Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rejection and Perfection

I've not been a very good blogger the last week or so. Too many things to do for Christmas and too little time to do them. And then, something happened that threw me off course a bit. I received my first rejection for my novel.

Not my first rejection, just the first one for the novel manuscript. I was extremely disappointed, because I sent it as an exclusive submission, since I really wanted to work with that particular editor. But it was not to be.

What do you do when you get a rejection? Seriously. Do you scream, cry, cuss, throw things, slam doors, snarl at your spouse/significant other/parent/dog/cat? I'm truly interested in how other writers react or respond to rejections. My husband says I'm not in the norm. I'm not sure how he knows this, as he is not a writer, but he claims no one else would react the way I did. So...what did I do?

He handed me the envelope, with my address label on both the front and as the return. Of course I knew what that meant. A rejection. I looked at it for a moment, turned it over and over, until he said, "Aren't you going to open it?" Without responding, I opened it, and read the very nice, personally signed, rejection letter. I handed it to him, still without speaking. He read it, gave me a hug and said he was sorry. Then he stood there and stared at, well, are you going to fall apart or what?

No, I didn't fall apart. I didn't cry, throw things or cuss the dog. I shrugged, and said, "I'm disappointed, but this probably won't be my last rejection." I took the letter into my study, made a file folder for it entitled "Novel rejection letters," and put it away.

Since I started writing seriously 3 1/2 years ago, I've had several things published and several rejected. I've learned that a rejection is not the end of the world. It is...or should be...the impetus to edit and revise more studiously, to write more, to learn more, and to continue to submit. I've also learned that a rejection is not a personal affront to me. It merely says that this editor did not like the story, my writing, or could not use it because she/he already had similar works on their desk or in various phases of editing or publishing.

There is a young man on one of my literary boards who strongly believes that he will never be published until his writing is PERFECT. Truly, he expects it to be PERFECT. I've tried to tell him that perfection is not a human trait in any endeavor, and that editors don't expect that, regardless of what we may think. But he doesn't believe me. Consequently, he seldom submits anything because he "knows" it will be rejected, because he doesn't believe it is "perfect." When he does submit, and is rejected, he simply cannot cope, and he goes into a meltdown.

So that brings me to the question, do you expect perfection in your writing? And, when does it become 'perfect' in your mind?

I write and revise, write and revise, go back, edit, revise some more, edit, write, and so on. The novel I just finished and submitted has been edited and revised more times than I can remember. I've rewritten totally the first three chapters at least three times. I completely deleted 4 chapters in the middle of the novel after rewriting them several times, because as I went on, I felt that those chapters contained a subplot that was better left out. So then I had to come up with another subplot and work it into both the chapters before and those after. It was a major undertaking, and I did it in the middle of my ICL novel course.

But...was it perfect when I submitted it? Absolutely not. It was polished as well as I could polish it. I expect to have revisions asked for by any editor who finally accepts it. I will be happy to do those revisions...I think...because I know that the eyes that see it are far more experienced than mine, and will be able to spot shortcomings that I haven't.

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we expect or want to see perfection in anything we do, especially our writing. If we do expect it, then the question becomes, our we achieve it? And if we honestly believe that a certain work is perfect, how do we feel and react when it is rejected? Isn't that when the sky opens up and all the evils of the Writing Gods descend upon us? How can we be expected to deal with that? We immediately feel that we are the worst writers in the universe, and we'll never be published.

So...I accept rejection and reject perfection! I don't like to be rejected, any more than anyone does, but I'm realistic enough to know that it is a fact of a writer's life. I'm also realistic enough to know that perfection is a myth that can never be captured in real life. Perhaps I'm too much of a realist, and maybe that's why I can't write good fantasy. But for now, at least, I will accept these truths which I hold to be self-evident: this rejection won't be my last, and my writing will never be perfect.

As for you: How do you feel about rejections, and how do you react to them? you strive for perfection in your work? If so, do you ever feel that you have attained it?

Think about it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday's Frustrations

So today is Friday, December 11th. Only two weeks until Christmas, and I just started by Christmas shopping! Oh, boy, what a mess. Since I hadn't even bought our Christmas cards ( I intended to order them in November, but NaNo got in the way), I went to the only Hallmark store within 30 miles. Not only was it crowded, but it had only a meager supply of boxed cards. Another lady and I vied for the best place to look at them on the one shelf that was left, and she won. Shoot! She finally left, two boxes of cards in hand, and I was left with an even more sparse collection to select from. I picked up two of the best that was left, which isn't saying much. My husband is less than impressed.

My next stop was at one of our lesser stores for shopping. Perhaps I should say, one of our ONLY stores for shopping. Unfortunately, our small county was hard hit with the economic recession, and the two nicest stores went out of business. Thus, we are left with Target, Kohl's, Wal-mart, etc. Nothing to get excited get as frustrated as I was today, and then you might get very excited!

First on my list was my son. Because of his profession, he doesn't wear a uniform, but does have to wear a certain type of clothing at work. I found the kind of shirts he wanted, but they were all short sleeved, and he needs long sleeves. So I went to the next person on my list, who was my husband. Found the kind of shirts he likes, but...only in long sleeves, and he wants short sleeves, even in winter. G R R R ! If those two could just get together...

The day continued along those lines. I did find some of the things my daughter-in-law wanted, so I aced that. My grandson? Forget it, he's a teen-ager whose tastes change as often as his vocabulary. We're giving him two brand new $100 bills in a pretty wrapped box, a Starbucks card and a phone card, so he is taken care of !

My granddaughters also get money, and I've promised my daughter a painting for her and her new husband, so at least I don't have to shop for them.

I came home tired and frustrated. Why are MEN so difficult to buy for? Explain that to me, and I'll take you out to dinner ! In the meantime, I have to go out again tomorrow. Double G R R R !

One good thing happened, however. I enrolled for my second novel course at ICL, and got the pick of my instructors. She is interested in historical fiction, has published a couple of historical novels, and I think will be a good match for me, and the historical novel I've been working on for the last 3 years. My first novel is now at a publisher's, so I'm playing the waiting game to see if it gets picked up or not.

If I get a chance to blog tomorrow or Sunday, I think I'll find something more interesting to write about than my present Friday Frustrations !

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An Early Morning Visitor

Our Corgi, Dylan, woke us up this morning about 5:30. He was sitting up in his crate, growling low in his throat. At first, I suspected an intruder but the alarm had not gone off, so I realized it couldn't be a person. That left a bird or an animal. My husband was too sleepy to get up, so I did. I let Dylan out of his crate and together we tiptoed out to the family room. I pulled the drape and turned on the patio light. Nothing stirred. Dylan grumbled again. He turned around and went to the front door.

I couldn't open the front door with the alarm on, and I was hesitant to turn it off. So I opened the blinds in the dining room and peered out into the darkness. The wind was blowing, and since our outdoor/indoor thermometer read 29 degrees F., I knew it was bloody cold out there! Besides, I didn't see anything moving. Until...
a rose bush moved ever so slightly. Then I saw a pair of eyes staring steadily into mine. If we had still been on the ranch, I would have thought...Coyote!...or maybe even...Cougar! But no cougars here on the outskirts of our small town. Always coyotes, just didn't seem right.

