"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Class of 2K8

Have I mentioned the Class of 2K8 yet? Well, we've formed and are ready to go.

What is it, you might ask? It's a group of first time novelists with their first YA/MG books coming out in 2008 and is the next class after 2K7 started by Greg Fishbone last year.
We plan to do great things and have spent the last couple months brainstorming.

And let me tell you something else. There are going to be a ton of great books released next year. I love the variety we have. Some serious. Some funny. Some for older YA. Some for younger MG. Start planning your reading list now.

Have you ever done any group marketing, and if so, how has it worked?

Also, which conferences/expos/events do think are the most important to attend?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Tortoise Method (and goals update)

In some things in life, I act like the tortoise. And in some, I act like the hare.
Guess what.
In the tasks where I am the tortoise, my success rate is much higher.

Like writing. I write every night. Not a lot, but every night.
Copying of VHS to DVD. Two tapes a day. Every day. And soon all were done.

So this brings me back to a meme we did a while back. The 4x4 (or something like that - I can't find the link).
It went like this - Give four things you accomplished in the last four years and four things you will accomplish in the next four years.
One of my four years goals was to start taking Kung Fu. And I had in my mind that maybe I could start over my sabbatical (in September) because I'd be able to go every day.
Well this weekend, the obvious hit me in the face. Why wait until September? Why not start on Monday? It would be better to take the tortoise approach - after all, I plan on doing this for a long time. Start now. Go two or three times a week. Heck, by September, I'll have gone thirty times.

So I took my tortoise approach and started yesterday morning.

How have you been doing on your goals? Can you apply the tortoise approach to any?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Writing Tip of the Week - Make Life Difficult

I've read this and am putting it into complete practice in my new WIP.
Never give your characters anything easily. Make them struggle for everything they need.
Why? To create conflict. Life needs to be difficult for them and they need to grow and overcome the difficulties. Otherwise, they'll be boring to read about.
I guess this is kind of the reason the only news you see on TV is bad news (generalization here) Sure, we all love the feel good story about the little girl who wanders for three days in the woods and then turns up healthy and happy. But what makes this story interesting? That she wandered alone - facing all kinds of danger - is what makes it a story. The fact that she came back safe and OK means we'll talk about it for a couple days. Sad, but if she'd ended up missing forever, it would leave way more of an impact (but that's not the point here).

Thanks to a critique group member, I've added a new *TIP* on the white board in my office.
Conflict on every page.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

SFF Inspirational Photo of the Week

Did anyone else watch the original Journey to the Center of the Earth? It's in my top 5 favorite movies. Possibly even number one.
Today's journey took us to Inner Space Caverns here in Austin, TX, where we came upon this room.

If anyone doesn't know the story of the caverns, when they were testing the land back in 1963 to build the interstate (IH35), they drilled core samples to see if the land could withstand the highway. They kept coming up hollow, and so they drilled a 24 inch hole and lowered a construction worker into a pile of bat guano (pretrified of course). But they also found these amazing caverns.

The best part of the tour is when they turn out the lights. Total and complete darkness. You can't see anything. Nothing. Not even an outline.

We had fun telling the kids about the monster that lives in the caverns. The monster never came out, but I swear I saw beady eyes peering out at me.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What's your favorite post?

HipWriterMama tagged me to republish a favorite post from the past. I looked back through and settled on one with a little humor. If you want to play, visit HipWriterMama to link yours over there. Then click on all the others for some great reading time.


Lord of the Flies (October 12, 2006)

So here's my funny story for the day. My son came home from school (kindergarten) the other day, and somehow, right before bed, he starts telling us how out on the playground at recess, between 10 and 13 other boys (not his friends) start pushing him. He says one boy was holding him so tight he couldn't move and the others were shoving him. And he hit his head on a bench and got a big bump. Of course, in my mind, I've pictured the worst. Images of Lord of the Flies come to mind. With my sweet little innocent boy at the center of the torment! Does bullying really start this early? Kindergarten? Am I just so naive that I didn't realize this.
So I email the teacher to ask her about it. We exchange a couple emails and she does a little more digging, bringing in a couple of the perpetrators. And so, pretty soon, a much more realistic story comes out. Apparantly, a girl was trying to kiss my son, and the other boys were trying to 'protect' him and keep him from getting kissed. They were holding him and surrounding him. I can see the connection here, and even see how this could get misconstrued in a 5-year-old mind. And when I asked my son about it (including the kissing) he got pretty embarrassed and also seemed to agree with the story. So not quite Lord of the Flies.
Of course, this did lead us to a discussion about what to do if someone is pushing you around. We told him to warn them once - maybe twice - and then shove them right back. He might get in trouble with the principal this way, but not with us.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Plots and Other Predictable Things

