Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday’s Muse

I had an amazing weekend. One full of inspiration and awesomeness! And it’s all because I was able to attend the annual SCBWIAZ Welcome to Our House Conference.

The faculty was amazing! I threw out a few highlights on Twitter, but really, there was so much to absorb, that I’m still pouring through my notes (and wishing I could have recorded it because I just know I couldn’t write fast enough to capture it all).

Still, what notes I did manage to scrawl are full of amazing insights. Now I’m ready to pour myself into writing. Unfortunately, I still have other obligations. Like my eighth and fifth graders who are doing online school and are home all day needing my assistance. And then my sixth grader who comes home and needs help with her homework. And dinner and washing clothes and all that other “mom” stuff that needs doing. *sigh*

But, I’ve made a plan. Starting tomorrow (when they all have school again), my two at home are getting up at about 9:00 and we are going to get through school by noon (let me dream, people—let me dream). Then I’ll have about two hours to write before I have to go pick up my sixth grader from school and get started on her homework (I’ll find some time to eat something in those two hours—I hope). And on those miraculous days when sixth grader doesn’t have homework, I’ll be able to have more writing time before dinner. As for the cleaning stuff, the rest of the family is just going to have to pitch in more.

This is my plan. It probably won’t work, but my main point is that I’m going to find ways to adjust things so that I do have more writing time. Because I haven’t been writing every day or even once a week—sometimes two weeks go by—and I need to get back into it. I miss it (and I’d like to pretend that it misses me).

On a totally unrelated topic, I’ve been using an app called My Fitness Pal to log my daily calories. It’s been eye opening! I’ve been watching how much I eat and have started exercising (because when I exercise, I burn calories and can eat more LOL). And just by doing this—and eating less of what I normally eat—I’ve lost 8 1/2 pounds over the last couple of months!

So, what has inspired you lately?

Write on!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Very Gloom-y Giveaway

I had planned to post this giveaway on Monday, but then the whole getting ready for WriteOnCon thing happened. For those of you who write children's literature, there's still time to click on the link and check out the posts and videos (there's always more to learn).

Okay, excuses made. Time to move on to the giveaway (cause that’s why you’re here, right?)!
If you read my review of book three, you know I love the Gustav Gloom series by Adam Troy-Castro. This MG series is amazing. Just the right amount of spooky for young readers (and not so young ones, too). And the quirky voice and characters have won my heart.

Because I love this series so much, I want to share the love! Thus the giveaway.

I’m giving one lucky winner the first three books in this series (because there are only three out at the moment):

Gustav Gloom and the People Taker
Product Details

Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault
Product Details

Gustav Gloom and the Four Terrors
Product Details

The pictures don’t do justice to the awesome covers. There’s a little “window” cutout on each one that hides the inside picture. Here’s a pic of the third book’s cover that I took with my iPhone (I didn’t take pictures of the others—well, you can see a tiny glimpse of book two peeking from under book three):

Cool, hu?

In addition to the three books, I’ll also load some other surprise spooky prizes into the box before I ship it out.

What do you have to do to enter the giveaway?

Leave a blog comment letting me know what spooks you, and mark that you commented on the Rafflecopter form (you'll have to log in with Facebook or an email address so I can contact you if you win).

That’s it!

Of course, if you want extra entries, there are other things you can do on the form; such as be a follower of my blog,  follow me on twitter (@justJoanS), share links to the giveaway. But those are optional. So click on the link and get to entering!!

Book Love on!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Gustav Gloom and The Four Terrors—Recent Reads Review

It’s time for another book review (hopefully I’ll start posting these more frequently)!

As a reminder of my new scoring system, I’m using emoticons. Here’s what they mean:

Open-mouthed smile--WOW—I loved this book and will talk/have talked about/shared it with others.

Smile--Not totally in love, but this was a great book and I may talk about/share it with others.

Thinking smile--This was okay. I enjoyed reading it, but it’s not my favorite.

Sad smile--This wasn’t for me. I stopped reading and couldn’t bring myself to finish.

Steaming mad--How did this get published?

If you happen to be the author of one of the books I review, please remember this is my honest opinion. Don’t hate me if I don’t give your book a great big happy grin. I am only one reader in the whole wide readership and I’m sure there are those who’ll love your work—it just wasn’t me.

Gustav Gloom and The Four Terrors by Adam Troy-Castro and Illustrated by Kristen Margiotta

RatingOpen-mouthed smile 

I first learned about this series when I went to a writing conference last year and attended a session where the lovely editor, Jordan Hamessley,  spoke about it during her presentation. I went to the bookstore immediately after the session and picked up a copy of Gustav Gloom and the People Taker (book one). And I was hooked! There aren’t enough words to describe how much I love this series! It’s spooky and quirky and incredibly amusing in places. The voice sucks me right in and keeps me reading—well, the voice is helped by the masterful way the author ramps up the tension.

The Story—After having been through two incredible adventures with her half shadow best friend, Gustav Gloom, Fernie What is forbidden to enter Gloom Mansion. In fact, if her safety obsessed father has his way, they’ll be moving. But before they can go, Gustav Gloom asks Mr. What for a favor—nothing dangerous, he promises. He just needs help rescuing his father from the Dark Country.

There’s a certain shadow inside Gloom Mansion who has information that will help Gustav rescue his father, but the shadow will only talk to Fernie. Reluctant to allow his daughter to enter a house he considers extremely dangerous, but feeling sorry for Gustav, Mr. What strikes a bargain. He will allow Fernie to enter the house as long as he comes with her and as long as they can turn back if Mr. What decides it’s too dangerous.

