Favorite Toy, a Thought Trail

I remember spending endless hours at a green blackboard that was taller than me for  short while. At first I used it for drawing and scribbling, but soon my pine-green canvas became an instrument upon which I used to teach my imaginary class all kinds of interesting things: simple addition, subtraction, and printing. The math progressively became harder and the printing turned into cursive. Over time, that blackboard became a display case for scientific facts, historical figures, a running record of who got detentions for interrupting my spelling bee, and of course, homework assignments. The blackboard became smarter, its simplicity long gone, and my love for it faded. Now the only sign of it is the eraser dust it left behind in the cracks of my bedroom floor.

blackboard

The best gift we can give our children this holiday season cannot be unwrapped. Our love and time and opportunities to grow their imaginations are far more valuable than anything we can put a bow on.

Have a wonderful time making treasured memories this holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

Five Fundamentals (or an excuse to write about my fabulous critique group and the Cubs)

cubs

When you watched arguably the best baseball  game in recent history and held your breath during the ninth inning after the Cubs didn’t get any runner in, waiting to see what the Indians would do, then to go to a rain delay, and the incredible tenth inning, I bet you didn’t notice the fundamentals. Watching how the players gripped the ball before they threw it, or how the hitter aligned his knuckles, or the outfielders using 2 hands to catch the ball probably escaped you. The strike outs, the homerun, and that throw from Bryant to Rizzo! Holy cow! The big plays. That’s what gets us. But we don’t get the big plays without endlessly practicing those fundamentals.

Think about young Bryant and Rizzo playing little league, practicing catching the hit to third, throwing to first, catching, tagging the runner and the base.  Day after day. Year after year. Messing up many times along the way.

Well, my dear writing friend, we have our own set of fundamentals that will hopefully lead to your own big play.

1. Write, everyday possible.

2.  Read, read, read. Read what’s in your genre. Read what’s not in your genre. Read craft books to help you critique and edit your own work.

3. Join or form a critique group. Not sure what to do with one? Here’s a suggestion.  The most important thing to bring to group is a willingness to hear your weaknesses. The best thing to offer at group is your reaction to the piece.  You have an opinion, yes. But it’s one opinion. The author ultimately must decide what to do with the feedback.

six-pens

This is my critique group, the Six Pens. (One is not pictured.) We are picture book, chapter book, middle grade novel, non-fiction, memoir, education, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, fantasy, humor, action/adventure, heart-rending writers. There’s lots of opinions to go around. Two are published, with one more story on the horizon.(Whoop! Whoop!) We are all hopeful. And we need each other to keep applying butt to chair and writing when the motivation is running low.

4. Go to conferences. And watch your local writer’s society for smaller craft nights. My critique group attended the recent Prairie Writers & Illustrators Day that the Illinois SCBWI chapter holds every November. It sharpened and inspired. And we can pool together the different things each of us learned from it to edify our group as a whole.

super-six-pens

I bet you can’t tell, but this is my critique group again. We are now the Super Six Pens, tackling troublesome stories in a single bound (or many revisions.) Another bonus of attending conferences is open door access to editors at otherwise closed houses. If you don’t have an agent already, this is golden!

5. Never, ever, ever give up. I once heard it said, that many successful writers started with 10% talent and 90% dedication. I’m six years in, I’m receiving incredible feedback from agents and authors who critique my work. I’m not published yet. YET.

Never. Ever. Ever give up!

Mission Accomplished

This is the face of satisfaction:

satisfied

Computer shut

mission accomplished

satisfied.

But it’s really like this:

hooray

258 free verse poems roughed

it’s an ugly baby right now

but it’s complete!

And it doesn’t take long to feel like this:

whats-next

What’s next?

Reading Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

while revising older stories

and researching people and places to submit to.

Marinating on the two ideas

I’m contemplating for my next projects

before cataloguing

the research I need to complete

to round out the rough draft

before going through the

MANIA OF REVISION!

