Sunday, December 19, 2010

Writing What You Know...Or Not.

How many times have you heard someone say, "Write what you know?"  Have you ever thought about that?  Seriously, I mean.  Have you ever thought about how much you opposed to how much you don't know?

I had the very great pleasure this past week to person...with a dear friend, an Internet friend, with whom I've been writing to and responding to for about 2 years, but had never met.  In listening to her talk about all the things she has going on, in terms of articles and stories, I realized that her depth of knowledge about certain things  supercedes mine.  We are both educated women, I may have one more degree than she does, but that has nothing to do with either of our independent intellectual growth.  So following the adage "write what you know" means that there are a LOT of things I couldn't write about, but she could.  Not that we are in any kind of competition, so don't misunderstand me.  It's just that in certain areas, my ability to write what I know doesn't count for much, while hers does.

Writing what you know means that you are in control of your writing knowledge and ability.  It means that you can take a familiar subject and inject it with your own unique sense of humor, your own feelings and sensitivity, your own individuality.  You can organize your thoughts in such a way as to bring passion, humanity, tenderness, and originality to a story or a factual event that, in most cases, appears to be commonplace.

So what does it mean to write about what you don't know? It means to expand your horizons when you sit down to write.  It doesn't have to mean a lot of mindboggling research.  Instead, think "outside of the box."  Let your imagination run wild.  After all, that's why we have imaginations, isn't it?  To allow ourselves to explore a realm of possibilities where we may never have delved before?  Let's say you take your 4 year old to the neighborhood park.  You see a woman about your age sitting on a bench.  None of the children playing appear to belong to her.  Her face is sad.  You wonder why she is here, and where she came from, as you've never seen her before.  Doesn't that open up a world of questions in your mind?  You approach her with a quiet "hello," but she gets up and you see a moment of panic on her face before she runs away from you.  Now your curiosity is aroused.  Don't let it fall by the wayside.  This is not something or someone you "know," but it is a wonderful opportunity to explore the wild, the different, the mysterious, the unique situation of a stranger.

Don't settle for writing only what you know: the familiar, the safe, the "everything is under control" bit.  Be curious  about what is going on around you that you may never have seen or heard or experienced before.  Let your imagination have free rein, and don't keep it forever "in its place" as part of your life control.  Let it out, let it romp and run free, let it get crazy and wild, let it open your heart and your mind to what is new and different, maybe a bit scary, but surely no longer safe and under control.  Then let your writing reflect the spontaneity your imagination has unleashed.  You might be amazed at what you can do!

Let me know what you think.

Until later,
That's a wrap.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Blogging vs Writing

It's been almost two weeks since I posted, and the main reason has been all the writing I'm doing.  Plus little things like "life" taking up too much time.  So today, I got to thinking about writing and blogging.

The title of this post says "blogging vs writing."  Because I can't seem to do both consistently, I am wondering how other writers feel about it.  Let me tell you a little story, first.  I have a friend who has been a good writer, publishing some short children's stories because that's what she likes to do best.  Then, one of her friends told her she needed to start a website, or at least a blog.  She began a blog, and it has been her downfall.  Each week it kept getting bigger and...supposedly...better, until the blog has taken over her life.  She does interviews with book-published authors, reviews other books, makes up contests and games and puzzles for her readers to get involved in.  She writes about her full time job, about her husband, about her kids and what they are doing.  She brings favorite recipes to the blog, and describes in detail when and why she served them.  She comments long and longer about other blogs she reads, even reading them at work.

My friend is no longer a writer, she is a 'has-been' writer, and now she is a blogger.

My question to you is: do you blog, or do you write?  If you do both, do you do both consistently, do you block out time for each?  If you are a stay-at-home-mom with children to take care of, or if you have a full time job out of the home, how do you do all the things you have to do just to keep your life at a steady keel, and STILL find time to write and to blog?

My husband and I are retired, so most people would think...gee, you've got all the time in the world to write AND to blog, so what's your problem??  Umm...well, you should be right, but you're not!

I seldom do both on the same day.  Occasionally, I blog a bit and then write, but not often.  My writing day consists of usually 4 to 6 hours of steady writing...but that's not every day.  My husband and I have what we like to call a "life", and so we do things together...we grocery shop together...we take our Corgi to the dog park together...right now, we're Christmas shopping together.  Sometimes, we throw Dylan ( afore-mentioned Corgi) in the back seat in his harness and seat belt, and just take off for parts unknown.  We may be gone for hours, just driving and absorbing all the beautiful coastal scenery.  "Life" has just taken up all of my writing time for the day...or for several days.

There are several blogs that I follow, reading them several times a week but never taking the time to do so every day.  I marvel at how "big" they are...all the things that are happening on the blog on a daily basis, and yet the blogger still claims to be a writer.  My friend is not the only blogger I've seen lately who appears to spend his or her entire time blogging, and little or no time writing.  Does "blogging" make you a writer?  Certainly not in the professional sense.

As for me, I'm a writer.  I'm a blogger accidentally, or at least, incidentally.  How about you?  Are you a writer, or a blogger?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Part Two of Guide to Being a Pedophile, etc.

I want to talk about the American flag and other issues as they apply to our writing for children.

The American flag issue was about the 13 year old who wasn't allowed to display his American flag on Veteran's Day, because of the harrassment that some of the Mexican kids received for displaying their flag on Cinco de Mayo.  I already said that I didn't think it was right to allow one privelege to one ethnic group, and not allow that same privilege to another...regardless of what had transpired.

Do we do things like that in our writing?  I read a story a couple of weeks ago, where a group of Chinese students were allowed to prepare some Chinese food for their classmates in honor of a Chinese holiday ( the setting was the US). But as the story went on, the three Jewish kids in the class weren't allowed to bring tradition Hannakuh foods to school because school would be out for Christmas, and the teacher didn't think it was appropriate for them to bring food for a specific holiday when it wouldn't be on that holiday.

The interesting thing to me was, ethnicity and food did not play a major part in the story at all.  Both were kind of stuck in there in relation to something else.  Obviously, it was not a big deal to the writer.

And truthfully, I didn't pay that much attention to it at the moment, either.  But then when the media made such a fuss about the 13 year old and his flag, that story came back to mind.  It made me wonder:  do we do things like that in our writing, and they make so little impression upon us that they are incidental to the story itself?  If so, why?

It is right in "real" life for one ethnic or religious group to be allowed a certain privilege, and then another group denied that same privilege?  We hear about how wrong it is in our society to openly ( or even covertly, for that matter) display sexism, or homophobia, or religious, ethnic or political bias, or any of the other very contentious and controversial emotions and opinions we all hold.  Yet we write our stories from ideas, opinions, emotions, viewpoints, and situations we read or hear about, talk about, or are involved in.

What kind of message do we send in our writing if we allow one character to do something that is based upon his/her ethnic or relgious culture, and then later on, don't allow another character to do something of the same nature, based upon his/her ethnic or religious culture?  Does it even matter?  Or...should it matter?  After all, we're writing fiction, and we are allowed to take much in the way of "literary license."

How much of real life should be in our stories?  Oh, I know that we are encouraged to write about things such as drug use and abuse, anorexia, teen pregnancy, sexual and self-abuse, and so on...the dark side of life that kids, especially teens, experience every day.  But what about the smaller things in life, the more seemingly inconsequential this flag incident?  Don't they teach our kids as much about life as everything I mentioned above?  Is it really only the very "bad" issues that make a difference?

Personally, I disagree.  I believe that children are influenced as much, if not more, by the small, everyday incidents that they have to deal with, as they are by some of the more life-changing events, such as anorexia, abuse and so on. does that play out in our writing?  IF the flag incident plays an important role in the story, it should definitely stay in.  However, there should be some kind of reason, resolution or even retribution for it somewhere before the story ends.  I don't think that this kind of issue should be brought into a story, and then dropped, simply to take up space, rev the word count, or for some other unimportant reason.  If, in our story, we give preferential treatment of some kind to either a character or group of characters, based upon their ethnic or religious culture, and we don't allow another character or group the same kind of privelege, there needs to be a specific reason for it, and the reader should be able to tell what that reason is by the end of the story.

The point is:  don't be "cavalier" in writing about intolerance, or prejudice, or hostility and animosity based on a character's racial, ethnic or religious heritage.  Let it be there for a purpose; allow the reader to understand the purpose, and give the reader a reason to think about how such events or attitudes may play out in his own real life.

Think about it.  Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Guide to Being a Pedophile, The American Flag, and Other Issues, Part One

There's a new book out at Amazon.  An e-book that can be immediately dowloaded to your Kindle or other e-reader.  You might be surprised to hear the name of this book: Guide to Being a Pedophile.  No, I haven't made a mistake.  That's the name of the book.  Supposedly, it is written by a man who is not himself a pedophile.  Or so he says.  But he definitely knows how to go about meeting children, both in person and on the Internet, how to talk to them so they become comfortable with him, and how to get them to go with him...uh, that is, with you the child molester.  Interesting, isn't it, that a man who claims to be "normal," and NOT a child molester, can know so so much, so many intimate details about how to attract children and entice them into the clutches of other child molesters?

Even more interesting is the fact that the book sold only ONE issue...until The Media found out about it, and it became the talk of the nation.  Now, sales are up over 100,000 % ( yep, that's true), which is only putting money into the pocket of the man who knows everything about how to be a pedophile...but claims he isn't one.  Do you believe that?  Neither do I.  What will it take to put this man where he belongs, and get his book into the trash can where it belongs?  I don't have the answer, but I surely hope someone does.

Then there is the 13 year old boy and his American flag.  Seems he rides his bicycle to school every day with an American flag flying from the back end.  For two months, this was okay by everyone who say him, including teachers, principal, and school administration.  UNTIL...Veteran's Week.  He was ordered to remove the flag until AFTER Veteran's Day.  He was very upset; he was flying the flag in honor of his grandfather and all the veterans in his home town.  But the school powers that be said, NO, take the flag down.

It seems that on May 5th...Cinco deMayo...the Mexican kids at his school flew their Mexico flags, and were hassled and harrassed by the American kids.  So the school admin didn't want the same thing to happen with this boy and his American flag, so he had to take it down.

It seems to me the school acted irresponsibly in both issues.  If they were going to give the Mexican kids permission to fly their flags, why didn't they make some kind of school announcement to that effect, and to say that anyone causing trouble for those kids would meet with punishment?  If they were concerned about this boy flying his flag during Veteran's Day week, why didn't they make an announcement to all the school and parents, and say that anyone causing him trouble would be punished, suspended or something?  Barring that...why didn't they allow him to fly his flag, and make sure that he was accompanied by an adult to and from school for those three days, and then kept a close watch on him while he was at school?

It is wrong to allow one ethnic group to do one thing, and forbid another ethnic group from doing the exact same thing, regardless of the reason.

I have no problem with kids from Mexico, or any foreign country, being allowed to display some of their cultural heritage when it is appropriate for them to do so.  But I sure have a problem with one privilege being given to one group and denied to another group.

Think about it.  Part Two coming up!

Until next time,
that's a wrap.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness, and other matters

Do you ever ask yourself what you are doing and why you are doing it? Now, come on, that isn't necessarily a dumb question!  I was writing away on my NaNo novel this morning when I heard a ding! that signaled a new email.  It was time for a break, so I put my novel on "sleep" and went to my email.  An internet friend from Montana had sent me a story about Root Beer and Twinkies.  I'll try to be brief.

A little boy decided he wanted to talk to God, so he packed up some Root Beer and Twinkies and went on his way.  He stopped in a park, and saw an old man sitting on a bench.  He went over and sat besides him.  The boy was thirsty so he took out a root beer, but then thought the old man looked thirsty, so he gave one to him.  Then he was hungry, so he gave one of his twinkies to the old man.  When he got up to leave, he gave the old man a hug, and got a big smile in return.  Other than that, not a word had been spoken between them.

When the little boy returned home, he told his mother he had lunch with God, and He had the most beautiful smile in the world.  When the old man returned home, he told his son he had lunch with God, and He was a lot younger than he thought He would be.

Random acts of kindness...what a difference such a small thing meant to this child and this old man.  Do you ever think about a random act of kindness that someone has done for or given to you?  Do you ever stop and wonder if anything you've done or said lately is a random act of kindness?

A couple of days ago, I sent an email to another Internet friend who had just lost her mother-in-law, to whom she was very close.  I had also found out that she and her husband were going through several other very bad issues that had popped up unexpectedly.  I sent her a message because I was concerned about her, yet when she responded, she made me feel like I had suddenly given her a million dollars.  A random act of kindness?  Possibly, except it certainly wasn't random on my part because I was thinking about her.

What makes an act of kindnes random?  My message to my friend was deliberate on one hand, and random on the other...random in this case being I hadn't given it a lot of thought.  Her name came to mind, I realized I hadn't seen her around on our writers forum, so I wondered if she was doing all right  since her MIL's death, and I wrote to her.  Would that be considered a "random" act? Or not?

It concerns me greatly that we hear and see in the media every single day about random acts of violence...but how many times do the media carry on about someone's random act of kindness?  Why is that?  Is it that we as a nation, or as a society, have become so inured to violence that it no longer makes an impression, and since we have little media coverage of acts of kindness or of good things happening, they also don't make an impression?

What are the things that matter to us?  Oh, I know, people are going to say...friends, family, church...not necessarily in that order.  But what else?  I don't mean the mundane things like a roof over our heads, food on the table, money coming in, a decent job.  Although today, all of those things are a top priority.

But what else matters?  My husband and I went for a walk yesterday.  We held hands, which we been doing practically since the day we met, some 35 years ago.  We're "senior citizens" so when some young teens walked towards us, they looked pointedly at our hands, our faces, and then...smiled at us.  I wonder what they were thinking...that it was strange that "old people" would be holding hands?  that they hoped when they were our age they had someone to hold hands with?  I don't know, but I hope it was the latter.

So what random acts of kindness have you received lately?  A get-well card from someone unexpectedly?  My husband did.  An email or phone call to see how you're doing, for no particular reason?  That would be well and good.  But the main thing is, what have you done that could be construed as a random act of kindness?

How much time do we spend even thinking about things like this?  As writers, especially, our time is already consumed by writing, editing, revising, sending out queries, doing say nothing of eating, sleeping, house work, taking care of kids and spouses...and life in general.  So time for random acts of anything is precious.

But it only takes a don't have to bake an extra turkey or a new batch of cookies to take to someone.  How about a smile on the street as you pass an older person waiting for a bus?  How about helping that young mother cross the street with a baby stroller and maybe one or two other kids in tow?  How about giving a hand to the disabled man trying to put groceries from the cart into the trunk of his car?  How about offering your arm to someone walking up or down a hill and trying to keep stable with a cane or a walker?  How about holding the door open for someone in a wheelchair?

Random acts of kindness:  let's try to make them more often, more important, and more newsworthy, than random acts of violence.

Remember:  it only takes a moment.

Until later,
That's a wrap.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's Time for NaNo!

Today is the 5th day of NaNoWriMo, that crazy month of November when writers like me, who have no sense whatsoever, say goodbye for a month to family, friends, and reason, and begin to write.  Anything.  As long as it ends up with at least 50,000 words on the last day of November.  Of course, it should make some sense, but maybe that's not too important.

I did NaNo for the first time last year, and finished a pretty good middle grade novel...even if I do say so myself.  Then I said I would never do it again. Hmmm.
So why am I doing it now?  Well, after I finished my first novel course with ICL, my antagonist, who was a little ... er...witch, demanded to have her story told, so people would know why she was a little...witch.  But right after I finished the first novel course, I decided to do a second one, so I could get some help with my historical novel.  Consequently, the first NaNo didn't get edited or revised ( yet), and Celine's story didn't get told.

Doing NaNo this year seemed a good excuse for me to get Celine's story going, even though the historical novel isn't finished.  My husband, kids, grandkids, and Corgi all think I'm crazy, but...hey, it isn't the first time for that thought !

The trick is to just write...whatever thoughts come to mind.  I would imagine this is difficult for writers who like to outline every chapter before they begin a new story, but for pantsters like me, it's old hat.  My main problem is that I'm too much of a perfectionist to "just write" and not stop to "fix" mistakes in spelling or grammar or anything else, for that matter.  That's supposed to be a no-no for, catchy, dontcha' think...a NoNo for NaNo !  Wow, I'm good!  ( actually, I'm just a little punchy right now :(  )

Anyway, every NaNo writer knows we're not supposed to take the time now to fix our mistakes...SPAG or anything else.  But I'm one of these people who cannot live with myself and go on past a glaring error.  So I must admit I take the time to backtrack and do corrections.  Hopefully, this time I'll still come out with at least my 50,000 words...last year, I barely made it at 50,124 or something like that.

I'll try to post at least once a week during this month.  Who knows, I may even post a bit about the story as it goes along.  No promises, though.  In the meantime, for all of you equally insane writers, the best of luck with NaNo, and may we all end up with something understandable and at least 50,000 words!

Until next time,
that's a wrap.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Help! Murder!

Uh, no not really.  What I want to talk about today is how to eliminate those words and phrases that can really kill a story. "Eliminate"..."kill"...= Murder...sigh, oh all right, my attempt at humor failed.

So now can we get down to serious business?  What about all those extraneous words that we all use in our stories that we shouldn't?  Words like "that," "then," "but," "well," and so on.  We all know those, right?  Like the italisized ones in the sentence above.  I should have written: What about all those extraneous words we all use in our stories when we shouldn't.  Better?

Let's shift gears, and talk about phrases. How many of us have read something like this:  Her eyes followed him as he stormed down the walk.  What kind of image does that produce?  A pair of long-lashed eyes bumping along the walk?  Umm...really?

How about:  Her eyes were consumed with passion. Hmm.  The dictionary says "consume" means to use something up in such a way that it cannot be recovered.  Wonder what she did without her eyes when her passion was over?  Then there's:  He claimed he was telling the truth, but his eyes said otherwise.  Did his eyes learn to talk at the same time he did?  That should have been interesting for his parents.

She dropped her eyes in embarrassment. Excuse me?  I hope she dropped them onto something soft, like a bed or a thick carpet.

Here's one I just read by a favorite author of mine:  Unseeing, he looked out at the setting sun.  How can he "look out" at anything, if he can't see?

Here are some more:
Her emerald eyes mesmerized him. ( what was the rest of her body doing?)
Her smokey eyes blazed with fire. ( I guess her eyes would be smokey, if they were on fire.)
Her sultry voice grated on me. ( Why?  are you a piece of cheese?)
His voice came from a long distance. ( That must have been hard on his throat.)
His eyes caught and held hers. ( pair of eyes must have been running away to have been caught by another pair.)
Her heart sang with happiness.  (This is an old favorite...uh, what song was her heart singing? )
I thought to myself. ( Who else would you be thinking to? I used this phrase so many times until I finally realized what I was saying! )

 Enough, all ready!  The point is...when we are editing our work, these are the  kinds of words and phrases we need to especially look out for.  Think about yourself before you write something:  would your eyes be falling out on the bed or onto the carpet?  Or would they be on fire, or chasing another pair down the street?  The same with using voice or any other body part as the subject of your sentence.  It just doesn't work.

These are phrases we read...and write...all the time.  So much so that we usually don't give them a second thought...they are nothing more than cliches.  So be careful during your edits, and if you've written something using eyes or voice or another body part as the subject, change it.  Don't give an editor or an agent the opportunity to think..."she/he is an amateur."

Until next time,
that's a wrap.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Words...and What They Can Do

How many of you grew up knowing the expression "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me?"  Have any of you ever repeated that to your own children?  Do you really believe that words can never hurt someone?

Another young teen committed suicide over the weekend.  Why?  Because he had been bullied.  Oh, not with being hit or jabbed or shoved into lockers or ignored or having his books and papers stolen or ruined.  No, these bullies used words to hurt him.  He was overweight, too heavy to run or play sports.  He was a diabetic, so he had to give himself insulin shots during the school day.  He wore braces and spoke sometimes with a lisp.

He was bullied with words. 'Hey Fatso,'  'lispy wispy,' 'shot jock,' and...I'll leave it to your imagination.  I wonder if his parents ever told him that old saying...Sticks and stones can break my bones, but WORDS can never hurt me.

Excuse me?  Words can never hurt?  Words can sear like a bad burn; words can cut to the quick like a knife thrust; words can penetrate  the heart like a bullet...and...words can kill.  Words stay with you forever.  Sometimes they can be buried in the subconscious, but they're there, nevertheless.  And the more hurtful those words were, the shorter the time for them to stay buried.  They begin to grow and to fester...along with the hurt...until the wound becomes so infected it has to be cured.  And sometimes, the more vulnerable the person is, sometimes the only cure is death.

The teen who died over the weekend is not the first nor will he be the last to die because of words...words deliberately thrown at him or her to create a lasting hurt.

Recently, I read an interview with an author of a middle grade book...her first. ( No, who she is and the name of the book is not important.)  She said that the main reason this particular book was published was because her editor admired the sarcastic, snarky wit, and it appealed to him.  But then she added that she had not realized the book was sarcastic, that was not the voice she had intended. do you write a story with a sarcastic, snarky voice and not know it?  Sarcasm is not something that everyone can do in their writing.  It's not something that everyone is even comfortable with in talking in conversations.  But she was unaware that the words she was using created a sarcastic voice to the story.

Think about that...she was unaware.  Can that apply to the rest of us in our writing?  Do we get so involved with our story, our plot, our characters, that we are unaware of the voice we are creating?  Are there words, phrases perhaps, that we use so often we neglect to think about their meaning, or how others reading those words could interpret them?  Do we put words into the mouths of our characters whose meaning could be interpreted in ways other than what our characters do?

I'm not saying characters should never be snarky or sarcastic.  I'm not saying that the voice we create should never be either of those.  I AM saying that we should be aware of the words we put into our characters' mouths, of the voice our overall story has, and be aware of the fact that words and intonations can always be interpreted in different ways.  Be AWARE that the voice we intended to create with the words we used is actually the one we created.

Words can kill.  Perhaps that old saying should be reworded to:  Sticks and stones can break my bones, but WORDS can kill me.

I don't know about you, but from now on, I'm going to be very careful about the words I talking, and most of all, in writing.

Until next time,
that's a wrap.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Bully and the Writer

For some time now, I've been thinking about bullying, and wondering if we, as writers, can do something about it.  The statistics on bullying in schools are appalling...more than that, they are frightening because we all know that in some cases, they lead to suicide, attempted suicide, rape, and even attempted murder.  Statistics show that teen suicide is the 3rd leading cause of teen deaths in the US, and the majority of those are due to bullying.

Everyone knows the story of the father of a girl with Cerebral Palsy, who was being bullied on the school bus every single day, and the bus driver did nothing about it.  Finally, the father boarded the bus and screamed at the kids, verbally abused the bus driver, and in return, was arrested.  HE was arrested, but the kids doing the bullying, and the driver who said nothing and did nothing, had no repercussions.  What kind of justice is that?

Then there is the case of Phoebe Prince, the Massachusetes teen who hanged herself in February of this year, because of being bullied and sexually assaulted.  In this case, there are at least 6 teens who have been arrested and charged with bullying, criminal harassment and statutory rape.  Parents all over the state are now calling for the firing of the school administrators who knew this was going on, and did nothing to stop it.  As far as I'm concerned, they are as guilty as the other teens.

The stories and the cases go on and on, each one seemingly worse that the others.  I know what it is like.  I was teased unmercifully in elementary school because I wore glasses, and none of the other kids did.  I was teased because I was from a military family, and had lived in many states and foreign countries, and spoke three languages.  In junior hight ( middle school today) and high school, the teasing became bullying, mostly by girls but sometimes by boys.  I was singing professionally, and sometimes was gone from school on tour, yet I managed to keep a strong A average. When I would return to school, the girls would go from making nasty remarks about my singing and my clothes, to pushing me in the hall ways, to totally ignoring me. If I said anything to a teacher or my parents, it wa always tossed off as the girls being jealous of me.  HAH!

 Boys pretended to like me so I would help them with their studies, especially foreign languages, but would then tell their friends I was not someone to date.  Once I was invited to a school dance, got all ready, but the boy never came to pick me up.  The next day, the girl he actually took and her friends made sure everyone knew I was dumb enough to think I'd really been invited to a dance. Girls would encourage me to join their clubs or "sorority", then when it came time to pledge, would tell me they didn't want "someone like me" around them.   It wasn't the kind of bullying we see today, but it was hurtful and made a lasting impression on me. 

So, what, if anything, can we do as writers?  Does it help to write fictional stories about the bullies and their victims, and then have the bully given his "comeupance" in the end?  Should we write non-fictional articles about the true stories of bullying, and the lasting negative effects on both the bully and his or her victim?

I don't know.  If I had the answer to that question, I could probably make millions of dollars in selling the solution to schools and parents alike.  But something needs to be done, and it needs to be done soon.

I've done some research online, and found that there are a myriad of books already out on bullying...things like what parents should look for in their child's behavior to determine if they are bullying or being bullied; what to do if your child is being bullied, and so on.  But no one seems to write about what to do regarding the school teachers and administrators who often know about the bullying but do nothing about it.  For example, four teens have committed suicide within the last two years at Mentor High School in Mentor,Ohio, all complained to teachers and coaches, who did nothing, and the principal merely chalked the bullying up to "boys being boys."  What kind of stupidity, of sheer crass indifference is that?  Obviously no one at that school has read any of these books, nor, apparently, do they care to.

So what do we do as writers?  We are supposed to have a "great influence" upon society..."we" meaning writers in general.  Are we failing to reach the kids who do the bullying?  Or are we reaching them in our books and articles, but simply not saying what needs to be said...the kinds of things that will change their attitudes?  Or...worse case scenario...does it matter?  Are the kids who bully someone to the extent that he or she takes their life, already beyond the help of anything they could read in a book?  Is this bullying merely a forerunner of worse things to come?

Many times prosecuters will say that criminal behavior begins in the home, and when kids are young.  The behaviors and attitudes that they learn there stay with them for life, and if there is any kind of cruelty or bullying in the home, it will manifest itself in the child in later life.  From having taught Sociology of Criminal Behavior, I know this to be true.  But it is difficult to believe that nothing we can do, say, or write is ever of any help or benefit to a bullying teen.

I don't have the answers.  Do you?  I hope to hear from some of you.

Until next time,
that's a wrap.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Censorship and The Writer

This week ( September 25 - October 1, 2010) is Banned Book Week. Banning books is censorship.  Author Ellen Hopkins was "uninvited" to a teen book festival in a small town in Texas this past summer, because her trilogy of books on drugs was "unacceptable reading" for teens.  Author Sarah Ockler's book, Twenty Boy Summer, has been challenged, not necessarily for content, but because the title sounds "promiscuous," and may be pulled from a high school library.  In Stockton, Missouri, Sherman Alexie's book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was removed from the high schools because of jokes about masturbation and some swear words.  Are you kidding me?  High school boys never swear?  They don't know what masturbation is?  From what planet are the adults who removed this book?  On the other hand, perhaps this book was removed because of its clear and unbiased look at racism, a facet of the American culture that this society would much prefer to ignore.

What is the removal of these books teaching our kids?  Isn't it teaching them that it is perfectly okay to judge something on the basis of appearance rather than on the facts? ( Twenty Boy Summer.)  Isn't it teaching them to learn about drugs and sex and violence either from strangers who may entice them into this culture, or by actually entering it on their own? (Crack.) Isn't it teaching them to be embarrassed about a natural part of growing up, and to ignore things you don't understand and hope they will go away? (Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.)

Is that what you want for your kids or for yourself?  Some narrow minded, usually fanatically inclined, person to tell you and them that they have the right, and your best interests at heart when they say that you must think, talk, act, and believe as they do?  Someone who insists that he or she has the absolute right to make all of your decisions for you in every facet of your life, no matter how personal it might be?  Oh, and if you resist this person, he will simply work harder  to ignite the righteous indigation of people who DO believe as he does, so this small, bigoted group of people can rant and rave, scream, threaten, and carry on until their wishes are carried out, no matter how you feel.

Don't for one minute think that censorship is confined to books alone.  It is not.  Censorship is espoused by religious and political fanatics, by people who want to dictate what movies can be made, what art can be exhibited, what stories can be told, what people can be allowed to live in peace, what values, morals and ethics can be taught to our children, and in fact...what FREEDOMS can be allowed in our society.

Censorship can ( and has ) lead to the outrageously heinous acts of the attempted extermination of an entire society...the American Indians in our Western culture, the Jews in Poland and Eastern Europe in the 1940's...or the enslavement of a culture, such as the blacks kidnapped and brought to the US in the 18th and 19th centures.

Censorship spawns the idea that there is only one right way to do things, and that right way is only what one person or one group of people say it is.  By giving birth to THAT idea, we...or mainly our kids...learn that it's okay to bully someone smaller or weaker or different than you...which in turn leads to the above ideas that it's okay to exterminate or enslave an entire culture.

So what do you do about censorship?  You talk to each other and most of all, you talk to your kids.  When it comes to books, for younger children you can buy or check out at the library only what you want them to read.  But when they are old enough to want to have a say in what they read, then you talk to them.  You tell them what is appropriate for their age and reading/comprehension level, and you guide them in that direction.  When they are old enough to pick out their own reading material, and want to read something you may not approve of, you have a conversation about it...what the book is about, why you're not too pleased with it, bring in the values and morals that you've taught your kids...BUT DON'T REFUSE TO LET THEM READ IT, REGARDLESS OF WHAT IT IS.  Parental censorship is no better than public censorship.  Let them read the book, but with the understanding that you WILL have a conversation about it afterwards.  Have them tell you what they liked and didn't like, what they understood, what they may have been confused about, and what the book meant to them in terms of what is happening in their own lives, both at home, in school and with their friends.

Nothing can take the place of conversation, open, objective, unemotional ( as much as possible), and completely devoid of a moralistic attitude on your part. Remember that children learn from books, even as teens, and the ideas and attitudes they learn do not have to be "wrong" or derogatory or even scary.  Take the negative out of the situation by having a discussion of the book, the characters, the plot, and how the characters acted and reacted within the plot.  Make it a part of real life, if possible, by comparing that book to something that may have happened in your own lives, in those of friends or family, or even something that happened in the media.  Kids learn from all of these incidents, so make them as positive a learning experience as possible.  Don't let fear and uncertainly become the end result of reading a book.

But the same axiom applies to all the other phases of life that the hatemongers of the world subscribe, music, TV, movies, cultural/religious/ethnic diversity, values, ideas/thoughts/ other words, FREEDOM.  Remember that it's not the books or the movies and so on that we need to fear, it is the lunatics, the people who truly believe that they have to right to monitor and/or control everyone else's life, in terms of their right to the freedoms guaranteed us by the US Constitution.  The people who think they have the right to censor and even destroy any one of those freedoms...this element of society is what we have to fear...not the words on a written page.

Until later,
that's a wrap.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The First Amendment and Banned Book Week

I am ready to spit nails.  September 25 to October 1st is Banned Book Week in the US, and we need to do all we can to support this event, and keep censorship out of the United States of America.

Why am I ready to spit nails?  Because I just read a piece of garbage by a man named Wesley Scroggins.  This man, who merely displays his total ignorance, is trying to get books like Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, banned from his school district.  Not only that, but he has blasted Slaughterhouse Five, a classic by Kurt Vonnegut, as well as several other books.  The reason?  Well, he considers rape "pornographic" ( are you kidding me??), and SF apparently had the "f" word on every page, several times.  Guess I read the wrong Slaughterhouse Five.

This man is a fundamentalist Christian in Republic, Missouri, whose own children don't go to public school, from what I've read.  They are home-schooled.  Okay, Mr. Scroggins, if you don't want your kids to read these books, that's your perogative, but don't go putting your misguided values and moralistic views on other parents and children.

I wonder if he has even read Speak ?  It is a very sensitively written book about a high school girl who is raped at a party.  She calls 911, but by the time they police get there, she is afraid to say anything, so all her friends think she  just wanted to sabotage the party.  Now they won't have anything to do with her, and she is still afraid to tell anyone about what happened.  Until, that is, the boy tries again, and then all hell breaks loose.

This is a book about date rape...something that adult women, as well as teen girls, experience all the time.  For Scroggins to vilify the book is for him to denigrate all the women, regardless of age, who have had this happen to them.  Every woman, from 14 to 40 and beyond, who is dating, should read this book, and understand that keeping silent from something this terrible happening to them is the wrong thing to do.  SPEAK up and tell parents, teachers, authorities, AND the world what has been done to you and by whom.   Perhaps if more girls and women spoke up, the male sex would (eventually) learn that we are NOT the weaker sex, and we WILL NOT be treated so inhumanely and with such disrespect.

Scroggins is a man who apparently wants to be an know, the "head in the sand" mindset?  He seems to have a problem with any kind of teaching that doesn't adhere strictly to his own very fundamentalist views...he objects to certain parts of history and science courses which teach views other than those of the most fundamental Christian opinions, AND he even objects to certain parts of the Constitution.  This is a man who actually has some sway in school board matters in Republic, Missouri?  I pity the kids who come out of that school district!

Speaking of the Constitution: The First Amendment says:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Book banning is a direct violation of the First Amendment, besides a slap in the face to all of us.  Would you believe that some of the most famous books in history, as well as some of the most powerful new ones, have been banned from local schools and libraries, or have had some very serious debates going on about the need for banning them?  Try these on for size:
Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Uncle Bobby's Wedding, Catcher In The Rye, Twilight, My Sister's Keeper, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Speak, Slaughterhouse Five, Twenty Boy Summer, and many, many more.

From Uncle Tom's Cabin and on, the religious fanatacism and gross ignorance of only a small group of  people have ignited the flames of censorship.  Tomorrow I am going to post a few of my thoughts on censorship in general.

In the meantime, support your local schools and libraries in any events they may have going on, concerning Banned Books Week.  Keep our freedom and that of our children to read the books we so choose FREE. 

Until later,
that's a wrap.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More About Agents

I guess I have agents on the brain.  I'm trying to work up the courage to start querying them about my first novel, and after attending a conference this past weekend, and listening to Nathan Bransford talk, I know that I've got to quit procrastinating, and JUST. DO. IT.

In his keynote address, Nathan talked a bit about agents.  His emphasis was on finding the agent who is right for you.  That means doing your homework, which is research, research, and more research.  For writers who enjoy research, that's not a big deal, but it is for those who don't.

So, how do you do this research?  The best way is to find their blogs...Google is great for this...and start reading.  Agents are going to tell you lots of things...most have an enormous amount of information on their blogs, so it is up to you to dig it out.

You need to find the agents who best represent the genre and age group that you are the most familiar with and the most comfortable writing about.  After you do that, begin researching the kinds of books they have repped.  Usually these are shown on their blogs or websites.  Then go to Amazon, or even your local library, browse the books and read the reviews.  If the books sound like something you would write about, or what you've written is similar in some way, then this agent might be a good choice for you to query.

It is best to try to find an agent who is affiliated with the Association of Authors' Representatives ( AAR) in order to make sure your agent is legitimate. ( Sorry, but there are scam artists out there in the literary world.)  However...that is not to say that any agent NOT affiliated with AAR is not a good agent !  AAR has requirements for affiliation ( I don't know these), and many very fine agents, especially those who are new, will not have met those requirements yet.  So don't turn down an agent just because he or she is not yet a member of AAR.

Make sure the agent has a good track record, and if they are new or a young agent, that they are at a reputable firm.  Ask them about what fees they charge, because agents are NOT supposed to charge any fees, for reading your work, postage, or anything else.

It isn't necessary but it is desirable to have a blog or a website, as agents busy as they check them out to look for new clients.  Social networking is good, too, especially if you can get in with other writers who may already have agents, and will give you a referral.

When that all-important phone call comes in, don't be so delirious with happiness that you accept immediately!!  First, ask questions.  Your agent won't be upset, he or she will be glad that, again, you've done your homework.  Ask about the genres the agent accepts and make sure your work fits in to what he/she wants and expects.  Ask about fees and expenses on your end, if any.  Remember that there should be none.  Ask how often the agent is in touch with you, and is it by phone or email.  Ask about editing, does she do any, and what does she expect from you in terms of the editing.  Ask about the marketing/selling of your book...what publishers will she be sending the manuscript to, are they traditional print publishers, and will e-books be considered.  Ask what she has in mind for your far does she see you going, what other genres of books will she rep, in case you want to explore something different than what she has accepted.

All of these questions are pertinent to your relationship with your agent, who just might be the most important person in your life...well, excluding spouses, children, parents and siblings, that is.

I hope this has been helpful for those of you in search of, or getting ready to be in search of, that elusive creature called the Literary Agent!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Right Way to Query

I'm back after an extended absence that I really didn't intend to take.  I've been so busy with editing and finishing up an assignment that I just couldn't seem to find the time to post.  Once again, I promise not to let such a long time go by!

This past weekend I went to a writers' conference.  I had hoped to come away with a lot of notes that I could pass along to you, but the workshops were so bad, that wasn't the case.  EXCEPT!  For one.  I had Nathan Bransford for a workshop on queries, and it was not only very informative, it was also fun.  And considering how difficult it is to write a good query, FUN was all important!  So I'm going to tell you about the things he told us.

First, a query doesn't need to be more than three paragraphs:  1) personalization; 2) what the story is about; and 3) closing, with a brief bio and publishing credits if any.

It's very important to personalize your query.  That means you need to do your research in order to learn something about this agent:  what genres do they accept, what are they looking for in that ( those) genre, and also, some little tidbit about the agent personally.  For example, if they have said in a blog that they love Chocolate Pecan Pie or they hate the Lakers, you might mention that.

The second paragraph is about the story, and it should be about three or four sentences.  This should include a) the setting; b) the protagonist's name; c) the antagonist ( which can be a person, emotion, or obstacle); d) complicating incident; e) the protagonist's quest; and f) the protagonist's ultimate goal.  These elements don't necessarily have to be in any particular order, but they should all be in that second paragraph.

Since Nathan posted this query on his blogspot, and then gave it to us in a handout, I'm going to post it here so you can see what he means by the five elements above.  The example is from ROCK PAPER TIGER.

The Beijing '08 Olympics are over, the war in Iraq is lost, and former National Guard medic Ellie McEnroe (protagonist) is stuck in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers (setting). When a chance encounter with a Chinese Muslim dissident ( complicating incident) drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust ( quest) among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side (antagonists)--in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

The third paragraph is the closing, which includes the important details of the novel: Title, word count, genre, and brief author bio and credits.

Finally, the thank you and your name.  The query should run between 250 and 350 words.  Match the tone of your query to the tone of your book, if possible...if your book is humorous, so should your query be; if the book is serious, your query should be serious, also.  At all times, be professional, but personalize!

I hope this has helped those of you who, like me, would rather write 10 novels than one query!  Nathan's talk demystified the process, and made writing a query seem much simpler than it had been in the past. 

