agent and a book deal, and there would be no problem with me staying home and writing for 7 glorious hours a day while my kids are at school. Alas, we have bills to pay and college and weddings to prepare for and I have no book deal so far, so I will be going back to work and have started grad school.

I've mentioned some of this on facebook, but not told how everything has fallen into place. So here goes.

Being a teacher is a good job for a mom, so that's where I started. But when I looked at the teaching certification requirements, I realized that although I have a bachelor's degree, it's not in education, and I did not have enough job experience to fit their program for career changers. So I applied as an assistant teacher, and decided I needed to go back to school, and I should get my certification as a behavior analyst while I was at it, since that's what I really love to do.

I put all of my experience as a line therapist in there, hoping to get placed in an autism classroom, and set about finding a certified behavior analyst who could supervise me. I sent an email to a behavior analyst who was willing to do supervision and he invited me to come in and talk and bring a resume. After about three days, I woke up one morning from muddled dreams with the crystal clear realization that I was going to a job interview. Which I got, and am so very excited about.

While this is going on, I had applied at the University of West Florida as a non-degree seeking student and started taking the masters level behavior analysis classes I need, took the GRE and applied to the Exceptional Student Education masters program, which I was accepted to a couple of weeks ago. I am taking my first midterm in 13 years in a week and loving it.

Tomorrow I'm going in to the Autism Academy for orientation and will start full time when the kids go back to school.

It all feels really surreal, but right. Sometimes, when you want something, you have to struggle and fight for it to even be a possibility. And sometimes, when the time is right, the way is opened. That's how this has felt.

I had looked at going back to school a year or two ago to start working on this degree, but didn't. I wanted it, searched the same programs for schools, for supervisors, for a job, but nothing came of it. This time, it all fell together, and even though I don't feel any different, the outcome is totally different. It's funny.

I'll have a fairly heavy class load and be working 9-4 every weekday, plus trying to fulfill my other roles as mom, wife, and my calling at church. I predict we will eat a lot of frozen pizza. But hopefully I will be done with my classes by next September and ready to take the certification exam.

I may not check in here too often, but I would rather work really hard and get past this part than to take it slow. I hope that I'll be able to sneak in a book to read for fun every now and then and tell you about it, but I don't know.

I'll come back on Thursday and give you the summer reads I've enjoyed so far and tell you how my first day went. Thanks for the support!
Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Contest a la The Voice?

If you haven't seen it, head over to Krista V.'s blog Mother. Write.(Repeat.) and check out the contest rolling out on May 3rd.

150 people will sign up to post their query and first 250 words on their own blogs. The four writers hosting the contest will choose their teams and coach them. The new versions will be posted on the hosting writer's blogs, and voting by 8 agents will ensue. Entries with lots of interest will get requests.

But...the entries must completed, polished and ready to query. Which is where my dilemma comes in. I've sent out my first 50 of Book of Breathings to a few readers and gotten a great response. I'm writing like mad right now, it's just it possible to finish it in time to enter this contest, or should I make my revisions to Ways to Fall and submit that?

I think I'm going to give BoB my best shot. At the very least, it will be great motivation to get it done!
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Plodding along or Pugging Away?

This will be a short post to make up for the length of the last one- but I wanted to give ya'll and update on Book of Breathings. For MONTHS I have been plodding along, and now things are clicking. I mentioned that I filled in some broader conflicts, and what a difference it's making! Before I was struggling to put words in characters' mouths, straining to see them interact. That's all changed!

I still draw out the same conflict table I learned in high school English class-
Character vs. self
Character 1 vs. Character 2
Character 1 vs. Character 3 (etc.)
Character vs. Nature/setting
Character vs. Society

You can also look at all the different relationships a character has and make sure that each has different needs and expectations. Parents, teachers, employers, friends, romantic interests, friends with questionable advice...there are so many possibilities!

It;s important to focus on the antagonist just as much as the protagonist- What do they for themselves, what do they want from the people around them, what do they want from society and the world? What's standing in their way? (The answer is usually the protagonist, right? I sure hope so or you might want to choose a new MC!)

My take-home- if you don't have enough tension, look for missing levels of conflict. Make sure your characters aren't playing *too* nicely!

