Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Things to Ponder While I'm Gone and the Eastern State Penitentiary

I will be going on brief hiatus while I focus on trying to write 50,000 words this month for NaNoWriMo. I may, or may not, get the chance to post or visit your blogs, so just in case... have a great November and I guess... a Happy Thanksgiving!

While I am gone, here are some things to ponder...

Why is it that when you transport something by car, it's called a shipment, but when you transport something by ship, it's called cargo?


Why do we play in recitals and recite in plays?

Oh and...

Why isn't phonetic spelled the way it sounds?

And if you are in Philly between now and November 3rd, be sure to check out the Eastern State Penitentiary. My family and I (just the teens and grown-ups) go ever year to Terror Behind the Walls. We have a blast every year! So, if you can go, I highly recommend it!

Have a great Halloween and a great November and to all my fellow NaNo buddies, best of luck!

See you in December!
Oh and PS, while I'm gone, if you follow my blog, please sign up to be a "follower." I love those smiling tiles. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Cindy Pon cyber twisted my arm - no, not really - but she inspired me to sign up for NaNoWriMo.

Never heard of it?

I had heard bits and pieces of it here and there.... NaNo this... and NaNo that... but I wasn't sure what everyone was talking about...

The short of it is, NaNoWriMo is a contest of sorts held annually in November.

Why? Because November is Novel Writing Month. (Yay!!!)

It's challenge: to write 50,000 words from Nov 1 - Nov 30.
It's focus: quantity, not quality.

That's right, I said quantity. At first you might squint and say, What? Don't focus on quality, how absurd. But not really.

There is a time and a place to concern yourself with the beauty of your MS, the flow of your phraseology, the air-tightness of your plot, the motivation of your characters, the... well, you get the picture. It's just the first draft it not that time, nor place. All that should matter in a first draft - OK, the biggest factor of the first draft - is finishing the darn thing! Once you start editing and revising a first draft, you lose focus. You lose momentum. You lose your mind! And that threat of your baby becoming an Unfinished Novel under your bed becomes very real.

How do I know this? Because this is precisely what I have been doing for the past year! I have been working, revising, editing, re-writing my first draft. And where has that gotten me? Well, no where, really. It's made me stagnant. I keep re-reading my first draft saying, Oh wait, I forgot this. Or, Oh wait, that's all wrong. Or, Oh wait, that's way too weak a motivation, etc. And so... I keep going back to stage one instead of being able to push forward and move onto a second, third, fourth draft!


So, I challenge all of you first drafters out there: Join NaNoWriMo with me and Cindy and Leeza, and countless others. And let's once and for all, WRITE/FINISH THAT NOVEL!!!

Did I convince you? Tell me your buddy name and I'll tell you mine and we can cheer each other on.

Go Novelists!!!

PS You're allowed to use outlines and notes, but they are not part of your daily word count.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

*Twilight Spoiler* and a Hero's Journey

As you all know I recently read Twilight. And as most of you Twilight readers probably know, the first book has the first three chapters of New Moon at the very end. So, that was able to hold me over until I could run to the book store to pick up the next book. Last night, I was finally able to buy New Moon and was very excited to begin reading when a thought occurred to me... (but please do NOT read on if you do not want the ending spoiled for you...)

I thought... Hey wait a minute! Bella didn't save herself in Twilight!!! True, she stood up to the antagonist of the book, but ultimately it was Edward and the others who save her and kill the Tracker.

This goes against EVERYTHING we are taught. We are told our MC must battle the antagonist him/herself. The MC must conquer the antagonist (or not -- a novela noir). No adults are supposed to help, and this is true from PB all the way up to YA.

JK Rowling broke a lot of rules but mostly about page count and she wasn't afraid to show a very evil antagonist in a MG novel or to show a child hero fighting. Obviously, by the end, Harry was a YA and was intended for a YA audience. But, her rule breaking, I feel, was for the betterment of children's literature.

However, to write that your MC does not win the battle scene from her own wit and cunning, I am not sure how I feel about this. Bella does, on her own, go with the intention of fighting, even if that means ultimately her death. She does fight as hard as she can, but in the end, fails and needs to, unknowingly, rely on the others to save her. Plus, SM doesn't even show us that battle scene.

Is this how she makes it OK? We see Bella's intention to battle the Tracker and even though she loses, as we are reading it, we still felt satiated for some reason. Maybe it is because we never see how the others fight and win. If we did, it would become their battle scene. Is this how she got away with breaking this rule and leaving us almost unaware that her MC didn't fight the ultimate battle scene... because it was never shown. Even Bella (written in first person...) doesn't know the battle scene, which is why we cannot know the true battle scene.

This reminds me of what my screenwriting teacher used to say... Know the rules, so you can break them. I guess this is exactly what SM did. We can all argue that eventually, if Edward and the others always save Bella, this will become a glorified fairy tale with a fair maiden waiting to be saved by her man, but as you know... I am way behind all of you and have not yet read past chapter 4 of New Moon - so please do not give too much away...

What do you think about this? Why were we still satisfied at the end? What do you think about breaking rules? Do you think you are doing that in your WIP? And what is the difference between us doing it and hearing at every SCBWI event that we can't break those rules and yet here are these two great writers who not only did, but are laughing all the way to the bank? Please share your thoughts about this, I really want to hear what you have to say...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Writer Retreat

So, this weekend was the weekend of my self-proclaimed writer's retreat. How'd it go? Well, first a smattering of eye candy...
My room

My writing space.

This is only one of the many porches, shot through a door.

A sad, lonely Gargoyle, waiting for someone...

The Penthouse for birds

If we wear fur coats, trees wear ivy coats. Oh, yes, darling, you look smashing!

I always thought these trees look like a paint-by-number.
In case you're wondering... It is a Sycamore or also known as a London Plane Trees. (But they're quite fancy... hahaha)

Where to begin... Well, first of all going away, being out of my element, opened my eyes to things I hadn't considered. When I am home, I am distracted, as previously posted, and I don't think I saw things in my own writing, quite as clearly.

The Retreat...
My First Revelation...
The first day I got to my B&B, I read the pages previously written and it was as if someone had handed me a special pair of writer's glasses where mistakes were now glaringly obvious. At first, what struck me was how much I told in my story instead of showed. Now, I thought I was aware of this before, but for some reason, it was so obvious when I was away -- all the mistakes I had made and hadn't even seen them before.

Maybe it was so obvious because I had put my novel aside for a number of months and read it fresh. Maybe it was because I was away and out of my element and so I was able to see it through fresh eyes. Maybe it was a little of both. But, whatever the reason, I was so taken back when I read my pages and saw these mistakes. At first I was discouraged. But don't worry - that didn't last too long.

My Second Revelation...
I hated the pacing! Hated it! I was told once, very early on, that I had to quicken the pacing. And perhaps I did, but I misunderstood I think exactly what that meant. I thought, then, that it meant, I needed to bring the fantasy element right upfront. But now I realize that is not necessarily so. I realize now, that it means to hint about the fantasy element right away, to show it little by little, to tease the reader with foreshadowing so they can guess what the fantasy element is and lead them to the REVEAL where they will then feel like, Yes! I knew that's what it was!

My story is considered low fantasy - like ghost stories - it takes place here in our world, with our strengths and weaknesses and our beings... But, there is that fantasy element in my story.

So, I slowed the pacing but added hints about the fantasy and made the hints grow, and grow, and grow, until the reveal -- which makes it actually feel quicker paced, even though, in reality it slowed the reveal down. I learned that quickening the pace doesn't mean a sudden thrust into the REVEAL. Of course in a high fantasy novel, the fantasy element should be right up front, but again, you should still take time getting to the reveal. And if the reveal IS your fantasy element, then I like the slow hints along the way, slowly building and building. So, I turned up the sound a notch or two on my subtle references and painted with a few brighter shades...

My Third Revelation...
I realized in order to slow down the pacing, but make it still engaging, I would need new chapters in the beginning of the book, so, I would need to change my intention for the weekend....

My original intention was to turn out new pages, but seeing these two glaring mistakes (telling vs showing and pacing...), made me re-think these intentions.

Instead, I went back to outlining. UGH! But this time, it was a real, bon-a-fide outline. I outlined and wrote very detailed summaries for three new chapter, re-organized two subsequent chapters, and completely, and I mean completely, changed the reveal. And you know what? I love it!

At first, yes, it was very hard to see that my work was not on paper as it was in my head. But then I got over that fast and got straight to work. I have to say, the brainstorming and outlining process, for me, is exhausting! I took a three hour nap on Saturday and woke saying, Oh No! I completely forgot to put this in the outline for chapter four... so, even when I slept, I was writing, and outlining, and organizing...

The Outcome...
I was definitely ready to come home, and I am a little disappointed that I can't say I typed the words, THE END, but I am happy. I know I am on the right path now and in a much better place, especially that my new prescription for writer's lenses has been upgraded - and I owe that to the 20 books I read this year and the writer's groups and conferences I attended (and still attend...).

In the end, I didn't write new pages, and I am still sticking to outlining, but I'm OK with that. I am not going to rush this process. It takes time to write a novel, especially your first one - so I hear - so back to the drawing board and that's OK.

The Outline
Here is the outlining format I used for each chapter, old and new...

Chapter Number; Chapter Title
Characters We Meet:
Here, obviously, I listed all the characters who appear in each chapter. But I did not forget to mention the ones that also came in dreams or visions. That's still an appearance, after all...

Tristan’s Goal: This is my MC. I write here what her goal of this chapter is. Sometimes a goal can also be trying to avoid doing something.

My Goal: This is where I listed what my goals, as the writer, were. For example, show a relationship growing together, show a relationship growing apart, introduce a new character, etc...

Conflict/Obstacles: What is the MC's conflict or obstacle in this chapter? What is getting in the way of her reaching her goal?

Arc: What is the MC's mini arc for this chapter? There should be a larger arc that is resolved at the end of your story, but I believe each chapter should strive to have a mini arc within. So, I try to have my MC start a chapter one way but end another way, which leads to...

Disaster: The disaster of the chapter, I usually have towards the end of the chapter so it can leads to...

Cliff Hanger of Chapter: ... the unanswered question of this chapter actually takes me to the next chapter where it might be answered and then another disaster leads to another mini cliff hanger, leads to the next chapter, and so on...

Anything foreshadowed: I love foreshadowing. I think foreshadowing is what engages a reader. I think it is important to answer some foreshadowing a long the way to make the reader feel successful, like they're so smart, and leave the bigger foreshadowing to be resolved in the end. So, I need to keep track of everything that either is, or can be, considered foreshadowing.

Fantasy in the Chapter: I need to keep track of the fantasy element - Was it hinted upon? Was it the reveal? Was it used in one way or another? Was something new learned about it??

Any props in chapter:Props are a huge part of foreshadowing, in my opinion. Some items mentioned early on, can be used later as an AHA! object... So, I keep a list of all of these.

!Misc Notes:This was a very important part for the chapters I had already written. It was where I would write things like... UGH! This chapter told and didn't show nearly enough. Or... be sure in the second draft to add such and such to this chapter. Or... be sure in the second draft to delete, or change, or... You get the idea.

Chapter Summary:
Obviously, this speaks for itself. But for the new chapters, that I hadn't written yet, this section was quite long and detailed. I would write the whole chapter summary from beginning, middle, end, include dialogue, and props, mini arcs, foreshadowing, the conflict, the disaster, and the cliff hanger ending. For chapters that were already written, I simply told a brief synopsis, since I can just read the chapter or the above info for more details.

I have to say, some of these outlining elements I learned from reading your blogs. So, I have to thank you, to all of you for sharing your methods, ideas, and thoughts. It is what lead me to my version of an outline.

How does your outlining method differ? How is it the same?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Twilight and A New Year

I finished reading Twilight today. I am fasting for Yom Kippur and really shouldn't be reading or typing on my computer. I should, instead, be in Temple, thanking G-d for writing my name in his Book of Life for another year. But why I am not in Temple, is a discussion for another time….

For now, let’s discuss a simpler topic, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I was very harsh on this book and its writer when I was on about page 85. So, have I changed my opinion?

Yes and No.

First the No.
I still maintain that she laid on Bella being such a responsible 17-year old a bit thick. I still maintain that it was strange that she didn’t own a cell phone and that there were no former friends from Phoenix - her hometown, texting or emailing her when she moved to Forks. I wish I could ask SM why she made these choices for the lack of true teenager-isms in today’s world of technology. Maybe she just wanted to keep it simple and friends from Phoenix could have complicated the plot… I guess I’ll never know.

Then the Yes
I had to make a decision; Read as a writer, or read as a reader. I decided upon the later and once I did, it made a huge difference in the enjoyment factor. SM really did do a good job capturing first love obsession. I was able to remember those distant butterflies in my stomach and my heart skipping beats at the sight or feel of my first love. It was fun to go on that ride down memory lane. And then to add the element of fantasy – a lion loving a lamb. It was… well… fun… for lack of a better term.

I also enjoyed the spin on a modern day Romeo and Juliet of sorts - A Capulet in love with a Montague - forbidden love between a human and a vampire.

I do wonder, had I read the book unaware that Edward was a vampire, what the reveal would have felt like. I felt a little gypped that I allowed myself to not be as guarded as with Harry Potter.

The hunt of the tracker was exciting and her bravery and yet fear, palpable. I did see the reason behind her clumsiness from a writer’s point a view and her queasiness of blood. Here is a girl unable to walk a straight line without hurting herself and buckles under the sight of blood, but able to stand up to a literal blood-thirsty killer. I always knew she would have such reasons in the end, but I guess for an adult, it still felt a little trite. I can see for a teen, that this would be a wonderful twist of character flaws vs. strengths within Bella. She needed to be clumsy so "falling through the window" would be plausible.

I did really love the twist that SM created about Vampires; Vampires are “people” to, with feelings, and emotions, and needs, and wants, and desires. And that they want to experience life and don’t necessarily have to be evil, blood-thirsty killers. That there are all kinds. I thought that was her strength in this series – her unique vision on vampires – a vampire who can love and choose not to kill.

So overall, I give it a thumbs up. If you get passed the 40/17-year old Bella thing, the story is exciting and entertaining. I will go on to read the next one.

Side Note: My sister and step-mom have both read the series and I stated my case to them one sunny day at the beach. They both looked at each other and laughed and my step-mother said, “Lori (my sister) WAS Bella!” My sister was known for vacuuming and cleaning the house because my mother, although wonderful at many things, was not a good housekeeper.

I also learned how to cook rather young because our mother went back to work.

And this made me also realize, that there are those who will see themselves in Bella. Those of us who will relate to growing up too soon, for whatever reason. And most likely, we believe we were more then what we were… more responsible, a more capable cook, smarter about boys… etc.

It is our reflecting back, seeing ourselves this way, that makes Bella more believable I suppose. And for teens, I am sure they all see themselves as these things in their mind… responsible, reliable, capable. And they should! So, they can see these parts of themselves in Bella. And maybe that is the allure this character has on some readers.

My sister identified with her, believed that was her life. I am sure there are many other readers out there with the same relationship to Bella.

Or maybe I'm just delirius with hunger right now. What time is it? How many more hours of fasting??

Speaking of fasting... Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. According to the Jewish Calendar, it is the year 5769. The week after Rosh Hashanah, leading to the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is a time to reflect on the last year and your actions. It is a time to be honest with yourself and your involvement with G-d. It is a time to see where you went wrong, where you might have wronged others, and to ask for forgiveness and atone for those sins.

It is also a time to think how you will improve yourself this new year. How will you better your relationships, your character, the way you live, and treat others as well as yourself. So what better time then now to refelct upon Devon Ellington’s questions on goals on her new blog.

The 25 questions will definitely take up some time to answer, but if you want to give it a try, here they are…

1. Looking back on the previous year, without consulting your notes or the GDRS for it, what stands out in your memory as a met goal that makes you feel positive about the future?
2. What did you find you needed to release, because, as the year progressed, it no longer worked to struggle towards it as a goal?
3. How has writing become more important in your life this past year?
4. How do you plan to move it up on the priority list this year? List three specific steps to make your writing more of a priority.
5. In terms of a living wage, what do you need to adjust in your writing output in order to achieve your wage-earning goals?
6. Do you still hang on to the fallacy that if you love to write, you don’t “deserve” to be paid a decent wage for it? List three steps to move past this block.
7. What large projects do you want to start this year?
8. What projects from the previous year do you need to complete? (Either first drafts, revisions, query letters)
9. What mix of smaller projects do you want to get into the pipeline this year?
10. How do you prioritize your projects? How do you shuffle them as your needs change?
11. What is your querying goal for the year? (IE, how many queries per week/month would you like to send out)?
12. What new area/genre are you willing to expand into/experiment in this year?
13. What is the greatest gift to your writing self you can give?
14. What do you need to renegotiate with other factions in your life to give yourself more writing time?
15. Decide on one writing risk for this year – be it a submission in a new genre, attending a conference, or trying something completely out of your comfort zone. Write about it, and set yourself a loose timeline to accomplish it.
16. What new and unique marketing arenas will you enter this year to promote both yourself and your work?
17. What do you need to do to enhance your self-esteem so you refer to yourself as “writer” FIRST when someone asks you to define yourself?
18. What kind of time commitment are you willing to make on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis to support your writing?
19. What other elements needs to balance with your writing? What happens when you feel unbalanced?
20. What contract are you willing to make with yourself to prevent writing from falling farther down on your priority list when “life gets in the way”?
21. How do your writing goals for the year fit into your dreams for the future?
22. What resolutions do you make to integrate your writing and the rest of your life?
23. How do these goals fit into your three year plan? Your five year plan? Your ten year plan?
24. Name one new non-writing element you plan to introduce into your life (and that might give you something new about which to write).
25. Name one non-writing element in your life that gets in the way of your writing that you commit to giving up or limiting and, instead, devote that time to writing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I See the Light

(Phosphorescent minerals from the Franklin Mineral Museum...)

Yesterday, my computer crashed. In a little more detail, it all began with a paper jam.

I was reading manuscripts, critiquing, getting ready for my Tuesday night writer's group. I was printing out Jeanne's latest MS when my printer jammed. I cleared the paper and then my computer said an unknown USB port had attached itself to my computer.

My imagination swam with sci-fi images of alien life with suction cup tentacles clinging to the back of my computer.

I checked around, couldn't see any unknown aliens or USBs, so I did what I always do when my computer acts up, I re-boot.

BUT!!! When I rebooted, the computer froze on the opening Dell page and would not move from there. I pressed F2 and F12 to try to access the set-up or re-booting, but nothing. No reaction. Nada.

At first I was only mildly irritated and decided to re-boot again. But, again, my machine froze at that opening page. Again, I felt irritated, but not freaked out. I left it alone and decided to go to the kitchen to do a couple things. As the minutes ticked on, I began to panic. I went into a full blown, "I must fix this now" panic. Called friends for numbers of tech guys. Called some tech guys. I even cried a little, just a bit of high pitched panic fighting tears when I called my very own tech guy - my husband. I asked a friend, what is the Universe trying to say?

And then I wondered, what is the Universe trying to say? Here I was, with zip drive in hand, about to back up when my computer crashed. Here I am, days from a big writer's event where I needed my story, and my computer crashed. Does the Universe not want me to be a writer? Is it a sign about my writer's event? Maybe I shouldn't go??

Maybe we give the Universe too much credit.

But despite it all, somewhere, deep inside, I felt a sense of calm. It was small at first. But I felt it somewhere from within. I decided to let go of the fear and panic and go with the calm instead. My husband has fixed my computer before, I reasoned. He has recovered all my data before. I am going to relax, put my faith in him and know it will all be OK.

The thing is, I moved from panic to calm relatively quickly.... in maybe the span of two hours. For me, that's quick. Normally, I would have stayed stuck in panic until my computer was fixed. But this time, I really did trust. Inside, I was aware there was a piece of me shaking in fear, wanting to cry, rip my hair out. But I wouldn't succumb to that part of me.

My DH came home and within minutes, it was up and running again.

"How'd you do that?" I asked in amazement, spying two double A batteries on my desk.
"Well," he blushed, "I changed the batteries in your keyboard and plugged the printer back in. It was loose from the back."

I had visions in my head of this moment when my computer flashed with life again. I would wrap my arms around my DH's neck and exclaim, my hero. But batteries and a plug???

Well, he's still my hero, but I'm a bit embarrassed.

What did I learn from all of this. Like those phosphorescent minerals glowing in the dark, so was my calm. At first it was just a glow in the dark and my panic was at the surface. I decided to trade places. Put the calm upfront and the panic in the back. And, I saw the light.

I mean, I understand now. It's easy to panic when you wonder if you are about to lose your life's work. It's easy to panic when facing any potentially dangerous situation. But if you trust, if you believe somewhere within you, that everything will be alight, make the switch. Put your fear behind you and your faith in front. Things may or may not turn out the best in the end, but you will have moved through the situation better. With more grace.

I thought about my kids and the role I wanted to portray... a crying, panicked, crazy woman, or a calm, intelligent woman who believed it would be alright. When they asked me, I admitted I was scared, but I knew Daddy would come to the rescue, batteries and all.

So how often do you back up?
“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous