Monday, March 30, 2009

Where in the World is Lotus Girl?

Do you leave little mysteries in your stories? Are they on purpose? Or are you just being cryptic? Sure, there are times when we want to drag the reader along--keep them guessing. We provide them clues, dropping bread crumbs. We need to make sure that it's in the story's best interest and not just jerking the reader around. 

Here's a visual puzzle for you. 

I'm away from home. (That would be why I'm slow to comment on your blogs. Sorry!) 

These pictures are your clues. 

See if you can figure it out. (Those of you who were told specifically where I was going, don't give it away in your comments please.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Powers and Pitfalls of Blogging: An Interview

Let's shed a little light on blogging and how it helps (and hurts?) us as writers. To do this I thought it might be fun to interview a guest. 

Michelle Argyle (better known as Lady Glamis in blogging circles) is a blogger extraordinaire (check her out at
The Innocent Flower), writer (She was a finalist in Nathan Bransford's first paragraph contest.), photographer, and all around punctuation expert (Oy, my commas!). She is willing to share her expertise and has one of the most informative blogs I've read. Her blog grows in popularity every day. She is currently polishing up her two complete novels.

me: Welcome Michelle!
Lady GlamisThank you for having me! I'm so excited to participate in an interview. I've never been interviewed before. So thank you for the chance!

me: How long have you been blogging and what got you started?
LGI have been blogging since May of 2008. I started blogging when one of my best friends told me that her computer-geek husband was making her start a blog. She sent me the address and I was hooked! 

Comments? People follow you? I can write anything I want every day? And people might read it and comment? How cool is that!? So I started one, too, and now I can't stop!

me: I can totally understand not being able to stop. Is that one of the pitfalls of blogging for you?
LG: Yes, I think one of the pitfalls of blogging is the time restraint it puts on my writing. I am often so excited about meeting new people and reading all the great posts out there that I sometimes don't even get around to writing for the day!

me: With your blogging, what benefits do you see currently and what benefits do you hope to see in the future?
LG I recently read a blog post on the benefits of blogging for published authors. Some of the authors said in the post that they started blogging and building a fanbase long before they even had an agent. That was encouraging! 

So, currently, I see the benefits of blogging as (1) making great friends and building lasting relationships with other writers, (2) having the opportunity to continually write posts about writing and reading, (3) learning invaluable information from other writer and agent blogs. 

One of the benefits I hope to see in the future is to build a loyal fanbase where we can help promote our work together.

me: What do you like to see in blogs that you follow? 
LG: I like to see blogs focused on the craft of writing. But I also like to get a feel for a writer's voice and personality, so it's great when writers share elements of their personal lives and interests besides writing. I love short, to-the-point posts, but if a post is well written and engaging, I don't mind if it's long. I think there is a lot that goes into effective blogging. Most of the blogs I follow are effective, which is why I have such a hard time getting back to my writing!

me: You know I love photography and pictures. I'm very visual. What role do you think pictures play? 
LG: A reader recently commented on my blog that my pictures always pull her into reading my posts. I think that's the case for me, too. If a post has a pretty picture, I'm a sucker for reading it! Visual art can really enhance what you're trying to say. Like the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words! Especially a good one.

me:  How do you make your pictures so amazing? 
LG: That's a broad question, but to answer it in a nutshell, I do photography as a side hobby. I'm serious about it and spend a lot of time in Photoshop - my dark room for the digital age. I have always loved art and had an eye for what works and what doesn't.

me: Would you be willing to come back another time and tell us more about photography and photoshop?
LG: Absolutely!

me: How can the rest of us increase our following like you have? 
LG: That's a hard question to answer. I think it's important to have focus in your blog. I'm sure the writers who follow my blog are interested to know that I have a two-year-old daughter, but I doubt they want to hear about her poopy diaper incident from three days ago, you know? (Unless it relates to writing somehow.) I try to stay focused and offer helpful advice that I've learned about writing. I always respond to comments, as well. Interracting with your followers is really important.

me: Thank you for doing this! I really appreciate your patience with me in my first interview! 
LGThank you for this opportunity! One of the greatest things I have done through blogging is make great friends like you! All in all, it has been an invaluable experience and I hope I can keep up my pace in the future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday=Book Review Time--Hot! Hot! Hot!

Up for today: FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 (Wheeler Large Print Book Series)

Why I bought it? I was going through a list of some of the best books ever written and picked out a few that I hadn't read. Next time I was at the store, I picked this one up. It made the top cut because of the concept (plus the fact that I couldn't believe I'd never read it--but I think there are probably a significant number of people these days who haven't). 

Synopsis: Guy Montag works as a fireman. Starting fires not putting them out. In a society set on eliminating the written word, he wields a flame thrower dedicated to burning books. He loves his job. Then he meets a girl who introduces him to the past and a professor who makes him think about the future. 

What I thought? At 179 pages I thought it would be a quick read. Ha! It didn't take me that long to actually read it, but it was no quick read. The images and ideas in it have stayed with me and worked my brain in quiet moments ever since I read it. There is a reason that it has been so incredibly popular for the last 56 years. I was amazed at how well it has weathered the test of time. It is just as current today as it was when it was written. Eerily so in some places. You can't go wrong with this one. I loved this one. If you haven't read it, it's one you need to search out.

My Rating: *****

Cleanness Score: 3 of 10, There is really not much in this one except situational things and some adult themes.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Got any beams or girders?

How are your structures holding up?
Do they support and lift your story to a new level or will they crumble under scrutiny? Are there termites eating away at the foundation? Do all the elements of the story contribute to the structure or do they detract from it? These are the questions I've been asking myself lately as I've been cutting my story back to a reasonable length for YA. 

Do you follow the Traditional Form as in the Freytag's Pyramid?
Freytag's Pyramid

Does the structure highlight what's important or hide it?

Can you view it from above and below without glaring problems waving at you?

Mine is still in construction or should I say deconstruction/reconstruction right now and these are the questions I'm asking myself. They are really helping me.

FYI--Since the last few Mondays, comparing writing to photography/photographs, have been so popular, I'm going to make it my regular Monday feature. Today's images: 1 & 2--The Eiffel Tower and 3--The Pyramid at the Louvre.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Entertain me!

As requested, here's a rundown of some shows and films that I have found particularly entertaining lately. Sure I could say CSI, but who hasn't already heard of that and made their own decisions. Same with The Bucket List. I thought I'd share some that aren't on everyone's radar.

1. Castle
Castle: Season 1
--Mon. 10 PM on ABC. It just started this last week. Two episodes have already aired. Very charming. Written by Stephen J. Cannell. A famous thriller author, researching for a new series, shadows a detective. The first episode had cameos of James Patterson and Stephen J. Cannell as Richard Castle's writer buddies. There are complete recaps of the episodes on ABC's website.  I wasn't planning on watching any new shows. The dang TV is eating away at all my writing time. I was leaving the room when my husband started watching this one. I stopped to tell him something real quick before I left the room and got sucked into it in the first few minutes. I'm already hooked. Ugh! And yet very entertained in all my ugh-ness.

2. The Mentalist
The Mentalist: Season 1
--Tues. 9PM on CBS. It started last fall. 16 episodes have aired. A reformed psychic (i.e. not a psychic at all, but just very observant of human nature and people's actions and quirks etc.) helps the FBI solve crimes. 

3. Chuck
Chuck: Season 1 (4-Disc Series)
--Mon. 8 PM on NBC. This is the 2nd season of Chuck. The first one was cut short by the writers' strike last year. So it would be fairly easy to catch up. There are also full episodes and recaps posted on the NBC website. Chuck is a lovable computer wiz who works for the Nerd Herd at the Buy More (think Geek Squad at the Best Buy). He becomes the country's most vital asset when a database of government secrets ends up in his head and the only computer with that info self destructs. He bumbles through helping the FBI solve cases. This one totally cracks me up every week. It may not be for everyone, but I love it.

Film--for the synopses just pull up netflix or something like that.
1. Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
--(2008) Amy Adams, Frances McDormand--I saw this one reviewed on Stephanie Perkins blog and had to check out. Loved it! Frances McDormand is fantastic. It's quirky and fun with a little depth too. The HBM (Hot British Male) factor is another good reason for watching. PG-13--for backal and sidal nudity and adult themes.

2. Cold Comfort Farm
Cold Comfort Farm
--(1995) with Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellen, Rufus Sewell--Hilarious! The names! The personalities! The situations! British humor!  An unexpected array of twists and turns! Amazing cast!  More HBM sitings! PG

3. Dear Frankie
Dear Frankie
--(2004) with Gerard Butler, Emily Mortimer--Heartwarming, sweet, romantic. I saw this advertised on one of my netflix rentals and added it to my list. Gerard Butler (a definite HBM) would be reason enough to watch this movie, but the story is poignant and touching. It really stays with you. PG-13 for language.

4. Regarding Henry
Regarding Henry
--(1991) with Harrison Ford, Annette Benning--My token US movie. Okay, so my films have tipped very British. I do tend to lean that direction. The problem is I think y'all are all familiar with the US ones I love. Here's one you younger people may not be familiar with, since it was filmed in 1991. Henry's journey is compelling. I loved it when it first came out, and it still holds up after all these years. (Harrison Ford's not bad either.) PG-13. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wednesday=Book Review Time--my first Picoult

Up for today:  MY SISTER'S KEEPER by Jodi Picoult
 by mamichan

Why I bought it?
6march08 by kaleidoscope08
I needed a visual as to why. As much as I've read, I'd never read any Jodi Picoult books. I know! Crazy, huh? Just look at all the choices. I thought I'd give one a try and heard a lot of good about this one. I pick her stuff up often in book stores when I'm trolling for a good read, but they all just seem so sad, and in the last little while I've not really been in the mood for sad. I finally caved the last time and bought it.

Synopsis: When Kate is diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 2,  and her brother is not a genetic match for donation, her parents decide to have another child. A child perfectly suited to help defeat the Leukemia. Genetically selected to match. Anna is that child. She has had a life constantly at the mercy of Kate's health needs. Receiving countless shots. Donating blood and bone marrow,  etc. Whatever is needed. When she is 13, Anna questions her life role and decides to do something about it.

What I thought? It was a well-told, engrossing story. It straddles the literary commercial line very well. Here's an example:

"I zip [her dress] up and watch her twirl. My mother could be beautiful, if she were parachuted into someone else's life. She has long dark hair and the fine collarbones of a princess, but the corners of her mouth turn down, like she's swallowed bitter news."

I really enjoyed it, but it had some seriously sad moments as you might expect. (I suppose no sadder than The Book Thief really, but they were more omni-present.) I will probably read more of Picoult's books. She's a marvelous author, but I may have to see if I can find a light one next. Anybody know of one? These last few books have been pretty intense. 

My Rating:  ****1/2

Cleanness Score: 7, this is mostly for the language (a fair amount of f-bombs, although not tons) which could offend those sensitive to that and a few intimate scenes. This is not really geared for your teens, but I suppose there's nothing worse than what they might hear in a typical high school hallway. If you're a very sheltering parent, though, I would hold off until they are in their older teens.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Don't skimp on the shadows

Shadows create intrigue in any kind of artwork. Shadows on snow. Much more interesting than just snow.
(Okay, I'll admit the snow is cool, but there's actually a fair amount of shadow in that picture too. I have a hard time taking pictures without shadow, and I like keeping to the pictures that I've taken, if at all possible.)

I enjoy painting. I'm not that great at it, but I like to try. One of the things I learned in painting is that when you make a stroke of shadow under a focal point that really makes it pop. The shadows make the picture better. 
It works in photography too, but you have to get your shadows in the composition (unless you're a pro at photoshop, like some people I know). 

It is true for writing as well. We have to show contrasting characters and situations to make our Main Characters stand out. There has to be a conflict--something or someone to overcome (or be crushed by in a tragedy). Without the dark elements things are flat, like when there are no shadows in visual art. We need those elements to see our characters in three dimensions. 

I've recently figured out that my darker elements (my bad guys) are not painting their shadows in enough. It's time to bring them out of the shadows, so to speak, and develop them more. Now's their time to shine. Mwa ha ha! 

I'm wondering if the law of thirds applies in writing like it does in photography. In the sunset picture there are 2 parts light to 1 part dark. That is generally appealing to the eye. Is that how much darkness should be in our stories to keep them "balanced" (or maybe 2 parts dark and 1 part light, if you're telling a darker tale)? What do you think? 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fixing Story Holes

This last week I was getting really worried about a few holes in my story. I wasn't able to smooth them out. In the end, what I did was write down a summary of the story like I was telling it to a friend.  I know this sounds basic. I had done outlines, chapter by chapter overviews, summaries of what I had in the story, and other exercises as ways to fix what was missing from the plot lines without much success. For whatever reason, this recounting of the story, as if to a friend, made a world of difference for me. I was able to resolve what wasn't working. Apparently, this procedure works along with the way my brain processes. If your mind works like mine (I'm so sorry. We'll have to mourn together sometime over it.), this might help you, so I thought I'd share.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wednesday=Book Review Time--Persuaded

Up for today: PERSUASION by Jane Austen

Persuasion (Barnes & Noble Classics)
Okay, so why would I review a book by Jane Austen? Everybody knows her right? Yeah, well, what I've found in talking to friends is they've read Pride and Prejudice and maybe Sense and Sensibility even Emma sometimes, but much past that, unless they are particular JA fans, they haven't read. Seriously, if you haven't read Persuasion, you're missing out. 

