Monday, July 30, 2012

Oh what do you do in the Summertime?

This month has been hard.  Do you remember as a kid spending summer doing all sorts of vacation type things?  Going to the beach, reading books for hours, crafts, water fights, sleepovers.  
Maybe my expectations are high. Maybe I should try and remember I'm a mom now.  Relaxation will come once they're all out of the house.
It never even occurred to me, as a  Mom, in charge of making summer fun, it's not so fun for you.
I'm saying it.  Summer sucks.
Okay maybe not all summers, but this one does.  At least for me.
I haven't written a thing in two months.
My mind is going crazy with plot ideas waiting to spill over into sentences and exclamations and story structure.  
But I can't sit down and type.  I've got Summer camps, and swim meets, and dance practice, and doctors visits, and not to mention all the needs of my friends and family.
Did I mention the four weddings I'm in?
I was reading through Heidi's post from last month.  My flippant advice to survive and write when you can.  Then this last month hit like a hurricane.
Write when I can?  What if you can't?
What do you do?
And so I sit and type this blog post, and realize there are things of more import than my writing.
It's painful to write the truth sometimes.
It's learning to accept the choice to have clean laundry and happy children.
At least for this month.



Friday, July 27, 2012

The Last Prize

Well, for Grand Re-Opening anyway!

This post was supposed to go up WEEKS ago. I'm sure life stuff never happens to you guys. You probably have everything totally under control and you always meet your deadlines. Someday I hope to be you. Or I hope to at least try to be you.

But without further adieu . . . 

The last prize in our Mommy Author's Grand Re-Opening celebration is an e-copy of BOUND by Annie Oldham.

After her mother dies, Elowyn Challis would do anything to bury the pain, but being shipped off to boarding school isn't what she had in mind. Things could be worse. Wyn finds a place for herself in the academy and living in the capital is just sparkling. But under it all, her mother's death still haunts her. Then Wyn discovers a secret that changes everything she believes: the bedtime stories her mother told her as a child are real, the faerie realm exists, and she is the Binder—the one mortal on earth with the power to seal the gate to Fae. It's a power Wyn's not sure she wants or can even wield. But she must confront her nightmares and her grief, or two worlds will be torn apart.
Away from her  writing, Annie is the mother of the two most adorable girls in the world, has the best husband in the world, and lives in the hottest place in the world (not really, but Phoenix sure feels like it).

The contest will be open from July 27th (today!) to August 3rd. Annie has generously offered to give away 2 copies! Enter below. It's SO easy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Fave Children's Books

(Original post published on my writer's blog May 7, 2012)

In honor of National Children's Book week, I'm rounding up a list of some of my favorite children's literature from picture books to chapter books. I suppose I wouldn't be a writer/mother worth my salt if my kids didn't have books. Don't worry. They have plenty. They have four, over-flowing shelves full of books. Granted, not many are those award-winning, deeper-meaning books. Most come from Walmart, or from my sister, a second grade teacher. But we still have a few we love to read over and over.

1. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault Illustrated by Lois Ehlert
This book is sort of like a big "duh" on the list. It's got an awesome rhythm, fun stuff happening to the letters, and of course, the alphabet itself! Both my six-year-old and my four-year-old request it numerous times a day.

2. I'm a T. Rex! by Dennis R. Shealy Illustrated by Brian Biggs
Whenever I say, "Let's read a book," this is the one my four-year-old brings. It's a rhyming, rhythmic, growling story about a little T. Rex, and the four-year-old loves to yell along with the oft-repeated line, "I'm a T. Rex!"

3. Hop On Pop by Dr. Seuss (Board book version)
You know those 3-in-1 Seuss board books you can buy at Costco? Yeah, we bought lots of those when my six-year-old was a toddler. He LOVED books (and still does). And later on, when he got in kindergarten, this book basically taught him to read. Of course, after several hundred readings he probably had it memorized.

4. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
Blue Hat, Green Hat (Boynton on Board)My four-year-old thinks he's so awesome because he can "read" this book to Grandma over Skype. And all of us giggle non-stop at every page. SO adorable. Every child needs this book. Seriously.

5. Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child
 I'll brag here for just a second. My kindergartner is a pretty awesome reader and is more interested in chapter books than picture books. (He can read a Magic Treehouse Book in a matter of hours.) He's always plucking books off my shelf like Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and even the Gallagher Girls. Once, when I told him he could bring one chapter book on a long trip, he chose my all-in-one collection of Chronicles of Narnia. In an effort to help he read something more along his level, I picked up Utterly Me at Sam's Club one day. Then I started reading with him. And started laughing my head off. We haven't finished it, but the voice is the most darling thing in the world. Believe me, there's a review coming soon! 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Writing Your Novel with Baby Steps

Valerie J. Steimle

Writing a novel has romantic overtones. Thoughts of sitting at a computer near a window of beautiful landscapes, typing away a story which will mesmerize the world can hold a writer at task for months at a time. The reality is we are staring at a blank screen, holed up in a room at night when everyone else is asleep. For me, writing a novel is very scary.  I started one eight years ago and finished the first 100 pages. Since my forte is nonfiction, I get shaky and weak when I think about finishing what I started.
Grandson steps

Some time ago, I stumbled over an article in the February 2008 issue of Writer’s Digest called Baby Steps written by Bill O’Hanlon. He had authored or co-authored 28 books so I thought he would be a good source of information. As I was reading through what he had to say about writing a novel, the thought popped into my head that I needed to take notes and use them later on when I get to “that novel”. So I am passing his words of wisdom on to you.

The first thing he says is to focus on the smallest pieces of the task. Instead of thinking, I need to write this whole novel now. How am I going to do that? Think: I need to divide my project up into bite sized chunks so it is easier to work with. He illustrates this idea with a Chinese proverb: "Enough shovels of earth--a mountain. Enough pails of water--a river". I always say the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time but I think the Chinese have a more poignant way of communicating. Either way, Mr. O’Hanlon says you start with a simple outline. Then with that outline you write a more detailed outline which would include any anecdotes, quotations, excerpts, scenes, and plot points which characters are in the scene and where it takes place.

To start this, you should only write in small amounts of time. Choose anywhere from five to fifteen minutes a writing period. Your writing periods could be five days a week or three days a week. Whatever you can do and decide by month or week. For example, say you decide to write four days a week. Commit yourself to a two week writing period of four days a week When that time is up, recommit yourself for the next time period and you can adjust how many days if you need to. You can do it by the month or two months. Whatever you are comfortable with really helps to break down your commitment of a certain amount of time per writing period. Its “baby steps” as Mr. O’Hanlon named his article.
After your detailed outline is done then transfer each of those detailed points onto in index card that you can carry around with you everywhere you go and write on them. Keep chapters together with rubber bands and work on them as you can.

Once you have all of your cards done, you can start writing your pages using your index cards to help you. But remember: the most important thing is to write in small increments of time. If you have more time then keep going but start your allotted time each day you are to write. That will get you into the habit. There is much more to say about what I learned so in next month’s newsletter there will be another article with more great ideas. The most important thing is to stay motivated to finish your step at a time.
I need to practice what I preach so for my next month goal I am going to write my detailed outline. Not everyone can write this way but for those who are stuck somewhere between gazing at a blank computer screen and thinking, I really need to start that novel, baby steps is the way to go.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Day 29: Character Arc

This has been a LONG 30 days, yeah?  (I mean aside from the fact that it literally has been longer than 30 days...)  

At the beginning of your project you may have had a clear direction of where you wanted your story to go, but now it has shifted and taken on a life all its own.  Perhaps you were vague on the details, but had a general idea floating in your head that has come together through the process.  Either way, you've been so immersed in your story of late, that it's time to take a step back and see the overall picture; specifically as it deals with the transformation your character has made from the beginning of the novel to this point, and will make from this point to the end.  This transformation is often termed the "Character Arc," and deals with the character's emotional development throughout the story.
Emotion Evolution.
Photo Credit:  Sarah Lucas
I've spoken a lot about story structure and some of the key points at which major things are happening to the character (external), or the character is making a decision that changes her circumstances (internal).  Using Victoria Lynn Schmidt's awesome Character Arc Tracker (scroll down to page 282), from her Book in a Month system, we're going to take a look at the way your character has changed throughout your story.
(Does anyone else wonder how a group of lines shooting every which way can be considered an "arc"?  Just thinking out loud here....)

Point 1 -  Your character at the start of Act I
  • This is where we meet your character and learn what normal life is like.  We should have a clear idea of how good (Fun with Dick and Jane) or bad (Cinderella) things are for her - understand where she is emotionally - so as to appreciate the changes that are about to come into her life.
  • Here you will introduce the character's flaw which threatens to be her undoing by the end of the story.

Point 2 - Your character at the End of Act I/ Beginning of Act II 
(AKA: Act I Turning Point, Plot Point 1, First Doorway of No Return, or Entrance into the Exotic World -- the myriad of names is one of the biggest reasons it can be so tricky to understand story structure!)
  • Now something has occurred which has shifted the character's status quo and forced her into a new reality.  Whether this change is pleasant (unexpectedly falling in love) or painful (finding out a spouse is unfaithful), the character is going to need a bit of time to adjust to this new normal.  What is she feeling as she faces these changes?  
  • This is the point at which we begin to see the character's back story and understand why she behaves the way she does.  Oftentimes we will realize that the character's flaw comes from some past experience that she has not yet overcome.  Character arc is all about revealing how a character overcomes (or fails to overcome) a significant flaw that is preventing her from obtaining her goals.

Point 3 - Your character at the Midpoint 
(AKA: End of Act II, Part 1 or Temporary Triumph)
  • Notice this is the point in the "arc" which spikes upward.  This is the high point for the character where we see she's accomplished, or is well on her way to accomplishing, her goals.  Whatever little difficulties she has had to overcome to get to this point felt pretty big to her; she's probably pretty proud of her ingenuity and her ability to get what she wants despite the odds.  However, we know she hasn't yet overcome her flaw - she hasn't learned her lesson - and thus, we suspect the triumph cannot last.

Point 4 - Your character at the Reversal
  • No matter how bad things were for your character before, this is climatically going to be the hardest point for her within your story.  She is at her lowest, couldn't-get-any-worse-than-this moment and she's feeling it!  Despair, agony, defeat... all of those hackneyed and melodramatic words come into play here.  (Not sure if you actually need to use those words... what with it being better to show than tell and whatnot).  

Point 5 - Your character at the End of Act II, Part 2/ Beginning of Act III 
(AKA: Act II Turning PointPlot Point 2, or Second Doorway of No Return)
  • This is such an awesome point in the story.  Here your character has had time to reflect on how things got so bad in the reversal, and she finally admits to herself that she needs to change if she is going to ever truly succeed.  This anticipation of this turning point is what has been driving the story from the beginning.  Without a realization of her flaw, and a desire to overcome it, she will not have any character arc.

Point 6 - Your character at the Climax
  • I haven't spoken about climaxes yet and that's for the simple fact that we haven't come that far in our 30 day journey.  A brief explanation:  this is the point where we get to see the character - oozing maturity and coolness from all of her new-found, hard won, wisdom - put into practice what she has learned along her journey.  She is going to be confronting her antagonist in a final showdown, and if she hasn't figured out how to overcome her flaw, she has no chance at success.

Points 7 and 8 - Your character either succeeds or fails
  • Succeeds:  Show the new person your character has become now that she's proven to herself and the world how she has changed.
  • Fails:  Though your character may not reach the goal she hoped to attain at the start of the story, she has learned and grown through her experiences.  

For more on character emotional development see this fantastic article.

MY DAY 29:  Nothing unusual to report.  I just kept at it and made slow progress. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Guest Mommy Author: Josi S. Kilpack

When I first saw that my interview would post on Friday the 13th, I immediately began brainstorming authors appropriate to the day. Lots of choices ran through my head, but one stuck out right away, Josi S. Kilpack, author of several cozy culinary mysteries. As a mystery writer, she's the perfect choice for an interview on Friday the 13th. As a mom of four, she's the perfect choice for this blog. 
About Josi: Josi S. Kilpack hated to read until her mother handed her a copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond when she was 13. From that day forward, she read everything she could get her hands on and accredits her writing “education” to the many novels she has “studied” since then. She began writing her first novel in 1998 and never stopped. Her novel, Sheep’s Clothing won the Whitney Award 2007 for Mystery/Suspense. Lemon Tart, the first book in the Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery series was a finalist in 2009.  Josi currently lives in Willard, Utah with her husband, children, dog, and varying number of chickens.

Josi's latest culinary mystery,  Banana Split.
Me: First off, as a teen I read every Marry Higgins Clark my small-town library had and once thought I, too, could write mysteries. Alas, such is NOT the case. How did you get into writing mysteries and what made you choose cozy, culinary mysteries?
my story was fitting into the "cozy" spere of things, and it was actually my publisher who suggested I put recipes in it. Sadie talked about food and made food throughout the book, so it wasn't hard, but I'd never actually read one before.