Happy writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prophets: It Takes One to Know One! 3rd Annual LDS Writer Blogfest

First, I apologize for the length of this post, but it is what it is!

I'm going to deviate a little bit from the regular LDS blogfest format and share a conversation my mom and I had when she visited earlier in the month. My mom is amazing: She taught me I could do anything and she does it, too, teaching batik, stained glass, Styrofoam sculpture, ceramics, and more to emotionally handicapped or chronically truant kids who have been removed from regular schools and placed in an “Exceptional Center.” She often shares stories about being cussed at, spit on, and threatened at work, but she never stops trying to show her kids that’s there’s a better way to live. She's a devout follower of Jesus Christ, and she's not Mormon.
Can you spot the Mormons? Hint: less than half the people pictured are! Aren't the un-Mormons good sports? My mom is on the far left.

When she visits church with us, she always has a lot of questions afterward. Whether we’re talking about the nature of angels or baptisms for the dead, our discussions seem to always circle back to the same point:
"Yes, but we have prophets today, and we’ve been taught that..."

This time we spent several hours (9 PM until 2AM. Ouch! It hurt the next day!) discussing if the Bible allows for prophets today and why Nathan and I believe in modern-day prophets.

So, is it consistent with the Bible to believe that prophets can speak today? In the Old Testament, Amos 3:7, it reads "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets."
And from the New Testament, Revelations 11:3, John the Revelator teaches that before the Savior returns there will be two prophets in Jerusalem. So there have been prophets throughout the history of the world, before and after the Savior (Revelations was received decades after Christ’s mortal life ended.), and there will definitely be prophets before the Second Coming.

There were many opportunities for the writers of the New Testament to teach that prophets were no longer needed, but the opposite is taught in Ephesians Ch. 4, where various offices of the church are named, including prophets. They must work together "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."

According to these verses, a few conditions would make prophets unnecessary. We could all be perfect (the early church members referred to themselves as saints), everyone could have been ministered to that needed it, and the body of Christ (the Church) could be completely edified (spiritually lifted up.)

If these conditions were met, there would be a unity of faith, the members would work together as one body, a perfect man, acting up to the example set by Christ. Looking at the LDS church and at the Christian world, I don't think we've met those criteria. Thus, I think it's reasonable to assume that we need a prophet.

But what does a prophet do and how can a prophet be known for a prophet? For many, the word prophet brings to mind old men in robes with long gray beards, or for the more cynical, suicide pacts and people wearing Nikes waiting for the aliens. Human beings are capable of a large amount of deceit, and much of it is directed at ourselves.

I've studied a lot of ancient religions this year, and the range of human sacrifice and base sexuality found in many early religions is astounding. Over and over, I found myself wondering how people could believe that killing their children or stabbing sea urchin spines through their bodies, or any of hundreds of other rites could appease the gods.

People, I realized in horror, can believe anything. How can I know that I'm not just caught up in a religion because of some innate human need to believe in a higher power? What if the agnostics are right and there's no way of knowing? What if religion really is the opiate of the masses?

The answer is one that each person must find for themselves. I cannot give this knowledge to anyone, but I know that when I pray, someone hears me, someone who loves me and wants me to be happy. I know that when I read the Book of Mormon, the Bible or other scriptures, a sense of peace fills me and I am comforted. This is the power of the Holy Ghost, who testifies of truth. Prophecy is simply knowing things through the power of the Holy Ghost instead of from our own intellect or emotions. A prophet testifies of Jesus Christ and calls people to repentance. He teaches the people how they should live, representing the Lord despite human failings.

My mom asked, "But what about predicting future events, like how Noah warned of the flood?"

I had a few distinctions to point out. Not all prophets prophesied the future. Moses did not. He led the people and used the power of God to call down the plagues and part the Red Sea and provide food and water for his people. Not all prophets warned of impending doom. Nathan simply told King David a parable and called him to repentance.

A prophet does not need to demonstrate all of the possible prophetic behaviors to be a prophet. He can only do the things that God tells him to do, but all of these gifts have been demonstrated in the latter days, from Joseph Smith conversing with angels and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, to Brigham Young leading the church across the Rockies with as many miracles as Moses had. Some have seen the future, some have seen visions of the next life and the spirits of the faithful dead.

However, we are not required to blindly accept what a prophet says. In fact, In fact, the opposite is true. J. Reuben Clark said that to know when true doctrine is being taught, “we, ourselves, are ‘moved by the Holy Ghost...In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.” The responsibility to seek knowledge from God is no one else's but our own.We gain knowledge by experience. We must act.

I'll tell you about a time Nathan and I followed the counsel of a prophet. Gordon B. Hinckley taught about the danger of debt, even at very low interest rates for needful things such as housing, back in 1999 when Nathan I were first married. For several years we lived in apartments, but when he became a manager up in Pittsburgh, we felt the time had come to purchase a home. Nathan’s boss at the time encouraged him to buy an expensive home (they’re all expensive, but he was suggesting a status symbol.)

We chose a smaller home instead, one that would be easier to afford if Nathan had a few bad months, since he worked commission. We were taught to have a supply of food on hand, so for a few years I had bought extra cans of fruit and spaghetti sauce, cartons of soy milk and pasta and put it down in the basement. It was nice to just send the kids down to get something when we needed it instead of having to run to the store for every little thing. I wasn’t planning on having to live off of it, not really.

Back in 2006, the mortgage industry started to collapse, and it hit the sub-prime market (where Nathan worked) first. His office had made a profit, but the company was not doing well under the new stringent laws. Nathan’s branch was closed and suddenly we were jobless.

A month later, Nathan had a job selling mortgages through a bank, but business was mainly generated through referrals, and it took months to develop relationships with realtors so that they would trust him to take care of their customers. He had a small base salary that would cover the mortgage payment and not much else, so every month we were going farther into debt. Nathan was looking at getting a second job, but I felt that I should try to get a job first, and I found a position as a line therapist for kids with autism, and things were a little better, but we weren’t quite in the black.

It was a terrible feeling to be in debt, like drowning every moment for a year. We had a few things going for us, though. We had bought a modest home. We had paid ahead on our car payment when Nathan had good months, so we didn’t have to make a car payment the whole year he was building his business. And we had shelves of food in our basement, which relieved some of our budget woes. It was a hard time, but it was such a good feeling to look at the food we had set aside and know we wouldn’t starve. (Not that our extended family would have let us starve, but it was still a comfort.) With some more tightening of the budget belt, we were spending less than we earned.

About the time that Nathan’s referrals started to come in, his dad asked him to move down to South Carolina and help run the tire stores he’d bought a few years earlier. His dad had raised the idea a few times before, but it hadn’t seemed like the right thing to do then.

(We have an idea that part of why we were supposed to go to Pittsburgh was so we could be closer to my sister who lived in Baltimore when she really needed family. In a nutshell, she joined the church on Easter Sunday after one of many visits with us. Nathan lost his job a few months later, I believe. We're still waiting for our toaster oven.)

So we moved in with the in-laws in South Carolina and started paying off our debt. I am grateful for the warning that President Hinckley gave that protected us from having a bad situation become so stressful that our marriage would be at risk, as has happened to so many others in financial trouble.

I am grateful for other prophetic teachings, like the Proclamation to the World on the Family about how to strengthen families and society, and “For the Strength of Youth” which teaches the standards which youth (and adults) should live so that they can be happy and free from addictions and regrets. There really is safety and peace in following prophetic counsel.

I am grateful for President Monson and his counselors and the Quorum on the Twelve Apostles. I love to hear them speak about Jesus Christ and how much he loves us. The spirit never fails to touch my heart with the testimony that the things they teach are true. I'm hoping that one day soon my mom will be at peace about our beliefs, but I'm already happy that we can talk about things without arguing. Thanks for reading!

Check out the other LDS writers participating in the blogfest below!

Amanda Sowards

Angie Lofthouse

Ben Spendlove

Brittany Larsen

Cami Checketts

Charity Bradford

Danyelle Ferguson

Giselle Abreu

Julia Keanini

Julie Coulter Bellon

Kasey Tross

Kayeleen Hamblin

Krista Van Dolzer

Laura Johnston

Melanie Stanford

Rachelle Christensen

Rebecca Belliston

Sierra Gardner

Stephanie Worlton
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Projects...and They Don't Involve Imaginary People...

