Wednesday, June 29, 2011

For Matthew MacNish

One of my fave bloggers is Matthew MacNish over at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. Matt always seems to come up with great blogging ideas, (which I wish I'd had!), and this week he's featuring quotes by writers.

As a quotation junkie, I'm thrilled.

I figure Matt needs a quote of his own. (He's dedicating quotes to several of his blogging buddies.) And knowing his love of fantasy, I've searched something out by the great J.R.R. Tolkien.

"A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities."
J.R.R. Tolkien

I'm one of many who hope Matt's writing dreams come true.

J.R.R. Tolkien, with pipe

Matt, in his best-known disguise

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Reading Outside

I saw this the other day on one of my favorite sites, Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade --

It's summer. Go outside and read! Noting that two neuroscientists recently advised books should be read outdoors in order to protect against nearsightedness, the New Yorker's Book Bench blog reported that the "need for tablets that can be read in direct sunlight becomes more pressing.
"If you are an iPad devotee, a solution might be near: last month, Apple applied for a patent on a 'Display that Emits Circularly-Polarized Light,' which would make the iPad more viewable in direct sunlight to viewers wearing polarized sunglasses."
Of course, another solution would be to simply pick up one of those quaint, old-fashioned "paper books." Added bonus: no need to move the hammock closer to an electrical outlet for recharging."

Just after I read this, I went to the Farmer's Market in downtown Portland. The sun was shining and, under a tree, a young woman was actually reading. I was tempted to go over and tell her that she was winning the fight against myopia!

Perhaps this is why Summer Reading is all the rage. What do you plan to read al fresco this summer?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: June 2011--How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II

The Seven Deadly Mistakes

James N. Frey is the type of writer who calls a spade a spade. He also isn't afraid of showing himself up. Which is why the penultimate chapter of How to Write a Damn Good Novel II should be the type of thing a writer reads to him or herself every year. Perhaps a New Year's reminder, to keep the ship steered straight.

Here are Frey's Seven Deadlies, and a comment from him on each:

1. Timidity: "Receiving criticism is often painful. It's hard to read something to a group of fellow writers and then listen to them tell you that your prose is limp or muddled or your characters are flat. But it's really the only way to learn.... It takes guts to be a writer. You've got to overcome your timidity and face up to a solid writers' group."

2. Trying to be Literary: "The problem with literati is this: Instead of attempting to master the principles of creative writing, instead of learning how to make their literary creations fresh and dramatic, literati choose a literary god and seek to emulate him or her... If you are going to be one of the literati, pleeeeeeeze first become a good storyteller..." (Frey then goes on to say that he spent his early writing years "trying to be literary instead of trying to be damn good."

3. Ego-Writing:

Monday, June 20, 2011

I Cracked The Code!!!

I know, I said I was going to change my blogging schedule for the summer, but today I just can't help myself. It turns out I "cracked the code" over at the simply marvelous The Bookshelf Muse and, hey presto, won myself a prize: a 10-page critique from one of my blogging heroines, Shannon Whitney Messenger.

I just about fainted. What a Father's Day surprise!

(The Bookshelf Muse is an awesome blog. It's like a giant thesaurus. I've used it several times for getting advice on setting, my pet bugaboo. Angela and Becca, the Muses, put in a lot of hard work and have rightly earned the love and adulation of their 2133 followers!!)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

And the Lands' End New Mesh Polo Winner Is...

Lands' End New Mesh Polo
This is the color ("Bright Leaf") I wore
Through the magic of, the following winner was chosen:


(Paula has a great blog, Write Now, which you can find HERE.)

Thanks to everyone who commented both here and on Facebook!!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: June 2011--How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II


James N. Frey claims that "there's no more powerful concept in fiction writing than that of premise. If you structure your stories with a strong premise in mind, your novel will be well focused and dramatically powerful, and it will hold your readers from beginning to end."

So what is "premise"? Frey defines it as "a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict of the story."

The first step in finding the premise, Frey claims, is asking "what is this story about?

"Once you know what the story is about, you will be able to say, "Here is my truth: Human nature is such that, given a particular set of characters tested by a particular set of conflicts, the course of events will change human beings in this particular way."

To demonstrate what he means, Frey shows the process in action:

"Okay, say it's a story of love. The only love worth writing about is some kind of powerful love, whether it's filial, brotherly, romantic, lustful, obsessive, whatever. The answer to the question of what the story is about will give you the first part of your premise. What happens to the character, as a result, will give you the rest of it. In a story of obsessive love, say, the love becomes overbearing to the protagonist's lover and the protagonist loses her in the end and kills himself. Obsessive love leads to suicide is the premise of the story."

It's a meaty couple of chapters, and for me to do it justice I'd have to copy it out verbatim. Frey shows you how to step-by-step "prove" your premise, and the hard questions to ask ("are there ironies and surprises? Do characters grow and develop?") to see if the premise works and thus whether the story is worth writing.

Please get your hands on this book to see Frey's "premise-making" in action. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

And now, totally off topic.... Do you remember me writing last month about the competition to find TV's greatest Dad? Well they're down to the last two, one of whom is a dark horse. If you want to vote for the winner, you can find all the shenanigans at The World’s Greatest TV Dad.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Scintillating Summer Schedule

Summer vacation is upon us. 3 boys = noise = inability to hear myself think. The one thing I must preserve is my novel-writing time, so something has to give.

In an effort to preserve sanity, I will be posting only on Tuesdays and Fridays until mid-September on this blog, and on Mondays over at Middle Grade Mafioso.

It all starts this Friday with a further investigation of June's Craft Book of the Month: How to Write a Damn Good Novel II.

Is it full steam ahead for you and your blog this summer? Or will you be pulling up the drawbridge and taking a bit of a break?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What a Man Should Wear to a Writer's Conference (Hint: I'm Giving One Away from Lands' End.)

Before all my female readers click away, I'd like them to know that the GIVEAWAY is something the man in their life would love. (And Father's Day is coming up, too!)

Have you ever found yourself wondering, on the eve of a Writing Conference in which you hope to dazzle agents and editors with your marvelous manuscript, what to wear?

This might get some attention, but probably not the right kind:

As would this, unless you were at the Dr. Who Convention:

After all, you want to look professional, but you also want comfort. You will be stretching those smile muscles all day, and trekking from room to room in one of those mid-sized hotels so beloved of conference organizers.

Well, gallant gentlemen and ladies, I have found the answer. And I have proof of its efficacy. Please welcome the Lands' End new mesh Polo shirt:
This shirt is comfort incorporated. I wore it throughout my stint as Master of Ceremonies at last weekend's 25th anniversary celebration of our church's founding. It was so comfortable I honestly forgot I was wearing it as I played my role as Game Show host, Rock Band promoter, and cheesecake taster. And the room was hot, far hotter than it's going to be at my next writing conference.

A couple of added factors make this my shirt of choice: the "no curl collar" and the "jersey-taped seams" on the neck and shoulders, which create the feeling of comfort. (Don't I sound the sartorial expert?) If you want to check out the shirts, you can find them at the Lands End website HERE.

Let me hasten to add, in closing, that these shirts shouldn't just grace a writing conference. I'm going to wear mine to barbecues and baseball games over the summer. Basically, the shirt looks good just about everywhere. (And it's certainly more stylish than some of those hats at the recent Royal Wedding.)

Giveaway Information:

If you leave a comment on my blog post, with added points for why you would love to win a Lands' End polo, I will enter you in a drawing to win one of these shirts. The deadline for comments is 9 PM (PST) on Friday June 17th. (U.S. entries only, unfortunately. But if you international commenters ever come for a visit, I'll treat you to a trip to the Land's End Store.)

“I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Dad Central Consulting on behalf of Lands’ End and received a polo shirt to facilitate my review, one to giveaway, and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

I'm interviewed (again)!

To my east coast readers, apologies for posting late. I just wanted to make sure that the interview with me was up at Laura Stanfill's blog.

I've not yet met Laura, even though she is a fellow Portland writer. But her blog is great. She employs "Seven Questions" to get to know her interviewees. And today is my turn.

Please pop over and tell Laura what you think!