Me: Have you ever used incidences from real life for scenes in your novels? Or have any real people inspired characters?
Josi: I had never written a mystery when I started Lemon Tart, and I started it as a contest entry--Jeff Savage did a contest for the first chapter of a mystery novel that involved food. I only wrote that one chapter at first, but had a good time and kept going. In the process, I had to read up on the formula for a mystery and learn a lot of craft-skills that I hadn't had to use with my other books. I was about half-way through when I realized

Me: Where do you get your inspirations for your culinary mysteries? How do you research for them?
Josi: Each book has either started with a recipe or a region. The region parts take a lot of research but I tend to 'spot-research' which means I'll write based on my best guess and when I get to a part where I need a factual thing, I look it up. I get myself in trouble sometimes when I later find out I was 'guessing' wrong, but for the most part it works. I'm not a really great researcher so I never recommend that people do it my way. The story comes together through trial and error and error and error. I'm a sloppy writer and tend to poke around until a plot takes off. I don't recommend doing that either.
Josi: Most of my character start with a real person, but then they always morph into someone completely different. I do use real scenes in my books, but they are always highly fictionalized by the time I finish with them. 
Me: You have four non-culinary mystery books, one book out for the Newport Ladies Book Club and another in the works, seven in the Sadie Hoffmiller culinary mysteries series and another in the works, and any other projects you don't mention on twitter ;) PLUS four kids. So the question is: how?
Josi: I'm neurotic and always stressed. I'm thrilled to be where I am, but it keeps me running. It certainly helps that I love what I'm doing, therefore it's easier to make it a priority, but I'm always unbalanced somewhere in my life and trying to keep up. For now, it's working and it's worth the sacrifices. I've learned to do everything fast and I don't have a lot of down time.

Me: You wrote your first book with two young children and while on bed rest during your third pregnancy, right? How did you hold down the fort at home while writing? 
Josi: With that first book, I had two sisters who were working hard to keep my life going and a wonderful husband who took on a lot of extra responsibility. It was a very hard and frustrating time, for all of us I'm sure, and yet I think it was to distract myself from the hard stuff that I began that first story. I needed to think of something else, and it has grown into something fabulous. A friend said to me once "Thank goodness for bedrest" and it took me a minute to realize what a blessing that was. I've wondered if I'd have taken the time and uncovered the passion for writing if I hadn't truly had nothing else to do. It was a lesson to me that sometimes our trials end up being the door to something unexpected.

Me: How big of a role does your husband play in your ability to pursue a writing career?
I could not do this without Lee. From the very start he encouraged me to pursue it and he's always behind the scenes encouraging me to keep going, letting me vent about hard things, and yet keeping me grounded as well. It's easy for me to get completely lost in my fictional worlds, and he's there to pull me back and remind me of reality and my responsibility here. His confidence in me has been the most important aspect of my writing, without his support I can't imagine my ever seeking this in the first place, let alone sticking to it on the really hard days. He's priceless for me.

Me: What system works in your house for just getting it all done -- kids, writing, housework, etc. etc. etc.!
Josi: My kids have chore days where once a week they are in charge of almost everything--dishes, bathrooms, pets, straightening, etc. It's about an hour of work, but I only have one kid I have to hound and if they all keep up with it then we stay on top of things. I get up early (5:00 most days) in order to exercise and do some home maintenance before they go to school or, since it's summer time, before they wake up. My kids start doing their own laundry at 11, so I only have one that I have to wash clothes for and this helps a great deal as well. I try to write in blocks of time, rather than in small snippets so I'm usually trying to get everything done so I can sit down for a couple of hours. Some days it works, some days it doesn't. For the last year and a half I have gone to our office once a week in the evening and written until midnight with some other writer friends. It's been a very effective thing for me, since getting away from the distractions at home helps me to focus. AND, just a couple of months ago I hired a housekeeper to come in twice a month and do floors and bathrooms. I just couldn't keep up and my kids didn't do a good enough job and it was worth the $200/month to not have to stress out about it. I felt guilty about it for the first hour :-)

Me: The Newport Ladies Book Club series is centered around, well, women and books! Daisy is a mother. How much of your parenting style went into creating her character?
Josi: Daisy is very different from me, but she was reflective more of my 'place' as a mom as my style. My oldest daughter just started college, living on campus, and as her departure got closer I found myself panicking. I have struggled with motherhood, I don't feel like I'm very good at it and it hasn't been as satisfying as I thought it would be when I started it out. For many, many years I was counting the days until my kids grew up and left, and yet now as they are doing that, I'm overwhelmed by it and realizing things I missed or things that will never be the same again. Daisy was an extreme example of someone realizing those things too and through writing it I worked out some of my own demons.

Me: What can you tell us about SHANNON's character for your next NLBC book?
Josi: Shannon is a pharmacist with a good family and good career. She has a step-daughter who has struggled with drugs and alcohol and who comes to Shannon for help. Shannon sees so much potential and wants her success so much that she hides things from her husband and son, and justifies her actions because of her goals, but finds out that in the process she's gone against her own values. I'm only about half way done with it so far and it's been another important journey for me personally. I'm eager to see how it turns out :-) 

Me: Finally, and most importantly, what ice cream flavor is an absolute necessity in your freezer?
Josi: Vanilla. I'm a very exciting person. :-) 

Thanks, Josi for taking time to answer my stimulating questions. ;) You can find out more about Josi by stopping by her web page and blog or following her on twitter.

Monday, July 9, 2012

July Short Story contest

The prompt for our Short Story competition is up on our Mommy Author Goodreads group.  You do not have to be a mommy to participate, so please help us spread the word!

This month's prompt is pictured below.

To submit an entry simply title your work as a reply to the topic in our group. The word count this month is 1000 words or less. 

The winner will receive a 25$ gift card from Amazon and have their story published on the "Mommy Authors" blog. 

We ask for previously unpublished content. You retain the rights to your written work. Please remember we are a Mommy blog, so no erotica, bad language, or graphic situations are accepted. The contest will close midnight PST July 25th and the winner announced by email on the 31st.

If you haven't joined our goodreads group yet, here is the link

Don't Ever Quit Writing......

Valerie J. Steimle

In our normal living from day to day, life gets busy and we set aside our writing goals of the future. I'm right in the middle of organizing a manuscript that needs to be ready for publication by the end of August. With all of my summer activities, it is difficult to keep on track. Sometimes it is easy to get very distracted. Sometimes life calls us away to do other things, but the most important virtue a writer can have is DETERMINATION.  Don't Quit!!! Just be determined when you have a load of other people and activity calling you away find some time....somewhere when you can write. When life takes us on a journey in a different direction, we need a little boost to get us back on track.  Although it's beach weather for the next few months, serious writers--that is all of us--can organize our time to write, write, write!!!  
We can't do it all at once.  We have families and friends to spend our time and those are great opportunities. We just need to be determined to keep our writings going.....

 I received this poem a while ago through an email. I wish I had written it but I didn't. The author is unknown, but it is a great shot in the arm and we all need that once in a while. This poem gives it to us.


When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won if he'd stuck it out.
Don't give up, though the pace seems slow -
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor's cup,
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are -
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.

We all need a way to remember what is important to us as writers and authors. We all need that reminder to never give up.  So as we go through our summer months into the fall season, we should remember to fight the "fight when you’re hardest hit—when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit". 
Don’t ever quit writing.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What is an American?

  Wednesday is the Fourth of July—our Independence Day. The question I have is: What does it mean to be an American? What can we do to strengthen our land to make it better?
  In the early years of our nation, many fought for the independence from the British crown. We were such an underdog at the time; many other countries thought we would never make it. But with the prayers and courage of our colonial forefathers they made it through to independence and wrote our constitution signed by all those who wanted to band together to form an independent nation. They were all God fearing men and they had the conviction that what they were doing was the right.
  Because these brave men had foresight and inspiration, we have reaped the blessings of a free nation. But how long will we be free? How long will our nation’s government hold up to the multi-cultralism being pushed on us. Why do we have to learn Spanish? Why shouldn’t those wanting to live here in this free land doing as they please learn to speak English as my immigrant grandparents did? This is our country and if they want to live here they should incorporate our culture into theirs, not the other way around.
  When our forefathers fought to became an independent colony, they believed in God and I believe that the majority of Americans still believe in God regardless of what the media says. So why is the government trying to delete God from our society? We are still the citizens of this country and shouldn’t cow tow to what our "one-world" government elected leaders push on us. Shame on us for electing them but by the same token shame on us for keeping them in office if they prove to lead us in the wrong direction. This is still our country and our land and our lifestyle and we should be able to enjoy the freedoms our forefathers fought so hard to keep. We shouldn’t be griping about our flag, our pledge, or our Christian beliefs because if you are not happy here, you can always leave.
  So what is the answer to my question: What is an American? An American is a citizen who stands up for what they believe in regardless of what the government says. An American citizen supports it’s constitution in the fullest sense and not change it so drastically that there is nothing left but socialist propaganda. An American citizen does his/her best to vote in national and local leaders to move us forward as a stronger nation and independent of other countries, not giving our jobs and our sovereignty away in the name of "helping the world".
  Today, we need to display our flag and remember the great responsibility and blessing it is to live in this country. We need to keep the memories of our founding fathers in our hearts.  We are Americans and we should never forget it.

-Valerie J. Steimle