Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mummy Authors..........

Valerie J. Steimle

Today is Halloween and I am honored to write the post for this very spooky day. This writing is an excerpt from my next book which is being published as we speak..... or read.  Thoughts From the Heart: Writings from the Gulf Coast of Alabama will be available for purchase on Amazon in another week (so exciting).
So without further is my post for all of you mummies and ghouls.......

The Evolution of Halloween

            Today is Halloween....and many might not know, but today is the celebration of “All Hallows Eve.”  There is a long history of this festive day throughout all the ages, but in our modern world we sometimes forget the reason why we do what we do.
             The story of Halloween is entirely too long to write here but suffice it to say that the British Isles had the market on this holiday way back to the 8th century. "All Saints Day" was celebrated on November 1st (which is tomorrow) and the people in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales created a “Day of the Dead.”  The dead were honored and a feast was held, not as those who are dead but as the living spirits of loved ones and guardians.  “All Hallows Eve” events also included dressing up in unrecognizable costumes and mischief making to get treats to eat.  As the early Americans adopted this tradition from their European ancestors, it evolved into what we know now as Halloween.  But something very interesting has happened.
istock photo
            Back in the day when I was trick-or-treating, (60’s and 70’s) many children participated in this fun, seemingly innocent activity. I remember how much fun it was to go from door to door in our neighborhood to get candy and Hollywood wasn't as interested in scaring you silly. The 80’s and 90’s came along and my children went trick-or-treating as well.  I noticed then that there weren't as many children knocking at my door.  The movie rating changed from “R” to PG-13 so we get more violence and horror in what used to be considered unsuitable for “under 17”. 
            Now it’s after the new millennium, the focus on Halloween is mostly celebrated as horror and ghouls. Some churches would rather not dress up to collect candy as it has taken on this ghoulish version of what used to be a fun costume party. Old time “Fall Festivals” have been popular in some areas.  It is sad that there aren't nearly as many trick-or-treaters as there were even ten years ago and the emphasis in Hollywood is ghouls and horror. We find more and more of the horror scene on commercials and in movies
which reflect in children's costumes. 
            Maybe Halloween has decreased in trick-or-treaters because of the scare in the 70's and 80’s of neighbors putting drugs in candy and razor blades in apples. Maybe it’s because those parents from my generation of trick-or-treaters sees this holiday as a different celebration and don’t want to be sucked into the Hollywood’s idea of gruesome and ghouls.  Whatever the reason, Halloween has evolved into a time when community groups and churches promote fall activities and games instead of mischief and tricks and the few trick-or-treaters left have to get to houses by 9pm or else everyone is out of candy and has turned off the light.  It is amazing to me to see this metamorphosis take place and to think about what Halloween has become.
            On the one hand, Hollywood sees Halloween as an opportunity to scare you to pieces, while on the other hand many communities want safe and fun festivals for their children to still dress up and give out treats. I wonder what Halloween will end up being ten years from now?  It makes you wonder.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Author Interview: Lisa Nowak

I love Halloween. Besides the chance to pretend to be someone (something) else for an evening, and indulging in all the candy I can eat (and then some), I love Halloween reading.
There is something about the return of Oregon's gray skies and cold drizzle that makes curling up with a creepy book feel like just the right thing to do.
On this Halloween week, I'm happy to interview Lisa Nowak, whose recent YA release, Dead Heat, is a perfect spooky read.

Alex is a machine whisperer. He can tell what’s wrong with a broken-down car with a touch. But his gift can’t save him from the brutality of his meth-addict father. For two years, Alex experienced kindness through Cole, his mentor. Now Cole’s dead, and the violence in Alex’s life is escalating.
When Cole reappears as a ghost, Alex clings to the tenuous link. Then he learns Cole might’ve sacrificed his chance to cross over. Jade, the first girl to look beyond Alex’s past, assures him Cole can reach the Other Side—if Alex escapes from his dad. But a previous terrifying attempt has convinced Alex it’s impossible. Unless he can find the courage to try, his friend may be earthbound forever.

