Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Good and Great

A week ago I started participating in a program for athletes recovering from ACL surgery. It's for athletic patients who have finished with regular therapy, but still aren't quite ready to return to their sport. Today was my second session and I absolutely love my trainer.
Today while doing the oh-so-fun-make-your-ass-quiver hamstring towers, my trainer pointed to my right knee and asked if that was my good leg.
"Oh, no that's my bad leg," I replied.
"Anita, we don't have bad legs. Your operated leg is your good leg and your left leg is your great leg," Oh-So-Awesome-Trainer said.
I smiled at this, clenched my glut tighter, and showed that hamstring tower who was boss.

The good and great comment lifted my spirits and as I drove home from the gym, my arms so shaky I could barely turn the steering wheel, I of course thought about how this applied to writing.

Cutting Scenes
As I revise, edit, revise, edit I often come across scenes, that as much as I don't want to accept, aren't necessary because they don't contribute to character development or plot. I cut these scenes out and save them in a Word document called cut scenes. This document is a collection of scenes cut from multiple version of my manuscript and sometimes I like to go back and peruse. Usually, I think of cutscenes.doc as a trash bin, full of rotting food, maggots, and such. But, when I looked back and read through it the other day, I realized it's not all muck. There is something good in every scene. Even if the scene was putrid, the good part was that I learned form it. If I hadn't written it I would have never learned why it was so putrid.

Drawer Novels
I don't know about you, but sometimes I like to think these don't even exist. I like to pretend that I never showed such poo to my friends. But, they're awesome and supportive and still ask to this day How's the book coming? Sometimes, when I'm procrastinating from cleaning the bathroom or the litter box I'll pull out one of these relics of the past and read. The mistakes blare and I cringe. But, it's not all bad. There is some good. It's good because I sat down and wrote the freaking thing in it's entirety. It's good because I wrote it in all its awful glory and then continued to hone my skills as I writer so I could learn from my mistakes.

The CEO of the non-profit clinic I work at often says Good is the enemy of the great, so be GREAT.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Finding the Writer You Want to Be Like

In ice skating, when I have trouble landing a jump, I'll ask another skater to execute the jump. Watching someone else land what I'm trying to do helps me visualize what I want to accomplish. (On a side note, I can't believe I'm talking about landing ice skating jumps since I haven't been able to jump since March 10, 2010 and don't know if I ever will be able to again. Ok, self proclaimed pity party is now officially over.)
Now, I know no two writers are the same and I am in no way telling you to copy any one else's literary style, but I do think it helps to read books that you want to write like. Now, don't say you want to be the next Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling. Be realistic.
  • Point of View- For me, writing in first person comes naturally. I think it does for most people. But due to agent recommendation (and I concur) my story needs to be told in third person. Anytime I read a YA book in third person I'm immediately drawn to it because it's an example of what I'm trying to accomplish.
  • Voice - I think I'm a bit more traditional in my writing style. In my YA I don't use a lot of teen jargon unless it is in conversation. And because my story is not told in first person I can pull away from the I mean that was totally snap when Joe got in Robbie's face like that. I'm exaggerating, but I think you catch my drift. Some of my favorite writers are Kristen Cashore, Christopher Paolini, and Ally Carter because I love their voice.
  • Narrowing Down Your Genre - I write fantasy and there is so much fantasy out there for me to read and draw upon. But, personally I'm drawn to a particular brand of fantasy. This may sound silly, but I like real fantasy. By real I mean that the world in the book pretty much exists as it does for me in my life, but there is one anomaly. A good example would be Twilight. Bella's world is relate able. She lives in Forks drives to school in a car, not a space ship. But there is one element that is an anomaly in her world, and that would be the existence of hot mythical beings such as Jacob and Edward. Kristen Cashore's Graceling is another example. Even though Cashore has created her own seven kingdoms, the people eat, sleep, and live pretty much like we do (or did in like the 1700 or 1800s). There is just one anomaly. Sometimes people are born with mismatched eyes and are graced with uncanny abilities.
Recently I came across THE book. The book that fits all the above criteria (plus some others I have in my head but don't know quite how to verbalize). It matches my dream for execution, voice, plot- everything that I want my book to be. It doesn't mean I'm going to try to copy it or anything like that. It's just more of an inspiration that my vision is possible.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gossip Time...The Heist Society

Heist Society, written by Ally Carter, is like Ocean's Eleven but for teens! Do you know how much I love Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve, and Ocean's Thirteen?!? These movies glamorize the lives of thieves and are full of witty, subtle humor (my favorite kind). And of course some George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt never hurt either.
 Ahem, now that we have the eye candy over with, let's talk about the amazingness Ally Carter has created with Heist Society. Nothing can sum this book up better than the synopsis on the back cover:

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own-- scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal proves harder than she expected.
Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back to the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has a good reason: a powerful mobster's priceless art collection has been stolen and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled off this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat's dad needs her help...

I actually listened to this on audio book and the narrator Angela Dawe is phenomenal. There are two things I learned about writing from Ally Carter:
  • Building suspense by holding back information. There are a couple scenes where Kat will look at a photo or read a letter, but Ms. Carter never tells us what Kat sees. In my head, I remember thinking What is it? What did she see? What did it say? This technique is used in movies all the time, and it wasn't until I read Heist Society that I realized how this technique can be used to build suspense in writing.
  • Conversation that leaves you yearning for more. I think I have a habit of letting my characters be too transparent with each other. When there is too much transparency there isn't any tension. When Katarina and the other characters speak to each other it's often in witty, clipped phrases that don't entirely divulge the matter at hand. As a reader this made me want to pull my hair out from the sheer suspense and tension of it all. Ally Carter you're awesome.
Needless to say, if you're looking for a good read, you won't be disappointed by Heist Society.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

California Education

Last Thursday I had the honor of flying to California to be a bridesmaid in my good friends Diem & Andy's wedding. It was a beautiful event and I couldn't be happier for the couple. My friend Diem is drop dead gorgeous, look right for proof. My friend Rashi, a fellow bridesmaid, used the phrase "A star among stars." I wouldn't call myself a star, but I was honored to be in the company of such lovely ladies (see below).

While I was away in California, I learned a lot of nifty pieces of information:
  • Soy beans are grown in circular crop formations
  • To drive in the carpool lane in California you only need two passengers in the vehicle. It amazed me how many vehicles on the 405 had only 1 person in them.
  • When you hear that voice in your head that says: This is a bad idea. You shouldn't swing like a monkey from a series of 6 feet high rings because you might fall and hurt your knee. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS LISTEN TO THAT VOICE. No major damage was done, but still I should have listened.
  • Of the many cities that Southwest flies to, 19 of those cities are state capitals.
I probably won't post again for the week because I have a ton of weddings to edit and I have to prepare the first five hundred words of my manuscript for Agent Mary's webinar tomorrow over at Writer's Digest. Agent Kristen Nelson is also having a webinar on How to Write and Sell Fantasy and Science Fiction on September 30th. Check it out. See everyone next week.

Peace Out.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mt. Climax

You know that point in a plot where the main character reaches a point of no return? He or she can't go back to the good ole' life they had. They can't undo whatever decisions they made that got them into the mess they're in now. Granted, it's not all the main character's fault because there are always external forces at play, things that are completely outside of the main character's control. But the main character is irrevocably changed none the less, and as they reach that final push and look down from the pinnacle of Mt. Climax, the world is spread before them, miniaturized. The pieces of their past, the foreshadowing, the supporting characters, the chain of minor and major conflicts spread out like a criss-crossing trans-continental rail road track- it's all mapped out so clear.

Yup, that's where I'm at right now in real life. I know that once I make it past the last turning point and am comfortably settled in the after math, I should be able to look back and say, "Man, that's some good writing material."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Tale of Two Kitties

 The following story is based on true events:

Cottonball looked over at her furry feline boyfriend, Orange-and-White-Kitty. "Did you see what happened at the Saxena house the other night."
"No. What?" Orange-and-White-Kitty said as he stretched his paws in front of him and yawned.
Cottonball sauntered closer and gave Orange-and-White-Kitty a lick on the forehead. He had a piece of fur out of place and she couldn't stand it, what with her OCD and all.
"Well, you know that bird that always squawks at us whenever we get close to the Saxena house?"
"Yeah. She's so annoying." Orange-and-White-Kitty said and rolled his eyes. He flipped onto his back, letting the sun warm the fur on his under side.
"She died last night," Cottonball said then coughed. She then erupted into a spasm of wheezes.

Ignoring his girl's respiratory troubles, Orange-and-White-Kitty could only think of the news Cottonball had delivered.
The word brought back a flood of memories from a past that Orange-and-White-Kitty didn't want to remember. He usually kept the memory of the loved ones he had lost locked up tight in the recesses of his mind, but he couldn't push away the pain. He felt empathy for the Saxena family. They seemed like nice people, and even though that bird was freakin' annoying, he felt their sorrow.
"Perhaps we should pay the Saxena's a visit," Orange-and-White-Kitty suggested.
Cottonball agreed. The two of them stood and they made the block or so trek to the Saxena home and then settled themselves on the shady front porch. The cold cement felt good against Cottonball's flushed skin and it helped calm her wheezing that had intensified from the walk.

