Wednesday, March 25, 2015

In Which I Play The Describing Game

Description is one of my weaknesses. It's hard and usually boring, dangit. But ever since I read Rick Riordan's description of the entrance into Hades as a cross between the New Jersey Turnpike and airport security (from The Lightning Thief) I realized description could be awesome.

Okay, so that might not have been the first time I had that realization, but it was the most recent. I mean, how great is that describerizing? Sounds pretty hellish to me.

And it just so happened that I had several hours as a back-seat passenger on the way to my Very Important Meeting (referenced last week). I entertained myself by figuring out how to describe the scenery.

This photo was basically all I had for a while:

glowing moon sliver
Photo by Jeff Gamble

Only my moon sliver was more on its left side.

The easy description here is the Cheshire Cat grin. Bright smile and all that, but it didn't feel true to my moon.

It took a while, but I decided that my moon looked much more like she was showing off her bright, glowing belly.

Then an orange glow started pushing at the dark night sky.

At first it was sleepy (like me):
sunrise and moon sliver
Photo by Laurel F

But then the glow started to wake up the sky:
sunrise in the mountains
Photo by Ken_Lord

And you know what? The describing game is actually kind of fun.

I didn't take my own photos, but I felt like these ones did the job quite nicely. That is all for today.

Thank you.

(And, yes, I am ever so super entertaining on long car trips - especially crazy early in the morning.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Willy-nilly Wednesday: A Linky Post

Tons of blogs do link round-ups and have cool names for them. I do not. I'm gonna pretend that "Willy-nilly Wednesday" might suffice, but I'm certain you'll never see it again. It's not even particularly descriptive.

But, to be honest, I've got other things on my mind. For work this week, I'm off to a Very Important Meeting. Last year I was so anxious I nearly chewed through my lip. This year, my lip is merely gnawed about the edges. I know it'll get easier the more I have to attend, but I truly cannot imagine ever wanting to go. So this week you're getting a collection of links that struck me as interesting or funny. Because that felt easiest.

elegant centaur
'Tis a gay and noble centaur.

First off, if you follow Reddit, you most likely saw this post. Somebody decided to dream up some very, er, helpful? self-help books. They created the front and back cover and front and back flap of the book. I have to wonder exactly what book they put them on. My favorite is definitely So Your Son Is A Centaur: Coping With Your Child's Confusing Life Choices.

fat centaur
The first centaur was rawther majestic.
This one made me snort a bit.
Photo by Ed Schipul.

Chuck Wendig's blog has its profanity-filled moments (consider this fair warning), but just when I was feeling particularly down-hearted about my lack of querying success, he put out this blog post. It basically says that sure there are people to which this whole writing/arting/whatevering thing comes naturally. But everybody's definition of what it means to be "talented" is subjective. There will always be people that hate something, no matter what. So you've got to be okay with that and you've got to work and keep going and hopefully get lucky too - but mostly you've got to keep working.

Sure, you might not be the next J.K. Rowling (you know, the first author to make a billion dollars from their writing - I always hear about her as the "first" but then nobody ever has another name to throw into that pot, so for now I'm thinking she's the only billion-dollar author.)
Anyway, Chuck's post was a bit rambly. His posts usually are (like I'm one to talk). I might have missed a point or two, but you get the gist of it.

Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation
Photo by Aviva West

I found this fun tally of some of the books that were made up for Parks and Recreation. Aw, that Leslie Knope. She's crazy.

Terry Pratchett
Photo from Myrmi

Then there was the sad news of the week. Beloved author Terry Pratchett died at age 66. That seems far too young to me, but at least we can appreciate the legacy he left behind. The Guardian has an article that I enjoyed very much, and XKCD did a tribute too. He had a beautiful imagination.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Context is Key (the lesser known adage to Content is King)

I've decided to augment today's post with photos of my husband & I in New Zealand.
No particular reason other than NZ is awesome.
This is me looking ridiculously happy in front of Mount Doom.

I had an enlightening writing experience recently. One of my critique partners read an older novel of mine. I love the novel, but I wanted a fresh perspective on why I couldn't get any agent interested in it.