 Hi Lisa. Congratulations on the release of Dead Heat. I saw on your blog that you are more proud of this than any other project. Can you tell us more about why that is?

I'm excited about this book for several reasons. For one thing, it deals with issues like child abuse and that controversial topic of what to do when you think reporting it might result in more harm to the child than letting it continue. I know this isn't a popular subject, but I think it's realistic. Secondly, Dead Heat features a protagonist with a learning disability, and the story is told in first person through his slang and limited vocabulary. This is just Alex's voice (imagine a modern day Huck Finn) and I didn't think much about it until my editor told me how glad she was to see someone up-ending the stereotype about kids like Alex.

Dead Heat is a bit of a departure from your other books. It's darker and has a distinct edge. How did this come about?

Dead Heat never would’ve come to be had it not been for an agent rejecting my book Driven because it “wasn’t edgy enough.” Teens, according to him, won’t buy a book unless it’s edgy. I reacted with an “I’ll show you edgy, buster,” and Dead Heat was born. I still think his opinion was bogus, but I owe him one for shoving me in a direction I never would’ve taken on my own.

Alex faces some very real struggles in his life, from dealing with a learning disability to suffering abuse from his meth-addicted father. Was is difficult for you to write about such heavy topics? 

Actually, it wasn't. I find it harder to read books like this than to write them. When I'm inside a character's head, I feel like I'm living his or her reality. And Alex doesn't feel sorry for himself. He doesn't know anything different from what he's always lived, so as bad as it might seem to you and me, to him it's just normal.

Most of your books have male protagonists. Can you offer any tips for getting inside a teenage boy's head? For getting his voice right?

Honestly, I have no clue how I'm able to write from a teenage boy's perspective. It might be because I grew up as a tomboy and always wanted to be climbing trees, building forts, and getting into pinecone fights. It might be because when I was racing stock cars, I hung out so much with guys that I became very familiar with their behavior. Actually, up until a few years ago, most of my closest friends were guys. I suppose the only tip I can offer is to watch boys and pay attention to how they speak and act. If you don't have access to real live boys, watch TV shows and movies about them. One thing to remember about guys is that they don't come right out and admit to their feelings the way girls do. You have to convey what they're feeling through behavior and subtext. Which is what makes it so fun to write from their perspective, and also what makes it so rewarding to the reader.

I attended your summer workshop on different publishing models, and learned quite a lot. Thanks. Any advice for someone just starting to consider their publishing options?

Definitely. Your choice of publishing route shouldn't be about what anyone else thinks or what's going on in the industry. It should be about your personal strengths and what you want out of your publishing career. The simplest way I can put it is, if you have the skills and temperament to run a small business, you'll probably do well self-publishing. Otherwise, you'll be happier pursuing a traditional route. But there are some in-between options. I wrote a guest post about it on Literary Rambles a few weeks ago that provides a checklist to help you decide which path is best for you: 

Literary Rambles: Lisa Nowak Guest Post

Thank you for that link, Lisa. (Readers, seriously - go check it out.)
Do you mind sharing a little bit about your writing process? What is a typical day like for you?

That depends on the season, since I'm a landscaper nine months out of the year. But to keep things simple, I'll describe a winter day when I'm a full-time writer. If I'm being smart, the first thing I do after I get up is write. If I'm being stupid, I answer my email. :P I have no problem with making myself sit at the computer, so I can spend 8-15 hours there, but it wouldn't necessarily be productive (even if I could avoid the email/social networking trap). My best writing time is between 7 a.m. and noon, and between 4 and 9 p.m. Every once in awhile I'll get a second wind late at night and stay up until 2:00, but that's unusual. I've found that if I try to write during my down times, I don't get much accomplished, so I try to plan my social networking, emailing, marketing, etc. during those times. I'm an outliner, and I also tend to edit as I write. I know a lot of people advise against the latter, but it works for me. I only manage 500-1200 words per day, but I turn out very clean, tight first drafts, so it all averages out. My best tool for first drafts is taking a walk. I can spend all day at the computer and not squeeze out 200 words, then after dinner I'll go out with my digital recorder in hand and dictate 500-1000 words in a two-mile walk. If I'm on a roll, I'll walk an additional 1-2 miles. Sometimes I think I should spend the entire day walking around with my digital recorder. The bonus would  be that my pants would fit better. :P

One last question: Do you believe in ghosts?

I don't know. I don't disbelieve, but I've never seen one. After writing Dead Heat, I hope they exist.

Find Dead Heat on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barns & Noble.

In addition to being a YA author, Lisa is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are.

Connect with her here:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

All's Quiet on the NaNo Front?

As the self-proclaimed, Mommy Author resident NaNo WriMo expert, you all might be wondering why I've been so quiet on the subject lately. Do I not realize that it's mere days away? Surely I have a plot and outline all ready? I probably did it in September!

I do. I don't. I didn't.

I'm not doing NaNo WriMo this year.

*Gasp.* What? After last year when I bugged out early because my novel flopped and then I decided to make my kids presents for Christmas, leaving no time for last minute scrambling to meet my word count goal?

Yup. And I have a pretty good reason for failing two years in a row. If you hang around my twitter, blog, or Facebook, you might have picked up that I have some exciting things happening in the coming weeks. (I'm writing this post early and crossing my fingers that by the time it actually posts, it will have already happened ...)

I'm expecting Clark Baby #3. (And I'm not just being vague about the name because this is the internet and all -- well, that too -- we actually don't have a name locked in yet.)

That's no excuse, you say? Yeah, normally I'd agree. I wrote my first full-length NaNo WriMo (and first finished novel) when my second was only six months old. But this baby is different. I waited a long time for this baby (without getting into specifics, it wasn't related to my health. :D) I really just want to spend November (and December, January, February, March ...) sitting in a rocking chair and staring at him. So I'm going to. Because I can.

But you guys should all do NaNo. Really! I'm here to cheer you on and we even have a NaNo Mom-O forum for you over at the Goodreads group, so you should go check that out. I'll stop by to shout encouragement from my rocking chair. And perhaps toss out an idea or two, since I won't be using them. :D

And, because I have to know -- What's your bright NaNo idea this year?

Monday, October 22, 2012

How often should I clean my house.....

Valerie J. Steimle

This is a different topic for today........but everyone needs to think about it some time or another... I wrote this seven years ago and it still pertains to me today........

How often should I clean my house?

            Dog hair! Toys! Dust!  A home that is well lived in with people and pets has to be cleaned.  But how often?  As the mother of nine children with two black lab dogs at home, I know about messes and the battle of keeping a house clean.

            As writers and busy Moms this is a never ending quest. Sometimes cleaning isn’t on the top of my list and dust piles up WAY too much but if you follow this organizational cleaning guide and get children to participate, then your house will look and feel much better.

            Whenever I have organized my cleaning time in a new home, I would make a master list of what needs to be done to keep a clean house: wash windows, dust furniture, mop floors and clean toilets. Take a thorough tour around your house to find all the jobs that need to be done so nothing gets unnoticed and write them down on a master list.

            Once this list is established then chores are organized by time frame.  Everyone knows that a carpet with pets running free needs more vacuum time than a home with no pets so think about the needs you have and plan accordingly. Group cleaning jobs by what needs to be done daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, bi-yearly and yearly. Be sensible about cleaning tasks by what gets the most traffic in an area. For example, my children’s bathroom needed to be cleaned twice a week because of all the traffic. 

            Once you have divided your master list up by time frame, you can keep a chart in a useful place of all the daily and weekly tasks for all family members to see.  Monthly, biyearly and yearly cleaning tasks are best kept on colored 3x5 cards.  Buy a pack of colored 3x5 index cards and list all monthly, biyearly, and yearly jobs together on a card or two with any details needed about the job. Then using different colored cards, write the months of the year—one on each card---and list on that month what cleaning job you have decided to do.  Punch a hole at the top left hand corner of the card and place a metal ring through the hole. You can even tab the cards by month so you can find them easier.