Dylan growled again. The thick hair on the back of his neck and around his broad chest was sticking straight up. Uh oh. Whatever it was out there, he didn't like it.

It was black as a raven's wing outside. However, my eyes were getting accustomed to the darkness, and the rose bushes were becoming slightly more distinct. I saw the one closest to the front door move again, and when it did, Dylan growled more loudly. He could smell or sense the being out there, even though the door was still closed.

Okay, I had to do something. For one thing, I was freezing, and for another, my curiosity was getting the best of me. So it was either go back to bed and get warm, make Dylan stop growling ( good luck with that), or...turn off the alarm and open the darn door! I chose the latter.

I told Dylan "Quiet!" as I carefully opened the door. His little body quivered against my leg, but he stopped growling. I stood for a moment, with the icy wind whipping my pj's around my legs and wondering how I could be so stupid as to open that door. Then I heard it. A strange little cry, half growl, half scream, muted but coming from under the rose bush. Dylan pushed against my leg, and again growled low in his throat.

The sound came again. Oh, all right! I made Dylan 'stay' and stepped out the door. I crossed the sidewalk to the rose bed, and gently ( and shakily) pushed the leaves aside. There, on his back with his long red bushy tail caught among the heavy thorns of the roses, lay our resident fox. His black eyes stared at me, and he yipped quietly. He was unable to move.

I was shaking with the cold so much I could barely move my hands, but somehow, I managed to pull the largest stems of the rose bushes apart, thoroughly cutting one finger on the nasty thorns in the process. It only took a minute or two, but it seemed like an hour at least. Then, I lifted his tail free. He immediately scampered up and away from the bushes. But then a strange thing happened. He stopped midway down the sidewalk, looked back at the door, and yipped. Dylan made a sound that was almost identical. The fox looked at me, and disappeared into the early morning gloom.

I closed the door, shivered my way into the bathroom to treat my lacerated finger, and finally returned to bed. I was cold as an Artic snow bunny, and when I tried to cuddle up to hubby, he was not too enthusiastic! After a few choice words from him ( not repeatable here) which basically meant, Where have you been, you're turning me into an icicle, I eventually got warm and fell back asleep. The story about the fox would have to keep until breakfast.

Resident fox? Yes, in the community where I live, there has been a family of red foxes living here for about 20 years. Of course, the orignal parents are gone now, but their offspring keep breeding and/or bringing friends and spouses in to their large den, and seem quite content to continue to live here. We seldom see them, but often enough to know that they are still with us. This fox was large, so he was probably one of the papas.

Dylan is a Corgi. Corgis are descended from foxes. I believe the exchange this morning between the fox and Dylan was somehow an acknowledgement on the part of the fox of two things: a kind of 'thank you' for Dylan knowing he was out there and waking me up, understanding on both their parts that somewhere along the line, centuries ago, they were related.

A wild and a domesticated animal communicated with one another. Isn't it amazing that civilized peoples of the world fail so badly to communicate with one another?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas Is Coming!

Christmas is coming! Are these words to strike terror in your heart, or do they make your heart sing?

For me, it is a combination of the two. I hate Christmas shopping! Of course, I'm one of the few women I know who hates shopping of any kind for any reason, and having to shop for gifts turns my blood to ice. I use the Internet to shop online as much as possible, but inevitably, children or grandchildren give me their lists with items impossible to find except in...STORES. I don't like crowds, consequently my claustophobia kicks in, especially if I'm waiting in a checker's line with impatient and impolite people pushing and shoving behind me. I don't like finding just exactly what someone asked for, only to discover it is the wrong size, by the wrong singer, or not Blue Ray...whatever that is. So...guess who puts it off as long as possible? You got it! Here it is, December 7th, and I've yet to start. I'll be impossible to live with by Friday.

On the other hand, I love Christmas! I love the decorations, the pagentry, the enticing smells coming from all the kitchens in the homes I visit. I love decorating our house: my husband made a 1/2 life size Nativity set, with angels, the three Wise Men, two camels, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and the Manger. It sits on our front lawn from the first weekend in December until the weekend after New Year's. We have lights shining on it, and a blue light spotlighting Mary and Joseph as they knee beside the cradle holding the Baby.

Every year I spend almost a week baking for my family and friends ( no writing !). I paint a gift card individualized for each person, line a Christmas basket with festive paper and ribbons, and pack each one with cookies and candy. On the ranch, my husband and I would load up the saddle bags and ride our horses to each of the neighboring ranches to deliver our goodies. Now, we walk or drive to our friends' homes. I miss riding the horses. I miss seeing them with their bridles decorated with miniature battery-run lights, and the Santa hats I made for them perched between their ears. I miss the not-so-happy looks they would give me as I put their hats on, but they never shook them off. Ah well...that was a different life.

Do you remember in the late '90s and early 2000's that Target had a large stuffed and dressed snowman that was their Christmas "symbol?" I have six of those 'Snowden's' as they were called. My daughter-in-law told me about them and she and I competed to see who could buy them all the quickest! She won...she has 7 of them, I only have 6. But these 6 come out every year, and grace the beam above the built-in console in our dining room. On the console sit 3 of my 16 Santas. These are 3 large Santas that were handmade by artisans who lived in small towns along the Ohio River, where my husband and I traveled down on a barge about 10 years ago.

My other 13 Santas sit in various places in the living room, family room and dining room. Joining them are 3 Christmas dogs, one reindeer, two moose ( meese?), a giraffe, 1 small talking Tigger, 1 very large, silent Tigger, and 8 "teddy" bears of different sizes and colors. All represent Christmas in some foreign country, by the way they are dressed.

The sounds of Christmas come from the many DVDs we have of carols and music from Christian nations around the world. We seldom have anything else going on during the day except for the music filling our home and our hearts. In the evening, we try to watch as many of the Christmas specials as possible on TV. Our hearts are full, and sometimes, so are our eyes, at the beauty, the graciousness, and the words that invoke all that Christmas, and the birth of Jesus Christ, is supposed to mean.

Perhaps, in today's world, it is politically correct to say "Happy Holidays," but I celebrate all that Christmas has ever meant, long before politics got involved. So I will continue to say Merry Christmas, and hope sincerely that all to whom I say that, truly have a happy and merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

NaNo Is Over For Me

I finished my NaNo novel last night. 50,630 words about an eleven year old precocious girl who creates more mischief than even she ever dreamed of! But it isn't a story I'm really happy about, in its present form. I think once I go back and start the editing and revision process, it will come together better and I will be more satisfied. The last 5 or 6 days of the story were real work. I felt like I was batting my head against a stone wall, and was just writing to get those 50,000 words in, so I could say I was a winner. That's not how I want to write.

I've said I won't do it again. At the moment, I'm definitely not planning on doing it again. I'm wondering if I have the wrong idea about this whole NaNo thing? I know that the initial idea is to get people off their duff, and get them to writing. I know that you're supposed to use the 30 days and the 50,000 words to at least get the bare bones, the skeleton of the story down, and that supposedly, it is something you wouldn't have done if it hadn't been for NaNo.

Is that true? That's not a rhetorical it true? Is it true, that IF we are writers, we actually need something like the NaNo challenge to get us up off our respective duffs and writing? I'm sorry, but I don't believe that. If a person is a writer...really, truly committed to writing with the thought and hope of publishing...then why do we need something like this to get us motivated?

It's true that for me, I had this idea about Lily Leticia rolling around in my mind for over a year. It's true that so far, I had not written one word about her. ( Other than her name, that is.) But...I've been busy with finishing my ICL course and my novel. Then busy with final editings and getting the novel off to a publisher. But once that was done, I would have started on her story. Instead, I chose to wait until now, and do it for the NaNo challenge.

To me, it's a little like climbing Mt. Everest...a lifetime accomplishment that very few people in the world ever do. But once you've done it, why do it again, when there are so many other formidable mountains in the world to conquer? Once you have accomplished the challenge of NaNo, why do it again? Do you have to wait another year to commit yourself to writing again? Aren't there enough challenges in life and in writing to arouse your creative spirit and to dislodge those ideas hidden in the nooks and crannies of your brain?

If we, as writers, are determined to perfect our craft so that we will be proud of our stories and articles and novels...proud enough to made the decision to mail them off to publishers, and spend the agonizing time it takes to get a response...then why do we need to have a gauntlet thrown down in front of us to go ahead and write?

Don't misunderstand me: I'm not putting down NaNo, the people who created it or the people who participate. I'm just wondering if it is necessary. To do something different for a change? Okay, I'll buy that. To see if I can really, honestly write? Uh uh, don't think so. Thirty days to write 50,000 or more words means to put down anything, anywhere, even if the plot goes off in ten different directions, you've got twenty characters who don't, can't or won't interact, and you have no idea how what you're writing is going to be resolved. I can't find the learning curve in this. I don't see how this is going to help me be a better writer. A faster writer, oh yeah. A better one? Oh, no.

But...this is just me. And I'm sure that the writers who participate in NaNo year after year will fervently disagree with me on all counts. And that's okay, too !

For me, I think this one time is enough. I proved I can do it. I met the challenge head on, and won. Am I proud of the story I wrote? No. Will I be proud after all the changes, editing, revisions, eliminations and modifications? Maybe. I hope so. But you know what? I can easily envision several more months of work on it than I would have had, had I written it the way I normally do. So was it worth it? That remains to be seen.

BUT ! My husband bought me a dozen beautiful red roses yesterday just for finishing. Now...THAT was worth it !!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Journey

Today I was thinking about writing ( yes, thinking about it, not doing it), and my mind drifted back to the very first time I wrote anything. I realized that this journey I am on today began many years ago.

I was 10 years old and had three beautiful little kittens, Trouble, Mischief, and Good Boy. You guessed it, Trouble and Mischief were little girls ! One day I sat down and wrote a poem about them. It was out of the blue. I loved to read, but had never written anything except my assignments in school. My mother was a children's book editor for a large newspaper, so she took my poem in and it was promptly published.

The second time was when I was 12. I was training a young mare for a horse show, and one day when I went out to the barn, she had suddenly gone blind. My vet said there was nothing they could do for her. Being the stubborn and persistent person I am, I refused to give up on her, and continued to train her using voice as well as foot and rein signals. I entered her in the horse show without telling the officials she was blind. We won the two classes she was in, and it was only then that they found out about her blindness. My story was written up in the newspapers, and so I wrote my own story about my mare and training her, and submitted it to a Children's Digest magazine. ( Not the same one as today, the old one went defunct many years ago.) It was published and I received a whole $10 for it!

Other than school, I didn't write anything else until my second go-round in college, after I was married and had children. I took a cultural anthropology course, and for my final grade, wrote a short book of Haiku poetry. The college published it for their library, but I didn't get any money for it. Again, that was it for a long time.

When we lived on the ranch, I wrote articles for the Appaloosa club newsletter, and other little tidbits of horse "stuff," but that was all...until one night shortly before Christmas, 1996. My husband and I were both on our computers; he was doing some business and I was goofing around. I pulled up a blank page in Word, and for no reason that I can explain, even now, began to write a Christmas story about a Cockatoo and the Star of the East over Bethlehem, on the night of Christ's birth.

That story began a whole series of stories about animals, parrots, and Great Father ( my euphanism for God, Christ, Buddha, Jehovah, or whatever deity one may believe in). I wrote about Christmas, Halloween, the Fourth of July, 9/11, and several others. But I've never tried to get them published.

In 2006, my daughter sent me several books for Christmas, all of them about writing for children...and getting published. In her letter, she basically said, "Mom, get off your butt and start writing for real." I read all the books, got excited about the idea of writing for children, but...really didn't know how to start. Then one day, there appeared in my mailbox the advertisement for the Institute of Children's Literature...complete with the test to fill out. I answered the questions, returned it, was accepted in July of 2006, and to be completely cliche-ish, the rest is history.

A long journey. An interesting though choppy journey. And I'm only midway through. I've published some, but have just recently submitted my first novel, so I don't know yet where that path is going to lead.

The point of all this, I guess, is that we all start somewhere, and maybe that first start doesn't mean anything...or ...we don't know that it means anything. It's a long journey, no matter where or when we start, and we should never dismiss those first feeble, unknowledgeable efforts. Because who knows where they might lead? Mine have led me a place of friends, experiences, learned lessons, and Hope for the future. A place that years ago, I had no idea I would be in. A place I am very thankful for, even if I should never have that book published, because of the people I've met and the things I've learned along the way.

When did your journey begin, and where has it taken you?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thoughts and Themes

It's been a week since I wrote anything here, mostly because I've been so wrapped up in my NaNo story that I haven't taken the time to do anything else. I'm up over 41,000 words, which is great, because now I can take the time Wednesday to cook for Thursday and not feel bad about it.

But that's the only good thing about this story! At least, at the moment. I realized today, as I was rereading what I had written...I know, I know, you're not supposed to do that, and now I wish I hadn't...anyway, I realized that I don't have one cohesive story, I have two not-so-cohesive stories!

Oh yes, Lily Leticia has gone off on a tangent, and I'm not sure how to get her back on track. It is the tangent that made me think I have two stories. Actually, I know I have two stories, but the trick now is to get them back together to be one...for the moment, anyway. My husband said, "Why bother? No one will be reading it until you've edited and revised, so who will know?" Always the logical one. The point is: I will know!

So, once I do get through this, instead of making Lily Leticia the MC of a full-length novel, I think I will be able to do two short-chapter books instead. I've never written a short-chapter book, so this will be a good learning experience for me.

As I was rereading this morning, it occurred to me that I didn't really know what the theme of this story is. So I got to thinking about themes, which are almost as much a bugaboo for me as outlines are.
Do you write around a theme? I don't. I suppose I could if someone said you have to have your theme first. But I've always "just written," and then have occasionally been surprised at the end when I realized what the theme of the story actually was.

When I wrote The Year of the Scream, my theme was relationships. But I didn't start out with that in mind. I was about 1/4 of the way through the novel when I was pleasantly surprised to see that my story DID have a theme, and I already knew what it was!

With Lily Leticia, I'm almost through and I still don't know what the theme is. Theme is only one element of the story, but it works together ( or should) with both the plot and the structure. They should be interrelated in such a way that they reflect back on one another. Hmm...

A writer friend once asked me if a theme wasn't the same thing as a moral and I said I didn't think so. When we write for children, we should never try to preach or to moralize the story to them. If kids realize that there is a "moral" or a "lesson" to something they are reading for fun, the book or magazine story will simply end up in the trash.

Remember the story "Charlotte's Web?" Here the theme is the power of loyalty and friendship...the loyalty and friendship Charlotte the spider shows to Wilbur the pig, and how she saves him from being slaughtered. How about "Where the Wild Things Are?" You cannot forget Max, and his anger towards his mother when she calls him a "wild thing" after he has been so mischievious. His anger and how he handles it, by playing it out in his fantasy, is the theme.

The important thing to remember about themes is that you don't want to "tell" what they are; you want to "show" them in the behavior of your characters. How the characters act, react, and interact with one another and with their circumstances in the story should be how your reader will learn about the theme.

Good questions to ask yourself about your story are these: what is the child who reads this going to learn without knowing that she/he is learning? What is she/he going to take away from the story when she puts it back on the shelf? If you can answer those questions honestly and cogently, you know that your story has a theme...and more importantly, YOU know what that theme is !

In the meantime...I'm still asking myself those same questions...but I'm not getting any answers right now!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


My husband asked me yesterday how my NaNo novel was coming along, and I told him it was frustrating because I wasn't supposed to 'multi-task.' He thought I had lost my mind, and asked me how I could multi-task when I am writing. So that made me think about that term and how it applies...or if it really writing. My decision was that yes, it does apply.

Let's think about that for a moment. The term means to do more than one thing at a time, right? Well, isn't that what you are doing, however unconsciously it might be, when you are writing? You start with a plot. Or more correctly, perhaps, you start with an idea for a plot. You throw that idea around for awhile and then you start to write. Do you only write the plot for hours on end? Of course not!

What comes after the plot? Usually, characters, right? So now you have to work on developing characterization, and fitting those characters into your plot. Sometimes they all work right in, but more often you have to change someone or even delete someone, because that character simply isn't going to least, not at the moment.

Then there is dialogue. Your characters talk, don't they? So you have to give them dialogue. But wait! That's not as easy as it sounds! You have to give them each a voice, too. You can't have MC Jane Doe sounding exactly the same as Joe Blow, the secondary MC. Now you are getting into really sticky wickets. The voice has to be individual, it has to fit the character, it has to blend into the dialogue precisely, and of course, all this has to be worked into the plot. WHEW! That was hard work!

But wait! You've only done all this for your MC! What about your secondary MC, and then all the other minor characters that have suddenly appeared to take part in the plot? Each of them speaks, right? So each of them has to have dialogue...AND...and an individual voice. The voice has to fit the character, and it has to fit...well, you know. Okay, so you've got all that down pretty well, and you're beginning to feel good about how this is going, right?

But wait! What about point of view? How is this novel going to be told? Is it going to be 1st person, told through the eyes of the MC? Or maybe 3rd person, told by a narrator. Hmm...well, let's try for 1st person, so the reader can be really involved with the MC. Uh oh, that's not enough, however. What about the tense? Past tense, present tense? Present tense is interesting,'s fairly hard to do. So, let's decide upon 1st person, past tense. Oh boy, this whole thing is getting more complicated, but I think I'm through the roughest part, right?

But wait! You're not through! There is still the descriptive narration and the pacing of the entire novel. Remember what you first learned as a writer? SHOW DON'T TELL! Uh huh, now you're catching on! Now is the time to set that in motion, to put action into place along with some descriptive narration. Oh, and don't forget the pacing. You don't want your story to drag, but you can't rush through it, either, because then it is going to leave your reader very say nothing of your editor. Okay, so now you've worked on all of this, and you think, 'Now I can take a deep breath.'

But wait! No, now is not the time to take a deep breath. Because now you have the structure of your novel to work know, those pesky little things like spelling, grammar, and punctuation? Have you checked words like there and their and the similar ones to make sure you've spelled them correctly in the correct places ? Do you know when to use lay and lie so you don't get them confused?
Are all of your commas in the right place in your sentences? Have you gone through and removed the majority of your 'just's' and 'then's' or 'right then's' ? What about your sentence structures, are all of them complete sentences, without 'dangling participles' ?

NOW you can take a deep breath!'ve done all of the above...but...this was just the first chapter!

I think you can safely say, as writers we probably know considerably more about "multi-tasking" than the av - er - age bear, right ? !

(PS: I hope you all know about "Yogi Bear" who is smarter than the av-er-age bear! )

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This and That

I've been so involved with my NaNo story I haven't even thought about blogging. I am at 19,000 + words, so I'm over the daily quota for Wednesday and almost to Thursday's quota. Guess that's a good thing, as I'm trying to get ahead and stay there so I can take the day before Thanksgiving off for baking, and Thanksgiving Day for eating!

The story is coming along, although I already know that I'm going to have a lot of revisions to do. I have gone back and read what I started out with, and have created a problem that has had no resolution or follow up. It's just hanging there, swaying in the breeze. Lily Leticia may like it, since she created it and has had no consequences resulting, but that is definitely not going to least, not past December 1st!

The story has a lot of dialogue but not much action. I don't like that. But, revisions are not a part of the NaNo project, so fixing it is going to have to wait.

Speaking of dialogue, do you like to write it? Some of my writer friends say they hate it. They can come up with all kinds of actions, problematic situations, and concise and realistic conclusions, but their characters' dialogues "stink." I like to write it. I have fun making sure that my character's actions and body language fit her or his dialogue. Did you know that body language is as important in a story as it is in real life? Did you know that body language can speak volumes in a story just as it does in real life?

For example, suppose you have a teen girlfriend/boyfriend situation.
The boy is explaining why he can't drive the girl home from school as he always does. The scene goes something like this:

Hunter: "I'm sorry, Lauren, but I have to go to the library and do some serious studying for my history test tomorrow. I gotta spend a couple hours there, so you'll have to walk home today."

Sounds okay, right? Except for the body language: Hunter has his hands in his pockets, and Lauren sees his fingers moving around like little mice caught in a trap. She looks at him, but he avoids her eyes, looking down at the ground or out towards the football field...anywhere but at her.

Does that sound like someone telling the truth? Hmmm...I don't think so. Let's go on:

Lauren: "Oh...well, that's okay. I'll walk home with Ashley. Study hard, I don't want you to fail your test."

Think she believes him? Let's look at her body language:
Lauren holds her arms crossed against her chest. Her lips stretch into a tight smile that doesn't reach her eyes, which have narrowed slightly.

Does that sound like she believes this boy who has driven her home every day for the last 4 months...even when she knew he had to study for tests or had a homework project to work on? You figure it out !

Be sure that your dialogue and your character's body language match! Your story will be much more believable and realistic for it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NaNo, POV, etc.

It's the fourth of November, and I'm going crazy with my NaNo story! I've never written anything before without editing and revising as I go along, and not doing it now is driving me up a wall. But my story is bursting out all over...and I do mean, all over. I have no idea where it is going to end up. At least I have a semblance of a plot, and some really neat characters, but where they are going to take me, I'm not at all sure. I guess I'll just wait and be surprised on the 30th of the month!

Some of my writer friends tell me they usually have a problem with point of view, so let's talk about that a little.

Do you usually write in 1st person or 3rd person? Until I began my most recent novel, I had always written in 3rd person, which many seasoned writers recommend. But AJ's story begged to be told from her POV, so I wrote in 1st person, but past tense. The problem with 1st person is that your MC has to be in every scene. Everything that happens has to occur, and be interpreted, through the eyes of the MC. That can place a lot of restrictions on what you are writing. What is said behind the MC's back? What happens when she is not present? Sometimes these things are important to the storyline, and if so, then you really can't write in 1st person.

I believe that I did a fairly intelligent job with AJ...of course, that remains to be seen when the editor reads the manuscript. Because this particular novel was character driven, it wasn't hard to have AJ in every scene. But what about those of you who have stories that are plot driven? That's when you have to make the decision to write in 3rd person, so all of the important characters can make their individual contributions to keep the plot active and on track. One character can't do that.

Another thing about 3rd person is that it gives you, the writer, a lot more leeway and flexibility in your writing. You can be more descriptive as the author, but more important, you can move in and out of your characters' lives, thoughts and emotions, as well as showing their reactions to issues and events in a more reflective way.

Sometimes authors like to use an omniscient POV, where every character has his or her own POV, There are two problems with this, in my opinion. One is that for younger readers it can get very confusing as to who is saying and thinking what. When you have two or three characters telling or showing their interpretations to one incident or one event, it not only can be disconcerting but it can be repetitive. The other problem is that most kids, even teens, like to be able to focus in on one character, and to "feel" for that character, to bond, in effect, with that character. An omniscient POV doesn't allow the reader to do that.

When you begin your story or novel, think about your characters. Who is going to be your main character? Is your story going to be character driven, or plot driven? If character driven, is it basically going to be told from the MC's POV? Can you successfully use a 1st person POV with your MC, or will 3rd person be better, so that some of the plot can be revealed through eyes other than those of the MC?

Not only are these questions that need to be answered before you begin writing...if possible...but you also need to consider the tense. Personally, I don't like reading in the present tense, whether it is 1st or 3rd person, so I don't write in present tense. Past tense is much easier, regardless of 1st or 3rd person POV. Take time to decide this before you begin writing. Sometimes...although not will find as you go along that you need to change either the tense or the POV, but making a decision first, I think, is the best way to start.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Creative Non-Fiction

Today is a better day than the last time I posted. Bruin, our Blue& Gold Macaw, is out of the hospital, taking his meds well, and is once again playing. Oh yes, and he and Shadow ( our African Gray parrot) are arguing like they usually do.

So let's talk a little about creative non-fiction. What is creative non-fiction, you ask? Well, let's see. First, it's a story. Second, it's factual. Third, it imparts information to your readers ( kids) without them realizing that they are actually learning something!

When I had my first creative non-fiction assignment, I wrote about the rainforest in the Amazon. I wrote from the POV of a young American boy on vacation with his parents. He was taking a tour of the rainforest, led by a young Indian boy who lived there. My MC learned all sorts of interesting things about the 4 layers of canopy in a rainforest and the different flowers and vines that grew in them. He also learned about one specific animal or bird that lived in each layer of the canopy. He learned the name of the animal or bird, what it looked like, what it ate, where it lived and why it lived in that specific part of the rainforest.

This was creative non-fiction ( CNF) because, first, it told a fictional story about the two boys, and second, because all the facts in the story were true.

When we write pure non-fiction, all we are doing is putting together specific facts about something in some kind of logical and/or cohesive form. It's usually dry, dull and boring reading, and why we all...but kids especially...hate reading it.

But when we write CNF, we create a fictional story around some type of facts. CNF should have a story arc, characters, setting, details and sometimes, even conflict and resolution. Suppose, for example, you were asked to write a non-fiction piece about the origin and development of carrousels. Now, you could get all the facts available from library books, journal articles and websites, sit down, put them in chronological order, and write your article. Factual, true, correct bibliography, and...what? Dull? Boring? Hmm...probably!

Suppose, instead, you got all your facts, times, dates, places, people involved, and then you wrote a story? Let's say a fantasy story about a young girl and boy who decide they are being picked on by their parents, so they run away. They hide in a forest, fall asleep, and are awakened by a horse neighing. But...the horse is WOODEN! So they start asking questions, and the wooden horse tells them about carrousels, and how he got tired of going around in circles so he ran away. The children tell him he should go home, so he leads them to the town where the carrousel is. He goes to the home of the man who carved him, and this man tells the children all about carrousels.

You work your facts and dates and times, etc. into the story the man ( who turns out to be one of the first horse carvers) is telling the children. The wooden horse might add a few things about his experiences with other horses carved by other people. Now...what do you have? A delightful fantasy about two children, one wooden horse, and a factual history about the origin of the carrousel. Doesn't that sound much more interesting that just a straight non-fiction article? ( Since I just wrote this article, I'm hoping the editor thinks its interesting !)

You can do this with just about anything that is true and factual...animals, people, places, "things," even something as dry and boring in real life as...gulp...math! All it takes, besides true and up-to-date information, is a little ingenuity and creativity on your part.

A book that really takes CNF to its highest point is An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly. The book is written from the POV of a caterpillar who became a female Monarch butterfly who has to migrate to Mexico, find a mate and reproduce. The book ends with the end of the Monarch's life. All the facts about what caterpillars eat, how they become butterflies, butterflies migrating in the autumn, mating and reproducing are there and true, but because the story is about a single butterfly, readers can identify with her and care about her.

The next time you want or need to write something that is non-fiction, give serious consideration to the creative aspect. Remember that your prime concern in writing NF for kids is to arouse their curiosity and interest in the subject you're writing make them ask questions: Why? What? How? When? You want them to get excited about the subject; to enjoy what they are reading as well as to learn from it. If they enjoy it they are going to retain the facts they learn longer, and will probably want to know even more about the subject.

Remember that when you are writing fiction, you are using your imagination and creativity; all you need to make writing NonFiction interesting and entertaining to you as well as your reader is this same imagination and creativity.

Are you up to it ?

Monday, October 26, 2009


There's not too much to write about today...I hope. My blue and gold Macaw, Bruin, is in the hospital. Last night he started coughing and could barely breathe. Our local vet hospital is open 24/7, but they don't have avian vets, and the only two in this whole county don't do weekend/emergency work. So we took Bruin in, and they gave him a shot of antibiotic and put him in an incubator where they could run oxygen in all night. We called this morning, and he made it through the night, but they still don't know what's wrong. We have to find an avian vet today, somewhere.

On top of that, I have a dental appointment today, and need to get my first query letters out to editors for my novel. I've been procrasting on that, and don't really know why. Fear of rejection, maybe?

One of the reasons I've been procrastinating is because I keep rewriting my query. My ICL instructor told me the first version was great, so why do I keep editing it? I don't know...every time I read something about queries, or a sample, I think...hmm, I don't have that, maybe I should include it. But then, I have to leave something else out, because the letter is only supposed to be one page. I absolutely have to be satisfied with some version this week, because I've got to send it out before NaNo begins.

Speaking of which... so far, I have the names of my characters, who they are, what part they play in Lily Leticia's life, and that's it. I did issue a challenge to my fellow Writer's Retreat members, though. I asked them how many were willing to begin their novels at 12:01 am on November 1st. That's when I'm going to start, but then, I'm a night owl. What about you? Are you up to beginning at 12:01 am on November 1st?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Schedule for Making Nano Much Easier

For all you NaNo writers, here is a schedule for the amount of words that you should be writing on a day by day basis:

Day 1: 1, 667 words Day 15:25,005 words
Day 2: 2, 334 words Day 16: 26,672 words
Day 3: 5,001 words Day 17: 28, 338 words
Day 4: 6, 668 words Day 18: 30,006 words
Day 5: 8, 335 words Day 19: 31,673 words
Day 6: 10,002 words Day 20: 33,370 words
Day 7: 11,669 words Day 21: 35,007 words
End of Week One! End of Week Three !!!

Day 8: 13,336 words Day 22: 36,674 words
Day 9: 15,003 words Day 23: 38, 341 words
Day 10: 16,670 words Day 24: 40,008 words
Day 11: 18,337 words Day 25: 41,675 words
Day 12: 20,004 words Day 26: 43,342 words
Day 13: 21,671 words Day 27: 45,009 words
Day 14: 23,338 words Day 28: 46,676 words
End of Week Two!! Day 29: 48,343 words
Day 30: 50,000 words
End of Week Four !!!!


All right, gang, see how easy it is? Well, okay, so I'm kidding. No one ever said it would be easy. But how about some more tips for making it as easy as possible?

1. Have plenty of caffeine on hand. French Vanilla is wonderful, it tastes great, has a touch of sweetness, and doesn't need cream or sugar to dilute its ability to keep you awake.
a. Don't drink coffee? Okay, no problem, high caffeinated tea will do just fine. Try Madagascar Cherry/Cinnamon... great flavor and your eyes will be wide open...a little dry, but wide open.

2. At least as important as caffeine is CHOCOLATE! Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate with caramel, mint chocolate, chocolate with really doesn't matter what kind of chocolate it is, it only matters that you have enough on hand to last for 30 days. But it's fattening, you say? Forget about that. Diets and healthy food must go out the window for the month of November. Only high caloric, high energy foods will suffice. You have all the rest of the year to think about healthy eating.

3. Peanut butter and Jelly/jam/preserves...or almond butter, or cashew butter...any will be okay, as long as it's paired with high sugar jam of some kind. Of course, for those of you who are absolutely NOT going to go off your diet the way you're supposed to, you are allowed to use Seven Grain or Whole Grain bread.

4. Pizza: the 'kitchen sink' kind with everything on it except for anchovies. After all, you're going to need sustenance other than the above mentioned snacks, and the wonderful thing about pizza is that it is as good cold and a day old as it is hot and fresh. So as long as you can keep the cat, the dog, the spouse and those pesky kids out of it, one extra large pizza should last for a couple of days.

So the above tips should be taken seriously, and will make a good start come November 1st. If I can think of some more in the next few days, I'll post them, too.

Speaking of meals...lightly tho' we were: Remember that your fairy godmother did not put you on this earth to write a novel in 30 days AND cook...or clean...or do laundry. For this month, frozen meals are in, as are McDonald's, Taco Bell and Wendy's. If worse comes to worst, tell hubby to buy a roasted chicken at the supermarket, get a couple of salads at the deli, and he and the kids can have a feast.

As for 'clean anything,' the dust bunnies have always wanted a place to play, now's the time for them to get out and romp, and if the kids want clean clothes, they know where the washer is.

Well, that was easy! Now are we all set for NaNoWriMo??

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Panic is setting in! What have I done? I have signed up for NaNoWriMo for the very first time. Now why would I do that? I have queries to write, chapters and synopses to get printed, all of these to get out to publishers, my second novel which is historical fiction already begun and 5 chapters written, and I've signed up to write 50,000 words on a brand new novel in one month's time??? And that month includes Thanksgiving, which means at least 2-3 days of no writing at all. I seriously think I've lost my mind.

If I've lost my mind, perhaps some of you have, also. I can't be the only crazy writer around here, can I?? So let's talk about some ways we might be able to lessen the panic, and still get some productive work done.

For those of you who outline...I'm not one of you...doing your outline during the rest of October is a great idea. For those of you who are like me and don't outline, here are some other suggestions.

1. Get Organized!
I put this in red because I am NOT organized when it comes to writing...or anything else, my DH would say. Do you have a specific place to write? A study, a den, your bedroom, the kitchen table? Try to get ONE place for your computer and make it off limits for the entire month of November for anyone else in the family! And if that means eating in the formal dining room, or on TV trays in the living room, , or making hubby and kids watch TV or do homework someplace else, so be it. After all, it's only for a month, anyone can live with that, right?

1a. Outline? sticky notes?:
So okay, it's all going to be in red. Have you outlined your novel? I won't talk about outlines because I hate them, and those of you who do decent outlines already know more about them than I do. And you can outline your novel this month, too.

But I love sticky notes! I have them on my computer, the window, my bookcase, three different places on my desk, one on my printer, two on the lamp shade, and I even tried to put one on Dylan last night, but he ate it.

The sticky notes are ideas that come to mind in the middle of watching TV or doing dishes or cleaning the parrot cages. I run in here, grab a sticky note pad, jot the idea down and stick it...well, any place. I'm hoping this works for the Nano novel as well as it has for my other novel.

2. The Little Devil Who Sits on Our Shoulder and Whispers in Our Ear...You Know, The One Known as Our Inner Critic?
Okay, we've got to get rid of her immediately if not sooner. We are not supposed to critique, edit, or revise during this month. This novel is going to be a rough...very rough...draft. So tell your inner critic to BUG OFF! I don't know...put her in a shoebox and stick her under the bed; stuff a nasty rag in her mouth; put ear plugs in; borrow Pongo's trident and pin her butt to the wall ( and if you aren't acquainted with Pongo, you're missing someone extraordinary!). Do whatever you have to do to shut that critic's mouth for 30 days! Ignore her nasty comments about wrong spelling here, convoluted punctuation just doesn't matter! For now, anyway.

3. Put Some Soft Lovely Music On:
No matter what your musical tastes are, this is the time for soft, lyrical, quiet music. It helps you think without becoming involved in what the music is all about. Try something by Ferante and Teichner, or John Tesh, or some of the "mood" music you find in stores like Target or K-Mart. No rock n' roll ( too loud), no opera ( too dramatic), no country( too sorrowful), just something quiet and peaceful even if it's not what you normally listen to.