Not long after, the Saxena's arrived home. Mr. Saxena carried a bag of groceries and Mrs. Saxena stopped at the porch to admire her new fluffy visitors. She put out a bowl of water and after a quick repeat run to the grocery store, put out a bowl of a Nine Lives Crunchy Cat Food- Orange-and-White-Kitty's absolute favorite.

Had Orange-and-White-Kitty and Cottonball found a potential new home? Will Cottonball's respiratory illness progress?

Stay tuned next week for the next episode of a Tale of Two Kitties.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Shout Out

I am an avid follower of the blog Kiersten Writes. Over the past year or so, I've had the opportunity to get to know her via her witty and often laugh out loud blog posts. Not only does she share her wisdom about writing but she also writes hilarious ancedotes about yettis and conversations with her laptop.

On August 31 Kiersten White debuted her first novel Paranormalcy. I'm in the middle of reading it and have fallen in love with the main character Evie and her side kick, a pink taser named Tasey. Since her debut at the end of August, Kiersten has sold movie rights to Paranormalcy and landed herself on the New York Times Best Sellers List.

She is such a short, sweet, funny person and an undeniable inspiration to all of us aspiring writers out there that I just had to give a shout out to Kiersten White and all her recent success.
P.S. If you've picked up a copy of Paranormalcy (and if you haven't you should go do so right now), check out the contest that Kiersten is holding.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Week of Ideas and Inspirations for Writing from the Pocket Muse PART FIVE

My favorite excerpt #5 from Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse:

Nobody has to see that first draft but you. You can eat it when you're done. You can make it into origami animals and decorate a table. You can dunk it in hot water, stir it up, mash it back into pulp. You can build a fire, line a birdcage, stuff a pillow.

You can't do any of this, however, until your write the thing.

I hope everyone has enjoyed this week of tid bits from Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse. Not only does this book have valuable information, but Ms. Wood suggests plenty of exercises to help stimulate the writer brain.

Stay tuned next week where I may post my first ever VLOG and share a secret fear. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Week of Ideas and Inspirations for Writing from the Pocket Muse PART FOUR

My favorite excerpt #4 from Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse:


Trouble getting from point A to point B
Trouble being understood
Trouble understanding
Trouble doing something
Trouble having something done to you
Trouble talking
Trouble listening
Trouble within
Trouble without
Trouble being human

The list is endless, of course. When your own work befuddles you, ask yourself: What is the nature of the trouble I am trying to explore?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Week of Ideas and Inspirations for Writing from the Pocket Muse Part Three....

My favorite excerpt #3 from Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse:

A Tip for Revision 

I call this exercise "color coding." First identify the area you wish to address:

Language/ Style?
Ratio of analysis to incident?
Dialogue vs. narrative?
Reflection vs. action?

Next apply highlighters in different colors to diagnose possible problems.

Ms Wood then proceeds to show how to analyze samples of a personal essay, short fiction, and poem. If you want to learn more, get the book =)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Week of Ideas and Inspirations for Writing from the Pocket Muse CONTINUED....

My favorite excerpt #2 from Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse:

A Tip on Structure

Most good stories, even unconventional ones, contain these classic story elements:

Setup: Three bears go for a walk while their porridge cools.

Complication: Blonde perpetrator breaks in.

Rising Action: Perp chows down, breaks chair, gets some shut-eye.

Meanwhile: Bears get home and survey the wreckage.

Climax: Discovered in Baby Bear's bed, perp screams and flees.

Denouement: Bears live happily ever after.

Does your story have a missing piece?

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Week of Ideas and Inspirations for Writing from the Pocket Muse

Whew...that was a long post title.
Every day this week I will be sharing my favorite excerpts from Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse- Ideas and Inspirations for Writing. I received this book as a gift (Thanks Catherine!) and whenever I feel down in the writerly dumps, reading a page or two from The Pocket Muse, lifts my creative spirits and enlightens me.

A Tip on Style

One way to enliven your prose is to avoid the use of the verb to be: am, are, is, was, were, etc. Very often you can trace a dull passage to the overuse of that pesky verb. Look at these two examples:

When she finally emerged from the house, Mary was stunned. The sun was blinding, but the weather was cold. All around her were frozen trees that had broken off at their waists. Everything was both beautiful and awful.

Eliminating the verb to be forces you to think about your method of expression, often yielding a more poetic and precise passage:

Mary emerged from the house, stunned by the blinding sun. The trees, broken off at their waists, lay over the yard, each naked branch encased in a sleeve of ice. The day felt both beautiful and awful.

Happy Writing!