Gustav agrees and the family enters the mansion (Fernie’s sister insists on coming, too). On their way to speak with the shadow, things go horribly wrong. Fernie’s father and sister are captured by escaped convict shadows—known as the Four Terrors (and “terrors” is putting it mildly). It’s up to Fernie and Gustav to rescue the captives—but they soon discover the Four Terrors aren’t working alone. And the “boss” is a formidable opponent they may not be able to defeat.

The combination of Adam Troy-Castro’s words and Kristen Margiotta’s illustrations guide the reader on another amazing adventure through the Gloom Mansion. I can’t wait for the next book!!

And because I love this series so much, I want to share the love. I’ll be posting a giveaway on Monday in which one lucky entrant will receive the first three books in this series. That way, they can join the rest of us who are anxiously waiting for the next book!

Read on!!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday’s Muse (sort of)

Writing is like . . . Yeah.

I’ve written previous posts in which I’ve compared writing to anything from gardening, to an amusement part, to a road (with agents as a GPS). While those posts still apply, lately I’ve come to think of the whole writing process as something more like the Winchester Mystery House.

For those of you who aren’t aware of this phenomenon (okay, maybe it’s more of an oddity), here’s a brief summary (from what I remember off the top of my head—so if I’m inaccurate forgive me). After the death of her husband (who invented and produced the Winchester rifle) and young daughter, Mrs. Winchester is reported to have visited a medium who told her that the deaths of her family were due to the ghosts of those who were killed by the Winchester rifle. In order to keep the ghosts at bay, she needed to build a house—and not stop building it. So she did. If I remember correctly, she built onto the home for about 40 years (constant construction that went on 24/7). She would draw up plans and the builders would construct it no matter how strange the request. And some of them were strange, for sure.

There are doors and stairs that lead nowhere—supposedly to confuse the spirits and make them become lost so they wouldn’t find Mrs. Winchester. Anyway, you can look up more about the house if you’re interested, and I included a link to their website above.

So, how is writing like this crazy house? Let’s face it, we are very much like Mrs. Winchester. Of course, we may not be writing to keep the ghosts at bay (or maybe we are), but—much like her daily building that only ended upon her death—we too continue on in our writing. Day in and day out we keep working. Perhaps we’re a little crazy (some believe Mrs. Winchester was).

And like some of the staircases and doors in the house that lead to nowhere, sometimes the things we write don’t take us anywhere. We get rejections, but we construct a blueprint for a new work and get right back at it. We keep trying and building and learning and growing in our craft. Mrs. Winchester wanted to achieve success in keeping the ghosts away—and we want to achieve success in being published.

And like the crazy maze of rooms in the Winchester house, getting to our goal can be a crazy maze too. As I said, we usually have many false doorways and stairs that lead nowhere in our pile of manuscripts, but each one serves a purpose. Each new door and stairway and room kept the ghosts away from Mrs. Winchester, and our writing keeps us moving forward. We learn more and more with each thing we write.

So, writing is like the Winchester Mystery House. We’re never done doing it (at least not if we’re truly invested in our goal). Mrs. Winchester achieved her goal of keeping the ghosts away, and we, too, can achieve our goal of publication.

We just have to keep building.

Write on!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hello . . . hello . . . hello

Wow. Did you hear that echo?

Yeah. Things have been awfully empty and deserted in my blogosphere. I am still here even though I haven’t been “here” posting on the blog (poor neglected thing).

I’ve spent the summer in frustration and confusion and a bit of depression. I totally expected to have a new novel finished before the kids go back to school (which will be on the 29th of this month)—and—well—I don’t. Not even close. I’ve started and stopped several, but haven’t even made it to the midpoint on any of them.

I HAVE been writing and completed two picture book manuscripts so at least that’s something (right?). But the rest of my summer has been spent studying my craft. I’ve attended a couple of webinars, purchased many books about writing (probably too many), and have been reading blogs and books in my chosen genres and learning—and trying to figure out where I’m going wrong in my process. Because the rejections I keep getting tell me that something is obviously broken.

I even had a couple of industry professional critiques—which had helpful feedback, but not enough to get me that “yes” I want. So where am I going wrong? Yeah. I wish I knew. Even with all my studying and learning and trying to figure it out, I don’t have an answer.

I did learn quite a bit about plotting and structuring  and characterization (some amazing revelations occurred), but I haven’t been able to move forward. And it’s not for lack of motivation. I’m definitely motivated.

I have an unopened package of Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates (my favorite treat) just waiting for me. And all I have to do to open the package is reach the midpoint of a novel project. That’s it!

I want to open that package and enjoy a bite of chocolate heaven, believe me!

And yet, I can’t seem to reach the goal.

It’s not the fault of the stories I’ve tried writing—the concepts are good, the characters are good, the structure and plot and everything is all planned out (turning points etc.) and it is good—but me? I’m not so good.

And I don’t know why. If I knew what it was that’s holding me back, I could figure out a way to annihilate it and move on.

Have any of you ever gone through this? What is it? And how do I get myself out of it?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Write on (if you can)!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Writing Advice from Doctor Who