             Now you have all of your cleaning jobs listed by month and what needs to be done so you don’t forget.  You don’t even need to keep the master list you wrote because they are all listed on your cards and/or job chart. The worry of what gets done when and how often is already decided and you just follow the cards you made for a clean and stress free life.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Day 32: Revealing Your Novel's Theme

In the process of writing your novel have you once stopped to ask yourself, "What is the point of all of this?"  I don't mean the point of you spending hours upon hours neglecting house and family, serving up frozen food or takeout and using paper plates so you can avoid any dishes.  I mean have you ever thought about the purpose for telling your story?

Photo Credit: kirstinmckee
You may have started out with a character you cherished and hoped to share with the world, or a scene that haunted you, following your every movement until you'd explored it and found it's resolution, but by now that original idea has developed into a full-fledged novel with character arcs and plot turns and hero's journeys.  You've had this story sleeping in bed beside you, drinking coffee with you, heck, even (or if you're me - especially) taking a shower with you.  You two have hung out together enough that you've discovered there's something deeper and richer behind that flirty little face that first caught your attention.  Can you identify (with a clear, succinct phrase) exactly what that deeper, richer, thematic element of your novel is?

Finding Your Theme
"The proper time to think about theme in your novel is now, as you begin wrapping up your story and are able to draw conclusions about it in the context of the larger world.  As you begin to see theme emerge, you'll be able to go back and more consciously direct the novel toward it in the process of revision, streamlining the story so that the events that take place lead the reader toward thematic meaning" (Joseph Bates, Write Your Novel in 30 Days, page 83).
If you're at the cusp of writing your resolution, yet are still struggling to find your novel's theme, try using the following exercise, called the Theme Spider Worksheet (scroll down to page 273), from Victoria Lynn Schmidt's Book In a Month.  All of the questions posed on the worksheet are great, but for our purposes I think the four main questions you should work on answering are these:
  • Why did you write this story?
  • What is it you like about this story?
  • What do you want your readers to get out of the story?
  • What is the personal message you want this story to convey?
I won't guarantee this for everyone, but I will venture to say that most anyone who is impelled to write a novel will have a "moral to the story" already evident in their plot, even if they weren't intentionally writing with one in mind.  This is because we have read books and learned the natural rhythms that a story should have.  Joseph Bates says it best in Write Your Novel in 30 Days:
"When we start out with a clear character, with clear wants and limitations, and begin putting him in situations that test him as a person, we begin to see theme naturally emerge from the chain of events as a result of our curiosity and questioning as novelists" (page 83). 
Your job now is to browse through your story and figure out exactly what that theme is.

Strengthening Your Theme
Once you've found your theme (or if you've known what theme you want your story to have even before you began your project) there are a few things you can do to make sure your readers can find your theme too.
"Pretend you are a reader of your novel.  First, write a short essay (no more than 500 words) that explores the theme(s) of your novel in progress.  Where do you see evidence of this theme?  Be specific...
"Now revise a minimum of three scenes -- your novel's climax and two others of your choosing -- with a specific and critical eye toward further developing your themes" (Sarah Domet, 90 Days to Your Novel: A Day-by-Day Plan for Outlining & Writing Your Book, Page 248).
Victoria Lynn Schmidt suggests finding at least one scene per Act in which to reinforce your theme, with an additional emphasis in the Resolution portion of your novel.  (Theme Revelation Check - scroll down to page 285).  She says,
"Before you write the resolution, the final piece of your story, make sure you have paid off the theme.  If you haven't, then you need to be prepared to work it into your resolution.  This is where most themes are paid off" (Book in a Month, page 209).
In her book, 90 Days to Your Novel: A Day-by-Day Plan for Outlining & Writing Your Book, Sarah Domet suggests using the climax as the scene in which to act out the theme in a visual format, but the resolution as the scene in which the theme should be clarified or revealed.
 "If the climax dramatizes the themes of your novel, the scene immediately following the climax should underscore or reiterate this theme.  But a word of advice: Don't be too obvious.  That is, your reader can glean your intended message without your protagonist overtly explaining "I have been changed dramatically by the events of the climax, and here's how."  By this point in your novel you've included several scenes that reveal the emotional core of your characters -- and subtlety is often the best path to tread.  Check yourself to make sure you aren't being too heavy-handed in the scene following your climax" (Page 219).
She goes on to support Schmidt's suggestion of infusing other scenes with theme, offering the following examples:
"...Several of your other scenes should deepen the themes in more subtle ways, such as through a character description, the use of a minor character, a particularly illuminating image, a clearly rendered setting or pertinent symbol" (page 248).
Have you ever struggled to find your novel's theme?  Have you ever started a particular work because you had a theme you wanted to make the world aware of?

