Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best to Give and Receive

It’s the perfect time of year to talk about the best gifts to give and receive: BOOKS! I still love the old adage—a book is a gift you can open again and again, and I remember thinking it was so clever when I first heard it as a child. I still couldn’t agree more!

One of our family traditions is for each member to open one present on Christmas Eve. We always choose a book for that one present—one we can cuddle up with and read together by the Christmas tree. It’s a heart-warming tradition I hope we’ll always continue. Here’s what we unwrapped this year.

(Should be easy to place each book with mom, dad, four-year-old daughter, and one-year-old son.)

I’m sure you’d also agree, books are great gifts to receive ANY time of year and for all occasions! In fact (spoiler alert), if you ever invite me to a baby shower, I can tell you right now that I give the new baby books. There are so many amazing board books out there that engage even newborns—and the nestling up time new parents have while reading to babies is irreplaceable. As a former teacher who spent several years teaching children how to read, I can promise you that it’s never too early to start.

Another popular tradition this time of year is “Best Of” lists, so in case you’re still thinking about books to give and receive (any time of year), here are some of my favorite books I read in 2013, and also some of my favorites I read to someone this year.

(As an aside, I hope anyone reading this post has a child somewhere in their life that they can read to. Niece, nephew, grandchild, neighbor, son, daughter…reading to children is one of my favorite pasttimes ever. I love picture books, and my only hang up with trying to write one is that I am a romance freak. My books Must.Have.Romance.) :)

Some of my favorite YA books this year.

Some of my favorite kids’ books this year.

So there you have it—my best to give and receive in books!  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and wish all my best for 2014!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Writer's Wanderlust

I adore traveling—experiencing the world’s beauty thrills me, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than immersing myself in varied cultures, languages, art, food, and landscapes. I’ve been fortunate to travel to eleven different countries, but that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to where I want to go. There are still many squares in my passport that need to be stamped and pages in my travel journal I want to fill.

Many writers I know have serious cases of wanderlust, and I think that’s one of the reasons we enjoy reading so much! Books take us to places we’ve never been and help us experience those things which are foreign. At this time in my life, I don’t have the ability to do ALL the traveling I’d like (with two “tinys” at home), so I’m grateful for authors that stamp my reader’s passport with their books!

I’ve gazed at the majestic peaks of the Grand Teton Mountains with Clara Gardner in Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly.

I’ve walked the Jellicoe Road outside Sydney, Australia with Taylor Markham in Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road.

I’ve sifted the red clay sand of Prince Edward Island with Anne Shirley in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

I’ve toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City with Claudia Kincaid in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  (A place I actually have been!)

I’ve wandered the dusty streets of Israel with Daniel bar Jamin in Elizabeth George Speare’s The Bronze Bow.

I’ve taken a turn among the rolling green hills and pristine lakes of England’s Lake District with Elizabeth Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

I’ve climbed the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains with Christy in Catherine Marshall’s Christy.

And don’t even get me started on Paris, France! Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline sparked my fascination with Paris, and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo matured it. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel Paris—twice—and loved every minute in the City of Lights. Lately, Stephanie Perkin’s Anna and the French Kiss has me itching to go back!

What about you? Do you have writer’s or reader’s wanderlust? To which places have your favorite books taken you?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Movement, Immediacy, and Suspense--Or why your book should be like a small child

I have two children, ages 3 and 1.  My daughter is a dramatic queen-bee and my son is a rambunctious mover and shaker.  I absolutely adore them—they have the best giggles, the sunniest smiles, and the sweetest, sloppiest kisses—but when my exhausted head hits the pillow at night, I’m amazed I’ve made it through another day of mothering!

I was reading through my copy of Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover again the other day, and came across a passage that hit super close to home.

“If you think about it, children are almost always in motion. In their developing minds and bodies, their responses to the impinging outer world and lively inner world are immediate. Published writers of children’s literature understand the immediacy of the child—and teen—experience.  They reflect that understanding by becoming masters of movement and suspense.”

Movement, immediacy, suspense. Our children have them, our books need to also!