I knew the story itself evolved into something fairly fun-to-read with enjoyable characters (obviously I'm biased). My husband (yes, also biased) said he had a hard time getting started with the book but around the 2/3 mark he started reading and got so absorbed he forgot where he was.

The problem, of course, is that readers give a book maybe 5 pages. More likely 1 page. After that, if their interest isn't gripped, they're putting it down.

This was like a tiny lawn shrub we have at home.
Only it was enormous. This wasn't even the biggest one we saw.

Here were some of the early comments my critiquer made:
  • "I feel disoriented."
  • "Why?" - As in "Why on earth did this happen?"
  • "I don't have context."
  • "I still don't know what's going on."
And, weirdly enough, I loved those comments because they really put the problem into perspective. They told me exactly what my first few pages needed.

My husband likes to skip rocks.
I've got a rock skipping picture of him from pretty much every vacation we've ever taken.

Yes, you need engaging characters and an interesting plot. Yes, the overall book needs to work.

But first you've got to build a world for your reader. You've got to get them interested in the plight of your main character. You've got to make it clear who the heck your main character is and why the reader should care about him (or her). And you've got to immerse your reader in your world. These pages didn't do that.

A lot of my novels failed to give a good sense of place. One thing I've started to do is extensive world building before writing (or revising) my novels. It's funny how the littlest things can seep into the world and make it feel like a nuanced, well-thought-out place that might actually exist.

Our feet propped up on the balcony of our Queenstown hotel.

Holly Black gave me some similar advice, and I can see how following it would help me build a much better sense of my world and main character.

This post talks more about what details to include and exclude, in case you were looking for a more in depth analysis.

So, I'm off to revise. Or, rather, re-write. I've decided my next project is stripping that old novel down to its bones and giving it new life - with a little more context.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My Van Gogh Inspired Daffodils

I spent a fair amount of my weekend finishing my daffodil painting. It's meant to be van Gogh inspired in that I tried to really show my brush strokes, and I didn't necessarily bother with the colors of nature.

I'm not sure it ended up looking very van Gogh-like, but I do like the painting. (And since I spent my weekend painting rather than writing my blog post, this is what you're getting this week. Plus I wanted to show it off. I'm rather proud of this painting.)

Here is the finished work:
daffodil painting

I took two photos while I was painting, and I always find the artistic process interesting, so, on the off chance you're like me, here are those two photos:

incomplete daffodil painting
Rather ugly, right?

ghost daffodil painting
Ghost Daffodils.
You'd think I was nearly done here, but those daffodils took forever.

I think I'm going to frame the painting and put it in the little writing nook I fashioned for myself.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What I've Been Reading Lately

I find the list of books I've read so far this year to be kind of an amusing hodge-podge, so I thought I'd share.

woman reading
Photo by Craig Sunter

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
I'll just be honest. This book was first published in 1873, and it dealt with a lot of other countries' customs and peoples. I was very pleasantly surprised that this book was not incredibly racist from a modern viewpoint. It's an interesting book. There's lots of action, and you get to see a the world as Verne saw it in the late 1800s. How Verne describes other races isn't necessarily how we'd describe them today, but I really didn't feel he was automatically thinking to himself, "We're better than them." In fact, the main love interest of Phileas Fogg (the ridiculously unflappable rich, English man who makes a bet at his club that he can travel around the world in 80 days) is an Indian woman. She is an Indian woman who was rescued from being sacrificed on her husband's funeral pyre, so Verne doesn't shy away from condemning some cultures' (pretty horrific) practices, but at no point do any of the characters think that a white man and an Indian woman should not be married. Keep in mind that interracial marriages were illegal in some U.S. states until 1967 (ahem, the South). So I got to take a tour of the world in the 1870s, and I got that tour from a very entertaining French man who, honestly, impressed me. 
Note: lots of means of travel were used in this story (even an elephant) but nobody ever travelled by balloon. Even though there was a hot air balloon on the cover of my book!
train travel
Photo by Gerry Balding

The Selection series by Kiera Cass
This is actually a trilogy, but I read all three, and the third book was my favorite, so I'm just going to wrap them all into one. This series has one of those premises that you can just tell teenage girls are going to love. The idea is that a future (dystopian) society, which seems to have taken over the current United States, selects its future princess by setting its prince up in a The Bachelor-type reality show. A girl is selected from each of the country's regions to compete to become the Princess. There's as caste system in the country, which seems a little weird but at least is an interested concept, and the books get a bit catty in the middle (especially book 2) but the third book deals with a lot of the politics and issues of the world, and was my favorite. They were a fun read.
princess painting
Photo by Pietro Izzo

James Herriot's Cat Stories by James Herriot, Illustrations by Lesley Holmes
For those who don't know, James Herriot was the pen name of a real, live vet in the U.K. in the 1940s through 1970s. He tells stories from his time as a vet, taking place in the Yorkshire countryside. It was an interesting time when cats weren't necessarily accepted as cosseted pets. I actually read this intending to have one of my characters read it, but that was for my abandoned project. I will say that Herriot has a real flare for making you smile.
cat on a stoop
Photo by Chau kar Man

Scarlet: The Lunar Chronicles, Book 2 by Marissa Meyer
I'm enjoying this series. I'm not one of those people who has to read a book the second it comes out, especially when I know the last book in the series isn't out yet. Meyer has created a really interesting twist on some classic fairytales. This one is based on Little Red Riding Hood, only the wolf is (sort of) a good guy, and the main character, Scarlet, meets up with cyborg-in-hiding Cinder from the last book. Then they're all on the run in a talking spaceship. Fun times!
Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana, Fairest
This is the painting I did of the evil Queen Levana from the Lunar Chronicles.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
A sort of Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day. I feel a little weird comparing a book to two movies, but that's the best description I've got. This book has been one of those Must Read YA books, so I figured I'd try it out. Oliver manages to take a truly unlikable main character and slowly make her likable. More importantly, she doesn't lose you along the way. Without giving away any spoilers, I'll just say that the person I felt the most for at the very end was the love interest.
Fallen leaf
I wasn't really sure what image to use for this book, so I went with a fallen leaf.
Photo by Ryan

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
This book comes highly recommended to the Middle Grade crowd. I keep hearing comparisons to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it reminded me more of The Westing Game. Both were great books. In this book, Kyle Keeley manages to win a spot as one of the twelve twelve-year-olds to get to stay overnight in Mr. Lemoncello's brand new, high tech library. What they don't know yet is that their overnight lock-in will turn into a competitive game with a valuable prize. I personally loved that this book was set in a wacky library with all sorts of cool, book-related events.
cool library
Photo by Jon Westra

Behind the Scenes by Dahlia Adler
A fun, quick book. I mostly read it because I follow Dahlia's blog, but every now and again all I want is something nice and easy. It's about an ordinary girl falling for a movie star (both are teens). Sometimes the girl annoyed me, but, hey, she's going through some stuff, so I'll give her a pass, and it entertained me for one snowy weekend day. 
movie maker sculpture
Photo by Joe Penniston
(Honestly, I picked this photo mostly just because I liked it.)

There were probably a few other books (I've been doing a lot of reading since I'm in the in-between phase in writing), but these are the ones I came up with today.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Teenage Years Are A B#$%*

handsome cat
A very handsome cat.
Photo by Trish Hartmann

I had decided on my next writing project. I plotted and wrote out 15 (hand-written) pages of an outline for a contemporary YA. It's about a boy and his cat. The boy's having a bit of a traumatic senior year because he didn't get into the only college he applied to and now his cat isn't doing so well. There's a bit of a love angle with an old friend, but it's not a conflicted one. The story was meant to include a caper in which the boy and his friends attempt to sneak the cat into the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see a painting by the cat's favorite artist. (You do weird things for the people/pets that you love - including deciding that your cat has a favorite artist.)