For more on theme see Martha Alderson's post Theme As a Touchstone For Writers and her excellent video series on Plotting A Novel's Thematic Significance

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Falling Into Fantasy Giveaway Hop

Fantasy. I adore fantasy. So I'm so excited that Mommy Authors can be part of this blog hop! 

We are giving away a paperback copy of THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING, a recommendation by fabulous Heidi.

And to enter, it's SO easy! You can get one or more entries in the following ways:
1. (Mandatory) Be a follower of the blog.
2. Like our Facebook Page.
3. Join our Goodreads Group.
4. Follow us on Twitter.
4. Leave a comment about your favorite fantasy book you read growing up. (Mine is the "Narnia" series, and I still love them today!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And be sure to drop by all the other blogs hosting giveaways!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Giveaway: Saving Halloween

Happy October!
This is truly my favorite time of year. I love the change of the seasons. I love the way the light turns golden, the mornings are crisp and foggy, the trees explode with color. I even love when Oregon returns to her natural, rainy state.
Pumpkin patches.
Herbal tea warming cold fingers.
I love Halloween so much that I went trick-or-treating every year until I got married. I'm short and a sheet ghost costume easily disguised my too oldness.
That is why I am so happy to introduce to you, Saving Halloween by Lisa Ard. (Remember her?)
When book-smart Anne Parson meets Halloween Spavento, she sees exactly what she wants to see -- a friend. Halloween waves away trouble, magically silences school bullies and offers Anne unfailing friendship. But, when the Spavento family's enchanting exploits are exposed, will Anne face her fears and save Halloween?

A spellbinding tale of outcasts who find acceptance, a girl who discovers the true meaning of family, and characters who are not always what they seem.
2012 Kay Snow Award Winner

I have to be honest, with all the excitement going on in my life the last couple of weeks, I have not had a chance to finish it yet, but what I did read, I was absolutely charmed by. I'm hoping to move it to the top of my stack next week - but you don't have to wait for me. You can get your own copy.
 Enter to win an ebook version of Saving Halloween by answering one of the following question:

What was the best costume you ever wore?
If you could be anyone else for a day, who would you be?

We'll pick and announce a winner next Friday.
Don't want to wait? Buy a print or ebook copy here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Discovering the Writer Within.....

Valerie J. Steimle

Back in July of 2006, I did a writer’s workshop for the American Night Writer’s Association’s annual summer retreat based on a wonderful book I found called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan.

So without further ado, I am presenting to you: Discovering the Writer Within—a creative way to restore creativity for all artists searching for their best self.
Whether you believe it or not, we have all been born with creativity.  Not only have we been born with creativity in writing but in other avenues as well.  Julia Cameron who wrote The Artist’s Way has had conversations that went something like this…….
            “When people ask me what I do, I usually answer, “I’m a writer-director and I teach these creativity workshops.” 
            The last one interests them…..
            “How can you teach creativity?” they want to know.
            “I can’t,” I tell them.  “I teach people to let themselves be creative.”
            “Oh. You mean we’re all creative?” They ask in disbelief.
            “You really believe that?”
            “Yes, I do.”