 

OOH! Now I can get that haircut I told myself had to wait until rough was done.

Rough is done!

Hello, Salon!

 

Playing with Tricube Poetry

Phillip Larrea, a poet from California, is credited with creating the poetic form called Tricube. It is deceptively simple. Three stanzas. Three lines per stanza. Three syllable per line.

Time to play!

First Day

Pencils sharp

Clothes sorted

Haircuts trimmed

 

Dawdling girl

excited boy

watchful pups

 

Quiet house

time to write

mother torn

DSC_0170

Brainstorm

Towel* wrapped bod

dripping hair

wet foot prints.

 
Dash through house

kids not shocked

“it’s just mom.”

 

Seize journal

before thoughts

drip down too.

 
*Okay, towel is technically two syllables, but not when you say it the normal way, right?

 

 

5 am on duty

Sound the alarm!

Sound the alarm!

There’s a rumbly monster outside!

It’s getting nearer.

Stand guard!

It’s getting closer.

Louder now!

It’s coming for us!

Time for the power bark!

It’s passing us!

We’ve got it running for cover!

You better keep going you yellow-bellied giantly rumbler!

Our alarm has worked!

We have protected our people!

Now we can return to sleep.

or maybe a good bone would be better.

Yes! I could go for a good gnaw.

That monster got me all worked up.

This bone will get me all worked down.

Just gnaw, gnaw, gnaw

now grind, grind, grind.

Now the other side.

gnaw, gnaw, gnaw

grind, grind, grind

 

OOH! Sue’s eyes are open.

but she’s not blinking.

she’s just staring

at me.

i better make sure

she’s alive.

she’s not moving.

 

I think I’ll go sniff her.

her eyes are following me!

she’s alive!

I bet she’s proud

of the  way

I kept

the rumbly monster away

now she will give me

the best good morning scratch

ever!

worn out dogs

My protectors. They deserve some rest. Maybe I should pop some popcorn. hehehe

 

 

Apply butt to chair and read

One of the great things about going to a conference is coming home with a big fat list of books to read.  If they could help me find more time to read that would be just downright magical.

open books

From the four keynote addresses, the eight break out sessions, and the one intensive, I give you books to first enjoy and then study.  You are probably well read and already familiar with many of these, but I encourage you to take another look to grow your craft.

From the intensive on voice with Heather Alexander, literary agent from Pippin Properties comes most of the books.  Though we discussed what each did well in voice, they all are great studies in the craft of writing:

  • Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (in my Goodreads review I said Gary Schmidt wrote Wednesday Wars just so he could meet the MC for Okay for Now.  This book also made my list of top 25 books I’m glad were written. Don’t miss this one!)
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (Heather called this one of the most vulnerable YA characters we’ve had in a long time.)
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson(Language is important! Imagine what a different story this would be if the homonym was used instead, I’ll Give You the Son!)
  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  • Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
  • The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater

Character-driven novels:

  • Roller Girl – Victoria Jamieson
  • Pax – Sara Pennypacker

A book that has changed the world:

Picture Books that demonstrate tight lean writing

  • All Alone by Kevin Henkes
  • The New Girl by Jacqui Robbins
  • Star Bright by Allison McGhee
  • Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio

The author has a clear sense of the backstory

  • Wonder by RJ Palacio
  • Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Best first sentence, according to Sarah Aronson:

  • What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman

Great Ending:

  • The Rag Bone Shop by Robert Cormier

Books on the Craft of Writing

  • Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
  • Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch
  • Writing Stories by Carolyn Coman

Happy reading and creating!

Go ahead update your to-read list on Goodreads.

Reflections from the Wild

The SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference occurred last weekend.

SCBWI WWMW

First – a big plug for SCBWI: If you are a children’s writer, meaning you have a story you are playing with, even if it’s only in your mind or a scrappy notepad next to your bed stand, do yourself a favor and discover SCBWI.  You will find a tribe of people who, though they are competing for a slot in someone’s inbox and dream of their cover facing out at the local bookstore, are incredibly supportive, warm,  and know how to laugh at themselves. No hierarchy.  Our name tags did not denote the number of publications, awards won, or the pre-published. So do yourself a favor and reach out to your local SCWBI group in your area.

To the point of the matter: As I marinate on my 30+ pages of notes I realize I need to process this soon before it just becomes a great memory.

Of course I cannot go into details about the massive variety of breakouts and four keynote addresses, but I certainly can share how what I learned influences my writing now.

As I think about the big picture of what I brought home the following topics comes to mind.

A great reading list and why I want to read them.

Knowing my character and her voice.

Writing matters, correction – story matters.

Loving an ugly baby.

So these are upcoming topics I want to think more about, hence they are upcoming posts.  And I list them here to hold myself accountable to my craft and my blog.

If you have recently attended this conference or another one, please share a nugget you brought home with you.

Happy writing 🙂

 

No Excuses

My daughter was at volleyball camp  and I had a rare afternoon alone with my son. I offered to go for a bike ride with him and get some ice cream.  He turned that down. Granted, it was raining a little.  Instead, he said he would like to draw comics together.  Did he see my eye roll? Did he hear my internal guffaw.  “I’m not a good drawer,” I told him.  Hello, where did my facility with the English language go? I wasn’t even going to consider the word artist.  So drawer it was.

To which he showed me

no excuses (2)

Thank you, Jedi Academy and your evil creator, Jeffrey Brown.  Ok, maybe not evil.  Maybe spot on. I want to encourage my kid to draw, right? But he wasn’t supposed to turn it around on me.  My self-imposed limitations have been a well-stitched-in part of my fabric for a while.  But I’m a mom and I can’t let my negative self-talk become his. Right? With my head in a defeated droop I follow him to the table where he is quick to the draw with a sheet of paper.

I grab a pen.  Yep, no eraser option. He’s all smiles and I’m all question marks.

He sees me staring at this blank paper and encourages me to start.

“I don’t know what to draw.”

“Draw a fluffy creature who wants to make a friend.”

Oh, how it comes so easy to his imagination.

“I don’t know how to draw fluffy creatures.” Dang, a negative self-talk escaped when I wasn’t looking.

HE encourages ME.

I’m a doodler. my doodles

 

Abstract, I call it. Nothing with bodies. Floating heads are okay in my world. But a comic strip with characters and three squares to get to a punchline?  That’s a lot of pressure. AND my kid’s watching.  He went after the comics that are more like Marvel and I went toward my background with comics, the funnies in the paper.

He’s tearing through his paper.  Rounding out his first comic while I marinate, after explaining what marinate means.

I see he’s not going to let me off the hook so I draw a line for the first box.  He plays peek-a-boo with my paper while I get some ink on it. And he keeps cheering me on.

So, by the time he finishes his sheet, I have the first box done and not sure how to give it a punch line.  He’s OK with that.  I tell him I need to marinate on it some more, but I promise to finish it.  He’s OK with that too.

Here’s to my son who wouldn’t except any of my excuses.  The next Peter Brown? video game designer? architect? oh the possibilities!

D's comic

(Did you notice, ALL FOUR?, I couldn’t even think through one! AND the back of the paper is filled with Olafs.)

And, here’s to not giving up.  To turning off the inner editor that is screaming at everything I should’ve done differently. And to total vulnerability with those who are suffering to push past their comfort zones too.

My comic

 

NO EXCUSES!

Rerouting

To plan or not to plan? That is the question and the frustration. Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

I love this quote. It is a mantra of mine. I love organizers. Daily planners. Long range planning. Goal setting. I love to feel organized. To look for something and know where it’s supposed to be and for it to be there. To open my pantry door and see like items hanging out together and not dangling precariously over the edge or splattered on the floor. To come home and see the counters clear and the floor empty save for the furniture that rests on it. To sit at my desk with no pile of papers to file and the knowledge that the bills are up to date and the accounts are balanced and tracked. I’ll spend an hour or so on Sunday evening planning my week, meals, projects, writing time. And I get crazy happy when the day goes “as planned!”

