Thursday, December 22, 2011

A few of my favorite things. . .

There are two traditions in our house that aren’t quite as fun as say, riding the Christmas light train, two days of candy making, or downtown's Christmas in the Park.
The first is our annual Long clean out (see the intended pun)- the weekend after Christmas, a date with a big dumpster, and two days of beginning the year on a clean slate.  I love going into the New Year fresh, organized, and energized but. . .
I hate New Year's resolutions.  This is my second annual tradition.  I do not do a “resolution list.”  Goals are fine, but writing down what I want to accomplish over the year can seem a bit overwhelming, and let’s not even mention how ridiculous most of my resolutions can sound on paper (Bungee jumping in Africa anyone?).  Instead I do something called “my New Year's reflections.”  I remember all of my tiny accomplishments throughout the year.  I flip through facebook, my journals, my writings, and soak it all in.  This years reflections began a little early as I sat down to write one of my last blog posts of the year.  It led me to how grateful I am for a number of other bloggers, people who inspire, uplift, and flat out make me laugh.   So I thought, because we’re so close to the holiday, I would steal a line from one of my favorite musicals, The Sound of Music, and give you a few of my favorite things (the blog edition). . .
My favorite. . .
Recipes Our Best Bites
Magazine (where I’m constantly finding new blogs to read) Barrel of Blogs
Voyeuristic addiction Venus/Mars
Vintage style Amy Morby
Book giveaways Inspired Kathy
Literary laughs Bookshelves of Doom
Blog post video of the year (Tracy is no longer blogging, but this made me seriously, out loud, laugh)
And quizzes Stacy's Books
Please feel free to add to my list in the comments below (your own blog or someone else's).  The only thing better than reading blogs is discovering new ones.
Happy Holidays ya'll!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Day Story

Since Sunday is Christmas day I wanted to post a story that will remind us of what true happiness and giving is all about.

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs.  His bed was next to the room's only window.

The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end.
They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation. Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake.  Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene. One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band, he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days, weeks and months passed. One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep.  She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.
As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside.  He strained to slowly turn to look out the window besides the bed.

It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, "Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you."

 There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situations. If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can't buy. Today’s gift is your life on earth.  That is why it is called “The Present”.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Check My Email a Million Times a Day.

Elana Johnson wrote a book on writing queries, and the final section is about waiting. Waiting. WAITING! Which is what I'm doing. Which is why I check my email at all hours. (Because some agent just might be up at two a.m. reading my excerpt and loving it--not because it's so late, but because it's so good ...) Right now I have a manuscript submitted to a publisher, and it's one of those cases where it might be six months before I hear from them. I have two thoughts on the issue-

*HOW THE HECK CAN THEY TURN IT DOWN? It's simply amazing. They'll all love it. I'm finally going to get published. I'm wondering what two weeks I should have my husband take off this summer so I can travel for book signings. And should I contact "Live with Kelly" now and offer them the first chance to interview me?

* ... I. Am. Never. Getting. Published.

Which makes checking my email a bit nerve racking. Once, after a small publisher asked me to revise a different novel and resubmit it, my husband was checking my email for something and saw a response from them. He happened to be on the phone with me because I was at the lumber store. 
"Hey, you got an email from [the publisher]." 
Ah. AHH. AHHH! "What does it say?"
Long. Pause. "Uh, you can read it when you get home." (In case you didn't realize it, it was a rejection.)
I heard an author once say she got 89 rejections before she got representation. I have another friend who's gotten well over 100 for what I think is a great book. I think technically I have like ten. Which I've handled very well. (Mostly because I'm no where near 89 yet, which seems to be some kind of magic number for me. I'll probably start crying the closer I get to that ...) I've been known to actually walk away from the computer when I see the name of an agent or publisher in my inbox. Because it's like that cat in the box thing--as long as I don't open it, it could be a "yes." That's the same reason that I'm okay with every day that goes by that I don't have an email from a publisher or agent.

It could still be a "yes."