Please forgive my absence here on the blog. I’ve still been having problems with my foot (went for more x-rays today). During my recuperation, I’ve been travelling with the Doctor. My eyes have been opened to the wonders of the universe and beyond. I’d like to pretend I actually stepped foot inside the Tardis, alas, it isn’t so. Nay, my journey was only taken thanks to DVD and Netflix. Still, I learned much from the Doctor and have returned to share the writing knowledge.
The Doctor: “What's wrong with being childish? I like being childish.”
What it means to writers: If we are writing for children, we need to access the child within.
The Doctor: “That was a nice nap, now down to business.”
What it means to writers: Sometimes we need to take a break—and it’s okay. We’ll come back better able to do what needs to be done.
The Doctor: “The best way to find out where you are from is find out where you are going and work backwards.”
What it means to writers: Know your ending. Even if you don’t have everything planned out, it’s helpful to know where you want the story to go. Once you know your ending, you can work backward to make sure you have the character development and story arc you need.
The Doctor: “First things first, but not necessarily in that order.”
What it means to writers: It doesn’t matter what writing method you use—as long as it works for you. You can write scenes out of order if you want.
The Doctor: “. . . The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”
What it means to writers: Make sure your characters have a balance of good and bad things in their lives. It helps make them more real.
The Doctor: “You can't rule the world in hiding. You've got to come out on the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle.”
What it means to writers: You’re going to have to promote your work—no matter how shy/introverted you are.
The Doctor: “Oh, marvelous. You're going to kill me. What a finely-tuned response to the situation.”
What it means to writers: Make sure our characters act and speak in believable ways. They need to respond to other characters actions and words appropriately.
The Doctor: “I always like to do the unexpected, it takes people by surprise.”
What it means to writers: Don't be cliché.
The Doctor: “I think you'll find, Sir, that I'm qualified to deal with practically everything, if I choose.”
What it means to writers: Write what you know—and know that you can write about anything you want to—just make sure you research the things you may not be as familiar with/knowledgeable about.
The Doctor: “I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not.”
What it means to writers: Be you. Don't try to be like writer X. Some people will like your work, some people won’t, but be happy with what you’ve done!
The Doctor: “I was trying to help. Surely even a blockhead like you can see that!”
What it means to writers: Don’t be close minded when it comes to critiques. The critique is meant to help—but you have to let it.
The Doctor: “Don't worry. I always leave things until the last moment.”
What it means to writers: We aren’t The Doctor. We don’t have a Tardis. We can’t go back in time. Therefore, leaving things to the last minute when we have a deadline isn’t a good idea.
The Doctor: “No, there's something else going on here. I was taken out of time for another reason and I have every intention of finding out what it is!”
What it means to writers: Explore new plot ideas. Don’t sell your characters and story short by going with the first thing that comes to mind. You may find the first thing ends up being the best thing, but at least explore other possibilities.
The Doctor: “Well, look at me. I'm old, lacking in vigor, my mind's in turmoil. I no longer know if I'm coming, have gone, or even been. I'm falling to pieces. I no longer even have any clothes sense... Self-pity is all I have left.”
What it means to writers: This is how some writers may feel after plugging along in the business for an extended period of time. We aren’t alone. But don’t stay in the self-pitying phase too long.
The Doctor: “A little gratitude wouldn't irretrievably damage my ego.”
What it means to writers: Form rejections and no responses hurt. But they’re part of the business so we have to accept them and move on.
The Doctor: “Planets come and go. Stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, forms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal.”
What it means to writers: Whatever misery we are in, whatever struggles we may be going through, all we need is a little perspective—it won’t last forever.
The Doctor: “Anybody remotely interesting is mad, in some way or another.”
What it means to writers: Embrace your inner madness—let the creativity flow.
The Doctor: “We're all basically primeval slime with ideas above its station.”
What it means to writers: We are all in this together.
The Doctor: “A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.”
What it means to writers: Make sure your plotting has twists and turns. Following the beginning straight through to the end makes a boring read.
The Doctor: “No. Impossible. I'm fully booked for the next two centuries.”
What it means to writers: It's okay to say no when people ask you to do something that takes you away from your writing time.
The Master: “I don't know, rocket fire at long range - somehow it lacks that personal touch.”
What it means to writers: Give our work the personal touch. Even if you’re writing fiction, there should be a part of you in your story somewhere. If there isn’t, you’re creating distance for your readers (the long range rocket fire). While this can still be a good story, making it up close and personal makes for a better reading experience.

Even though that final quote wasn’t from The Doctor himself, it was still from the series and is still good advice. These quotes and more can be found here and here.

Write on!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I Am Broken

So, things have been pretty quiet here on the blog. I meant to have more contests through out the week and more prizes and more fun and a book review for When the Butterflies Came, but pain kept me from hobbling out to my shed/writing room and since my laptop is out there, things didn’t get done. If you read my April 8th post, you know of my injury (but I’ll go into more detail later in case you don’t). I suppose I could have made hubby or one of the kids venture into my space and bring my laptop to me, but with the pain I’ve been in, I just wanted to lay in bed and let the meds do their thing.

This is my left leg (yes, I have very white skin and need to see some sun, but just concentrate on the bruising and swelling and ignore the rest):


I do have an ankle bone, but the swelling makes it look like I don’t. This picture is almost two weeks after the initial incident. What incident? Why the one where I slammed my leg into my dresser. Now that doesn’t mean I took it off of my body and repeatedly banged it on the dresser (get that image out of your mind if you can). No, I was running from my youngest daughter after waking her by tossing stuffed animals onto her until she was buried under a mass of fluffy furry things (it’s a game we sometimes play to keep her from being cranky in the mornings before school). She erupts from the burial and gives chase. I run to my bedroom where I jump onto my bed before she can get to me. We’ve done it many times before.

Unfortunately, hubby left his laptop and iPad on his side of the bed (nearest the door) so I couldn’t jump onto the bed like I usually do—well, at least not without the risk of breaking his electronics or hurting my self (ironic?). I could have hurried to my side of the bed, but my daughter was almost upon me. So when I reached the foot of the bed, I took my leap. My ankle veered off course. Really it should have followed the rest of my body’s trajectory, but for some reason it didn’t (which I’m sure wasn’t my fault—okay it probably was). My leg banged into the dresser. This caused massive pain and much crying and a little bit of blood (those aren’t razor cuts on my leg, but rather they are scabs from the healing scrapes where the dresser bit me).

After hobbling to take the kids to school, I went to Urgent Care. They took some x-rays and said it wasn’t broken and sent me on my way with an air cast and some crutches.