Movement, immediacy, and suspense in children:

My one year-old loves his new found freedom to move. His favorite area of the house is the stairs and he giggles and squeals when I rush after him to pull him down.  When either of my children want something, they want it RIGHT NOW, or preferably five minutes ago.  Everything has to be immediate, or we lie in wait of the…Temper Tantrum…and anticipating those sure does increase the suspense in parenting!  They can happen at any time, in any quiet church service, or any upscale shopping establishment. (My child has tantrumed in Nordstroms across the country.) J

Movement, immediacy, and suspense in writing:

Elizabeth Lyon says in fiction, movement and suspense are action and change, and lists a set of techniques to create vitality in our writing: 

1.      action
2.      reaction
3.      reversals
4.      subtext
5.      raising questions

Another way to create movement, immediacy, and suspense in fiction is by using the present tense.  I’m really only familiar with the Young Adult market, but the past few years I have seen a surge of books in present tense.  Some readers have an aversion to it, and I hope they start coming around. J I admit, the books I first picked up in present tense felt jarring.  Now I love it, and I’m in the middle of switching my current YA manuscript over. Ms. Lyon says present tense is intense, bright, and leaps off the page. Like any writing convention present tense also has drawbacks, but for me the strengths outweigh—especially since I write for teens.

What do you think?  What are your methods for creating movement, immediacy, and suspense in your fiction? Which books effectively use these tools?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Writing Muse (Interestingly enough, not the band Muse!) :)

I recently saw on Twitter and Tumblr that Coldplay had written and released the theme song (titled “Atlas”) for the upcoming Catching Fire movie, and my first thought was WOW. Suzanne Collins has arrived. Yes, she’s a NYT bestselling author, yes, The Hunger Games broke box office records, and yes, she has an Oscar winning actress playing her protagonist.

But now that Coldplay has written her theme song? Please-oh-please, let me be her for a day!

You see, I’d like to marry Coldplay. The whole band. Throw in the piano and guitars too. They get me, (regardless of them not knowing I exist), and I get them.  Their song Paradise is essentially my current MS in song form, and oddly enough, I started writing that book (could show you the created on date for the doc.) before Paradise ever released. The first time I heard the song, I’m pretty sure I had a transcendental experience.

It took my husband and I five heartbreaking years to get pregnant with our first child—our adorable daughter—and when we were miraculously, joyously, pregnant with her, we went to a Coldplay concert at just six weeks into my pregnancy. The noise and bass at that concert were SO LOUD I was terrified that it might cause defects for my little in utero baby, but still, I could not leave! (And of course, concerts can’t cause birth defects.) During their song Yellow (also integral to a scene in my book), hundreds of big, bouncy, yellow balloons dropped from the rafters of the arena, and it was so beautiful--I’m pretty sure I cried—in the middle of a rock concert.

If I ever need inspiration or freedom from writer’s block, Coldplay is my go-to. Can I count them as having written my theme song, even if they don’t know they’ve done it? 

I’d love to hear about your writing muse!  Who or what are they?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Which came first, the book or the blog?

I love blogs. I’m obsessed with blogs. I subscribe to so many writing blogs that my inbox is begging to breathe. When I stumble upon a blog post that I think is really stellar, I bookmark it and email it to myself so I will have it for, like, ever. Now I have literally hundreds of posts saved—way more than I can keep up with.  So much love to go around! 

I credit a few extremely informative blogs with improving my writing craft.  I’ve gone to workshops, read books on craft, have critique partners, etc., but I love blogs because they are easily accessible.  The ones I gravitate toward have helpful, informative content.  

I also enjoy posting on my own blog, as long as it’s within a frequency I can handle.  I think it’s a great way to share and connect with other writers.  Another platform I’m really enjoying right now?  Microblogging.  The idea behind Tumblr is genius.  With shorter, easier to manage posts, the ability to save favorite posts--and the option to reblog a post--I’m in follower heaven.

But as someone who’s hoping to traditionally publish my work (haven’t queried yet) and someone who understands the importance of an author’s online presence, I’ve been trying to answer a question for quite some time.  

Which should come first?  The book or the blog?

Let’s look at both sides.

Ideally, authors would have time to write, edit, revise, and polish their manuscripts and blog.  I’m so thankful for the authors who do this.  They add useful information to our online writing community—information that people like me absorb. They connect people in a profession that can sometimes feel lonely and offer people (through posts and contests) access to writing friends, partners, agents, and editors in a way unavailable to those not using social media. They also inform me about books I may not have known about otherwise (sometimes even their own books). I know it takes time for these authors to do this--some of my favorites have to employ interns and assistants! I thank these people a million times over, they have truly enriched my writing life.