4. Planning Our Time to Write:
None of any of these suggestions, or those on any other sites, are going to make any difference if we don't plan time to write. I'm retired, so it is easier for me to plan out time than for most writers, who also juggle outside jobs and family ( kids) responsibilities. So how are we going to do this? We've got to set aside a specific amount of time each day ( or night) to do nothing but write. If that means getting up an hour or two earlier than usual, set your alarm. If it means writing after the kids go to bed, tell your husband it's only for a month, so quit pouting about "no me" time. If it means not watching TV after dinner, either record the programs or just do already know how the majority of them are going to turn out, anyway !

The point of all this is, that for this particular event, we all have to be a heck of a lot more serious, concentrated, focused and determined than usual if we are going to meet that 50,000 word required in 30 days time. And for most of us, because of Thanksgiving, relatives coming, cooking and baking, it's not even a full 30 days. I've never done this before, but people who have tell me that when you finish that 50,000 words you have a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Even though the novel is a rough, rough draft, and even though you will have to go back and edit and revise until you are blue in the face, the fact have written a full novel ( or more than half of one that you can add to) in a very short period of time.

Yes...I can definitely understand that feeling of accomplishment when November 30 rolls around, and we can add our names to the list of those who strived and succeeded.

Are you with me?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This and That

I'm back! The storms are gone...for I'm able to get back on the Internet. The Central Coast of California is a beautiful place to live, with the aquamarine ocean sparkling in the sun, and the rolling hills that turn from pastoral green in the spring to brown velvet in the summer and back to green/gold in the fall. It is wonderful to watch the countryside complete its yearly fashion show, as it shows a different face each year, much like the runway models we see on television.

There are just a few things on my mind today, as I get back into the realm of writing. A little bit of 'this' and a little of 'that.'

First, let's talk about "first lines." This seems to be a big deal in publishing. Remember what you mothers used to tell you when you were only get one chance to make a first impression? That holds very true for things like query letters and fiction, when we're either trying to get the attention of agents, editors, or our kid readers...or all three.

Here are some of the classic first lines in children's literature:

1. "Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. ( Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White)

2. All children, except one, grow up. ( Peter and Wendy, by J.M Barrie)

3. It was a dark and storm night. ( A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle)

4. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. ( Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling)

We are told we need a 'hook' to grab the reader's attention and draw them into the story. This hook should give an indication of what is to come, and make them want to keep reading. And this is true of both the first lines of a query letter and of fiction We want our first lines to make the reader ask questions about the story: Who is this character? What is happening here? How is this going to turn out? If the reader is an agent or an editor, we also want them to say: I need to find out more about this story; I am interested in who this person might be or what her story is all about.

How can we be sure that we have intriguing first lines? That's easier said than done, right? One way is to start with something happening that makes the day different from the rest; something that arises from action on the part of the MC, from dialogue between the MC and the secondary character/s, or from some narrative that immediately brings the reader into the story and makes her/him want to ask questions and get answers.

In the novel I just finished, my opening line is: "AJ, why isn't your father ever around any more?" Jaime asked as she applied bright red polish to her toes. What questions does this arouse in your mind? Who is AJ? Why is Jaime asking such a personal question? How is AJ going to answer it? What is happening with AJ's father that he isn't 'around' any more? Hopefully, these and more would be questions my reader would ask, and want to read further to get the answers to.

In my WIP, an historical novel of the Civil War, the first line reads: Whup! Whup! Whup! Screams shattered the morning quiet as the sickening thud of a whip lacerating bare skin snaked through the mist. This first sentence doesn't tell you anything about the MC, but it does make you ask questions, right? Who is this happening to? Why is it happening? Where is it happening? Is there anyone around who is going to stop it from happening? At least, these are some of the questions that I hope my readers will ask.

The point is, opening lines must make the reader either ask questions about that line and where it is going to lead, or it must make her/him feel drawn into the story immediately and want to know what is going to happen from that point on. First lines don't come easily to anyone, but they are possibly the most important line in every storyline we write.

I guess the above was the 'this' and now I'm going to talk about the 'that.' In my last post ( I think it was the last), I said I would talk about how to keep track of non-fiction notes and information.

The Note Card System:

This is probably the system most people use ( I don't, but I'm not as organized as I should be !) Here are the steps that you can use:

The Saber Toothed Tiger: First packet of 5 x 7 cards:

1. Upper left hand corner, put in a code for your subject and the type of source your using, e.g book, internet site, journal article, etc.: let's say for this one its STT: jnl art. ( Saber tooth tiger, journal article.)

2. Upper right hand corner: author of journal article, date of publication, name of article, name of journal article is in, page number/numbers you are using information from.

3. Body of card: put the quote, thought, or text of information used.

You need to use separate cards for each bit of information you gather, and from each source: (a) book; (b) journal article; (c) internet site; (d) magazine/newspaper; (e) historical societies; (f) personal diaries, quotations from historical figures; (g) information from libraries, archives and museums.

Arrange your cards in a card file, with dividers indicating each source, e.g., book, journals, etc. Some people...who are WAY more organized than I am...can actually arrange their cards according to where they think the information will go in the NF they are writing: e.g., 1st page, 2nd paragraph; middle of article; last page, 1st paragraph, and so on. Sorry, that's way too efficient for me !

This card method is probably the most popular, and it is very efficient. I, on the other hand, do something very different. First, I make out my bibliography...and I use EasyBib ( for this, it is easy, it is accurate and it is free. Then I go back to each of my sources and take handwritten notes in a notebook. Then I transfer those notes to the computer, print them out, and write my NF article. Not the most efficient way, I admit, but it's just the way I do it. I'm not suggesting anyone else do it, although I do suggest you use Easy Bib for your bibliography. It sure saves a lot of work on your part.

Hope this has been of some help...see you later!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Research and Non-Fiction

Writing non-fiction seems to strike terror in the hearts of some writers! Often it is not so much the subject of the non-fiction as it is the search for reliable, up-to-date and relevant sources that eagle-eyed editorial assistants can check out and find that they actually are reliable, up-to-date and relevant.

The thing is, even when you are writing fiction, anything that you put into your story that is real must be accurate. You can't have the location of your story be smack dab in the middle of Kansas farmland and talk about your MC living in a high-rise condominium . You need accurate descriptions of your settings and locations, characters that dress and speak appropriately for the time and place, and even dialogue that is reflective of the era and circumstances. So the bottom line is that you need to know how to do research for just about everything you write... non-fiction and fiction alike.

We all know that a good library is probably the best research source around...or is it? Today there are sources on the Internet that you can't get in a normal city public library. But you have to be careful of what you are reading and citing. Wikipedia is an interesting site, but definitely one you do not want to use as a resouce. Editors will run screaming out of the room if they see that as one of your sources. Why? Because a lot of what is on Wikipedia is not totally accurate, factual or up-to-date, and that is because anyone can write an article about something or someone and place it there. So the first big NO NO in research is to NOT use Wikipedia as part of your bibliography. It can be a good place to start, to see if your interest in a certain subject is justified, but let it go at that, and then start doing some real research.