For those of you who would like to read his blog, which is fantastic, here is the link again:

Until next time,
that's a wrap.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Kindle, E-Books, and Traditional Publishing

My husband bought me a Kindle for my birthday ( which hasn't happened quite yet), and neither has the Kindle :)  By that, I mean it hasn't arrived.  He bought one, then discovered the next day that they were bringing out a brand new model, same price, on August 27th.  So he cancelled the first one and ordered the new one...which still hasn't arrived.

This whole rigamarole got me to thinking:  what is the Kindle and others like it going to do to traditional print books?  Is it going to have any effect on them?  My answer is Yes.  But I think the UNanswerable question is, what kind of effect and how much of one.  ( Okay, okay, I know that's two questions! )

In searching through the Kindle bookstore on Amazon, I found many of the classics that could be electronically transmitted to your Kindle.  Classics like Tom Sawyer, Little Women, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and many many others.  Classics which have become e-books;  classics that you no longer have to hold in your hand, smell the print, touch the covers.  I don't know, but for me,  there are some books that should never see the light of day as e-books, and classics number highly among those.  And...many of those classics are free.

Now which would you rather do...go to an antique books store, and rummage around all those wonderful old books until you find just the right one...maybe even with a LEATHER cover...OR...pick up an electronic gadget and read it there?  What about the smell of old books?  Isn't there something to be said for the smell of old books when you go into that antique store?  You know, to me, those smells conjure up all kinds of images of days past...young women in hoop skirts with long curls swirling over their shoulders while they sit in their parlors reading by gas lamps;  a young man in a 3 piece suit bending over a young woman's slim hand, while holding a beautifully wrapped book behind his back to surprise her much more dignity and graciousness in those days than in our world today.  And it all begins with books. Printed books.  Sigh.  But that was yesteryear.

Enough reminiscing.  Back to the present and future.  So...will e-books hurt the traditional publishing?  Some editors and publishers say yes, eventually, some say no, not at all.  I had a conversation with a friend recently who is also a writer.  She seems to think that having a manuscript turned into an e-book, rather than going the traditional publishing way, is similar to, but better than, self-publishing.  Our discussion centered around someone we both know who is having her first manuscript published as an e-book.  Yet this person, whom we both think very highly of, is just not ready to have a book published.  In any form.  It hasn't been critiqued, there are a few SPAG errors still in it, but the main problem is the plot and characterizations.  But the editor seems to think it's fine, so it will be published in e-book form.

I think this will diminish her as a writer if she decides to go the traditional route with another book.  She will add the e-book to her writing credits, and if the editor or assistant editor or first reader decides to check it out...hmm...that will not be a good thing.  So another question becomes:  will publishing as an e-book harm credibility if the author decides to go the traditional way?  Especially if the author is newly published?

Another way to look at e-books is all of the multiple-published authors ( in the adult field) whose books are now being published as e-books: authors like James Patterson, Lisa Jackson, John Grisham.  These are among my favorites, and all have multiple books published by traditional publishers.  I'm sure you'll find your favorite authors published electronically, also.

But the difference is:  these authors have been published in print for years and years.  Their books are still being put on book shelves as print books, so now being published as e-books is just another venue for them.  I doubt that any will forego print for electronic.

Then there are first-time authors like my friend and me.  I don't think I would consider publishing first as an fact, I'm sure I wouldn't.  But IF I did, would that lessen my credibility for print publishing?  I don't know.  Some people who supposedly know say that self-publishing lessens credibility, but we all know famous authors who self-published their first book, and look where they are today.

I guess this is one of those things where the best answer is:  wait and see.  E-books are here to stay, there's no doubt about that.  I think one thing we need to seriously consider, as children's and YA writers, is another question:  how many kids, even teens or at least, young teens, are going to have Kindles or its equivilent?  If you had an 8 year old, or 10, 12 or even 15 year old, would you trust them with an expensive electronic devise such as a Kindle?  Many parents would not, and probably rightly so.  Kids of any age just don't take care of their expensive "toys" the way we'd like them to, so why pay $200 - $500 for a Kindle which might not last them more than a month or two?  And if they don't have Kindles...they don't have e-books, do they? !

So if you're like me, and you are writing for kids of any age, I would suggest taking the traditional route to matter how long it takes or how frustrating it becomes.

Of course, there's always that chance that by the time we get published in print, Kindles will be down to $20 and all e-books are $4.99 !  Oh well...nobody said being a writer was a bed of roses.

Until next time, that's a wrap.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Editing and Revision, Part 2

Back to the fun process of editing!  Did you know that if you use Microsoft Word, you can utilize the "find" function to find all the everyday words you've used, and probably shouldn't have?  I'm going to list a few of those words, so you'll see what I mean:

And, but, that, just, that ( when you mean who ), few, many, nearly, anyway, only, then, felt or feel, really, almost, because, begin or began, very.  To name a few.

Now these are perfectly good words, words we use in both speaking and writing all the time.  But ( one of those we shouldn't use much) sometimes we overuse them in writing when we don't have to.  Take the word "that."  How many times do you use "that" in a sentence like this:  I thought that he was coming, too. Or here is one I took right out of our local paper:  The design that he is going to create was inspired by the Salinas River.

Now try reading it this way:  I thought he was coming, too.  And:  The design he is going to create was inspired by the Salinas River.   Has the meaning of either sentence changed because I took out  "that"?  No, it hasn't.  However, each sentence reads more smoothly,'re eliminating two words in your word count.  So here is one word in particular that you can usually get rid of without changing the meaning of your sentences or paragraphs, and all it does is to lower your word count.  On the other hand...if you are using that word excessively, as well as some of the others listed, to boost your word count, then you have a problem!

All of the words listed above are valid words, and there are times when it is necessary for the flow of your paragraph or dialogue for you to use them.  But a good rule is to go through your manuscript sentence by sentence and see if you can eliminate them...especially "that!"

Another type of word to avoid whenever possible are the adverbs...all "ly" tell something instead of showing it.  For example:  She walked angrily into her bedroom and shut the door.  This sentence is telling the reader that the character is angry.  What about this sentence:  She stomped into her bedroom and slammed the door so hard all her pictures rattled and swayed on their hangers.  A longer sentence, true, but doesn't that give the reader a clearer picture of how she was feeling?  Doesn't it show the reader her feelings rather then telling how she is feeling?  Showing rather than telling usually does add words, but it is a much more active way of drawing the reader into the story, rather than just telling the reader everything.

Other than specific words, a couple of other important points to conside when reviding and editing are chapter openings and endings, and the story ending.
Chapter Openings and Endings:

Be sure that all of your chapters open and close differently.  Don't have them all open at the same time of day or evening, or with dialogue, or with exposition or backstory.  Vary each one, so the reader doesn't know what to expect each time she begins a new chapter.

The same with your chapter endings.  Do they end with a cliff-hanger?  With some kind of unresolved tension or conflict?  Do they end in such a was as to keep your reader turning the pages?  Every chapter can't always end in conflict or tension, we all know that.  But you should read through each chapter carefully, and make sure that you have at least left the reader wondering what might happen on the next page.  Sometimes that means splitting a chapter in a way that you hadn't intended, but if it adds to the overall suspense in terms of emotional tension, a dramatic scene, or perhaps a physical conflict or confrontation left unsolved until the next chapter, then it is the right thing to do.

Story Ending:

The final ending is very important.  Make sure that you haven't left any loose ends hanging.  For example:  Taylor (MC) and Allyson ( secondary MC) had a big fight in Chapter 12 over a boy that both of them liked.  Some harsh words were exchanged that Taylor finds hard to forgive.  In Chapter 13, the two girls make up.  Chapter 15 is the end of the novel...have those harsh words that Taylor couldn't forgive in Chapter 12 been taken care of?  Did the girls make up, but no mention of those words was made?  Would that leave Taylor still unforgiving towards Allyson as far as what she said?  Don't leave loose ends unresolved,  however seemingly minor.  Kids will be sure to pick up on that one point, and ask, well, what happened about this  Make sure as you go back through all your chapters during your edit, that everything said and done has some kind of conclusion.