    Yes, she really does believe it and so do I.  We are the channel for novels, nonfiction writing, young adult stories, children’s stories, inspirational articles and the list goes on and on.  We have been chosen by our Heavenly Creator to share with others the inspirations that we receive on all subjects.

  Giacomo Puccini once said:  “The music of this opera (Madame Butterfly) was dictated to me by God; I was merely instrumental in putting it on paper and communicating it to the public life.”

I have felt that way many times over the course of the 20 years I have been writing to be published.  God dictates to me what to say and I write it down.  I think many of us do this as well. We are given our stories, our articles, and our writings from God and we dictate it on paper to communicate it to public life.

  There are some basic principles to learn in helping ourselves to become our best creative self for all areas of our lives and Julia Cameron goes through step by step to help us recover the creativity we already have within.  You do have creativity in you.  You just need to learn how to recover it.

  Although we are given certain gifts, sometimes we need a little nudge or encouragement to keep our creativity going.  There are two pivotal tools according to Julia Cameron that we can use to keep our writing going. 

Tool # 1:  Morning pages: In Julia’s words: (We are on a first name basis now) “In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it. I ask you to do this by an apparently pointless process I call the morning pages. Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of long, hand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.”

You have nothing to write, you say??? It doesn’t matter. You can start off writing, “I have nothing to say. I need to do laundry. My curtains are dirty. Blah, Blah, Blah.” This small every day task drains your brain of garbage and is not meant to be art.

Julia says: “These pages are meant to be simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind.  You shouldn’t read them back and nobody else is allowed to read them either.”

Theodore Roethke says: “A mind too active is no mind at all.”  I think we can all relate to that.  Julia also says: “All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity.  Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your spouses eyes—this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days.  Get it on the page”

And it works!!!!  I’ve been doing morning pages on and off since I read this book in 2006.  I was better at doing it every day from the start but now after 5 filled up notebooks of stream-of-conciseness writings, I try to write in my morning pages notebook at least 3 times a week.  It is amazing how it works.  The trash and worries of the day are on paper and you are ready to get some real writing work done.

Tool #2: Artist’s Date:  An Artists Date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist.  In its most primary form the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.
Julia suggests you don’t take anyone with you.  But with children and husband and our busy schedules I found it was easier to take children or husband with me than to not do it at all. But there were weeks that I found myself a two hour block where I could get away to some artistic time.

“Suggested Artist’s dates: long country walks, expeditions to the mountains or beach, see a concert, opera or play. Go dancing or watch a ballet. Even spending time in solitude with your artistic child is self-nurturing. There are museums, old houses, antique stores—the sky is the limit.  You are filling your well and it should be fun. Do not do what you should do, do what intrigues you.  Explore what interests you; think mystery not mastery.”

This has helped as well.  Although with a busy schedule of children and husband, I don’t get to do this every week but, it does do wonders when you do get to indulge in an artist’s date and creativity will come bouncing out in no time at all.  Feel free to find The Artist’s Way, as there are more ideas waiting to be used to restore our creative self. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and refer to it all the time. 
Happy Writing!!!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Opening Words Contest

Remember that short story contest we had a while ago? Well, we were a bit disappointed in the participation levels, which got all of us a little down here. As the semi-official PR person here at Mommy Authors, I made an executive decision to try again and to make it a little easier. Instead of doing something crazy like requiring you guys to come up with a whole short story, how about we try 25 opening words?

Here's how it's going to go:

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat
1. Create the opening lines of a story based on the image above (Happy Halloween this month, btw!). No more than 25 words!

2. Submit those 25 words in a comment on ON OUR FACEBOOK PAGE, under the thread w/ this picture, titled "October Opening Words". (Our facebook page is here.) (If your opening words aren't posted under the right thread, we won't know they're in the contest!)

3. Encourage your friends, family, followers to drop by and "like" your 25 words. The comment with the most "likes" will win a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate. In the case of a tie, the Mommy Author Bloggers will serve as tie-breaking votes.

So spread the word and come win!

Contest closes Monday, October 29th at 12:00am mountain time.