(Tomorrow I'm doing a special post on "What a Man Should Wear to a Writer's Conference." And there will be a special sartorial giveaway. Please join me and enter for a chance to win.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Fabulosities--The Blessed Writers' Group

I love my writers' groups. I belong to two: one I joined when my oldest son was a baby--so that must be about 13 years ago now. We meet once a month, read our work aloud, and comment on the fly. The group itself has been going for over 25 years, so is well-established and full of writers who are both critical yet kind.

The second group I joined perhaps three years ago now. It is kidlit only (the first group is everything under the sun). We meet twice a month, read the pages beforehand, and critique in a circle. Several of the members are grads of the MFA program at Vermont College, so they really know their stuff (and seem to have read everything under the sun.)

Both groups have helped me immeasurably. I have no problem bringing first draft stuff to them, and they don't hesitate to tell me if I'm wandering off track.

The historical novelist, Mary Balogh, has a slightly different take, however:

"My advice is to keep strictly alone until the work is complete to your own satisfaction. This is a work of art, and it comes from your talent, experience, value system, and very being. It has your unique and distinctive voice. You ought to be very wary of allowing anything in that might contaminate or upset the balance of those precious facts. Get advice--even follow it if you choose!--after the work is finished, but not before."
Do you belong to a writers' group (or two!)? Do you show your first draft work, or only work that is finished?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: June 2011--How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II

Here's the title of Frey's Chapter Two. (I love his chapter headings; they give you a sense of his wit.)

All About Suspense--Or Pass the Mustard, I'm Biting My Nails.

Frey's steps to creating suspense:

1. Create sympathetic characters.
2. Provide a story question, to make the reader "worry and wonder."
3. "Light the fuse": "Something terrible is going to happen, usually at an appointed time, and the characters must stop it from happening and that ain't easy.

Here are some of his examples:

Effective: "It was well after midnight when the rector heard a loud banging on the door. (The question: Who might be knocking so late at night, and why?)

"When her husband called at four o'clock and said he was bringing the boss to dinner, Lydia was in the middle of doing a valve job on their '56 Buick." (Question: How will she bring the dinner off?)

"His Ma told Jeb not to strap the old Colt on his hip when he went into Tombstone, but Jeb never did listen to nobody." (Question: What dire thing will happen when he brings this gun to town?)


Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Musings: I've Found A Writing Blog Even Better Than Mine!

If you are a loyal reader you'll know I am humble, humor-loving, and (rule of three, rule of three, I need another "h"! Hedonistic? Hirsute? Holy? Oh never mind!)

Now I have another H for you, and it is HARDY. Janice Hardy, to be exact. I've recently found her blog, The Other Side of the Story, and it is a veritable gold mine of articles on how to write better. So, in the heroic spirit of H, I say "Hie thee hither to Hardy's." I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Any other top-notch blogs out there I haven't heard about? Let me know!

(Janice Hardy is the author of The Shifter and Blue Fire, which are going straight to the top of my reading list.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Fabulosities--Writing what you know and what you don't know

Here's a great quote for a writing Friday. Short but sweet.
Writing what you know is good for the soul. Writing what you don't know is good for the mind. In either case, if done well, it's good for the reader. (Heather Hall-Martin)
Are you a "write what you know" or a "write what you don't know" type of writer?

[All I know right now is that I'm longing for some sunshine. They're promising some for the weekend, so cross fingers.]

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: June 2011--How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II

It's been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately. (Happy Belated Memorial Day, everyone!) I've been immersed in reading, both for my book group and for my infant blog, Middle Grade Mafioso.

And, of course, I have had my eye out for a new craft book. Here, courtesy of James N. Frey, it is. (I must add that this James Frey is not the one who hoodwinked Oprah a few years back, with a "memoir" that turned out to be fiction. I wonder if James N. Frey got some mileage out of that fracas.)

Being me, I have to do everything backwards and begin with How to Write a Damn Good Novel II. Why II, you may wonder. Because I couldn't get my hands on #1 (too many library holds) before I got myself sucked into #2. This guy is, pardon my French, a damn good writer.

Chapter One is titled The Fictive Dream and How to Induce It. Frey lays it all out here and, if you are starting out on a writer's journey, I urge you to read this chapter. Transporting your reader into this fictive dream is what you, as a writer, need to accomplish. You will find all the answers here: