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

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Five on a Friday

It seems to be that time of the week again. Friday! (OK, actually Thursday night here, but with my 3-year-old home this week who knows when I'd get my Friday post up).

I hope everyone had a great week! Here's my five:

1) Is this the best kind of phone call?
The phone rings. I see on the caller ID it's my 7-year-old's friend (yeah, a girl). But when I say hello, it's not her, it's her 12-year-old brother. Their dad works at the school, and I'd given them an advanced reader of The Emerald Tablet.
The 12-year-old says, "Hey, you know this book you gave us."
Um, yeah, I know it really well. "Yeah?"
"I just wanted to let you know I'm reading it and it is fantastic! It's the first book I haven't wanted to stop reading!"
OK - now this makes me feel so super, tears spring to my eyes.
And this points out an amazing thing I've forgotten about middle school kids. They're going through such a big adjustment in life, but they're still at the age when they do super sweet things like this.

2) There's nothing like pets.
I put fresh food in for the tortoises and they rush over (yes, they do rush) within a minute to start chomping away. It makes me feel so appreciated, what with their cute little tortoise eyes looking up at me.
I made eggs and toast for the kids, and the only one who eats any of it is the dog who's thrilled to get the eggs.

3) I'm headed to the Round Rock Barnes & Noble on Saturday for April Lurie's book signing. She'll be signing her (what I know is) fantastic novel The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine from 2-4. If you live in Austin, head over and pick up your autographed copy. I bet it would make a perfect present for that special teen in your life.
If you don't live in Austin, don't fret! You can order it off Amazon!

4) I sewed panels on a bed skirt on Tuesday. Talk about one of those tasks I am really happy to have behind me. My mom made the panels, and I sewed them on.
If only I could have teleported her here to sew them on for me.
But, just to emphasize, I am so glad I didn't procrastinate and that it's done!

5) We've got a week of plot development ahead in the critique group! That's right - for the week, all we're going to do is focus on plot/characters/premise. And we're doing a first page analysis, too. Does the first page hook you? Have conflict?
This is the old "sharpening the saw" thing. You'll cut wood a lot better if you take time to sharpen your saw.

Do you guys just love the blogging community? I do!

Have a great weekend! We have Cub Scouts popcorn sales to look forward to here. Ah, popcorn...
And Tuesday, my daughter starts at her new preschool!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kid Praise and Critiquing

I saw a mom yesterday at school who runs a book fair here in town. I'd given her an ARC of The Emerald Tablet, and when she saw me, she told me how her 6/7 year old son had read the whole thing.
She laughed and told me how he was telling someone about it was and in her words, he said 'I only understood about every other word, but it was really great'.
Too funny!

I've read quite a few posts recently on critiquing, but perhaps one of the biggest things I so rarely see is how important it is to point out the positive.
As I read weekly submissions for my critique group, I've gotten to know everyone so well (along with each of their excellent writing) that sometimes I neglect to point out everything I love. I mean, there is just so much great stuff. Smooth prose. Natural dialog, excellent examples of show don't tell.
But I need to point this stuff out more!!!!

Here that, critique group?

When I submit something, I love getting honest, useful feedback. But I admit it: I also want people to say they like it. I believe in every submission, there is always something worthy of praise. And as writers, in our insecure thoughts, we love hearing anything. Even something like "the second sentence in the fourth paragraph on page 5 is amazing."

At a recent workshop I went to, we started out with nothing but praise for the first 5 minutes. Then we moved on to things which could be improved. And finally, we finished with another 5 minutes of praise. Hearing my work critiqued, this totally made me feel like I had potential. And feeling this way really helps keep the creativity flowing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

It takes visitors to town...

...to get us to try new things.
Why is this?

My sister-in-law happened to be in Austin this past weekend visiting, and on Sunday we headed to the Stubbs BBQ Gospel brunch. Seriously - I've never heard "Jesus" so much in a single day - especially having just been at church earlier that morning. Gospel soul music. Fried catfish. And Pecan Pie. Sunday mornings don't get much better.
* I feared the fried stuff might be liver, but once my son told me how great it was, I knew it couldn't possibly be. The only people who like liver are my parents.

While hanging out, I revealed one of those things on my list. You know, the list you have somewhere (maybe just in your mind) of everything you want to do in life. Big things. Small things.
Me - I want to sing Karaoke. Bohemian Rhapsody. Yeah, I know it's like 5 minutes long, but I know all the words and all the various voices. I can do it. Now I just need to be somewhere where I spontaneously get the chance. There has to be something so freeing about getting up in front of a crowd of strangers and doing something like this.
You know - the old saying: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.
Karaoke bar, here I come.

So what's something fun on your list?

And finally, we had our own minor Cake Wreck this weekend. For my husband's 40th, I asked them to write a big "40" on the cake. It came back with "Big 40!!" on it! Too funny!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Five on a Friday

It's the last week with both kids home. And I loved something my husband said yesterday. "The kids seem happier." It gives validity to my decision to quit the day job. )

Here's five for the week:

1) Happy 40th Birthday to my husband today. He gets the day off work and everything!

2) I want to share a quote I love given to me by my dad. When faced with an unpleasant task which was to take over a month, he once knew a young southern boy in the Air Force who said, "Hell, boys, Ah could stand on mah head in a bucket of shit for that long if I had to."
Love that attitude!

3) On critiquing - I love the 20 pages at a time thing, but also totally love the idea of manuscript swaps! It's so nice to be able to see the bigger picture.
And, after reading a historical fiction by a friend, I now love the Revolutionary War period! Who'd have thought that was possible? Great job, Friend!

Sidenote: Anyone grow up in the original colonies area? Did you love that when going to school, your local history was also national history. I moved to Texas and wondered why everyone knew about The Alamo except me?
It reminds me of something I read once. You know you're from Northern Virginia when your local news is the same as the national news.

4) We headed to see The Mummy 3 yesterday. Talk about a perfect movie experience. Nobody even had to go to the bathroom in the middle.
As for the quality of the movie, it was about as expected. Entertaining. High Action. Adventure.
But yeah, you watch it and start to see where the script writer said, "We need to give this character motivation." And so the character spouts off a motivational line of dialog so that item can be checked off the list.
There was a ton of this in The Mummy 3.
"Son, you will go back to college."
"I will have my revenge."
"Oh, my life has gotten so boring."
Note to self: Do not do this in my writing.
Sidenote: We saw another trailer for Beverly Hills Chihuahua and loved it again. There is something just so cute about this upcoming movie!

5) Can I just say it one more time?
Time between revisions.

So that's it for my week! Hope everyone had a great one, and celebrate the weekend!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Friendship & 212 Degrees

Here at our house, we like to pretend King Tort (our Sulcata tortoise) can talk. I justify this by pretending it's an exercise in writing dialog.

King Tort: Can I please have a friend?
Me: You have us. Don't you like us?
King Tort: You're fine. But I'm going to live to 180 years old.
Me: Good point.

Nice dialog, don't you think?

And guess who won?
Let me introduce you to Nefertorti. We love the Egyptian names. And they do seem to lend themselves to tortoises.

Have you seen this video, BTW? It talks about 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • At 211 degrees, water is hot.
  • At 212 degrees, it boils.
  • And with boiling water comes steam.
  • And steam can power a locomotive.
Makes you think. Do you go the extra degree? In writing? At home? In life?

How can we, as writers, and how can we, in life, go the extra degree to power the locomotive?

Watch the video. It only takes a couple minutes!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Asking the Hard Questions

It all comes down to honesty. Being honest with yourself. Whether in writing or life in general, being truthful will do wonders for you, not to mention those around you.

Let's look at life first, since, of course writing is life :)
Rather than try to give some in depth explanation of how to be truthful, I'll give a couple examples:

1) Somebody irks you / cheats you / wears an ugly shirt to the office. You make a point of saying something to somebody else about it.
Why? Why do you need to say something? Ask yourself this question and be totally honest with the answer? Are you trying to get others to not like the person? Are you trying to make yourself look better? Are you jealous?
Just be honest.
(And no, mom, this didn't happen to me).

2) You get annoyed with your kids / spouse / dog and yell at them. (OK, maybe this one was me).
Why did you (I) yell? What is the true root of the problem? Is the minor misdemeanor they've committed so horrible, or are you upset about something else? Did you eat too much at dinner? Get a rejection letter? Feel like you do everything around the house and no one helps?
Dig deep for the reasons behind your anger and be honest about it. And nine times out of ten, you'll probably find it has nothing to do with the person suffering your wrath.

So switch topics, and let's move to writing. This one is not so much about the integrity of being a writer. It's more about objectivity. Tabitha was making souffle yesterday over on her blog and she mentioned objectivity.
I'll go a step farther and say 'be honest with yourself about your writing'.
Do you really have a plot?
Are your characters really not cliches?
Have you taken any advice given to you by critiquers and truly evaluated it?
Does the story really grab the reader by page 1?
Is there really conflict?
Is a scene really necessary or do you just like it?

The point is, ask yourself the questions. Ask them and really think about the answers.

When it comes to honestly, it's the forcing yourself to ask the questions and then forcing yourself to answer which will make the difference.

So when do you find being honest with yourself really helps? Any suggestions?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

So now I know how to plot

I had the super fantastic pleasure of attending our local SCBWI meeting yesterday featuring Helen Hemphill, award winning author of Runaround, Long Gone Daddy, and the upcoming Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones. Don't you love the cover of this one?
Anyway, Helen gave a wonderful presentation to a record-breaking crowd (over 70 people) on Five Things To Consider When Plotting A Novel.

The speech lasted the whole hour, and I captured what I believe are the key elements. Get ready...

1) Write out a premise for your novel.
This should be a one sentence synopsis containing the following:
(a) Irony
(b) Tells the whole story
(c) Shows the genre
(d) Tells us a little about the characters
Something totally helpful Helen suggested is to write out several versions of the premise. Maybe a dozen. Play around with it. And then pick the most promising.
* Critique group, get ready - I think we should all do this as an exercise.

2) Desires / Needs / Weaknesses
(a) What does the character desire? What does the character need?
This should be known early on in the story.
These needs and desires should drive every decision the main character makes.

(b) What is the weakness?
What keeps the main character from getting what they want/need?

(c) What is the character's worldview?
A character's view of the world (based on the person they are today) helps explain what decisions they make and why they make these decisions.

3) Cause & Effect
A plot should be connected. Each event should build on top of the events before it. An event should not be able to happen unless the events before it set it up.
With each event, the stakes should increase.
There must be an inciting incident which propels the story forward and begins the series of cause and effect events.

4) Tension
On every page if possible.
Conflict = tension
So to get this tension, the main character must be shown in their weakness. We, as authors, must make them suffer.
But...the tension must fit in with the story. Random tension for the sake of tension will not work.

5) Beginnings and Endings
Hook readers by the end of page 1.
A satisfying ending ties back to the beginning. The book is a circle.
The main character has changed. The dynamic is different.

Helen suggested making a worksheet with all the above elements on it and filling it in for your story.

Thanks, Helen, for giving me such great direction! So I'm ready to fill mine in. How about you guys?
Now, to start with a premise.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Five on a Friday

Only two parties this weekend. I'm wondering why so many people have birthdays in the summer? Let's see...nine months ago from August is November. Thanksgiving?

Five for my week:

1) Are The Biscuit Brothers known countrywide? They are huge here in Austin, but I wonder if people in other parts of the country have heard of them?
You wonder why I ask? I'm fortunate enough to be part of the upcoming Hill Country Book Festival, and they recently came out with the schedule. Guess who gets to read from The Emerald Tablet just after The Biscuit Brother's performance?
So excited! If you happen to live in Austin, it's October 11th at the Georgetown Public Library.

2) I finally designed business cards this week with the cover of The Emerald Tablet on them. Still need to make it to Kinkos to get them printed, but they look way cool. I love Photoshop!
What do you think?

3) Awesome playdate yesterday. My 7-year-old son, my 3-year-old daughter, and an awesome little 7-year-old girl who is much of a tomboy like my daughter. The three kids played fantastically for five hours. They never excluded the little one. There was absolutely no arguing. None.
I spent the time cleaning my office! It's one of those things I've been putting off forever. Now to make it to Wal-mart to get some more little clear storage bins.

4) Get ready to shudder, Kelly. Why are my daughter's favorite books The Berenstein Bears? Her two current favorites: The Bad Dream and The Ghost of the Forest.
And that Sister Bear sure is a smart one. The only one smarter than her is Mama.

5) Our trashcan reeked last night, so I took it out of the garage and put it in the driveway. Yep, you guessed it. A raccoon was in there when I went to get something out of the car. I put a rock on the top (OK, I got my husband to), but I'm wondering what it will look like out there when I check this morning.

OK, off to start the day! Must get to the bookstore to buy birthday party presents (yes, books are always a great present). Suggestions for a 7-year-old girl?

Happy Friday all around!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Up for the Weekend/Year

Revision, revisions, revisions. Actually, I have so much to revise, undoubtedly, I'll be revising for the next year. Not that I mind. Unlike some, I actually like doing revisions.
The best for me is doing a revision on something which I haven't looked at in a long time. The best was The Navel of the World, the second book in The Emerald Tablet trilogy. I picked it up after a year and pretty much changed the whole thing. It was like a light had come on, and I knew so many things which had to change. And cutting my darlings? Not a problem seeing as how after a year, there was nothing "darling" let to me but just a bunch of plot holes and weaknesses and such.
OK, there was some stuff salvageable, and the basic ending stayed the same. But still...