We finished up watching The Mummy Returns last night. And before I go any further, let me preface that I love this movie. I love this kind of movie.
But throughout, my son would ask questions.
A new character came onto the scene. He filled the "comedy relief" role.
My son asked, "Is he going to die?"
"No," I said.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because the comedy relief character never dies." (OK, maybe rarely he does, but then he's nto funny anymore.)

Then the (minor but ferocious) bad guy starting fighting the good guy.
"Mommy, is that guy going to die?" he asked.
"Yep," I said.
Not a second later he got sliced open by the good guy.

Then the mom got killed.
"Mommy, is she really dead?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "But she'll come back to life."
Five minutes later they used The Book of the Dead to bring her back to life.

How do I know these things? Because I've seen them over and over again. And I don't mind that they are predictable. It gives me a warm, comfortable place to sit back and relax.
It's like the Hero's Journey. There are roles which need to be filled. There is a basic plot structure to follow. And it works.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A perfect night of book research

Hubby had a cub scout planning meeting, so the two kids and I planned our night.
First we made popcorn. The real kind with the swirling dome popper. Not the microwave (easy-but-not-as-good) variety.
Juice for the kids. Diet Coke for me.
Then we crowded onto one Lazy Boy chair along with the dog, popcorn bowls in lap, juice cups within reach, and flipped on "The Mummy Returns."

My favorite part is watching the kids watch it.
My (6 year old) son says, "Oh, the scarab beetles eating that man! That's my favorite part."
My (2-1/2 year old) daughter pipes up ten seconds later. "I love the scarab beetles. That's my best part." (She wants to be just like her brother).

Other favorite quotes:
"Mommy, where's Imhotep. He's the monster." - My 2-1/2 year old daughter.
"Mommy, is Akhenaton in this one?" - My 6 year old son.

I told him that by knowing who Akhenaton is, he already knows more than most college graduates.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Interested in writing about an adoption experience?

If so, check this out.

What I love about museums

A recent post I read asked what people liked about libraries. It got me thinking, and then some book related research brought to mind this question.
What do you like about museums?

Here's what I like:

And this:

It's the secret, hidden places that are off the beaten path.
I think my favorite museum is the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. OK, growing up ten mintues away from the Smithsonian may have spoiled me for life on museums, though I have to say the year I lived in Chicago provided some excellent contenders. The Art Institute. The Museum of Science and Industry. The Field Museum. I think it was the Field Museum that had an entire Egyptian tomb on the ground level. Way cool. And the coal mine exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.

What's your favorite and why?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Exercise for the Week - Make a difference

Here's the exercise for this hot/blistery week (at least here in Texas it's hot and blistery).

More and more, I realize how important it is to touch people's lives in a positive way.
We may leave a closet of treasures and a pile of photos once we're gone, but something better we can leave is a positive impact.

Think of someone. You don't have to love the person. Heck, you don't even have to know the person.
Now think of a way you can touch that person's life in a positive way.
Now do it.

** Small actions can have large consequences. Make all your small actions good ones. **

Research for my WIP

I've been throwing myself into my new WIP - both in outlining/writing it and in researching it.
I've mentioned it has some Egyptian elements. Here are some of the fun ways I am researching it:

1) Read Don't know much about Mythology. Great, great, great book.
2) Watched Mummies IMAX movie with my son.
3) Placed large scarab beetle on my working area
4) Going to see King Tut exhibit in August in Philadelphia
5) Going to see Egypt Treasures exhibit in September in Houston
6) Order movie three pack - The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, and The Scorpian King

7) Ordered original The Mummy five pack of movies
8) Ordered first remake of The Mummy movie
9) Bought myself a Lapis necklace.
10) Bought pretty Book of the Dead from Barnes and Noble

11) Had my mom ship me every book on pyramids she owns
12) Plan to go up Washington Monument in August
13) Watched Egypt on the Potomac DVD

OK, I wish I could say I was visiting Egypt also, but this will have to wait.
The real question is how much is necessary for book research, and how many things are just because I want to?