Why I bought it? Hello! It's by Jane Austen. I LOVE her. She's so witty and captivating. The first time I got Persuasion was in a complete works of JA. I wanted to read them all, and bought a big blue tome from some bookstore somewhere. It was so long ago who remembers? I have other formats as well and have read it more times than I can count. One of my favorites is a pocketsize version I got at BN that fits just about anywhere, so it's easy to take with me.

Synopsis: When Anne Elliot, a baronet's daughter, is 19, she falls in love with Frederick Wentworth, a young man in the Navy. She is persuaded by her surrogate mother to refuse his proposal of marriage on the grounds that he is not good enough for her. No money. Eight years later, he returns to the neighborhood a rich man to visit his sister and stirs up Anne's feelings again. The problem now is that there are other young women to draw his attention. Does he still care for Anne? Does he hate her for rejecting him? There's so much more to it than that, but you'll just have to read to find it all out.

What I thought: You have to know I love it. Duh! Here's the thing though. This is my overall favorite JA novel (I do have a special place in my heart for P&P, but Persuasion is better written). It is her last complete work. It's her smoothest as well. If you've seen the movie and think you're good. You're not. You're still missing out. The book is better. It has one of the most romantic scenes in literature in it. 

My Rating:  ***** + (Hey, if I like it better than P&P, you know it has to get that kind of score.)

Cleanness Score: 2 of 10, As you would expect. Nothing really bad in it. There is a little intrigue of people doing PG-13 kind of things in the background. That's why it gets a 2 instead of a 1.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Get a little closer

I considered doing a post about the evils of the daylight savings time system and how I want to get up a petition to stop the insanity of it, but I don't want to just get on my soapbox and rant--not today anyway. That's just me losing focus. I do that sometimes. So I'm bringing the focus to focusing in.
What's the real story in this picture? It was all there and all true. Actually there was a lot more in it that I cut out already. Just like I've done with my editing, but there's still so much that just distracts from what I want to focus on.

Here's the real story. The potato gun. A study in physics and fun. When you crop the picture completely the story becomes clearer. The same is true for our writing. 

We have to cut out the excess and focus in on what's important to our stories--eliminating the dead wood. With all my edits lately I'm finding this so incredibly important. There are parts of my story that I enjoy and my daughter enjoys, but that doesn't mean that they belong in the book.

Once we hone in on what's important, it makes the picture better or have more of an impact. This is also true for our writing. This is where we show the details. This is how we put the reader in the scene.

That's the exact same angle of the Washington Monument--just closer. But it tells a different story than the first one. While it's essential to give a context for the picture (if you didn't know that was a picture of the Washington Monument it might mean less to you), the closeness shows things you can't see from a distance. The variation in color of the stones. The nicks and chips. The wire.

Same subject. What story does this angle and closeness tell you? Where's the focus? I love how you can see the mortar.

All weekend I've been thinking about what's important for my story and how to best focus in on those things and not let distractions drift in and take over. That is something that drives me crazy in books I read--when they drift off and go on for pages and pages on something irrelevant. Maybe it's intriguing and maybe it's funny, but is it necessary? It can be hard to see in your own writing though. That's where beta readers come in so handy. So right now with my story I'm working on cutting the dead wood that is dragging things down.

One more visual pair. The Maryland WWII Memorial. Which picture has more impact for you? Is it the one farther away or the one closer up. It's essentially the same angle. The flags are the same in both pictures.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Coloring your prose

Regal overseeing a world of white. Blue sky. Sable fur. Pink tongue. Black nose. Gray trees.

In the last couple of books I've read, color was an integral part of the story, flavor, and imagery. 

In The Book Thief, Death classifies things by color. For example: White--the snow. Black--the darkest moment before the dawn. Red--the burning sky and blood.

In Book of a Thousand Days (rereading for a book club meeting) the narrator often fixates on certain colors. Blue--the Eternal sky, yellow--the sunrise, gold--the sunset, silver--the sword against the blue sky and the color of celebration.

How often do you bring in color to your writing? Is it essential to the story or just something that decorates the background? Does it make your work richer, deeper, more meaningful? Are you a fan of color?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wednesday=Book Review Time--Stealing books?

Up for today: THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

The book thief by elearningCTJ

Why I bought it? This one was actually a recommendation from Nathan Bransford, agent extraordinaire. I wanted to see the kinds of things he really likes, so I asked for some suggestions. This one was on the list and sounded interesting to me.

Synopsis:  This book, narrated by Death, is set in Germany prior to and during WWII. Liesel Meminger impresses Death at the passing of her little brother, when their mother is taking them to live with a couple near Munich. Liesel starts her book thieving graveside even though she can't read. Her foster father teaches her to read, and she continues her book stealing at a Nazi book burning, then at the Mayor's house. The story follows her experiences and relationships through the war.

What I thought?   WARNING: Gushfest ahead. This book has won tons of awards, including the Printz Award, and rightfully so. From the first page, I was riveted. Death's voice is surprising and refreshing and compelling. I couldn't get enough. This is one of my new favorites. There is a lot of dark humor, as you might expect from Death, but there is also compassion and shock at the brutality of human nature. The best part to me was the unexpected imagery that Death uses to tell the story. He is lyrical. Who knew? I'm sure there will be those who don't like the way the book is written. It is very poetic, but those of you who love an impeccably wrought phrase will go nuts for this book like I did. 

I have to give you a few examples of the writing so you can see what it is like. It's unlike anything I've read. If you like these. You will like the book. (These are from the beginning so they won't be spoilers.) This kind of thing (personification, unexpected images, lyrical descriptions, etc.) is on EVERY page. I thought there was no way that Markus Zusak could sustain the language, etc., but he did. When I found out that it took him 3 years to write this book. I just nodded. It would take at least that long.

On the first page, Death announces:  "You are going to die." Death does not sugar coat. He, later, describes those left behind when he carries the souls of the dead away:  "I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs." 

Another section near the beginning of the book, when Death sees the book thief for the first time, gives you a nice example of the imagery: 

A small soul was in my arms...
...I clearly remember that my breath was loud that day. I'm surprised the guards didn't notice me as they walked by. The world was sagging now, under the weight of all that snow.
Perhaps ten meters to my left, the pale, empty-stomached girl was standing, frost-stricken.
Her mouth jittered.
Her cold arms were folded.
Tears were frozen to the book thief's face.

As you would expect, this book has some serious tearjearker moments (Embarrassing moment: I was reading it while waiting for my daughter to finish a test in the public library downtown and just sat there sobbing as people looked at me like I was nuts. I should have known better than to read it in a public place.), but surprisingly not as many as you might think (and that's why I was lulled into a false sense of security that I was safe from the tears in public thing.). There is some serious humor as well.

My Rating:  ***** +  (I'm trying to contain myself these days.)

Cleanness Score:  7--There is a fair amount of language (not tons) often in German but translated afterward. There are scenes of the death and destruction of war as you would expect in a book about WWII. It is not for the very young. I think I'm going to wait to give it to my 14 year old until she is a little older. She is sensitive to the sadness of war, and I think this would be a bit much for her. It is for YA, but it can be very disturbing. I would keep it to your older YAs.

This book was a revelation to me of what can become popular. It achieved the recognition of "NY Times #1 Bestseller." It is so nice to know that this kind of artistic writing can achieve great success. Don't let the inevitable sadness contained in it keep you from reading it. I kept postponing reading it because I knew it would be sad. I've had it since Christmas. I could kick myself for waiting. It is so worth the teary moments. 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow Day!

North Carolina got a little bit of the old white stuff. Some of you might say big deal. Well, yeah, it is a big deal. 

4-5" is more snow than we've gotten in several years. 

It's looking up around here. Everything has shut down. We even lost power this morning for a couple of hours. That's why my post is later than normal. Everyone has been wired this morning.

Even the dogs. They were hilarious.

Buzz snow coated after all his frolicking...

My son ready to pummel me with a snowball.

My daughter ready to deck out the snow man. We just have to build it first.

Mmmm! Delicious snow! 

This one just completely cracks me up. Regal can't resist licking the snow, but then this is the result. Brrr.

The leaves with snow match Regal. It's snow covered fall or Regal in nature.