That's not to say that every novel has to have a happy ending.  They don't, but the ending at least has to satisfy kids that everything that should have happened, did, in one way or another.  Sometimes, if a series is going to occur, you may want to leave one minor little detail...umm, not hanging, exactly, but not resolved completely,  with the idea that maybe someday something else is going to happen in another book.

Editing and revision is a long, drawn out process, but a very necessary one.  The bright side of that process is that often, we find ways to make each page, each chapter more interesting and more exciting to the reader.  The end result is almost always a better novel.  Just remember, perfection is beyond us mere mortals, so don't strive for that.  Strive to produce a story that agents and editors are going to be happy with, and kids are going to fall in love with!

Until next time, that's a wrap.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Process of Editing and Revision

If you're like most writers I know, including myself, the editing and revison process can be a nightmare.  I think we all hate it, yet we know that it has to be done.  We can't submit a manuscript without doing a mountainous amount of editing and revising.  If we did, that would be like going bowling butt naked!  Even if your team consisted of only women, it's still not the best way to present position, is it?

I'm now editing and revising AJ's story for the last time.  I mean it.  The absolutely, positively, definitely LAST least, until an agent or editor asks for something else.

Right now, AJ is not cooperating at all.  She's the little gal who woke me up in the middle of the night, demanding to have her story told.  Which I have done...over...and over...and over...and over.  Each time she has more or less agreed with me, but now she is a sulky little witch, pouting and telling me I am NOT getting it right.  She has become demanding and obnoxious.  I am sure if she could come out of the computer, she'd be standing over me with eyes glaring and fists on her hips.  Neverthe less...

We all do revisions differently.  Some people are very organized, have a system that they follow, and others, like me, start with the first sentence and go on from there.  But there are a few things I believe we all need to be aware of as we go along.  These are:

First Five Pages:  How do we get started?  Do we begin with dialogue, backstory ( always a bugaboo), narration?  However we begin, will those first few paragraphs grab the reader's attention, and keep them reading through the next four pages?  Do we start with some kind of action, or does it take more than five pages to really get into the meat of the story?  ( If the answer is yes, that's bad news.)

The Main Character:  Will the reader know what the MC is all about within those first five pages?  Will the MC display enough of his/her characteristics to cause the reader to bond with her?  Is she someone who changes and grows in some way be the end of the story?  What about her will make the reader want her to succeed:  is she a heroine in some way;  someone who is the underdog but overcomes it; someone who is funny and sarcastic;  someone who knows what she wants and how to get it, and lets nothing stand in her way?  In other words, do YOU know this character well enough for her to know herself, AND the reader to fall in love with her?  or even, Love to Hate her?

Conflict:  Is there more than one conflict?  Is the MC engaging in this conflict emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually, or any combination of those?  Is the conflict believable for the MC's age?  Is there more than one conflict, and if so, are you weaving them together concisely and believably, or do you have a loose end somewhere?  Is the conflict one that your reader can relate to, in terms of both age and experience?

Voice and POV:  Both are difficult, but I think voice is probably the hardest for all of us.  First, we have our own voices, the way we write, the style we use.  Then we have to consider the voice of each of our characters.  We can't have a 13 year old girl sounding like a 6 year old child, or a 30 year old woman.  Not only do we have to have a realistic voice for our MC, but the voices for each of the characters must be different, too.  If the MC is a 13 year old girl, she shouldn't sound like her 16 year old brother.  If we have 10 year old twins, they can't sound like their sister, brother, or mother.  ( In case you're wondering, AJ is the 13 year old, with a 16 year old brother and 10 year old twin sisters.)

So finding the right voice, in terms of vocabulary, how she or he speak, the phrases and words they use...all the elements that go into having a distinct voice for each character...are all very important.  They are definitely things to edit closely.

POV is another sticky wicket.  I love to write in 1st person past tense, but this is not the easiest thing to do, and I sometimes slip up.  For one thing, it's hard to carry 1st person through a whole novel, because nothing can happen in the novel that your MC is not privy to.  She has to be with the other characters in every scene, or she has to be in some place where she can see and hear but not be seen or heard.  None of the other characters can think about something, because she would not be able to know their thoughts.  They can't have "looks" come over their faces, or "feel" something, because the MC can't do that for them.

Most writers use 3rd person past tense, and write from the MC's POV.  But even that can cause problems, if you're not careful. 

We'll talk more about some of the other pitfalls of editing next time.  In the meantime, when you begin your edit, pay close attention to the things we've talked about here. 

Until next time, that's a wrap.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Good Intentions

Good intentions gone awry!  I had every intention of posting here at least twice a week, after my last post which was in July.  And as you can see, that was almost a month ago.

Worst part is, I have no excuses.  Except:  let's see, I was busy working on getting my assignment finished;  I had 6 chapters to do an almost complete rewrite on;  I had three query letters I've been working on ( one is harder to write than an entire novel, let alone three different ones);  I had a three-day conference to attend ( okay, okay, so it was online, I still had to be there, didn't I?); and then, well, there's just life in general getting in the way.

Besides all that, I'm still mulling over what one of my favorite agents said ( no, she's not my agent, but she's at the top of my list) about blogging in general.  She said that there is really no good reason for an unpublished writer to have a blog or a website.  According to her, the main purpose for either is to promote our books, and if we don't have one published yet, we don't really need to take time away from writing to work on a blog or website.  Although, she did say that if blogging was just something you really loved, you should stay with it...but don't allow it to take away from your real writing time.

I agree with her a lot, but not entirely.  However, this is just one of those times when one reputable agent says one thing, and another one says the opposite.  I've also read agents say how important it is for a beginning writer to have a presence or a platform for themselves on the Internet.

I'm still not sure what a platform is all about.  But a presence?  I can go along with that.  Then, of course, comes another question and differences of opinion.  The question is:  who are you writing your blog for? Kids? Teens? Teachers/librarians?  Other writers?  Or even, none of the above?  For me, the answer would be, other writers, especially those just beginning.  I try very hard to post some good information and/or tips about writing that I have learned through courses, books, conferences, and other experienced writers.

Kids don't read blogs.  Teens don't either, unless they are by some favorite/fabulous author like Stephanie Meyer or JK Rowling.  And I'm not sure what teachers and/or librarians would be looking for in a blog, so I concentrate on putting out something that will ( hopefully) benefit less experienced writers.

The agents' grapevine also says it is a good thing to talk about your writing: the ups and downs ( not necessarily rejections), how your ideas come to you, how you go about putting those ideas into action, and even posting exerpts occasionally from some of your work.

So stay tuned.  This week I am for sure/absolutely/positively going to have some new stuff on my blog...and it may even surprise you!

Until then, that's a wrap.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Musings

Hello again, I'm back!  I've been so involved in getting my middle six chapters finished for my historical novel, that I'm near hysterical.  Anyway, I don't know where the time has gone, but I guess I was having too much fun to remember about my blog...NOT.

I've got so much on my mind these days that i seem to be turning in circles without finding an exit.  I'm doing research on both agents and editors, but I think I am going to try to find representation rather than going straight to a publishing house.  You know what that means?  Mostly it means my head is spinning, to be cliche-ish. 

For one thing, I have yet to figure out what "juvenile" means in terms of genre for agents.  I have spent 4 hours going through the 2011 edition of Guide to Literary Agents, and all it has gotten me is confusion.  Some agents specify that they represent MG and/or YA books.  Some say children's books but do not specify what age limit, other than perhaps saying they don't want Picture Books.  And then...we have those who ONLY specify "juvenile."  That's a new one for me.  If you know what "juvenile" means in terms of...PBs, early reader,
chapter books, MG or YA, would you please post a comment and let me know?