...Excuse me, I have to go check my email again. ...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 18: Temporary Triumphs

Think of the last time you were reading a novel and about halfway through the book everything seemed to be wrapping up nicely:  the guy got the girl, the promotion, the tattoo - whatever his goals were.  And recall your thought process as you were reading about how great life was becoming for the main character.  You probably sat there looking at that fatty book in your hand, seeing that you were only on page 200 of 400, and wondered to yourself what horrible incident was about to befall this beloved hero of yours.  Because there has to be an incident.  Else the next 200 pages are going to be a real drag.

What is the point of this "temporary triumph" (to use the term coined by Victoria Lynn Schmidt)?  Obviously none of us are going to be fooled into thinking the hero has seen the worst of his problems and he's now going to sail smoothly for the latter half of the book, so it must have another purpose.  For me, temporary triumphs are the perfect opportunity to add some drama and showcase just exactly what this character is made of.  The protagonist has, by Act II, Part 1, already seen a few trials so he or she feels their temporary triumph is well-deserved.  They're sitting back relaxing in a canoe on a calm river, positive that they've overcome the worst of the river's rapids.  We'll let them revel in their momentary victory because we want to show the readers that, despite having done little to deserve it, our characters are proud of their achievements.  And yet we know, pride goeth before the fall.  What good is a story if the protagonist changes only their surface problem without ever changing themselves, without growing and learning from the opposition and coming out a better person in the end?  So that's what we're going to do.  We're going to let them pat themselves on the back, but then we're going to see their horror-stricken faces when they realize their problems are far from over (and secretly, we're going to be routing for that kind of gut-wrenching reversal because without overcoming great obstacles the hero can barely get an opportunity to showcase how truly heroic he can be).

Today's task is to brainstorm a few options for your own character's temporary triumph.  You can find the Temporary Triumph Brainstorm worksheet by clicking the link and scrolling down to page 270.  You must remember, however, to keep the triumph relevant to the overall conflict of the story.  As Schmidt says:
"If you are having trouble figuring out what your story's temporary triumph should be, remember that it needs to push the main character toward his ultimate goal.  Look at where you want that character to be in the end of the story [and ask yourself] how [you can] use the temporary triumph to support that ending" (BIAM, pg 146).
To give you a better idea of what a temporary triumph might look like I've listed some examples from page 145 of Victoria Lynn Schmidt's Book In a Month:
  • Our heroine gets the job of her dreams and can now support her family (temporary triumph)  Oh no, it was just a scam and she already quit her old crappy job. (reversal)
  • The hero found the love of his life and can let himself love again after going through a horrible divorce! (temporary triumph) Wait - she's already married and not interested in anything long-term. (reversal)
  • The heroine discovers a cure for baldness! (temporary triumph) Oops - it has horrible side effects and her company is being sued. (reversal)
Stay tuned for when we'll discuss reversals and reversal brainstorming in more depth.

MY DAY 18:  The day was hardly productive.  I spent my time editing my website and watching TV with the hubs (in my defense it had been a while...) and got only one measly scene completed.  Looked forward with hope for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Never let them see you rant. . .

Did you miss me? 
Oh.  Didn’t notice I was gone huh.  Well I forgive you, Thanksgiving was hard on me.  Trying to exceed my own expectations for a perfect holiday and all that crap.  Was anyone else as annoyed as I was by all the thankfulness filling up the facebook walls?  I mean there’s only so much “I’m so grateful for my husband” one person can take.  I was feeling a bit bah humbug about the whole thing until I began compiling my own list.  It went a little something like this.

I'm grateful for Bowel Movements.  I am grateful for laxatives.  I am grateful all of my children can usually make it to the potty before they need to “go.”
I'm most grateful for disposable diapers.  And baby wipes.  And Clorox disinfectant  wipes.  
I'm grateful for Diet Coke and Tylenol.  My breakfast of champions.
I'm grateful for Netflix streaming, especially when my daughter wakes at 2am and WON’T GO BACK TO SLEEP.  
I'm grateful I can sleep through Yo Gabba Gabba.
I'm grateful my husband has class until really late Thursday nights.  Because sometimes (sometimes) I really enjoy having the house to myself after the kids have gone to bed.
I'm grateful my husband is a gearhead.  I don’t care about tripping over the alternator in the yard.  Or the brake parts on top of my washer.  The V-8 engine my husband insisted on buying, will allow me to cut in front of that stupid hybrid Prius driving 50 on the freeway (no offense Prius drivers).
I'm grateful for a giant, fast, intimidating cars.  Even if it does feel like a bus every once in a while.
I'm grateful for grumpy friends.  And sarcastic ones.  And snide comments made under their breath. I am grateful for how real they are with me.
I'm grateful for bad weather.  For the excuse to leave my kids in jammies all day and watch tv and eat cookies for breakfast.  
Most of all I am grateful to you, blog reader.  I am grateful you are still reading this little rant because I would have stopped after the word poop.
You are still reading, aren’t you?  I had to let this list out.  All this snark inside me was just aching to go on facebook.  I don’t know how many times I’ve logged on to see someone gush about how wonderful their husband is, or how grateful they are for a job, blah, blah, blah.   All the while I feel like I’m trying to (barely) hold on to some semblance of this holiday season spirit.
And yes, nothing like a little snark to make the holiday season that much more. . .genuine.
What are you truly grateful for this month?  Let it out here. . .I promise not to tell.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Improving Your Writing Through Your Assets

In my search to improve my writing, I like to read what other writers do and I often find myself learning from them.  Such is the case with Hope Clark who started the Fund For Writers website and newsletter.  Her last writing of encouraging words for writers was very informative.

“When we become a writer, we often have a goal in mind. We envision the "one day" of being a successful writer, which to many means a book. To some it's a special book after several near-misses. To others it's a reputation and a long list of bylines. 

All too soon after we begin this journey, we realize that long-term goal is pretty far down the path . . . almost out of sight. Then we wonder if we are on the right path. That writing 
gold ring seems too distant to take seriously. Most quit.”

She points out that we can use our assets or our other talents to improve our writing skills by writing about them. What Hope says is that “we underestimate who we are and what we can do. And we greatly underestimate how those identifying factors and talents factor into who we are as writers.”

 So think of and write down your top five talents or what you like to do the most besides writing. The sky is the limit as it could be gardening, exercise, reading, baking, organizing, sewing or crafts, parenting; the list can go on forever and this is a whole opportunity of topics to write about.

As Hope says, it does takes time to become a “successful” writer. Meaning earning a fair income from what we create which means others are reading our stuff. But as we are honing our craft in consistently writing day after day and week after week, what are the short term successes we can experience? We can be published online in other areas by submitting articles to magazines, online e-zines and blogs. This opportunity helps give us motivation to keep writing.

            Personally I have learned to diversify my writing.  I have been published under the topics of homeschooling children, book reviews and raising Christian children. It is amazing when you can “google” your name and find how much your writing is available for the public. We can continue to write all we want of whatever we love to do and we can improve our writing skills as we go.

As Hope suggests in what she calls “diversified writing” we can learn:
  1. how to write better
  2. how to find our voice
  3. how to develop a platform
  4. how to approach agents and editors
  5. how to be patient
  6. how to appreciate good writing
  7. how to write our dream project better
So keep your mind on your goal of writing that great American novel or romance-mystery but add on what interests you and what you have been actively doing for the past five, ten or twenty years and you will double or triple your readership.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The End of NaNo

So this year, I pretty much sucked at NaNo, and I'm totally okay with that. You can't ask for a story to write itself every year! Admittedly I had a really great outline and an amazing idea, but for some reason it wrote itself out at 22k. I could've gone the phone-book-quoting route to add many more words, but I liked "High School Revolution" too much to add filler. So I made the decision to set it aside. I'll go back in a few months and see what needs developed and fixed to make it into a great novel.
There's another big reason I'm okay with not getting 50k this year. This NaNo Mom-o made a crazy decision in the middle of November that she wanted to make her kids gifts this year for Christmas (for a more detailed explanation of this wildness, check out this post). This kind of decision happens for us every day. We decide to  use that extra few minutes we have every day to write to do something for our kids instead. And honestly, crafting has helped me. By not forcing my brain to come up with words, scenes, dialog, conflict -- it cleared a lot. When I hit writing hard again in January -- no fear, I haven't quit completely for December, just cut back A LOT -- I'll be READY! It's like when you edit for months and months, and by the time you're done, new stories are practically spilling out of your brain.
So, my question is, what NaNo genius did you all create last month?