Then there are those people who, at this season in their life, have a limited amount of daily time to devote to writing.  Those who have full-time jobs or full-time families, for example.  (As I write this, my two children may have just ushered in the apocalypse downstairs.) J  Should those of us in this corner spend the time we do have blogging/being on social media or actually writing?

I don’t think there’s a right answer that universally works for everyone, but I can tell you how I feel personally.  For me, right now while I have two toddlers and limited time, I need to spend my writing time working on a manuscript.  I like to revise, I like to draft.  I enjoy it and need itit’s my refuge from the doldrums named Dora the Explorer and Dirty Diapers.  When I have a few extra minutes, I get on social media (Twitter and Tumblr are my favorites) because I know social media is essential for authors, and I’m excited about the time I can build an online platform. But for me, right now, my time has to be about craft.  

I see the benefits and costs of devoting time to writing vs. media-ing.  Some popular, awesome authors’ blogs have introduced me to amazing books.  Some popular, awesome authors’ blogs have introduced me to books that were, for me, a pass.

And then, some incredible books have led me to an author’s blog.

I guess, in the end, it’s about what writers enjoy, what they have time for, and what’s at play in their lives.  Balance can be tricky!

I’d love to know how you balance your writing time, please share!

Monday, August 26, 2013

An Itch That Demands to be Scratched, or the Narrative Hook:

Mosquitoes swarm the southern town in which I live, and for some reason, they love me. I've grilled-out with a large group of people and walked away the only person bug-bitten. On an evening walk with my family a few nights ago, a mosquito found the one square inch of skin I hadn't doused with bug spray--my big toe! An incessant itch can be relentless and annoying in real life. 

But applied to writing and the narrative hook? An itch is brilliant.

I once attended a conference where Larry Brooks was keynote speaker. Afterwords, I immediately bought his book Story Engineering.  Here is a small slice of what he has to say about hook:

“What is this wondrous little tease called a hook? Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s visceral, sensual, emotionally resonant, and makes a promise of an intense and rewarding experience ahead.  It’s a simple something that asks a question the reader must now yearn to answer, or it causes an itch that demands to be scratched.”

I love that analogy, an itch that demands to be scratched.  

I'd also add an extra dimension: A writer should never scratch her reader’s back--at least, not completely, and definitely not until the end of the story!

Figuratively never scratching a reader’s back means we  leave them wanting more. We never satiate. Our reader feels the need to continue on our character's journey until that journey reaches its satisfying conclusion. In Manuscript Makeover, Elizabeth Lyon calls this creating movement and suspense, and I'll tackle the "how-to" for that in an upcoming post.

That itch—the narrative hook—is worth its weight in gold when it creates reader empathy.

“When narrative hook alludes to the character wound and need, it reaches into the deepest part of the reader’s heart and sets the frame for the entire novel.”

In other words, the reader is invested, the reader cares. Larry Brooks also says, “the more the reader cares, the more effective the story will be.”

Great advice, right?  Find more in the two phenomenal craft books below.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Writer's Biggest Fault according to Les Edgerton, author of HOOKED

I'm currently reading through Les Edgerton's HOOKED again and came across these gems:

"The single biggest fault of most writers is that they simply don't trust the reader's intelligence to "get" what's going on without providing lengthy backstory."

"Readers don't need to know everything about your characters in order to understand what's going on when the stuff hits the fan. Intelligent readers understand a lot from a tiny bit of information. Give them credit for having functional brains."

I love this, and think this advice applies to more than just backstory. In my current revision of my novel, I'm trying to remind myself to "infer not inform" so my readers will be able to mentally and emotionally participate more in my story and do a lot of the guesswork.That should translate into readers vicariously feeling and experiencing alongside my characters and becoming more invested in the story. And we all want more invested readers, right?

HOOKED is one of the best writing resources out there! My copy is quite mangled. :)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My sequel...

     So, not too long ago we welcomed the little guy on the right to our family!  Isn't he a cutie? He has such a relaxed and charming personality--we absolutely adore him!  Unfortunately, his round-the-clock feedings and late night shenanigans caused me to put the blog on hold. (Not the writing, though, never the writing!)
     Now that my little guy is starting to hold his own, I'm so enthusiastic about getting active on my blog again and sharing all the writerly things I've been learning and doing since my maternity leave. Thanks so much for hanging in there with me!