What ways do you research for your writing?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Critique Group

I've joined an online critique group. In the past, I've played around with this idea, so given a chance, I leaped. And so far, the results have way surpassed my expectations.

1) I never have to leave my house. No leaving my kids at bedtime to meet at the bookstore.
2) No worrying about running over, or not having enough time spent on my work.
3) We have ten members, all writing MG or YA novels. The critiques I've been reading on not only my work, but on every one's work are amazing. Everyone views things just a bit differently, and provides feedback as such.
4) With ten members, I'm learning how to be a better editor. This is one of my writing goals. Reading books on craft is great, but sometimes it takes someone pointing out a problem for me to say, "Duh! Why didn't I see that?"
5) Being online, the rules are set, and it's hard to stray. Two people submit each week. Critiques for the two submissions are due at the end of the week. I work well with structured systems like this.
6) I get to read 9 other books! And I'm finding myself looking forward to the next submission of each. This is great because many are not in genres I would normally choose.

The online thing may not work for some, but I think in some way, it provides for more honest critiquing. Accepting comments on your work can be hard sometimes. And sometimes an initial reaction is to defend every point made. What I'm working on it to digest (not defend) every bit. I don't have to agree with everything, but it is my responsibility to myself to look at every comment. Otherwise I'm wasting my time and every else's too. And with this methodology, what I've found is that I have a lot to learn.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Is this awesome or what?

Did you see this amazing book cover for The Titan's Curse in South Korea? It makes me wish I knew Korean.

Word Count

Do you ever get caught up in the whole word count thing? Like you know a middle grade book should be 30K-50K words or something like that? So you start writing and the whole time you have this word count in your mind. And you keep track of where you are, and have no idea how you'll come up enough words? And then you're pretty sure you'll have to publish it as a novella or short story?
Or am I the only one?

P.S. Don't let the post fool you. My first draft of my WIP is going great. I just have these thoughts from time to time.

So how did he make it up here anyway

Walking from my desk this morning at work to get some coffee, I came across this little guy. And when I say little, I really mean about 2 inches long.

And sometimes I'm such a girl. I ran fast, sure he'd decide to fly through the air and jump into my hair. But first I took the picture. (He looks small because I didn't want to get close.)

I get in early, and thankfully, so do a few guys also. This is one thing about being a girl. If there is a guy around, it's his responsibility to kill any bugs which may creep around.

After gawking at it's size, one guy took off his shoe and that was the end of Mr. Roach.

We then theorized how he got up to the fourth floor in the first place. The elevator? In someone's lunch bag?

The funny thing about Texas is that you don't have to live in the ghetto to have roaches in your house. They are everywhere, and since I've accepted this fact, I have my wonderful pest control guy come out regularly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Writing Tip of the Week - Scene

I set a goal this year to read something like ten books on writing craft. So far, I've gotten through about six.
And now, with starting a new project, I actually can put many things I've learned into play at the start of a new book. So useful.
One thing I've been focusing on in this first draft, and will pick up more of during revisions, is scene. I read in one of the books that you should never just have two heads talking.

Talking + no action = bored reader.

So if your characters need to talk, give them something else to do also. Give some background drama. Have them talking in a car while going through the car wash. Have then talking in a restaurant with a band in the background. Have them involved in a high speed car chase. Maybe they can be mountain climbing.

For me, my characters were talking in an apartment. I introduced some snakes. This up'ed the scene a notch.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My Catalogue (and other things kids say)

My son was excited a few weeks ago when I showed him the picture of his creation on the computer. I told him it was my blog and that it was the photo or inspiration for the week.

He was terribly proud, and when I pulled out the creature parts yesterday for him and my daughter to play with, he went straight to work.

I give you Cheetah-Saurus. When my daughter threatened to destroy said genetically-engineered creature, my son ran from the room carrying it screaming, "No, that's for Mommy's catalogue."

Blog. Catalogue. I see the connection.