I know. I’m delusional. The natural state of things is disorder, especially when other living creatures occupy the same space. My mom’s favorite phrase is, “We make plans and God laughs.”

I find that irritatingly true. First because I find myself reflecting my mother. But also because I like it when things go as planned.

Or do I?

I don’t plan out my stories. I have a vague idea where the story is going to go, but no outlined map of how to get there. I find having too tight of a plan, strangles the story. Though no editor has yet accepted one, I love my stories. I think they are beautiful, colorful, stirring, funny, lovely. So I guess that is the way I need to view my story as well. I know where I want to end up, but I don’t need to detail my days to make sure I get there. Gotta leave room for the Holy Spirit to reroute my day, which seems to be happening a lot lately.

DSC_0466

Didn’t start the day planning on going here.  Didn’t even know it existed.  My day got rerouted.  🙂

So while stories reflect life, this time I must take a lesson from my stories. Yes, I will set goals and plan out my week. Just a little more loosely. I have to trust that I will get to the most important things each day, even if some days that means no writing. Greater things happen in my day than I plan when I am open to rerouting.

By the way, I didn’t PLAN to write a blog today.

 

Book Trailers

To create a book trailer or not, that is the question.

I’m not talking about the book trailer that is used to market books that have already been published and I’m not going to debate the benefits and criticisms of them. I am going to talk about taking a day to create a book trailer for your WIP.  It may look cheesy and unprofessional, but here are a few reasons why it is helpful and some resources on how to do it. Read to the end for a reveal 🙂

Creating a book trailer for your WIP is helpful for so many reasons.

  • It requires you to deconstruct your novel down to its essence. A one page synopsis is a heck of a challenge for a 60,000 word story.  Chiseling it down to the 30 words or so that is the heart of your story gives you so much clarity.  This will help you to create your query and your elevator pitch in the future.
  • You will most likely use still pictures.  Maybe you want to create a live action trailer, but I’m not talented in that way, nor do I want to invest that kind of time.  The still pictures can help you visualize what you have been trying to portray through words.  This is especially helpful if you are writing a story that you did not personally experience.  This was my case for my first story, it takes place in Chicago in 1871.  Sometimes it’s hard to visualize the setting.
  • Setting it to music gives you theme songs that set the tone of the story.  I use music a lot when I write.  I find a theme song for my characters.  I use specific songs for scenes in the story.  I also have a soundtrack for each story. I believe that when we are using as many mediums as we have at our disposal to help us create this world in our story, it will be richer, deeper, and can come to life for the reader.  I REALLY WISH I COULD DRAW! That would raise my game to whole other level!
  • It inspires me every time I watch it. As cheesy and basic as it is, if I watch it before I work on the story, it puts me directly in the frame of mind I want to be in.  My mind is in my story and my heart is feeling the emotions I want my characters to feel and my reader to experience.
  • It is a great tool when you are getting to that point that you either are tired of your story or you don’t know what else it needs.  The trailer gives a fresh perspective to push you forward.

 

How to do it:

I’m thinking some of you reading this could better explain this than me.  So I would love to get some advice on this matter in the comments.

I used Movie Maker for Windows as the editing tool.  I used images labeled for reuse.  Your own photography would be great too, but since my story takes place in 1871, I wasn’t up to that challenge of recreating the look. And for my sounds I used songs and Pond 5 for sound effects. This wasn’t free, however. It took me the better part of a day to create it between learning the tool and editing down my story, music, and pictures.  Straining it all down to the bones and then pulling it all together was hard but so good! so very, very good!

A few more resources:

Where to get photo stock, check out these pages. Sixty-five sites. 17 amazing sites.

A couple sites with professional book trailers.  Some inspiration. Brainpickings and Book Trailers for Readers.

A critical perspective on book trailers from The New Yorker.

And a completely vulnerable moment for me.  My book trailer.