So, this isn't Pinterest, but I wanted to share a few things I'm proud of accomplishing during spring break, because much as I would like to write in every spare moment, I have to do other stuff:

Master bath sinks unclogged. Did this this morning when the slow drainage finally got to be too much. I'll spare you the picture of the hairballs, but gross. So gross. 

Replaced Isaac's fan and added a light kit. Previously, he was using a bare bulb with the wire looped over the curtain rod, tied off on the fan speed chain. It's been like that since I tried to add a light kit a year ago and found lead had melted out of the fan speed switch in the inner fan workings. New fan, non-fire-hazard lights. We're 25% less PWT now.

I've been brainstorming about a headboard for over a year, ever since we gave the in-laws back their bedroom set when our households separated. After a few weeks of here a little, there a little, I finished this yesterday, took about 9 hours.

And the garden. Three cubic yards of compost is enough to stink up your whole neighborhood, if you wondered, but the plants are so much happier. I'm supposed to plant seedlings and some strawberry plants as well today, but I'm behind (read: not started on this week's word count) and heading out camping tomorrow morning with the young women from church. Lots of planning, supply inventory and purchasing going on there, too.

Eli and I made a power point presentation on Abraham Lincoln plus costume (kids were late for school that day).

Everything is a mess. Laundry is all over the living room, and the kids are on Spring break, which means they are occasionally going 48+ hours without changing clothes. We went to watch General Conference with Nathan's mom and stepdad this weekend (wearing clean, but casual, not necessarily matching clothes) and got there at 11:30. At 11:32 Nathan got a message from his stepmom asking if we had left yet. I called back and asked where we were supposed to have left for. Easter dinner at Mama's house! So we got in the car and drove to Mama's.

The only thing that would make this picture better is if I were wearing the turquoise plaid pajama pants I changed out of 30 seconds before we went over to Nathan's mom's house. (Twice a year, Mormons can watch church direct from Salt Lake on TV and listen to inspiring counsel. Pajamas are totally acceptable in our family!) Speaking of General Conference, I will be joining my fellow Mormon writers by blogging on April 9th about my favorite conference talk. I should get working on that...

What are you doing when you're not writing?
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Max Out Your Book's Potential Audience

El Conquistador Resort. Where the Tire-Pros play!

I had lots of time to think last week on our little trip to Puerto Rico, what with the plane, the beach chair, the snorkeling, especially since Nathan had meetings about tires almost every day. (And to force myself to be creative, I didn't bring any books, though I did end up reading the one my hubby brought, a pirate/spy thriller.) And a quick tip if you get the chance to go snorkeling- when you reapply sunscreen, don't forget the backs of your legs!

My hotel desk. The sound of the waves, the aquamarine water (the water in this picture is really disappointing),
the island (it's up in the palm fronds)4 8 15 16 23 42 ...we have to go back to The Island!

Last year at Dave Farland's writers camp, I was given some advice that I haven't been able to ignore, hard as I tried. My fellow workshoppers read the opening to "Book of Breathings" and the outline (a pregnant teenage girl participates in an Egyptian ceremony for a school project and is possessed by the spirit of an Egyptian queen, who wants the girl's baby to replace the child she lost.) They had some very nice things to say about the voice and the archeology bits, but several people wished aloud that the outline had more Indiana Jones to it, more action. Which brings Braveheart to my mind.

I don't watch rated R movies any more, but I have seen Braveheart. The first half features stolen kisses and a thistle-embroidered handkerchief and a secret wedding. The second half, which begins with the new bride being slaughtered and ends with William Wallace calling out "Freedom" as he is tortured to death. Guess which part I favored? (Hint- my husband was happy once the broadswords and blue paint came out.)

Both parts of the story are good, but they're more effective storytelling together. How powerful would their love be if her death wasn't so traumatic for him that he started a war and laid down his life to try to change things? How sympathetic would we be to the warriors if they weren't fighting (and dying) for a darn good reason? Not very.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it always makes a story better to have this kind of layering.