The Internet is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you can Google a word or a phrase and bring up literally thousands of sites that you can go to. But it is also a curse, because you are not always sure that your information is factual and current. What may have been accurate last year could be totally erroneous today, so it is not always wise to trust every site that has interesting information. The best way to get around this is to check out the source's sources. If it is a legitimate article it will probably have its own sources, either on other websites or in print as books or journal or scientific articles.

So let's talk about some valuable and trustworthy Internet sites. I'm not going to list them in any particular order, just as I think of them while writing. First, let's talk about Non-Fiction sites. Some of the best ones I have used are the Smithsonian Institute, the Library of Congress and National Geographic. These sites are already listed under "Research" in the right side of my blog.

Have you ever wanted to use a phrase but can't remember just where it came from? I'm bad about this, because my memory sometimes is like a sieve. So this is a great site: Wisdomquest ( If you enter "to be or not to be", for example, Hamlet, Act III comes up and there's your quote, who said it, where and when. Two others that are similar are Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (, and The Quotations Page ( I haven't used these for awhile, but I assume they are still on the Internet.

Another one I've used is Pathfinder (, which is the home page for all of the Time Warner magazines, like Time, People, Sports Illustrated, etc. I wouldn't rely much on the People magazine, but I have used both Time and Sports Illustrated.

Here are some that I've got bookmarked but haven't actually used yet. Mysteries of History ( is about all kind of interesting yet "mysterious" happenings in history. An example is an article about Stonehenge and how, supposedly, the stones got there and were arranged in the order that they now stand.
Secrets of the Spies( tells about espionage terminology, famous ( or infamous) double agents and other spy "stuff." I always thought I would write a spy story for a boy's magazine, but I haven't so far. Hoax Museum Blog ( has an archive of articles about all kind of hoaxes and notorious historical deceptions. Then there is the Guinness World Records (, if you're interested in world records of just about every kind, you can find it here.

For fiction sources, these are some of my favorites: Encyclopedia Mythica ( is an absolutely terrific site for mythology of any and every kind, folklore and religion. I keep thinking my next novel will be fantasy and I can use this site, but I just don't seem to be able to get into fantasy like so many writers can. I envy them. Along that same line is KidsClick(, which has all kinds of categories for weird and mysterious, mythology, religion, machines and transportation, and more. KidSpace( and TeenSpace( are sites that have a lot of links to subjects like math, science, sports, and other kid/teen interests.

Some others:
Slang Site( to find out what slang is in and what is out...although, what's in today can be out tomorrow, so you still need to be cautious about using it. Rhyme Zone ( for those who write PBs or poetry. Cyndi's List ( is a great site. When you first open it, it is all about geneology, but you can put whatever you want into the "search" space and you will find a world of information. When I wrote my article for Dig on Pirates' Safe Havens, I got a lot of info on this site. For those who want to rewrite fairy tales and folk tales, or read them to get ideas, here are two good links:
Surla Lune Fairy Tales( is a site with some rather obscure fairy tale authors ( at least, most of them were unknown to me) but the stories are great, and would make great ideas for rewrites. Another is LowChens Australia( For those who need ideas about character names, from all over the world, here are two: Behind The Name ( and 2000 Names ( I have used both, and they give the meaning and etimology of the names, both boys and girls.

Research is time consuming and at times, frustrating. But if you approach it without fear it really doesn't have to be a big monster ready to gulp you down! Know before hand exactly what it is you are going to research: for example, do you want to know what weather conditions are like in January in Montana? Into Google you would put...January weather Montana. How about needing to know what boys wore to school in 1860? Into Google would go Boys school clothing 1860 or even 1800s. Don't let it become an issue for you or something you are afraid of, and you will be surprised at how easy it really is.

The next post I will talk about how to organize your research.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Characters and Morals

When I was writing The Year of the Scream, I had a lot of decisions to make about my main character, AJ. Some of those decisions dealt with morals and ethics, yet I knew that I had to be very careful here, so that it wouldn't seem as though I were trying to "teach" a moral lesson. I thought it might be beneficial to others if I told a little about what I ( and AJ ) went through.

AJ is a wonderful, smart, sometimes funny ( humor is not my best subject) young teen whose self-image is mostly dependent upon what others, specifically her best friends, think of her. Now this is somewhat a common problem with kids, especially those just entering their teens. They want to be popular, to "fit in," so often they try to be something they are not. So one lesson AJ has to learn is that she can only be who she is, no matter what others think or say. She can pretend to be something she is not, but it's only pretending. Eventually, she must learn that the only thing that really matters is what she thinks of herself, not what her friends think of her. And even though fictional, that is not easy to do.

As her story goes along, she finds that she must make choices, right or wrong. We do that in real life, and we can't always be right, so AJ can't always be right, either. Sometimes this is harder to write than it is to live! Since this is fiction, somewhere along the way she must find herself facing a moral dilemma, and she must show some kind of growth from the decision she makes, regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

As writers, we usually learn that we must ask ourselves certain questions about our characters, and why they give us the answers they do. For me, those questions are: what does AJ love and why? What does she hate and why? What does she want and why? What does she need and why? And, what does she fear and why? If I can answer those questions for her, then I will also know exactly what she wants out of life and what she will do ( or not do) to meet her needs. I should also be able to know what could make her do something out of fear or perhaps temptation that she wouldn't ordinarily do. Believe me, that part was tricky!

Another good question to ask about your characters is...what if? AJ's friendship with her two BBFs is ruined by the antagonist, Celine. But later on, one of those friends wants to make up with AJ. So...what if AJ becomes friends again with her? What if AJ doesn't want to make up? Does this also become a moral dilemma for AJ? Is she so "good" that she can forgive and forget? AJ is not perfect, she must show somewhere that she is as much a flawed individual as all of us humans are, so is this where she shows that she is not some kind of heroine? Hmmm...well, we'll see!

In the end of the novel, AJ learns something about Celine that could destroy her life. She finds that she has the option of telling everyone at school about Celine's secret life, or she can protect her by not saying anything, in which case not even Celine will even know what AJ had found out. This is a very big moral... and probably ethical, also... choice for her. What choice does she make? And in the end, is it the right one or the wrong one for where she is in her life?

I answered this question one way. And AJ promptly woke me up in the middle of the night, saying she was not satisfied with what she was doing. It didn't seem like the right or logical choice for her. You know, I usually listen to my characters...especially when they wake me up at night! So I changed the end result, and everyone, including AJ, was much more satisfied.

I don't think you can write a long story ( or maybe even a short one), and certainly not a novel, and not have your characters, especially the main characters, face one or more moral dilemmas. Think about do you give your characters the answers to the questions that you often have to ask yourself, and then have them make choices? Are they always the right choices? If so, does that make them some kind of "super hero" which you wouldn't find in real life? Or do you allow them to feel their way, to be vulnerable and open to making mistakes and wrong choices, even when it comes to morals and ethics? No matter which path, your characters...take, do they grow from their decisions? Sometimes, this is the most difficult part of your novel.