I wasn’t able to use the crutches because I’m a weakling and don’t have the upper body strength for it (my arms almost hurt worse than my leg—yeah, I need to do some weight lifting or something). So I spent a week limping around when I had to, but spending most of my time in bed with my leg propped up and some ice—which also hurt (even running my hand down my leg hurt). I’m not a wimp, mind you. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but this H-U-R-T. So I limped back to Urgent Care last Thursday. They said I should follow up with my Dr. because it “might” be broken after all (hairline fracture). So I set up an appointment and went yesterday (it takes a while to get an appointment with my Dr. sometimes).

And now I have this new stylish footwear:


I’ve been booted. This new footwear will be part of my wardrobe for the next four weeks.

As I said, being absent from the blog during the contest was not my intention. And because I didn’t get to do all the fun things I wanted to, I’m going to extend the contest so I can have the chance to do what I want. And since this is my blog—well, I can.

So the blog contest will be extended through April 30th. That gives me time next week to do all the fun things I wanted to do (and still time to prop my leg up and ice it to reduce the massive swelling that gives me an elephant ankle).

Now I’m going to hobble into the house to grab some lunch and get back out here for some writing time before the day gets away from me (it’s on the run and I’m falling behind).

Write on!

Monday, April 08, 2013

Monday’s Muse

See, I didn’t abandon the blog completely even though Holly Root and Barbara Poelle said I could.

I was going to post a contest today, but I’m not quite ready with all the pictures I need. First of all, I injured my ankle on Thursday (“it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt”—truer words were never spoken). According to the x-rays (yes, it hurt enough that I went for x-rays), nothing is broken—just severely bruised (they called it acute bruising, but there’s nothing cute about it). They gave me an air cast (a brace that has inflatable things on each side for support—it’s weird and probably alien made) and told me to stay off of it for the next 2-3 days. So I did—mostly. I was a good girl and propped it up and wore the wrap and the cast, but they also gave me crutches.

Yeah. In case you weren’t aware of it, using crutches takes upper body strength. And I learned just how little I had. *sigh* My arms ached within minutes of crutch use. No kidding. And every time I used them my poor arms burned and begged. And I was huffing and puffing like I was going to blow down the little pigs’ houses (like I had enough breath left for that?). So I gave up the crutches, spent most of my time in bed, and hobbled/hopped whenever I needed to walk anywhere. In spite of my walking on it, it’s doing much better today. So why no contest?

Things got crazy with J’s online school today and I haven’t had time to take pictures (yes, I need pictures of the prizes to entice and excite—I hope they will anyway). I’m going to take pictures now though and should be all ready for contest posting tomorrow morning. YAY!

Okay, enough about that. This is supposed to be a Monday’s Muse post. Let’s get to it.

As many of you know, I’ve been taking some classes from Joyce Sweeney. It’s a ten week course and today was lesson nine. I’m sad that there’s only one more week to go, but I’ve learned so much I’ll probably need another ten weeks to absorb it all and get my notes typed up.

In addition to the course by Joyce, I’ve also been studying some books on writing. Right now I’m reading James Scott Bell. And I’m amazed. It’s crazy that after almost eleven years of writing, I’m still learning new things about the craft. It’s true that you never stop learning. And some of the things I thought I knew, I realize I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I thought.

For example, at the beginning of the class with Joyce, she had us grade ourselves (A-D) on these novel elements: Plot, Voice, Structure, Concept.

I gave myself the following scores :

Plot- B

Voice- B

Structure- C

Concept- D

Okay, so I have a big ego. Winking smile

After taking the course and learning about each of these four elements, I’d rate myself thusly:

Plot- C

Voice- B

Structure- D

Concept- B

I always thought I was pretty good at plot, but I discovered it’s one of my weakest areas. Yikes. There’s a lot more that goes into plotting that I realized. And for some reason I had it in my head that plotting and structure were basically the same. Yeah. WRONG. Joyce said structure is the vehicle that carries the reader through the story and plot is the road the structure travels upon. Who knew (probably you, but it was news to me)?

So now my eyes are open and I’m moving forward armed with knowledge and Joyce’s awesome plot clock. I so wish I could share that with you! It changed the way I’ll plot forever. But it’s her secret weapon and she only shares it with those who take her class. Sorry. No, truly, I am!

All this knowledge won’t guarantee me a perfect novel with amazing sales, but it sure has improved the way I write and even the way I think about writing. With what I’ve learned from these newest founts of knowledge, I’ve come up with some new methods.

Two of my favorites are my book planner and my scene planner. These will be huge in helping me organize my structure and make sure my novel is delivering the emotion it needs (did you know that structure is what delivers the emotion? I didn’t). Once I get the planners typed up, I’ll share them with you.

I’m excited about writing again and can see ways to revise my past work and write future work that I never before imagined.

Hope things are going well for all of you! See you tomorrow for the contest posting (seriously, it will be here).

Write on!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

No More Guilt!

I attended a Writer’s Digest University webinar this morning. It was presented by Holly Root and Barbara Poelle. Of course it was amazing. I’m looking forward to the critique of my query and first page that was included with the webinar. There was so much information and I’m still trying to absorb it all, but one thing that really stood out was this.

They gave us permission to be a social media slacker! That’s right, we don’t have to feel guilty about ignoring our blogs or Twitter or Facebook or any of it! Writing is what’s most important. And while I knew this deep down, I still felt guilty for not updating my blog, Facebook, Twitter on a regular basis.

I don’t have to feel guilty anymore! Yay!! I can be a slacker because Holly Root and Barbara Poelle said I can. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever update anything, because I will, but I won’t feel guilty if I don’t.

The most important thing is that I get words on the pages of my manuscripts. If that means not updating for weeks or months, I’m okay with that and I hope my followers will be too. And for all my writing friends out there, don’t let guilt force you into social media. If you don’t want to do it or don’t have time—then don’t!

Write on!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Writing Words on Wednesday

I was going to post this on Monday for the Monday’s Muse post, but got busy and didn’t get around to it. Still, I wanted to share this with any who might be interested.

Motivation has been a big issue for me. I want to write, but then I sit down at the laptop and get sidetracked by other things (internet, email, etc.). I’ve tried making word count goals in the past with little success.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem revising a manuscript (for the most part)—that’s not my issue. In fact, I’d rather revise a manuscript than write a new one. So my lack of motivation usually only plays a factor when I’m writing something new.

And it’s frustrating. I plan it out the new novel, make my 3x5 index cards, figure out my characters, research—basically anything and everything other than writing the actual novel. But I should be good to go with all this information at hand, right? It should work that way, but it doesn’t.

Sometimes these novels will get started and never finished. I still love the characters and the story, but something happens that distracts me. Sometimes it’s not knowing exactly where the story is going (if I haven’t plotted it all out or if things changed from the plan as I wrote). Sometimes it’s a new shiny idea that just won’t wait. Of course then something interrupts the new shiny idea and the cycle starts all over again.

Yes, this means I have several story beginnings saved on my laptop. This, my friends is NOT good.

In the past, I loved November because of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo). Even if the rest of the year in writing wasn’t a great one for me, I could always count on November to get me to finish a previously started novel or write an entirely new piece. But last year I didn’t finish a novel. I began one, but that’s as far as it went.

So, I’ve been searching for a new motivational tool to keep me on track and keep me writing. And this week I found just what I was looking for on the Operation Awesome blog!

Here is the post.

It is a Microsoft Excel document that tracks the writing and goals and is full of pure awesome. Why do I think this is better than my previous goal setting and charts? Because this one rocks. First of all, it does all the calculations for me (yeah, I’m mathematically challenged). All I have to do is type in my starting word count and then input the word count for my writing days and it will tell me how many words I’ve written. Then I can take that number and plug it into the chart for the month. I get to see how many words I’ve written for the week and the month, and whether or not I’ve met my goal. I can keep track of more than one book/project on the WIP Word Calculator. And the Stats page shows me a break down of all the data. In the end, I’ll see how many words I’ve written for the year! Awesome.

The other thing about it is that it’s customizable. The amazing Abby Annis—the genius behind the spreadsheet—left a link in the Operation Awesome blog post to show how to customize. With everything else going on in my life, I decided to schedule my writing days as Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I also set my word count goal at a low 500 words per day. Why so low? Sometimes I work on a picture book manuscript. Also, I didn’t want the pressure of starting out with a big number (1000 seems like a lot when I’m staring at it on the page). But another great thing about this is that if I decide to change my goal later, I can—and only for the months I want to change it.

So far, this is working great! And I’m excited about it so I think it will continue to work. It’s true I’ve done a similar thing on paper in the past, but there’s something about having it in the Excel format that is making a difference (well, not having to calculate my daily word count by hand is a plus).

If you’re struggling to stay motivated and you have Excel (I had to install it because when I installed my Office suite I didn’t include it—never used it because it’s intimidating), I highly recommend giving this a try.

Do you have a method to keep you motivated? What is it? How does it work?

Write on.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Five

1. Things have been crazy! I’ve done lots of revising on my MG (practically rewrote the whole thing). I’ve also developed a few new ideas.

2. The kids have been on spring break for the last two weeks(they go back on Monday). We’ve had fun, but I’m ready for them to go back. Winking smile

3. I’ve started a new YA. I can’t believe how much I LOVE this story and characters. I’m having more fun writing it than I’ve ever had writing anything before. Hopefully the love lasts and the words will keep flowing.

4. I’ve been taking some classes from Joyce Sweeney (Valentine’s Day present from my awesome hubby). I’m enjoying the classes and am learning so much—but with everything going on, I’m falling behind in my homework. Oops. Good thing they’re flexible. I hope to get all caught up by the end of next week.

5. The day started out sunny and nice, but the wind picked up a few hours ago and blew in a storm. We’ve had the first few sprinkles of spring rain! Yay.

Hope you all have a great weekend! Oh, and I’ll be posting a contest here soon. Don’t miss it!

Write on.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Writing Words on Wednesday

When last I posted, I talked a bit about chocolate—and voice (but mostly chocolate—I was hungry that day). I gave you homework to do. You were supposed to take down several of your favorite novels, read the first pages, and take some notes about the voice. You were to compare these different novels and see how the voice in each differed (hopefully it did)—then write down what made them different.

I also asked that you print out the first page of your novel/work in progress and compare your work to that of the published authors you chose. Upon comparing, you were to write down anything this exercise told you about your voice—was is something unique that would catch an editor’s or agent’s eye?  Or was it too similar to everything out there?

If you’ve done your homework, make sure you have it with you as we proceed. Hopefully you learned something about your voice. When I did this exercise (yes, I did the homework too), I discovered the books I pulled off my shelves were all written in the first person point of view. I wanted to be fair so I put some of them back and pulled down books written in third person point of view. Still, it was interesting to note that many of my favorite books are in 1st person POV. Mostly interesting because I tend to write in third person.

In Les Edgerton’s Finding Your Voice, I found chapter six (Elements of Personality or “Voice”) particularly useful (the whole book is great and I highly recommend it). Here he tells the reader that “the most vital element in the writer’s voice is the tone you tell the story or write the article in.” He goes on to say that tone “echoes the emotional stance directed at the material by the author.” Tone gives a clue to the reader (whether they—or you—realize it or not). It helps them connect to the emotion they should be feeling. Look at your page again. Does your tone match the emotion you want the reader to feel? If not, why? My tone didn’t match what I was trying to convey at all. It was dark and serious and rather depressing.

Go back and pull one of the books you chose to evaluate—read that first page again and figure out the tone the author is conveying.

Edgerton says the next element of voice is the vocabulary we use in our writing. Even if the tone is true in our writing, the vocabulary can ruin our voice. You’ve heard someone say a particular author’s writing sounds “writerly,” right (possibly someone said this about your writing)? It’s those darn word choices.

But it’s not really our fault—blame it on the teachers who from the time we were in grade school hammered the “proper” way to write into us. Remember the adjectives and adverbs we were encouraged to put into our writing? The more “writerly” the better! If we strayed from the “proper” way we were penalized with bad grades.

But we’re adults now (or most of you reading this will be). Guess what? We don’t have to listen to our grade school teachers anymore. For our writing to be “unique” we need to use words that are organic to us—words we know and use, not words we’ve looked up in a thesaurus to replace the word we should have used in the first place (come on, you know you’ve done it)—otherwise we end up coming off as “writerly.”

Let me give you an example from my own work. In my manuscript, I had a character running her hand over a wooden chest’s “intricately” carved lid. Okay, so intricately is a word I feel comfortable using in everyday conversation—I didn’t use a thesaurus to get it—but I’m more likely to use “elaborately” (and so is my middle grade aged character)—so I changed it. The sentence reads much better and more “true” now.

It’s not all about you when you’re writing! You may be the most sophisticated, knowledgeable person out there—maybe you graduated top of your class from an ivy league school—but if you’re writing a middle grade character, you’re going to have to watch your word choices (unless your character is a prodigy or something). Use words familiar to yourself—AND your characters.

Pay attention to your vocabulary. Don’t use a word just to be “original” or “unique” because it may come off being “writerly” and no one wants that (okay, maybe someone does—but not most agents/editors)!

After tone and vocabulary, Edgerton discusses imagery. Did you know that’s part of your voice? In order to be consistent with our natural voice, we have to make sure we use images (metaphors, similes, description) that are consistent with what we know—but also with what our characters know. We may have been to a hot springs, but we can’t use that as a metaphor if our character is from a planet with no water and hasn’t ever seen one.

Look at your first page again. If you have any images in that first page (and I’d be shocked if you didn’t), are they consistent with what both you and your main character know? Mine weren’t!

I believe all this talk and the examples and the homework and everything can all be boiled down to one thing:

Be yourself.

You’re probably more interesting than you think you are. And most of us have had so many experiences that we’re a gold mine of characteristics to use when creating our characters. Most if not all of us put a bit of ourselves into our characters anyway—so why do we try so hard to keep our personalities out of our writing? Stop it.

Be yourself.

Let the words flow onto the page as they naturally would. If “depict” isn’t a word that you or your character would naturally use—find a synonym that is.

One caution here. I’m not saying write exactly how you speak. Your writing voice and your speaking voice should be similar, but not exact. Your writing voice needs to be better but still way below the “writerly” level (read pompous, arrogant, and not easy to relate to—using words to impress rather than convey detail).

My eyes were open by these exercises. I mentioned earlier that most of my favorite books are written in first person—but I write in third person. So guess what? I tried rewriting the first chapter of one of my novels in first person. What a difference! My character leaped onto the page. Seriously—things went onto the page that I would have NEVER considered putting in there—but they’re totally consistent and true to both my character and my own voice. And guess what? The tone is now exactly what I intended it to be. It’s amazing.

I’m not saying I’ve never written in first person before—I have—but this particular novel is a middle grade novel, and I read or heard somewhere (probably a long time ago) that third person past tense was the more “acceptable” middle grade point of view—so that’s how I approached this book. But I love the first person present tense for this novel—it works. So I’m redoing the whole thing.

Anyway, I’ve gone on way too long here, so let me close by saying this:

The thing that makes your manuscript the “unique” work the editors and agents all say they want is your own “unique” voice. Without it, you’ll sound just like every other writer out there. And none of us are like anyone else. That’s the point of this world. We’re all unique—and that special uniqueness that makes us US needs to make it into our writing.

Don’t be writerly, be a writer.

Be yourself.


Write on!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Monday’s Muse


Yes, you read that correctly.

Many of you know my brain works in mysterious ways (I know, you thought only God did that). Some of you might question whether my mind works at all. Let me explain my chocolate muse. (hmm is that kind of like a chocolate bunny?)

As I ate chocolate today (part of any balanced diet), I started thinking about chocolate—and writing—and chocolate—and writing. Yes, they’re two of my favorite things, but that’s not the point (I do have one, I promise).

I thought about all the different kinds of chocolate out there on the market—way too many to start naming—and yet there are new chocolates hitting the market all the time.

With so many different chocolates, there’s something for everyone. Sure, there are best sellers out there, but there are also specialty chocolates or lesser known brands/kinds that still have a small to medium sized following. And all that chocolate on the market doesn’t mean they should stop making chocolate—they just need to make it different than the chocolate already out there if they want greater success.

Let’s take Hershey’s Kisses, for example. The company didn’t stop with the basic Kiss in the silver wrapper—it was great, but could be so much more. So they added white chocolate and called them Hugs. They added caramel, cordial cherry crème, airy chocolate, etc. They changed it up and made it new (and they keep doing it).

Now, there are people out there who only like the original Kisses, there are others (myself included) who prefer the “filled” Kisses (cordial cherry Kisses are my favorite). Something for everyone (well, except those chocolate haters out there—you’re DNA is messed up Winking smile).

You probably already see what chocolate has to do with writing, but I’m going to explain it anyway. Just like the chocolate makers have to make their product different, so do we as writers. Not every new chocolate concoction will be a hit—and neither will our writing. In spite of all this, chocolatiers continue to make chocolate, and we should continue to make stories—we’re told to make them unique.

Ugh! There’s that horrible word that’s thrown at us by agents and editors. It’s awful because it’s so open to interpretation. Okay, says “unique” means:

1. existing as the only one or as the sole example; single; solitary in type or characteristics: a unique copy of an ancient manuscript.

2. having no like or equal; unparalleled; incomparable: Bach was unique in his handling of counterpoint.

Three and four deal with species and problems/solutions so I left them out.

5. not typical; unusual: She has a very unique smile.

So we use the Kiss recipe (let’s pretend we read it somewhere) and make a cordial cherry filled chocolate, but instead of shaping it like a Kiss, we make it a square. According to definition five, that’s unique. It was also a fairly simple change—all we did was change the shape. And that’s the problem.

Writing something unique is easy. Writing something unique that an editor or agent would want is much harder. They have so many different varieties of chocolate thrown at them everyday that your product has to really stand out—and making it similar to something else but changing its shape isn’t going to cut it.

Your voice. I’m not saying you can rewrite Twilight using your voice and have it be a bit hit. (would you even want to?) First of all, vampires are way over done—baked to death (which is what used to happen if they went out in the sun).

Still, your unique voice is what will have agents and editors scrambling to represent your writing—well, that and good writing. But I’ve read/heard some agents and editors say that if the voice is there, they can fix everything else. How do we get our voice to be the one they want?

There are books, vlogs, webinars, conference talks, etc. about this topic—but it’s often the most difficult thing to figure out. This post is already way too long, so I’ll stop here for today and discuss voice further in my next post(s).

If you’ve already mastered your voice, fantastic! Please feel free to share any tips or tricks I might miss in my future posts. For those still searching (or if you just want to do it), here’s some homework:

Grab a few (or several) of your favorite books (or bring them up on your e-reader)—they don’t have to be best sellers, but it would be great if at least one was. Make sure they’re from different authors. Read the first page of each book. Compare each author’s work to the others you’ve selected. Do you see a difference in voice? What makes them different?

Now print out the first page of your novel or work in progress  and read it (reading it off your screen is cheating). Compare your writing to the work of the published authors. What does it tell you about your voice? Is your voice something “unique” that would catch an editor’s or agent’s eye? Write down why you think it would or wouldn’t. Hang onto that paper—we’ll come back to it.

Happy Monday!


Write on!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thursday Three

1. Kate Epstein rocks! I was extremely disappointed when I received a rejection from her for a MG project—but the blow was softened since she was no longer representing fiction (that meant the rejection wasn’t because of my manuscript). She told me about her editing services (check out her site here). Extremely affordable! I jumped at the chance. Her feedback has been awesome! It’s so worth the $$. She tailored the critique to my specific questions (mostly—why do I keep getting rejections?) and opened my eyes. A-Ma-Zing!

2. Instead of working on one of my new novel projects, I’ve been diving into revisions based on Kate’s feedback. It’s been a joy to transform my manuscript! I’ve asked Kate if she’d be interested in helping me whip my query letter and synopsis into shape—we’ll see what she says. (crossing my fingers)

3. It’s been hard to get the kids up and moving in the mornings. They missed one week of school when they were sick and another week after grandpa died so they got in the habit of sleeping in. Hopefully next week will be better (I can dream).

Hope everyone is enjoying a happy and productive Thursday!

Oh—and I’m looking forward to Super Bowl weekend! I don’t care who wins the actual game—I like the commercials and the fact that I don’t have to cook. Yay! Winking smile


Write on!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Update—Friday Five style

1. Things have been crazy. Last week I had sick kids home from school and wasn’t able to get much done.

2. One week ago today, my father-in-law passed away. His funeral and graveside were on Wednesday. We drove to Flagstaff on Tuesday, spent the night, and attended the funeral Wednesday morning. That afternoon, we drove to St. Johns (a town about 2 1/2 hours away) for the graveside and burial (my father-in-law grew up in St. Johns and wanted to be buried there). It was a very long day full of high emotions and lots of driving. Their grandpa was the first person they were really close to that has died, and the kids are having a hard time. We’re doing our best to comfort them, and I know they’ll get through this. We all will.

3. I’m not sure if it’s because of all the travel or the emotional exhaustion or that they weren’t fully recovered before we had to travel, but my kids are sick again today. I’m out in my writing space, hoping to get some queries sent out (yes, it’s time to send things out again), but I’m not sure how much I’ll really get done since I keep having to go in and check on the kids.

4. I sent my MG fantasy off to an agent for editorial services a while back. She’s gotten most of the novel back to me and her comments have been extremely helpful. I’ve managed to revise through the first three chapters and am looking forward to receiving the final thoughts/comments from the agent as soon as she’s done (she mentioned she might have it finished later today).

5. I’m worn out. Why is it that whenever I get a new idea for a novel, all heck breaks loose and I can’t ever find the time to actually write the darn thing? It’s crazy! But I’m determined to get the new YA idea written. Somehow—someday—somewhere. Winking smile 

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Write on.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday’s Muse

Today’s muse comes from Jon Gibbs (An Englishman in New Jersey). He posted seven lines from page seven of his WIP. They are completely awesome and you really need to go read them. You can click on his blog title above and be taken to the post.

I’m taking the challenge and posting seven lines from page seven of my WIP. I wasn’t sure which WIP to choose, but after reading through page seven of my WIPs, I settled on these lines from my YA Horror, Behold The Dead:

"So, Angel boy, you came all this way to tell me I'm going to Hell because I don't have a physical body to finish my unfinished business, and I can't possess a physical body because I'll go to Hell?"

"Yes—I mean no—there are people put on Earth for this very purpose. If you're ready, I'll send you to your assigned Beholder."

I look over my shoulder. My murderer is continuing his dissection by pulling veins and arteries out of my right arm. "Sick," I say. "Yeah, get me out of here."


Not as intriguing as Jon’s, but there you go. This exercise opened my eyes. Each page seven of my WIPs was mostly dialogue—so I wondered about some of my favorite novels. What are their page sevens like? So I looked.

There were many page sevens to choose from, some heavy on the dialogue like my WIPs (which made me feel better), but I went with The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little. I chose this because her page seven is filled with great lines! It was hard to choose, but I went with these as my favorite:

I glanced at her name tag. NURSE WADE.

Her gaze landed on me and she wiggled a finger. One of her marble-green eyes was staring off at three o’clock. I’d-a sworn she had a glass eye, which made me wonder if she could pop it in and out or if she performed demonstrations.

“Young lady, you can unpack,” Nurse Wade told me. “Put this card table right here against the wall next to the bed.”

My legs felt stiff, like one of Crickett’s Barbie dolls. Breakable if bent in the wrong direction.


Such great images and beautifully crafted sentences. That’s why Kimberley is one of my heroes. Smile

What about you? Will you post seven lines from page seven of your work? What does page seven of your favorite novel say? Feel free to post in the comments or post on your blog and leave a link so I can check it out.


Write on!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Wednesday’s Word


I’m very good at it. For example, my Christmas decorations stayed up until last night. I kept saying, “We’ll take them down tomorrow.” And each day would come and go and the decorations remained. I tried to blame it on the snow that had frozen to ice and still covered some of the outside lights (the ones on the ground—yes, I had lights on the ground), but the reality was I just didn’t want to do it.  It was a pain trying to reclaim my lights from the icy clutches of winter, but with hubby’s help and several cups of hot water, we got it done. But I do feel so much better with the tree and all the decorations are packed away.

This got me thinking about other things I tend to procrastinate—like writing.

Yesterday after dropping my kids off at school, I came home, got K’s homework, went back to town, and took the homework to K (along with the kids’ lunches). After that, I came home again and took my little self out the door, through the back yard, and into my writing room. I even went so far as to open my computer and get it booted up. Once everything was running, I quickly checked my emails and dutifully opened Word.

And that’s as far as I got. I remembered J was sitting on the couch as I passed and she needed “encouragement” to do her online schooling. So I went back inside, told her to get started and come get me if she had any questions or needed help. I returned to my writing room, sat down, and logged into the online school to check her progress (and I needed to record attendance). Once there, I found she was missing some work. So I went back in the house and found her still sitting on the couch.

Yeah, I spent the morning making sure she was focused on her work and going through the concepts she hadn’t mastered. After overseeing her completion of quite a bit of work, we had lunch and I returned to my writing room. But did I write? No. I wasted valuable time surfing the web.

As I said in my first post of this new year, I plan to take 2013 one day at a time—and yesterday was not much of a writing day. I’m not sure how much I’ll get done today either. I have to oversee J’s science project—it involves dissecting a chicken wing and requires a sharp knife . . . and I’m a bit overprotective when it comes to my kids handling sharp objects.

Today J needs me (at least for a little while), but yesterday I realized there will always be a way to procrastinate. Not a huge revelation (I mean, I KNOW that already), but realizing I’m more prone to give in to the distraction than to force myself to focus on writing is a huge revelation—at least for me.

Face it, writing is hard work. Even the research, plotting, planning, etc. that sometimes comes before the writing is hard work. Okay, it’s not hard physical labor (though typing can wear out fingers/wrists/arms), but mentally and emotionally it takes its toll. No wonder we sometimes need a break.

I’m pleased with myself for identifying my tend to give in to distractions. Now that I know the problem, I plan to do something about it. There will still be days when I probably won’t get any writing done, but I believe I can eliminate many of those days by making the conscious choice NOT to give in to unnecessary distractions (that includes my kids unless they REALLY do need me).

I’m not setting a goal or making a resolution here—I still plan to take 2013 one day at a time—I’m just realizing a weakness in myself and deciding to work on strengthening that aspect of my character.

After all, I am a character in my own life, and I need to experience some growth by the end of my story too. Winking smile

Before I go inside to help J this morning, I intend to either fill out at least five 3 x 5 index cards or come up with names for the characters in my YA SF.

What about you? Are you easily distracted and allow yourself to procrastinate?

And finally, if you chose one word for today, what would it be?


Write on.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Oh yeah, I have a blog.

Yeah, it’s been awhile. *waves to anyone who might still drop in to read*

So the holidays are over, and I survived. Whew! The kids went back to school today so I had time to finish a critique I was doing and jot down a few more ideas for the YA SF project I’m hoping to write. I’m still working on the new MG—but now I’ll probably bop back and forth between it and the YA. We’ll see.

Last night I sent my MG Fantasy off for a professional edit. I’m hoping the edit will help steer me in the right direction so I can get an offer instead of rejections. It’s going to cost a bit of money, but I really think it will be worth it in the end. It seems like I’ve hit a wall with it. I’ve gone as far as I can go with critiques and my own revisions, and I’m hoping a more professional eye will show me what’s wrong so I can fix it.

I didn’t set any New Year’s resolutions this year. I usually try to at least have a goal in mind and say I’m going to do better with keeping up with my blog or get in shape or whatever—but not this year. It seems I never reach the goals or succeed in that which I resolve so I’m not sure it helps me at all. Inevitably I look back on my resolutions/goals and realize I didn’t reach them and get all depressed and upset. It’s just not worth it. Besides, things were too hectic with the kids and travelling to relatives and everything. I didn’t even look back at my goals/resolutions for this year—heck, I’m not sure I even made any. And I don’t care if I did (so if you remember, don’t remind me). My plan for 2013 is to take it one day at a time and see where this year takes me. I’ll write when I can and not beat myself up when I can’t.

What about you? Do you set goals or resolutions? If so, how do you choose what to resolve/what goal to set? If not, why don’t you?

2013 on!