If you live in Austin, come out this Saturday to the Austin SCBWI meeting. Saturday. 11:00. Westlake B&N. Helen Hemphill will be talking about:
Five Things to Consider When Plotting a Novel
It’s thrilling to begin a new novel, but most writers know it’s the middle and the ending that can make or break a story. A great plot is both planned and discovered. This mini workshop will offer up practical strategies for plotting a middle grade or young adult novel and suggest five things you’ll want to consider as you plot your novel.

Can I use this? Darn right I can. Plus it's a chance to hang out with fab Austin writers, and who am I to turn that down? I just love the vibes they all give off.

And just when I was going to place my next Amazon order, my husband informed me he has an Amazon gift certificate. Um, yay! It's like free books.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jen Robinson Review and Sleepovers

So, yay! Jen Robinson read The Emerald Tablet! And liked it! And posted a review about it here. You can pop over and read the whole review, but you know I can't help but post my favorite line(s):

"The Emerald Tablet is a very appealing mix of adventure, speculative science fiction, and middle school camp drama. I enjoyed it as an adult, but I know that I would have adored it as an 11-year-old. In truth, ever since I finished it, The Emerald Tablet has been popping back into my head, as I wonder what's going to happen to Benjamin and his friends going forward. Highly recommended for later elementary and middle school readers, boys and girls, fans of traditional fantasy or not."

Thanks so much, Jen! You rock!

In other news, sleepovers are the death of writing. I'm sure there's lots of fodder going on if conversations are eavesdropped upon, but when it comes down to actually trying to write after bedtime...not happening. Is there even a bedtime?
My three-year-old thought she was part of the sleepover. After all, why wouldn't the seven-year-old boys want her around?
So I brought her in my office and pretended we were having our own sleepover (with me typing, of course). But after revising about ten words, I gave up the fight and tried to get everyone to fall asleep. Revisions can wait for today.

Thanks for all the great opinions on the whole s*x thing yesterday. I found them super helpful!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wondering about the whole *** thing in YA

S*x. How much is too much? How much is too little? What age is it OK? Should it be left out at all cost?
Can anyone say Flowers in the Attic? Yeah, I read this at like twelve or something. And, yeah, I'm thinking this way crossed the line.

I recently read a review on Twilight where the reviewer commented that some educators/readers/etc lauded Twilight for displaying abstinence. Um, yeah, sure, they didn't actually do the deed, but basically Bella is begging him to for much of the novel. To me, this doesn't scream as a referral for abstinence.

I think when it comes right down to it, I can talk about it all I want, but I'll write what I write and then revise accordingly after getting plenty of input on the actual written word.
Critique group, are you ready?

Your thoughts?

In other news, check out Cynthia Leitich Smith's write up on our awesome Austin happy hour the other night. I snagged this picture from her blog of me and author Debbie Gonzales. Debbie is a fab writer (I read the beginning of some of her stuff at a workshop back in June) and is also just such a darling. Can't you see her genuineness exuding here in this picture?

And a special shout out to my cousin Mary Lou who my aunt told my mom reads my blog! One great thing about being from an enormous Polish family is I have tons of cousins, and all of them interesting. The coolest thing I remember about Mary Lou is she worked on the set of Miami Vice and knew Don Johnson. I have a cousin in the Boston Pops, a cousin who designs giant telescopes, and a cousin who runs a New Age Church. And that's just the start!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Love this review!

Not to post twice in one day, but I just got the most fantastic review for The Emerald Tablet from Teens Read Too.
Yes, that's a gold star you see by the title. It means The Emerald Tablet received The Gold Star Award for Excellence. Five stars!


A small quote because I can't resist:

"I had such a good time reading this book! I loved every minute that I was reading it, and I feel like I want to reread the book
over and over again. From the very first sentence I was laughing, and while the book wasn’t intended to be a comedy there
were many times where I couldn’t help but suppress a giggle. The very idea for the story is magical. I don’t think I’ve ever
read a book along the same lines as THE EMERALD TABLET. While reading the book I kept thinking that in a way it was
almost like a myth that was being told and how cool it would be if it was actually true."

Thanks, Teens Read Too!

Five on a Friday

It's the last week of camp here for the summer which means two weeks ahead with me and the kids hanging out. We're planning to do some relaxing (I realize now kids need this time, too), maybe a trip to Natural Bridge Caverns, and possibly even a sleepover for my son. Am I up for the challenge of having another little boy stay the night? Should be interesting.

Top for the day: A special Happy Birthday to my Aunt Stella (who does not read this blog). She turns 90 today! Wish I could be there for the party!

Here's my five for the week!

1) I have two new interviews up in the blog world this week. If you're just crazy to know more about me or The Emerald Tablet, you can pop over to
Kyle at the Book Review Maniac
Jessica at Trainspotting Reads
Thanks for the interview opportunities you guys!

2) Alison Dellenbaugh posted some great pics from the kidlit happy hour the other night. Check them out here!

3) WIP is coming along great. I'm participating in an Editor's Day thing here in Austin in September. Basically each participant submits the first three pages of something by tomorrow(!) and then Jill Santopolo, Senior Editor at Harper Collins, and Cynthia Leitich Smith, award winning author, spend ten minutes talking about each piece in front of the group. My three pages will come from this new WIP.

4) Have you guys seen this Emotion Thesaurus? It's the most amazing, fantastic thing in the world (of writing). This is one of those things I've been meaning to do, but these gals beat me to it and did a fantastic job!

5)In an effort to volunteer more at my son's school, I signed up to write the PTA newsletter! Now this is a task I can handle. Work at home. Write. Learn more about the school. And feel good about the volunteer thing, too.

Have a great weekend! If you've got two (kid's) birthday parties and a get together on the agenda like us, I know you will!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fab Austin Writing World

Seriously, did I manage to locate myself among the best children's writing community in the world? I meant to post yesterday but it was packed with Austin Kidlit stuff.

First was lunch at The Cheesecake Factory and a day of writing with the awesome Jo Whittemore. Jo's the author of the really cool YA fantasy trilogy The Silverskin Legacy. You can check out her website here and her blog here. We chatted about writing (duh), YA vs. MG, what sex is appropriate in YA, what bad words are appropriate in MG, and critiquing. My salad was enormous, but I managed to save room for a piece of the yummy cherry preserve cheesecake. Jo had the hot fudge sundae.

Then it was off to Barnes and Noble which has about one electrical outlet in the whole place. So we zipped back to my house and got some quality writing time in. My dog only pooped on the floor once. Jo pretended not to mind, which, truly, I do appreciate :)

But we couldn't write all night because Cynthia Leitich Smith organized an Austin Kidlit happy hour at Waterloo Icehouse. The $1.50 Zeigenbock was such a deal, I could have had about 20. But I stuck with two which looking back was the way smarter move.

I managed about five pictures, but if I find anymore online, I'll let you know.

Here we have Brian Yansky, Brian Anderson, Jo Whittemore's husband (who does have a name which is Roger), and my husband Riley.

Blooming Tree Press Editor Madeline Smoot. She's smiling because we've just spent the last fifteen minutes talking about how fantastic The Emerald Tablet is. Or maybe it was because she'd just ordered some cheese fries.

Chris Barton and Jenny Ziegler's husband (Carl). This was one of those "I'll try to take some random pictures" things.

Another random photo. Jerry Wermund, two backs, Anne Bustard making a funny face, and Francis Hill Yansky.

And the last shot of the evening. Madeline Smoot, Greg Leitich Smith, and Carmen Oliver in a gorgeous, pink top!

Hope everyone's having a great week!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Monday Thoughts for the Day

No, I haven't read Breaking Dawn yet. I admit it - I've read a few reviews, and it puts my mind at ease. I don't need to rush out and read the book. Now whether I'm happy with the ending or not? I'll save that opinion until I read it myself.

First thought for the day: What does this painted turtle bank have to do with writing?

Last week, my kids and I did a painting project. And we had enough turtles, I could even paint one myself. After all, the paint washes off stuff for the most part, so my three-year-old could handle things herself.
I painted the first couple colored dots, and thought, "There are so many. I'll never finish this. This will take so long." And I almost stopped and smeared it over in a single color.
But then I thought to myself, "I write novels. Long ones. Certainly I have it in me to take the time to finish this silly little turtle."
Isn't he cute?

Second thought for the day: Take time to stop and enjoy a sunset from time to time. Use the time as a recharge. Thank whoever you thank for all the wonderful things in your life. Relax.

Third thought for the day: Be creative and have fun while you do even simple things like eat. (And no comments on the nutritious dinners we eat around here).

Final thought for the day: Get to know your neighbors.
While driving home on Saturday, I notice my husband is talking to the woman across the street. She's all excited, and as I find out, they are moving today. We've lived across from them for 13 years, seen their children grow up. All that.
So she says to my husband, "What's your name anyway?"

Why is this funny?