And because he then went to work on another creature, here is Headless-saurus.

Kids say the greatest things. My daughter is now at the age of "playing" with words. This is when I should write down every word she comes up with for future use in a book.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Monthly SCBWI Meeting - Improv

I actually got to attend our monthly SCBWI meeting here in Austin. I've been a little absent this year due to my son's Kung Fu class, so since class was cancelled today, I headed to the meeting.
We have a great group, and some very strong speakers. Today's subject was Improv.
The speaker, Sean Petrie, is an author in our group who'd taken two improv classes, tried out for a group, and been accepted.
What I learned is that there is a whole world of research involved in everything. Even improv.
He went over a series of exercises used to warm up, and produce new, fresh humor.

The "Yes, and" exercise was a good one.
If someone makes a statement, for example, "That's a nice lawnmower," there are basically three types of responses.
1) "It's not a lawnmower, it's a baby stroller." Funny. Gets a laugh. But the scene is dead after this.
2) "Thanks." This is the 'yes' response. Not funny, and the scene ends.
3) "Why thanks, mom, and did you also know it cuts hair?" Here is the 'yes, and' response. Adds humor. Relationship is quickly established. Continuing story line provided.

Another exercise was the "New Choice" exercise. Given the start of a basic scene, the actor comes up with a line. The director can always say "New line". The actor then has to come up with a different line. This is a great exercise to do while planning writing projects to prevent cliches.

The list of exercises was great, and aside from helping in my writing/author life, I think some of these will be fun games to play with the kids.

A final note on the improv exercises. Here is a prefect example that you will get better at something if you practice. Everything requires practice. OK, sure, some people may be born funnier or more quick-witted, but everyone can work at it and improve.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Exercise for the Week - Go through you files

We all have them - those small little office/house clutter type tasks which remain undone. And I'm a firm believer that an uncluttered office makes for more productive writing time.

  • Going through your filing cabinet - clean out and file away
  • Organizing your receipts. I have a stack of writing receipts I still need to categorize and file away.
  • The Junk basket/drawer/whatever. You know what I'm talking about.
  • Sorting through your child's artwork. Should you save it all?

Here's your exercise for the weekend.
1) Pick one of these things. It doesn't have to be on the list above, and it should be accomplishable in a relatively short period of time.
2) Get it done.

I'm not sure if I'll tackle the junk basket in my hallway, or go through the scrapbook pictures, but whatever I pick, I'll get it done!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Life tip of the Week - How to memorize something

I have a trick for memorization. A few years back I decided to memorize Kublai Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
I printed out a copy and placed it in a large ziploc bag. I then taped the ziploc in the shower where I would see it every day.
By working on only one or two lines a day, I had the poem memorized in under a month.
This works well for song lyrics that you want to learn so you can sing them to your kids also. And speaking of this, have you ever noticed how well you sing when only your kids are listening. Or when no one is around? I have the best voice ever.

Book of the Week - A Short History of Nearly Everything

I'm listening to all 20 hours of this book on MP3, and I'm about a third of the way done.

If you haven't read it, pick up a copy of A Short History of Nearly Everything.

I know this book made some list - like in the top 10 books for guys to read. And though I'm not a guy, I'm finding it fascinating.

The book gives a great overview of
  • Quantum physics
  • Relativity
  • Energy
  • Geology

And that's only in the part I've been through. And aside from all the intelligence I'm gaining from reading it, think of the fodder for writing. There are so many ideas for science fiction and fantasy derived from real things in our world. And that fact that physicists don't know everything about the universe we live in, makes the realm of the unknown so much more believable.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Goals Meme

This is a great one.

List 10-15 goals (personal or professional) you plan to accomplish over the summer.

I'm cutting my summer short. I start an 8-week long sabbatical in August, so for the purpose of these goals, we're talking only June and July.

Here goes:

1) Write first draft of new WIP.
2) Blog daily.
3) Finish A Short History of Nearly Everything.
4) Read new Harry Potter, Titan's Curse, and Skulduggery Pleasant (though these may wait for August/September sabbatical).

5) Finish my (electrical engineering) work deliverables before starting sabbatical (I have a separate list here).

6) Eat healthy every day.
7) Exercise 6 days a week.
8) Drink 8 glasses of water a day (no, I haven't started yet :))

9) Sod the front yard.
10) Transform my daughter's room from a baby room into a little girl's room.
11) Price wood flooring for my downstairs.

12) Do three fun major family activities (like Sea World, San Antonio Zoo, beach ...)
13) Encourage my son to write in his journal three times a week.
14) Listen to books on tape with my kids.

Summer Reading Program

Magic Treehouse is hosting a summer reading program for elementary age children. You can pick up a form at Barnes & Noble.
Basically, your elementary age student has to read 8 books over the summer. They then receive a free book and are eligible to win an autographed copy of a Magic TreeHouse book.

We've got two Captain Underpants read and two more pending for the list so far.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What words are OK?

Sometimes my characters just want to say "Oh crap!" Or "This sucks."
Is this OK for middle grade (older middle grade)? Or must I look for more clever ways to say things?
I totally get (and agree) that true "bad" words shouldn't be used. But am I destined to have to write "Oh darn," when everyone (including fourth graders) know this isn't what my character would really say?

And is scrotum now officially on the OK list?

Monday, June 04, 2007

It begins!

So I've officially started writing my new project. I'm 870 words in. That's right - 870 words (which is roughly 3 pages).

Beginnings are hard for a number of reasons:

1) You don't really know your characters yet. You're trying to figure out what they sounds like. I mean, it's one thing to write ideas down on paper, but then to translate that to actual prose is totally different.

2) There's just so much to tell. Trying to eliminate backstory is something I am working on. Just because I know something about my main character doesn't mean the rest of the world needs to know about it. Or at least, they don't need to know about it in the first 870 words.

3) Progress seems slow. 870 words may seem like nothing to the overall manuscript. Let's just say the complete manuscript will be 60,000 words. Unless I have my math wrong, that's only 1.4 percent. But on the other hand, that's already 1.4 percent. 100 days of writing like that and my first draft will be done!

4) I'm trying out first person. This is new for me as I've stick with (close) third person in the past. Now I have to figure out how to convey feelings in a different way.

5) Do we all face the "this sucks" feelings when we start writing? But then, if I remember right, a reread months later will translate to "OK, this isn't actually that bad." And a "Wow - look at all these pages covered with pretty words!"

So here are my goals:

1) Stick to new project. Getting a (sh**ty) first draft done is the most important thing.

2) Write every night. 3 pages * 100 days = 300 pages.

3) Who cares if I can't solve every problem in the first draft. That's what revisions are for.

4) Let my critique group suffer through my revisions with me :)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sci-fi Inspirational Photo of the Week

My son painted it. He said it was a crab. I'm back to my genetically engineered species on this one. Or maybe a mutated shrimp. Or a cross between a shrimp and a lobster. A crossbreed (like a broccaflower).

This one will definitely be saved in the "good" artwork folder.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Back to Reality ...

... and just in time for a Meme. OK, two Memes. Thanks to Christine and HipWriterMama for the tags.
And if you haven't been tagged, consider yourself done. It looks like the Meme made the rounds pretty well.

I'll do one over here, and the other at my other blog.

The rules: You have to share four things that were new to you in the past four years. Four things you learned or experienced or explored for the first time in the past four years. New house, new school, new hobby, new spouse, new baby, whatever. Then you have to say four things you want to try new in the next four years.

So here goes ...

In the past four years (from June, 2003 - present) I have:
1) Given birth to my second child. A darling little baby girl who is now a darling little almost-three-year-old girl. I managed to hit the two biggest Mexican holidays with my kids. My son was born on Cinco de Mayo, and my daughter was born in Diez y seis de Septiembre.

2) Wrote a trilogy and had it accepted for publication!

3) Learned to solve the Rubik's Cube(s) (3x3, 4x4, and 5x5). When it comes to impressive party tricks (and we're talking the thirty-something crowd here), this is pretty impressive.

4) Memorized Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I thought about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner but decided I didn't want to invest the time and thought energy.

In the next four years (from present - June 2011) I will:
1) Write another book (or 2 or 3), obtain an agent, and have book(s) accepted for publication.

2) Begin taking Kung Fu

3) Be able to quit my day job and write full time

4) Learn to play Foozball (because I think this is an impressive party trick also)