Movies like Avatar (Blue people, not the Last Airbender), which have equal doses of romance and adventure, humor and depth, are rare, but it's doable, and that's what I want to do. If you haven't thought much about what your audience is looking for emotionally in a book, I suggest you sign up for Dave Farland's Daily Writing Kick. Here's a link to one on movie marketing, and there are other links at the bottom of that that.) Very good stuff, and it hasn't hurt the many writers he's taught.

I had too much depth, not enough adventure, so I tweeked the story. Now the Queen doesn't just want to have Rhys' baby to house the spirit of her own lost child, but she also wants to take over the world and establish ma'at, the traditional peace and order that the pharoahs claimed as their responsibility and right, and the justification for making war and subduing their enemies. It gives Rhys' friends and society a conflict to engage in as well, so it's not just Rhys agonizing over what to do and people thinking she's crazy, but her friends are right there with her, fighting to save their world.

The bonus is that it's expanding the story, not rerouting it, so I can keep most of the 60k I've written.

I love time to think. Happy writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Joy of Printing

So, I'm going on a little airplane trip tomorrow and I usually take a printout of my WIP to work on edits. This is the first time I've printed a chunk of Book of Breathings- all 60k words of it so far, and in glancing through it, I realize I've got a lot of work to do. I've done some substantial edits on the first 90 pages, hoping to get to the back half this week and start writing from my deliciously ego-myopic villianess's pov.

But this glancing reminded me that the MC's dad is missing, whereas once he was an entymologist who went away to do research every summer. Once the MC leapt off her own personal bridge about a hundred pages in, now that happens on page one and she's dealing with it the rest of the book. In other words, there are tons of inconsistencies to fix. I think I'll pack two red pens in case the first one runs out:)

Still, I love love love to hold a stack of paper crammed with words and know that the words, however inconsistent and needy for editing, are mine. It's exciting.

Happy editing!

PS- I apologize for missing my regular Mon./Thurs. blogs this week. Would you understand if I told you my mom surprised us with a visit and we stayed up WAY too late talking, which I only recovered from today by sleeping half the day? This week may be dodgy as well since I'll be out of town...
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubinstein

Galax-Arena is: Hunger Games marries Cirque Du Soliel and they have a baby. That baby grows up and meets Enders Game and they have a baby. Except the grandbaby was published way back in 1993! Feels really fresh--it fits in so nicely with all of the Hunger Games spin offs that it makes me wonder if Suzanne Collins was inspired by it!

Joella and her brother Peter and her sister Liane are kidnapped and shipped across the universe to live as acrobatic performers for the Vexa, an alien race who get their kicks watching them and the other child performers defy death on the trapeze over and over...except when death isn't defied at all. That's what the Vexa live for.

All of them want to escape, but there's no where to escape to. The atmosphere is poisonous to humans, and Hythe, the Vexa's hired hand, is always there, ready to bend their hearts by praise or their knees by punishment. Throw in a psychic power, some deep observations about the power of information, and a serious twist, and you've got it. If there wasn't a real adult with a job (my husband!) living in our house, I would have stayed up last night and finished it.

Content-wise, there is some language, including the "B-word," the S-word, and at least one GD. There isn't any sexuality. The kids are involved in some serious power struggles, but it's not as violent throughout as Ender's Game, though there are several deaths and one mob-attack murder. It's not a light read, in other words, but in the thematic context (that people lose something more valuable than life itself when they only think about their own survival,) I didn't have a problem with it. I haven't decided yet if I will let my 11 yo son read it. Yeah, I think I will.

One more thing worth noting is that the performers didn't have a language in common, so they speak a pidgin language, similiar to "Clockwork Orange," but there's a glossary in the front and I enjoyed that aspect. I did have to say a few words outloud to figure out what was meant. Just thought it worth mentioning...

Anybody else read this? It seems to have gotten good reviews, won some big awards in Australia (where the author lives), but none of my goodreads friends have read it. I'm shocked, honestly. All you dystopian sci-fi people will love it!

Happy reading!