Then there is my first novel that I am once again...and hopefully for the very last time...editing.  I had a professional critique of my first three chapters, which I was very glad to receive.  The lady who did it was complimentary, but also very clear in what she thought should be changed, eliminated, or reworded entirely.  A lot of work to be done on those first chapters, but now I've begun going through every page of the remaining 15 chapters to apply the suggestions and comments she made to everywhere that it would be pertinent.  It's a lot of work, and I'm not even half way through the 18 chapters, but in the long run, I feel it will make the manuscript better.

Speaking of that did you come by the ideas for the stories or novels you write or have written?  My main character, AJ, woke me up in the middle of the night.  Now my husband...non-writer that he is...insists I merely dreamed the whold thing.  But...even he cannot explain the hand-written, only partially legible notes that I found on my desk the following moring.  And considering my handwriting these days, after so many years on the computer, those notes could only have been written when I was only half awake!

So...AJ wakes me up and says I need to write her story about cheerleading.  Excuse me?  Cheerleading?  What I know about that subject you could write on the head of a pin.  But she was SO insistent.  The next morning, I went to the library and checked out 7 books on cheerleading, 6 were fiction and 1 was NF.  I spent days and weeks reading and doing research on the Internet about cheerleading.  When I told my daughter, she thought I'd really lost it.  She hadn't even wanted to be a cheerer ( is that a word? ) when she was in school, and thought the girls who were were all a bunch of snobs.

Nevertheless, after 2 weeks of straight research, I began the novel,  Almost immediately, I decided I needed help, so I signed up for the ICL novel course.  Over the next 16 months, I wrote, edited, revised, wrote, edited,  revised, wrote...well, you know.  As it turns out, AJ is a 13 year old girl who has a lot more going for her than she realizes.  She becomes a cheerleader, although not the Senior Captain that she expected to be.  And the reason for that comes in the form of the new girl in town, Celine, who for some strange reason is out to destroy all of AJ's friendships and ruin her chances to even be on the cheerleading squad.  The story evolved into much more than a "cheerleading saga."  Being a horse person, I could hardly be expected to write a novel without horses in it, so AJ lives in a western Colorado town, and has a championship mare.  She fights ( literally) with Celine, learns that there is a mysterious connection between Celine ( who is not who or what she claims to be) and AJ's father,  faces the death of one of her BFFs, learns that she will be getting a stepmother soon who has been in her father's life for much longer than she should have been, and...

Hopefully, before too much longer, you all will be able to read the entire novel by buying it from Amazon or your local bookstore!

And then, there's my hysterical...umm, I mean... historical...novel...but thats a story for another day.

Until next time, that's a wrap.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Books, Books, and More Books

How many "how to write" books do you have?  Writing for children, writing for adults, just writing in general?

The first writing books I had were sent to me by my daughter, with a note that basically said, Get off your butt and start writing!  And those 5 books were actually what started me writing with the intention ( and hope) of someday being published.

The best of those books were Crafting Stories for Children, by Nancy Lamb, and The Children's Writer's Word Book, by Alijandra Mogilner.  I've kinda gotten beyond the Writer's Word Book, but I still refer to Nancy Lamb's book.

Then there is Writing it Right by Sandy Asher, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King;  Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton; Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass; The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman; Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress; and last but certainly not least, Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers.

These all grace my bookshelves, as well as the requisite 2010 editions of Writer's Guide to 2010, The Children's Writers and Illustrators Market, Book Markets for Children's Writers, Magazine Markets for Children's Writers, The Children's Writers' Guide ( 2009 edition), and just received, the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents.  Whew!

Have I read all of these books, cover to cover?  No, of course not.  I probably should, but instead, I pick and choose the chapters that seem to be the most pertinent to my current WIP.

Now, all of these books are wonderful.  Each offers something the others don't have.  I think they should all be on every children' writer's desk or bookshelf.  But!  Do you realize how confused you can get by reading all these books?  Each offers a different perspective to writing.  It may differ only slightly from one or more of the others, but it is just enough to cause you ( me, anyway) to say HUH?  But I just read something the opposite of this in Writing it Right !

One might say that exposition is necessary, another might say you should have very little.  One might explain that backstory should be brought in early on in the story, another will say backstory should be dropped by bits and pieces throughout the story.  One will say using adverbs is a BIG No No, another will say adverbs spice up the story if used judiciously.  And on and on.

What to believe?  How to write? Sometimes the books are more confusing than they are helpful!  I'm in my third course with ICL, and one instructor has said my novel should begin with action, another has said no, let's establish the relationships first.  Aaghh!

I suppose that all this confusion serves a purpose, however.  First, if we follow all of these books, we will be doing a mountainous amount of writing and no story will be like another LOL  Second, it does give us experience when we get to the point in writing that I'm in at the moment...looking for an agent.  Because the truth of the matter is:  there are no two agents in this entire universe who want exactly the same thing in a query letter ! !

Consequently, if you have experience in writing in different modes ( not genres, necessarily), you will have experience in writing a mulitude of query letters...and not any one will be anything like another.

All joking aside...umm, I wasn't entirely joking...the above mentioned books are a tremendous asset to any writer, and I seriously recommend them.

Until later, that's a wrap.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Three Paragraph Rule

Have you heard of the "3 paragraph" rule for queries?  You know, where you're supposed to tell everything that's important about your manuscript and you in just 3 paragraphs?  That's a laugh, isn't it !

I'm going to talk about what I've been taught about this rule.  You might find it handy, or you might not.  Anyway, supposedly the first paragraph is actually no more than a one or two sentence introduction.  This is to try to make the reason why you're querying this particular agent a personal one, i.e. to let him know that you've done your homework and know something about him.  For example, if you can start this first paragraph off by saying...I am seeking your representation because you represented TITLE OF BOOK by AUTHOR'S NAME, and I think my manuscript is similar.  However, before you say this, you need to make sure you've read this book and your book actually IS similar.  Nothing will put an agent off more than to ask for your manuscript based on this kind of statement in your query, and then find that your story doesn't even faintly resemble the one you mentioned.

The second paragraph should be a short and concise description of your plot/storyline.  By short I mean only a few sentences, maybe 4 or 5.  You don't want to try to work in subplots or characters' names.  Although, not mentioning even the MC's name seems to be something that agents disagree on, because I've seen some agents who want to know right away who they will be reading about.  So there seems to be some disagreement on that.  What you do need is tight and concise writing:  instead of "My novel is about a tragedy that happened at a high school," you should say "My novel is about the 12 students who were shot at XXX high school."  The second thing you need is the location of your story.  Not "It takes place in a large metropolitan city," but "It takes place in Chicago, Illinois."  And the third thing is the time period.

If you are abiding by the "write tight and specific" rule, then you want your time period to be tight and specific too.  Instead of saying "My novel takes place over a short span of time" you can say "My novel takes place during the month of August," or "over 10 days in December."  This gives the agent some idea of the structure and time line of your work, and the knowledge that you've done your homework and the story isn't just something you've thrown together.

The third paragraph, which should be the final one in your query, is your biography.  And this is also the one which probably causes the writer the most difficulty.  People are always asking What should I put in my bio? How much is too much or not enough?  Is it long enough, or short enough?  Again, this paragraph needs to be short.

You don't need to, and probably shouldn't, mention "minor' credits, like being published in a local newspaper or magazine...anything that seems "amateurish" should be left out, even if you were delighted that you were published in something local.  Anything major, like a children's national magazine, is a great publishing credit.  Any major award, like the Newbury Honor Award, or the William C. Morris Debut Award, should of course be listed.  Anything that tells the agent what accomplishments you already have behind you needs to be included.  Any extra schooling related specifically to writing, such as an MFA or writing education courses, such as the Institute of Children's Literature, is a bonus.

Another couple of things not to do: Don't get personal, about how you started writing in middle school; what your hobbies are, how you write the office newsletter and everyone thinks you're great, and so on. Don't include information that simply is not relevant to your writing, just "talking to be talking."  Don't embellish your bios by talking about how everyone thinks your writing is great, your daughter's 5th grade class loved your last story, and so on.  Be specific, concise and relevant in all that you say.

That's a wrap. Let me know what you think.