Degas ballerina statue, Philadelphia Museum of Art
I took this myself! I love Degas' artwork.
This is the Philadelphia Museum of Art

I love the characters. I like the plot and its development. I wanted to write this book, but every time I sat down to write I just could not get the words out. And I think it was because writing from the perspective of an eighteen-year-old was just kind of painful.

I was putting myself in this poor boy's shoes, and, quite frankly, my teenage years are not ones that I particularly want to re-live. And I think THAT is why I was having so many problems actually sitting down to write.

locker room, gym class
Photo by Kate Ter Haar

My teenage years were by far my most awkward. Some of the reasons for that were:
  • Hormones.
  • First kisses are messy & nobody knows if they're doing it right.
  • Popularity is always a Thing, but it felt so much more Thing-like during these years.Playing off that popularity Thing, I never had the right clothes, and the right clothes seemed so important at this time in life.
  • Not knowing who I wanted to be yet.
  • A lot of self-condemnation (you know, for saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong thing, etc.)
  • I was not always terribly socially aware, but I was pretty good at realizing I'd done/said the wrong thing some time after the fact. But almost never in time to actually avoid the awkward situation.
  • Rebellion against parents that felt so important back then but feels a bit silly now.

I'm sure I could name a few more, but that list is quite enough to make me start cringing, so I think I'll stop there.

The Teenage Years were an interesting and important time. I made some of my closest friends during that time (including my husband). But, my gosh, am I glad they are over.

I love this story, and I have the feeling I'll be coming back to it at some point in time, but right now I'm making absolutely no headway, and I think it's time to get back to the slightly less awkward years so that I don't drive myself crazy with my lack of writing.

Besides, I already have a few ideas about how to re-vamp and re-write an old MG Fantasy that I loved. ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How Joss Whedon Gets Stuff Done

daffodils, castle
Photo by Dave Morris

This week I worked on my query (yes, more). I revised my novel based on some reader feedback. I researched agents, looking for the best way to appeal to them via query (I've already made a list of agents I want to query and in what order). And I worked on a pretty painting. It's of daffodils, and its sort of van Gogh inspired. When it's finished I intend to share. However, it is not yet done.

None of the above makes a terribly interesting blog post, so I skimmed over my saved drafts and found this link to an article about Joss Whedon's creative process. If you do not wish to read it, I shall summarize it below. (With bullet points!)

Victorious Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon from Ken Conley

Joss Whedon does a ton of stuff at once. Firefly was written during a break from Buffy. He made a Much Ado About Nothing movie with his friends while in post-production with The Avengers.

I don't think everyone can work that way. I'm not sure I can. But here is:

How To Be Crazy Productive, According to Joss Whedon

  • After deciding what you need to work on, work on what you want to work on (aka whatever's fun from your To Do List).
    • (Note: "it’s so easy to just get nothing done". I enjoyed this quote.)
    • He doesn't write chronologically.
    • When you piece the fun stuff together, you'll have something you already love. And when you're at that not-fun stage, you're almost done!
  • Be specific. Decide on a certain element you're going to work on so, you know, you actually do the work.
  • He rewards himself - for pretty much everything. Usually with chocolate. "I mean I’m terrible. I don’t put that on the list because that’s not advice. That’s something I’m seeking help for. It’s a vice and it’s different than advice."
  • Read. Write. "Fill the tanks." Another quote says it better than I can. "Constantly watch things and things you don’t [normally watch]. Step outside your viewing zone, your reading zone. It’s all fodder but if you only take from one thing then it’ll show."
  • For him, hanging out with friends is better if you're making something. No wonder he churns out so much stuff!
    • He turned a gathering of friends into a Shakespeare production.
    • "I was never a games night guy, but at some point social interaction starts to freak me out. So when there’s a point, it’s easier for me to see the people I love and hang out and try to have fun."
  • Embrace tough love. He wants people who will push him in his life. People who will say, "Stop talking about it. Do it." (That last isn't a quote. It's my summary.)
I'm pretty sure the article sums up nicely with the Nike slogan: "Just do it." Which is not exactly an option for all of us, but I still had fun reading about it.

colorful Chinese dragon
Photo by miheco