View all my reviews
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Harold and the Hero

In his pop psychology bestseller "Blink," Malcolm Gladwell talked about a few things that relate to how writers make decisions for their characters. The book is about the way our brains thin-splice the available information to help us make decisions better, in some cases, than if we spent hours or days gathering info and doing tests. He basically says, based on various studies (and they are varied- he goes from police shootings to art forgery to the Pepsi Challenge.) that people's brains make judgements behind closed doors. It's normal, but we should be aware of when those processes are likely to get us into trouble and what we can do to be more reliable in our snap decisions. You have to know what the really inmportant info is to make the particular decision. And practice can help. (I think there's some relevance to the Outline Vs. Pantser debate, and it gives some credibility to the Pantsers!)

A specific example: Improv groups will perform a skit called a Harold, where the actors get up on stage without lines or a setting or even a conflict, and based on a prompt from the audience, just start acting. (It reminds me of one of my favorite shows from back in the day, "Whose Line is it Anyway?")

Gladwell explains that the improv shows are often insighful, funny, and while not seamless, much more coherent than one would think. To explain why, Gladwell compares the actors to a basketball team. They've practised together so much that they understand and anticipate what will happen. They have a feel for the game and they follow rules. (Even improv has rules!) From "Blink-"

"A very simple way to create a story--or humor--is to have characters accept everything that happens to them. As Keith Johnstone, one of the founders of improv theater, writes: 'If you'll stop reading for a moment and think of something you wouldn't want to happen to you or to someone you love, then you'll have thought of something worth staging or filming...In life, most of us are highly skilled at suppressing action. All the improvisation teacher has to do is reverse this skill and he creates very 'gifted' improvisers. Bad improvisers block action, often with a very high degree of skill. Good improvisers develop action.'"

Very interesting book, loved it, as I have loved all of Malcolm Gladwell's books that I've read.

I think this is why (as Dave Farland pointed out in his writing seminar) a hero never acts in self-preservation. A normal person, at some point in the story, would block action. (Think of Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek.)

I think most of us have heard the tip "get your character up in a tree and throw stones at him until the last page" but this says that the hero is also the kind of person taunting the stone-throwers, and he might even moon them, metaphorically speaking. He throws gasoline on the fire by being who he is.

Does this fit any other heroes you can think of? I think of Eugenides in the Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner, and many others.

Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Introductions Are in Order

Welcome to Shelley, my 100th follower! (Although networked blogs and other subcription services make that number a bit fuzzy.)

I'll tell you all a bit about myself since I didn't get around to that in January.

There are two gummy insects on my living room ceiling, one green, one red. They've been there since Thanksgiving, which was when we got out the ladder and got three gummy insects off the ceiling. The kids threw two back up after company left.)

My perfect day would go like this:

I would read a really amazing fantasy, something romantic and a little scary that would keep me guessing. Then I would take a walk around my beautiful garden in full bloom (someone in this perfect world would remember to water it since I won't!), maybe pick some raspberries with my kids or some mint to make into a tea. I'd have a brilliant idea, then go inside and write, and it would come out just as I'd imagined it. The kids- all four of them- would respect this time and not interrupt me except on the half hour (see how generous I am? lol) I'd make a few last edits (editing is so much more enjoyable than pounding out that first draft) and print it out (I love printing a completed book). Happy sigh.

Then my husband would make some grilled chicken, kids would help out with a salad full of good stuff- cranberries and cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and no celery- and we'd eat out on the porch. Friends would come over for games and we'd play for a few hours- I'd win, but just barely, everyone would be in the running until my last brilliant move, the one I'd been planning all along. The kids would play happily with their friends and no one would jump into each other on the trampoline and knock their teeth out with their knee or say anything mean, and I wouldn't have to remind anyone "that's not how we treat our friends."

Then we'd eat warm chocolate melting cake with chocolate brownie ice cream, and the kids would do dishes without any whining (ha!). Maybe we'd have a fire outside, make s'mores, then sing the best ballads of the 70's until today, accompanied by my husband on guitar. I would have finally figured out how to play something cool on harmonica, something better than "Oh my Darling Clementine." Fade to black.

A bit more: I dabble in a lot of artsy things, and because my mom is an amazing art teacher, I've learned how to do stained glass, silk screening, batik, ceramics, glass fusing and lampworking, upholstery, sewing. One of my earliest memories is "helping" my dad build a wooden seat to go over the extra gas tank in his fishing boat for me and my sisters to sit on. They taught me that you can make or  rebuild anything. We didn't have a lot of money for clothes and such, but we were experience rich-fishing on the Gulf, lobstering, scalloping, spear fishing, scuba diving, canoing, camping. I know what it is to be miles from shore, a tiny speck in the water. It's how I imagine astronauts feel looking out into space.

And lest I seem to have a big head...I procrastinate. I avoid unpleasant things, however necessary (paperwork of any kind).  I am not terribly organized, unless piling counts. I am reserved and self-conscious, to the point that when I was on the high school swim team and they passed out awards at the end of the year, I was "Mute 2." (My cousin was "Mute 1." I've since learned how to talk to people, but it's not my natural inclination) The bathing suit never bothered me, it was the feeling of being vulnerable to others, fear that people would think I'm boring or just not get what I was talking about. I am easily distracted, yet also easily sucked into books. My husband gets irritated with me regularly for not responding when I'm reading. Now that I have a son who does the same, I realize how annoying it is.

I love history and mythologies and mysteries and religions, kids and babies and my husband, who is my best friend and biggest supporter. I feel a deep gratitude to God for my life and for the experiences, both pleasant and difficult, that have made me who I am today.

I think that's quite enough, don't you?! If we don't know each other well, please tell me a bit about yourself or if you have done a recent bio post, post a link. Thanks and Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Can Your Story Spawn A Theme Park?

As I mentioned last week, my family went to Harry Potter World recently, and I'm still thinking about how excited my kids were to walk through Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle. Some writerly reactions:

So, first there is a healthy jealousy. Besides loving the books, I'm deeply in awe of J.K. Rowlings' vision. Harry's world resonated with her readers so much that they had to build a theme park to fill their need to be there. That's crazy, right? And it has such wide appeal that kids and adults alike are excited to go get a mug of butterbeer. I know that many of the images were from the movies, so there's a second layer of creative talent adding to Rowling's descriptions, but isn't it amazing that she put all of this is motion with some words on paper? Words are powerful. Writing is an act of creation.  Crazy awesome.

Look at the giant pumpkins!
Think about how many unique details there are in these stories.
I want someone to count and tell me how many there are.
 Maybe I'll bribe a kidlet to do just that...

My kids loved it- the snow on the roofs, the Three broomsticks, the Every Flavored Beans, the wands with their type of wood and core and many details (and so much merchandise!) Not all stories will lend themselves to souvenirs, but the second point is that Rowling is an amazing worldbuilder. She obviously spent a lot of effort thinking about the world, about the personality of the wizarding world, its quirks and benefits and drawbacks. And it's so funny: Mr. Weasley with his Muggle obsession and Hagrid's parasol-wand and Dumbledore's charming habit of loving the simple things, like lemondrops.

We watched Harry Potter 1 as a family before going (my younger 2 hadn't seen it yet, and they still haven't seen the "scary" parts, since we're not interested in them sleeping in our bed because of nightmares) and Nathan was explaining that "Diagon Alley" is a pun on diagonally, and I had never realized it. Maybe I shouldn't admit that in public. I had never stopped on that word long enough to think about it. Rowling did. She thought about every detail, probably many times over.

In a recent rejection letter, the agent told me that "I like the alternating perspectives between 'our world' and 'theirs.' However, I couldn't help wishing that the world-building had been just a bit more developed, so the reader could really picture the world."

That took me by surprise. I thought I had done that, but I realized I hadn't pushed the descriptions of the "other world" far enough. It wasn't all that different from a really nice garden in this world. And then I had a big idea, something that everyone could see themselves a part of, something that I'd love to live myself. It feels right, so I made some notes so I won't forget.

I'm working on my next story now and not planning to do anymore edits on Ways To Fall because sometimes you just have to move on. But I may write that agent and ask if she'd be interested in seeing a revision, and if she is, I'll write it gladly because I want it one step closer to being real.  

How do you know that you've developed the world enough? Any suggestions to share?
Happy writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Path? What Purpose?

A recent comment on a friend's blog got my dander in a fluff- This person said the way they made time for writing was by not having children, and the tone seemed to imply that people who have kids and try to accomplish other things are morons for bothering with the kids and not just doing the important stuff.

I read some of "The Happiness Myth" by Jennifer Hecht and found it interesting- she focuses on putting our cultural ideals in a historical perspective- why are some drugs okay and others are bad, and how that changes across time and different stratuses of society (ie, Cocaine was widely touted as a nerve restorative before being recast as a destroyer. The way physical ideals are counterproductive for many people (here, here! I would have been perfectly happy to have been born in the 1700s in Italy, if I go by their sculptures of pear-shaped women!)

The point is, I've been thinking a bit about what makes people happy. And by far the best, most accurate way to find happiness is in service to others, especially family. I am not saying that we should never do anything for ourselves, but that when we are unhappy, usually the answer is to reach out to others, not to focus on our own happiness.

Lots of people write from an empty heart, stories full of selfish, whiny people who can't stand their lives or other human beings. (see: The Stranger by Albert Camus) Without my family, my husband and children, parents, siblings, friends at church, neighbors, I would not have a heart worth writing from. Maybe this explains my hatred of Hemingway? And Mrs. Dalloway. And Steinbeck (although I don't think it was selfishness but despair that runs through his stories.)

For you personally, is art for art's sake valid? Is it okay to write stories that don't have a positive message, just because it's a cool idea? (Think Edgar Allen Poe.) What do you guys think?
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Once a Witch (Witch, #1)Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

I checked out a handful of books to read on our recent trip (all those hours in the car are good for something!) and this one was by far the best of the bunch. From the Goodreads blurb:

"Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and she was supposed to be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin's magic never showed up. Now seventeen, Tamsin attends boarding school in Manhattan, far from her family. But when a handsome young professor mistakes her for her very Talented sister, Tamsin agrees to find a lost family heirloom for him. The searchspellbinding display of storytelling that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant."

I loved this book, 4.5 stars. There were no mistakes here- the relationships between Tamsin and her family were really believable, the banter was fun to read, and I really enjoyed Tam's friend who's a boy. Boyfriend? The plot was engaging, setting solid. No hiccups...Don't you love it when you find one of those?  

It reminds me of young adult version of "A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness. (Another enjoyable book, 4.5 stars, content very tame for an adult paranormal romance.) It also reminds me of The White Cat by Holly Black, another great book.

Contentwise, there is some kissing, some fighting, moderate levels of blood. There are some curse words, including the s-word. The dividing line between good and evil use of magic was very clear, I thought.

Happy reading!
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mistakes or Learning Experiences

Yesterday I saw a link for a free ebook "Drawing out the Dragons" by James A. Owen who presented at the "Life, the Universe, and Everything" conference in Utah last weekend. I'm jealous, Utah/Nevada/Idaho/Arizona people. If it weren't a 40 hour drive, I would have gone. We did have a family trip to Disney/Harry Potter World at the same time, so don't think I'm feeling too badly for myself, though.

Butterbeer gets a thumbs up! I love a milk mustache.
The Brysons, an old wizarding family, very powerful!

Anyway, James says this in the first chapter:
The Choices I made later in life made the choices I made earlier more worthwhile. This is because our choices are cumulative--and the sooner you realize this, the sooner you are able to start actively making choices that may not only improve your future, but can, in some ways, even redeem mistakes made in your past. 
 Reading that a few times carefully, and taking the time to type it here, I am more and more impressed with this quote. There are still a few hours left to get the ebook free, right here. I'm not sure how many hours are left (it's a 24 hr window), and it's a wonderful, inspiring book about how important it is to really live and be active in making your dreams a reality. I'm just in Ch 2, but it's the kind of inspirational writing that actually inspires.

And I apologize for my long sabbatical from the blog. My plan is to update every Thursday with a tidbit of writing A-ha!s or techniques I've been working on, and a book review on Mondays if I've found something I want to share. Thanks! Happy reading!
Glutton for Punishment?